Friday, June 10, 2022

Wind and Walls

Lately, I’ve been missing my “dearly departed” loved ones horribly.  

Random things are making me overly emotional.  Like when our family went out for ice cream, and I decided to order a “cake cone” for the first time in ages because it reminded me of how my Grandma Betty used to keep a box of cake cones at her house for her grandkids.  (In fact, I don’t remember eating them anywhere else.  Except for the time during college when I tagged along with a friend to visit HER Grandma, and she offered us ice cream on cake cones.  It still makes me smile to think about that moment.) 

When I visited a special garden the other day, and lingered too long near a small pot of African Violets (arguably one of the *least* impressive things there) because they reminded me of my Grandma Florence.  

These unanticipated emotions come rushing at me suddenly and forcefully like a gust of air.  

Which got me thinking, do you ever think that maybe we’re all walls?  

I picture stone walls.  The kind where the stones are different sizes and shapes, like those dry stone walls in Ireland.  Those walls that were made by the farmers working the land, who just tossed the rocks into fence rows and built the walls up.  No plan, but somehow it all stayed together and lasted for years.    

And if we ARE walls, then maybe when you lose someone you love, someone who was a formative part of your life, you lose that stone… and the cold emotional air rushes in.  

Your wall keeps growing taller, of course.  You make new friends, time adds new people to your family.  You continue to have "stone adding" life experiences that shape the person you are today.  

And maybe sometimes you don’t notice the holes.  Or you allow yourself to forget, momentarily, that they are there at all.    

But even more painfully, lately I seem to be finding myself missing the stones that never had a chance to get added to my wall.  The stone for that career path I chose not to pursue.  The stones for those opportunities I was too afraid to attempt.  

And the big one - the stone where I get to be on the cusp of entering my 40s alongside my first best friend.  

Her birthday always brings a big gust of “emotional wind” into my world.  

Even as I’ll run around today, dropping one kid off at art camp and taking another to the park to burn off some energy… I’ll feel that wind swirling around.  

Even as I’ll make lunch and encourage them to read, and remind them for the millionth time to “stop yelling at each other and use nice words” … that wind will be there twirling my hair around and leaving it tangled.       

But I’m old enough now to know that you can’t fight the wind… especially on June 10th.   

(Happy birthday, JLE.)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Waiting Room: 2

I was in a new waiting room with my son, waiting for (yet another) evaluation for speech therapy, when I notice her.  A woman, somewhere in age between me and my parents (masks make it hard for me to really tell these days) with long blonde hair... who was *fixated* on my son.  

He was playing with one of those "bead maze" toys that I'm convinced they hand out along with a diploma when a person graduates with a medical degree. I was getting some paperwork sorted out at the front desk when she started talking to him. 

"What about the green bead," she asked.  "Can you move that one?" 

I turned around to look.  My son studied her for a second, then dutifully moved the green bead. I could see her eyes smiling over her mask.  I finished my paperwork and headed back to my seat, when suddenly a loud voice trumpets from the hallway off of the waiting room.  


A boy, all legs, and probably about 13-years-old, bounds in the direction of the woman. 

"Hey, buddy!  How'd it go?" she asks with those smiling eyes. 

I tried to respectfully ignore their conversation at that point, but I will confess that I had one terrible thought: I don't want to be in this room when my son is 13.  God, please don't let me still be in this room in 8 years.  

Now I understood why she was looking at my son the way she did.  The reminiscing and nostalgia that many parents feel as their kids age, of course.  But I'm also convinced that she was remembering. Remembering the beginning of her special needs journey.  Remembering her own son playing with the "bead maze."  Remembering when their biggest issues were how to properly hold a pencil, how to find the words to interact with friends and teachers, and how to use your voice to let others know what's upsetting you.     

I wonder if she thought she'd still be in the waiting room when he reached junior high.  

But my next thought, after my shameful gut reaction, was about that "MAMA!"

If we weren't in this waiting room... would she still be getting that joyful greeting from her teenager? Probably not.  

Maybe I do want to be in this room with my son a little longer. 

Maybe I'll take that slower start, those endless IEP meetings, the unceasing worry about how he'll be treated by his classmates as he ages.  Maybe that's a fair trade for a little more time spent as the center of his world. A quid pro quo to hold off those teenage eyerolls for a few extra years.    

They walk out the door into the rain, and I'm watching her son jump in puddles and laugh.  

Yeah, I'll think I'll keep coming to this waiting room for a few more years.  

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Treehouse Memories

I want text you so much that I'm fighting back tears... and I've never texted you before in my life.

It happened during those early hours of the morning when it feels like my son wants to cram in way too many activities while I'm still half asleep. This time, he built a creation out of Legos that kind of looked like a treehouse.  As he yelled, "Treehouse!" over and over in a melodic way...  a moment from the early 90s hit me like a truck.

We're sitting in your childhood home, booting up your DOS computer to play THE TREEHOUSE.  I can't say that I remember the actual gameplay almost 30 years later, but the theme song resurfaces in my brain like I heard it last week:

 🎵 "Hanging out... at the Treehouse!  Hanging out... at the Treehouse!"  🎵

I wish I could text and ask you if you remember that game. I feel like you would, and you'd probably remember way more details than I do.  

I'd also ask if you remembered playing that "Are You Afraid of the Dark" game that I don't think you really liked, but that you'd agree to play because *I* wanted to play it (and be terrified by it at the same time.) Or I'd ask if you remember that game where we were supposed to be surgeons and follow directions to do medical procedures?  ("Life and Death" or something like that?) My strongest memory of that computer game is when you jokingly carved your name into the patient's forehead and then the game called you a "quack" and we lost.  

I'd like to imagine us making each other "LOL" via text message this morning. 

To be honest, I just like to imagine that we'd still be friends.  

I got together with some of our mutual friends from high school the other day.  I masked up, and took my kids to a park to play with their kids.  (The four of us have 9 kids now, can you believe that?) Would you have been there if you could have been?  Would the kids have been excited to see "silly Aunt Jess?" Would they have begged you to chase them around and growl like a monster? 

It feels odd to miss you during my current season of motherhood, seeing as you were never a mother yourself.  I don't really even remember you babysitting. It's also so strange to have this longing to text you (because it's hard to find a quiet moment to talk on the phone these days) when I didn't even own a cell phone until about 8 months after you passed away.

But in the 17 years since you've been gone, I've learned to let the emotions come.  The happy, the sad, and even the ones that don't really make sense.  Today, I'll build Lego creations with my son.  I'll do a load (or two) of tiny laundry.  I'll put your photo on Facebook and let other people see your face and remember you in their own way.  

And I'll miss our carefree days of hanging out "at the treehouse" a little bit more than usual.   

Monday, January 13, 2020

Green Tea, VapoRub, and Grandpa

I'm sick, and I've been thinking a lot about my Grandpa Paul lately.  Not because he was sick. In fact, I don't ever remember him being sick, even at the end of his life.

No, I've been thinking about him because I'm drinking hot tea for my throat, and he was the only person I knew growing up who drank tea all day long.

He had this coffee mug that was probably a bright shade of "sunshine-y yellow" when it was new, but my memory of it is being faded with tea stains down the sides.  He would heat up his water in the microwave, and he even used his tea bags more than once.  Probably due to the fact that he was a little boy during The Great Depression.  Or maybe using them twice makes a unique flavor?  I don't know.  For me, tea has always been medicinal.

Grandpa Paul also had this giant book of "home remedies" on his book shelf. He would tell us things like, "rub Vicks VapoRub on the bottom of your feet, put on socks, and go to bed."  Or he would encourage you to squeeze really hard in that fleshy spot between your thumb and pointer finger if you had a headache or a toothache.

It's amazing what you remember about a person after they die.

I wish I would have taken more time to ask him questions about his life growing up.  Most of what I know, I feel like I learned accidentally. For example, sometimes when we'd be eating candy bars or another special treat, he'd reminisce that he and his siblings used to eat lard smeared on bread for a snack. "If we were lucky, we'd get to sprinkle a little sugar on it."

That always made me gag a little, probably because "lard" is kind of a gross word.

I also remember how he'd always make time to sit and color with us at the kitchen table.  My Grandma told me once that he never had crayons growing up, which probably explains he was always buying us fresh crayolas to use at his house.

It's odd, because I don't really wish he was still here.  The last time I saw him back in the fall of 2015, I told him that I was expecting my second child.  He smiled, but I'm not sure he really understood. If he was still here today, I know that it's pretty likely he wouldn't remember who I was at all.

But right now, as I'm staring into my tea and struggling to breathe through my nose... I guess I just wish I could hear him tell me to put VapoRub on my feet one more time.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A Full Cup

"You can't pour from an empty cup."

I don't remember when I first heard that phrase, but it was some time after the birth of my daughter.  And initially, it seemed like a light bulb going off in my head.  Well... no wonder I feel so bad!  I'm not sleeping, my child needs me 24/7, and I'm not taking any time for myself. I'm trying to pour from an empty cup.  

But eight years into this parenting thing, I think I might be wrong.  It's not that my cup is empty... it's that it's too FULL of things that I can no longer pour out. 

It's a feeling of being stuffed to the brim with something that's scratching and clawing and dying to get out.  Ambitions and ideas and a potential life that I no longer have time for. The dreams of my youth that I replaced with diapers and wipes, sippy cups and parent teacher conferences. 

It's seeing others doing the things I wish I could, seeing them playing out the dreams that I chose to pause in my own life. Sometimes all that fullness burns inside me and leaves me feeling spent.

Spent.  But not empty. 

Empty would be easier.  Empty you could fill up with food or booze.  Empty you could attempt to ignore by becoming an expert on Pokemon or Minecraft or any of your kid's current obsessions. Empty you could cover over with Netflix binges and entirely too much time on Facebook.

It's the fullness that gets me. 

It sits heavy on my heart, my lungs.  On the bad days it flows up behind my eyes and clouds my vision.  The what-ifs and the should-ofs blind me to the beauty of what IS in front of me.  So I force those feelings back down and they leave a slime of guilt in their wake.

Because what I chose SHOULD be enough. 

But I can't swallow it away.  The feeling of untapped potential. The feeling that there should be, there MUST be, more to me than just my children.  My family will always be number one on my list.  But I just don't think they can be the ENTIRE list. 

So I tell myself, maybe in ten years.  Maybe they'll need me less.  Maybe then it can be about me... and those guilty feelings will be less intense.  Maybe then I'll let it out.

Maybe then, I won't feel like I'm so full I'm suffocating. 

"You can't pour from an empty cup."  Yeah.  But lately I've been having a hard time pouring from one that feels so achingly full. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

Shattering the "Fine"

"How are you guys?"

"Oh, we're fine.  How are you?"

I'm a pretty habitual user of the "fine." Life could be a giant dumpster fire right now, and the majority of the people in my life are going to get the "fine."

Why do I do that?

Is it because I simply don't feel like explaining what's really going on?  Is it because I don't want to bother/burden the other person with my drama? Is it because I feel like if I isolate myself, then the negative feelings will go away?

Why do I default to that automated generic response?  I'm not 100% sure.  But I know that I'm not the only one.

Thankfully, I'm friends with a few people who I think are *really* good at shattering the idea that we always have to be "fine."  The one I want to tell you about today is my friend Emily.

Me (left) and Emily in our 2nd Grade class photo. While I know that Emily has just gotten better with age, I still make questionable "cat sweater level" fashion choices.

Although Emily's done some blogging before, she's recently started a new adventure she's calling "Clean Living with the Crazies."

Don't let the name throw you off.  This isn't another diet blog about attempting to eat "clean" and eliminating all processed foods from your life.  This isn't another blog about how everything in your home is giving you cancer, so you need to remove all "chemicals" from your life immediately and stop poisoning your kids with Red Dye No. 40.

So far, "Clean Living with the Crazies" is a blog about mental health. Not only ideas of things we might be able to do to improve our mental health, but a place where Emily is putting it all on the table. For example: her most recent posts describe her experiences with postpartum depression after the birth of her twin girls.   

(Already interested?  Visit her Blog, or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.)

Emily's going to write about ADHD and anxiety, she's going to write about about Bipolar Disorder, she's going to write about PTSD... and in a world where the majority of people only share the "happy, shiny, polished" versions of their lives online, I think this is amazing.

Sometimes reading about how things aren't always "hunky-dory" for someone else makes me feel better about the times things are going less than stellar in my life.  And because you haven't all been fortunate enough to have known Emily since Kindergarten, I wanted give you the opportunity to read her thoughts.

I also wanted to make sure that, in case you needed to hear it today, it really is OKAY not to be fine.


("Clean Living with the Crazies" - Blog, Facebook and Instagram.)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Three Recent Surprises

  • My daughter has a new best friend.  This 8-year-old was over at our house earlier this week, and he asked me if I'd ever heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I told him that I had, and he told me that he finished his novel on November 11. My first reaction?  Wow!  This kid has done something that I've never even been brave enough to attempt.  My second thought?  I like this kid even more that I thought.

  • My husband was out of town for a few days last week.  While he was gone, I was a little down.  When my daughter asked me what was wrong, I told her that I really wished I could give her daddy a hug.  She ran out of the room, and came back a minute later with a pillow stuffed under her shirt.  "Here!  This is kinda like hugging Daddy!"  Yes, my sweet girl.  Just exactly.

  • Earlier this week, I took my son to the library to kill time while big sister was at Girl Scouts.  I had to shush him... but not because he was screaming.  I had to shush him because he was shouting out the names of the colors he noticed around the building. If you've read any of my other posts about our journey with "expressive receptive language disorder" then you know how awesome that shushing actually was.  Best shush of my life.