Suck City

When does life stop feeling like high school?

Kindergarten drop off and pick up are quickly becoming my least favorite times of the day. T has been doing much better. We have the timing down to a science. So what is the problem? Standing in a group of adults. Some who I know casually, some who I should know but don’t, some who were at T’s preschool. My tongue swells and fills my mouth. My limbs get heavy and clumsy. I can’t make eye contact with anyone. I’m 15 years old and I just want to disappear. Why do the skinny, blond, beautiful Moms look so skinny and blond and beautiful? Why do I want to look skinny and blond and beautiful? My friend arrives and my blood pressure lowers. She is also skinny and blond and beautiful, but I forgive her for those transgressions because she is a swell human.

I feel 15 years old. Except I’m 37. Really, why do I want to look skinny and blond and beautiful?

The reality is I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m healthy. This year I can’t wait to get my cholesterol checked because I’m consistently running 20+ miles per week. I feel more at ease in my body than I ever had before. I should feel terrific. Yesterday I had to go buy new jeans because my daily ones are too big. From the parking lot of Old Navy I sent a gleeful text to a friend who would get my joy and not judge me for being superficial. So why do I see an ogre when I look at myself?

The bitch is back. And she is quite chatty these days.

She perches on my shoulder after my shower and whispers a litany of complaints as we peer into the mirror, her voice laced with disgust. The forehead wrinkles, the upper arm flab, the stretch marks surrounding my belly button, the lank and thinning hair (I do love my IUD, but like the pill it has made me shed hair in a frightening way. Should even out soon, but damn. Makes me feel like shit now.), the tree trunk legs, the sagging breasts, the masculine face, the blackheads around my nose, the developing jowls, the moles and beauty marks and freckles that are everywhere.

I dress and leave the bathroom ashamed and embarrassed.

Every social interaction is scrutinized. I want to seek out everyone I have spoken to during any given day so I can apologize. For my nervous chatter, for not enquiring about their lives, for being rude and self involved.

I have school work to do. A plumber to call. Dentist appointments to make. Grocery shopping. Cleaning. A training program to complete. That half marathon is a month from today. I have to drop off the boys and pick them up and make sure they are settled in school and happy. I have to make lunches and make dinners.

But the anxiety, that stupid bitch, is a 200 pound weight sitting on my chest. She replays everything I’ve fucked up that day in a loop. I can’t get away from her cruelty. I can’t get away from myself. I can’t help but wonder why my friends are my friends. I believe with all my heart that anyone who comes in contact with me pities me. I can’t stop obsessing about how physically repulsive I am. I can’t escape the shame of wishing I was beautiful. Me! A feminist who values brains and tells her sons what people look like on the outside doesn’t matter! I want to be skinny and blond and beautiful.

I’ve written this post again and again in the four and a half years I’ve blogged. I’ve written that I’m bored with this post. I’m bored with all of it. The anxiety. The fixation on how I look. The distress in social situations.

My anxiety disorder is cyclical. Right now is a hard time. In a few weeks or months the bitch will quiet and I will get some peace. Until she comes back.

These days the anxiety hurts as much as it always did. But the agoraphobia isn’t winning. Preschool and kindergarten drop off ensure I get out of the house twice a day. Swim lessons are Tuesday, soccer Saturday morning. And there are four runs a week. Because that half marathon is looming large. We go to dinners at our friends’ homes. We have friends over for cook outs. The damn school work will somehow get done. Life is bursting with activity and while the anxiety might cripple my self esteem and well-being it is not crippling my ability to function anymore.

I am doing a better job of living, really living with mental illness than I ever have before. Because the boys need me and Z loves me and because I want better for myself. Even on days I feel like I don’t deserve it.

House is still a mess, though. If I’m going to be honest, it is pretty much a mess when the bitch takes a vacation as well….

typical tuesday

A typical Tuesday night at our house. Friends just kept walking by so we called them back for a quick hang out and drink. Even with the bitch whispering sweet nothings in my ear, I know I’m lucky to have this support system.

kitty hoynes

Z was traveling for most of the week. C was so happy to see him again.

soccer

This kid. Soccer player. He was awesome, even in the rain and cold.

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.

photo (46)

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

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…

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.

photo (45)

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.

 

Navigating Early Intervention

“Do you know how lucky we are?” Z asked me as we drove toward the school where we would receive the results from C’s Early Intervention Evaluation. “Seven highly trained adults. Seven. Gave him their full attention for two and a half hours this morning.”

“I know. I know you are right. I know.”

“We are so lucky, so privileged to have access to this kind of help for him.”

“Yes. We are.”

I had told him I was sick to my stomach over getting the results of the evaluation. We spent the morning sitting behind a two way mirror observing his test while answering hundreds of questions about him.

We watched the meltdown he had an hour into the test. They redirected him and got him back on track. We watched as he was able to focus. We watched him eat his snack and get back to testing and we watched him fade until he was asked if he was all done. “All done.” he replied firmly.

Midway through the process one of the evaluators came into the observation room and mentioned Sensory Issues and I froze as dread crept up my spine. After she left I found myself standing and delivering a wild and nonsensical monologue to another woman in the room that touched on over-diagnosis and over-medication of ADHD (not even the reason we were there) and how if you look at any kid long enough you start to see something wrong with them.

Before the outburst I’d told myself I’d stay cool. We were doing what was best for C and that is what mattered. This whole thing was not a value judgment on him or on our parenting.

And yet, suddenly I was the parent who did not want to hear it.

Looking back on the last year I realized I never wanted to hear it. Every time I explained to someone that C received speech therapy I would casually explain that he had terrible ear infections and health problems when his speech should have been developing. I’d slip in that he tested normal in all other areas. Except I’m realizing now I wasn’t casual at all. I’m sure that I seemed oblivious and petty and desperate.

The emotions aren’t new. The fear, guilt, defensiveness, and worry. How could I not be able to teach my kid to meet developmental milestones? What is wrong with my parenting? Is this my fault? And there is a stigma for services. How the hell do I get over my own embarrassment so I can teach C he has nothing to be ashamed of?

—————————————–

In New York the Early Intervention provider switches from the state for two year olds to the local school system for three year olds. So another set of standardized tests are performed. During the week leading up to the test he was observed in his preschool classroom. Wednesday a Professor from SU and two of her graduate students spent an hour and a half in our home watching C play and asking me tons of questions. Thursday he had a three hour block, just him and the testers. He didn’t make it to three hours. After two and a half little man was so exhausted he napped for nearly three hours in the afternoon.

This process is important. But man, it is overwhelming both for him and for Z and me. Watching your not-quite-three year old be put through a multi-hour standardized test sucks even if there are some play breaks. By the end it just felt unfair and cruel.

—————————————–

Z and I sat at the head of a conference table, surrounded by the seven professionals who tested our boy and listened to the results. Most of which were in the normal range. But there were new concerns about coping when he becomes frustrated. The only area he scored below normal was the emotional piece, the area he’d had the highest score in the fall.

In the past year his speech has exploded. We were shocked to find he scored average and slightly above average in the two speech components. His clarity is poor enough that we think the school system will grant continued service and we hope they do. He is not at the same level with his peers concerning speech no matter what the tests say. A year later we have learned Early Intervention works. It works. His therapist has been amazing with him. His improvement is due to many factors, but she is one of the most significant.

During the meeting it was clear I was struggling. When his low emotional score was disclosed I couldn’t help myself, I asked what I’d done wrong. How could he have improved so much in one section while falling behind in another?

One of the kind evaluators pointed out that these areas of development do not progress in a straight line. There are fits and starts.

Hopefully C will continue the speech therapy. It is up to us to decide what to do about the other piece. Do we want to see how he does for a year without extra services? Do we want to just deal with this now?

Z and I are on the same page. We want what is best for our beautiful and wonderful and loving boy. I was sure he’d qualify for speech and nothing else. I know my kid. I know him.

It is awful to spend a morning learning that your child, your heart, your love, hell — your job is struggling in an area and you were completely oblivious. The doubt has crept in, if I didn’t know this about him what else am I missing? Does he deserve better than me? Is this the ultimate stay at home mom job evaluation and did I just fail?

Z was right when we drove to the meeting. We are so lucky. C is so lucky. Yes, these services are free. But the process is involved. We have the resources to send our boys to a preschool that made us aware of Early Intervention and helped guide us through it. How many parents out there don’t have the resources or time or knowledge to discover that this is an option? How many parents are so busy working to provide a home and enough food for their child that they don’t know there is an issue with the kid until he or she reaches kindergarten? How to we help get these resources into the hands of families that need them every bit as much as we do?

I don’t know. But I do know that I need to be grateful. I must stop wallowing about how hard this is for me. It is a waste of time to obsess over my failings as a mother. C needs help. Z and I will make sure that he gets it.

beautiful c

This boy. He’s going to be more than fine. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.