Rules

(Did I mention that I’m taking the first creative writing class of my life? It is a memoir class at the Downtown Writers Center, which is part of our YMCA. This is one of my submissions. Not new in terms of theme, hell, I’ve blogged about some of the specifics before. But a little more stand alone than most of my posting here.)

“How is it that you always look so calm and relaxed?” my friend asks as she hustles her kids across the parking lot.

“Ha!” I call back flustered. “Um…Lots of psychotropics?”

I buckle myself into the seat and let the giddiness wash over me. I am strong. I am powerful. I have proof that when people look at me they see someone who is completely normal. No, forget normal. Calm. Relaxed even. I win. I motherfucking win.

A few minutes earlier my pulse quickened as the parking lot came into view. Tom’s drop off at school had been later than I liked and I tore over to South Campus. Was there still a spot relatively close to the door on the right hand side? Was a car from the other direction going to get to the lot ahead of me and take the spot I needed? What would happen if I couldn’t find a space on the right anywhere?

My shoulders floated down from my ears and my heart rate slowed. A space was open. Charlie and I held hands as we walked towards his school. My left foot took the step up the curb and onto the sidewalk. At the gate I pushed the lock with my left hand and ushered him under my arm. I hoisted him up to press the bell and grabbed the door handle with my left hand when the click sounded. Left foot carefully cleared the threshold and into the vestibule. Left hand on the next door. Left foot over the next threshold.

After the hug and kiss goodbye, both repeated until they felt exactly right, I wished the green room kids a great day as I rounded the corner towards the two-way mirror. I watched Charlie, waiting until it was safe to tear my eyes away from him.

There are rules. If he is touching an orange toy I must wait until he has played with something else. If he is unhappy I must wait until he calms. Many mornings the moment happens almost instantly and I head back to the car. Left hand on the door handle, left foot over the threshold and repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Each movement I make, each choice is an opportunity to fail. My left arm tingles. It knows it needs to be the first to touch something. If I take an improper step I can feel the burn along the bottom of my foot. The panic radiates up my leg and I must repeat the mistake with my other foot to even out the fear until it begins to dissipate. The rules change all the time. A shirt, a pair of socks can become good or bad. A fight with Zeke or a bad afternoon with the kids, and I realize the fault lies with a sartorial choice I made that morning. The unpleasantness could have been avoided if I hadn’t been so damned stupid.

Remembering the rules takes an embarrassing amount of energy. Energy that should be spent on the kids or cleaning the neglected house. Your fault, your fault, your fault runs in a loop through my mind. If I get sloppy the whole world will fall apart. My fault.

Living the rules is suffocating. But I welcome how they consume me. If I’m being a good girl, if I follow them closely I don’t have the bandwidth to face what my mind hisses at me. Most humans can get through the day without having to take drugs for their brains, Karen. Most moms can parent without a pill, Karen. It was selfish and cruel to have kids knowing they could be like you, Karen. Any person who thinks they are powerful enough to stop bad things from happening based on which hand touches a door first is pathetic and a narcissist, Karen. You are worthless, Karen. You are an albatross around the neck of your family, Karen. You are disgusting. People only look at your with pity, Karen.

The rules are a small price to pay if they drown out the thoughts in my brain. They focus my fear so it doesn’t swallow me whole until I cannot leave the house. They are my guidebook to venturing out in the world. Most of the time I can handle school drop off and the grocery store and social niceties. I just have to follow the rules. Pay attention. Accept it is my fault if a mistake is made or the rules change and I don’t anticipate it. Know that I can’t fix a mistake right away if I screw up. I must live with the shame and fear and consequences of my actions.

The rules save me. The rules trap me. I cannot bear looking weak to others. I act perfectly normal until I can’t act anymore and then I hide. I smile and chitchat and agree to show up at your house for dinner. I do not show up to your house for dinner. I am sorry.

Charlie is safe at school. I grab the door with my left hand, left foot over the threshold. The dad in front of me holds open the outer door. No rules broken, not if I don’t have to touch the door at all. Left foot over the threshold. Behind the dad and through the gate. Left foot steps down the curb onto the asphalt.

“How is it that you always look so calm and relaxed?” my friend asks as she hustles her kids across the parking lot.

“Ha!” I call back flustered. “Um…Lots of psychotropics?”

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Sometimes you wake up to find your kid quietly playing legos next to you.

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Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

finishers

Finishers in the half mile fun run yesterday!

Syracusens

Since the New Year our life has been charged with excitement and worry. Z has been in the long process of interviewing for a tenure track position at SU. Long story short: he got the job. The tenure process takes six years. We feel pretty committed to Syracuse now. We want this city to be our long term home.

My anxiety has spiked once again. Dealing with the stress and unknown is not something I do with grace. In the back of my mind I also knew Z’s Japan trip was looming. He is teaching a class there for four weeks this spring. He leaves on Sunday. The anticipatory nature of my anxiety disorder has been rearing her ugly head.

In the last few weeks I have ballooned into a round and swollen version of myself. At least that is what I see every time I glance in a mirror. I’ve pretty much stopped looking. The voice is back that tells me I am disgusting and worthless and an object of pity. I’m scared of getting through the next month. I’m scared I am not a good enough mom to be alone with the boys for so long.

My parents are coming for the first week. They spoil my whole family rotten. My friends have assured me they will be here for support. Still, I am turning in on myself and pulling away.

Crazy folks need a crazy friend. Someone who gets living with chronic mental illness. Someone who understands in their bones when you share that you are struggling. My crazy friend moved at the end of last year. I miss him so much that I haven’t let myself process his absence.

The four women who are my closest friends are a lifeline to me. But none of them have been chronically mentally ill. Last week I put on my big girl pants and emailed them to tell them I’m having a hard time. When we are all together and I say that I’m ok….well, I’m really not ok. Just sending the note removed a weight from my chest. These women have my back.

Z is in New York until tomorrow afternoon for an end of the school year event. Our gang tends to do a potluck dinner on Wednesday nights. I hosted this week. We sat in my backyard and my friend told me they all wanted to get me a Mother’s Day present. I got red in the face and apprehensive. We are all moms. Why would they get me something?

My friend explained that she knew I was anxious about the state of my house with my parents coming. We are slobs, Z and I. Terrible terrible slobs. On Saturday my friends want to arrange a cleaning service to get the house in order. I worked really hard not to cry. It was too much. I didn’t want to impose, didn’t want to accept such a huge gift. A few minutes passed and the conversation moved on. Eventually I turned back to her. “I would love to have the house cleaned.” It was hard to say and I was choking on the guilt. But I accepted their kindness.

The anxiety is never going to go away. But it is not preventing me from being loved and cared for. It isn’t preventing me from loving others back.

Syracuse is our home. We are happy. Now. Today.

I have never trusted happiness. It can be snatched away for a million reasons. Acknowledging it means tempting fate. Yes, tragedy and sorrow can hit our life at anytime. I’ve suddenly realized that isn’t a reason to shy away from happiness, rather it is a compelling reason to enjoy the happiness while it is here.

Am I scared shitless about Z’s Japan trip? Yup. Is my anxiety worse than it has been in a long time? Yessir. Do I despise myself right now? I do.

All of that did not stop me from enjoying the triple date we went on last Friday. Six of us piled into our friends’ minivan. We were a cliche of “Parents’ Big Night Out!” and I loved every second. The bad stuff didn’t stop me from enjoying Z’s birthday part on Sunday night. We had more than 30 people over for the first backyard barbecue of the season.

Good shit is happening here. Z and I are happy. The boys are happy. We have friends that we would do anything for. And it turns out they would do anything for us as well.

lots of boys at the zoo

Taking a bunch of boys to the zoo.

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Z’s early 42nd birthday present by awesome local artist Cayetano.

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Singing Happy Birthday to Z. When I lit the candles I accidentally blew them out along with the match the first time.

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Painting banners for the annual Carnival at T’s school.