Head in the Sand

In November 2016, I stopped reading the news. Just stopped. The hype of the election and the devastation in the aftermath was, for me, more than I could handle. I didn’t want to see the dissection of what went wrong for the first female candidate for President (yes, I would have voted for any woman running regardless of party) and I didn’t want to see the shambles that was quickly unfolding at the hands of the newly-elected President. No news was better for my mental health and so it was.

I wasn’t reading the news in 2017 when my dad died and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville. The grief was sickening that year. It must have been 2019 when I reactivated my subscription to the Washington Post and started following headlines on the New York Times. I didn’t go to any news sites, preferring a feed reader to dull the sensationalism.The world didn’t get any brighter in those two years. It appeared that many things were still in shambles, including my mental health.

You can see where this is going. But I was doing better! I didn’t have such a visceral reaction to the horror of the news. Wildfires, a shameful national leader, the loss of healthcare for millions, and so on and so forth. Still horrible but my skin was thicker. Apparently, not thick enough.

This virus and its impact have been crushing. It’s not the dying thousands really, although that’s horrifying, it’s the children wearing masks. It’s the decimated grocery stores. It’s the forced distance from others for fear of something we can’t control or vote out in an election. It’s fourth grade at home. It’s not going to an office each day and abandoning a spring break trip. Did I say it already? Can I say it enough? It’s the children in masks.

Debra sent this video yesterday. It’s light-hearted and upbeat, considering the subject matter. I cried. I can’t not cry. Yes, the environmental changes are amazing. I can see the bright side through the tears, at least. I’m not sure my therapist (and yes I have one) can help with this. It’s worldwide grief this kind and I have to stop reading the news.

My Parents (Boundaries, Part 3)

My mom and dad decided to put their elderly farmhouse on the market. This is not as charming as it sounds, except when it is, which is only just as the sun sinks below the Blue Ridge, casting the crepe myrtles and blackberry bushes into shadow and when the breeze swirls the scent of freshly cut grass and young pine trees through the summer heat. The rest of the time, it has mice and the plumbing is sluggish. The pipes burst, the slate foundation leans, there is a bear in the woods.

I fully support this decision. My dad is having more trouble with stairs (and walking in general) and they have an hour drive just to have an appointment with the doctor. It never really made sense to buy the house but they did and there it is. I think it’s smart to downsize and to be closer to emergency care. I think they will be happier to spend less on gas and to be less dependent on their questionable car to take them back and forth. I think they will like plumbing. It’s nice.

It isn’t easy though. They want what they have always had* – a spacious house with a large yard. They want it to be one level and close to town. They would like to pay two pennies for this house. I’m a little surprised at their inability to truly downsize but I shouldn’t be, I guess. It’s exactly as they have approached my dad’s diagnosis on the whole: out of sync with reality.

My mother has been crying about money and moving which is really crying about my dad. I’m pretty sure that’s how you can class all the crying around here. And I reassured her that they wouldn’t be on the street. That if the house sold immediately (ha) and they hadn’t signed a lease, they could live temporarily with us. Can you imagine what my mother heard? I believe it was something along the lines of: You should move in with us right away. Debra and I will move into the unfinished basement so that you don’t have to use stairs. Live here forever.

My sisters will hopefully help to turn her away from this collision course she is on. But that seems flimsy, doesn’t it? How do you say no to a man with cancer and his bereaved wife?

 

 

*They have forgotten the tiny trailer in San Bernadino, the brick box in Benson, and all the times they moved in with my grandparents.

 

 

Xanax Bought Me These Pants

I am the worst at clothes shopping. My wife referred to me (not at all lovingly) as quasimodo on Sunday.

As in: You still look like quasimodo in the mirror with one shoulder hiked up and a grimace.

She’s right though, even when I buy clothes online and try them on in my mirrorless bedroom, I do some sort of weird clothing-related hunching maneuver that is likely a physical manifestation of the way I feel inside when I try on clothes.

I have never in my life put something on and thought, yes. yes this fits like a glove. I am so excited to wear this. I’ve had clothing that fits beautifully standing up but which turns into a shambles sitting down. I’d had things look terrific from behind and a monstrosity in the front. I’ve had an enormous number of Clown Pants and Strangulation Shirts. You see, my shoulders are broad, my arms are assertive, and I have a nice rack (all the better to carry my problems with, and heft my child, and carry bulky things, and shrug off disasters) which makes many, many shirts ride up around my neck while simultaneously gripping my upper arms for dear life. I also have my grandmother’s belly which is to say I am perfectly normal until you sink below the belly button and then holy fuck what is that even and then normal again. I remember looking at the smooth, sudden roundness of her belly as a child and wondering how on earth that happened while leaving her perfectly average everywhere else. This ensures that dress pants that fit my belly often tent out like I’m a circus clown in a hula hoop and suspenders.

I’m hot stuff, you guys.

Now, I could go on about how I’ve spent the last year miserably under compensated for a promotion, which is to say not compensated at all (and I have lots to say about that), but I’ll stick with the fact that I can’t afford new pants, or nice pants that won’t fade, and I desperately need them because jesus, having a dad with cancer and a mother who has a husband with cancer has really done a number on my eating habits (pretty much all cake). I’ve been wearing two pairs of pants – one faded twill and one pair of jeans – for the last eight weeks. My clothing in no ways says, hey I’m a Director of Important Shit. It more says, hey, I work here, maybe, if work means come here every day and sit in that corner office hoping you won’t look at my pants.

It’s not good when you find yourself taking a day off every other week so that you only have to wear each pair twice. On the odd weeks, I sub in a questionable dress and skirt, neither of which I have seasonally appropriate shoes for. I have also taken to canceling meetings or showing up early to sit down first so that people don’t notice my pants problem.

And so, on Sunday, my wife announced we were buying new pants. There was a lot of moaning and grousing and general whining, all of which sounded generally like but nothing ever fits! I’m always BETWEEN and remember the Clown Pants?! But because I’m a big girl, I took a newly-acquired-because-I-am-not-handling-this xanex and you know what? I didn’t cry. I even found three things that mostly fit. At the first store.

This has never happened. There were no casualties. And even though my wife still called me quasimodo (thanks for that). I didn’t even try to hide or hold my laptop in front of me when my boss walked past today. Progress and pants, brought to you by anti-anxiety medication. I’ll take it. Literally.

 

Things I Didn’t Expect To Say

Whose pee is that?

And honestly not know.

Because there are multiple culprits.

And I’ve said it more than once today.

urine

 

 

 

 

While You Were Away…

You guys, I was on my way to bed, thinking to myself, “no screen time two hours before bed, even backlit screens, how am I supposed to do that” forgetting, for the moment, that I’m trying not to control everything so who the hell cares whether I’m reading a book on a backlit screen before bed, when I realized you were the only people who would appreciate how ridiculous I look.

Because here I am, blue face mask drying (anti-stress, it says) in an effort to hopefully get the blemish the size of Mount Kilimanjaro that arrived ON MY CHEEK to subside or at least stop being so red and so…tall. It is so giant that I’m distracted by it when I glance down. I am also wearing one shoe because two minutes ago as I was trying to wrestle a fitted sheet free from its boa constrictor-like grasp on my forearm, I stepped awkwardly on my heel which was already sore and a blinding pain shot up my leg and knocked me over. On my ass. So I hobbled around with snake sheet and blue mask until I got to my shoe because isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing when your foot hurts…shoes…and I jammed the hurt foot in. I did not put on the other shoe because I can’t put enough weight on the first foot to manage the second shoe. I gave the cats some water because I’m a good person and also because I’m trying not to think about the fact that I might be left with those ungrateful bastards because today the vet found a lump in the beloved dog’s rectum and it’s being biopsied and I actually cannot think of that reality. So I don’t look where I’m going with my one shoe, blue mask, snake arm hobble and I put the bare foot right into cat poop.

Fresh.

So I’m calling you. Because who else can you tell this shit (literally) to?

Not an Uplifting Post

So I’m still working my way through the L Word – very nearly done now! – and I find myself stuck in a parallel universe that has none of the fun sex and all of the stress. I think I’m Bette in this terrible scenario, facing the reality of being too controlling.

For the five of you who didn’t check out after reading “the L Word” but don’t have the context, suffice to say there’s a relatively successful woman (Bette) who has lots and lots (and lots) of flaws and who is generally finding herself either a) angry, b) angry and sad, or c) angrily trying to fix things. After setting the rustic table at her girlfriend’s home with a tablecloth, she is accused of trying to control everything. And, the viewer has to admit, it’s more than a little true.

I can’t see myself from the outside but I feel like I’m that person. The one who is putting a tablecloth on a perfectly fine table in someone else’s home. Bizarrely, my own home is a jumbled mess. The books stay where RR has dropped them. The pictures she has drawn litter the living room floor. The clothes are folded but not put away. There’s a t-shirt on the table and a backpack under a chair. Some library books are due. I don’t know when. I haven’t looked for them. I hope no one else is waiting for the audiobook of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

At work I have all the things I wanted but am on the wrong side of every conversation. I can’t seem to fix or stay on top of anything. People talk and my feelings are hurt. And yet, I know I’ve got it right (or mostly so) and this is the consequence of being a somewhat more noticeable chess piece on the board. Still I wake up each morning with a pit in my stomach. Every shower is a problem-solving session. Supper is fuel for worries. Story-time a merciful pause before the constant mental scrolling of the work yet to be done.

I’ve been to this place of inertia before and then I felt hopeless. Now, I feel like I’ve done this to myself and that I perpetuate it by trying to fix everything. If I stop trying to fix things, I’m afraid I’ll be awash in everyone else’s tides and THEN I’ll feel hopeless. I’m not interested in that particular trip. So, of course, I try to fix it and in the midst of seeking a solution realize I’m trying to control something quite out of my control. Which reminds me of Bette and the L Word and how if I wasn’t that person, I’d probably be just fine.

I keep hoping it’s not noticeable to everyone else. This unfortunate personality trait. I’m afraid it’s the most noticeable thing about me and I don’t know what to do about it. And, if I wasn’t this person, I wouldn’t care. That’s a horrible circle to be stuck in.

It Isn’t My Fault At All, Apparently!

Having my parents live nearby has been more rewarding than not. I also get to catch a glimpse of my unmedicated self in my mother – just in case I was falling into the familial trap of thinking all pills are the devil.

Sanity. It’s worth it.

One of her skills is to turn everything in such a way that it has been directly influenced by or is related to her own actions. This takes extraordinary talent and is especially notable when she manages to extend it generationally.

Case in point: she is sure that the reason RR is taking so long to toilet train is because she wished this on me when I was small. And not just small. She spent a lot of time wishing I would get all of the things I challenged her with back – threefold. “At least.” She truly feels bad only not, she says, because I had it coming.

 

 

 

 

giphy

Frozen Solid

What is the CRACK that is Frozen?

Is this because we never watched movies before Frozen? I feel like we need a B.F. and A.F. notation to denote which part of our lives happened before they were accompanied by Let It Go and the parts after which involve a lot of serenading.

Also a lot of braiding – LIKE ELSA MAMA! – and dress-wearing – LIKE ELSA MAMA! – and towel cape wearing – LIKE ELSA MAMA! – and long, involved conversations wherein Debra and I are are some combination of Anna, Sped (or Swed), Olaf, and Hans. There is also lots of “Hans Kissing” while RR holds your chin, ever-so-gently, and kisses you. You mustn’t kiss back and, if you keep your eyes open, you can watch her go cross-eyed as she zooms in on you.

This child, who has never touched a doll, suddenly discovered the two she has and christened them Elsa and Anna. They appear suddenly together in odd places although only Anna (my old doll with has clouded over eyes*) goes to sleep with her.

photo 2

Last night she asked me to sing Let It Go to her and Anna but, since I’m not a talented singer, she had to sing it all. the. way. through. twice before I could try again. Spoiler alert: I failed and the ensuing meltdown reached epic proportions.

Friends, I am not alone. Youtube is riddled with other children serenading the camera. Pearl Jam covered it at a concert in Italy. The Boston Globe tries to capture why it’s so popular. It’s not just the 4-yr-olds. It’s catchy, even Jimmy Fallon thinks so.

We’re a little late on the Frozen train but it appears there are no stops to get off. I don’t mind much (she’s super cute when she sings the word fractals) but I’m amazed at her capacity to remember every single word in the script as well as every single move that accompanies it. It all makes sense though. Clearly the reason she hasn’t mastered the potty is that there is physically NO SPACE in her brain for anything else.

Glad we’ve figured that out.

* Mine at 4. Cloudy eyes courtesy of that time she spent the night under the yews on a wad of Big League Chew:

photo 1

 

Three More Days

Three more days until my wife comes back home. You guys, these are the things we are going through:

–We ate tacos with our fingers as I had forgotten forks, was too exhausted to get up, and RR broke the one shell we had between us.

–She wants to watch Yeap Fwog. NO the one with the FWOG and the GWEEN PUPPY and NOT THAT ONE. They all say Leap Frog. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong.

–The dog licked her and she has milk on her sock. That’s why she is jumping from the ottoman to the couch.

–WHY DID I MOVE THE OTTOMAN???

–It’s okay, Mama, Mama will be home and put it back.

–What day is it? It’s Tuesday. What day is it? It’s Wednesday. What day is it? It’s Thursday. I’ll bet I can guess what she’ll ask tomorrow.

–We have listened to Elton John’s Crocodile Rock at least 50 times. Funny how in three years I’ve never gotten sick of her children’s music but in 3.5 seconds I wish old Elton had got crushed under the tire. Accidentally.

–I hit my head three times on the roof of the car today. I nearly passed out the second time. Oh that’s right, RR had hold of my boob when I jerked backward. A) why is she tugging on it in the first place? and B) and boys think they have the corner market on pain…

–She misses Grannie and Pop Pop and talks about them coming home constantly. When I told her they were moving to their house she looked me right in the face and wailed, NO THEY AREN’T! THEY ARE COMING HOME TO ME and then she threw her milk at my head.

–We spend a lot of time scolding my parents’ dog, Donx. Where “a lot of time” means constantly and “scolding” means practically yelling.

I came into her room to get her pants and found her not in the living room where I thought she was but standing on her rocking chair in the middle of the room balancing on one leg. Naked. I’m on the BEANS BALANCE, mama! I am so strong!

And despite the extremely helpful volunteering from our friends (hi starrhillgirl!), I’m too tired to even conceive of how they could be helpful. It’s just us, doing what we do (naked, apparently), with five cats and 2 dogs – 3 if you count my parents’ as double the work. Having anyone over would be a disaster (see: Donx) and I don’t have the energy to leave the house or to cook for anyone but myself. Also, we’re apparently cave people who can’t use silverware.

The lovely person at Love Invents Us was ruminating over being more gentle with oneself and that is definitely something I’m not able to do alone. Sure, with my wife, I’m a superhero at eating ice cream for dinner and letting the socks lay on the floor where RR threw them. But alone I can’t rest until the chores are done, the kitchen is sparkling (even after the horrible Donx splattered mud on the ceiling…AGAIN), the animals are taken care of, the laundry is put away, and our bags are packed for the upcoming day. I also can’t order pizza like I assume would be normal because I suddenly realize that I’m in control of everything and so, I, too, will be sparkling clean and healthy, just like the kitchen.

What’s wrong with me? I need my wife to come home so RR and I can get back to our slovenly ways.

PS – Excellent recipes:

Avocado Cilantro Chicken Salad
Pistachio Pesto Chicken Pasta

 

 

Reprieve

On Wednesday, my mom left for six weeks and it feels lighter, as if everyone can take a deep breath. I feel awful saying that, but there it is. When she’s there, every moment sits on the edge of a knife. Is what’s happening true? Is it explosive? Am I saying the right thing? What, exactly, IS the right thing? I spent most of my teenage years slipping off the edge and crashing around on the eggshells below. As an adult, I think I’ve got it in hand but living together certainly makes it clear that I pretty well don’t have it in hand. This is not her fault, but it’s evidence of what brain chemistry can do to a family.

I’m taking a meditation class and I’m grateful that I’m able to find that place in my mind where I can just breathe and each moment is just what it is without judgement. Living with my mom is the opposite of that. Every statement could play out a dozen ways in an instant. I never know what (or who) to expect. I’m going to cook dinner could mean a great number of those things, most of which do not result in dinner. It’s hard to let go of anything as a result and that, in itself, antagonizes her. My having an opinion antagonizes her*.

While this is frustrating, it’s not impossible, at least not until you realize that belligerent stampeding has shifted into every part of your life. Even after two months, most of the dishes end up in the wrong cabinets. There is a persistent brown streak showing up on the back of the toilet seat that I clean every morning (if I didn’t, it would stay there indefinitely). The refrigerator and cupboards are bare while the amount of dirt accumulating in the house is stunning which, apparently, is the price we paid for being away over the weekend and not doing all the housework and grocery shopping.

I feel ungrateful and horrible but unbelievably, that’s better than rocking the boat. By the way, my mother has stated that they are planning to stay until June. I’m not sure if that was to get a rise out of me or truth. There’s no way to know for sure that doesn’t involve some sort of slamming door.

 

 

*For instance, she said I could sew curtains for the basement windows. I said that would be nice. She said they need to be blackout curtains and that the only place you can buy blackout fabric is from a place in Evanston, Illinois. I allowed as to how that didn’t seem right – maybe we could call our local shop? She huffed. She insisted that it wasn’t the right kind of fabric. With some prodding, she did check the local store and they carried it. She said she would use our existing curtains. While I wasn’t keen on that, it seemed like less work than trekking through a crocodile filled pit of opinions. She brought home sparkly tan velour and the blackout fabric. I wasn’t able to cover my concern about the velour in time and so she didn’t speak to me until the next day. She did sew the curtains but did not actually attach the blackout fabric to the curtain so it was less sewed and more hung. Have we talked about my feelings surrounding “done right” and “done enough”? I recall saying to her that it was fine if she made curtains but that I did not want them to cover the glass when pulled to the sides. I like light, I said. Please don’t limit the light coming into the basement. She said, of course! The curtains obscure half the window. Your father didn’t want to hang the rods out further, she says, as if I’ve made an unreasonable request in my own home. I want to velcro the curtain to your door, she says over dinner. I balk. This goes on. It’s awful.