Happy Independence… From the Christians

Jul 4 2017

I feel like it’s safe to say there are two kinds of people in this world: those who would never, ever, EVER laugh at people who experience developmental delay — you know, the conscientious, compassionate, kind type of person — and Terrible People like me.

It’s just that my two kiddos with disability have been entrenched in an argument that’s lasted days. They’ve yelled at each other. They’ve called each other names in ragey voices. They’ve rolled their eyes. They’ve tried to bait the rest of us into taking sides. And still it’s not settled why we’re celebrating Independence Day on July 4th.

Aden insists we’re celebrating independence from the Christians. Ian says we’re celebrating independence from the Nazis.

For a while, they were blaming the Jews, but they believed me when I said that wasn’t it. Whew! On the other hand, my contention that we’re celebrating independence from the British was met with unified derision. It was ridiculous when I suggested we’d need to be independent from the Land of Crumpets and Tea. I mean, what could we possibly be fighting against the British for? Their use of “chips” instead of “fries?” Their corner on the digestives market? No. Mom clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about. At least they agree on something.

Ian: It is the Nazis, Aden.

Aden: IT’S THE CHRISTIANS.

Ian: Nazis.

Aden: CHRISTIANS.

Ian: Evwebody knows Nazis are bad guys, Aden. Evwebody.

Aden: It’s the CHRISTIANS. … Wait. Mom, are we the Christians?

Me: I am, Aden. You get to pick.

Aden: Oh. KILL THE NAZIS then. KILL THEM DEAD. KILL, KILL, KILL.

Ian: Ha! I told you! It’s NAZIS. HAhahahaha! I am wight and you wong! Ha, Aden. HA!

Aden: Wait. No. KILL THE CHRISTIANS. Except Mom. KILL ALL THE CHRISTIANS EXCEPT MOM. Unless I’m a Christian. Then we KILL ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE.

In conclusion, even though I keep laughing at them, I feel like my kids have a general bloodthirsty grasp on this whole Independence Day thing and also theological schisms in general… Christians who flee religious persecution from Other Christians and arrive in a new land to persecute and massacre others.

I feel like we’re really slow learners, guys.

Also, I made blueberry cake to celebrate. And I’m going to go have a beer.

Wishing you a Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!

With love,

 

Not Worse

Jul 2 2017

Here’s everything I know right now about how I am: I’m Not Worse.

Not Worse. HOORAY!

I feel like this might be confusing. Or discouraging to a Normal Person. Not Worse when you’re really Fairly Terrible and like you Can’t Breathe doesn’t seem particularly encouraging, after all. But if you’re sliding naked down a steep hill, and the hill is covered in brambles, and also shards of glass, and also razor blades, and you Stop Sliding so you’re only bare and bleeding, but not actively incurring more injury, you feel a little celebratory. A little jubulent. A little like, yes, I’m still bleeding out, but SLOWER NOW, so HOORAY!

I’ve been to the behavioral psychologist. I have assignments. So far, I haven’t done them. The problem with assignments is you have to have a brain that Remembers Things, and I don’t. We don’t meet again ’til mid-July, though, so I’m hopeful I can remember by then. Optimism springs eternal.

Because I don’t Remember Things, I blew off my doctor last week.  I had an appointment Monday. I reminded myself all day Sunday then forgot by Monday. A Brain That Works would perhaps have set an alarm. But nope. No alarms for this girl.

I remembered an hour after the appointment with a sudden gasp and an OH SHIT which of course my children heard. Three giggled. The one who’s the rule-following Pharisee was deeply offended. She also detests sarcasm, though, and thinks laundry should be folded, so we can’t take her too seriously, you know?

After I realized I ditched the doctor, I called her office and rescheduled like a grown-up. But because we live in a small town, and because she’s been my doctor for more than 20 years, and because our daughters have danced together, and because she’s been called to the hospital in the middle of the night to prep me for surgery after I suddenly miscarried babies — because we’ve scrapbooked together, and because we’ve adopted children from the same country, because she’s treated me for depression and identified it for me when I couldn’t — she texted me, too.

“Get your booty in here,” she wrote.

I wrote my List of Excuses. The usual ones People Who Aren’t Well use. I meant to. I tried. I wanted to. I’m sorry. I’ll see you next week, I swear. And, because I’m grateful, truly, that I’m not doing this alone, I said thank you. Thank you for riding my butt. 

I ran out to the liquor store later. On my bike because my college kid has claimed my car for the summer to get to work, and because the bike is a good mental health choice. Sunshine. Exercise. Flashing the neighbors because I wore a skirt. All bring me joy.

I bought my dad a bottle of Scotch. I bought my neighbor a bottle of Kraken. I bought my book group a bottle of vodka and prickly pear syrup with lime to make froofy, summer drinks.

Then I rode home.

With my doctor behind me.

Small town, I tell you. Small town.

She asked if I was riding a bike.

I said I was.

She said she really was riding my butt.

I sensed an opportunity to seize some Squandered Mental Health points from the morning.

REDEMPTION AT HAND.

“Do I get to make up any of my lost mental health points by getting out and exercising?” Because we all know we’re on a Points System, yes?

I mean, I can’t keep an appointment with my physician, so Demerits, obviously. But LOOK AT ME: dressed, outside, exercising!

And, you guys, she said YES! I DID get points back!

It was a really lovely 3 seconds.

‘Til she asked what I put in my bike baskets.

And I had to say liquor.

So much for credit.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At least I tried.

Maybe I’ll accrue points next week.

Until then I’m Not Worse.

And I’m sending you love.

And waving in the dark,

An Actual List of Real Mental Illness Symptoms

Jun 18 2017

I went to the doctor today.

I almost convinced myself not to go.

Again.

It’s the cycle of mental illness… Is something wrong?… Am I OK?… I’m not OK… I’m FINE… Everyone has ups and downs… This is normal… This is not even a little normal… and on and on and on.

I convinced myself to go to the doctor last night, after I spent the day with a tension headache from clenching my jaw. And clenching my back. And my shoulders and neck. Also, my legs. My heart hadn’t stopped hammering since noon — fight or flight adrenaline I was trying to turn into “freeze,” promising myself if I just stayed very still, took deep breaths, and practiced mindfulness, it would go away. I silently repeated “please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me” every time someone walked in the room, but my internal monologue and external rigor mortis failed to dissuade them. They talked and talked and talked and talked. After all, a mommy and a wife who sits on the couch playing HayDay all day like it’s her job looks like one who can be interrupted.

I didn’t look like I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t look like I was trying to crawl out of my skin. I didn’t look like someone who should be taken to the hospital, just to check — just to be sure it wasn’t something Life Threatening — the way we take our kids to the emergency room in the middle of the night in case it’s appendicitis, even though we know it’s probably gas. When they’re in pain and it doesn’t stop, we take them anyway. Sometimes I wish I treated myself as kindly as I do my kids.

I stood in the bathroom last night, counters covered in scattered makeup, old bottles of lotion, someone’s $2 bill from Christmas, a sticky goo I choose to believe is toothpaste, and kids’ permission slips we failed to sign on time. I stood in the bathroom, and I held onto the counter, and I forced myself to say to Greg, “I’m not well. I’m going to the doctor tomorrow.”

It was a Herculean effort to say the words. Not because I was embarrassed or ashamed. Not because I wanted to hide it, either. It was, physically and literally, a feat of sheer will to move the words from my head, down to my mouth, and out of it. I know that sounds crazy. But it’s like being drunk; I may be able to form cogent words in my head, but there’s no conduit to push them out my mouth. I have the Thought, but then I have to figuratively get it dressed, brush its hair, find its damn shoes which are never by the front door where they’re supposed to be, dig through its purse for the car keys, drive it to the mental hardware store, decide what type of conduit will connect the Thought to my mouth, buy that pipe which is too big to fit in the car, take it home with it hanging out the trunk, unload it, and build the connection with whatever poor supplies I have on hand before I can force that Thought — “I’m not well” — from my lips.

“I’m not well,” I said to Greg. “I’m going to the doctor tomorrow.”

“K,” he said, but he looked at me quizzically, head tilted, eyebrow raised. “Soooooo,” he said, “what kind of not well? Liiiike, physically?”

“Mentally,” I said.

And then Greg began the Usual Litany because he’s kind and he loves me. “Let me know what you need.” “I’m here for you.” “What can I do?” “How can I help?” “Do you need me to have the kids?” “I can cancel my trip tomorrow.” And, of course, because we are us, “OH! SHOOT! Did you sign that permission slip yet?” And “Crap; I think the water bill is late.” And “But, really, what do you need?” A barrage of words. Machine gun, rapid fire style.

There were no more Thoughts, though. I’d built the conduit for the one I had. It was used, and Thought Conduits when I’m sick are only good once. So I had to say, “I can’t talk anymore right now,” which looked pissy and ungrateful and guarded and unkind, but was the real truth. I was unable. I’d already used All My Words. There weren’t any more available. Just none.

I was up until 2am last night, shaking, unable to sleep, even with the sleep aid I’m prescribed. I’ve had weeks now of failing to sleep, unless I sleep outside, which calms me and allows me to sleep by midnight which is a miracle. Unfortunately, the rain here in Oregon doesn’t always cooperate with my outdoor arrangement, so I’ve been back to shaking ’til the wee hours of the morning, sometimes until the sun comes up.

Still, by the time I pulled myself from bed this morning, I wasn’t sure it was all that bad. I thought, Maybe I don’t need to go to the doctor quite yet. And, Maybe I’m just being dramatic. And, Insomnia is temporary; I’ll sleep again eventually if I just give it time. Thus began the usual game — the one I’ve played daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute, for weeks now — Which Me Do I Trust? The me in the night who promised myself I’d quit delaying to seek medical attention? Or the me in the daytime who assures myself the dark always exaggerates how bad it is? I decided this time to trust the night. Sometimes things are clearer in the dark.

The doctor couldn’t see me ’til this afternoon, so I spent the morning making a list of symptoms. I wanted to have Words when it was time. Even I could tell, when the list was done, I should’ve made the appointment long, long ago. I’m sharing it with you now, even though some of it feels Very Yucky. Maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I choose no shame, yuckiness and all.

Here it is, a List of Real, Actual Symptoms of Mental Illness. You know, this time. Since depression symptoms always change.

  1. I have no margin right now. Zero. All human interaction makes me tense. I don’t feel worried or anxious, but I react as though every conversation may harm me. My breathing gets faster. My palms sweat. Heat runs in waves down my arms. My heart races. It doesn’t matter who the human is or what they need or how much I love them. All interaction causes my body to react in panic.
  2. Anyone walking into the room makes me tense.
  3. Phone rings? Tense, even though I know I don’t have to answer it.
  4. Greg answering the phone = tense.
  5. Greg laughing at TV shows and looking to me to see if I’m laughing too – not in the way one does when one is worried, simply wanting to share a laugh – makes me tense.
  6. Bedtime makes me tense. I shake. I’m jittery. It’s like I’m hopped up on caffeine all the time.
  7. I haven’t fallen asleep before 2am in a month. When I’m well, I fall sleep between 10:30-11:30pm. And the needle is moving further. Many nights lately it’s as late as 4am, 5am. Dawn is around 4:30 this time of year. I know from experience now.
  8. I want to spend all day in bed, but I don’t want my kids to have that as their childhood memory of their mom, so I force myself out of it at 10am, 11am, and we laugh at our family jokes about how much mom likes to sleep in. I like to sleep in; that part is true. But I’m lying to them when I pretend I like it every day.
  9. I pull out my hair, and I pick at my skin. I do it in places that aren’t noticeable the way an abuser tries to hit his victims so the bruises won’t show. I pick at the back of my head. The skin on my back. I’m scarred there, actually, from years of tearing my skin apart. I’m not embarrassed to wear a swimsuit because I’m overweight. I’m embarrassed to wear a swimsuit because my back is covered in the scars and scabs I created. I try to avoid pulling out my eyebrows, but I found a bald spot in one last week.
  10. I’m impatient with my family which I mostly don’t let them see because I don’t want them to suffer, but it’s been leaking out lately because it turns out there’s only so much you can shove deep down inside before it hits the saturation point and there’s no place left to shovel the emotional shit. It’s not rage like it was last time. I’m not explosively angry. Just irritated and annoyed at things I’m usually good at letting go. And still, not how I want to be.
  11. Despite #10, I keep nearly all of this secret. I look normal. I go to the grocery store. I have people over to my house. I host events. I wear make-up. I shower. I answer the “how are you questions” the usual way. Good. Fine. Busy. Eh – you know. Or, if I’m being terribly honest, I say I’m drowning a little, but, you know, that’s normal, and then I shrug, like, what’s a girl to do? This is not out of an intent to deceive anybody, including myself. This is simply because I lack both words and any emotional energy to deal with myself, much less other people’s questions about how I am, how we are, or what they can do to help.
  12. Shirts that touch my forearms bother me.
  13. I keep forgetting words. Easy ones like “laundry” and “couch.”
  14. I am constantly jittery. I can’t sit still or relax under any circumstances.
  15. I have eaten every Cheeto in the State of Oregon.

Yep. Somehow with those as my symptoms, I convinced myself I didn’t need to go to the doctor. <— THIS, friends. This is part of mental illness. The utter inability to assess and to know when I need help.

I walked into the doctor’s office this afternoon, list in hand. I told him I needed him to help me figure out if it’s time for a medication change. He had me fill out an assessment of his own:

Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following:

  1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things? Nearly every day.
  2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless? Nearly every day.
  3. Trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much? HA! EVERY DAY.
  4. Feeling tired or having little energy? Nearly every day.
  5. Poor appetite or overeating? Overeating. Sure enough. See note re: No Cheeto Is Safe From Me.
  6. Feeling bad about yourself — that you are a failure or are letting your family down? Meh. Some. Not all the time, though. I mostly forgive myself for being human and for being sick. But I’m highly motivated to fix this so I don’t let my family down.
  7. Trouble concentrating on things such as reading or watching TV? Yep. Nearly every day.
  8. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite — being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual? Yes. I’m either inert on the couch or cleaning like a fiend. ME. CLEANING LIKE A FIEND. CLEARLY I NEED HELP, MAN.
  9. Thoughts that you would be better off dead or hurting yourself in some way? Nope. Other than the usual fantasies about being hospitalized so I can lay in bed all day and eat green Jello, I’m good on this one.

So. I’m giving myself mad props for making it to the doctor before the “Better Off Dead” lie asserted itself, but it turns out doctors don’t give you a clean bill of mental health when “I don’t want to off myself yet” is the best you can offer. In fact, it only took the doctor 10 minutes to call in a psychologist for back-up. Or because our local health system has better, multipronged protocols in place now for treating mental health. But probably for back-up.

I have additional meds and follow-up physical and psychological appointments next week. And probably more weeks after that because turning the mental health ship takes a while, and sometimes the med adjustment doesn’t work on the first go. In other words, here we go again. At least I’m at the Seeking Help part of the Deteriorate-Seek Help-Upswing-Health cycle. That’ll do for now.

My teeth chattered all the way home from the doctor’s office, another fun symptom of the adrenaline surge. I walked in the front door, and Greg asked how it went.

“Fine,” I said. “Good, I think.”

Maybe I’ll have more words later.

Until then, waving and waving and waving in the dark, friends,

 

 

P.S. None of this was today. All of it was last week now. Maybe two weeks by the time I manage to publish this. I’ve been writing this post since then, though, and it’s too hard to change it to reflect an accurate timeline. Add this to the list of Real Symptoms — everything takes an Eternity. I mean, FOREVER. Things that usually take me an hour take a day. Right now, I’m assigning myself Just One Thing every day, and I’m marking each one in the Hot Damn, I’m A Raging Success column on my internal score card.

P.P.S. I wish I didn’t have an internal score card. But I do. At this point, I’m just trying to learn to be more gentle about what I put on it.

P.P.P.S. I’ve missed you. More soon, I hope. <3

My Outdoor Bedroom: Thoughts on Living Weird. Happy and Weird.

May 26 2017

I used to think I didn’t like the outside. I’m not a long-haul backpacker like my most outdoorsy Oregonian friends. I don’t enjoy endurance hikes, forced-march style. I don’t even go on leisurely grandma walks around the block. But once I was able to tackle outside on my terms — biking in the sunshine, kayaking because I get to sit on my ass in the water, and hiking where hiking means sauntering through the woods and meandering up mountains rather than tight timelines and a race to the top — I was IN. All the way in. Mud in my toes, scrambling over boulders, bugs in my bed, IN.

I started sleeping outside this week, but not in a sleeping bag on a hard pad on the ground. Nope; I started sleeping outside, but in a real bed with sheets, soft pillows, and a ragged, faded plaid down comforter I bought for my first apartment 26 years ago.

{Psst… Greg and I made out on that comforter a lot.}

It’s pretty close to heaven on earth, and it’s 100% Outside My Way.

Greg only grumbled a little when I pestered him for days and days to pull the old iron bedframe from the storage loft, and I went ahead and ignored his eye-rolling while I stole the nightstands back from our Goodwill pile. I mean, I don’t want to brag too much, but I’m really good at ignoring eye-rolling now. Also, sighing. Also-also, the slow shaking of Greg’s head side to side in weary disappointment. I can ignore it ALL.

See, Greg is of the opinion that one bedroom inside a house with things like Protection from Inclement Weather and Temperature Control — Not Very Many Giant Fuzzy Spiders and Zero Raccoons with Razor Blade Teeth and Beady Little Demon Eyes Peering from the Blackberry Bushes — is plenty of bedrooom for me. Greg thinks I don’t need a second, outdoor bedroom. Greg thinks, if I’m going to invest time in a house project, maybe I should finish painting the hallway — or the other 47 things I’ve started — instead of creating a redundant living space in the backyard.

Poor Greg. Bless his heart. And we can pray for him. <– This is our Greg Liturgy. Amen.

As for me, I’m certain this is the Best Idea Ever.

I’ve been fighting Depression again lately. It’s been a rough couple of months. I think. Maybe a rough couple of years? I don’t know. That’s one of the symptoms of mental illness, really; the Not Knowing. The trying to decide if this is Normal or Unhealthy. Is this a Phase or Do I Need Help? So I’ve been fighting Depression again lately; I just don’t know what “lately” really means. I’m bobbing up and down in Ocean of the Unknown. Getting hit by waves of Anger and Hurt and Worry and Blah. Finding myself underwater. Pushing again to the surface. Suspecting this is just part of what it means to be human in all its complexity. Suspecting this is just circumstantial and easily explained. Suspecting none of that’s right at all.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Mental health is a giant jigsaw puzzle, after all, except we only have some of the pieces. The rest we have to go on a scavenger hunt to find with murky clues. We never find them all. And so I manage my mental illness a lot of ways. Partly through medication which saved my life. Partly through pursuing Joy these days instead of the Approval of Others which has made this life richer and fuller and weirder than ever.

So I keep doing Weird Shit that makes me happy instead of Normal Shit in its tightly controlled box of Acceptable Behavior. These days, I’m spending my time building fairy houses out of wall holes. And making my bed outside.

 

I feel like I just keep leveling up on Weird. Things that make No Sense to others, I’m pursuing anyway, and I’m finding Joy there. It turns out making my bed where the dirt gets in is a piece of the puzzle — the piece that looks like watching the stars before I fall asleep and hearing the wind in the cherry trees and waving at you, always waving, in the dark.

With love, friends, from this little piece of earth,

 

 

 

 

P.S. I want you to know, so I get credit, I ironed the stained bed skirt before stacking the mattresses, which was wasted effort entirely since it’s all covered now by the wrinkled comforter. I suppose I could have ironed the comforter, as well, but I’d already ironed one whole thing and felt there was no need to go to ironing extremes. Besides, now the ironed bed skirt is symbolic of all the work we do that never sees the light of day. And it’s also symbolic of my guiding principle which is that Half Assed Is Good Enough. After all, mathematical integers prove that anything more than zero is in an infinite percentage more than nothing; since I ironed something, that is infinitely more than ironing nothing. INFINITELY MORE. And infinity is a LOT, you guys. A TON.

P.P.S. This is my view right now.

 

P.P.P.S. Good night.

An Update on the Messes: Church, Holes in the Wall, America, and Pants

Apr 11 2017

It’s raining outside and the window is open because the puking kid in my bed wants it that way, and we all know pukers get what pukers want. Except red juice. Pukers don’t get red juice. Not ever again.

I can hear the delicate pitter patter of the rain drops hitting the patio interspersed with the giant KERPLOPS of rain gushing over the clogged gutters which we didn’t clear this winter — a mistake in Oregon — but there’s only so much time and SO MANY projects to fail to complete. The gutters made the Fail List this year. And I think last year, too. It’s OK, though. They’ll rust, and the water will get in, and the house will crumble around us, but it’s OK. It’s important, after all, to build Long Term and Short Term plans. Our Long Term House Destruction plan, for example, is water damage and mold which will lead to total structural failure. Our Short Term plan is, obviously, accidental fire. Since one of the kids left the gas oven on all night last week, we feel like that one’s a real possibility.

This is a strange season of life for Greg and me. For our family. For America. For the universal church, and for ours specifically. For the world, too.

We’re just… really weary most days. Struggling. Straggling. Doing what we can right now, which isn’t always what we need to do, like clean out the gutters, but we’re going for barebones survival here, you know? Trying to make it through each day with our awesome, assholish kid without doing irreparable damage to him or ourselves. Trying to figure out where we belong after finding ourselves in the wilderness of the unknown when it comes to our faith community. Trying to figure out how our country and our world can inflict so much suffering on so many people who are so very vulnerable.

It’s a strange thing to be in our 40’s and adrift, especially when we thought we knew where we were moored. We thought we’d carved out a space to belong in America, and we figured we were raising our transracial, multicultural children in a country devoted to becoming kinder and more inclusive. We certainly thought we’d always be welcome at church. I understand how clearly I’m highlighting our embedded privilege here and our naivety, but it’s still true. And now, the places we thought we belonged — the places we thought were sure bets — the places we thought we were well established — are no longer fully home. Maybe they never were. And we adorable, white, highly educated, middle class, English-as-a-first-language, Christian Americans are just now, belatedly, figuring it out. Bless our hearts.

Those on the outskirts and the margins of our church have been trying to tell us about their suffering for years. For years and years. But Greg and I, sweet little baby bunnies that we are, are only now waking up to the Matrix. We’re only now looking around, eyes beginning to see. Only now beginning to understand the price we’d have to pay in our Consciences and Integrity and Deepest Understanding of what it means to Love God and Love Our neighbors as Ourselves to stay in those safe-for-people-like-us places. It’s been a real eye-opener, I tell you, and I say this as a person who is still largely blind and who has much to learn before the scales fall fully away.

But here’s my secret for the day… shhhhhhhh, don’t tell… I’m starting to like it out here with the wind on my face.

I’m starting to feel excited about the unknown.

I’m starting to believe that being cut loose may turn out to be a gift. I had grown terribly weary, after all, of having to behave to belong.

I feel like we’ve jumped onto the ship of the Wayward and the Wanderers. All the way on, instead of trying to straddle it and the other. We had to pick. Stay on the old ship and comply, or leave and do a new thing. And so we’ve thrown our lot in with the Weary and the Wary and the Wild and the Free, and we’re out on deck, just getting under way. Just now feeling the wind pick up. Just now watching the shore recede.

And so, Greg and I are in the process right now of waving good-bye to the things we once knew and clung to. Waving good-bye to our false idols of Comfort, Conformity and Compliance. Waving good-bye to the rules of the evangelical Christian subculture which haven’t fit us well for a long, long time. Waving good-bye to our desperate desire to have beloved members of our former community approve of us, see the best in us, and believe we are racing toward God and the Gospel and Good News instead of away. Shoving the anger that masks our hurt firmly over the side, and shoving it over again when it crawls back up, because angry and bitter is not who we choose to be, and we’re not going to give it a free ride to the New Thing where we’re headed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where my loyalty lies as we begin this new journey. I’ve been considering what it means to live in the Freedom and Fullness of Love and Grace, and about what I might do — or who I might become — to help invite others, who are as tired as we are, into that space. I’ve been thinking about how to become a Light-bringer and a chain-breaker and a justice-monger and a Love-dweller the way Jesus taught us to be. The truth is, I don’t know yet. I don’t know, but I feel like we’re headed the right way.

Sending love to you, friends, and waving, waving, waving in the dark,

 

 

 

P.S. For lots of reasons, mostly related to the oldest boy child but partially related to being batshit crazy, I’ve been housebound this month. Housebound and focused on keeping my kid afloat. With an itchy brain. While contemplating a country and church that are hard to make sense of.  It’s been a MONTH, in other words. A MONTH, friends. But I’m able to put one foot in front of the other and no one has smothered anyone with a pillow, so we’re counting it in the win column.

As a result, I’ve spent the last two weeks building the fairy house and pestering Greg to cut the door and find the right screws and drill holes and basically be my beck-and-call fairy house construction manager, which he has LOVED because who needs to work from home to make money when you could be running fairy errands for your wife? Amirite? Greg thinks so, too. You can tell by the loving way he rolls his eyes and says, “Not right now, Beth. Maybe tonight.”

The thing is, I’m finding solace in hunkering down and building a sanctuary for the magic to get in. It feels right just now. Like it makes All the Sense in the Whole Entire World to use bits and pieces of things we overlook every day to build a visual reminder that the mysterious is welcome and will be sheltered here.

P.P.S. Here are 100,000 fairy house pictures. Because priorities.

BEFORE:

The destroyed Mouse House.

THEN:

A bigger hole.

THEN:

The bones of the Fairy House.

THEN:

We get serious, man.

Also, side benefit — making Greg work on the Fairy House during his lunch break.

And cutting up 1000 pine cones for shingles.

THEN:

Assembly.

UNTIL, FINALLY:

A Fairy House.

Now, obviously, there are still a million things we can do with this, but for our purposes, this is essentially complete.

I decided to spend $0 on this project because a) I’m cheap, and b) I’m cheap. My mommy gifted me the fairy lights. They came in an old onion jar so they smell horrible. I think the fairies will like it.

And I pulled the wooden thread spools (table and chairs, obviously) from a stash I inherited from my grandmother.

I figure, anything else the fairies need, they can create with magic, just like I do.

So there the Fairy House sits.

Directly across from our hall closet, Harry Potter’s Cupboard Under the Stairs,

And when people walk in our front door,

they’re greeted by All Things Magical — the Fairy House, the Cupboard, and the Ravenclaw Room… and that end table, not marked, is from the set of Grimm.

Plus discarded pants.

I feel like this is just honest.

We’re magic and mess, after all. Magic and mess.

P.P.P.S. Love to you. That’s all for now. Hopefully more soon. xoxo

My Kid Experiences Disability. He’s Potentially a Very Rad Human. Right Now, Though, He’s an ASS.

Mar 22 2017

Look. There are certain things that are harder to write than others. Mine tend to get a little flip flopped. Writing about the church? Ugh. HARD. Writing about pooping my closet? Surprisingly easy. So I’m not necessarily like everyone else when it comes to which subjects are agonizing and which are delightful, but, on this one, I suspect I’m like everyone else. Writing about my kid who experiences disability = hard. One of the hardest. Partly because I want to protect as much of his story as possible. And partly because there’s a sort of unspoken Hippocratic Oath among those of us who parent children who experience disability; we want, above all, to do no harm to these kiddos who already have enough challenges without their mommies making it worse by speaking out. You know? And so there’s an almost-covenant; if we DO tell our kids’ stories, we tell OUR PART ONLY. We tell the bits that help other mamas and dads like us know they’re NOT ALONE. We speak of our children in the BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT, always with sympathy, always with understanding. The world is already judging them, after all, more harshly than the world judges me or you, and we’ve made HUGE STRIDES over the last 5 or 10 years in helping the world SEE our kids as HUMANS FIRST and not CHALLENGES FIRST.

Disabilities of all kinds are less maligned than they used to be. We ARE making progress, at least among those of us who are kind and seek a diverse human experience. I see a new campaign every day to break down barriers. To increase understanding. To educate the public on how to treat each other. But, as a society, we still seem to need those who experience disability to be sweet and nice. To be cherubic. To be, if they experience difficulty, TRIUMPHANT about it, damn it. OVERCOMING their difficulties. And we’d like to hear about those difficulties after they’ve been solved, please. Never in the middle of them. Never, EVER. And so we rob those who experience disability of part of their humanity. Their ability to be fully, messily human when we insist they only have MAGIC and never mess. We make them caricatures of people so we can understand them in as few dimensions as possible; we steal their complexity and, in the end, part of their story, after all.

We’ve gotten to the part where we parents can admit raising kids — ANY kind of raising kids — and also raising kids who experience disability is HARD WORK. THANK GOD we’ve arrived there and parents are reaching out to each other to form networks and advocacy programs and person-centered decision making. THANK GOD and all the people who have made this happen.

We have not gotten to the part where we can share the full truth of what we experience.

But, friends.

Friends.

Friends.

I need to tell you a piece of that full truth now, because we Woolseys are in the MUCK and the MIRE right now, and we are NOT seeing the magic in the mess. We might someday. We cling to that as our future and carry that hope for our child who cannot carry it for himself right now. But today is not that day. Today is MESS, following days and days and months and months of more mess.

My kid — my kid with GREAT potential, who is beautiful and sensitive and had a HORRIBLE, HARD START in life and, since then, EVERY medical, psychological, mental and developmental reason for the very real challenges he faces every single day — is also an ASS right now.

Like, my kid is REALLY a jerk.

And it’s not Oppositional Defiant Disorder. There’s not some unearthed diagnosis here. We KNOW what this is — a large part is, in fact, medical — and we know WHY he does it, AND ALSO, he’s currently a big bully and his behavior is not OK. ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE at the same time. He has good reasons to be a jerk, AND IT’S NOT OK. Both/And, friends. Both/And.

My kid used to be kind. Truly, deeply kind, and he looked out for others. Lately, 95% of the time, he’s not kind. Not to his family. And, more and more lately, not to his peers, either. Nearly all of the words he uses these days around our house are intended to maximize rudeness, hurt others, or, if he accomplishes all of his goals in one fell swoop, both.

He punched his 10-year-old brother in the stomach a few weeks ago.

He told a kid at school he was going to kill him. “I didn’t mean it, Mom” and rolling his eyes didn’t go over as well as he hoped.

He uses his man-sized body to block people littler than him or stand imposingly over them while refusing to move — nonverbal threats of force.

He’s been banned by XBox Live for inappropriate (read: threatening) chats.

His Gmail count has been deleted — by Google, in an official decision — for the same. We have responded at this point by removing all access to everything online for the foreseeable future. Which, you know, makes him ECSTATIC.

These are not, in other words, cute misbehaviors or understandable one-off scenarios. These are consistent. Disheartening. Discouraging. Sad. And this is a child on the cusp of adulthood — knocking on the door of age 18 — so I often have to pull myself back from the brink of going Full Lizard Brain, all “FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW IS THE ONLY REASONABLE SOLUTION,” and assuming this is going to all end in a firefight with the police. The facts that he’s only ever at school or at home don’t seem to matter to Mommy Lizard Brain. She exists to call up the worst possible scenario, bless her catastrophizing heart.

Please understand, I am not unsympathetic to his behavior, nor do I blame the man child entirely. There are good reasons for this kid in particular to be a total raging asshole right now. In addition to intellectual disability, he is developmentally somewhere between an immature age 4 and age 6, with all of the impulse control that entails, while trying to navigate a 17-year-old body with hormones; he has expressive and receptive language disorders which keep him locked inside his head without the ability to talk things out the way you and I do, making for quite the pressure cooker of emotions and frustration; he suffers from anxiety and PTSD which he keeps on a tight leash at school and, therefore, unleashes entirely when he gets home; and, he is the perfect storm of social awareness — aware that he is different and desperately wanting to be cool with no real ability to navigate peer relationships in a socially normative way.

It is, in other words, a total cluster. Just an utter mess. This is a kid — a young man — who is trying to find his power and his purpose, and he’s found it very powerful to use his body and his words as weapons. To a person who feels otherwise out of control, having ANY amount of power is extremely seductive; he simply doesn’t have the developmental or intellectual ability to combat that right now. The problem is, we don’t know if he ever will.

I like to think, when Lizard Brain isn’t in control, that this is a phase.

I remind myself that many teenagers — myself at that age absolutely included — go through a raging asshole stage.

I remind myself of all the help we’re getting — from his school, from doctors, from specialist, from eating programs and emotional regulation, from my parents who are working tirelessly on his behalf to get him the additional services he needs.

I remind myself that my child who experiences disability is FULLY HUMAN, and all of this simply proves it.

I remind myself that he is also FULLY DIVINE, made in God’s own image, even if I want to drop kick him over the back fence right now and see if any of that damn divinity will shake loose so I can SEE SOME.

And, because I, too, am fully human, I succeed at those things some days, and I don’t succeed others.

So.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because my kid, like every person on this planet, is real. He’s complex. He suffers. He makes good choices. He makes terrible ones. He is not cherubic at the moment. He’s being rather awful, in fact. Part of being real, though, means being ALL MESS sometimes. ALL MESS with magic buried deep down inside.

Waving in the dark, friends,

 

 

 

 

 

Because I Needed to Fix ONE Damn Thing

Mar 20 2017

There’s paint on my fingernails. Some of it’s nail polish. Some of it’s wall paint.

Abby came home from college for Spring Break. She left warm, sunny Hawaii where her friends spent the week on the beach in teeny, tiny swimsuits getting perfect tan lines, for cold, rainy Oregon and her mommy and daddy. I told her she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong. But kids these days; they never listen.

“LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE,” she said, Spring Break Day 1.

“OMG! YES. YES, LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE RIGHT NOW,” I said back, which I’ve never previously said to her — never in her whole life — because it costs $25 to get ONE PERSON’S NAILS DONE ONE TIME, whereas an ENTIRE BOTTLE of nail polish is $3.99 at the grocery store, OR, if you insist on being fancy, $8.99 with a $2 off coupon.

But Abby knows exactly when her mommy is a sucker — Spring Break Day 1, man — because even if she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong, I’ve at least taught her the life skill called How to Manipulate Your Mama So She Does Whatever You Want, Always. And so, I sit here typing with manicured nails, but also hands dotted with wall paint because I’m why we can’t have nice things.

“Tracy and I got fake nails today,” I wrote in my 5th grade journal after we snuck to the store and squandered our allowance on press-on nails, “but then we dug up a gopher hole, so they fell off.” My 43-year-old hands are, in other words, exactly like my 10-year-old hands. I tried to look like a grown-up, friends. I tried real hard.

I painted my bedroom this week.

It wasn’t part of the plan, I have 36 other priorities right now, my teenage man-child with special needs is having a rough go of it lately, but, suddenly, nothing felt as important as painting, rearranging and redecorating my bedroom. Not one thing.

Instead of mock myself for it, though, I’ll tell you — and myself — a more gentle truth: I needed to control something in a world that feels out of control. I needed to make something pretty in a world that seems ugly. I needed sanctuary as our church falls apart. I needed a sanctuary to sit in. I needed to find sanctuary in the ethereal sense. And, while there’s a very, very small, logical part of me that understands painting my room ultimately provides no substantial fix, there’s a much larger part that is soothed by fixing something. Anything. One goddamn thing. Even — especially — if that thing is where I lay my head at night.

More soon, friends. I’ve been trying to wrap my fragile, fabulous, fearful, fierce brain around what to say about the world these days and how to navigate it. I’m almost there. Stay tuned.

With love, as always,

 

 

 

P.S. Here’s what I’ve done to the room so far…

I forgot to take “before” photos, so these are mid-way pics… in the middle of cleaning and reorganizing pre-painting and moving furniture.

BEFORE(ish):

BEFORE(ish):

We’ve switched where the bed and desk are located. Thus,

AFTER:

AFTER:

P.P.S. I DID think about making the bed for you — it’s adorable with all the different Bohemian-feel linens which are a combo of stuff we already had, like that weird and fabulous 1960’s quilt from my great aunt, and the throw pillows you can see on the dresser, and the other linens like the blue and white bedspread I scored from Goodwill — but, honest to God, our bed is only made 0.0001% of the time so making it for you felt too much like lying. So we’re going with “it’s the thought that counts.” I thought about making the bed, so it counts, yes? Yes. This is why we’re friends.

P.P.P.S. The Nolen’s Booksellers sign was Greg’s score at the recent sale in Portland of all the prop pieces from the Grimm TV series. Seems fitting to put with Aden’s werewolf self-portrait and our twins’ zombie pic.

P.P.P.P.S. The desk wall isn’t done.

I’m considering doing a word mural on the wall with what has become my theme…

There is MAGIC in the MESS,
and GRACE in the GRIME
and WONDER in the WILD
of this LIFE lived OFF-COURSE
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

It seems like the perfect place for such a reminder. I’m just not sure how to execute that idea. Thoughts??

P.P.P.P.P.S. I have a beginner’s writing retreat coming up in May at the Oregon Coast! I’d love to hang out with you there. You can find all the info here: Writing 101. Please do consider coming! And contact me if you have any questions. <3