Back in the Saddle

If you’ve been kind enough to read here for a long time you’ve basically read this before. If you are my friend you have heard this before. I’m bored with this subject even before I begin writing…

The anxiety is really bad.

I’m having a hard time.

I hate myself.

I’m ashamed that I need drugs to function as a human being.

I feel like a bad example for my boys.

I feel guilty for occupying space in this world.

Someone as privileged as I am does not deserve to have a mental illness.

I’m trying a new drug.

Are you yawning yet?

I’m not doing very well. But the flipside is I’m kind of fine.

I’m taking care of the boys. I’m keeping up with my schoolwork. I make dinner. We host gatherings at our place regularly. When Z was part of a demonstration with Kronos Quartet I went and then went out to dinner with them all. I sat next to David Harrington and made small talk. I went to a fucking conference at the UN. I spent an evening with one of my best friends in the world and laughed and talked and felt….happy. Ok, so the jogging hasn’t been going well for about a month and a half. Last week I was only out once and this week twice. But god fucking damn it is March 23rd and right now it is 21 degrees with a biting wind. There was an inch of fresh snow on the roads this morning. And twice this week I took my kids to the doc’s (strep) instead of going for my jog. Life happens. And this weather is…well come on.

It would be easy to just wallow in how awful this disorder makes me feel without giving myself credit for progress. But I’m a Mom now, I cannot afford to be that self indulgent. I have worked hard and I am fighting back. It would be easy to stay in the place where I just hate myself and berate myself. Self loathing is one of the most comfortable states of being for me. I believe it with my whole heart, I’ve had years of practice.

This anxiety disorder isn’t something that I can fix or cure. It’s as much a part of me as my brown hair and freakishly pale and moley skin. That doesn’t mean I give up. In fact, I don’t give up anymore. I am in a really bad place, but I am fucking getting shit done. Do I cry a twenty times a day? Yup. Do I go to Z and tell him I can’t I can’t I can’t do it? Yup. Do I spend evenings after Z comes home in bed sure that I have strep myself, or a stomach bug, or cancer? All the time.

Do I finish my readings for class? I do. Do I turn in work late? I do not. Do I pay our bills? Mostly on time even! Do I make sure my boys feel loved and cared for? You bet your ass I do.

Things are not great. Z has to bear the brunt of it and I feel awful, guilty, ashamed. But I am also getting shit done.

The anxiety disorder didn’t just happened to me one day. It’s something that has always been. T has recently learned to say “Excuse me” after he burps or farts. I remember learning the same thing when I was his age. I also remember feeling terrible guilt and dread about all the times I burped and farted before I knew about the excuse me thing. After my parents tucked me in at night I would whisper “Excuse me” over and over and over to make up for those times I didn’t. I thought something terrible would happen unless I made up for my unknowing rudeness.

So it is a chronic condition. It kicks my ass over and over and over. It’s been kicking my ass since I was a little girl. And now I’m kicking ass right back.

The drug thing is the hardest part right now. Historically trying new drugs increases my anxiety. Ironic, huh? SSRIs, the class of drug most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression list increased anxiety as a common side effect. That’s how crazy people meds work. It is a guessing game and what is supposed to help you can make you much much worse. Abilify might have augmented the SSRI you were taking beautifully. It made me think I was losing my mind.

I was supposed to try a new drug after last winter’s experiment didn’t work. There was excuse after excuse-C wasn’t weaned, we were traveling, the fall is a really stressful time, the winter is a really stressful time, the spring is a really stressful time. Well, I put my big girl pants back on. New class of drugs, increased anxiety not a common side effect. In scary side effect world there just might be a rash that lands me in the hospital. I know one person who has taken this drug. After a couple of months that person’s hair started to fall out in clumps. But if this one works bald and crazy might be better than a nutjob with a full head of hair. And my Mom told me she’d buy me a wig.

The drug crapshoot began three days ago. If it doesn’t work we will figure something else out. Because even though I’m not doing alright I’m doing alright.

cheese

This little stinker. When he saw me grab my phone he shouted, “Cheese!”

hiding

My poor guy was hiding in the closet because he didn’t want to take his medicine after we got home from the doc’s office. I feel him. That violently pink “bubble gum” stuff smells disgusting.

boys better

Enough meds in both boys so they are no longer contagious or in pain. Strep sucks.

un pass

My UN pass!

Boy In A Drawer

The boys ran up to T’s room and seemed to be occupying themselves without threat of imminent injury so Z and I took advantage, sipping our coffee and chatting in the family room. Z sat on the sofa, I crouched on a heating register that never quite gets hot enough to burn my butt. Not nearly as satisfying as the one next to the fireplace. Eventually Z hollered for the boys to come down for Super Hugs, part of our silly family routine when Z leaves for work. I quickly ran to the bathroom as Z gathered his things. T thundered down the stairs, but C did not. I heard him calling out and after finishing I ran upstairs to grab him. I threw open T’s bedroom door and saw this:

crazy c

“Help! Help! I’m stuck!” he cried. The huge grin on his face assured me he wasn’t in actual distress, so I yelled for Z to come upstairs-this was too good to miss-and I snapped a picture.

How did he even get in there? How did he not pull the whole dresser on top of himself? Why have we not attached every piece of furniture we own to the walls? How long is it before these wild boys actually give me a heart attack?

After Super Hugs were successfully executed and the goodbye wave happened at the window over the sofa (seriously, we are people of involved ritual) I called my parents to tell them the story. Since I’ve become a parent they are who I call nine times out of ten. I call when one of the boys has done something wonderful or hilarious or insane or awful, I call when I’m struggling, or when I’m worried I am a terrible Mother. I sincerely don’t know what I’d do without them. I get to laugh with them, they listen to me cry. And when I feel like I’m in over my head they believe in me. This different closeness with them is one of the biggest and best surprises of becoming a Mom.

Dad checked out the photo I’d posted on instagram on his phone as we chatted and he and Mom got a major chuckle from it. “There was a very tall dresser in my room when I was little.” Dad started. “It was about six feet. I would climb to the top of it and jump off onto my bed. My Mom told me that if I kept on doing it I would catch polio.”

“What?”

“She said I’d catch polio.”

“Um. Why didn’t she say that it could fall over and kill you?”

“Because polio was a really big deal then. There wasn’t a cure.”

“Dad. There isn’t a cure for death either.”

These little glimpses into my father’s childhood are another bonus of our evolving relationship. My Grandmother sounded like a real character. I never knew her. She died shortly after my parents got engaged. My Grandfather died when I was two, there are pictures of the two of us, but I don’t have any memories of him.

My Mom’s Mom will be 93 this June. She is one hell of a lady, my sister and I have always adored her. She is a great storyteller, and we eat those stories up. How she and her siblings used to stoke the stove though they promised not to when her parents went to church in the evening so they could make taffy. How the chickens and garden in their backyard kept the family from starving during the depression. How Grandpa saw her outside of church when they were teens and told his friends he would marry her, the ensuing secret courtship of an Irish Protestant girl and an Irish Catholic boy. These stories are part of my family’s DNA. We’ve heard them a million times and would happily listen to her tell them a million more.

Throughout our lives my sister and I have nagged our Dad for stories of his childhood. His parents and his upbringing are largely a mystery to us. But since I’ve had the boys I’ve noticed he lets stories like this one slip. Is it because we aren’t actively pestering him? He only had girls. Are his wild grandsons making him remember his own boyhood?

Who knows?

I simply am grateful. For the stories and for my parents.

doorway climber

He got up there himself. As Z was taking the picture T said, “Will you send it to Grandma?”

T first communion

Big T’s first communion. It is crazy how much the boys look like my Dad.

Fred and Helen Cordano

Fred and Helen Cordano. So many holes in our knowledge of them. We don’t know if my Grandfather’s given name was Alfredo or Frederico-one name was my Grandfather’s one was my Great-Grandfather’s both anglicized to Fred. The pictures give the date of their marriage as November 28th, but the year is missing. Sometime in the 1930s I believe.

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.

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.

1998

Last Thursday a phone call in which I actually had to hear the person on the other line chased me into my father’s office. A house filled with four boys all four years old or younger is never a quiet house. Unless something is terribly wrong. The photos behind his desk took me on a stroll down memory lane until the one below stopped me cold.

k z 1998

Rockefeller Center, December 1998.

Took me a second to be sure it was from 1998, but my long hair was the giveaway. The spring of my senior year of college I chopped it at chin level. The details aren’t clear-was my best friend T visiting? Did she take the picture? What else did we do that day?

1998. Bile rose in my throat as I considered myself as an almost-22 year old. Z and I had been dating for 6 months or so. We already had decided we would be getting married. I looked at that girl, that child and felt disgust at her stupidity. Who the hell did I think I was? Where did I get off thinking I knew how to be a partner in a marriage? I didn’t even know how to take care of myself.

I looked at myself and saw everything that has happened in the last 15 years-September 11th, my mental breakdown, the near loss of our marriage, clawing our way back, moving to Providence and trying to figure out an identity that didn’t include living in New York, getting pregnant, moving to Syracuse, T, the miscarriage, C. I looked at myself and was repulsed by that girl who had no idea what the future held.

Then I looked at Z.

And thought, “Damn, he was hot.”

I could look at him and simply feel nostalgia. Why does remembering who I used to be cause me such blinding anger? Why do I have no compassion for my former self?

I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I’m the only one. I think a lot of us are unkind to the young women we used to be. Why do we do it? What does it achieve?

Am I really angry at the girl I used to be because she did not predict a catastrophic terrorist attack that surprised the entire nation? Am I mad at her because she was unaware that she suffered from a mental illness?

Because that is ridiculous. And unhelpful. And frankly, really very unkind.

So I tried to let go of my feelings about baby me. I tried to look at the picture and remember the heady days of our early courtship. We were in love, we were having fun, we were enjoying the hell out of being young. What the hell is wrong with all that? I remembered it was Thursday. I looked at the two kids in love and I snapped a picture with my phone for instagram- #TBT, baby.

Hey friends? I think you should be nicer to yourselves as well.

cordano leonard family

Our family 15 years later. Hopefully when I look at this in another 15 years it will be with much more kindness.

new years cousins

Cousins watching crazy folks go down the waterslide on January first.

Addicted

As I was descending into the pain of the stomach bug Sunday I had a moment of panic. Then I realized it was a rest day. I wasn’t going to miss my jog because I was sick. At that moment I decided I’d be well enough to run Monday.

Monday morning I was far from 100%. The diarrhea continued. My belly gurgled and flip flopped. I ignored it and put my running tights on. When I woke up it was 15 degrees warmer than it was on Saturday when I ran. How could I miss a day of balmy 36 degree weather?

photo

I did it. It was pretty ugly, but I did it.

The jog was slow as hell. I changed plans and skipped the hills, shortened it to exactly two miles. But I did it.

Last night Z was sick. And T had nightmares. And I’m not sure what the fuck C’s problem was, but he was up 5 times. No one in our house got a lot of sleep. This morning I dropped the boys off and did my stretches. I jogged those hills that I skipped yesterday. Lack of sleep affects my performance more than anything, just two minutes out of the house and I knew I was in trouble. But I told my tired legs to figure it out. Even on the mile with the hills I somehow forced myself to keep it under an 11 minute pace.

Last week was freezing and snowy. It was the first real taste of winter jogging. The boys were out of school for Thanksgiving break, but Z was working most days. He promised we’d figure out how to make my jogs happen. And we did. I returned from Monday’s run frustrated at my slower pace, but I was working out how to safely run on the roads and avoid the ice. I thanked Z for making the time for me to go as he headed out to work. I told him I realized something as I was outside in the freezing cold. Wanting to do this isn’t the issue. I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to jog. I still don’t know what has kept me at it for the last 5 months. No, I don’t want to do this. I need to do it.

Life feels out of control in so many ways. The new graduate program I am planning on enrolling in will not be happening until the fall of ’15 rather than next fall. Another year is a big deal as I am hurtling towards 40. Another year before I start the job search. I’ll still take a course a semester and I’ll put a big dent in the coursework before I officially matriculate. On top of that money is tight. We are trying to be frugal, Z is being fantastic about picking up extra work wherever he can find it, but supporting a family of four on an assistant professor’s salary is challenging. We’ve made our bed. We both wanted me to be home with the boys, so this has been our choice. And we are luckier than most. We haven’t done anything to earn our safety net, we were just born to parents who can provide one. Dumb, dumb luck. We do not have anything to complain about. We have a beautiful home and can make our mortgage. We certainly don’t have to worry about putting food on the table. I just look forward to a time when we don’t have to have texted negotiations about how we are going to afford to put gas in the car.

So money is tight. Z is crazy busy at work. The boys are growing up at a bewildering and breakneck pace. I’m writing a research proposal and putting together the first powerpoint of my life for class and I feel like an academic fraud as well as an old lady in a young person’s game. The anxiety has been brutal this fall.

Yeah, life doesn’t feel out of control, I feel out of control.

The jogging. Forcing myself to go everyday. Measuring my progress. Proving I am stronger than I’ve believed my whole life. Jogging three days in a row of freezing cold and snow and not seeing one other person out there. It all makes me feel powerful and proud and just a little bit in control. I’m showing up to something. Even when it is hard or uncomfortable or life is overwhelming me. I need it. In just five months I’ve become addicted.

It doesn’t feel completely healthy, but when one suffers from anxiety with ocd tendencies I’m not sure any new obsession, um I mean hobby, ever can be 100% healthy. I fear if i don’t make my five days a week something terrible will happen. Getting sick scares the shit out of me because it will mess with my weekly routine. I didn’t really want to go yesterday. I was weak and still recovering from the stomach bug. But I needed to go. It wasn’t a choice. And it made me feel better.

cold jog

Why all the redundant selfies? Believe it or not, I’m not trying to humble-brag. I’m actually pretty damn proud of myself, nothing humble about it. But in keeping with the honestly thing the jogging pictures are never filtered or altered. There has been no radical physical transformation in my appearance. My BMI is still firmly in the overweight category. The biggest change has been in my bad cholesterol and you can’t see that in a photograph. I post the selfies because I am not a size two beauty. Who cares? I’m still fucking thrilled with myself.

PRed 5k

But the biggest reason I post the obnoxious selfies (besides the fact that my dad likes to keep tabs on how I’m doing) is if I can do it you can, too. I’m no one special. I’ve shunned exercise all my life. But I’m out there doing it. I include my times occasionally, which is also the antithesis of a humble-brag because they are damn slow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m making progress. But my fastest mile, and the only time I’ve broken 10 minutes, was 9:47 I believe. In the picture above I’d just PRed 5K. Kept it under 11 minute miles the whole time for 33:49. Yes, it is much like I jog through molasses. I guess I feel like the slowpokes should get to celebrate as much as the speed demons. I’m never going to be the best at this. I’m never going to be near the best. But I’m doing something for me. I’m plugging along. I’m proving that my middle aged body can do something I didn’t believe it could for my whole life. That smile on my face is sincere. I may not be fast or skinny or cut, but god dammit I have earned the right to be proud.

You should give it a try. And you should be proud, too. You should post selfies and your times and if they aren’t as fantastic as those of your friends you shouldn’t give a fuck. Because you are amazing. I am amazing. We are kicking ass and we are taking names.

Be Nice

That local art and design market we went to a few weekends ago? The hat people weren’t there. So I’m still wearing the ratty old hat for the time being. When we left the show I wasn’t even thinking about hats because I was so excited to have found this:

work hard

Eventually Z will have a spare moment to make a frame and it will hang in my kitchen, the room I spend the most time in. In five little words it expresses exactly what I want to teach my sons about life. The beauty of local events like Salt Market is finding that perfect something you didn’t even know was missing from your life and supporting a local maker at the same time. Who cares that I didn’t find a hat when I did find a print that makes me ridiculously happy.

The print has had me thinking about being nice. I try to be nice in my life, but I could do better. A lot better. Last night Z and I went out for dinner after our therapy session. Yes, our big date night once every couple of weeks involves couples therapy. Whatever works, right? We finished our sushi more than half an hour before the babysitter expected us home so we popped over to the bar next door for a quick drink.

beer

Dude. They had Narragansett on tap. Are you not familiar with the great state of Rhode Island? First of all, you are missing out. Get familiar, people. RI might be the smallest state, but it is mighty where it counts-it has tons of heart. A fact made more complicated and strangely more delightful by the wicked chip most Rhodies have on their shoulders. It is a magical place with beer that is “Made on Honor, Sold on Merit”.

Z and I were shooting the shit and an old friend and bandmate of Z’s came up. Talk about a nice guy and one who can play the living crap out of a harmonica. Z made him a banjo last year and E accidently left it on a subway platform a while back. Z told me that E offered to come up for a weekend if Z would make him another and I was all for it. I got the warm fuzzies thinking about E, like I always do. For some reason I decided to tell Z what I always think of when I hear E’s name.

Z and E were in a band called the Brooklyn Jugs in the early to mid oughts. They had built up a little following and often played in the garden of a sprawling bar in Red Hook called Lillie’s. The place is long closed, but it was cool back then. Cooler than Williamsburg cool. The kind of place that Norah Jones would play some Saturday night with her side project all girl punk band. The kind of place where the NYC smoking ban didn’t mean much. The kind of beat up dive that managed to transcend the hipster holier-than-thou malaise to just be a shitload of fun.

I remember getting trashed with Lillie herself and some other dude I called my nemesis for reasons that are no longer clear to me one night at Moonshine in Red Hook. Is Moonshine still there over on Columbia Street? That was one hell of a bar. No idea how I got home that night or where Z was.

Sorry, getting lost in old Brooklyn nostalgia. We did managed to have a lot of fun in those messy years.

So this one Sunday afternoon back in either the summer of ’04 or ’05 the Jugs were rocking in the garden of Lillie’s while barbeque was being served out of the kitchen they didn’t have a permit to use. I was late getting there. It was a rough time for me. I was slowly emerging from my rather extravagant mental breakdown. Z and I basically hated each other and he desperately wanted out of the marriage. I put on 60 pounds because of my meds. I was disgusted with myself and hated being in public. I wanted the earth to swallow me. I wanted to be ignored. Because if people noticed me I was sure they would be filled with pity and revulsion.

I walked through the door from the hazy bar into the light of the afternoon. Sunday barbeque was a big deal at Lillie’s and the garden was packed. As I stood in the doorway for a moment, trying to figure out where I could hide myself, I looked at the stage and caught E’s eye. He was in the middle of a song, but he stopped singing and called out, “Hey look! Karen’s here!” Everyone turned at once to look at me.

The guy singing, the coolest guy in the room, took a moment to make me feel like I belonged. E didn’t know the extend of my mental illness. He might not have known that Z and I were struggling in our marriage. He didn’t know that kind of attention would usually embarrass the hell out of me. He was just being himself. In that moment close to a decade ago he was nice. He was working hard (if you heard him play the harmonica you’d know what I was talking about) and he was being nice. 

I wish I was more like him.

piano C

Maybe this guy will be in a band someday. He sure likes to play the piano with his feet.

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This stained and stretched out hat might just make it through one more winter.

Privilege

About a decade ago Z’s friend informed us that in his mind women did not use the bathroom. Ever. I’d been recently diagnosed with IBS and this cracked me up and infuriated me equally. So I made it a point to fart in front of him as much as humanly possible. Because fuck you. I use the bathroom and it does not diminish me as a human.

I fart, I shit, I fantasize about strangers, I love sex, I swear, when I have an opinion I speak up.  

I don’t wear makeup. Or heals. Or skirts more than a couple times a year. I don’t blow dry my hair. I’ve never been waxed. I suck at flirting.

I shave my legs. I use moisturizer. I’m a sucker for face masks and ointments that promise to make me look younger. I get a couple of pedicures a year.

These choices make me who I am. They do not make me less of a woman. Or more of a woman.

The last post was a quick little sketch of a moment in my day. It was meant to be amusing (I hope) and honest and even though I was dealing with feminism and asking questions it was more of a superficial rumination.

But I’ve been thinking about the deeper implications ever since. Especially because of a valuable comment left by a friend of my sisters-in-law. Her comment would be familiar to anyone who has taken a women’s issues class, but how many of us is that really? And if I agree with what she said why was I so unsettled by it?

Privilege.

I was raised with white privilege. With socio-economic privilege. And I fooled myself into thinking gender privilege didn’t really exist because I was lucky enough to be raised by people who taught me there was no difference between me and my male counterparts. Yet at the same time the sexual politics in my house were….antiquated. Good girls wait, etc.

This dichotomy was confusing and ultimately infuriating to me. My self worth was impacted. I do not mean to throw my parents under the bus. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. We are all products of our generation. We are doing the best we can, now that I am a parent I understand that. I also understand I will make choices that will negatively impact my sons even though I will try my damndest not to. My parents gave me a huge gift by telling me I could be the President of the United States or an Astronaut or the first professional female baseball player.

Who I am is shaped by being privileged in all areas save gender. I am ashamed to admit this, I want that last bit of privilege. My objectification of males (and again I’m writing here about hetero interactions) is primarily for my enjoyment, but there is a fuck you in there, too. There is an “I get to do this, too” element.

To quote Ele: “I don’t think an average woman on the street ogling a man can so easily ignore his personhood, free will, or strength” I WANT to ignore a man I am objectifying’s personhood, his free will, and his strenght. Which is a shame. Which makes me a toddler throwing a tantrum. It is the easy way out-aspiring to the privilege that one population uses (subconsciously or not) to subjugate another population.

Because isn’t the goal to teach men that viewing women as “empty vessels” negates each woman’s personhood and free will? Isn’t the goal to raise a generation of men who are not squeamish about women taking a shit? Who do realize that women are sexual beings who fantasize right along with the best of them? Those two little things and a million others combine to form a picture of women who share much in common with and who are just as capable as men.

Z views me as his equal. He always has. He accepts the millions of contradictions that make me me. He does not care which traditional tenets of femininity I embrace and which I reject. Because he does not have a laundry list of what is required to be female. And it does not affect his ability to also see me as a sexual being or an object of desire.

He is constantly aware of gender politics in his day to day life-the fact that his students are nearly all women is hard to ignore. The other week he took part in an event on campus aimed at students. When I asked him how it was he said, “All dudes. The underlying message to the majority of participants-the women-is there is no room for you on the stage.”

As a woman who is scrambling for acceptance and validation from my male peers it is easy for me to have that sort of realization-there is only room for one woman in this movie or novel or workplace or there is no room for women at all. But for Z to get there? Z, a product of every privilege under the sun? I wish this wasn’t the case, but his views are extraordinary. It is no accident I married him. And I’m glad as hell that I get to raise our boys with him. Boys who will not grow to see attractive women as empty vessels who don’t shit and fart and love sex.

Let’s take a little dance break after the seriousness of that post. The fam went to the Halloween event at our zoo (the ZooBoo) on Sunday. C adored the dance party. T was a little more shy about the whole thing.

c doc office

C spiked a fever at the end of last week. By the time we made it to the doc’s office he was feeling much better.

T styles his shirt

T did some creative styling with his t-shirt.

Oh Shit

***WARNING: GRAPHIC POST AHEAD!***

The fear started when I was a toddler. I remember being terrified that something was coming for me in the dark. I bargained with the fear-if the blanket was tucked completely around me, save a tiny breathing hole, it couldn’t get me. Whatever it was.

Later the fear was tied to action. If I did X properly nothing bad would happen. I had an imaginary friend. Laura Ingalls Wilder. My Mom read the books to us when I was very young and I loved the TV show. Albert (a creation of the show-clearly I wasn’t a purist) and his friend-funny I can’t remember the friend’s name were also imaginary friends, rather they were imaginary nemeses. Laura and I were a team and the guys were a team. They were so real to me that my memories of them are some of the clearest from early childhood. Everything we did was timed. As long as Laura and I won we were safe. I was safe. My family was safe.

After I got my period the Irritable Bowel Syndrome started. The pain of cramps was somehow tied to taking a crap. I started to get diarrhea all the time. Thankfully that was when imodium started being available over the counter. You know that 5th pocket in jeans? The tiny one for coins on the upper part of the right front pocket? All through high school that pocket had two foil wrapped imodium in it. The diarrhea was my biggest shame. Anytime I horsed around with friends I’d be terrified they’d feel something in that little pocket and want to know what it was. I lived in fear that someone would discover my secret.

I’ve had IBS for well over 20 years. The whole time the driving force behind my anxiety was the fear that I’d shit myself in public even though that had never happened. Well, not until today.

Too much information, right? Totally inappropriate and gross that I’m declaring on the internet that I crapped myself today. What the hell am I getting out of writing about this? The old me, back when I was rocking borderline personality disorder, would have done it to punish myself. But I’m not that person anymore. I’m writing about it because it shouldn’t be a big deal. I am horribly upset and embarrassed by it, but I shouldn’t be. I have an anticipatory anxiety disorder. It’s pretty bad. I’ve been in therapy for many years because I’m trying to help myself, but it is a chronic disease that I will have to manage for the rest of my life. I’ve been a wreck for the last week because I’m so scared of this stupid 5K tomorrow morning. As my Mom would say my bowels have been in an uproar. I’m trying to challenge myself, do something good for myself, participate in life. The anxiety is trying to prevent that from happening. So shit happens. Literally and figuratively. I’m tired of being ashamed of my anxiety and what it does to my body.

This morning my stomach was upset, but it was my last chance to go for a jog before the race. Quarter of a mile from my house I thought I had to fart. Turns out I was incorrect. The quarter of a mile run back to my house was just about the longest of my life. Go ahead. You can laugh. I’m laughing as I type. It helps me not cry.

Z came into the bathroom as I was cleaning myself up. Seriously, no boundaries in our marriage. It works for us. He told me I needed to go back out and finish the run. I told him to go fuck himself. He told me if I didn’t do it I might not do the race tomorrow or go back out for a jog ever again. I hated him. Because he was right. Thankfully I now have two pair of running pants so I asked him to get me the other pair.

I took three imodium. I washed out my pants. I cried a little. I went to the bathroom two more times. And then I jogged two miles. Without shitting myself.

Listen, I’m a white hot fucking mess. Have set up residence in crazytown and I’m definitely not moving out until the race is over tomorrow. It’s so bad that I’m wondering if it was a mistake to sign up for the race at all. Why am I putting myself through this nonsense? I don’t know what the right answer is. Where the balance between challenging myself to take part in life and recognizing when something is too much for me to handle is.

But Z was right. If I didn’t go back out and finish the jog I’d let myself quit forever. Who the hell knows what is going to happen tomorrow. I mean, fingers crossed I do not shit myself again. I will definitely be taking way too many imodium. But I’m going to try and do this thing.

I’m tired of feeling ashamed. As I was jogging the second time I thought about if I wanted to write this post. Because if it is out there it is always out there in internet land. Future employers and all that jazz. But then I thought about the fact that this very thing has happened to several of my friends. Yup, my friends text me about their pooping disasters. I sort of love being that person. So if it has happened to my friends it stands to reason it has happened to a bunch of people. I’m writing about it to say that we shouldn’t feel bad. Shit happens, people. Shit. Happens.

The funny thing is this is something I’ve been dreading for more than two decades and it finally happened. You know what? I don’t feel any different. It didn’t change who I am as a human. In fact, it was rather anti-climactic. Yup. Shit happens. It is honest. It is uncomfortable. And I’m choosing to believe it just isn’t that big of a deal.

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My boy and some lady who shat herself, cleaned up, and ran for another two miles.

the crew

My wonderful sisters-in-law and niece are in town. A couple of years ago they spent Thanksgiving here and got to know the couple that we are closest to in town. It’s fun when you introduce fantastic people to each other.

t photgraphs

T’s Aunt Ellie is an amazing photographer. She taught T how to take a picture with her super fancy camera.

Four Years

As a kid who moved constantly throughout childhood place is intimately related to time for me. The first time we lived in Fairfax, VA equals kindergarten and part of first grade. The second time in Fairfax equals fourth grade, but there were two moves in between the first and second time. New Zealand equals a few days shy of two years, end of form one to beginning of form three, ’88-’90, becoming a teenager, the unfulfilled hope of a first kiss. Fairfax the last time, the most significant time-from the final days of ’90 until the end of summer of ’95. Around four years and eight months. The longest I have ever lived in one dwelling.

Four years seems like a magic length of time. High school and college are four years. I’ve been thinking about the number a lot lately. We’ve lived in Syracuse for four years. T turned four a month ago.  It is such a respectable chunk of time, his new age adds a solidness to his existence. The kids that started as college freshman when T was a few weeks old have graduated. Z isn’t the “new father” professor, the one who is ridiculously excited about his baby. He still might be excited about the boys, judging from what his students say when I meet them he does talk about T and C constantly. But the boys aren’t babies. We have settled into the meat of raising kids.

Our neighborhood has a couple of annual events that take place two weekends after Labor Day. There is a block party on our street the evening before the Westcott Street Cultural Fair located one street west of us. Our house is perfectly situated for both events. Poor C hadn’t taken a crap all weekend and we were waiting for him to blow on Sunday afternoon. It was fantastic to just roll out of the front door and mosey over to the fair without a diaper bag. If the kid pooped we could just whisk him home to change him and be back in the action, round trip of about 10 minutes. We dig the local stuff, dig being a part of it every year. Even me with my anxiety and agoraphobic tendencies-if I get overwhelmed I can escape to my house in an instant.

At the block party on Saturday night I watched T zoom around on his bike with his pal and C following behind. I spied one of the big girls, a cousin to the kids my two spend most of their time with, rest her hand on the bike helmet clad head of C. She seemed to be just keeping track of the large brood of younger cousins and somehow my boys got included in that calculation.

My eyes burned and filled with tears.

My boys belonged.

It was the fifth year T attended the party. He was barely a month old the first time, cuddled in our Ergo on my chest. We met a couple with a little girl a year older than him. I could not comprehend how big she was, couldn’t believe T would ever be that size. Her mom was heavily pregnant with their second, they had just moved to Syracuse as well. I remember telling Z that I really wanted to be friends with them. Two years later we ran into them at T’s preschool. She had just given birth to their third four days after C was born. Last year T was in class with their eldest. This year their baby and my baby are starting preschool together. After we dropped off our kids this morning we stood and chatted with another Mom whose youngest is in the toddler room. They both have gals who just started kindergarten and I felt so grateful to hear about their experiences because I’ll be in their shoes next year.

This is all pretty mundane stuff. We met people in our neighborhood. Over the years we developed relationships. Our kids are starting to grow up together. It might seem mundane, but man, it is a fucking revelation to me. It is extraordinary. All I wanted as a kid was to know people and be known. And here we are putting down roots in a city that it doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving anytime soon. We are part of a community. Our boys will grow up with a crew of other kids who all live within a couple of blocks of us. They will belong, hell, the already belong.

I was blinking back tears at the block party because I was happy. I had a grin on my face yesterday because it seemed like almost everyone we knew in Syracuse was at the street fair. And it turns out we know a lot of people. As the three of us Moms were having a hard talk about where to send our kids to school and how to ease the adjustment into kindergarten this morning I realized I was excited to have access to women I genuinely like to navigate the murky waters of raising these kids.

We have a support system here. We are part of a community. I am giving my kids exactly what I wanted in my youth. And you know what? I’m giving it to myself as well. In our four years of living here Z and I have found the kind of friends who will mow our lawn while we are away or fill our fridge with food and clean our house after our kid had a frightening medical scare far from home. We lucked into a school for the boys filled with teachers we trust, some of whom have also become friends.

Don’t get me wrong, life is not some utopian dream in sunny Syracuse. Do the winters mightily suck ass? Yup, oh yes, they do. We live in an urban neighborhood. For me the good outweighs the bad, but there are break ins and muggings, more than there would be in the suburbs. And Syracuse is broke. Z and I believe in public education, we want to support it by sending our kids to the local elementary. We will send T there next fall. But we worry.

And then there is the big rain cloud that isn’t local, that would follow us anywhere-my mental illness. I have days of paranoia, sure my friends actually hate me, sure the other Moms at school pity me or are laughing at me behind my back, sure I am ruining my boys because I’m an abysmal Mom, sure that Z is going to leave me and take the boys with him.

But right now the good heavily outweighs the bad. We are part of this community. Syracuse seriously rocks.

t ladder applepicking

We went apple picking on Saturday.

2013 family apple picking

Fifth year in a row that we’ve gone to Beak and Skiff.

c pony

C rode a pony for the first time.

walking to the fair

My boys walking to the street fair.

puppets at the parade

The amazing puppets in the parade. It was a pretty epic weekend. All four of us were exhausted by Sunday night.