Yesterday, Today, Thirteen Years Ago

On a perfect late summer afternoon the boys raced around the playground. My friend and I relaxed on the grass a short distance away. I watched my two kids lazily, and gossiped with my pal. Our friends who are brand new parents strolled over with their son and joined us. It was a lovely time even if I did have to get up every few minutes in order to force my children to apologize to whomever it was that they just hit.

A small firetruck sped down the street, sirens wailing, causing the kids to stop what they were doing and watch. It turned the corner down the long side of the park and pulled next to the basketball court. An ambulance followed along with another small firetruck. In the next few minutes six police cars joined them. By then our kids had crowded around us and started asking questions.

My friend noticed a person performing chest compressions on someone before the first rescue vehicle reached them. The teens playing basketball crowed around. Paramedics took over. But after many minutes they stopped. Put the person receiving the compressions on a gurney and into the ambulance. The doors closed. The ambulance sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the teenagers wandered away and got back to their game. The cops milled around. No one seemed to be in the ambulance with the person.

The younger kids didn’t understand, but the pair of five year old boys in our group had so many questions. We explained how all the rescue personnel were there to help someone who had an accident. We did not explain that it was clear the person had died.

Forty-five minutes earlier the kids were playing on the playground. I was lounging on the ground, chatting with good friends. A person was walking around the perimeter of the park. And then that person wasn’t walking anymore. We were in a park with forty or so other humans, most of whom we will never know. We were all there together for a moment, hearts beating, living life, people coming and going. And then one of us was gone while the rest of us watched awkwardly from a distance.

The boys ran off and started to play again, our chitchat resumed although our eyes were on the ambulance. We left the park, went home, cooked dinner, told our spouses about it, checked local news sources to see if it was mentioned, but mostly got on with our lives.

But the people who loved the person in the park? September 10, 2014 will be a day they never forget. Their lives changed yesterday. I thought about those people last night. And somehow the thought of them got tied up in the thoughts about today.

Thirteen years later and it would be fair to say that I haven’t come to terms with September 11th. Every anniversary I feel closer and further away from what happened. I feel angrier. More lost.

When the subway I was riding on that day pulled into the Fulton Street station both planes had already hit the towers. But the majority of the people who would die there were still alive. They were alive as the subway left Fulton Street and made the short trip to the World Trade Center stop. They were alive when we arrived in the Village at the West 4th Street station. They were alive as I climbed the stairs from underground on 86th Street on the Upper West Side. They were alive when I took money out of the ATM and bought a pack of Camel Lights. They were alive while I rushed into the tiny studio apartment that served as an office. As I desperately tried to reach my boss. As I turned on the tiny TV. As I tried to comprehend that a land line in New York City did not have a dial tone. And then suddenly they were dead.

It has been thirteen years and I still don’t understand. I was so close to what happened geographically. And I was unscathed.

I was so close geographically, but I lost neither my life, nor the life of a loved one. Sometimes location means nothing. Grief doesn’t permeate my life every single day the way it does for those who lost family that day. Most of the time I can easily block out the memories. Today I can’t. The morning thirteen years ago replays over and over in my mind as I walk through life pretending that all is well.

But isn’t that how most Americans experience September 11th? Loss can take your breath away even when you don’t know the person in the park or the people on the planes, in the towers, or the government building.

I haven’t come to terms with what happened that day. But it sure as hell has shown me what poison hate and extremism are. Directed at us or by us.

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Sometime between ’99 and ’01. A boozy night on our roof with K and a disposable camera.

No Good, Very Bad Day

My hands smell faintly of shit.

Let me back up a bit. T was warm when we put him to bed last night. This morning he clearly had a fever, how high I didn’t know because the damn thermometer only gave a reading of 97 or 98. He also had a sore throat.

I have vowed to be the kind of Mom who sends her kid to school unless the need for an ambulance is involved. On the 4th day of kindergarten I broke that vow. C had his three year well visit today at 10, so I brought sick T along for the ride.

sick t

In the doc’s parking lot. He was passed out at 9:45am. And no, I have no idea what is going on with his tongue.

Let’s just say that getting a nearly catatonic kid plus a kid having a tantrum on the scale to grab their weights was quite the workout for the nurse and me. It was also loud enough for the occupants of the waiting room down the hall and around the corner to have a blow by blow of events, which I’m sure they appreciated. Because they got to feel good that their children were not embarrassing them in public.

T doesn’t have strep. And I’m really bummed. Not because I’m a raging asshole. (Oh who am I kidding, I am a raging asshole, but that part comes later in the post) If he had strep the antibiotics would ensure that he would feel better tomorrow. And that he could go to the birthday party he was looking forward to. Along with his first swimming lesson since he was about one. Instead I can’t do anything to help him. He is going to feel like total garbage for the next several days.

I’m sure C will catch it in time to miss his first day of school preschool on Monday. Speaking of C, he has rocketed up the growth chart from the 3% in weight one year ago all the way up to 5% today. This kid is so painfully thin that I’m scared people will think I’m starving him. If we manage to get him up to double digits in weight by the time he gets there in age perhaps I’ll stop obsessing that Child Protective Services is going to show up at my door demanding that I prove I’m giving him three square meals a day.

We got home and ate our lunch. The boys finished first and T collapsed back on the couch while I gave both boys a marshmallow, a bribe for making it through the flu shot at the doc’s. And yes, the doc gave the all clear for T to get the vaccine. He’s fever was only 100.5. And yes, the nurse and I had to hold T down together while he thrashed and screamed in anticipation of the shot. And yes, I cried a little.

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Poor sick kid couldn’t bring himself to eat the marshmallow.

I settled back at the table to bolt the rest of my lunch before taking C up for his nap. Two minutes later C walked into the room and proclaimed, “I pooped!”

I whipped around. There was poop on his thigh and leg. There was poop hanging off his butt. There was poop all over both his hands. In what feels like slow motion I watched him put one hand and then the other in his mouth.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed. But it was too late.

“DO NOT MOVE!” I’d scared the hell out of him. He wasn’t moving, but he was also weeping.

I carried him to the bathroom by his shoulders. He tried to reach out for me and it was like a demon with a voice several octaves below mine has possessed me. “DO NOT TOUCH ME!”

He cried harder.

I used baby wipes to get the chucks and streaks of poop off of him. The crying continued. I was focused on not puking, therefore I was unable to provide comfort.

We awkwardly climbed the stairs with me holding his wrists. I used an obscene amount of soap all over him, washing his hands about six times. I finally thought they no longer smelled like shit.

When I got him in bed for his nap I notice his hands still smell like shit. As do mine.

He sniffled and asked to go downstairs to pick out a toy that he could sleep with. In perhaps my worst parenting moment of the year I tell him that he can only have a toy to nap with when he figures out how to poop in the potty. Ah, there is the part where I’m a raging asshole!

It would be fair to call him potty trained when it comes to pee. He wears underwear whenever he is awake. The pee accidents are few and far between and usually my fault for not reminding him to go. And here is where my denial of a toy is even more assholic. Please, feel free to judge my shitty parenting. He is scared to poop in the potty.

I have no idea how to get past his fear. I feel bad for him. Most days I have more patience with the shit accidents. But I am so fucking sick of it. I am sick of cleaning crap off the floor, off his body, I’m sick of the ground in shit in his underwear. I’ve actually thrown several pairs away because I cannot face trying not to puke in the utility sink while I scrub.

Help me friends. Help me. How do I convince him that he doesn’t need to be scared of pooping in the toilet? Also, if you know a trick for getting the smell of shit off of C and my hands I’d love to hear it!

c cupcake

I love him. I feel terrible for losing patience with him. I want him to shit in the fucking toilet.

Try Hard

T was sitting alone on the side of the tennis court, legs and arms pretzeled together to make himself as small as possible. I walked onto the court with C’s balance bike and passed Z. “He just said he failed,” Z muttered to me. “Seriously?” my heart stuttered. I walked on a few steps towards C. “He said that exact word?” I called back over my shoulder. “Yes.”

Z and I decided, oh ok….I decided that T wasn’t allowed to ride his balance bike anymore. He had to practice with the two wheeler or not ride at all. Trying new things is hard for him. He wants to get everything right the first time.

When he gets frustrated I remind him of the three things he needs to do in this life in order to make us proud. Three things. That is it. He must be kind. He must try hard. He must treat girls the same way he treats boys. He does those things and we will be proud of him no matter what.

I approached him. He turned his back. “I need some alone time.” “Ok. You can have some alone time. Then we need to talk.”

A few minutes later I led him off of the court. He chose to crawl under a towering pine, the lowest branches were high enough to form a private hideout as the boughs draped to the ground. “T. Look at me. You did not fail. Did you try?” He looked everywhere but at me. “Yes,” he sighed in exasperation. “Listen, what will make your father and I proud? What three things?” He folded his arms and looked away and I repeated the three items. “You did it. You tried. So you didn’t ride the bike on your own. So what? You aren’t going to magically do it. Everything takes practice. It is because you tried that you didn’t fail.” He started to roll his eyes and caught himself. “Before we go home you have to try one more time. You can’t leave here thinking you failed. Because the only way to fail is to not try.” He stared at me. “I’ll tell you what. You try again and I’ll give you a marshmallow before lunch.” He perked up. “How about five marshmallows? Because I’m five.” “How about one marshmallow….and five mini M&Ms.” “Yes.”

He did try. He didn’t learn to ride a two wheeler today, but he tried. And Z and I were proud of him.

He’s off to kindergarten tomorrow, which colored the whole bike conversation.

He’s off to kindergarten and I will not be there to talk to him in the shade of a grand pine tree. I will not be able to encourage him and support him in the moments when he feels like he has failed. Or when he is scared. Or when he is hurt. Tomorrow is one of the many small separations that will continue until he is his own man. That trajectory is right, it is what we all want for our children. But the selfish part of me is mourning. It doesn’t want to let him go. Or expose him to the cruelty of the world.

I’ve been wallowing today. Head bent, I wept in the car before pulling myself together to head into Wegman’s. This afternoon my heaving sobs drew Z to the kitchen as I swept the floor. In a sabotaging act of indulgence I’ve been listening to This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush. Hell, I’ve even been watching the damn scene in She’s Having a Baby where it is used.

He needs to grow up. I need to grow up. My heart is breaking.

This evening we talked about failing again. I changed tactics. “It’s ok to fail, you know.” I told him after he brushed his teeth before bed. “I fail all the time.” “Really?” he asked doubtfully. “You fail?” I laughed. And appreciated his confidence in me. “Oh baby, I fail every day. I fail many times every day.” “How?” “Well, every time I get mad at you and yell. Daddy fails too, when he gets mad and yells.” He looked thoughtful. “You know what? Nothing new is created without failure. People fail and fail until they get it right. Nothing good happens without putting yourself out there and failing.”

So I was giving him the opposite message that I did in the morning. Well, I failed during that conversation and was trying to get it right.

“A couple of years ago we got Daddy’s car. Do you know it is different from Mommy’s car and I didn’t know how to drive it? I had to learn. And I failed and I failed. Do you know how long it took me to learn?” “No.” “More than a year! Can you believe it?” “How is it different?”

Ok. Maybe he didn’t get the message tonight. But Z and I will continue to have the conversation with him.

Tomorrow is a day T and I let go of each other a little. It is also a day of excitement and adventure. I am proud of my small man. He is trying to figure out his place in this tricky world. I am trying to figure out how to be there to catch him when he stumbles while also giving him room to grow.

I just pray I make it back to the car after dropping him off before my tears come.

bike learning

His first try on two wheels.

k and t parking lot

My boy and me.

crazy t

He is going to rock kindergarten. In that exact outfit. Just realized that is what I laid out for him…

Moments of Engagement

When I find out a couple is splitting up I panic. Being married is like being in a club. Marriage can be awesome, but it is also constant work and sometimes it really sucks. When someone else’s marriage ends, even if that person is a stranger or a celebrity it is frightening. If that person can’t make it, how will Z and I? Marriage is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done. But there is strength in numbers. Because the knowledge that it could suddenly go south looms large.

When someone loses their battle with mental illness it feels the same way. When a talented, beloved, financially secure, success loses his battle with mental illness it is debilitating. A week and a half later and he is still in my thoughts for much of the day.The pain that his wife and children and close friends are in is so overwhelming it nauseates me. I mourn him. He was a  stranger, but I also welcomed into my home regularly through the television. He never knew me. I mistakenly thought I knew him.

I didn’t know him, but I know his disease intimately. I understand the hopelessness that led to his decision. The fog so dense it physically weighs you down, the agony of moving through another day, the feeling of utter uselessness, knowing with clarity that your loved ones would be infinitely better off without you as a weight around their neck.

The chance for another episode of severe depression is greater for me compared to the general population because of my history. I look at my sons, my reasons for working so hard to be well, and I know if I became depressed again there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do to prevent it. Manage it, yes. I am lucky enough to have a deep support system. But I cannot control my mental illness. I cannot will it away with sheer force or moxie or by pulling myself up by those bootstraps. More than 20 years with an anxiety disorder has taught me that much.

I am not depressed right now, but this news has settled over me like a heavy blanket, making it harder to take a deep breath, or engage in the word that feels fuzzy and just out of my reach. My constant companion, my anxiety has been more present. I worry. I worry about him, about where he is now, about if our souls go on, about what, if anything, comes after life. I worry about me, about my friends who suffer from mental illness, about my family who puts up with so much to help guide me through this life, about my still innocent sons who don’t understand mental illness, who shouldn’t have to understand it for a long time, but who will become very familiar with because of me. I feel guilt for the burden I am.

There have been moments of engagement over the last week and a half. I am holding on tightly to them. They aren’t always what I expect will snap me out of the darkness I feel.

Saturday morning I was dressing when C started screaming and crying downstairs. I knew he was probably ok, but the small part of me that imagined blood and destruction won out. I pelted down the stairs naked from the waist down and as I ran past the front door with the windows along its side I felt pretty damn sure no one would be ringing the bell at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. C was fine. Pissed at his brother, but fine. As I walked away from the boys the doorbell rang. The utter absurdity of the situation shook me out of my stupor.

The adrenaline rush of being stung by a bee just as I was finishing a particularly good run strangely made me feel joy.

The panic surrounding C when he pooped in his underwear while we were at friends’ for a cook out frustrated the hell out of me, but engaged me fully.

Reading the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book to T and watching his delight as he used his imagination to see what I was reading filled me with pure happiness.

My sweet, wonderful, hard working, speech delayed C looked up at me this morning as he said, “You go run?” His talking is enough to help me shake off the cloud of unease, but his recognition that running is part of who I am (after a life on non-exercise) made me proud.

So I hold on to those moments. I will mourn an extraordinary life lost as long as I need to. My lack of faith in religion will not stop me from hypocritically praying that the depression will never reoccur in my life. I get up every morning for my boys. I dress them and feed them and sometime even manage to take them to the zoo. They need me. And they motivate me to fight against the anxiety and the threat of depression. By needing me they have given me a priceless gift. The reason to live my life instead of hiding from it.

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These three guys. I want to be my best for each one of them.

ice cream mess

A moment of delight from several weeks ago. He even managed to get ice cream in his eye. What a nut.

t jumps off diving board

One of the best moments of our vacation. It was so hard for my guy, who is anxious himself, to screw up the courage to jump.

Thank You, Mr. Rome

When I was in high school a million years ago I was a drama kid. By which I mean I was a huge dork. But our theater program was so incredible that I didn’t give a single fuck that the popular kids made fun of me and my friends. I really do not mean to be unkind, but they seemed boring to me. And often really mean. I’m sorry popular kids at Robinson in the early 90s, but I watched you be pretty awful to the others and it grossed me out.

The theater dorks, or the drama fags as we were so charmingly called, were not perfect. We did not escape petty behavior or meanness or heartbreak. I think back to some of the hurtful and stupid shit I did back then and I squirm with regret. But mostly we watched out for each other. We loved each other and tried to help each other through the mess of high school and growing up.

Our fearless leader was Mr. Rome.

We spent a crazy amount of time with Mr. Rome. He taught a bunch of misfits everything about the theater. He arranged an annual series of field trips to Arena Stage in DC. We saw four shows a year for $10 each. What we really saw was what we were trying to do in high school happening in real life.

Mr. Rome wasn’t without fault, no teacher is. He had favorites, kids he didn’t get along with so well. But overall I think he did an overwhelming amount of good. He taught us discipline. He was there for us when we were struggling personally. He had vision and put on terrific shows. He made us feel like we were part of something. He took a ragtag group and gave up purpose. He helped us create. We made magic. We made lifelong friends. We worked hard. We cared. A group of snot nosed teenagers cared deeply.

Some of us have pursued careers in theater. Most of us haven’t. But what he taught us was so much more than drama. We learned teamwork. We made time for play while we worked our asses off. We learned how to be small cogs in something much bigger than ourselves.

A lot of us actually lettered in drama through ITS membership. Seriously. I still have mine. Never had the balls to get a letterman jacket, but the letter itself cracked me up and made me proud at the same time.

Tomorrow night there is a retirement party for Mr. Rome at our old school. It just so happens that my family is headed home to Syracuse tomorrow. So Z is going to drop me off along I81 in Virginia and our friend K will pick me up. K and I will head up to Robinson to attend the party.

Our friend K. The guy I met when I was a 14 year old freshman. He and I were pretty good friends in high school. He was 2 years older and cool (well, cool for drama) but he didn’t know it. He was talented and eccentric in a very authentic way. Hell, he is still eccentric in a very authentic way today. He and a guy named Zeke were college freshman together at North Carolina School of the Arts. After graduation they were struggling set designers and roommates in Brooklyn. And on June 14th, 1998 I met K’s roommate. Married him September 3rd, 2000. K was the best man. He is still our best man.

So tomorrow K and I will go thank Mr. Rome for everything he did for us. I can’t speak for what K will say. Hell, I don’t even know if Mr. Rome will remember me (although I like to think I am the only ITS president he worked with who actually bankrupted our little chapter which surely made a lasting impression). But even if he has no idea who I am I will thank him. For teaching me teamwork and hard work and setting crazy goals and meeting them. For helping me to meet a friend so close he is my family more than 20 years later. For being a big part of the reason I was lucky enough to love high school. For touch the lives of so many kids just like me.

Happy retirement, Mr. Rome. Mazel tov.

Karen and Mr. Rome

1994. Fall of my senior year. Working on Stage Door. Pretty sure I was assistant director on this one.

Dining Out

Last night my parents took us out to a very nice restaurant for dinner. Going out to a fast food joint with the boys makes me anxious. So as much as I was looking forward to a really delicious meal, I was a wee bit worried (by which I mean my stomach was clenched in fear) about the behavior of the two young men in my life.

Sometimes those boys surprise me. Ok, so Z took C for a quick walk outside before the meal came, and Z and I tag teamed the two mid-meal trips to the bathroom. But other than that it was smooth sailing. Star Wars stickers worked their magic yet again.

Near the end of the meal a friend of my parent’s walked by the table. She has young grandchildren, so she bent down to chat with T. He is a bit of a rambler when he gets going and dude was on a tear. “Do you know what? Well, tomorrow is going to be me and Charlie’s birthday. But, but, but…tomorrow isn’t really me and Charlie’s birthday. But we get our birthday with Grandma and Grandpa tomorrow. And we are, um, we are, uhhh, we are going to have presents. And a cake. I want a….Star Wars Angry Bird cake. And we are getting presents! I want Star Wars legos. I want a Chewbacca figure. I saw it at the Lego store. The Chewbacca figure, well, it has a slot, not a put on head. Like the Gamorrean guard. They are the only two with a slot, not a put on head. But we already have the Gamorrean guard. And I want a big Star Wars Angry Birds play set. A big one.”

This lovely woman was a total sport. She just let him talk and murmured little hmmms and yeses at all the right places.

T paused for a second, took a deep breath, and looked her square in the face.

“I just farted.”

He is totally my child.

T in the pool

Loving the pool with Daddy. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith Photography.

popsicle love at floyd fest

T and Z went to Floyd Fest. First music festival for T.

playing at Floyd fest

He had a really good time.

IUD Inside

Last month’s Hobby Lobby ruling by the Supreme Court filled me with such blinding rage that I have been unable to write about it (or even think about it) in a reasonable manner. And railing at the universe with vitriol and bitterness is useless. It turns into preaching to the choir. If any of us hope to effect change that is one lousy way to do it.

So let me get this off my chest and I’ll be able to move on.

Ugh, I can’t do it. I can’t curse out the members of SCOTUS who formed the majority of the ruling or Hobby Lobby in writing. It would be irresponsible because it would basically invalidate everything else I say.

But I AM DOING IT IN MY MIND.

Okey doke. I do feel a tiny bit better. You know what else has made me feel better? Buying this T-shirt.

Why am I so upset? Obviously, an employer rather than a medical professional making health care decisions that only affect women is a big problem for me. But leaving that for a moment, what scares the living shit out of me is how this court values the rights of the few over the many. Business owners are not a majority in our country. They tend to be more powerful and wealthy than the general population. And in this ruling their wants were given more weight.

The ruling is un-American.

Imagine for a moment that Christian business owners were not the ones who brought the law suit, rather a group of Muslim business owners who disliked birth control being a component of the company healthcare plan. Do you believe for a second the ruling would have been the same?

Certain business owners do not want to pay for birth control, either all of it or some of it. But you know what? They aren’t paying for it at all. Health care is not some benevolent gift granted to workers by a company. It is compensation for services rendered. The idea that a company can dictate how any part of a compensation package is spent, especially based on religious ideology, is mind boggling. Could a closely held company run by a devout Jew ban employees from purchasing pork with money they earned in his or her employ? Could LBGT community members be denied jobs based on sexual orientation?

Those examples seem extreme, but no more extreme than the ruling handed down on June 30th. My shock that day was complete. I did not believe for a moment that the ruling could possible go the way that it did.

Fifty years from now when this court is considered by historians the majority opinion will be judged harshly.

Would you like to know why I choose an IUD as birth control?

Because my husband and I enjoy having sex and we cannot afford another baby. Because I have been on hormonal birth control to manage severe menstrual cramps since before I was sexually active. Because I had a D&C five days postpartum after delivering our first son to stem the horrifying bleeding caused by a piece of left behind placenta and I hemorrhaged six hours after the birth of our second son and menstrual bleeding now scares the hell out of me and exacerbates my anxiety disorder. The tiniest blood clot makes me seize up with terror. What does that have to do with anything? A side effect of the Mirena IUD is a much lighter flow. My reasons are complex and simple, much like the choices any woman makes about her reproductive health and life.

To have that choice compromised by an employer is unconscionable. The women who work for Hobby Lobby are hourly and low wage employees. They cannot just get another job. Low wage retail is a shitty existence. They would get out if they could. The women with the least power are the ones getting screwed. Un-American. Shameful. Frightening.

So what does an outraged feminist do? This one makes a t-shirt. And wears it in pubic with pride. My tiny action might not make any difference at all. I usually wouldn’t advertise my private choices on my t-shirt. But this one matters. I am not ashamed of my IUD. I’m grateful for it. And I’m pissed that I need to be grateful to my husband’s employer for not objecting to it.

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Bam. The IUD is right in there doing its thing. Hope the folks I passed by at Target and at the Children’s Science Museum yesterday enjoyed it as much as I do.