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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


It sneaks up on me. The laundry. Empty to full hamper in seconds. I sigh and start another load.

It sneaks up on me. My inevitable aging. During a routine trip to the bathroom, my reflection catches my eye. Have I always had those lines around my mouth?!?

My hair has been far less devious. A slow creep from red to whitish-gray since the birth of my daughter 8 years ago. My boss at the time pointed out the first one.

"You have a gray hair!" she laughed.
"NO! What?"
"Kids will do that to you," she said and smiled in the way that makes it impossible to tell if you're being teased or not.

It sneaks up on me. The shift in a friendship.  Geography, kids vs. no kids, different life priorities, increasing dependence on social media to stay "connected." Suddenly you realize how long it's been since you've seen or actually talked to a person.  And in the same breath you realize how that fact isn't nearly as upsetting as it would have been a few years ago. 

It sneaks up on me.  The intermittent pain.  Neck, back, knees popping.  I sleep wrong and end up hurting for three days.  I spend too much time playing on the floor with my kids, and it hurts to get up.

It sneaks up on me.  The changing seasons.  Driving home yesterday, all the leaves were red.  It's almost as if it exploded into fall over night in my neighborhood. 

Do you know that Fleetwood Mac song "Landslide"?

Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don't know either, Stevie.  Some days I don't know if I can handle the laundry, much less the life changes... and I'm pretty sure that's why they choose to sneak up on me. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Except Joanna"

In October 2004, I went with some friends to a John Kerry rally. 

I wouldn't say I was a HUGE Kerry supporter, but I'd never been to any event like that and I wanted to go.  Plus, my boss had given me a pile of tickets to use.  Not to mention, I'd heard that actor Ron Livingston was going to be there. (And since I can't count the number of times I've seen "Office Space" - that seemed enough of a reason to attend. Ha!)

I don't have many concrete memories of that evening.  I remember it took a bit to get through security, but once we got inside the arena... the excitement was contagious.  Ron Livingston WAS there, and I know he talked about how important it was for us to vote in the upcoming election.  Kerry said all the usual things you'd expect a Presidential candidate to say, but really hammered home that each person here tonight could use their vote and make a difference.

As we were driving the 30 miles back to campus, my friend Joanna looked a bit sad.  She eventually shared that watching the rest of us get excited and inspired by the speakers was hard for her. She felt like every time someone said that EVERYONE could make a difference, there was an unspoken "Except Joanna" playing inside her head.

In October 2004, Joanna was not an American citizen.  Joanna could not vote. 

Being the super unhelpful friends we were - we lightened the mood by giving her crap, and we turned "Except Joanna" into a inside joke for a few weeks.  Joanna and I lost touch when I graduated the following year.  And to be honest, I'd forgotten about that night until a couple of weeks ago when "Except Joanna" turned into "Except MY son."


I was at a meeting with the other parents in my son's preschool class.  His teacher was going over what a typical day would look like in her classroom.  As she rattled off her list of activities, all I could think was... MY son can't do those things. 

My son can't start each day practicing writing his name. I can barely get him to hold a crayon without throwing it across the room.

My son can't sit nicely on the carpet for story time and then talk about his favorite part of the story with the group.  When he does consent to looking at books, I have to keep taking them out of his mouth. 

My son can't bring toys from home and share why they are special with his classmates.  He simply doesn't have the words.

"Except my son."  "Except my son."  "Except Joanna."

I'm sorry that I didn't have the right words back in 2004, Joanna.  I googled you once and learned that you became a citizen in early 2009.  I wonder if you've been to any other political rallies. I hope that you haven't had many life experiences that made you feel as excluded as you did that night almost 15 years ago.

I also hope that with each passing year, there will be less activities on the daily school schedule that cause me to worry about my son feeling the same way. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

"ASD MOM" and Me

As I was leaving the library the other day, I noticed that a maroon van had parked in the space next to mine. The first thing that caught my eye was the large yellow sticker on the side of it indicating that the van may contain passengers with autism that might be unresponsive to verbal requests/commands.

"Well, that's kind of awesome," I thought to myself.  "What a smart way to keep your children safer."

Then as I walked past the van to get to my own vehicle, I noticed that the license plate said "ASD MOM."  All of a sudden, my stomach started to hurt.

Is that mom completely defined by her child(ren)'s diagnosis?  As a parent of a young child with his own disorder... I really hope not.  And does she have other children?  Is ASD MOM able to take off that "hat" if she needs to and just be there for her other kids?  How do they feel about that license plate?

Or has the diagnosis permeated their lives so much that there isn't even a hat to remove anymore?

My daughter started school today, which means that yesterday was the last day of her summer vacation.  I'd like to say that we spent the day doing fun stuff together, but we didn't.  I spent yesterday being "her brother's mom."

Did she and I get to spend the afternoon at the pool soaking up the last bits of summer?  Nope.  I spent the afternoon in a therapy waiting room listening to her brother scream at his Speech Pathologist through the closed door.

After therapy, did I get to take my daughter out to enjoy her favorite dinner? Did we talk about what she was excited about in the upcoming school year?  Another no.  I spent our normal dinner time at a meeting with my son's new teachers for the preschool program he'll be starting next month.

Yesterday felt like a day I should have spent soaking up my daughter, but I didn't. Was I being a good mom?  Yes.  Absolutely.  I just wasn't being HER mom.

Did I know that having a second child meant that my attention was going to be divided?  Of course I did.  When I began to realize that my second child wasn't developing on a typical path, I knew almost immediately that my attention was never going to be divided EVENLY.  What I didn't realize was how often I felt like I was going to be removing my preferred "mom hat" to put on a different one.

Does the fact that I don't want to wear the "IEP hat" all the time make me a shitty parent?  Does the idea that I wanted to spend yesterday with my daughter (instead of doing tasks directly related to my other child's delays) make me a monster? I don't know.

I'm not native to the "loss of self" that comes with motherhood.  I'm aware that my identity has been completely, irrevocably changed.  And even 20 years from now, when (fingers crossed) neither of my kids are living at home... I know I won't be the same person I was before I had children.

Maybe ASD MOM is just proud of her child and wanted a public way to express it. Maybe ASD MOM has gotten to a place on her journey where she waves the diagnosis in her life around like a badge of honor. Maybe I'll get there someday.

But maybe it's also acceptable to know that I will never put my child's diagnosis on my license plate.