Summer Vacation, or why you are lucky I’m not your mom/spouse/friend

While others have it infinity worse, the last few weeks have been craptasticly stressful. A bunch of wonderful things also happened, but the reality is there was diarrhea sauce on top of that shit sundae. 
I have been white knuckling it really hard and think I did a decent job of appearing perfectly normal most of the time. Yesterday was the first day of summer break. I tried to delay the inevitable by returning to the boys’ school to help with packing for a couple of hours. We are decamping to an empty middle school for a couple of years while the building is renovated. 

And then last night I was too anxious and scared to fall asleep until after 2:30, even with all meds on board. This morning my hands feel tingly and the air is pressing down on my body hard enough that I am finding it hard to move or even take in a full breath. 

This happens so infrequently these days that it feels like an event. Which is pretty cool. But I’m so out of practice that I’m taken aback and a little scared. 
All the while I’ve given the boys complete reign over the tablet and TV. Simultaneously. I only made a halfhearted attempt to get C to stop eating the shells of the peanuts he is cracking. 

Earlier C heard sound come from my phone and he scurried over and scrambled into my lap to see. 
I have been sitting in Z’s chair and watching clip after clip of Anne of Green Gables on YouTube. The Megan Follows one from when I was a kid. Again and again I watch Marilla tell green haired Anne they are keeping her, and Gilbert rescue Anne from the bridge pile, and Matthew tell Anne that she was always who he wanted as he lay dying. I’ve been searching in vain for the scene where Anne finds out Gilbert is ill and she goes to him. Instead there are endless compilation videos of Anne and Gilbert set to offensively cheesy music. I love them all. 

C watched alongside me. And he felt the trembling of my shoulders. It moved into my chest until the heaving began shaking him, too. He grabbed my face between his hands and turned it to him. He took in the tears and made a comforting sound. He pulled me to him for a hug and gave me sweet little boy kisses. And then he looked deep into my eyes. “Mom, it’s ok! It’s ok, mom” before he hugged me again. 

I’m feeling too awful and guilty and worthless, basically too self-indulgent to do anything but accept the comfort of a 5 year old. 
Z is returning this evening from a two week teaching gig. I’m too focused on thinking about the literal and figurative mess he will step into after an exhausting day of traveling to do anything about it. 

And that is it. My ass molding to the chair, watching clip after clip of Canadian TV from the 80s. Being overwhelmed and annoyed by the responsibility of feeding the boys. Wondering who is real, the me who white knuckles it, or the me that falls apart. Feeling jealous and resentful of my friends, and parents in general, who move through life without the aid of medication, who work much harder and contribute much more than I do. The pity party and the shame and disgust will jockey for my focus all day long. 
I hate this, I hate this, I hate this. It is a post I have written time and time again. It is boring. It is definitive proof I am worthless and a way to embarrass and punish myself. It is narcissism in black and white. 

Most of all I am angry. I hate myself, I hate you for reading this shit,  I hate the people I love for doing too much and not enough and everything inbetween. The air pressing down on me, the rage expanding and choking me from the inside. How can a combination so volatile do nothing but nail my feet to the ground? 

Let’s jazz it up with pictures! 

Child labor!

Sick day!

Rock, paper, scissors while Mommy is getting takeout because she is too lazy to cook!  


Enthusiastic Support

I’m with her. I am passionately with her.


I’ve wanted a Hillary lawn sign for months and haven’t pursued it because I don’t want to get flack in a neighborhood that was filled with Bernie signs. A couple of weeks ago I finally bought a campaign t-shirt that didn’t have the nerve to wear up until that point. I’m an outspoken Hillary supporter, but not nearly as outspoken as I want to be, and too often feel compelled to include disclaimers acknowledging she isn’t the perfect candidate.

I have lacked the courage of my convictions for much of this campaign cycle. Every time I see a news article that points out the absence of enthusiasm for her campaign I am screaming inside that my excitement and I are here and real.

Two weeks ago a woman started a secret Facebook group. Secret just means one cannot search for it. An administrator of that group invites friends and those friends can invite other friends. Within a couple of days this group, one that unabashedly celebrates the candidacy of Hillary Clinton by encouraging members to wear pantsuits to the polls, had grown to more than 10 thousand members.

The stories of why these women supported Clinton were riveting, heartbreaking, hopeful, extraordinary and mundane. I could not stop reading them. I knew these women, these strangers. I cried for them, and for myself. The group grew as women added their friends. In a week and a half it reached more than 200,000 members. Women and some men who might not feel comfortable going public with their support had found a refuge, a place to be enthusiastic supporters.

A longtime supporter of Hillary who runs a partisan click bait site offered to become an admin of this group. The group’s founder declined the offer. And things got weird. He insisted that while there might be several thousand legitimate members in the group the rest were fake. He accused the founder of the group of scamming its members.

The fight was stupid. It was a waste of time. It really didn’t matter. It is also a perfect example why so many of us are quiet in our support. We don’t want to hear we are doing it wrong. We don’t want to be told that our enthusiastic support cannot possibly be real.

We were being gaslighted for a site created to escape gaslighting. An organic outpouring of joy at the opportunity to vote for Hillary suddenly felt tainted.

The explanation of our stupidity was given on his personal page. He was protecting us. He accused anyone who disagreed of trolling, and made clear he would report those individuals to Facebook. He had already contacted the FBI to report the creator of the group. He called himself a real feminist while deriding the “attack” on him as an attack on feminism. The next time a women cried sexism it would be weakened because of the false attack on himself. He explained why it was impossible for 200,000 women to join a group in 10 days, he insisted the math was impossible. He supports Hillary Clinton for president and he was telling a group of women that we had been suckered for supporting her in a different way.

This election season we are scared of being talked down to. We are tired of being told we are doing feminism wrong, often by men. We know how exhausting it is to defend our intelligence. We run the risk of engaging in a time wasting and embarrassingly immature Facebook battle when we stand up for ourselves to someone who should be our ally. It is easier to be quiet.

But this time we ignored the noise. Just two weeks after being created the group has more than 400,000 members. We are sharing our stories and supporting each other. We are with her. Enthusiastically. We vote.

Do you want an invitation to the group, friend? Hit me up. I will include you. Join me in enthusiastic support for her. In our small way, we are helping Hillary Rodham Clinton become the 45th President of the United States.



“If I end up dying because of my side cancer will you marry someone who isn’t crazy? I’d like the boys to have a mom who isn’t crazy.”

“Karen, no. I have married crazy people 100% of the time. So statistically I would marry someone else who is crazy.”

Surely there are folks with chronic mental illness who aren’t also hypochondriacs. I am just not one of them. I don’t remember how the side cancer joke got started, but I do remember being particularly pleased with my witty retort that it was in remission. Joking about side cancer is a way to casually and lightheartedly acknowledge my mental illness. La de da! Side cancer, so funny! I feel like I am dead inside!

The next day I told Zeke and our couple’s therapist that I was thinking about hurting myself. Zeke immediately understood why I brought up the side cancer.

Since we got back from our summer travels I have been in rough shape. Usually it passes after a few weeks. This time it got worse. I didn’t know how bad it was until I was coming up with a plan that seemed to make a lot of sense in the moment. One that took into account that it would be cruel to follow through anywhere Zeke could find me.

Numbness laced with pain makes me really dumb.The cycle is old, but the shame feels like the first time every time. Who wants to be married to someone that is so much work? Who wants to be friends with someone who is so self-involved? Who wants to be mothered by someone who can’t always engage because she is so wrapped up in herself? Who wants to be sick with worry over their kid who is almost 40? Who wants to live in a narcissistic mind that is also ashamed by how much energy it is sucking from everyone in its life? I can’t bear myself, it stands to reason that no one else can either. Each time I am in bad shape I am sure I will deservedly end up alone.

I am better than I was a dozen years ago, truly. I can ask for help. Last fall I had the same urges and I told my friends. They held me accountable. I was honest with Zeke and my therapist. I agreed to increase my meds. This time I messaged a friend who struggles with her own demons. She listened. And then she contacted Zeke.

Twelve years ago I couldn’t leave our apartment without help. Today I am able to leave the house. I can fulfill minimum responsibilities. I had everything ready for the first day of school for the boys, lunches made, clothing laid out the night before. I have been taking the kids to school, picking them up. I dread it. I don’t want to look anyone in the eye. But I do not cry. I smile and chat even while trying to avoid eye contact with friends, especially those who know what is going on.

The illness blocks reason and logic, the familiar patterns of anxiety ebbing and flowing are forgotten. As fall approaches every year I only seem to remember the good parts. It is my favorite season; the excitement of back to school, Z and I celebrate our anniversary, Halloween with two boys in the house.

The hard parts are a shock every time. The change that excites me also terrifies me. My little boys are now big boys, time is stuck on fast forward and I can’t catch my breath. September 11th. Jesus, September 11th knocks me on my ass. How can it be 15 years ago when I can taste the smell of the burning rubble in the back of my throat? Part of me is still standing on the hill in Fort Greene Park after returning to Brooklyn that afternoon. I am looking across the river at the cloud of fine grey-white dust obscuring lower Manhattan and I believe when it clears the buildings will still be there. All fall I am sure that the void in the sky is a mistake and the next time I look the towers will be back where they belong. I am stuck there and I am ashamed I don’t know how to move past it.

I don’t know how to move past any of it.


In less macabre news, we had a lovely dinner out on our 16th wedding anniversary. The smile is sincere. Which means, all things considered, I’m in pretty good shape. I can escape the destructive voice in my head at times, something I was less able to do in the middle of bad periods many years ago.


Silver hollowwear is the 16th anniversary theme. Z made this lovely little charm.


More than 10 years ago I walked into a Club Monaco on the Upper East Side. Historically, I had avoided the neighborhood on principal, but after a resident in psychiatry at New York Presbyterian started seeing me several times a week it became familiar territory. Post session, I often needed to walk for a while before heading underground towards Brooklyn. My walks took me past Club Monaco and various other retail establishments I couldn’t afford. Often I would slip inside. I still wear half a dozen threadbare long sleeve waffle weaves I collected from an American Apparel during that time.

Therapy sucked. Dr. Petrini was asking a lot of hard questions. Good questions. Zeke still says Petrini saved my life. But I hated him. Both of them actually. I hated everyone. I hated the hard questions. I hated Petrini and had an extremely inappropriate crush on him simultaneously. An anger crush. I hated the crush. I seethed with hate. While Zeke and Petrini were prime targets, I bore the brunt of my hatred. I tried to walk off some of the rage. Or at least walk with some of the rage.

I would wander into stores that stocked clothing I could barely squeeze into. The monster dose of Zoloft I was on, higher than the recommended daily, caused me to balloon in size as it helped me gain control of my mind.

The sales racks were past the bank of registers in Club Monaco. The rear of the store, by the dressing rooms, was a fitting place for those of us who couldn’t pay full price, who actually couldn’t afford the sales price for the knock offs of knock offs either. A horrible military green was the color of the season. I filled my arms with drab extra larges and approached the sylph who manned the dressing rooms. She murmured encouragement as she unlocked a door for me. I struggled to heave the clothing, none of which I actually liked, over my girth.

It was a triumphant experience for me. It gave me permission to hate myself, and provided validation that I was a physically repulsive freak. I felt the eyes of the staff on me. Their pity and disgust was a hair shirt I was proud to endure. I loved feeling so worthless. I loved being right about myself.

Nothing fit. Another victory for self-hatred. I shuffled into my clothes and carefully restocked everything I tried on. Because damn it, no one would be able to say that the fat girl wasn’t conscientious.

As I made my way through the store and towards the street the piped in song suddenly chipped through my embarrassment and shame. Blackbird. I stopped. Swung into the raised section in the middle of the store filled with expensive winter coats and handbags. Aimlessly moved among them.

Yes, it was Blackbird, but an electronic cover. As a rule, I am not a fan of electronic music. As a rule, covers are not my thing. Seriously, who fucks with the Beatles? Who has the hutzpah to think they have something significant to say about Blackbird? Blackbird.

And yet. I felt the song in my bones. It traveled up my chest and neck until it burned the back of my throat at the same time tears burned in my eyes. My whole body was filled with this song. I felt real and right and comfortable because of the strange electronic version of a song I loved with my whole heart.

I spun around and headed towards the registers. There was a bored kid behind the counter, his eyeliner impeccable.

“Who is covering Blackbird?” I asked him.

He looked at me blankly. “What?”

“Blackbird” I pointed above to indicate the music, “Blackbird, who is covering it? What band?”

“Oh, the song?”

“Yeah, who is doing the cover?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know this song.”

It was my turn to look at him blankly. “It’s Blackbird. The Beatles? It is a Beatles song.”

We stared at each other. He obviously thought I was crazy, and he was correct about that. But I didn’t care. I looked at him and I felt….pity. This kid didn’t know The Beatles. “Can you find out who is singing it?”

He was annoyed, but turned to the stereo system. “Eros” he bit out, ready to be done with me.

For  years I have been trying to make the perfect mix. A handful of songs are on nearly each version: Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits, Temptation by New Order, Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel, Punk Rock Girl by The Dead Milkmen. Blackbird by Eros has been on the list for more than a decade. A cover by a band that doesn’t seem to exist beyond this one song. But the song did what music is supposed to do. It reached me at a time when I was broken.


Another awesome family portrait from Ellie Leonardsmith Photography.


Beautiful C.

Green Band

“Do you want to hear the drama of the day?” Zeke asked me. I was ill and out of commission so he took the boys to the pool at our local YMCA. T had been begging to go for weeks. He was desperate to take the test to qualify for a green band so he could swim without parental supervision. He already earned a yellow band, a step up from the default red kids are required to wear, but he wanted to prove he’s a real swimmer.

“We found a lifeguard and T asked if he could swim the length of the pool using backstroke. And he did. He did it. And then he tread water for 30 seconds.”

I could barely speak around my huge grin. “No. Way. NO WAY! Oh man. Seriously? Oh MAN, I am so proud of him!”

“The lifeguard put a green band on T and you should have seen the look on T’s face. So about 20 minutes later another lifeguard motions us over, the head lifeguard. He told us you can’t pass the test with backstroke.”

My stomach sank. “Oh, Zeke.”

“But. The lifeguard let him take the test again doing freestyle.”

“Crap. And he couldn’t do it?”

“No, he did it. He swam the whole length of the pool. He really struggled the last 20 feet or so, but he made it.”

“What? I am shocked! I really didn’t think he could get all the way across doing freestyle! That is amazing!”

“But the lifeguard didn’t think he was a strong enough swimmer. So he cut the green band off of T’s arm.”

“You’re kidding me.”


“He did it. He did what he was supposed to do for the test. And he still didn’t get the green band?”

“Actually, if you think about it he swam two laps, not just the one. But basically correct.”

My eyes filled with tears. T is a careful kid when it comes to trying new things. He worries about looking foolish in front of others and it really holds him back. This test was a huge deal in his almost-7-year-old world. “How did he handle it?”

“He was pretty upset. But he held it together. We swam for a while longer and then left. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.”

“You know, I think we should say something to the swimming director. I mean, I do not want the lifeguard to give our kid the band at the expense of his safety. But they say the test is to swim the length of the pool and tread water for 30 seconds. So that is what the kids expect. If the test is to do that stuff and be evaluated on how strong they are while doing it fine. Great. But they should make their expectations clear. It isn’t fair to the kids!”

“I don’t think we should.”


“No, listen. I’ve been thinking about this all day. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes we do everything we are supposed to do and we still don’t get what we want. Sometimes life isn’t fair.”

I was ready to fight back, to protect my kid from the hurt. Except, sometimes life isn’t fair. My impulse is to shield him from that pain forever. Which is ridiculous. I want him to know how to navigate disappointment and be able to bounce back when life doesn’t go his way.

Zeke left to grab us take-out for dinner. T sidled up and leaned against me. “Mom, something terrible happened today.”

“Oh, baby. I know. Daddy told me. You know, I don’t think I have ever been as proud of you in your entire life as I am right now. You tried, you did your personal best. And sometimes we try as hard as we can and we don’t manage to do it. But baby, the most important part isn’t succeeding. The most important part is trying. I am so proud. I love you so so so much.”

“But, mom! I didn’t just try! I did it! I did the test! Twice! I did it! And I still didn’t get the green band!”

Thank god for Zeke. “You know what? You are right. And it stinks. But sometimes we do what we are told we need to do and we still don’t get what we want. Sometimes life is unfair. It hurst so bad, it is totally uncool, but it happens to everyone. Seriously, everyone. I am still the proudest of you that I’ve ever been, you know. And you are going to get that green band. You just need to practice some more.”

“But mom” he wailed, “It isn’t fair! IT ISN’T FAIR!”

I buried my face in his hair and breathed in the chlorine. “I know, baby. Sometimes it isn’t fair.”


last day of 1st grade

Last day of first grade. See the bracelet? It is the yellow band from the last swim lesson of the session at the beginning of June. He wanted to keep it on until he earned the green band. It fell off a few days before the Y trip, but he had it on for more than three weeks.

BMW picnic

Farewell picnic at his brother’s preschool. Yellow band in place. Fuzzy caterpillar on a stick.

last day 1st 3 guys

My three guys.


There are two-way mirrors outside all the classrooms at C’s school. No matter what kind of hurry I’m in I stop at his mirror to watch him, really look at him for a moment, before heading out to the car. The stress of the morning rush doesn’t matter. If he was being a difficult jerk, if I was being a difficult jerk, it doesn’t matter. What matters is him, really seeing him. Loving him and knowing I will miss him during the day, even if we need a break from each other. It is one of the most reliable and best parts of my day.

He starts kindergarten in the fall. There are no two-way mirrors outside the classrooms. Parents aren’t even supposed to enter the building with their kids. Watching T or C play for a moment each morning has been a part of my life for five years. In that middle year, when they both were at preschool, I got the moment twice a day.

Over time it helped me come to terms with letting the boys go a little. Before they started at school they were mine, all day and every day. Of course they were never really mine. Raising a child is learning to slowly let go. Knowing that in my head doesn’t mean my heart understands. But watching the boys from a distance, seeing friendships develop, even watching on days when they made bad choices and the teachers gently intervened, reinforced day after day that they were growing up and away just like they were supposed to do.

Today is C’s last day of preschool, my last day at the two-way mirror. I watched as C played at the water table with two pals. He sucked up red water with a toy pipette and shot it into the big tub, mixing colors and creating new ones. My throat burned, I wasn’t able to swallow the tears. I watched him and loved him and cried. I did not want to walk away.

He is so excited about kindergarten that he doesn’t have room to be sad about leaving his school. I’m excited about his next adventure as well. I’m also sad enough for both of us.

It would be worse if I wasn’t sad. Moving on from the school is heartbreaking because it was such an extraordinary experience for our family. Who the boys have become is due, in large part, to the love and guidance they have received from the teachers at their school. Our family is better for our time there. I am lucky to be this sad.

T’s first day in the Red Room, fall 2012
c and t first day preschool.jpg
C’s first day in the Blue Room, T’s first day in the Green Room. Fall 2013

t last day preschool

T’s last day of preschool. Spring 2014

C’s first day in the Green Room. Fall 2014

c last day

C’s last day of preschool. Today.


Friends. Hello.

The windows don’t rattle in their frames anymore. They were replaced with energy efficient models last November. But our house is an old lady, and she shook as the wind whooshed and hissed through the leafy trees. The harshness of winter wind, branches clacking together without leaves to dampen the noise, is behind us.

When I opened the back door to toss recycling into the bin, a gust bit my nose and the smell of wood smoke was in the air. It wasn’t June in the yard; it was October. I breathed in the chilly air and was filled with hope and excitement and joy.

In that breath I remembered the autumns of childhood. Summer stretched too long and hot. The welcome coolness of fall mixed with the smell of paper, erasers, and the sticky plastic of Trapper Keepers. School new enough to be exciting. The keen anticipation of Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and then Christmas stretched out in front of me.

Before the memories became weighted down with melancholy, the boys’ futures replaced my past. Hope and excitement and joy stayed with me. C starting kindergarten, T a second grader, planning their costumes for the Zoo Boo, their cousins and grandparents spending Thanksgiving with us, our trip to North Carolina the day after Christmas.

The cold snap will be over tomorrow, June will be back. But tonight it is October.




How about that weather? Really chilly tonight, right?

Um. Is anyone actually still here?

If so, hi. I’m sorry. I am sorry. Fading away without a so long was rude as hell. I don’t even know what happened. Writers block? I was boring myself and pretty sure I was boring you? Mental illness and motherhood are pretty damn repetitive. The longer I didn’t write, the harder writing seemed? I was too busy living, the good: the boys flourish, I’m a PTO mom, hey, I actually did a marathon! The bad: my crazy…..has not been under control, I was overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts, paralyzed with fear, and that marathon? I accidently got lost (of course I did) and ended up doing an extra mile plus.

Good year. Hard year. How was yours?

Bottom line, I’m sorry if I left you hanging. And hey, I’ve discovered something pretty big this year. Happiness! It isn’t a constant state of being. Yup, I actually thought that. It was why I thought I couldn’t have it. You have probably figured all this out already, I am really slow. Happiness is simply a moment. Sometimes you get lots of moments in a day. Sometimes you don’t. But you don’t have to always be happy to be happy. Crazy people can have it, too! You can have it! I can have it! There is room for it, even during the bleakest days! 2015! The year I was suicidal AND happy! I know, I know, not funny. Totally tasteless. And I promise, I’m doing much better.

Maybe I’ll post in another year if I learn something cool in 2016.

PS. Hey, if you read here and you emailed me this year? I am sorry. I am a grade A dickweed. I was too ashamed to respond, I didn’t have an answer for why I wasn’t posting. I was being a coward. The emails were a kindness that touched me deeply, and they deserved a response. Again, I am sorry.

boys walk

The guys on a walk in early spring. Z made that guitar! And I know, the boys are so big!

c boo boo

“I have a booboo on my face, so I have to do this.”  He did not have a booboo.

t hat

We are trying a hat to keep the hair out of his big kid face.

k z date

Z and I went on a date in February! It was really awesome!