Thursday, November 25, 2021

Letting traditions go

Last year, when my dad was going through his cancer and chemotherapy/radiation, I reached out to a former boyfriend who is now a chaplain and asked him to recommend some books to help me deal with my feelings. 

My medication keeps me on an even emotional keel, for the most part, but intense stress gums up the works. With the pandemic, my keel was wonky anyway; dad's diagnosis and treatment left me feeling way unmoored.

I read several books he suggested, including No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron. 

Between my own therapy and going through therapy with G, I've learned a lot about how anxiety and OCD work, and so I've tried to get better and more mindful about my acts of "letting go." I've tried to remind myself to feel whatever unpleasant feeling I'm having, hold it and sit with it until it doesn't hurt anymore (or not as much), and then let the desire to control the situation dissipate. 

I've also tried, in these past 20 months since COVID appeared here, to really not force myself to do things I don't want to do. 

Now, this doesn't mean I'm not working or doing the mom thing because those are things I need to do. Those are the tending to the tree work so that in the future of 10 or 20 years, I have shade in my garden.

But what I'm letting go of, and I've always been pretty good at this, is letting go of the stuff that really hasn't ever been necessary except that everyone else does it, and so we feel that it is required. 

I compare this to cutting back all the dead stalks in my garden each fall and throwing away all the dead leaves that fall on my grass. Someone, somewhere, decided this is what you do, and so everyone with a yard followed suit (in the same way that we all bought into the yard to begin with). In truth, cutting back stalks and removing every shred of leaves is detrimental to the health of the landscape. Birds and insects use those dead stalks and dead leaves to overwinter. The dead leaves decompose and provide nutrients to my flower beds. 

Essentially, going along with whatever every other homeowner does is extra work for me that harms my yard. 

We are going about our normal Thanksgiving which has always been okay with me because I've only ever had to make two dishes. When the day/time come when my MIL doesn't want to or can't do Thanksgiving, I do not necessarily think I will adopt the practice of bringing everyone together. I cannot say for certain. That could be next year or 15 years from now. 

But I hate entertaining. I really don't like to cook. And so I would have to find a way to do it that would not make me miserable. I know too many people, friends of mine and family, who do Thanksgiving (and Christmas and Easter) and stress about it. 

And yet, it is a holiday that we all do because someone, somewhere told us we had to. Did any of us ever formally decide, "Yes, I want to celebrate this holiday in this particular way?" Or have we all just done it because we've always done it. 

I have decided this year that our Christmas is changing. I am doing a long-term sub job until the district's winter break, and I am going to be tired. Subbing wears me the heck out. Plus, at the best of times, I hate shopping. So I have decided that I am not buying gifts for anyone. My children have everything they could ever want (and would rather have money anyway, I think). 

Our family is supposed to leave on a short trip soon after school ends, and this complicates the Christmas planning too, so I'm not planning. With airlines and delays being what they are, I have no guarantee that we will even get back when we are supposed to, so I'm not doing our "normal" at all. I'm not even going to try. While we are gone, if I feel inclined to buy someone something on our travels, I will get it. But I'm not buying everyone stuff just to have them a gift at Christmas. 

(I should say that this non-traditional Christmas is bringing its own OCD stress with it. The irrational part of my brain is pretty well convinced one of my parents is going to get COVID today at Thanksgiving and will be on a ventilator at Christmas, making our trip not happen.)

I am not putting up all the Christmas trees because the kids only help because I fuss at them, so I am putting up one tree that I will do myself and not ask them for help. I don't even care about Christmas, and I am sick and tired of trying to make my family a holiday that they don't seem to care about (although I suspect they will complain this year because it "isn't the same.") 


This year, I am listening to the crazy screeching lady in the rafters. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The school choice SAGA continues AND can schools PUHLEASE think of better questions for admitting kids?

Item #1 on today's blog agenda is my comment that despite folks lamenting how much our district needs and wants kids to attend their "neighborhood schools," they lie.

They "say" they want neighborhood schools, and then they bend over backwards into something out of the Kama Sutra to get their kids into any school but their kids' neighborhood school. 

They say, "We want neighborhood schools!!!" 

They mean, "We want neighborhood schools.....except for my child."

These parents say crappy stuff about their neighborhood school whether they have stepped foot in said school. And some teachers, YES, teachers, contribute to this nonsense by telling students and parents that some schools are better than others. And some of those teachers I'm almost certain have never set foot in some of these schools that they denigrate. 

And then the kids believe all they hear so that they have ZERO desire to attend their neighborhood school which leaves parents who are totally ok with their kids attending their neighborhood school (ME) being forced into navigating applications and all the other shit that goes along with choosing high schools. 

The paper that one diploma from the "best" school is printed on in our district is EXACTLY the FUCKING SAME as the paper from the "worst" school. 

Yes, you have arrived at Carrie's blog, V2: My kid doesn't want to attend his resides school. 

His reasoning is this:

1--I don't want to attend my resides high school. (He doesn't know why, although I would say it has something to do with all the junk parents and their kids and sometimes teachers says.)

2--He wants to go where there is a computer program. (Ok, that I can understand.)

3--He wants to go where his friends are applying. (Same thing his sister did even thought she ended up not even having classes with any of those friends like all four years but whatever.)

Since I'm been through this rodeo, despite how much it bugs the shit out of me, I'm like, "I don't have the energy for this crap a second time. Apply where you want, but I'm not driving your ass anywhere."

Item #2 on today's blog agenda is why do the applications ask questions that are so heavily focused on the extroverted among the population? 

Like "Describe 3 groups or extracurriculars you have been involved in."

Which is bunk because 13 months of those three years of middle school were spent doing NTI when no one could be involved in ANYTHING. And do they want to hear about what he did when he took swimming lessons at the Y when he was two???

But also, my middle kid isn't interested in being super involved person. (He is very, very, very much like my husband who has zero interest in involvement with most of the human race.) 

He is never going to join spirit club (unless he is interested in someone romantically who bends his arm to go to spirit club.) He is never going to join a sports team (and for that I say, THANK YOU, JESUS!)

I have grown into my introversion; I didn't always use to be like this. For many, many years, I was a good-time girl (although not a drunk, orgy-involved good time girl.) I like to go out and do things. 

But I firmly believe since becoming medicated and going through therapy that my constant busyness was to quiet my mind. Keeping myself busy meant I didn't have to deal with my thoughts and my anxiety (and I think this is why a lot of people have glorified they don't have to deal with what is going on inside themselves because it is painful and scary.)

Why can't these application questions ask things like:

"Do you think it is more important to be a leader or a follower or is there a need for both? Explain? (Because by god, we can't all be leaders. And sometimes leaders need to sit their asses down and let other people do things.)

Do you consider yourself a person who gets their energy from people or from being by yourself? Explain. (Because this asks kids to consider some pretty important self-reflection prior to high school.)

I don't know if Albert Einstein actually said this, but there is a quote attributed to him that I like, especially since he was Albert fucking Einstein. And who cares whether Albert liked to go out partying with friends? He had a brilliant mind and some of that came from taking the quiet time required to think. 

"Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my awareness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has prevented me from feelings of isolation.”

We have such a joiner, chatty, involved mindset that we don't even understand that our questions leave out entire segments of students who may have lots of insightful things to offer but we ignore that they could even be parts of the equation. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The best non-award my player could get

I know awards can inspire people and make them feel proud that their accomplishments have been recognized. 

I experienced it myself at the end of 8th grade when I won the Principal's Award and at the end of high school when I won Miss Presentation. 

But awards can also make people feel like failures even if they win an award (or at least they did for me). 

At the end of senior year of high school, we had superlatives voted on by our graduating peers. I had it in my mind that I wanted "Most Likely to Succeed," but I did not get this award.

I was voted Most Leadership. While I was proud of it, it wasn't what my heart desired. It took a long time for me to recognize that 1. this award was really appropriate given the person I am.  I am a leader. 

And 2. getting an award about success may not match whatever definition of success any given person has. I don't have a big-whig corporate job. I don't work full-time. I'm not a mover and shaker. But I've got a fucking interesting life, and I have a positive impact on others. The older I've gotten, the more I think an inch deep, mile-wide life isn't quite as cool as an inch-wide, mile-deep life. 

When I graduated from college with my BA, I wanted the Economics award, but I was given the English award, even though my GPA was higher in Economics. Looking back now, as a certified English teacher and a freelance writer who has won awards for my writing, I understand that it was a little silly for me to get my nose out of joint for not getting the "award" I wanted.

And how many people are there who never win the awards but who show up and show out and work hard and do all the things well but maybe not as well as the best? They never get the recognition they deserve. 

When N was a freshman, she had a field hockey coach she really liked and wasn't with some of her past middle school teammates. These girls were good players and had been playing longer than N. She felt intimidated by them; when they made varsity and she made JV her freshman year, it was the BEST thing to ever happen for her self-esteem. She was able to shine. She played so well and earned a Best Defense Award at that year's end-of-season banquet. 

(It was the epitome of bigger fish in smaller pond versus smaller fish in bigger pond scenario.)

The downside of her esteem shooting up and playing so well is that she made varsity her sophomore year where she again felt those intimidated feelings being around the girls from middle school who made varsity their freshmen year. 

I'm not sure N was ever able to fully rise above those feelings, but by senior year, she redirected herself from that to becoming a friend to the underclassmen on the team. 

During senior night this past season, when a rainstorm interrupted the team's final festivities of the night, I collected all of the posters that the underclassmen had made for the seniors to protect them from the rain and noticed that N had a crap ton (that are still in my living room). One of the underclassmen moms even made a point to show me the sweet poster her daughter had made for N before senior night festivities began. And they were clearly posters that the girls who made them had spent time and effort on--detailed drawings and battery-powered lights and all kinds of extra. 

Last night at N's last field hockey banquet, one of the underclassmen parents came up to me and the mother of another senior (a close friend of N's) last night and told us how much she appreciated that our daughters had made her daughter feel so much a part of the team and so welcome. 

And that was the non-award award that makes me most proud of my daughter. 

I don't say this to dismiss the awards the other girls won. They are very good players; they deserve their awards. 

I say this because when it comes to who I want my daughter to be, if I could design a perfect kid in my estimation, I'd rather have her field hockey stats suck and for her to be a kind, open, and friendly person who other younger players look up to and admire.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Why milestones aren't sad (to me)

Despite being a bit of a downer personality, I don't usually feel sad about my kids' milestone events. 

I am not in any way, shape, or form sad that N's field hockey career is OVER as of next week when we have the banquet. Yes, she did it for seven years. Yes, she had fun doing it. No, I will not miss seeing her play field hockey. 

I didn't feel sad that my son got promoted to middle school and we left behind the elementary school where we had been for 12 years. It's a great school; my kids had awesome experiences there. But there are other experiences to be had.

The benefit of having three kids is that by the time the last one does anything, I'm kind of "over it." I've done whatever "it" is so much that I'm thrilled to not have to do "it" anymore. 

The truth is, I don't understand the boohooing people do when their kids reach milestones. These milestones are a GOOD thing, a reason to celebrate, a time to move on to the next thing. It seems strange to me to waste away time in nostalgia, where all the shitty gets glossed over as if it was delightful. 

I am thankful to have spent years at home with my children, but I have yet to slide into nostalgia about it. I can watch a video of their cuteness but also remember the sleepless nights and the poopy diapers and the whining over stupid stuff and the toys everywhere and the speech therapy and occupational therapy and endless doctor visits and surgeries and how much shit I had to pack just to go to Target with them. We had to have SNACKS to drive to the freaking post office to mail a letter. 

To lament the milestones is to get stuck in a haze of "It was wonderful in every way" when it wasn't. 

Last year during quarantines, it pained me to see so many people complain about their kids being home all the time. I have already started to see and hear people do the "My kids are going to college and now I'm sad because they are leaving" thing, and I want to yell, "YOU HAD A YEAR OF TIME WITH THEM THAT YOU COMPLAINED ABOUT. YOU WASTED THAT GIFT." 

Now maybe I don't have a heart (it is possible). 

Maybe I'm not in touch with my feelings. 

I am not sad about N graduating from high school because if I want to hang onto this time it means never letting her move on. It means trapping her in a lifetime of 17-year-old-ness to satisfy my own weird feelings. That's the kind of stuff they do to princesses in all the crappy fairy tales; trap them in amber so they can watch time go by without them. 

Plus, I have every reason to think that my relationship with my kids, which is good now, can get better or at least differently good. My relationship with my parents has grown and changed as we have grown and changed, and that has been lovely. 

And besides all this, time doesn't give a shit that you want to hang onto it. All the belaboring of time moving on is just a waste of the time that you have. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

My poor third child and his sad birthday

Dear M,

You, like lots of third children, get the butt end of the bread loaf when it comes to things like baby books and timely birthday letters. This letter is coming almost two weeks past your 12th birthday. 

Not to say you're happy with the scraps, but you don't know any different. And you have thrived nonetheless. 

Why was your birthday this year a sad state of affairs, you ask? 

Your 12th birthday was preceded by your COVID diagnosis so that threw a wrench in the works. The events and activities we had planned for the quarantine days got pushed back to the following week which meant your birthday and the days surrounding it were overwhelming.

Plus, your birthday has, for the past seven years, been highjacked by field hockey season. So the week of your birthday we added all the stuff we rescheduled from COVID quarantine plus the regular field hockey schedule fuckery. 

Your brother decided to be a bit of an asshat on your birthday, too, as a result of the aforementioned schedule fuckery and him being 14 and hormonal and a middle schooler. 

This birthday is one you won't remember and that is probably the very best thing. It was a complete pfffttt, although you did get chocolate cake and a big ass balloon that is still full of helium.

You are pretty wonderful kid. Not perfect, of course. You are an absolute bear in the morning. You HATE HATE HATE the early mornings of middle school. I have to start waking you at 6 am so that you have gotten your grumpiness out of your system by 6:50. 

And you are still tremendously undecided about everything, including what you want to eat. You interrupted the show Daddy and I were watching last night because you couldn't decide what ice cream you wanted to eat, and you needed my help. AND I STILL DON'T KNOW HOW EXACTLY I AM TO HELP YOU DECIDE WHAT YOU ARE HUNGRY FOR. 

Getting your first COVID shot this past weekend.  

But aside from those two minor things, you are the best youngest child I have and maybe the best youngest child ever. You are so mature about doing your schoolwork and taking initiative and being responsible. That is the benefit of being the third kid. I could send you off right this minute to college, and you'd probably be ok. 

You are such a reliable petsitter.

You and me and a cat playing chess. You always, always win.

You are the person in the family that everyone almost never gets angry or upset with. You are G's favorite and N's favorite, and they always adore you even when they are cat-fighting each other (although now that they are both teens, that happens less). 

You are S******s' best buddy; she runs to you and meows and hollers constantly. She chases you around the house and is very upset when you lock her out of your bedroom while you play with the VR headset. I tell Daddy that he and S**** are ridiculous together, but you and S******s are equally ridiculous. 

You love bubble wrap (a longtime fascination), and you are reading One-Punch Man and Attack on Titan graphic novels. Your favorite class this year is social studies which I was surprised by because last year you hated social studies (but maybe that was the NTI version of social studies). 

I am savoring this year because your body is still little boy size and skinny, and I know we are truly in short-time mode there. 

You have changed so much over the years but are still, and always will be, my sweet bonus baby boy. 



Sunday, September 26, 2021

Birthday (not a) boy (but edging closer to being a man)

Dear G,

Something happened in the last 18 months.

Yes--global pandemic, but I'm not referring to that.

Yes--social justice movement, but I'm not referring to that.

Yes--doofuses trying to overthrow the election, but I'm not talking about that. 

What I am referring to is that as you edged closer to 14, you grew taller than me, started wearing men's sizes in clothes , and are totally baritone (no longer squeak). Teachers who had you in sixth grade have been astounded that you walked into the building this school year as, like, a full-grown man. 

And that's not even the most amazing part.

It's that you have matured so much. 

I know teenagers get a lot of grief and people often say they don't like teenagers, but one of the best things about teenagers is that they can and do understand quiet reason and explanation. It used to be that if there was something you didn't like, you'd throw a complete duck fit.

Now, if you are upset, you go find a quiet spot and chill. And then once you're calm, we can discuss. And usually, you understand where I'm coming from and you explain yourself in a way so I know where you are coming from. 

Of course, you still grunt a lot. And you start every sentence with "Basically." And you talk about video games and TikTok videos that go completely over my head. And we're still working on getting you beyond mozzarella sticks as meals. 

I really worried about how you would do going back to school while the COVID pandemic rages on and even worse than last year due to the Delta variant. But you've done great. Sure, you aren't eating at school, but I can't blame you. I don't feel comfortable eating inside close to other people, and you maybe have 12 inches between you and a peer. And you've had a couple little blips with tying your shoes but after talking about it with you, I've seen you working to manage your anxiety. 

Now, not all is glory. I was about ready to murder you on Friday night when you were finishing up assignments that, at least for two of them, should have been finished on Thursday. Your pre-frontal cortex is only a little over halfway baked; only ten more years to go. BUT, to expect anything different would be to expect perfection. 

And while, as my son you have a glow of hazy perfection about you, you are not a perfect person and never will be. 

I love that you talk to me in ways that I'm not sure other boys talk to their moms. You don't tell me your deepest darkest fears, but you come to me with questions and you bring up things you think about or things you like which gives me greater insight into who you are. 

It has been fun to watch you move from an interest in Korean music to Russian music to Bob Marley music. Now, you are increasingly interested in cars and learning about them so I told you to go get a job at Valvoline when you turn 16. You recently had to write a resume for one of your classes, and it was interesting for me to see what you envision for yourself. (I was NOT surprised that you want to work at Dairy Queen; it is your favorite place to eat at the moment.)

If there is a worst part to having you be more firmly fixed in teenagerdom, it is that you rarely allow me to take your photo. 

I hope this year is as good as it can be for you given all the continued uncertainty with everything. Today you will get your favorite food (what Blizzard will you pick?). You will open a present or two. It will be chill because of M's COVID test last week; we will save celebrations with grandparents until M is fully vaccinated in a few weeks. 

I know you know that your dad and I love you. We would do anything for you (except hide you from the police if you are a murder suspect; I ain't doing that. You do stupid stuff, you deal with the consequences of your actions). 

We will always support you (again, except in that murder situation). But even if we didn't hide you, we will always love you and want what is best for you to become the kind, intelligent, young man you are. 



Wednesday, September 22, 2021

How the virus is like the yeast (an OCD saga from long ago with reverberations today)

When N was around six months old, I developed mastitis and then a thrush infection. 

Now, if you've ever been a breastfeeding mother and develop thrush, it 1. is painful and 2. sets you off on a course of fighting an invisible enemy. 

Maybe things have changed and the instructions for how to mitigate thrust differ now, but back in 2004, I went down a rabbit hole of crazy trying to fight thrush. I tried to follow everything I read. Boiling N's pacifiers and teething toys (she will probably develop cancer from all the leached plastic from that). Using paper towels for months in case I was getting anything from multi-use towels (like in the powder room). Trying to wash everything that came into my baby's mouth. NUTS, I tell you. 

This was one of the things, besides my hormones, that led me deep down into the pit of OCD where I'd never visited for so long before and seen such icky sides to it. 

It felt like I was never, ever, ever going to win.

How, exactly, do you fight something you can't see?

This is what I've been thinking about since M's COVID diagnosis yesterday, especially as it concerns keeping the rest of us "safe." 

My OCD wants to go bonkers trying to keep everyone away from each other and all of us wear masks nonstop and clean, and clean, and clean. 

But then I think back to what my mental health was like fighting that invisible yeast. I was fucking insane and as miserable as I can remember being my whole entire life. I stopped eating and sleeping and started crying and waking up in full-blown panic attacks.

Sure, it was hormones, but it was also a lot of feeling completely and totally out of control and not being able to handle it.

I'm medicated now, but I also don't think it is wise to intentionally poke the OCD bear if you can help it. Especially when under stress. Stress brings out the worst in OCD. And I've been stressed (like everyone) for the past 18 months with additional stress for all of Dad's health issues last year. 

So we're taking some steps to try to keep the four vaccinated in the house "safe," but maybe not as safe as we could. 

First of all, M is 11. I'm not locking him in his room like a pariah. If it was me or D, we'd lock ourselves away and try to keep the kids safe. But the most vulnerable person in our house is sick so what is the point? 

G is sleeping on a mattress in the living room (which in some ways is kind of stupid because he slept in the same bedroom with M the four nights between M's negative COVID test on Friday and his positive COVID test on Tuesday). 

We're keeping the ceiling fans on where M is to move the air around for when we are near him. 

I changed the filter in the HVAC system, and we're keeping the house fans running at all times (although this may be the worse thing to do because of circulating the virus). 

I brought a box fan upstairs to circulate the air in the kitchen and office since there is no ceiling fan. 

I disinfected the remote control because M was using it yesterday.

But I'm not wearing a mask inside my house, and I'm not making my sick kid do it either. 

We did a shit ton of things to keep "safe," and it didn't keep us totally safe. I don't for one second regret any of those things, but I think it is kind of absurd now to try to put the cat back in the bag, especially since we don't know when between Friday and Tuesday that M became contagious. At what moment did he officially become contagious? We will never know. 

I may be walking around today, right this minute, positive with COVID. Just because I was negative yesterday does not mean I am negative today. 

For my own sanity, I cannot allow myself to engage with this invisible enemy the way I did in 2004.

I hope if the four of us who are vaccinated get sick, it is mild. But ramping up my anxiety and destroying my mental health in the effort to stay physically healthy may not be the best choice at this time.