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!

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Finishers in the half mile fun run yesterday!

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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.

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But he really is. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

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

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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

Anxiety Vignettes: #3

Z stayed downstairs and had a quesadilla when I went to bed last night. He came upstairs 20 minutes later. I was still up, reading in bed.

Me, “Hey.”

Z, “Hey.”

Me, “Do you know how I know I’m really anxious?”

Z, “How?”

Me, “I’ve decided that you left the stove on after making your quesadilla.”

Z, “Huh. I didn’t leave the stove on.”

Me, “I know.”

Long pause.

Me, “But I really think you left it on.”

Z, “Wow. It must take a lot of energy to be as crazy as you are.”

Me, “Dude. I said I knew it was the anxiety. I am acknowledging it is the anxiety. I know deep down that you didn’t leave the stove on. I’m just upset that you left the stove on.”

Z, “If you are so upset about it you can go down and check.”

Me, “Well, since you are the one that left it on I really think you should go check.”

Z, “I cannot handle how insane you are.”

Me, “I cannot handle how you left the stove on.”

He read for a while and I read for a while.

Z, “Shit.”

Me, “What?”

Z, “I forgot to put the whites in the dryer.”

Me, “Oh….that probably shouldn’t wait until the morning.”

Z, “I know. I’m going down.”

Me, “Will you just pop your head around the corner in the kitchen and check that the stove is off?”

 my guy

Alligator beard.

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T had a stomach bug on Halloween and he missed the parade at school.

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This captures exactly who C is right now.

Anxiety Vignettes: #2

Last night Z and I were lucky enough to attend a session about preschooler behavior at the school that provides speech and O/T services for C. Not only is this two part class being offered free of charge, childcare is also provided. Jowonio is an incredible institution.

C was evaluated and qualifies for occupational therapy (O/T). But I’m going to be honest. We don’t really understand what it all means or how the therapy is going to help him. The sensory stuff, which is C’s issue, will be covered in the second class next week. I’m hoping that what we learn can influence how we help C at home.

I’ve been both looking forward to the class and really anxious about it at the same time. The boys were having a rough time behaving yesterday afternoon and I engaged in some rage eating to try and calm myself down. Z came home early and decided we needed to get outside so we took a walk and dropped by our friends’ house. They had invited us over for dinner, but we’d declined due to the class. And then we just sort of showed up anyway. We are awesome like that.

My grazing continued and I’m not going to lie, I drank a hard cider pretty fast. My friend roasted a chicken and the last thing I did before we darted out the door was pick a bunch of crispy skin off the carcass and devour it. I am a delightful dinner guest.

In the previous several hours I’d eaten an obscene amount of cheez its, two cheese sticks, a bunch of pumpkin seeds, some pistachios, a cider, delicious mashed potatoes and carrots, chicken, and a shitload of chicken skin. My anxiety was climbing right alongside the number of bad choices I had made.

On the way to the school my stomach started to hurt. So when I saw the spread of food set out for the class I grabbed a plate and loaded up on cheese, crackers, carrots, dip, and grapes. I also snagged one of those big logs of tootsie roll. I pounded that shit back pretty fast.

The class was 90 minutes. About 20 minutes in the colossal amount of food in my belly started producing gas. As my belly expanded enough to make me look 5 months pregnant my jeans started to cut painfully into my flesh. The stabbing severe pain made me break out in a sweat. There was a group activity and everyone had to ask a question. Someone ahead of me used the one I’d been able to think of in my gastrointestinal distressed stupor, and the one that popped out of my mouth instead was both dumb and borderline offensive. I was no longer able to listen to the speakers and was pretty unsure how I was going to make it through to the end of the class.

An hour into the session we took a quick bathroom break. I was not sure what would happen if I stood up, fear kept me glued to the seat. The last 30 minutes were torture. Finally, finally the class was over. I carefully stood, clenching my butt cheeks and prayed to any deity that might exist that the gas would not exit my body quite yet.

I hobbled alongside Z to pick up T and C from a classroom. The boys were having a blast. I was trying not to cry. Z started playing with T and I knew that I did not have a lot of time before I gave birth to my gas baby. I whispered in Z’s ear that I was in terrible pain and we had to go NOW. He has been with me long enough to take that kind of proclamation seriously.

Finally, finally I sank into the drivers seat and closed the door to the car.

I let it rip.

The boys sat in awed silence. Finally T said, “Wow.” Z looked at me with his patented combination of amusement and pity. “Good lord, do you need to change your pants?” he asked.

I summoned every ounce of dignity left in my body and stiffly proclaimed that I did not, in fact, have to change my pants. And then I started laughing. We all started laughing.

Z and the boys had s’mores around our fire pit the other night. They told ghost stories and this was C’s. I recorded it before bed that night so I could text it to the grandparents.

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For the first time we let T do a little of the pumpkin carving. He was very careful with the knife and still had all 10 fingers when he was done.

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Star Wars pumpkins! We used stencils from a set our friend gave us. The boys loved them, but holy crap, it was very slow going!

Anxiety Vignettes: #1

You want to cry while you are waiting for a lemon cake to come out of the oven? Watch the Almost Famous trailer.

Glibly posted to facebook on Saturday night. While both crying and waiting for a lemon cake to come out of the oven.

A friend asked why? and I was confounded for a moment. Doesn’t everyone cry at almost every movie trailer ever? She pointed out the movie was fun and the characters were having a good time. And it sat me right on my ass. She was, or is right. For the most part they are having a pretty fucking terrific time. Particularly in the moment I cited as a tear making, when Penny tells the kid he already is home.

In yet another moment of glibness I typed I find 95% of all human interactions sad. Funny and then sad. Because I’m broken. Good news for you, though! Happy people live longer!

Anxiety creates emotional precariousness. Tears are never far away. Neither is laughter. Both show up at the most inappropriate times. Both show up at the exact right time. When life is overwhelming and absurd they are a valve that releases enough pressure to keep me from giving up. It is why someone who has intense IBS loves poop jokes so much. If I don’t laugh I cry. If I don’t cry I laugh.

So. Introducing Anxiety Vignettes. Moments of absurdity that make me laugh or make me cry. Coping mechanisms that seem reasonable until I need to explain them to someone else.

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Dad came with me and the boys to school drop off last Monday before I took him to the airport. We lingered in the kindergarten room which meant we pulled into the preschool parking lot the the perfectly worst time. I stopped at the t-bone in the road to assess options. Most spaces on the near side were full, and every single space was taken on the far side in the half of the lot closest to school.

Dad, ” There’s a space over there.”

Me, “I can’t park there.”

Dad, “Um, ok….there is a space over there.”

Me, “I can’t park there.”

Dad, “What are you taking about?”

I pulled around to the half of the lot farther from school. My parents usually have a no-visiting-Syracuse rule when the temps fall below 60F, and it was a pretty cold morning. I believe my dad was wearing every item of clothing he brought with him.

Dad, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Me, “I CAN’T PARK OVER THERE!”

Dad, “WHY?”

Me, “BECAUSE SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN!”

Silence.

Me, “If I park on that side something bad will happen. I have to park on this side…..so something bad doesn’t happen.”

Every space was filled on the right side, by which I mean the correct side. I pulled to the end of the lot. And I made my own space in the dirt/grass/beginning of a path.

Dad looked at me incredulously.

My face was burning, “What?”

Silence.

Me, “Um…..something bad will happen.”

I looked at him. He started laughing. I started laughing. He sighed.

We trudged toward the building. By the time we walked to the other end of the lot there were a bunch of empty spaces on the safe side. But who knows what calamity I prevented by parking on the correct side of the lot?

Please, don’t all thank me at once.

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School picture.

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Last day of soccer. T’s level of focus was….underwhelming.

reluctant vampire

Reluctant vampire.

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Boy in tree.