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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St. Jude: Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes

Aug 19 2016

I’m in Hawaii, sitting next to an olive-green painted stucco wall on the concrete deck of the Kona Brewing Company drinking a half Lavaman Lager / half Hula Hefeweizen overlooking a Chevron gas station. The ocean is on the other side of the highway somewhere — probably — and my beer is nearly gone, very warm, and totally flat. Still delicious, though, because low standards for the win!

I don’t know why it always feels important to tell you where I am when I write to you. Maybe because I’m always asking myself that question both literally and figuratively; where the hell am I? Am I where I want to be? Where I meant to be? Is where I am OK anyway, even if I’ve veered off track or didn’t have a well-mapped plan?

We’re here on Oahu dropping our oldest baby off for college which is impossible to believe and still true, and, from the articles I see online, I notice I’m supposed to be doing things I haven’t done — like prepare for drop-off day with a measuring tape and garbage bags and a tool kit — and feeling things strongly instead of not being able to make sense of my feelings at all. I see I’m supposed to want to make her bed and unpack her stuff and we’re supposed to argue about that — her staking out her turf and me trying to “help” without asking how — and I wonder whether this is another Mom Thing I’m Doing Wrong because I have no real need to do any of those things, nor to wash her new sheets or worry whether she’ll do well in this new life. I don’t know whether I’m cocky, but I feel like I already know; she’ll do well in this new life and she won’t, like all of the humans throughout history — happy and well-adjusted, and also struggling and wondering where she fits. Where the hell is she, anyway? Is she where she wants to be? Where she meant to be? Is this place OK, even if she veers off track or doesn’t have a well-mapped plan?

This is a strange season, and I know that’s not true just for me or for our family. This is a Strange Season, friends.

  • Our kids are getting older and the Parenting Game changes its rules constantly these days. We practice flexibility like it’s our profession, the way doctors practice medicine; years of study, followed by internship, followed by residency which nearly kills us with its dangerous lack of sleep, followed by either actively working or being on call 24/7. Relentless, right? Relentless.
  • Our church denomination is trying to decide whether there’s room for LGBTQ people at the table, and we had more meetings this summer with no decisions again, which were agonizing to everyone and which make all of us on all the sides wonder whether there’s a place for us here.
  • Our oldest boy-child is suffering. We’re seeking more help for him (always), and we don’t know if we’re doing enough (also always).
  • And our U.S. presidential election … just… what the holy ever-loving fuck, friends?? I know I should put that differently, but OH DEAR GOD, HELP US, and, honestly, given the number of times I’ve prayed using the words “what the ever-loving fuck,” I trust Jesus to know that’s a sincere prayer.

This is just a Really Strange Season, is my point. Very Strange. Exceedingly Strange. Like standing on shifting sand. Or on what we thought was solid ground which turns out to be a thin crust of earth on top of a giant sinkhole that gives way so we freefall in perpetuity like Alice headed to Wonderland. DUDE; where the hell am I? Am I where I want to be? Where I meant to be? Is where I am OK anyway, even if I’ve veered off track or didn’t have a well-mapped plan or am in utter freefall??

In recent years, I’ve claimed St. Jude as my family’s patron saint. He is, after all, the patron saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes and Things Almost Despaired Of. I could think of no better fit. We’re not Catholic, except in the sense that we believe in a Universal Church that unifies, rather than divides, us. And I had no theology of saints or sainthood except to notice that American Protestants reject them as idols. So I have no idea how many good Christian people I’m offending in claiming a patron saint for our family, but I find that with age I’m less and less inclined to pay attention to who’s being offended and more inclined to pay attention to the things which seem Deeply True and lead me to Love God, who’s other name is Love, and Love My Neighbors As Myself. The saints, it turns out, aren’t idols but advocates who intercede with God on our behalf, and, while I can why see this is offensive to protestants, believing, as we do, that we need no intercessor between ourselves and Love since that’s what Jesus (aka, Love Incarnate) came specifically to change, I find the concept not at all offensive that may dialogue directly with Love and ask a saint to intercede alongside me.

In other words, I’m probably mucking it all up.

No doubt, the Catholics and the Protestants are both dismayed at this point.

Nevertheless, I’ve claimed St. Jude for our own.

Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes and Woolseys and Things Nearly Dispaired Of.

And so I’ve searched and searched for quite some time to find a pendant of St. Jude to wear around my neck and remind me that in the midst of all the mess and madness it’s OK to ask Love for help.

In the midst of the chaos and splendor, it’s OK to ask Love to hold my hand.

In the midst of impossible darkness, when I can no longer pray on my own because I have no words left and despair has nearly overtaken me, I can hand my prayer to another who will bear them on my behalf.

I found my pendant, finally, in a stall in the middle of a market in Mexico, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t know whether I believe St. Jude is real. It matters that he might be. And it matters that there’s a symbol for carrying what’s impossible and jumbled and full of despair to a Love that’s bigger than us all.

IMG_1309I found my pendant, finally, and I snapped it up along with 4 more for you, though I wish I could’ve bought EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US a pendant and a necklace to put it on and a respite trip to Mexico with sun and sand and sympathy, which, FOR THE LOVE, we all need. Still, like I keep reminding myself, I did what I could when I could do it, and, at the time, it was buying 5 pendants — one for me and 4 for 4 of you — in the hope you’ll know to the depth of your bones I meant them for all of us, with our prayers sent on St. Jude’s wings regardless of who hangs the metal around his/her neck.

Friends, if you’d like one of the pendants, I’ll do a drawing eventually, picking randomly from the comments on this post using a random number generator. In the meantime, I’m praying, along with St. Jude, that Love will attend us during the Strange Season, and befriend us in the Chaos, and make our Impossible Causes possible, and lend us some of what it takes to not despair.

With love to every one of you,

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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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On Surfing and Life

Jul 19 2016

I sat by a beach at sunset last night, in the heat and humidity with sticky eyelids and hair bundled on top of my head, watching black specks on the horizon surface and dive, and surface and dive, and surface and dive. The waiter who brought me a mango margarita said they were dolphins, but I suspect they were mermaids or mommies or both who were drowning and surfacing and sometimes barely catching their breath and sometimes exuberantly celebrating their wild, weird and wonderful lives.

I sat with my sister-in-law, Kim, who is my friend and my family and sometimes my confidant, and we talked about life and the ways we’ve loved each other well and the ways we’ve failed each other — through our ten years together and also in the last month alone — and also about our boobs and our butts and whether we should order guacamole. Yes to the last, by the way. We love each other and we fight sometimes, but, my hand to God, we’ve never NOT ordered guacamole, which means, no matter what, we have a solid foundation for trusting each other moving forward.

Waterlogue-2016-07-19-15-39-32We sat on a precarious wood balcony with a panoramic view of the water and the mermaids and the mommies while the tide rushed in underneath us with force and enthusiasm which made us giddy and also made us wonder whether the whole structure would collapse, but we decided there were worse ways to go, so we stayed.

And we watched the surfers surf.

They paddled out into the tumultuous water and waited for it to rise behind them, and then they’d paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle, and try to catch the wave juuuust right. Just before the impact zone. Just where’s there’s the right amount of force. Just where the wave could propel them forward, and, when it did, to stand for only seconds at a time before they could turn their boards seaward again and drift back out to the ocean to try it again.

But that’s only when it went according to plan. Only when the untamed ocean complied with their precision timing. Only when sea and body worked in concert to create split seconds to soar.

Most often, they crashed.

And fell below the surface.

And tumbled inside the wave.

The impact zone taking them down and down and down until their buoyant bodies and boards, which they trusted over and over, brought them to the surface to try again.

And try again.

And try again.

Knowing they’d fall more than fly, they kept trying again and again and again.

It made me wonder if I’m not drowning, exactly. It made me wonder if maybe I’m just tumbling and need to accept the fall as the price to fly.

I googled surfing today. Because I wondered and needed to know. How do surfers survive the big waves? And what can I learn about how to survive mine?

Here’s what I learned, friends, which I share because we need this.

How to Survive Big Water and Battering Waves
in the words of surfers who would know:

  1. You hold your breath and relax. You might be tumbled, but your body and board are naturally buoyant and will surface if you wait it out. Then you look out for the next wave breaking & get the f*ck out of the way.
  2. The sensation is rather intense. You have NO idea what direction is up, if you are going to get dragged along the ocean floor, when it will be over, if you are going to collide with another surfer. Every time you wipe out you are quickly reminded that you are a speck in the ocean and the waves can have their way with you if they want. Fun stuff! You relax, pretend you are a rag doll, and eventually swim your way to the top.
  3. One loses one’s sense of direction under water, but, if one can locate “down,” then “up is in the opposite direction.
  4. I body surfed a lot as a kid, and got washing-machined plenty. You just hold your breath, do your best to relax, and pull your limbs in so they don’t get yanked off.

With love in the waves (and wave-ing 😉 ),

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P.S. I keep forgetting to let you know I’ve updated retreat dates and descriptions for Fall 2016 and Winter/Spring 2017. For information on the spiritual formation retreat, go here. For information on the writing retreats, go here for the 101 version and here for the 202 version. I would LOVE to hang out with you at any/all of these!

Drowning and Swimming for the Surface. Maybe.

Jul 18 2016

Dearest Friends,

I’m drowning.

Optimistic.

And drowning.

Swimming for the surface.

And drowning.

Swimming in circles, maybe, actually, truthfully, since I can’t quite see the surface from here. But I believe in the surface, is what I’m saying. I believe it’s still there. Like I believe the dawn is coming. Always on the way, even in the darkest part of the night. And I’m swimming for it; the surface, the dawn. Whether I’m pointed in the right direction is almost superfluous, right? Almost? Just keep swimming. And swimming. And swimming. Except when I lie still here, under the water, in a dead man’s float where it’s quiet and cold and sort of peaceful in its own drowny way. I’ll swim again in a minute. For now I’ll rest.

I’m in no danger, I think, this time, while drowning. I’ve been in danger before, but not right now. I have lifelines. I’ve grown them, like tentacles, over time, and collected the lines I’ve been thrown. I have a few tied off, even now, and will climb some soon to see which lead to the surface this time. Those lifelines, though; they’re a labyrinth. Like the stairways at Hogwarts, always shifting. Still stairs. Still lifelines that lead somewhere; just not always where I necessarily need to go, and so I have to seek out different routes to the surface sometimes.

Depression lies. But for now I’m drowning. I’ll swim for the surface soon.

Waving in the dark,

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P.S. Sorry this post is a little weird and dark. I’m OK. I swear it. It’s just that I decided a long time ago to not hide from you — or myself — when I’m “middling dark” instead of very, very happy or very, very depressed. The middle is a weird place to be. Sort of undefinable except in strange metaphors about water and nighttime and believing in the surface and the dawn which are easier for me to cling to sometimes than hope, which is too big and slippery to grab with my tentacles.

P.P.S. My parents and brother and husband have sent me away for a few days with my sister-in-law for respite. It’s a lifeline. GOD BLESS THEM. I’ll be writing more this week. That’s one of the respite goals to unclog my mind and heart and soul. And to rest. Life is challenging right now. And relentless always. I know you get it, friends. That’s why we need each other.

P.P.P.S. This…

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I love you with all my butt. I would say heart, but my butt is bigger.

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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