On the New Year, Autism, and Thanks, Anyway

Dec 31 2016

I gave my nephew, KG, a frog book for Christmas. He did not want a frog book. I knew in advance he didn’t want a frog book. I gave him the frog book anyway (though it was supplementary to another gift I gave him I knew he’d want, so I’m not a total monster).

KG is in second grade, has autism, and also has 100,000 allergies to All the Things, so he’s our bubble boy. He’s not like the kid who gets a tummy ache from dairy. He’s the kid who ends up in the ambulance and the hospital and sometimes the Pediatric ICU because he stops breathing, even though we have a strict NO NOT-BREATHING ALLOWED rule in our family. He’s the kid we wildly celebrate because he’s a survivor and that status can’t be taken for granted for him like we do with the rest of our kids.

We love KG for lots of reasons. Obviously. And I sort of feel like I’m supposed to say we love him in spite of his autism, except I feel like the truth is we love him in part because of it. We love his brain. We love his quirks. We love that he’s inspirationally truthful. We feel on a deep level there are lessons we can learn from him about authenticity, and self-advocacy, and eschewing our collective cultural bullshit, and unapologetic honesty.

KG opened his frog book present at Christmas, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “NOT A FROG BOOK,” he said, because he detested it.

His daddy, my brother, said, “Nope, KG. What do we say when we get a gift?”

“Oh, yeah,” said KG, as he looked at me with sorrowful eyes, “Thanks, anyway, Auntie Beth.”

Total Eeyore voice. Absolute melancholy. Working to be grateful anyway.

“Thanks, anyway, Auntie Beth.”

I would like to only give gifts to people with autism in the future, please, or to people who have learned from them, because they’re my favorite. They can learn to be polite when necessary, but they’re also not going to pretend a situation, even one requiring gratitude for the sake of social nicety, is OK. Frog books suck. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But thanks, anyway.

This is exactly how I feel about 2016.

2016 sucked, collectively if not personally. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But thanks, anyway.

Thanks, anyway, for the horrible frog book, 2016.

My sister-in-law, KG’s mama, told this story earlier this year when he was on steroids following another spell of Not Breathing:

When a small person is on this amount of steroids, it means more of EVERYTHING.

The day following anaphylaxis, KG and I stopped to get gas on our way to see the doctor, and had the car turned off with the windows down. While we were fueling up, a Beekeeper, wearing full beekeeping gear including the hat/mask, pulled up in the lane right next to us.

Seizing the teaching opportunity, I point out our fuel companion to KG. “Buddy, look over there! A beekeeper! Check it out! Look at the gear he wears to work with bees!” My announcement was met with total silence (which can be a side effect from the massive amounts of medications). Undeterred, I tried again– “KG, did you see? Look over on your side– a beekeeper!”

My inquiry was met with yelling, through the open window, with the power of a thousand fiery suns. “I hate you! I hate YOU! I hate you, BEEKEEPER! I! HATE! YOUUUUU, BEEKEEPER! You steal from BEES! You STEAL! From BEES! THIEF! THIEFFFFFFFFFF! Beekeeper, I. HATE. YOU!!!!!!”

Despite my direct commands to knock off the yelling, it continued. Until the tank was full. (This felt like an eternity, but was likely a minute or two.) Driving away, with the windows safely secured in the upright position, I asked KG what in the world happened back at the gas station. He shared a righteous anger that a person in a position of power would take advantage of the smaller, lesser creature, that the beekeeper would selfishly steal all the hard work of the bees, and explained how this was a justice issue that concerns everyone.

I explained to KG how Beekeepers are actually the biggest advocates and defenders of bees, how bees are rapidly going extinct, and how the efforts of beekeepers are what sustain the bee population. We discussed how the beekeeping/bee relationship is symbiotic, especially considering protections needed/offered during winter and from predators.

He took in all of this new information. Completely unaffected (and unashamed), he replied “Oh. I was not aware of this.”

These adventures brought to you by Autism on steroids.

I don’t know about you, but 2016 has me feeling a little strung out. A little like yelling out the window and lashing out. A little relieved we get to drive away now from 2016 which was a THIEFFFFFFFFFF for so many millions who lost their homes, their countries, their babies, their lives. And from 2016 which may have been good in some ways I’m not yet ready to acknowledge.

May we learn a lesson from my nephew, though, as we head into the New Year; to champion important causes, to understand WE are one of the important causes, to be honest, to be grateful even if we have to do it reluctantly, to give no time to things that don’t matter (like stupid frog books), to be open to new information when we can listen again, and to be unashamed because we are, after all, wildly, wonderfully, weirdly, perfectly made.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful New Year,

 

 

P.S. I DID give KG his real gift later — Pokemon plushies — which met with his enthusiastic approval. May 2017 learn THAT’S how it’s done. 😉

(This is the niece and nephews posing with the things I got them that they actually liked. Notice there’s not a frog book to be found. Hehehe. KG is the one pointing to Evie.)
(Also, yes. Yes, I did get that hideous golden lion necklace thing for my oldest nephew. He wanted it, and I’m a sucker.)

 P.S.S.My mom left her computer open HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Cai

On Kids, Who Are Horrible and Holy, and Who Have Much to Teach Us in This Season

Dec 9 2016

Kids. They’re made out of SO MUCH HUMAN, friends. Horrible and holy. Awkward and awesome. Wild and weird and wonderful and ragged and radiant and full of rage and fire.

Yimg_2685eimg_2690simg_2682teimg_2683rdaimg_2680y was a snow day which is rare in our neck of the Oregon woods. I, of course, take these things completely in stride where “in stride” is defined as using ALL CAPS all over the Facebook to let everyone know the SNOW IS COMING and we should BE PREPARED with ALL THE TUBS OF CHEAP, PROCESSED COCOA MIX and that MY KIDS ARE TAKING A SNOW DAY whether the school district gives them one or not.

Snow days are my favorite. They’re a forced change from the bustle of winter. No sports. No events. No meetings. No homework. Nothing other than staying home and hunkering down and making a fantastic mess of the house and the floors and ruining the pristine blanket of white outside with muddy footprints and snow angels made from 47% snow and 53% gravel.

My 10 year olds were too excited to sleep the night before snow arrived, and too excited to stay asleep, and therefore only caught their zzzzzzs between 11pm-3am. Which means I only caught mine between 11pm-3am. 😳🙄

Nevertheless, we did All the Things.

  • We woke up too early. I complained about waking up too early.
  • We waited for snow because in Oregon we have snow days before snow actually arrives.
  • WE YELLED WHEN SNOW ARRIVED.
  • We insisted on the Facebook that we did, too, have snow, and we argued with our friends from Alaska, Idaho and Colorado about What Counts as Snow.
  • We wrapped the children in plastic bags and duct tape because there’s no way I’m buying snow gear for 5 children every year when we may get no snow at all and the snow we do get is likely to last 4 hours.
  • We made hot chocolate.
  • We spilled hot chocolate.
  • We made more hot chocolate.
  • We made snow cones out of SNOW.
  • We made popcorn.
  • We got the duct tape off the kid’s waist BEFORE he pooped his grandmother’s borrowed ski pants. FOR THE WIN!
  • We dealt with Major Meltdowns from children who got no sleep and played hard fueled mostly by adrenaline and sugar.
  • We were GRATEFUL FOR TEACHERS AND SCHOOL AND HOPE IT’S NOT FROZEN IN THE MORNING.
  • That last one was mostly me.
  • Also, I didn’t make dinner.
  • Also-also, I spent the rest of the evening hiding in the tub hoping no one could find me.

All in all, it was Snow Day perfection, surrounded by muck and mayhem, joy and delight, occasional bouts of rage and tears at snowballs packed too tight before they smashed into the faces of their intended targets, and children who are stunning and gorgeous and homely and wise and fragile and kind and cruel, all wrapped up together.

I intended to get Lots of Things done. To clean the kitchen between batches of warm beverages and crying, happy kids. To write. To bake. To bask in the bliss of silent snowfall. To finish the 17 piles of laundry. To not lose my poo, not even secretly on the inside. To wrap presents. To sing too loud to Pandora’s Pentatonix holiday station. But I managed none of those things. Not one.

And it was still perfect. By which I mean utterly imperfect and exactly right. Kids, friends. They are SO MUCH OF EVERYTHING, and they ended up around my table wiping their noses on their sleeves, bickering about how many rocks, exactly, were in the snowball, and who threw it in whose face on PURPOSE — full of “did not” and “did TOO” and “did NOT” and “I SAW YOU” — all while dripping giant puddles of snowmelt on the floor, shoving popcorn in each other’s faces, and making plans for an Even More Epic Snowball Battle to start in 5 minutes. I reminded them the Next Battle was likely to end in tears, same as the first, and they looked at each other like I was crazy. Not wrong, just crazy. “We know,” they said, with duh in their voices, “but it’s SO WORTH IT.” As though there are some things in life worth taking a rock to the face and worth the fighting and tears.

I have a feeling they’re right and that they know more about the cost of joy than I do.

This is a strange season we’re in. A season full of weird politics. A season of questioning where we belong, what we’ll cling to, and what we’ll discard. A season of joy. A season of taking rocks to the face. A season of full of “did not” and “did TOO” and “did NOT” and “I SAW YOU,” which happens in my kitchen and all over the Facebook. A season of remembering the refugee. A season of having a ragtag crew around the table and considering how to both invite people to that table AND take a less privileged seat at it. A season of considering who’s left out in the cold and how, exactly, to welcome people to the magic inside, knowing there’s a muddy, mangled mess here, too.

These days, I’m finding I’m only learning one thing at a time and that I can’t see the whole pathway forward. I can only barely make out the next step of learning to love my neighbor as myself and learning that everyone is my neighbor. But my one thing right now is to look to my kids and learn from their example. Because kids. They’re made out of SO MUCH HUMAN, friends. And so much of the divine. Horrible and holy. Awkward and awesome. Wild and weird and wonderful and ragged and radiant and full of rage and fire. Angry at taking rocks to the face. Eager to fight for justice. Willing to keep finding joy anyway.

And so, amen.

Sending love, friends, and wishes for snow days to come,

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P.S. For those of you southwest of Portland, Oregon — or who want to come from afar — I’m hosting Whiskey and Worship this Tuesday, December 13th. You can find all the details here. This is the first of what I hope will become a monthly event. Our goal is to create a safe and sacred space that is open, welcoming and affirming of all comers, focused only on corporately loving God no matter our definition of the Divine, loving each other, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is a space free of coercion and attempts at conversion, because gross. And, especially, this is a place to bring our whole selves — perfect, imperfect, messy, magical — understanding we are made in the very image of a God whose love for us, exactly as we already are, is endless.

The tavern is solely reserved for our group and use. Come at 7 to grab your drink and food and say hello. Nate Macy and Shawna Gordon will lead us in worshiping the Jesus we know and love starting at 7:30. I get not all y’all are Jesusy people — that’s, frankly, one of my favorite things about this space — but for those of you who are, and for those of you who are weary of the way the church has been acting more as gatekeeper than welcomer, this event is for you.

Disney Like a Hurricane

Oct 7 2016

Greg answered the pounding on our door in the middle of the night wearing only his boxers. This struck me as a little unusual, since, unlike his wife, Greg is a paragon of modesty. Greg is, after all, the man who refused to pee on his four-year-old daughter when she was stung by a jellyfish because, “Dropping my pants in front of a small child, whipping out my penis, and then urinating on her is worse than the pain of a jellyfish sting.” Me: “IF YOU LOVED HER YOU WOULD PEE ON HER, GREG.” But no; no, he didn’t love her that much, and now we know.

So you see why I was so surprised Greg leaped out of bed in only his boy panties to answer the door of our hotel room in Central Florida in the middle of Hurricane Matthew last night while we were under government curfew, told to keep doors, windows and curtains covered. I mean, if his daughter’s cries of pain weren’t enough to push this man to immodesty, I failed to see how some strange woman pounding on the door merited a special show and tell with the boxers.

It turns out the pounding wasn’t anyone at the door, though. I figured that out after I realized Greg was sound asleep next to me and I’d been asleep for a while, too. The pounding was a branch on the window or wind in the gutters, and I’d dreamed the whole thing, which of course didn’t keep me from telling Greg in the morning how sad it is that he’ll welcome strange women in his undies on a dark and stormy night but not share his urine with his suffering child. This isn’t the first time Greg has had to pay for his actions in my dreams, but that’s OK because actions matter, Greg, and it’s important to learn that.

In other news, Greg rolls his eyes a lot, and we can pray him.

We didn’t really expect to be in Florida for Hurricane Matthew, yet here we are. We’d planned this trip for months and months for our youngest two boys with their cousin who’s also nine, and when the storm warnings came before we left Oregon we assumed the storm would veer away. Statistically, we’d be correct, we reasoned. Decades of history told us that was the most likely scenario. We didn’t want to be alarmists and cancel everything. In retrospect, we might have used the “better safe than sorry” method of decision making, but, as my dad says, he raised adventurers not geniuses.

img_1652“It’s an adventure!” we told ourselves, and took off for the south.

By the time we reached Houston, projections had the storm landing in Florida a Category 4 and the news reported grocery store shelves were empty of water already. My friend Mindy hightailed it to the grocery store but was only able to grab 1 gallon of water for 8 of us, so I used our 20 minute layover to buy 18 bottles of water and shove them in my carry-on. I am the DAUGHTER OF A MARINE, and I went to Girl Scout meetings for, like, 4 months when I was 10, so I know how to be prepared. My bag was heavy, but WATER, right?

img_1713We landed safely in Orlando, and the airport closed 20 hours later.

Space Mountain from the rainy monorail window as Hurricane Matthew approached

Space Mountain from the rainy monorail window as Hurricane Matthew approached

We headed to the Magic Kingdom by day and then to our hotel for the night where we filled the bathtubs, closed our curtains, made hot food and saved the canned goods in case the electricity went out, charged our phones, and tried to sneak news reports where our 9 year olds wouldn’t see them and become alarmed. And then we went to bed, serenaded all night long with pounding, howling rain and wind and the occasional car alarm as harmony.

In the end, it was a nonevent for Orlando.

Nothing more than very blustery weather.

No power outages or broken windows or people injured reported to date.

Which is, of course, not at all how it is for other counties or other countries.

The property damage toll is already high further east on the Florida coast which makes me feel helpless and sad.

But it’s the death toll and the beginning of another major humanitarian crisis in Haiti that utterly breaks my heart. Especially since we know the U.S. news will shift its focus inward now and our Haitian neighbors will be left to largely fend for themselves without the infrastructure and emergency services we can count on here in the U.S.

News cycles drive donations, and the news cycle for Haiti is nearly over. It’s a secondary crisis that adds to the first.

It’s only been 6 years since the earthquake that devastated Haiti, and the rebuilding was far from complete. Now its people face food insecurity from ruined crops, homelessness, and are at risk of serious diseases like cholera and more. All this to face after mamas just like me tucked their babies into bed one night in the middle of a storm, but, not like me at all, had to witness their children’s fear and feel their own as their roofs blew off and rivers of muddy water ran through their streets and their homes.

Tonight, I’m sitting on the porch in my hotel, listening to gusts of wind and whipping palm fronds and bursts of rain, and I’m glad for our comfort and safety and destroyed that every mama can’t sit here with me, warm and dry and assured her children are well.

Image result for medical teams internationalPlease consider joining me in making a small donation to help our Haitian momrades. Or a large donation… I won’t stop you. My money is going to Medical Teams International. I will stake whatever reputation I have on the quality of MTI’s humanitarian response team. I’m the former executive assistant to the current CEO of MTI as well as the last two CEOs; I can tell you these people know what they’re doing and the rock the heck out of it. Love made flesh. Not only have I personally witnessed the highest level of decision making, fiscal responsibility, and deep and abiding care for those MTI is privileged to serve, MTI also carries the highest ratings available from charity watchdog organizations.

Sending love and waving in the dark to all the momrades and dad-rades and people made out of human who have triumphs and tragedies,

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P.S. I generally like Disney vacations because I can eat whatever I want (read: every fried thing) and not gain weight because of all the walking. I’m not convinced, however, that I’m going to have the same results after sitting in a hotel room eating caramel corn, BBQ potato chips and Chef Boyardee raviolis for 36 hours straight. Turns out, I do not make the very best hurricane choices. :/ Live and learn.

IMPORTANT DISCOVERY: YOU *ARE* PREPARED! FOR ALL THE THINGS! Unless you’re actually ready for them, in which case you’re not prepared at all.

Aug 30 2016

School starts in 7 days.

We have nothing ready.

Nothing.

NO things, to be exact, unless you count the grubby, holey clothes my children already own, in which I fully intend to send them to school.

This is OK with me.

This is fine.

I’m over new school clothes and over new school shoes. Statistically, only 1 out of every 5 Woolsey children gives a poop about wearing clean, new clothes to school, and that one is already away at college and therefore theoretically capable of worrying about her own damn clothes this year. The rest of the minions? All of my efforts are lost on them. ALL OF THEM. EVERY EFFORT = LOST. They do not care, friends. And so, because I have neither the time nor the funds to artificially care on their behalf in order to meet a social standard for dressing and shodding children in overpriced gear so I can hold my head up in the mommy circles, I also do not care.

But people seem to want me to care. And to be prepared.

Are You Prepared for Back-to-School? <— I keep seeing articles with titles like this. And every time I think, “Hahahaha! NO. No, I’m not prepared. I didn’t have time to wash myself today; OF COURSE I’M NOT PREPARED FOR NEXT WEEK. What kind of a dumbass question is ARE YOU PREPARED?”

But then I started to wonder what prepared means, exactly.

Prepared.

Prepared.

Pared before.

What’s pared and why to I want to be before that?

And so, because I love words, I looked up the etymology of prepare. The history. The original meaning. And you know what I learned, guys? THIS IS SO GREAT. For reals. SO, SO great…

Ready?…

IMG_1430Prepared is derived from two Latin words: prae which means before and parare which means make ready.

Literally, the word prepare means before making ready.

Guys! Guys. Guys. To be prepared does not mean we are making ready. It means we are before making ready.

If we are prepared — if we are preparing — we are prior to making ready. We not yet making ready. We are not arrived at making ready.

Which means I AM SO PREPARED, y’all.

Next time people ask me, “Are you prepared for school to start?” I can say, “YES! I TOTALLY AM!” I am COMPLETELY before making ready. No school supplies in sight. No schedules or lists. No carpool arrangements. No clothes. No shoes. NOTHING. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. I AM COMPLETELY PREPARED.

THIS IS WHY LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT, FRIENDS; it helps you EXPLAIN THINGS.

So, in case you’re in the same boat as me with school about to start or already started and you have not made ready, then YOU ARE PREPARED. Unless you’ve made ready, in which care you’re not prepared at all, and we feel sad for you.

With love and GREAT PREPAREDNESS,

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A Favor

Aug 10 2016

Greg left home for a few days, so, as is our time-honored tradition, I had to decide which trouble to get into first. Options included a) using the three gallons of paint I bought to try to cover up the goo and grime somewhere (ANYWHERE) in my house, b) moving all the furniture in all the house and creating general havoc and upheaval from which it will take weeks to recover, c) getting the torso tattoo I’ve been plotting for years, and/or d) bringing home an English Springer Spaniel puppy.

The tattoo was out almost instantly because I would have had to make a phone call to make that happen, and, as everyone who’s tried to call me for the past month can attest, I’m not doing phone-talking right now. I don’t know why talking out loud using words feels patently impossible, but it does, so there goes that idea.

As much as I want the puppy, I decided against getting one while Greg is away, mostly because that simply isn’t how we make decisions in our marriage. Instead, I spend months — sometimes years — emotionally and psychologically torturing Greg with the concept of a puppy (or puppies, or, you know, an entire horse), resentfully enduring his pessimism and disdain, before eventually wearing him down to a mere shadow of his former self; a shadow that finally, in defeat, cedes to my wishes because a) the shadow is too tired and demoralized to divorce me, and b) I put out. I’m just totally doctrinally opposed to getting a puppy without Greg dying a thousand small deaths first; and, since I’m a person of conviction and tenacity, I need to follow my heart here, friends.

That left me with using 3 gallons of paint and moving all the furniture in all the house.

With the oldest boy away at camp this week (cross your fingers and say all the prayers), I decided to paint, clean and redecorate his room. He’s nearly 17, after all, and has been stuck with adorable cartoon airplanes on his walls for the past 10 years, which was rad when he was tiny and is less rad in his gargantuan, man-child state. “You know what would be cool?” I thought, “You know what would help this child see how very loved and valued he is?” If I spend time giving him a new space! A GROWN UP space. A space he can be proud to bring his friends. A space washed and vacuumed and painted and smelling less like hormones and feet. A space that’s ORGANIZED. And so I’ve cleaned and vacuumed and moved three beds from two rooms, and discarded broken chairs and broken toys, and created a going-to-the-dump pile, and removed twelve metric tons of trash, and found the computer bag that’s been missing for months, and done five hundred thousand loads of laundry, and run all those loads a second time but with bleach hoping that would eliminate the persistent smell of rotten cheese, and primed and trimmed and painted and painted and painted until the room looks and smells (!) clean and fresh and new.

And then it occurred to me when all the work was nearly complete that my kid, who relies on routine and known quantities is about to come home from camp to a totally reworked room that’s not at all familiar and smells different because, “SURPRISE! See how much Mommy love you??” So… that’s going to be awesome. Clearly. I mean, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

:/

I sat in the room last night and had a teeny, tiny panic attack.

Then I panicked more, because even though people will tell you panic and worry have never accomplished anything, I have panicked and worried A LOT and then most of the things I’ve panicked and worried about DO NOT COME TO PASS, which is clearly cause-and-effect and means panic and worry do, too, work, so HA! Joke’s on all you suckers who DON’T panic and worry.

IMG_1146Then Zoey and I brainstormed about what to do, and we decided, in addition to panicking and worrying, we would add one more decorative touch to Ian’s room.

See, Ian’s a guy whose love language is words of encouragement. He’s a sponge for kindness. And, as I looked at his new, blank walls, I remembered all of your tremendous kindness to him when he shared his own panic and worry with you. I wondered what it would be like to cover those walls with kind words.

Tonight, Zoey and I will begin writing on those new, clean walls with permanent markers. We’ll start with our own words — like we love you to the MOON — and we’ll move to yours, like “Thank you for being so brave, Ian” and “Thank you for sharing your real lives with others, it is a beautiful gift.”

The goal? That even though Ian will come home to a surprise new room, which may be hard and disconcerting at first, he will also arrive to walls of kindness and love. The kind of walls we ought to be building, you know?

So Zoey and I have a favor to ask. If you have words for the wall — your own or a quote or a poem or a song or a verse — that exude kindness and remind this kid of his tremendous value, would you put them below? I’d love it if we could collaborate on being his Village together.

With love, friends, and appreciation for you,

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P.S. Zoey says pretty please.

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This isn’t a real blog post, but it appears to be real life.

Aug 6 2016

I spilled cheese sauce down my front tonight, and I’m still wearing the dried, crusty remnants as I type. I should probably change, except I feel this is symbolic of my life right now, to be covered in goo and grime; also I’m tired, and I don’t want to try to find a clean shirt. We’re friends, so I already know you don’t care. Besides, I smell delicious, like the call of the wild if the wild was made of cheddar cheese.

The past couple of months have tried to kill me, friends. Not just by throwing cheese sauce at me. I’m at a loss, in fact, for adequate words to describe all that’s whirling around us. I cannot corral my thoughts well or form them into comprehensible phrases or an actual theme for a blog post, but I’ve decided, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the lack of words is a crap excuse for not writing, so I’m putting on my big girl pants today and crawling out from under my covers and thrusting a straw up from the depths of the Drowning Waters to try to suck enough oxygen to write something. Anything. Anything true anyway, which is my commitment in this space. I have no idea how this blog post is about to go, but here I am anyway, making an effort, and I’ve decided that counts so I’m giving myself credit even if this is a train wreck.

Ready? Here we go.

I am quite sure these days I am failing at All the Things, and even though I definitely, for sure, absolutely do NOT subscribe to the idea that we have to All the Things well All the Time, I do like to do Some of the Things well Some of the Time. Hell, I’ll even take doing One of the Things well On Occasion and high-five myself for it in the mirror because my standards are low, which is a darn good survival skill if I do say so myself, but right now I’m rather certain I’m doing Almost None of the Things and that the things I am managing to do, I’m doing Poorly.

 

I mean, I’m drinking coffee every day, so there’s that. ONE THING I’M ROCKING. Otherwise? Not so good. Like momming and wife-ing and friending and working and writing and cooking and cleaning and sleeping and waking and cleaning cheese sauce off myself? HAHAHAHAHA! All have fallen by the wayside.

IMG_0544My oldest boy child is suffering these days. Special needs + mental illness + being 16 are tough rows to hoe, man. We’re on the waiting lists and seeing the specialists and adjusting the meds and trying — trying — be kind and loving and steadfast and set up the bumpers and boundaries this kid needs to survive and thrive, but there’s always that voice in the back of my head, and sometimes the front, that says I should’ve done more, worked harder, been better prepared, more proactive; I should’ve seen the struggles coming and headed them off at the pass. I should’ve seen the invaders landing. I should’ve pulled this kid to higher ground. I should’ve been attentive and focused and not distracted. I shouldn’t be moved by the tsunami of this struggle. I should’ve done more paperwork and insisted on better interventions. I shouldn’t have spent any time — and I’ve spent loads and loads — wishing he would be magically better. I should have been tireless in my efforts to help my kid instead of what I am, which is tireful. Chock-full of tired. And sorrowful. And sometimes frozen. And although I know I would be kindness itself to another mama in my shoes and offer her only grace and a hand to hold in the dark, it’s the hardest thing of all to be kind to myself while my child hurts.

Also, I spilled a half bottle of bourbon in my car. Not because I was drinking while driving, though, so I’m counting that one as a win. I’d shoved the nearly full bottle in the back of the car, returning from a beach weekend; the cork popped, the bottle spilled, and my car smelled like a distillery for days. Wafting bourbon smell all over town like a fruitcake on parade. My shirts smell like cheese. My car smells like booze. I’d say that shows how far we’ve fallen except I’m pretty sure both are improvements over the usual smell of things around here, so maybe we’re not doing so badly, after all.

Also-also, we totaled our minivan two weeks ago. And by “we,” I mean Greg totaled the van and NOT ME. HOORAY! I asked Greg what happened but he didn’t really say. All I know is that the tree won, and the van lost, and no one got hurt, and I have learned SO MUCH about marriage during the past 20 years, y’all — SO, SO MUCH — that I didn’t ask any follow-up questions, and I’m letting it remain a mystery. Upon further consideration, I’m taking back what I said above about not wife-ing well. I’m pretty much the best wife EVER.

Also-also-also, I quit my job with Medical Teams International. I love my job because I get to work to improve the lives of mamas and daddies and their babies who don’t have the pleasure of whining about first world problems. No minivans to crash or cheese sauce to spill. No enormous pile of clothes to dig through. No access to psychiatrists for mental health. It’s a real perspective-changer, friends. I quit my job, though; it was necessary because of everything happening right now in our lives, and it’s a relief because we need me focused on us, but it breaks my heart. Blerg, friends. Blerg and grarg and I wish I could do All the Things and do them well. Reality’s a real kill-joy, you know? Reality is a party pooper.

Also-also-also-also, my 9-year-old kid got a mosquito bite on his balls and he was furious with me for refusing to apply the anti-itch cream for him.

Also-also-also-also-also, the same kid got a splinter on his tongue.

Also-also-also-also-also-also, don’t ask me how either of those things happens. I have some thoughts but dwelling on naked fence-licking feels counter-productive at this time.

Also-also-also-also-also-also-also, my oldest baby is leaving for college next week. For college. NEXT WEEK. Which is wild and weird and wonderful.

Abby is ready, and I feel strangely ready, too. Both happy and sad that the years flew so swiftly, even if there were moments I was sure would last forever.

IMG_1050She and I got matching tattoos last week. Lotus flowers — the national flower of Vietnam, the country of Abby’s birth — which grow out of muck and mud and yet, somehow, pull strength from the mire and reach for the sun, all ethereal beauty and delicate wonder.

We adopted Abby a thousand years ago, in a time I can hardly remember, and she made me a mommy. It’s impossible for me to believe I didn’t grow her inside me, and it feels both right and necessary to have her symbol etched in my very skin, like the stretch marks I wear on my belly for her brothers.

Did you know the lotus sinks below the surface of the water every night and waits in the muddled darkness for dawn to come so it can resurface and begin again, filled, as it is, with relentless hope? It does. This flower breaks from muddy mess over and over and blossoms knowing it will sink again for sure.

Beauty in the darkness. Magic in the mess. Relentless hope. Muck and mire as a place to grow things wild and wonderful. The inevitability of dawn. And abiding love embedded in it all.

I hope I’ve given her the knowledge of these things.

In truth, that’s all I have to give.

And now, not knowing whether any of this makes sense or is the jumbled mess I fear it is, I bid you adieu, with more tattoo pics below. Because what I hope for Abby as she launches, and what I hope for my man-child as we seek help and answers, and what I hope for myself as I lay down one job so I can focus on the others, is what I hope for you, too. Beauty in the darkness. Magic in the mess. Relentless hope. Muck and mire as a place to grow things wild and wonderful. The inevitability of dawn. And abiding love embedded in it all, etched in our skin and our hearts.

Sincerely,

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The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

Jul 11 2016

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,

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comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
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Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:

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With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,

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