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.

Four Years and Ten Months

Four years and ten months ago we moved to Syracuse. Our sweet little house just became the dwelling I have lived in longer than any other in my life.

Before I left home for college I lived in 9 places. I attended 8 schools before graduating from high school. I did live in the NYC area from 95-06. In 99 I moved to Brooklyn and we stayed, albeit in 3 apartments, for 7 years. Over three stints from 1981-1995, I lived in Farifax County, VA for a little more than 8 years cumulatively.

But Syracuse now holds my personal record for longest stretch at one address.

The funny thing is it feels like we moved here just last year. It also feels like we’ve been here forever. There are so many firsts tied to this place. We closed on our house a week before T was born. Z truly loved his job for the first time here. I became a stay at home mom. We weathered a heartbreaking miscarriage. I got pregnant with C and we welcomed him into our family. T started preschool. C started preschool. We navigated early intervention and speech therapy. I started taking graduate classes. I started running. In a few short months T will go to kindergarten.

Syracuse was supposed to be a pit stop of sorts, a resume builder as we looked for teaching opportunities for Z closer to family.  At some point along the way it has become home.

We love it here. We are happy. We have a wonderful circle of friends. We imagine our boys growing up with this built in peer group. The kids they hang with have become important to us, we really care about them and love watching them grow.

There is so much to do in the summer that we can’t make it to every event we want to attend. Z plays music in three bands. He makes amazing stringed instruments from cigar boxes or cans or pie plates or salvaged wood from old pianos. He loves teaching. He’s involved with community outreach. He is too busy and always behind on projects and that is exactly how he is happiest.

This is not some perfect life. We struggle to pay the bills. C is entering the evil 3s and T is anxious about his transition to kindergarten. My anxiety colors everything, often rearing her ugly head to interrupt plans. The winters are brutal, there isn’t any way around it, they suck. And we do hate being so far from family. That is the hardest part. We miss our parents and our siblings.

But we have made a life here. More than that, we have made a home. One with continuity and comfort.

My upbringing was unusual and it provided me with fantastic opportunities to see so much of America and the world. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Hell, I became a teenager while we were in Phuket, Thailand. We spent New Year’s Eve of ’99 into ’00 in Doha, Qatar. I learned to ski on the South Island of New Zealand. Between all the exotic stuff I went to suburban public schools outside DC and Boston and St. Louis. My sister and I are lucky as hell, beyond privileged to have had such an odd and interesting childhood.

But it turns out that the life Z and I are intentionally building for our family is in a small city in Central New York. It turns out we love being part of a community. We love relaxing in our backyard with a bunch of friends and a pork shoulder that hung out in the smoker for a long time. Also margaritas. If you come visit us request Z’s deadly margaritas. You won’t remember the evening, you’ll feel it the next morning, but you’ll have a really good time.

Who knows what will happen or where we will be in another 4 years and 10 months from now. My hope is that we will be here. Hanging out with the same folks. The kids playing in the backyard. The margaritas flowing.

our family

Here we are putting down roots.

t runs to base

T running to first base during his last T-Ball game of the season.

c wants to play

C was ready to play. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he needs to wait two more years.

rockers

It seems to be the summer of salvaged broken rockers for our backyard. Because we are classy like that.

backyard piano

Our life involves having a trailer with a piano take up residence in our driveway. Z is making a bunch of instruments out of it in collaboration with local artists. They will create graphics to silkscreen on the face of the instruments Z builds.

summer in syracuse

Our crew of kids living it up at the Funky Flea this morning.

z at the funky flea

Z making music at the Funky Flea.

 

The Bitch is Back

At three miles and change my throat felt full and I dry heaved a little. Home was over a mile away. I’d run almost two and a half miles away from the house to force myself into doing 5. It was a punishment run to make up for a shitty performance the day before. And instead of finishing I had a long, slow walk of shame back to the house. The best thing that can be said is I didn’t cry.

Earlier this week another mom in C’s preschool class who is an accomplished runner and I were chatting because we were both geared up for a run. I told her I was doing speed work. “By yourself?” she asked. “Yup.” I replied. “Wow.” she said, clearly impressed.

I felt like a total fraud. Here is what I wanted to blurt out: “I get so anxious when I’m doing a challenging workout that I don’t sleep well the night before and have hideous diarrhea up until the moment I actually get out the door. Yes, I have performance anxiety without an audience. If I actually had to do speed work in front of other humans I would probably shit out an organ.”

I’ve been working on not saying the crap that would make near strangers horrifically uncomfortable. Pat on the back, Karen. Instead of that word vomit, my tongue was bitten and I vaguely mumbled something.

The October Half Marathon? I’m not going to be doing those 13.1 miles in a vacuum. In fact, one of my best friends in the world signed up so we could tackle it for the first time together. She and her family came up from Brooklyn to spend the weekend with us and help us celebrate Z’s birthday on Saturday night.

On Sunday we went for a run together. I was so anxious I almost shit out an organ beforehand. I was so anxious I was running about a minute slower than usual. I’ve been assured by many that running with a partner is great fun. You get to chat and the time flies by. Um, right. I huff and puff with such vigor that I was unable to string more than three words together. Man, I was disappointed in myself. I felt awful for my friend who wasn’t getting much of a workout at all. It was humiliating.

Thankfully my friend loves me no matter what. She knows about the anxiety. As usual, she was nothing but kind to me. That bitch anxiety did not have A’s lovely manners. She told me I was an embarrassing, pathetic mess. She lied and said that A was regretting signing up for the half with me. She told me no matter how great life was right now that she would dog me for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately that part is true. Life is going well for our family, we are in a good place. But I am overwhelmed and ashamed of how my anxiety colors everything. Leaving the house is still hard every day. Why do we have cook outs in our backyard? So it’s guaranteed I’ll attend. Our friends have been so accommodating about letting us host, but I still feel terrible about it.

Z has a work fundraising event on Thursday. I’m already spun up about what an awkward fool I’ll be there. Yesterday my friend’s family and ours went to the Zoo. I managed to have a pretty bad anxiety event there. Last week I had to cancel my therapy appointment due to a babysitting snafu. I’m sick to my stomach over the makeup appointment on Wednesday because I feel so guilty about canceling and I just don’t want to face my therapist’s disappointment. And let’s not get started on the nausea I feel when remembering the panel I’m on at my first academic conference in June.

How ridiculous is all of that? What a staggering waste of time.

That’s what an anxiety disorder is. A sickening waste of time that makes you feel like a failure and a disappointment.

But here’s the thing. I will not let this fucking thing own me. I will not. Tomorrow is a rest day, but I will be back out there running on Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday. I will go to Z’s work event on Thursday. I’ll drag my ass to therapy on Wednesday. And even if it takes all the Imodium on the eastern seaboard I will be a part of the fucking panel at the conference. Goddammit, I am doing a half marathon in October.

That bitch anxiety might be with me for the rest of my life. But I will not let her destroy me. I will not.

a and k post run

Still managed a smile at the end of the jog o shame.

sad and lovely elephant

Sad and lovely elephant we got to touch at the zoo. Her name is Siri.

luke fights palpatine

Luke Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine battling in the Death Star.

 

 

The One That Got Away

New York doesn’t have a heart. She will forget you the minute you leave her. Turns out you loved her more than she ever loved you. She immediately traded you in for a younger model, one without a family. Or a model who has made it financially in a way you never will. Or a model who is just more fucking tenacious than you are, a model who won’t give up and leave just because living with her is hard.

I have had two great loves in my life. Z and New York. For years I was married to both of them, but Z grew to despise the third wheel in our marriage. Hell, he and I grew to despise each other as well. My love for the city was the only constant in our lives. It would have made sense to give up on our marriage. It was a shambles. But somehow we decided to choose each other. Which meant there was no longer room for the city. I passionately loved her, but she wasn’t good for me anymore.

We moved away 8 years ago. My husband has a heart. He loves me back. He doesn’t seem interested in trading me in for a younger model. I made the right choice.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mourn my other love. Or wonder what might have been.

I was in New York for a few days to attend a conference at the UN. Thursday night I splurged on a cab to Brooklyn. The drive down Atlantic Avenue felt like a slap in the face. For every veterinary clinic sign that greeted me like an old friend there was a new clothing store, or real estate office, or yoga place that I didn’t recognize. Hank’s Saloon was still there, placating me a little. But then the behemoth that is the Barclays Center loomed over the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic, completely disorienting me.  This was no longer my city. I am not a New Yorker anymore.

If we had stayed the changes would have felt organic, unnoticeable. On the way back to Brooklyn yesterday afternoon I stopped at Nha Trang, a Vietnamese hole in the wall in Chinatown. Z took me there for the first time in the summer of 1998. You want cheap, fast, delicious food? It’s your place. The wait staff was mainly the same as it was 16 summers ago, and 12 summers ago, and 8 summers ago.  I felt a goofy grin take over my face when the elder statesman of the waiters came to take my order. But the grin faltered when I realized one side of his face was a little slack. He must have had a stroke. He didn’t remember me, but he was delighted that I knew how to eat the spring rolls properly, wrapped in half of a lettuce leaf with a cucumber slice and a mint leaf tucked inside. He might have been the one that showed me and Z how do to it back in the 90s. I wanted to hug him when I left. Of course I ignored that impulse and swallowed back tears as I hustled to the subway.

Me heart was pulled in new directions. As I road the 5 train downtown I didn’t try to catch or avoid the eye of the cute guy in the same car. Anyone who has lived in the city knows exactly what I’m talking about. I swear the subway system runs on hormones and the flirtations of strangers. But the cute guy didn’t hold my attention. The three year old boy seated next to me did. He absentmindedly leaned into me and hooked his little leg around my own. His small but solid bulk comforted me. When the train pulled into Union Square I didn’t want to get off. I could have sat next to him for hours.

I missed my boys. The piercing pain of being away from them took my breath away. Don’t I always beg for a break? Isn’t getting away for a few days good for me and them? Of course, but Z and I were away for 5 days in January. I guess I need time off less frequently than I assumed.

I missed my boys, all three of them. But something magical happens to me in the city. My anxiety might have been in the stratosphere leading up to the trip, but once I stepped into the city I relaxed. There is nowhere in the world where I feel more at ease. Since the first time I visited the city as a high-schooler it felt like the center of the world and exactly where I wanted to be. If we moved back she would be mine again in a matter of months. And part of me is hers, part of me will always be hers.

nha trang

The place setting hasn’t changed at Nha Trang since I’ve been going there.

gwb

Amtraking it home. Riding under the GWB.

Hudson

An icy Hudson River.

A big thank you to my dear friends A and M for opening their home to me. Do you know what was even better than being in New York? Having a night to laugh with A. I miss the hell out of her. But she is the kind of friend that is simply too good to let slip away. I’ll be calling her for advice decades from now. M ain’t so bad himself.

When I Grow Up….

A million years ago Z and I were regulars at the most perfect bar in the history of the universe. It was located on a quiet Brooklyn street next to the church that Al Capone had been married in. According to city laws the proximity to the church meant that the bar couldn’t serve liquor-just beer and wine. For a number of years it thrived. The beer and cider selection was unreal. There was a killer jukebox, pool table, dart boards, and a Ms. Pac Man machine. Sparky’s was named for an owner’s dog, I believe, and it was dog friendly. The bartenders would bring their pooches, patrons were welcome to do the same. And then as time passed it just…starting falling apart. There were money problems. The crowds dwindled, the long line of taps were frequently connected to nothing.

The bar was on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. We found it when Z started working in Red Hook. No trains go down to that neighborhood and it is cut off by Robert Moses’s folly, the BQE. Stopping at the bar was a reward for the 20 minute hike back to civilization for the crew in the drafting room at Showman Fabricators at the end of a long day. This was back before Ikea and Fairway moved in to Red Hook, before the ferries to Manhattan–Z began working there in the heartbreaking fever dream that was the fall of 2001.

One night I was playing darts with a group of friends in the back room. We were quickly crawling through the perfect window of opportunity of buzzed dart playing in which you were suddenly a rock star who could hit the triples and bulls without much fuss and on our way to the free fall of terrible drunken dart playing. We were also smoking up a storm. Damn, it was just one of many fantastic nights at Sparky’s. It was perfection. Drunk, irresponsible, young perfection. Man, I miss that place.

A woman about our age, a woman who was certainly not a regular, hustled over to us and got very nasty. She yelled at us for feeding her dog. The pup had wandered back to us several times unattended. But we didn’t actually have food. It was a liquids only event for us. This was reasonably pointed out to her and it had the desired effect of taking the wind out of her sails. She did have the decency to blush and stammered, “Well….this is a dog bar you know!” before flouncing away, probably to find the group with the takeout so she could yell at them.

“Huh,” someone much cleverer than I mused. “I thought it was a people bar.”

She was a caricature of a certain type of entitled New Yorker (Ok, to be honest we were as well, just a different flavor of entitled) I mean, if you don’t want your dog to eat takeout tidbits at a bar shouldn’t you be watching said dog? In fact, if you have a dog in a strange place shouldn’t you be watching it no matter what? Do you really expect others to intuit how to treat your animal?

Though this was years before Z and I became parents I remember thinking if she was such a shitty dog owner it would be awful if she had kids. Obviously I have no idea of who she was as a human, but in the last decade plus I’ve thought of her often. She has become a larger than life cautionary tale to me. She is the person I don’t want to be when I grow up. She is the person I fear I am deep down inside.

The last post about T and his classmate really wasn’t about those four year old kids. I told the story wrong. It was about parents, it was about me.

So far we haven’t had an interaction with a parent like the one with that girl in the bar all those years ago. We are lucky enough to have the boys at an extraordinary preschool. A couple of years ago I remember finding out that T had hit another child on the playground. I approached the child’s Mom the next day and apologized. She could not have been more gracious about it.

That ridiculous gal in the bar in Brooklyn has become a bit of a talisman (Can a memory be a talisman? Does it need to be an object?) to me. She reminds me to check my behavior. She reminds me of the kind of grown up I want to be. I will not attack others in an effort to mindlessly protect the ones I love. I will not teach my child that if he comes crying to me I will defend him to the death, but that his own actions will be unexamined. What a terrible disservice that would be to him.

And if the day comes in which we do need to approach parents about an interaction between our children I hope Z and I will do so with care and compassion knowing we might not have the full picture of events rather than with hot headed accusations.

Funny, I’m grateful to that girl in Brooklyn. She might not understand it, but even though I was off my ass drunk she got through to me. She taught me a huge lesson that night.

Jesus, Sparky’s really did rock. Wish it was still around.

sparkys

The night that Sparky’s closed.

k and z last night at sparkys

Good lord, we were a messy. Closing night. Think it was after the smoking ban happened, but that night nobody gave a shit.

snowmen

Alien snowman and robot snowman made by Z and T.

cold c

Cold C at the Atlanta Zoo with Grandma and Grandpa last week.

long haired t

I’m not going to lie. I miss the long hair.

Kids Being Kids Part 1

Walking the tightrope between respecting my sons’ privacy, writing honestly about issues I’m grappling with, and respecting the privacy of friends and acquaintances is becoming more difficult.

The readership of this blog is tiny, not even a blip in the blogosphere. But over the last year or so I’ve connected with more local people on social media. It would be wrong to assume those people are now reading here, but it stands to reason they have at least seen a link to a post float by their feed on facebook.

If I want to write about an issue concerning a friend I ask. If the friend isn’t comfortable with it I don’t do it.

I am friends with some of the teachers and other parents at the boys’ school on facebook. So I’ve been going back and forth about writing about a particular issue all day. Here’s where I’m at: I am not friends with the parents of the kid in this story, but if his/her parents were to come across the post and were able to identify their kid I feel confident that I’m not writing anything hurtful or unkind. That said, I am nonspecific enough that I’m pretty sure the parents wouldn’t identify the kid in the first place.

The issue I want to discuss isn’t really about T and his classmate. It is about how we react when our kids face hard things. It is about recognizing that no child is an angel all the time, just as no kid is “bad” all the time. It is about coming to terms with the fact that your kid is going to be the one doing the hurting at times.

I’m trying to face that ugly fact. T (and C when he is gets a bit more language) will be (um, probably currently is) hurtful to other children. The sooner I accept that the sooner I can take steps to guide him towards being a kinder human.

Sweet Mary, raising another human being is hard.

Part 2 will be coming along tomorrow.

twins in tub

Today I asked T who was in this photo. “Two Charlies.” he said. I pointed to him and said, “No, who is this guy?” He pointed to C, “That is Charlie 1.” And he pointed to himself, “And that is Charlie 2.” I’m going to start calling him Charlie 2. It really is crazy how much they look alike now.

cute kid

This kid has plenty of personality not matter how long his hair is.

Undermined By the Bitch

Sometimes I am jealous of bipolar people.

I know. That sounds insane. It sounds like I don’t understand what a terrible and serious disease bipolar is. I do understand. Really. And I promise I don’t have munchausen syndrome.

I have a chronic and pretty severe anxiety disorder.

If I’m stuck with a chronic mental illness seems reasonable that I’d fantasize what life would be like with some of the other mental illnesses out there. For the most part I think that many of us who wrestle with unrelenting crazy learn person specific coping mechanisms that make getting through the day a little bit less painful. Over a year ago there was an interesting thread on a friend’s fb wall about dealing with mental illness. People seemed happier that they had their own specific illness rather than some other variety-me included.

Kind of stands to reason.

I have had once severe depressive episode in my life. It sucked me into the nothingness, I wanted to escape this world, I was robbed of emotion, of feeling anything except profound self hatred. The depression lasted for about a year. The thought of another depressive episode scares the shit out of me, I have no idea if I’m strong enough to make it through again. Anxiety on the other hand has been my constant companion for over 20 years. Naturally my coping mechanisms are much more sophisticated in that arena.

It was comical in a rather macabre way to read this thread-the depression people saying they would much rather deal with that than anxiety, those like me grateful they didn’t have to deal with depression.

But. All day Friday I was sick to my stomach with anxiety.

On Friday night 9 (would have been 10, but someone was traveling-we missed you J) of us met at a local restaurant for dinner. Without kids. Ok, there was one kid. But she was barely a month old and as every parent knows that doesn’t count.

Please do not get me wrong, I wanted to go. I couldn’t be more thrilled that we have found a group of friends that we enjoy so damn much. The majority of the time we all hang out at our place. Our friends are always thanking us for hosting. But the deal is doing it at our place means I get to enjoy myself like a normal human. The anxiety is still there, but it is muted. I feel unencumbered by my sickness.

Of course we had a fantastic time. Of course I am glad I went. Hell, I can’t wait to do it again.

But I really fucking resent the anxiety for causing me so much discomfort on Friday. I am really sick of being hog tied by fear.

We are at my folk’s house right now. We flew down yesterday. On Tuesday morning Z and I will drive to the airport and fly to Miami. We’ll fly back and pick up the boys on Sunday. It’s our first chunk of time away from them since we became parents.

I’m so excited I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m sick to my stomach with anxiety.

Am I going to ruin this amazing trip for myself? Is that bitch anxiety going to win? Will I ever get out from underneath her?

The bipolar thought occurred to me this morning as I was jogging. During our trip down south for the holidays I made fantastic strides with the jogging. I was also better rested than I’ve been in ages. Z let me sleep in almost every day. There were a lot of naps. Z went to work the day after we got back home and worked through the weekend as well. For the last two weeks I’ve been sleep deprived, which is my usual state. The jogging improvement evaporated. Today’s 5 miles were an exercise in frustration. Every step was a fight. I’m tired, compounded not just from lack of sleep, but because of the anxiety. Anxiety steals energy and leaves emptiness in its wake.

I got angrier and angrier at the anxiety for slowing me down. Why can’t I harness that energy into something worthwhile? Why can’t I be fucking manic for a bit? Why am I stuck with a condition that takes and takes and takes?

Ok, I don’t really want to be bipolar. Manic episodes are unpredictable and can cause terrible upheaval and hurt in the lives of those who suffer from bipolar. But the energy that I spend on the anxiety…I need that energy. I fucking want it back. I don’t want to fight this fight anymore. I want to be better. So I can enjoy the anticipation of a great night out with friends or a vacation with my husband. So I don’t have to move through the world encumbered by what feels like a 100lb coat made of my fears. I am pissed off at that bitch anxiety and how much she controls me.

But there isn’t a cure. She isn’t going anywhere. She is as much a part of me as my mousy brown hair and blue eyes. The only way I will ever get the best of her is to fight through her bullshit. To go out to dinner and have a fucking awesome time after a day of lightheadedness and diarrhea caused by the bitch. To enjoy Miami even though this morning I woke up with an anxiety attack so bad that I had to take a chill pill immediately. To continue my jog even though my body is screaming at me give up. To keep trying. For Z, for T, for C, for myself. I will live my life in spite of her, hell I will live my life to spite her.

sleepy travel companion

My adorable traveling companion.

plane nap time

Z quietly sang C right to sleep after we took off.

bad jog

Pissed off jogger. Sometimes we have bad days. Feels pretty honest to document them as well.