Mother’s Day

I have a new favorite day of the year, and it’s the day before mother’s day. Because while I cannot overstate the awesomeness of being served chocolate strawberries in bed along with a cup of tea that has, more often than not, at least partially escaped it’s vessel, I truly enjoy the afternoon of shopping that precedes this rare treat.

While I spend the day shopping for my own mother, I am treated to the best kind of people watching. These are Dads with kids in tow. They shuffle around the display tables in stores wholly foreign. They examine candles, soaps and gel pens. They study the dregs of the chocolate aisle at the grocery store, no doubt chastising themselves for their failure to take care of this earlier. Kids present final selections proudly to cashiers who wrap their treasures in pretty tissue paper. Teenagers rifle through wads of cash and change to pay for potted plants, and cellophane wrapped bouquets. They peruse the card aisle, and struggle to find a sentiment that’s adequate, a few words to convey, with gratitude, their love for the woman who makes them.

It’s the one day of the year that society asks us to consider all that our mothers have given us, and it’s this; everything. It’s a hard concept to grapple with. But the woman your mother was before she was yours was swallowed up. In the moment between your birth and your first cry. While she held your slippery little body and watched it flood pink, she knew the game was over. She surrendered. The jig was up. And every decision she’s made since then, for good or for bad, had you at it’s center. It may not have looked perfect. It may have looked far from it, in fact. But you were there, in her heart, for all of it.

That’s why she rises before you, folds your clothes and makes your oatmeal. It’s why she decorates birthday cakes until 2am and then gets up at 6 to make you birthday pancakes. It’s why she flosses your teeth. It’s why she spends three days sewing beads onto your choir dress. It’s why she learned to knit, so you could have a Harry Potter scarf.  It’s why she still tries to make you see reason even while you shut her out. It’s why she comes back for more when you curse at her and call her names.  It’s why it felt so damn futile today in the card aisle. And why your hands wobbled a little as you handed over the cash for that potted plant. It’s why the tissue paper wrapping isn’t quite dazzling enough.

But she didn’t do it for the potted plant. She did it because the love she has for you makes her feel a little closer to what some people call God. She does it because her love for you is the tie that connects her to the deepest part of the universe, where we know the meaning lies. Her love for you is the knowing without knowing, the tiny sliver of understanding of the grand thing that we can never comprehend. It’s the reason she says thing like “this is what it’s all about.” Her love for you is perhaps the only thing she can say is really real. It’s the most real thing there is.

As I write this I have been banished from the kitchen, I hear the mixer mixing and Bear has whispered in my ear the secret I am not supposed to know about the macarons. Tomorrow I’ll eat my tea drenched strawberries and I’ll give my mother her carefully chosen gift, wrapped in peacock blue. And we’ll all know it’s not enough, can never be enough. But we’ll hold each other and celebrate. We’ll tell each other “I love you.” We’ll say later, “this is what it’s all about.”

 

 

Our Trip

This weekend I took Cleo on a little trip. She’s asked for many months, but I’ve been busy picking up pieces of myself since the miscarriage, so I’ve put it off. And put it off. And put it off. Finally her little voice piped up from the back seat again a few weeks ago, “Mama can we please go on our mother-daughter trip?” My voice may have wobbled as I promised her we would go. “As soon as Daddy comes home babe, the first weekend he is back.”

As it turns out the first weekend he is home is Easter weekend, and I get a reprieve. But the following Friday she bounces into my room ready for our adventure.  We help each other to pack. I have purchased a couple of new dresses for her and she puts one on, and lets me braid her hair. We go for breakfast with Daddy and Huey before we set out. As we say good bye I whisper to Andy “I’m so scared.” But I get in the car anyway and we head out. First to the nail salon, so I can ease into this. Three months ago I couldn’t leave the house. This is huge.

I watch her play with the massage chair while she has her nails prettied, and listen to her chatter as we drive toward our first destination. It’s a Target about halfway to San Antonio, where we hang out for a while, and where I try to get used to the feeling of being unmoored. The place feels like it might actually be rocking as we try on sunglasses, and flip flops, and shop for the underwear we forgot to pack.

She knows nothing of my distress. She is a little beacon, a walking talking reminder of all there is to hope for, the why that makes the how possible. She is bubbling over with excitement, feeling special to be spending this time with me.

We visit Historic Market Square where she dons a crown of paper flowers and chooses mementos for her siblings. She eats churros on a brightly colored bench, and makes silly faces for the camera. After dinner we return to the hotel and discover there is a pool. But we forgot a swimsuit! We race out to a nearby Old Navy and grab the only suit in her size. She puts it on in the car, “What if somebody sees!” She is giggling and twists the whole thing up, so she has to start over.

The next morning she is still asleep as I speak to the fear directly.  “You will not steal this day.” We spend extra time in the morning making our hair pretty and stop for sweet buns from a warm bakery. Our day at the Zoo is the part she’s been most excited for. She doesn’t want to miss a single animal, so we don’t. She pets the goats, feeds the Lori birds and spends extra time marveling at the Hippos. On the way out we stop to have her face painted. “A Dragon!” And then a last minute train ride around Brackenridge park. She’s on top of the world as we get ready to leave. “Mom? Thanks for making this special. I know it was you who made it special.”

On the way home she doses off in the back seat and I finally exhale. I have done the work I needed to do for myself on this trip, and I have gifted her with an experience that I know she will treasure. Rachel Platten sings to us on the radio and I am momentarily blinded by tears. “ah ah ah ah ah, you’re my favorite thing, ah ah ah ah ah, all the happiness you bring…it feels like I’ve opened my eyes again, and the colors are golden and bright again.”

These lyrics could have been written for my little sleeping girl. It perfectly sums up the way I feel about her in this moment, but that’s not what has me crying. When I consider what this fear is that has made this trip so difficult for me, it is quite simply a fear of letting her down. Because somewhere in my center there is a belief that she deserves better, that I am not enough. Don’t all of us mothers feel this sometimes? Yes, I have an anxiety disorder that cranks up the volume on these feelings, but don’t you feel it too?

The thing is this little girl who brings so much light will never herself be perfect. At present she is hot headed, and she can be rude. She’s bossy and crass, and her table manners are atrocious. As her mother I try to take these qualities and mold them into something socially acceptable. I try to teach her to put her best foot forward, but when she falls down? I tell her that it’s okay, that she can try again next time. Because with all of her imperfections she is still my Cleo,  who wants me to set free the head lice because “they are creatures too.” Her more challenging qualities certainly don’t make me love her any less. If anything they endear her to me more. And if one day she finds herself struggling with anxiety? I will help her. That’s all.

My love for her is unconditional. Its absolute. I have total empathy, total compassion for this little being. There is nothing she could do, no dark place that she could go that I would’t follow. As long as I’m breathing I will be here for her, knowing that under all the rough craggy bits she is a little jewel, helping her learn how to shine.

But why don’t I know this of myself? Why do I beat myself  up for every infraction, every flaw? Why do mothers, all of us, bully ourselves in the worst way? That love that propels our children forward, that serves as the wind at their backs? What if we loved ourselves that way? Unconditionally, absolutely? Recklessly? Think what we could accomplish then. Wouldn’t it be something, to be loved like that?

 

Keep Fighting

In a spectacular display of arrogance, my therapist last week told me to stop hoping for a full recovery from anxiety. When I protested, insisting that I had experienced freedom from it only a few short years ago, she cut me off and told me “It will never be the way it was before Elaine.” She likened the anxiety experience to that of a paralyzed veteran. She asked if these souls, with all of their struggles, can experience a joyful life, then why couldn’t I? I felt bullied and weak. I left her office feeling more demoralized, more hopeless than I have felt even in the darkest days of this disorder.

When I had my miscarriage last year, and I found myself back in anxiety’s clutches, unable even to leave my house, I still felt stronger than I did last week. Because when I woke up from the general anesthesia to the raw emptiness where there just had been a tiny life, when I  cried into my oxygen mask, there was still hope for the future. Just like that she snatched it away. She looked up from her yellow pad, raised her eyebrows, and watched as I wrestled with her words. I wrote her a check for one hundred sixty dollars and booked my next appointment.

Thankfully I have concluded that her analogy makes exactly zero sense.  Because when my chemicals are screaming at me eight hours out of every day, when my amygdala  sets my nerves on fire, when all my body allows itself to perceive is danger, where in that am I supposed to find joy?

While I realize the paralyzed veteran will likely face anxiety issues outside of his disability, she compared his physical handicap to my mental one. This is not accurate. It may be possible to experience emotional fullfullment without the use of your legs, it is not possible to experience the benefits of the feel good chemicals while the feel bad ones have us in a permanent state of high alert. And while we have not yet discovered the ways to heal a damaged spinal cord, we do know that the brain is able regenerate and rewire. We know that with diligence we can feed it better, train it through meditation. We can bravely set out to panic in the very places we know are not dangerous, but that our body is sensitized to. In this way we can show our mind through our behaviors that we really are safe. We can calm our nervous system, and eventually eliminate the physiological symptoms that are such a hinderance to our joy.

And what about hormone imbalances, in which my therapist is not trained? What about food allergies, food sensitivities, gut problems, vitamin and mineral deficiencies? What about the thousands of souls online who have recovered fully and are there to cheer us on? What about the bloggers, youtubers, facebook group participants who insist that they have done it. What about Mel freakin’ Robbins? What about Andy, who has researched the brain to the nerdyist degree in order to help me, and who insists that she is misinformed? What about Dr. Claire Weekes who began leading the way to full recovery in 1970, and who my therapist has never heard of?

Acceptance has it’s place. I can accept the state of things right now and still maintain a healthy hope for the future. I can accept that my heart feels like it might explode as I struggle in yoga class, or that I might vomit all over the floor of the pediatrician’s office in a state of panic. I can stand in line in the grocery store, kiss my baby’s head and smell his hair while my whole being screams at me to run. And I can lie in bed at night shivering for hours with no hope of sleep, make my body loose and relax my mind toward the feelings. I can accept these things because I know they bring me a step closer to the end goal, recovery.

If there is anyone out there reading this who thinks it isn’t possible, anyone who has been told they will always be this way. It’s a lie. Nobody has the authority to tell you to give up hoping. Nobody is educated enough to make that call. And nobody knows what a badass you actually are. Whatever your struggle, seek out the people who will truly help you to heal. They are out there, they are brave, and they are wonderful. Keep fighting.

Celebrating Sixteen Years with Anxiety

A few days ago I posted to facebook a list of sixteen memories with my son. One for each of his sixteen years. In many ways it has been more wonderful, more rewarding than my nineteen year old self could have imagined. I wrote in his birthday card “You made my life.” I meant it.  But today I considered the darker side of those sixteen years. Because along with my gorgeous child came an avalanche of anxiety, and I have spent his lifetime clawing my way out from beneath the rubble.

There have been moments when this has seemed a hopeless task, and others when I could see the light. Still others when I lay down on the job and laughed at the absurdity of it all. And those moments may have been the most healing of all. So without further ado, here is my list of memories with anxiety, for it has been my near constant companion these past sixteen years.

  1. When you and I visited that doctor in Singapore for the third day in a row, insisting again that my pink and tender ingrown toenail had turned gangrenous.
  2. When we sat across from the other doctor at Mount Elizabeth Hospital and argued that my stress headache was meningitis.
  3. When we were so afraid of the flight home that we openly sobbed upon takeoff and then experienced liquid diarrhea for the duration of the twenty six hour journey. On the long haul flight our travel companion was a gentleman equally afraid to fly. He explained that he was, in fact, on a separate flight from his wife that day in case the plane went down, leaving their children orphaned.
  4. Panic attacks at home! Alone! With tiny babies!
  5. When we couldn’t look at our foot for six straight weeks because toe cancer.
  6. When we went to the doctor for that bump behind our ear and he informed us that it was part of our skull.
  7. When we became convinced that there was a stalker outside the house, and barricaded the doors with furniture. We stayed vigilant throughout the night with rented movies and a chocolate stash. And an axe.
  8. All the times we have gone to the emergency room thinking we were having a heart attack.
  9. Those days when we used to go to the grocery store for the week’s foo,d and then return home to dump it directly in the trash. Because e coli.
  10. When we tossed that entire mac and cheese dinner because we had cut our finger chopping the onions, and were afraid that we might give everyone a blood borne disease. Like HIV. We do not have HIV.
  11. All those times we turned the car around to make sure that the bump we felt in the road was not, in fact, a body.
  12. That time Andy went to the bathroom, and we couldn’t find him, and he didn’t answer when we called out, and we panicked that he might not be real.
  13. The meaning of the universe. We won’t speak of it further.
  14. Panic attacks in public places!
  15. That time the cat missed his vaccinations and then scratched Cleo and we googled a bunch and found out that rabies can lay dormant for decades in some cases, and we became convinced we had killed our daughter. Remember that documentary about that girl with rabies? Why did we watch that?
  16. All the times we put a smile on it and got shit done anyway. Because we are tough as nails.

 

Batter Up!

Back to school week is my least favorite. The sweet togetherness of summer is replaced by the anticipation of anxiety and stress. Everyone still wants to sleep in, but they need me to make sure their shit is taken care of. My inbox is jammed with more information than I care to process, and everywhere I go I find myself struggling to maneuver my own loaded shopping cart  through aisles packed with Moms who sport a similar stricken expression.

Just weeks ago I was  gallivanting the country with my beautiful family, discovering  Atlanta’s most magnificent donuts. Now I find myself  pondering whether a package of Sharpie Electro Pop Ultra Fine Point Pens will soothe my daughter’s battered self confidence. After some debate, and with Little Bear lolling about in the front of the cart, my M&M bribe to keep him quiet rapidly diminishing, I decide that no, the Sharpies are unnecessary. I will just stick to the list.

We need three boxes of tissues and they only have a pack of five. We dig in yellow cardboard boxes for the last “ultra fine point black marker (sharpie preferred!)” We decide we probably have one at home, maybe in the junk drawer? I find my Mom with the girls. They are tossing their popcorn snack out of the wagon and shreiking. I am sweating now, and regretting my decision to eat the other sharing size bag of M&Ms  back in the clothing section. I tell them to clean up the mess, but soon recognize this as fruitless and sort of gather it all up into a pile and smile apologetically at a  nearby employee.

A few days later I walk my beautiful, confident six year old to the front porch of her new classroom. She’s wearing a cow backpack with a matching lunchbox and has my old yoga mat under her arm. Her hair is braided into a crown, and all the crazy strands are already falling out around her pretty face which just radiates pure joy. She shakes her teacher’s hand and forgets to say  goodbye. “Cleo!” I yell. “What?” Her face is fantastically annoyed. “Have a great day!”

Then I walk little bear to his room. He won’t have his sister for support  this year and he’s been up all night worrying. He has bona fide circles under his eyes and he’s visibly holding back tears. He wants to sit on the bench outside and I we do this for way too long. I can feel the disapproval of his teachers that I’m letting him drag this out. I look around for a more competent adult  to take control of the situation. The process of peeling his little self from my arms is predictably horrifying, so I spend my first free morning in months purchasing new craft supplies and planning fun projects for us to do together. It helps.

The big kids board the bus on their first day without much fanfare, but Maeve calls me in the afternoon upset. My girl has taken a giant leap out of her comfort zone and signed up for middle school athletics. Her new coach has, with exactly zero tact, called her out in front of her peers for failing to provide the necessary forms and purchase the proper athletic shorts. I have missed the email and Maeve doesn’t have telepathic capabilities, so she is fucked.  I am livid. I recall an image of this woman to mind, standing in the gym with her hands clasped behind her back and her feet spread apart. She’s using a bunch of terminology I don’t understand because I don’t live and breathe middle school athletics, and all I need to know is where to show up and when. Just tell me where to get the damn shorts lady!  I write her a scathing email and then delete the whole thing. I write her another asking that she contact me urgently.

The next few days are a shit show. There’s the trip to the UPS store to sort out the whole athletic form debacle. And the trip to the pediatrician for Bear’s cough. There’s the morning ritual wherein I watch bear gulp back tears in the rearview mirror and then observe while he takes deep breaths on our walk up the path. Of course it’s all for naught since he still loses his cool when we reach the classroom door, and I feel my heart physically breaking every time. There are job interviews because this year I will have to work so we can afford the fancy school tuition. And the talk with the athletics teacher, where I do my best to hold back because really, she’s just like me, and the first week of school probably isn’t her favorite either.

The Guy Who Made Me Ugly Cry in Yoga Class

One of the initial steps in my recovery from panic disorder is to expose myself to the places and things that have induced extreme anxiety and panic in the past. This meant it was time recently to reintroduce myself to Bikram Yoga. Bikram is an interesting experience turned love of mine that I discovered during the honeymoon phase of being put  on the anti anxiety medication Escitalopram. This phase, whether due to placebo effect (I am on an extremely low and likely ineffectual dose), or actual efficacy of the drug lasted about a year, and enabled me to try out some things I had been itching to for a long time.

I dragged my sister along to our first class a little over a year ago. We entered the hot room feeling self conscious and unsure. I spent the first half  of the class coercing my body into postures it surely did not welcome and the second half lying on my mat studying the water spots on the ceiling tiles and worrying that the headache I was experiencing was indicative of heatstroke. But the lovely teacher encouraged me to drink a ton of water and come back the next day, so I did! I attended twelve days of the fourteen day promotional period. During that time I learned a great deal about my mind and body. I gained flexibility and confidence, and I quickly realized it was the only form of exercise I had actually enjoyed…ever. This, I thought, might be “my thing”.

Some days were better than others. It was disheartening at first to look around the room at the veritable sea of svelte, toned, and super flexible bodies, the bodies of yogis who have been practicing for many years. I began to understand pretty quickly, however, that becoming more fit and healthy was only a byproduct of the yoga, and far from the actual point. I started to look only at myself in the mirror. I tried to be compassionate toward my  body, abused as it was by my sustained weakness for banana nut muffins and  unassailable respect for the ritual of afternoon tea. I learned to celebrate mini victories, rejoicing in my newfound ability to touch my toes or balance on one leg. I noticed that the usual, persistent thoughts and worries about the kids would dissipate as I studied myself in those mirrors. The Bikram dialogue became my meditation and I pushed myself hard as I dared to “reach for the back wall” in backward bending pose, or to “lock the knee” in standing head to knee. My sister loved it too and together we encouraged the rest of my family to get involved. Before long five of us had signed up for the Thirty Day Challenge.

We sweat… gallons, we twisted, we wobbled, we learned to breathe through  the discomfort. “In by the nose, out by the nose, it calms the nervous system” they said. Some days we cheated ourselves, others we pushed too hard, but every day, for thirty days, we showed up. And we were victorious! Every one of us finished the challenge and experienced massive improvements in our flexibility and strength. I felt calmer in my interactions with the kids and with Andy, and my sleep was incredibly restful. It was the tip of the iceberg in terms of what yoga can do for a person, but it was a strong start.

I did not continue a daily practice, but I did show up regularly for a while. That is, until the day I had a massive panic in class. I was late, class had already started and I could feel it rising. Maybe my blood sugar was low, maybe I didn’t get enough sleep. It doesn’t matter. I tried to resist rather than accept and soon I found myself trembling on the mat, dizzy and nauseous, heart pounding, thoughts racing. I remember it took about forty minutes before I could really engage. Forty minutes of intense waves of panic in a room heated to 105 degrees at forty percent humidity. At the time I felt it was the kind of experience a person shouldn’t have to endure without help.

I wish now that I had just continued to show up, to let the panic roll through while I simply did the yoga. It is a simple approach that is anything but easy. But instead I allowed the panic to choose. I attended class sporadically for a while, but the panic kept coming and I eventually sent an email canceling my membership. It was a difficult time.

Fast forward to today, forging deeper into this journey of acceptance and mindfulness I signed myself up for another Thirty Day challenge. The purpose this time had very little to do with training my body. I knew going into it that I would have many panic attacks because I had conditioned myself to believe they would occur. One day, one of the co owners asked if it might be helpful for me to set my mat up by the door. “No”, I explained  “I just need to accept”. That day I set my mat up in the front row.

There were days where I felt it wouldn’t be possible to will my body out of the car, but I did. One day I found myself at the studio door having slept very little. I had been enduring waves of panic since 4am. I had dropped my children at school dressed, fed, hugged, lunches packed, and now I wanted to crawl into a hole. I struggled through the drive, every turn toward the studio a deliberate decision, the motions of throwing my bag over my shoulder, locking my car, pulling open the door and signing my name on the sheet, each an act of bravery. But I noticed halfway though class that I was meditating, breathing, accepting. Victory. Once again I completed the challenge, but this time it meant so much more.

Somewhere in the middle of the challenge the studio owners treated us to a demonstration and kinda sorta posture clinic with yoga champion Joseph Encinia. It’s not really an experience I can do justice on this page. It was beyond inspiring. His story alone; the story of a little boy suffering from a painful autoimmune disease, of a teenager who endured a heart attack due to his medication, the story of a man who triumphed over his illnesses and lives a full, rich life due in part to yoga was motivating enough. But the man himself, with his energy and drive and light, not to mention his awe inspiring  demonstration…well, it’s the kind of thing you look back on to pull yourself out of the dark places.

At the end of class, when it was time for savasana, a time I usually reserve for desperately struggling to pull my busy mind back into stillness, Joseph said “let’s meditate”.  It was a short yet powerful meditation that required us to hold in our minds the person we love most in the world, to wish them safety, peace and happiness, we wished these things for ourselves too, then for someone we struggle with, and finally for all beings. It was a profoundly moving meditation and the tears came out of nowhere. After Joseph left the room I covered my face with my arms and lay helplessly on the mat allowing the tears to come. At first I thought it was just me, but soon I could hear a few other stifled sobs.

Its called loving kindness meditation or metta meditation. Years ago, Andy sent me an email as part of our thread “What the F*** is wrong with Elaine”, detailing how this particular type of meditation is helpful for those experiencing anxiety and panic. Turns out it’s also coming up soon in the meditation series provided by my therapist. There are plenty of beautiful and inspiring examples of loving kindness meditation on you tube, but I’ll leave you with this. It’s a version of the Loving Kindness Prayer similar to what was said to us in class:

Loving Kindness Prayer

May you be happy

May you be well

May you be peaceful

May you be safe

 

Namaste

Fifteen

Fifteen years, two days, one hour and sixteen minutes. That’s how long I’ve been a mother. Fifteen years, two days, one hour and sixteen minutes ago I watched as my flaccid, unresponsive son, his tone a sickly purplish gray was whisked from my body and to a far corner of the delivery room. There, an army of attendants cajoled him into being; their nervousness betrayed by voices unnaturally loud. My mother tells me she saw it coming, but I had been clueless. When they turned down the volume on the fetal heart rate monitor, it’s normally reassuring “clippety clop” alarmingly slow, when two nurses appeared out of nowhere to push on the top of my belly, when all manner of instruments were used to drag him into the world, I was mostly unaware of the gravity of the situation. Nobody told me. Nobody had enough respect for that nineteen year old girl to fill her in.

I looked into my Mothers face in the moments after he was born, while we waited for his cry, mostly confused. She reassured me that he was beautiful,  perfect. She smiled and her eyes were filled with tears. I think I asked if he was okay. He was. He was beautiful and perfect indeed. They wrapped him in his little receiving blanket, covered his little cone head with a hospital hat and placed him in my arms. I looked down into his blinking eyes, his sweet face searching for the voice he knew so well, for the voice that told him he was safe. His bottom lip was tucked all the way inside his mouth so he looked like a little old man, and he had some red marks on his tiny swollen cheeks. I don’t remember what I said. I don’t remember what anyone said. But I remember the enormity of the feeling. It wasn’t overwhelming or frightening, not even as young as I was. But there was a fierceness to it, my complete and perfect devotion to this little soul. And then the breathtaking realization that he was everything.

We’ve travelled the years at lightening speed. Every long newborn night, every doctor’s office struggle, every harrowing toddler tantrum and nineteen hour plane flight, the harrowing tantrum on the nineteen hour flight seemed never ending at the time. But the good stuff, it’s all just in snapshots. They’re shuffled all wrong and I can’t piece them together properly into a coherent story. But oh they are wonderful to just spread out on the floor of my memory, a big messy pile. It’s achingly sweet to pick them up, squint at them, try to see deeper, to remember what his sweet toddler hair smelled like, how it was to hold his hand in mine as we crossed the bridge at the park, how our feet sounded together as we stamped loudly across it to scare away trolls. Can I recall how his breath sounded when I knew he was asleep and I could safely retreat from the room? How did his voice sound as he played pretend with his toy trains? I can almost hear it, but not quite. They told me it would go fast. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t have understood. Listen, watch, pay attention. Soon it’ll all just be snapshots.

On his birthday I made him a mountain bike cake. Mountain biking promises to be a lifelong passion of Aidan’s if this year is anything to go by. He is an athlete, and a boy scout. A freakin’ boy scout! And a loving, if mischievous, big brother. He is a prankster and he has a wicked sense of humor. You may or may not be able to tell, but I am insanely proud of him. He is heading into high school this year and I am helping him to navigate scheduling, relationships, responsibility. This is the dreaded year he will learn to drive.

My role in his life has recently shifted dramatically. I have a measure of trust in him that I wouldn’t have thought possible a few short years ago. Don’t judge me. This is the kid who I am ninety nine percent sure pulled the fire alarm at the Extended Stay hotel in Nashua, New Hampshire causing dozens of guests to stand outside in the cold while we waited for the fire department to arrive. He still won’t own up to it. He’s the kid who had his father running laps around said hotel after him before pulling said fire alarm. He’s the kid who would steal and hide my keys in restaurants and then watch me frantically turn the diaper bag inside out, all the while insisting that this time it really wasn’t him.

We also seem to be coming out the other side of the whole “parents are embarrassing” phase. I am often surprised to learn that I’m invited to his school or scouting events and, happily, hugs in public are no longer verboten. When I speak to him now I am acutely aware that I am speaking with a young man. We can discuss politics, music, or the most recent episode of The Walking Dead with equal candor and I am finding out what an utterly cool human being we have raised.

To Aidan, who will read this before it is published; I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to be your mother. Maybe the Waldorfies are right and from somewhere out there you chose me.  More likely we just ended up each others people by random chance out here in this fantastic universe. Either way, holy crap I am glad you are you,  I am me, and we’re together.

 

On Gender Norms…Or Something

When Maeve was little, I preoccupied myself with worrying that she was inundated with anti feminist messages. I fretted about her exposure to Disney Princess movies, concerned about their overt gender stereotypes. I banned Barbie dolls, with their impossible body proportions, from our home. We owned and read frequently a copy of  “The Paper Bag Princess”, a charming story about a princess who outsmarts a dragon and in so doing rescues her prince. The prince incidentally turns out to be a “bum” and so she marches off into the sunset without him.

These days Maeve is a makeup obsessed diva. She prances around in belly tops and mascara, and I am constantly begging her to put on a shirt. Go figure. She of course has many wonderful attributes that leave me with little doubt she will do something spectacular with her life. But I’ll brag about those later.

Around the same time that I was feeling self-righteous about my Barbie doll ban I had a train obsessed little boy who surprised me when he asked to be a fairy for Halloween. I dressed him in a little Peter Pan type outfit  and he donned some wings and an entire can of spray glitter. I’ll never forget the squeals of delight when he checked out the finished look in the bathroom mirror. The following year he was a “Bat King” and we wrestled with cheap stick on talons all evening. And time marches on.

This time around, however, the trains rarely depart the station and the legos are only occasionally dumped out on the floor (in their entirety). Their main purpose seemingly being to lodge themselves between my toes on late night trips to the bathroom. My little bear with the chicken heart often prefers instead to raid his sisters dress up clothes and twirl around dressed as “Ana” from Frozen. I frequently have to chastise Maeve when she declines to fix his makeup along with the two younger girls, and when they all lined up to have their hair curled on New Years Eve, there was Bear bringing up the rear.

I announced to the boys last week that I would be taking them for haircuts. Bear’s face crumpled and he squeaked out between sobs “I no wanna have short hair.” Having traveled this particular road before I asked the stylist to just clean up around his ears and neck. I allowed my eldest to grow his hair out for years. It wasn’t such a big deal until he started public school at age ten. There he was ridiculed enough to finally want to cut it off…sniff.  He now has something of a hair complex which may or may not have anything to do with his previously long locks. Huey’s hair is, of course, adorable. Good call Buddy.

Thankfully the younger kids go to a progressive little school where the children, boys and girls are free to express themselves. Kids will be cruel sometimes, it’s true, but we are fortunate to have brave, compassionate, thinking teachers who can handle a multitude of quirks, and who teach the children to celebrate diversity and  honor the beauty in their differences.

However, there is a line for me. I did not, for example purchase a second Holiday party dress for Bear even though he requested one…emphatically.  I instead bought him some sweet little winter sweaters that he loves and some t shirts with Christmas illustrations, also a big hit. Of course I am more than happy to zip up his Ana dress so he can join the girls in pretend play. In fact, I find it’s less of a hassle than wrestling the plastic sword from the hands of an over zealous miniature knight.

Someday I will reflect back on this time the same way I do the Halloween spent with my forest fairy, giddy with delight at his glittering costume. Or on the times spent cuddled with my precious baby daughter reading “The Paper Bag Princess”. I won’t remember so much the second guessing and wringing of hands.  Only Bear’s hopeful little face on the drive to Granny’s house this New Year’s Eve. “Granny’s gonna think my hair is beeful,” he said quietly to me . “Yes she is sweet boy,” is all I needed to reply.

On Losing the Battle

Today, as the first light filtered through the blinds I gazed at my beautiful boy who had climbed into my bed through the night. I breathed in his sweet smell and played softly with his little rubber ears. I wished hard that he didn’t have to wake up to the world changed as it was this morning. I despaired that he would come to know such a repugnant individual as the leader of his country. Worse, that he would someday come to understand that we let it happen.

Our country elected this man President of the United States and we should all hang our heads with shame. What will we tell our daughters? How will we explain that this man, who is so blatantly misogynistic, is allowed to set foot in the Oval Office? How will we excuse ourselves when they start picking away at their rights and freedoms? How could we have done more?

I read that Canada’s immigration website crashed in the wee hours this morning as those desperate for an escape, a do over, for the gag to be up, frantically googled. I’m here to tell you that won’t be me. I won’t be running. I am a British Citizen, a resident alien in the United States, an immigrant, and this is my home. My husband is American, my children are American, and soon I will be too. Next election cycle  my little guy will be eight years old. Old enough to understand and bear witness to his grown ups fighting to put someone worthy in our country’s highest office, someone he can admire and emulate. So as we move forward reluctantly this day, this week, and for the next four years my promise to my son is that this will be the last time I sit by idly as hate trumps love.

 

The Quality of a Moment

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The kids are asleep, the dishwasher is humming along. My feet are throbbing a little and I don’t remember when I sat down last. A few moments ago I looked up at our sky full of stars, so vibrant in this beautiful Texas Hill country, and I felt grateful. The enormity of the night sky will often make me feel insignificant, afraid, too small. Bit tonight I find myself giddy with gratitude, humbled by the sheer miracle, the blind luck that put me, little me, here. Able to stand on my two legs in my weed strewn driveway, and drink up this beautiful experience.

As I ran around this weekend preparing meals for the week I found myself overwhelmed by work. I made a point to shift my thinking and allowed myself to feel grateful for the experience of cooking for my family. There was Halloween pasta with bat and pumpkin shaped pieces, carrot and coriander soup made from Mum’s tried and true recipe, slow cooker chili and hot apple cider. I breathed in the smells. I savored the little hands, eager to help, the pasta pieces falling to the floor, their curiosity, and finally their pride at the finished meal.

I had to make a last minute run to one of those awful halloween superstores. Once we had purchased our gross, but totally cool zombie makeup I made a wrong turn and wound up out by the airport. What began as a twenty minute drive had turned into forty. We had pumpkins to carve and I had dinner to serve, school snacks to assemble. Yep, I like to sign up for snack duty on special days like Halloween and Valentines Day. It never fails to make me feel simultaneously overwhelmed and like a superhero. On our longer than necessary drive home I played my favorite music, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the ride. Then at midnight I enjoyed putting little celery stems into clementine pumpkins despite the late hour.

Once this week, while washing dishes, my little pirate friend passed through the kitchen and asked, “do we have any string? I need it to build my ship.” There was an actual homemade pumpkin pie in the oven and I believed in that moment that I may in fact be the happiest person alive.

I wondered aloud to Andy recently that there are occasions in life where you notice that the quality of the moment is somehow different, something akin to a childhood memory, but not. What I am coming to understand is that this is what it feels like to be present in the moment. This is mindfulness. Putting mindfulness into practice is simple, but it is work. I have a long way to go and more to learn. I still fall asleep when I attempt to meditate for more that thirty seconds, but I am working on bringing myself back into the present whenever I notice my mind wandering into that unknown future that I fear so much. I am beginning to realize how very much I have missed these past fourteen years. I will never be reimbursed the time spent worried and stressed about futures that ultimately never came to pass. I know that now, and practicing mindfulness is a not so small part of my whole plan to overcome my anxiety. And guys I have to tell you, I have not had a single panic attack since Andy left three weeks ago. It’s a major victory.