Anti-Anxiety Vignettes: #1

The past week plus can pretty much bite my ass. That bitch anxiety has moved back in to the house. Actually she has been around all fall, but I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of coping. Suddenly I wasn’t coping anymore.

It’s scary when the physical symptoms come roaring back. They feel new every fucking time. I’ve been doing my damnedest to act as normal as possible around everyone in my life. But I’ve noticed constant self-criticism escaping from my mouth before I can stop. It drives Z crazy when I say bad things about myself. He thinks I sound like I’m digging for compliments. I’m not. Really. I’m just informing everyone I know that I’m in on the secret. I know I suck, too.

It’s a fantastic way to make everyone feel uncomfortable.

So. Four migraines in a week. IBS….let’s just say it is very active. Like active enough to wake me with stomach cramps in the middle of the night. Pretty consistent low grade nausea. Two pregnancy tests taken even though I’m on the most effective birth control out there. Crying. So much crying. And pretending to be a normal person when I leave the house.

I’m exhausted. Z doesn’t know what to do. A call to my shrink will be placed today.

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C is a hustler. At three years old he uses his sweet and beautiful face to get what he wants. I know, I know, of course I think he is beautiful.

sweet faced c

But he really is. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

He’s a drama queen who knows how to work it.

cranky pants leonard

See? Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

More than a year of speech therapy has paid off tremendously. He is still working hard on enunciation, but he can express himself beautifully with words these days. It is pure pleasure to finally discover what has been going on in that mind of his. Mostly. Wasn’t so great when he told me he didn’t love me at nap time yesterday. But seriously? He did express his frustration verbally so it still felt like a tiny victory. Ok, a tiny hurtful victory, but a victory all the same.

When we drop T off at kindergarten C darts into the classroom and over to the teachers distributing breakfast. He often cons them out of a container of cereal. This morning it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I settled him back in his car seat for the quick drive to his school as he opened the little bowl and started chowing down.

Five minutes later I called hello to a fellow mom before bending down to unbuckle C. His lips had a thick coating of cinnamon and sugar, it was like he was wearing glitter lipstick. I burst out laughing. He smiled up at me. “My face is very cute!” he informed me.

It has been a shitty week. So the wave of joy almost knocked me on my ass. My eyes filled with tears for all the right reasons. It felt so good.

And his face is, in fact, so very cute.

It is not my boys’ job to save me. I cannot and will not depend on them to do it. But man, they keep doing it anyway. They bring joy and frustration and delight and rage into our lives on a roller coaster of emotion. Concentrating on them helps me get my head out of my ass. Having kids is obviously not necessary for happiness and a full life. But for me? It is the best thing I’ve done.

Our family made the front page of Syracuse.com last Thursday! C is in a sleigh that was used by Z’s grandmother who was born in 1908. We have used it every winter, it works like a dream. Photo by David Lassman

Drop Off

“So remember, I’m not going help…”

He cut me off. “I know, I know, Mom. I am going to put my stuff in my cubby myself. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!”

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy is something his most excellent kindergarten teacher says.

T has changed so much in the short time he has been in kindergarten. He is growing into his own person. It is messy and exciting and wonderful and sort of heartbreaking. I looked over at him this morning while I was strapping his brother into the car seat. His hair was swept up under his winter hat which was framing his face. I saw the baby, the hilarious and bald baby, that he used to be. Man, I miss that baby. I looked at his face and start to laugh. He looked back at me and laughed himself.

“What?”

I smiled. And sighed. And suddenly was blinking back tears. “Nothing. I love you.”

We looked at each other and started laughing again.

I’m pretty much the definition of over-sharer. I know, understatement of the year. But many of the moments involving T that crack me up, or teach me something, or drive me up the wall are starting to seem like his stories. He should get to choose to share them or not. He isn’t going to disappear from the blog altogether, but I’m going to do something very hard for me and try to have some actual discretion when it comes to him.

At the beginning of November I told T we would work towards me dropping him off at school in the morning rather than coming in with him to get him settled. His teacher said he was ready. He panicked.

We decided we would take the month to slowly get used to the big step and have him ready by December. December came and I was no closer to dropping him off. Even though it meant C was late to school every day. Even though T’s teacher said he was ready. Even though I knew deep down that T was ready. Because it turns out I was not ready. I like walking him into the building and having the opportunity to check in with his teacher. I like feeling involved with his school life. I don’t want to let my boy go. When I think of dropping him off outside…it is another 10 minutes of his day that I’ve lost. I feel left behind.

I feel left behind. And when I realized that it became very clear that it was time to make the drop off happen. I can’t keep him close because it hurts me too much to let him go. It would be a different story if he needed me for a while longer, but he doesn’t. I’m holding him back. My job is to let him go. It is the best job I’ll ever have. And the hardest. I cannot tie my happiness to him. It isn’t fair to either of us.

It might seem early to start worrying about letting him go, but if I don’t start now it will be impossible when he is grown. If the idea of letting the kid walk to the door of his school, without crossing a street, with me watching him the whole time is tearing my heart out how is going to feel when he is ready to go to college? I need to get used to him growing up and away and into himself. Because it will happen in a million tiny steps between now and when he is a man.

So we started the work on Tuesday. I told him he needed to get his stuff settled without me, but I’d stand nearby. It didn’t work. He told me he couldn’t do it and begged for help. We talked more about it Tuesday night. He did better on Wednesday. I thought we would struggle for a few more weeks, but this morning he was all “easy-peasy lemon squeezy”!

He didn’t struggle this morning. I did.

skinny jeans

I mean, look at him! He is an honest to god kid!

floris hoodie

Hamming it up in a hoodie I wore to kindergarten at Floris Elementary a million years ago.

inside the lego table

Brothers in the lego table. Not allowed anymore. Because it is now falling apart, probably because the boys were sitting it in….

Leave the Light On

For the last few months T has been falling asleep with his light on because he is scared of the dark room. Even with its rather bright nightlight. On the way to bed for the night I stop in, look at his sweet sleeping face, give him a kiss, and turn the light off.

A week ago my parents arrived for a visit. T loves their visits for a million reasons, but one of the biggies is having his Grandma do bedtime with him.

She asked him if he wanted the light off after stories and he told her to leave it on. As she was getting ready to leave he called her back.

“Grandma? I sleep with the light on, but sometimes when I wake up in the morning it is turned off. Before you go to bed will you come in here and check that it is still on?”

Oh.

Oops.

Man.

I’m an accidental asshole.

T kindergarten picture

Look at this nut. He has 12 more school pictures to go, but I cannot imagine loving any as much as I love this one.

grandparents goodbyes

Goodbyes with the grandparents.

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.