Saturday, September 16, 2017

My Body Is Good Enough

I was four when I got a tonsillectomy
I was four when I began to "put on weight"
I was, also, sexually abused when I was four
I remember hungering for some sort of comfort
My body is good
At finding ways to calm my anxious brain

I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade
I was diagnosed with anorexia in fifth grade
My body survived a self-induced famine
Famine lowers your metabolism
My body is good
At attempting to prevent itself from devouring itself

In seventh grade I was told by a doctor that I needed to lose twenty pounds
In seventh grade I was 5'3" and weighed 150 pounds
In fifth grade I was 5'3" and weighed 79 pounds
In fifth grade my psychologist and my parents threatened to hospitalize me
If I didn't stop starving myself and gain weight
My body is good
At being a yo-yo

I was twenty-three when I got out of my latest bad relationship
I was twenty-three when I started living life for myself
I stopped drinking pop every day
I limited junk food to special occasions
(Some special occasions are when life is shitty)
My body is good
At treating itself

In my late twenties I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
And told I'd have trouble conceiving when I was ready to become a mother
At thirty-five, I gave birth to an unbelievably beautiful baby
After six months of fertility treatment
My body is good
At creating life, with a little help

At thirty-six I knew I was getting old
"Of advanced maternal age" is the medical term
If I wanted a big family, I couldn't wait too long
At thirty-six I went back to the fertility doctor
And asked for a little help to get pregnant again
He told me to come back when I lost twenty pounds
I told him to fuck off
I told him my husband and I would conceive without his help
My body is good
At believing in the power of love

At thirty-seven I conceived without fertility treatment
We did it! We did it! We did it!
My husband's body and my body, together, are good
At making miracles

At thirty-seven I had a miscarriage
I never conceived again
My body is good
At grieving

A couple of years after I had a miscarriage
I got a newsletter from my fertility doctor's office
It had a big, celebratory article in it
About how my fertility doctor himself was recovering
He was only in his fifties, fit and slim, and yet he had a heart attack
His body is good
At recovering from heart surgery
My brain is good
At what the Germans call "schadenfreude"

At forty I read a book by Dr. Linda Bacon
An ironic name for a health practicioner
The book, Health at Every Size, changed my mind
The philosophy, Health at Every Size, saved my life
My body is good
At eating primarily plants, moving in pleasurable ways, and loving itself

My body is forty-six now
My body is healthier than ever
I love my husband more than ever
Our beautiful daughter never ceases to amaze me
I have the best job in the world, singing and dancing and reading stories with little kids
My body is good
At living life to its fullest

I am fat
Who knows why
I am healthy
Despite what the diet industry says
I am happy
My body is good
At celebrating both the struggles and the victories in this life

I am fat
Who knows why
I deserve love, and respect, and care
Regardless of the answer to the question of, "Why?"
My body is good
Enough




Friday, September 15, 2017

My Good Doctor

My good doctor quit practicing last year to pursue some other career aspiration, and I've been avoiding finding a new doc ever since. I've been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder by my former, good doc, due to the sexual abuse I survived as a young child, and also because of the horrifying experience of being sent to Weight Watchers in third grade, which resulted in my diagnosis of anorexia nervosa by fifth grade. I also think one of my PTSD triggers is getting examined by some of the shitty, fat phobic doctors I've seen over the years. Which is why I loved my former, good doc. She treated me as a whole, complex person and not just a number on the scale, and I'm the healthiest I've ever been because of her care.

And now she's gone. I feel like she broke up with me, and I have to say, I'm a little bitter. Sure, I'm happy for her that she's on the journey to fulfilling life long dreams, but what about meeeeee? Here I am all awkwardly searching for THE ONE, like a new divorcee on Match.com. I'm back in the game, ready for a new good doctor, but suspicious of them all.

Six months ago I had a brief little rebound. A quick visit with one of the physicians assistants from the practice to get my psych meds refilled, and it went OK, but there was certainly nothing earth shattering about it. It was just a fling. She wasn't shitty at all. But we weren't ready to commit, she, being a physician's assistant, and me needing someone my insurance would approve as a primary care physician.

Now, after suffering with what seems to be either poison ivy or eczema since June, I finally scheduled an appointment with a new doc in the same practice. I was nervous about meeting her, as I always am when I am being examined by a new doc. As a recovered anorexic who is now fat, and a Health at Every Size advocate, my experiences with some shitty fat phobic docs, like abusive ex boyfriends and girlfriends, plus, having heard countless tales from other fat, Health at Every Size advocates about their shitty exes--doctors who took one look at the number on the scale and wanted to treat them for a so-called weight problem rather than performing the diagnostic tests they would perform on someone whose number on the scale is lower--has made me mighty twitchy whenever I find myself on a new examination table.

But, to my great relief and surprise, this new doc I saw today is good. Yes, I do have a bad case of poison ivy, and yes, I can have a prescription for it without having to dwell on the number on the scale. My worries, subsided. There's hope out there, folks! Not all docs are shitty and yes, I deserve to be treated with the respect and the care we all deserve, regardless of our size.

You know, stress is harmful to our bodies. I look forward to the day when all doctors are good doctors like mine, docs who understand that it's not the number on the scale that's harming us fat people, but it's the way some shitty people in power want to use it to oppress us that is. If you have a shitty, fat phobic doctor, get out of that relationship, gurrl, as quick as you can.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Grateful Witness

I just scheduled our eleven-year old daughter Katie's last appointment with her therapist. She's made such an improvement this year that he sees no reason for her to continue cognitive therapy on a regular basis. I feel like we need some sort of graduation ceremony to celebrate.

It's been an enlightening journey. My own mental health care as a child was pretty shitty. I never graduated from therapy. I'm a therapy drop out. I'd go for a bit and then I quit going after I felt like it was unhelpful or pointless. I tried several therapists for over three decades, but I never felt like I was getting the help I needed. 


Seven years ago, after much self-help reading (Dr. Harriet Lerner's books are the best, but all in all Dr. Linda Bacon's book, Health at Every Size, saved my life) and introspective, expressive blogging, I quit seeing my latest in a long line of therapists. Not because she thought I was ready to go it alone, but because I couldn't justify paying her thousands of dollars when I felt more relief from expressing myself on my free blogger account.


Still, I've never had the feeling of closure from therapy that my daughter is about to experience. I'm so happy for her. And a tad jeal--no, not jealous. Wistful. But mostly, immensely proud.


It's not perfect, but our society's treatment of people with mental illness has improved an incredible amount in my lifetime. Surely my daughter's journey will be filled with ups and downs, but her sights will hopefully always stay focused forward. I remain, as always, a grateful witness.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My Dad, the Cat Guy

I took my 90 year-old dad shopping for some pants this morning. When I arrived to pick him up, I was greeted by his pet cat.

WTF? 

This is the man who told my sister that he could never move in with me because of all my pets. I only have three dogs and one cat. I'm not like some animal hoarder or something. It's so annoying. I don't even want the old man to move in with me--I was just being nice when I offered, so my sister wouldn't get stuck taking him in. Again. And still, it hurts my feelings that he won't graciously accept my offer of our spare bedroom. 

I was just kidding when I said he had to share the room with our cat. We don't confine our feline to any small space. She comes and goes, inside or outside, as she pleases. As most cat lovers know, what pleases Kitty pleases the whole family.

Dad's no cat lover, but when I pulled into his driveway and saw the cat on his front porch, it made him look like he's at least kinda a cat guy. When the eff did Dad become a cat guy? This is the man who, when I was a teen, allowed us to have a cat who wasn't allowed anywhere but the basement. Although I don't recall his actually saying it, it was just a known fact: dad hates cats.

"I thought I knew you," I said inside my head. "Who are you and what have you done with my father?"



I got out of the car to help dad walk down the steps from his front porch. The cat ran to me and let me pet it. A friendly cat! I may or may not have squealed in delight.

Me: "You have a cat?! How on earth did that happen?"

Dad: "Well, it's Joyce's cat really."

Joyce is my dad's housemate. She gets her way a lot more than I recall my own mother getting hers back before they finally divorced after 22  years unhappily married.

Me: "Well, it's rubbing its head on your legs, so I think it thinks it's your cat, Dad."

Dad: "Yeah, it likes to get hair on my pant legs. It stays outdoors, but we feed it and all."

Me: "But how? I thought you don't like pets."

Dad: "Well, it just showed up one day after the neighbors moved out. It kinda goes between our house and the other neighbor's house."

Dad shrugged. 


Like he's just some kind of shrugger, now. The grumpy, temper-tantrum throwing guy I grew up with has mellowed in his old age. I like this guy, after all these years. My dad, the cat guy.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Public Singing

Happy would-be birthday to my brother, Patrick Kerner, who's sittin' on a rainbow in the afterlife with his Sharon.

Six years ago my husband and I sang Pat and Sharon's song, "In Spite of Ourselves" at Pat's wake. It was the first time I sang in public since my sister Jenny's wedding when I was 13. I had stopped singing in public because I was ashamed of my voice. I'd never be as good as Chrissie Hynde or Belinda Carlisle or Cyndi Lauper. Why bother?

Fast forward 27 years. I'm a children's librarian. I get paid to sing with kids and their caregivers. I teach moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas to sing with their little ones. "Singing is an important early literacy skill," I tell my storytimers. "Singing teaches us to break up words into smaller syllables, which is necessary when you read," I say. "And, it's fun. Don't worry if you think you can't sing. Kids don't mind. They're just happy you're tryin'."

I sing for a living. I sing for life. I sing for those I'll someday leave behind. I'll still never be as good as Chrissie Hynde or Belinda Carlisle or Cyndi Lauper. I'll never be as good as k.d. lang, Adele, or Beyoncé. Or Sinead O'Connor, Billie Holliday, or Aretha Franklin. Why bother?

It bothered me when my brother died at such a young age: 49. So much life left to live, sputtered out. Pat was musically blessed, a gifted singer and guitar player. He could have changed the world with his song. Instead, he drank himself to death, following the alcohol-related death of his beloved Sharon. Two drunks, dead too soon. 

But they were so much more than that, as all people are when you dig deeper. Pat could not see how living without Sharon would be worth his time, so he gave up. 

Our brother Jay was with Pat on his deathbed. 

Jay: "Go be with Sharon."
Pat: "I'm tryin'."

I like to picture Pat sittin' on a rainbow with his Sharon. We know what happens to our bodies when we die. Our vessels are ultimately nothing more than detritivore feed. No one knows for sure what happens to our souls. My best guess is this: they reside inside the living, our loved ones left behind. The detritivores can't feed on what our hearts devour.

I don't know much about riches or fame or singing in tune. But I've learned a few things about living life to the fullest, both by observing my brother's bodily demise and by my own failures and struggles. I've learned that I'm happiest when I do my best, when I get out of bed with a plan to make this world a better place for the hearts devoured. I've learned that it's best to tell the truth even though it's often the hardest option. I've learned that devoured hearts hold no grudges, only love, and love's brother, forgiveness.

Today would have been my brother Pat's 56th birthday had he not passed six years ago. Raise a glass in his honor, if that's your thing, and no matter what, sing your hearts out.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mixed Up Words

Mom: "I need $3000 to pay for my assassination."

Me: "Your assassination?"

Mom: "I mean my funeral! When are the paleontologists going to arrive?"

Me: "The paleontologists? You mean the palliative care specialists."

Mom: "Yeah."

Later...



Me: "My mom wants a curbside service."

Will: "A curbside service? Like a drive thru? Like, go pick up a cherry limeade and whisper into the microphone, 'give us all the cherry limeades you have!'"

Me: "Graveside service. I mean."


I'm turning into Mom.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Revolutionary Dreams by Nikki Giovanni


image source

I used to dream militant dreams
of taking over america to show
these white folks
how it should be done

I used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away
with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis

I even used to think I’d be the one
to stop the riot and
negotiate the peace

then I awoke and dug
that if I dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman

does when she’s natural

I would have a revolution.

--Nikki Giovanni

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

CVS

It's no secret I'm no fan of secrets. I blog about things you're not supposed to talk about in polite society. Fuck polite society. I was brought up to be a good girl. Good girls are always polite, never rude, never never never burdening other people with their sadness and anxiety. Chin up. Don't cry. Don't make a fuss. Put on a pretty face and cheer up, girl!

When I was a teenager, back in the 80s, during the height of mall bangs and matchy-matchy clothes and Lee Press-on Nails, when I'd be in bed crying, or just staring at the wall, unable to find the inner energy to go to school or to hang out with friends, my mom would knock on my bedroom door and say, "Hey, Beck! Let's go to Osco and buy you a new tube of lipstick."

That was Mom's solution to everything when I was a teenager. Feeling down? Let's go buy you a new tube of lipstick. That will brighten you up!

Sometimes she'd say, "Hey, Beck! Let's go to Skaggs," and because I was an asshole teenager who often talked to her parents as if they were complete idiots, I'd yell back, "Mom, it's Oscooooooooo."

Mom, Dad, and me, circa 1985

The drugstore just down the street from where we lived in Overland Park, Kansas, a snooty suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, had once been a Skaggs, but it had recently been bought out by another company and renamed Osco. Before it was Skaggs, it had been called Katz, and sometimes Mom would really slip up and call it Katz and I'd be quick to scold her in my most assholish teenage voice, "Mom! It hasn't been called Katz since YOU were a teenager."

Mom had been a teenager in the 1950s, during the height of pointy bras, curly hairdos, high-heeled shoes, and TONS of makeup. Her own mother was a licensed beautician and would later own a beauty salon. Mom started wearing makeup when she was 13, one year after she'd stopped believing in Santa and one year before she'd started dating Jim Kerner, the guy she'd marry when she was 18.

She passed up a scholarship to go to MU. Mom secretly wanted to be an architect, but she knew only ugly girls went to college. Instead, her parents sent her to beauty school and she got her beautician's license "just in case" she'd ever need a job. She worked during summer break in high school, cutting and perming and coloring people's hair, but after she graduated from high school in May 1956 she spent much of her time planning for her wedding, which was held in November of that year. Good thing she dropped all of her college-prep classes during her senior year of high school and instead took sewing and cooking and other classes that would prepare her for the life she thought she was meant for, as the wife of Jim Kerner and the mother of their four children--Jay, Kit, Pat, and Jenny.

Mrs. Jim Kerner and three of their four kids--Pat, Kit, and Jenny, circa 1965

Mom was only Mrs. Jim Kerner for ten years, from 1956 to 1966, from age 18 to 28. While they were married Jim had, on two separate occasions, had her unwillingly taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a "nervous breakdown" and where she received electroshock therapy. In 1966, before she could be accused of suffering a third nervous breakdown, Mom finally got the nerve to divorce Jim, who had been physically abusive with their kids and was cheating on her with his secretary, who he later married, and then divorced when he married wife number three. He's on wife number four now.

Mom would be on husband number three now if Bob hadn't passed away a few years ago. Thankfully, third time's a charm. After her miserable marriage to my rage-filled dad from 1969 to 1992, Mom was single for ten years before she decided she'd like to find a companion and joined Match.com, where she met Bob, who'd recently been widowed. They dated for six weeks or so before they eloped and Mom moved to Nebraska. We, her adult kids, thought she was nuts.

"You barely know him!" We complained.

But it turns out Bob was a nice guy. A little controlling, as all Mom's men were, but not abusive. He liked blondes so Mom dyed her salt and pepper 'do blonde, which turned a brassy reddish color that I didn't care much for, but hey, I'm not the boss of Mom's hair and she was, after all, finally happy.

Bob, Mom, and my daughter Katie, circa 2012

I try not to make too many comments about Mom's hair and makeup because I don't want her to reciprocate. I stopped wearing makeup on a regular basis fifteen years ago when my boyfriend Will, who is now my husband Will, complained that he didn't like the taste of lipstick and he thought I was pretty without "all that crap" on my face. I'd stopped dying my hair and perming it when I was in my mid-twenties when I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to let it grow out naturally and, turns out, I actually liked it. I'd had "dirty blonde" hair as a kid, and when I was an anorexic eleven-year old Mom sent me to stay with her mom, who thought I was just starved for attention and dyed my hair blonde. From age eleven til my mid-twenties I'd dyed my hair blonde, brown, brown with blue bangs, black, red, and brown again until I finally let it grow out naturally and decided I actually liked it.

Mom thought I was nuts. Mom, like her own mother before her, does not abide natural hair. If God wanted us to have natural hair he wouldn't have invented hair color and perms. Mom once told me when I was a teenager that the reason it's important for women to wear makeup is because, just like peacocks and peahens, men are just naturally more vibrant looking and so women need to add color to their hair and to their faces to keep up.

So, yeah. I try not to give Mom beauty advice because I don't want it back. But once she came out and asked me if I liked her "blonde" hair and I said, "Honestly, Mom, I prefer your natural color."

"But it makes me look like an old lady!" she said.

"So what? You are an old lady. A beautiful old lady. There's no shame in getting old, Mom. The alternative is death."

She dropped the subject. I noticed, though, after Bob passed away, Mom let her natural hair grow out. I think it looks beautiful.

Mom and Katie, 2015

Mom still insists on wearing makeup, though. The first time I ever saw Mom leave the house without makeup on her face was a couple of months ago when I drove her to the ER late at night. She'll be 79 in May of this year. She has COPD and has a nasal cannula that transports oxygen from a tank to her lungs. If she takes it off for just a few minutes, she quickly runs out of breath as if she'd just run around the block a few times. Our family got together in December for Christmas. We all smushed in together for a big family photo, Mom and all her surviving kids--Jay, Kit, Jenny, and me--as well as our spouses and some of our own kids. I was to Mom's left, sitting so close I could hear her labored breathing. I looked at her and saw that she'd taken out her nasal cannula and hidden it behind her back. She was sitting awkwardly. I glanced behind her and said, "Mom, are you sitting on your oxygen tank?"

"Shh! He's...ready...to...take...the...picture," Mom said.

"But doesn't that hurt? It can't be too comfortable--"

She cut me off. "I'm fine! Let's...take...the...picture...now."

 
Mom and Her Progeny, Christmas 2017

Mom likes to keep up appearances, as many women from her era do. And although I'm certain I drive her nuts, the coolest thing about my mom is that she really does love me just the way I am. And, although when I was a kid I wasn't encouraged to talk about ugly subjects, Mom's chilled out over the years. As far as my writing goes, Mom's always been my number one fan. She'd prefer that I write best-selling romances and tone down all the political junk, but for the most part, Mom encourages me to share my story--all of it--the good, the bad, the ugly. She doesn't even mind if I share her story, since it's so intertwined with mine. 

The year I turned 40, my brother Pat died of liver failure at the age of 49. I was struggling. I'd had a lot of mental health issues when I was a kid, a teen, and a young adult, but in my late twenties my doctor prescribed me sertraline and it was like a miracle. It lifted the depressive fog I'd known for what seemed like my whole life. I could read Harriet Lerner's amazing self-help books and go to therapy and talk about my problems and actually feel helped. But when Pat died, I began to spiral out of control again. It didn't matter that I had met Will, the love of my life, and that we had an amazing daughter, Katie, and I had a great job at the library and our lives were so freaking happy. Not even the sertraline helped. 

The therapist I was seeing at the time encouraged me to share a secret that I didn't think I'd have the courage to share. I'd had the guts to share it with my mom back when I was little, and I'd told my closest friends and lovers, but I'd never shared it with my siblings, and I certainly didn't feel like I could talk about it openly in public.

But when Pat died at such a young age, I realized that I could die young, too. And even if I didn't die young, I would definitely die sometime, and I couldn't see how I could ever heal entirely while holding on to such a horrible secret. I had to let it go.

One by one I told my siblings. I told some family friends. They, of course, were heartbroken, but none of us died. And, I began to feel better. 

I'd always wanted to be a writer, but I had trouble finishing anything I started. Nothing I wrote was ever good enough because what I really wanted to write about was a big ugly secret I thought was too horrible to share. But the more I share it, the better I felt.

And so, I began this blog.

I was worried what my mom would think about me sharing such ugly family secrets, so I asked her permission. What she said was beautiful.

"You have my permission to write anything. About yourself. About me. Write what you need to write," Mom said.

It was hard. And so, so amazing. Freeing. Healing. Just what I needed.

When I was young, very young, too young to know any better, and when Pat was young, too, but old enough to know better, he sexually abused me numerous times. By the time he was fourteen and I was five, he invited his friend who was even more sexually mature that Pat was, and what they did to me scarred me for life. But it didn't kill me, and over the years I've learned to to live with it. The worst thing of all is that I was told not to talk about it.

"Don't tell Mom or she'll have to go back to the hospital," Pat said.

Mom had never been sent to the hospital for electroshock therapy while I was alive, but I knew that she had been before I was born. I later learned that our grandmother, after she would abuse Pat, would tell him the same thing. "Don't tell your mother or she'll get so upset she'll have to go back to the hospital."

In the last few months that Pat was alive, but he knew he was dying, Pat shared with me that his earliest childhood memory was him clutching Mom by the leg as Jim pulled her away on one of the two occasions she was sent to the hospital. I asked Pat if he'd ever discussed it with Mom, and he said no, he didn't want to upset her. And then he took a swig of Peppermint Schnapps.

I've learned to share my story, to write openly about my mental health struggles, and, miraculously, it's become this beautiful thing. I've had so many people write to me and talk to me in person, telling me how much my words have helped them heal. So many people have suffered with mental health issues and family dysfunction and family secrets, and sharing my story has helped them know that they are free to share theirs.

One person I know is too young to share her story publicly, and so I've been hesitant to write openly about it myself, but it's intertwined with my own story so much that not sharing her story feels like I'm keeping secrets of my own.

It's no secret I'm no fan of secrets. I blog about things you're not supposed to talk about in polite society. Fuck polite society. I was brought up to be a good, secret-keeping girl, but I have learned to be an open book. But it's different when the story is not yours alone to share. It's different when the story belongs to a kid, too young to fully understand what it means to share your ugly stories.

This kid is my kid. She has an ugly story I want to share. But I'm torn. Do I want to share it to make her feel better, or to make myself feel better? 

I keep running into people who, after I share with them my kid's ugly story, they share their kids' ugly stories with me and, in doing so, make me feel so much better as a parent. See! These people are awesome parents and yet they have kids who struggle, too! It's not all our fault. In fact, maybe we all struggle, and the more we hide our struggles the worse the struggle is.

Then I worry that maybe I've been avoiding writing about my daughter's ugly struggles because I like to keep up appearances. I'm a great mom, everybody. Look how awesome my kid is. Obviously due to such good parenting. So when my kid struggles, what's it say about me?

"I honestly thought if we didn't abuse her she'd turn out OK," I said to my husband when the doctor told us the news.

We both laughed, but it's true. I attribute much of my mental health issues to my shitty childhood. It's my parent's fault. It's my brother's fault. It's society's fault. If I had been allowed to share my ugly struggles as a child instead of waiting til I was a middle-aged woman, I'd have been better off.

But now I see it's not so easy. It's complicated, this ambiguous life.

"Your daughter has Major Depressive Disorder." 

When the doctor said it, I felt both saddened and relieved. Katie's been struggling with anger management and signs of anxiety and depression since first grade. I've never shared the details of my own ugly struggles with her, not wanting to burden her with my problems, but she knows I had a shitty childhood and that I take medicine and read self-help books and have something called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. She's too young to know the details, but she knows her Mom has ugly struggles, and so did her Uncle Pat, and so did her Grandma Bev, and so did her Great-grandmother and on and on and on.

I honestly thought if we didn't abuse her she'd turn out OK.

And guess what? She will.

We were hesitant to give Katie psychotropic meds because of her still-developing brain. The black-box warnings on my own prescription sertraline state clearly that it can lead to suicidal thoughts in people under that age of 25. I mentioned this to Katie's doctor, and she assured me that the FDA requires them to put that on the medicine, but if you dig down deeper into most of the cases where a young person has committed suicide while taking this medicine you can see that it's their family history and their own unique brain chemistry that lead to the suicide and not just the medicine per se. 

"I guess it's just like how she's got your allergies and takes Children's Zyrtec, just like you take Adult Zyrtec. It's kinda the same thing," my husband said. "I've seen you off your meds, and let's just say, you do a lot better when you're on them."

Still, it's a concern. We don't want to medicate our ten-year old with powerful medicine that can alter her brain structure if we don't need to.

But it's gotten to the point where we feel we need to. Several doctors and social workers and therapists, both from school and in private practice, have recommended we go this route. We've tried other options. We first took her to a child psychologist when she was in second grade. She's been seeing the school social worker on a weekly basis since third grade. She was tested for and accepted into the gifted program at school, which we hoped would help her find her tribe where she could relax. We've tried taking her to church, enrolling her in basketball and Girl Scouts, inviting kids over for playdates. We'd see some improvement, but none of it was a panacea for the social isolation she felt, her anxious over-thinking, or her anger that seemed to come out of nowhere. She reminds me so much of myself when I was her age. Now I understand that maybe it wasn't all my parents fault, and just how awful it feels to watch your pride and joy suffer with their own ugly struggles.

"You have my permission to write anything about me, " Katie said.

"You're only ten. You're not really old enough to know what you're giving me permission to do. When you get older, you might be embarrassed about what I write about you now," I said.

I had mentioned that I wanted to write about our decision to medicate Katie, that the more people I meet who share with me stories of their own kids who are struggling with the same mental health issues, the more I realize how common it is, and how none of us should feel ashamed about it. 

"You can write about me, Mom. Maybe it will help other people, and that makes me feel good."

The other day, Katie stumbled and dropped a clay pot she'd labored over in art class. We didn't hear about it until Katie got home from school and told us herself. No phone calls from the school nurse or the social worker, telling us our child was with them in tears. No emails from her teacher warning us of the major meltdown our child had and what they did to work it out.

"What did you do when you dropped your pot," my husband asked Katie.

"I picked it up. My art teacher said we can glue it back together," Katie said, smiling.

"I think the medicine is helping," my husband said.

"And Jack. Jack is helping, too," Katie said.

Jack is Katie's therapist who she sees every-other week. She likes him a lot. His daughter is in high school now, but when she was Katie's age she was also in the gifted program at the same school where Katie goes, and she struggled with many of the same issues Katie does. 

"You know what Jack told me?" Katie said. "He said that his daughter used to feel like her peers didn't understand her and that she didn't fit in and she felt all alone and empty, just like I do sometimes, but he said that just the other day she came home from a party, a high school party, and there were drugs and alcohol there and she said, 'no thanks' and went home and he's so proud of her for not giving into peer pressure. And he thinks I'm the same way. I might struggle now, but I'm learning to be my own person, and that's a good thing."

I remember being a teenager, lying in bed crying, or just staring at the wall, unable to find the inner energy to go to school or to hang out with friends, and my mom would knock on my bedroom door and say, "Hey, Beck! Let's go to Osco and buy you a new tube of lipstick." When I wasn't trapped in my bedroom, I was off with my friends, my tribe, the misfit kids at school with their own ugly struggles. I looked much older than I was, so I was able to buy alcohol when I was seventeen, so I'd buy Boone's Farm for my tribe and me to share. 

It got us by. We survived. I still drink, but not nearly as much as I did when I was in high school and as a young adult. I was lucky enough to have a doctor prescribe me sertraline. I didn't die of liver failure like Pat did at age 49. I self-medicated until I found something that works better for me. It makes me wonder how it might have been if, instead of self-medicating on Boone's Farm, whenever Mom would take me to Osco we'd have picked up some prescription sertraline instead of all those tubes of lipstick.

Katie, age 10

"Mom, did you know that Adrianna wears lipstick?" Katie said the other day as we entered CVS and passed through the lipstick aisle on our way to the pharmacy. 

"Is she in your class?" I asked.

"Yeah, she's only in fifth grade, like me, and she already wears lipstick!"

"Well, some people are into that sort of stuff, but you don't have to be if you don't want to be," I said.

"I'm never going to wear lipstick. In fact, the other day Adrianna asked me what color lipstick I wear and when I said I don't wear lipstick she said she didn't believe me! I had to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand to prove it to her," Katie said.

"Well, you do have your daddy's gorgeous red lips," I said.

"And my mom's allergies and depression," Katie said.

"Oh, that reminds me," I said. "You're nearly out of Children's Zyrtec. We'd better pick some up while we're here."

I kissed the top of my daughter's head, which is getting harder to do each day. She's nearly as tall as I am. Someday I expect her to pass me up.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our Daughter's Class Picture

Our Daughter's Class Picture

22 fifth graders
8 white kids
5 black kids
1 biracial kid - black and white
1 Asian kid
7 Latino kids
22 Kansans
22 Americans
22 kids in public school

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Proud public school family

Our ten year old sees a therapist named Jack who teaches her mental health survival skills. At school she has issues with anger management and depression, common in gifted kids, so we signed her up to talk it out with Jack. He's a nice guy. Katie was looking forward to seeing him today.

The phone rang and I knew it was Katie. I had called the school nurse earlier this morning and left a voicemail message telling her that Jack had called in sick and we'd have to reschedule Katie's therapy appointment for another day. I mentioned that she could tell Katie to call me if she had any questions.

As she was leaving for school this morning I told Katie that we'd pick her up at 9:30 for her appointment with Jack. At that point we didn't know he was sick and would have to cancel. At 9:55 I got the call.

"Hey, Punk. How are you?" I said.

"Sad. I wanted to see Jack," she said.

"Yeah, I figured you'd be sad. I know you were looking forward to talking to him."

"Yep."

"Yeah. People get sick. That's life. We'll reschedule with him on another day soon."

"What day?"

"I don't know yet, but we've been put on a list of people for Jack to call if someone else cancels their appointment, and then we could go see him. He's busy with a lot of clients."

"Yeah. OK," Katie said.

"So what are you doing now?" I asked. Focus on the moment.

"I'm in the nurses office."

"Are you feeling sick?"

"No, not really. But they said I could call you from the nurse's phone."

"Were you upset when you found out your appointment with Jack got cancelled?" I asked.

"Yeah. But then I got to go down to the kindergartener's room again and help them with their reading and writing!" Katie's voice went from sullen to super excited during the course of that sentence. The ultimate metaphor for the tween years.

"Oh yeah? They let you be the reading helper again today?"

"Yes! I helped these adorable kindergartners with their reading AND their writing. They are so cute, Mom!"

"I know. It feels good to help little kids, doesn't it?"

"Yep. Well, I gotta go back up to my class and do some math now. Bye. I love you."

And then she hung up.

My daughter is a fifth grader at our neighborhood public school. She's precocious and moody. She's in special ed because of her agility in "creative" and "innovative" thinking. The school district pays extra for her special services. Her father and I didn't even have to pay for textbooks this year. If we didn't have the strong support of her public school principals, nurse, social worker, innovation specialists, and teachers, my husband and I would struggle to meet her educational, emotional, and social needs.

We are a proud public school family. Please don't let our new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, destroy the foundation of our society's best institution. Public schools work when they are adequately funded and supported by the community. Well educated citizens make great neighbors. Good schools increase property values. Our kids are brilliant--each and every one of them--if only we give them the support to shine their brightest.