Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Feeling the Bern (of fossil fuel)

I was in my car on my way home from work when I heard the roll call on NPR. I got home before they were finished, so I sat in my car burning fossil fuel to hear the person I caucused for, because he's greener and more of a pacifist, nominate the person I didn't want to win because she's more moderate and war hawkish. I actually got tears in my eyes at the generosity of Bernie's words. And he's inspired me to get over my damn self and realize that a vote for Hillary Clinton is NOTHING like a vote for ‪#‎Drumpf‬ and that the decision I've made to vote for her in November is a good one.

My former self, the 21 year-old Greenpeace activist, tsk tsk'ed the more moderate, middle-aged pragmatist I've become. But hey, that's life. It's crazy and irritating and ridiculous, but I love our democracy.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

So it goes

Warning: I'm a little cranky today, Friends. Today would have been my brother Pat's 55th birthday if he hadn't drank himself to death when he was 49. Life is hard and then we die. Love is all we've got, Babies, to paraphrase the amazing Kurt Vonnegut. He's dead now, too.

Hug your loved ones tightly and appreciate every minute you've got with them.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin: a review

Black Like MeBlack Like Me by John Howard Griffin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I read about racism and it forever changed me. I was in ninth grade at Milburn Junior High. It was 1986. Thirty years ago. And yet I remember it vividly, and with awe.

In the 1950's, a white southern man--the author, John Howard Griffin--takes medication to darken his skin and goes undercover as a black man in the Deep South. This book is his chronicle of that journey. Highly recommended for anyone ready to open their eyes to the reality of racism.

View all my reviews

Five stars. If I could give it more stars, I would.

My English teacher had assigned the class to pick a book from a list of titles about our country's history. We read it and gave her an individual oral report. I was just glad we didn't have to stand up in front of the whole class and talk about it, since I was a shy awkward fifteen year old. All those eyes upon me. Staring at my big boobs. Or my acne. Or my thunder thighs. I preferred writing book reports, but if we had to do an oral report, at least it was just in front of the teacher and no one else. She was nice. One of the few people I liked seeing each day at that miserable school.

"You're the only student who picked this book, Becky," she said.

I remember this distinctly because it made me feel special. At the same time that I hated for people to look at me, I also hated to be ignored. I was just one more middle-class white girl among hundreds of other middle-class white kids at my school. It was the suburbs in the eighties. Homogeneity was in vogue. I was used to sitting in a room full of my classmates, being talked at and not talked to, by our teachers. I wasn't used to this one-on-one, individual attention.

In fact now that I think about it, how could my teacher have found the time to have each of us give her an individualized oral report? Maybe it was after school, and it was some makeup exam or something. I did miss a lot of school. I was one of those kids who always missed the maximum amount of school allowed before getting kicked out or having to go to summer school. I was always making up exams. And considering that I was slacksadaisical about turning in my day-to-day homework, I was lucky that I tended to score so well on my exams, somehow maintaining an A/B average despite my poor study skills and attendance.

Probably, now that I think about it, I was giving my English teacher a one-on-one oral report as a make up exam from a day when I stayed home on the couch watching Andy Griffith Show reruns because I had a panic attack thinking about giving an oral report in front of my whole class.

I remember the look on my English teacher's face as I talked about the book. I'd never seen that expression before. Like she was looking at someone she'd never seen before. My mom once told me that when I was in kindergarten, she had to come pick me up because I'd thrown up. During the drive home, she later told me, I talked non-stop.

"I'd never heard you talk so much. I always thought you were a shy kid, but it was then that I realized you just never got a chance to talk much at home with all your talkative brothers and sisters around."

That was when I was really young. By the time I was in ninth grade at Milburn Junior High, standing in front of my English teacher, telling her how much I loved reading this book, I was the only child left at home. My siblings are much older than me, so they'd all moved out. It was just me and Mom and Dad and their miserable marriage left in our family. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom laying on my back, singing along with Morrissey and Michael Stipe. I read lots of books. My family, although miserable, was full of bookworms. We visited the public library every other week. My parents checked out about two sacks of library books each time. They were voracious readers, and so was I. It's the thing I'm most proud of both of my parents: they taught me that no matter how hard the struggle of life is, reading makes it better.

As I told my ninth grade English teacher about how much I liked this book, she smiled and started rifling through the papers on her desk. When I finally finished talking, she gave me a list of other authors I might like. Alice Walker was on it. She's the author of The Color Purple, which soon became one of my favorite books, which it is still today.

I guess my point is that reading changes lives. Life is hard. It's a struggle for everyone. I had my share of ups and downs as a teenager, and reading got me through it. Now I'm a middle-age librarian. And the world is still full of suck. And books still lessen the suck.

My fellow librarians are helping to alleviate world suck in amazing ways. For example, this librarian has created a list of #BlackLivesMatter books recommended for teens to help them understand what's going on in a world where daily we're bombarded with news of mass shootings and police brutality and cop killings.

I've written some reviews of books I think will help teens feel better about our chaotic world, especially All American Boys and We Troubled The Waters. But I realized I hadn't ever shared a review of my first "anti-racism" book, Black Like Me. So here it is. I'm forever grateful to my ninth grade English teacher for introducing me to it and for giving me wider eyes.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Taking on The Man

I've been wallowing in ambivalence since Tuesday night, when the majority declared Secretary Clinton the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2016 election for President. There's a slim chance Bernie can end up winning in a contested convention. But even an idealist like me knows that's pretty unlikely.

It's weird, because I'm a fan of the idea of democracy, but since I tend to always be on the minority side of most issues, and my favorite candidate ALWAYS loses, there's that voice in the back of my head that thinks this whole "majority rules" idea sucks. Of course, if the majority agrees with me, then it's a great idea. But that never happens. Such is the life of an underdog lover living in a majority-rules society.

But, what's the alternative? Majority-rules is better than a dictatorship. Better than anarchy. So, I'll keep voting for the least reprehensible candidate like I always do. Like I did back in 1992 when I had voted for Jerry Brown in my first Primary, but ended up voting for Bill Clinton in my first Presidential election. Like I did for Bill Bradley and Al Gore. Like I did for Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama. Actually, that's not true. I voted for Obama in our state caucus in 2008 because there was only one other Kucinich supporter in the room and so I caved and voted for the next least-reprehensible candidate.

I guess it's different because this time my favorite candidate seemed to actually have a chance to win. Bernie got my hopes up. I was shocked to find so many people supporting his candidacy. I've been a fan of Bernie Sanders since back when he was the United States Representative from Vermont, appearing on the Bill Maher show from time to time. Never in a million years did I think he'd run for president, or that people would actually come on board. But he did, and they did, and we all gave it a good shot. But it looks like the underdog won't win this time. Again.

I don't hate Mrs. Clinton like some Bernie supporters do. She's way more of a war-hawk than I am, and she's schmoozy and flip-floppy like most politicians are, but I understand that's part of the game, and she's winning the game. I'll vote for her over #Drumpf for sure. I'm just sad my guy lost. Again. And that, as always, I get to vote for the least reprehensible candidate. No wonder so many people just don't give a shit and don't bother voting.

But I can't do that. It's such a privilege to live in a society where I get to vote. Even if I don't get to vote for my favorite. Suffragists worked hard for women like me to participate in our democracy. It's an imperfect process, but it's the best we've got. It's certainly better than the alternative:

For most of human history, when somebody in the tribe decided they wanted to be chief, the "election" involved him bashing the current chief's skull in with a fucking rock. The chief was always just whoever was best at doing that. In much of the world, leaders are still chosen this way, only with more sophisticated weapons and/or the ability to brainwash uneducated people into dying for the upstart's cause.
So here I sit, thanking my feminist sisters for giving me the right to vote for the first female President, even though I feel rather ho-hum about her. I just think Bernie, despite being a man, would be the best person to take on The Man. Too bad the majority of my fellow democrats think otherwise.

Some of my progressive friends have urged me to vote for the presumptive nominee of the Green Party, Jill Stein. Sorry, guys. I'm not voting for Jill Stein. I have nothing against her. In fact, we're pretty well aligned, politically. I just don't want another 2000 fiasco with the Green Party getting 2.7 percent of the votes and the Dems losing by a tiny fraction, when some of those Green Party votes could have helped the Dems defeat the Republicans.

Ugh. Politics.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Excuse me 7"

We found out yesterday that Katie will start fifth grade in the Enhanced Learning (aka, Gifted) Program at school. She's super excited about this opportunity to meet some kids with similar interests and intensities. She's struggled with her peer relationships in the classroom since first grade, complaining that nobody understands her and she feels weird and alone. Here's an excellent post about the emotional intensity that often accompanies intellectual intensity:
Giftedness has an emotional as well as intellectual component. Intellectual complexity goes hand in hand with emotional depth. Just as gifted children’s thinking is more complex and has more depth than other children’s, so too are their emotions more complex and more intense. 
Complexity can be seen in the vast range of emotions that gifted children can experience at any one time and the intensity is evident in the “full-on-ness” about everything with which parents and teachers of the gifted children are so familiar. 
Emotional intensity in the gifted is not a matter of feeling more than other people, but a different way of experiencing the world: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding – a way of being quiveringly alive. 
Emotional intensity can be expressed in many different ways: 
as intensity of feeling – positive feelings, negative feelings, both positive and negative feelings together, extremes of emotion, complex emotion that seemingly move from one feeling to another over a short time period, identification with the feelings of other people, laughing and crying together 
in the body – the body mirrors the emotions and feelings are often expressed as bodily symptoms such as tense stomach, sinking heart, blushing, headache, nausea 
inhibition – timidity and shyness 
strong affective memory – emotionally intense children can remember the feelings that accompanied an incident and will often relive and ‘re-feel’ them long afterward 
fears and anxieties, feelings of guilt, feelings of being out of control
concerns with death, depressive moods
emotional ties and attachments to others, empathy and concern for others, sensitivity in relationships, attachment to animals, difficulty in adjusting to new environments, loneliness, conflicts with others over the depth of relationships 
critical self-evaluation and self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority 
Many people seem unaware that intense emotions are part of giftedness and little attention is paid to emotional intensity. Historically the expression of intense feelings has been seen a sign of emotional instability rather than as evidence of a rich inner life. The traditional Western view is of emotions and intellect as separate and contradictory entities, there is however, an inextricable link between emotions and intellect and, combined, they have a profound effect on gifted people. It is emotional intensity that fuels joy in life, passion for learning, the drive for expression of a talent area, the motivation for achievement. 
Feeling everything more deeply than others do can both be painful and frightening. Emotionally intense gifted people often feel abnormal. “There must be something wrong with me… maybe I’m crazy… nobody else seems to feel like this.” Emotionally intense gifted people often experience intense inner conflict, self-criticism, anxiety and feelings of inferiority. The medical community tends to see these conflicts as symptoms and labels gifted people neurotic. They are however an intrinsic part of being gifted and provide the drive that gifted people have for personal growth and achievement. 
It is vitally important that gifted children are taught to see their heightened sensitivity to things that happen in the world as a normal response for them. If this is not made clear to them they may see their own intense experiences as evidence that something is wrong with them.
Last night, Will and I were talking about how proud we are of Katie's growth, and how excited we are for her future. He asked me, "Are you proud to find out our kid is gifted."

"I've known she was gifted for a long time. I didn't need her to take any test to tell me that. I started to figure it out when she was about two," I said.

"You mean when she memorized Goodnight Moon and 'read' it to us?" Will asked.

"Yeah, but also, remember that time she said, 'excuse me 7' to the magnet in our fridge?"

Katie, age 2

When Katie was two, she went through this phase of storing random objects inside the refrigerator. You'd open the door to get some half and half for your coffee and find your car keys.  Time to make lunch?  Oh, there's my hairbrush.  At least she didn't store her used diapers in there like she did in her play kitchen.  It's such a fun age when they learn how to take off their diaper after taking a crap, but they haven't quite learned what to do with it.

One day Katie opened the refrigerator to grab her cup of milk. On a shelf inside she'd left one of those plastic magnets you get with the set of ABCs and 123s.  The kind kids like to drop onto the floor for you to step on, put in their mouths to freak you out, lose under your frightfully dirty refrigerator.  Or, in our case, the kid likes to hide them in the fridge. As Katie reached for the cup, her hand passed over the magnet.  She said, "Excuse me L." Then she paused, picked up the magnet, flipped it over and said, "Oh, excuse me 7."

Brilliant AND polite. We're so proud of our Katie Bug.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Natural introvert or socially anxious extravert?

This post about the difference between introversion and social anxiety is an interesting read. I zig zag back and forth between "E" and "I" on the Myers-Briggs test. I love people and getting to know people and sharing ideas with people and surrounding myself with people. But people can also be a drain. I love socializing, but then I need time alone to recharge my batteries.

One thing I've noticed is that when I routinely take prescription Sertraline for my PTSD, I feel much more "E" than "I". And when I lapse and decide that I don't need meds, I tend to feel more like an "I". Makes sense. Sertraline is also prescribed to people with social anxiety disorder.

After reading this post, I think maybe I'm not really an introvert, but a socially anxious extravert.

I think I was born an E. But it's hard to be an attention-craving, friendly fat girl in a fat-shaming society. I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade, and it was soon after that I began to spend more time alone in my bedroom or on long walks by myself. Being an extroverted fat girl in a fat-unfriendly society made me believe that there was something wrong with me. Made me believe I was not good enough in most people's eyes.

I avoided social situations because I felt like I was too physically revolting to most people. I HATED public speaking for most of my life. The idea of people looking at me, seeing how fat I am, thinking to themselves, "What a lardo. She needs to go on a diet," made me stay seated in class as a teen or at work meetings as an adult, even if I felt like I had something interesting to say. I silenced myself, preferring to stifle my naturally exuberant personality so people wouldn't look at me.

The year I turned forty, my brother died and it occurred to me that life is way too fucking short not to live it to the fullest. Around that same time I read the book Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon. I finally got the nerve to stop dieting. Only took me thirty-one years, a bout with anorexia, and an obscene amount of days spent sobbing.

I'm forty-five now. I haven't been on a diet in five years. I'm still fat. But I'm healthier than ever. My cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, and bone density are in the healthy to excellent range. I go to bed at night feeling good and I wake up excited about the day.

Another big thing: I've gotten over my social phobia.

After I turned forty, my brother died, and I quit dieting, ready for some full life living, I finally decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. A storytime lady.

Storytime at the library was my favorite thing in the world when I was a little kid. Books saved my life many times when I needed a friend, or a laugh, or some sympathy as I got to be too old to go to storytime. I was thrilled when my own child was born and we started going to storytime at the library when she was four months old. But then she got too old for storytime. Which meant I couldn't go to storytime anymore. Which made me very sad.

But what if I didn't have to stop going to storytime? What if I could figure out a way to get the nerve to LEAD my own storytime?

I did it. With a combination of psychotropic medicine, cognitive behavior therapy, and pure, self-healing perseverance, I learned how to lead a storytime without worrying about all the eyes on me. Without worrying that the caregivers will think I'm revolting. I joke around that the reason it took me so long to find my dream job is because I never thought I could be a storytime lady because I don't have a great singing voice. that it's my job to demonstrate to caregivers that it's OK to sing with your kids even if you don't have a great voice. But honestly, the reason it took me so long to find my dream job is because for far too many years I feared judgy eyes on my fat body.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Loretta Lynch, Vanita Gupta, and the Obama Administration calls out North Carolina on its transphobic bathroom bullshit

Great news from The Department of Justice today. Watch here:

My favorite quotes:

"Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together." --Loretta Lynch, Attorney General

"Here are the facts. Transgender men are men – they live, work and study as men. Transgender women are women – they live, work and study as women." --Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

This weekend I finished reading the book, George by Alex Gino, about a transgender fourth-grade girl, so this case has been on my mind. Here's my review of it:

GeorgeGeorge by Alex Gino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

George is a sweet, sensitive fourth-grader with a secret. She's a girl. She's got a boy's name, and a boy's body, but George has identified as a girl for as long as she can remember. When her teacher refuses to let George audition for the role of Charlotte in the school production of "Charlotte's Web," George and her best friend, Kelly, figure out a way to get the right girl up there on stage. Along the way, George finds the courage to share her secret with her older brother, her mother, and, eventually, the whole wide world. George is a beautiful, thoughtful book about a transgender girl's triumph to be who she is, and to allow the world to see her as she sees herself. Highly recommended for all ages.

View all my reviews

I'm proud of my country today.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Someone called my kid fat

It was almost an afterthought. We'd already been sitting on the couch for twenty minutes, talking about our day. We call it Sunshine and Shadows, our after-school talks, about both good things and bad. I got the idea from an educator I know. It's a simple way to let people, especially kids, know that you're open for discussion. Our nine-year-old loves to play Sunshine and Shadows. Like it's a game. Family game night meets group therapy.

Kate: Let's play Sunshine and Shadows!
Me: OK. You go first.

Sometimes I change it up a bit. I'll say, "OK. Daddy goes first." Just to teach her a little social courtesy and patience.

Today it was just Kate and me, so I let her go first. She'd been telling me all kinds of things that had gone on throughout the day. Both good and bad. Most a mix of both. I thought she was about done and ready to get our Bob's Burgers jones on.

Me: Well, anything else happen today?
Kate: Someone called me fat.
Me: What?
Kate: In Music today. Someone called me fat.
Me: What? Why? What happened?
Kate: Peyton* called me fat.
Me: Why? What was going on?
Kate: It was in music class. I was sitting down. He needed to get in, so he said, "Move over, Fatso!"

Kate lifted up her shirt and poked her belly with her finger.

Kate: I don't even think I'm that fat.
Me: No, you're not.
Kate: But he said it in a mean way. He meant it as a mean thing to say.
Me: Yeah, I'm sorry, Honey.

Kate poked my belly with her finger.

Kate: I mean, I know there's nothing wrong with being fat, but he said it in a mean way.

Kate's sensitive about my weight. She knows that I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade, and that I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa by fifth grade. She knows I'm a Health at Every Size advocate now, and that one of my goals is to help people boost their body image, to raise a generation of children without eating disorders. To the outside world, I'm another fat mother. To Kate, I'm a badass fat activist.

Me: I know. Many people in our society still think that it's bad to be fat. So they think the word "fat" is a bad word, something you say to insult someone.
Kate: Yeah. He was saying it like it's a bad word.
Me: What did you do?
Kate: I told the teacher.
Me: And then what happened?
Kate: He had to go to the buddy room.
Me: I see. So, are you OK?
Kate: Yeah, I'm fine.
Me: You know what he said is more a reflection of him than of you, right? Sad people try to make other people feel sad.
Kate: That's the funny thing, Mom. Peyton's, well, kind of fat.
Me: Oh! So he's probably been called "fatso" himself. That's how he even knows the word. People treat others the way they've been treated. Maybe his mom or dad or brothers or sisters call him "fatso."
Kate: Yeah. Probably. Man, now I feel sorry for bullies.
Me: Yeah. I know what you mean. But don't let bullies mistreat you because you feel sorry for them. Always stick up for yourself. But understand that they are probably coming from a sad place.
Kate: I know, Mom. I know.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I named our daughter Kate Carleton because it sounds presidential. Seriously. Doesn't Kate Carleton sound like someone who gets things done?

We named her Katherine, actually. After my sister Kathryn. After our great-grandmother Catherine.

Will wanted to call her Kat, which now that I know her suits her, but I got my way and we started calling her Kate from day one.

By the time Kate could advocate for herself, and around the same time she began writing her own name, she announced that she no longer wanted to be called Kate. From then on, she'd be Katie.

Katie? Ugh. Katie doesn't sound presidential at all.

Katie sounds like a spoiled girl who always gets her way.

Kate got her way, and we began to call her Katie when she was four.

"Are you sure you want to be called Katie?" I asked. "It's one extra letter you have to spell when you write your name."

"That's OK. I like Katie better."

So we called her Katie. It's her name, I guess.

But. I'm the one who cooked her in my belly til she was well done. Five days overdue, to be precise. I feel like I should have some say in what name we call her. I tried to call her Katie, but I'd slip up from time to time.

"It's Katie, Mommy."

"Oh, yeah. Sorry. Katie. It's hard to remember to call you Katie when we called you Kate for four years."

Eventually I got used to calling our daughter Katie. She's nine now. Five years have passed. She's Katie, even though it doesn't sound presidential.

"I don't want to be president," Katie says.

"Why not?" I ask.

"I just don't want that kind of responsibility."

"Yeah. Me neither. I guess I should let you be who you want to be."

"Yeah, Mom."

Mom? When did I become Mom? What happened to Mommy? How come if I have to call her Katie and not Kate, she can't call me Mommy and not Mom?

"Fine. You can call me Kate if I can call you Mom."

"OK!" I agreed. But it backfired on me because I was already used to calling her Katie by then, so I forgot to go back to Kate. Katie, on the other hand, readily calls me Mom and not Mommy. No problem.

"Mom, none of the other kids at school call their moms Mommy."

Fine. Be like everybody else, if that's your thing.

Katie and I went to a new church the other day, and on her name tag she wrote, "KaCy".

"KaCy? Isn't that your avatar's name on the WiiU?" I can't believe I've learned how to speak Gamer in nine short years.

"Yeah. And that's what I want to be called now."

"What? I thought you wanted to be called Katie?"

"I did for a while, but now I want to go by KaCy."

"Duuuude. You can't just keep changing your name like that. People get used to calling you what they know you by. Remember how hard it was for me to remember to call you Katie instead of Kate when you re-nicknamed yourself when you were four?

"You call me Katie now."

"Yeah, man. I don't think I can do it again. KaCy? And why do you spell it that way? Why not just KC? You know. Your initials. Katie Carleton."

"Because I want it to be different. I want my name to be unique."

I remember when I was looking at baby names while pregnant with our daughter. I kept gravitating toward classic names. Except for Stella. I wanted to name Katie Stella, but Will said no, he didn't want his kid growing up with people yelling, "Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeela!" at her all the time. And, Stella's the name of a blowup doll we once met down at the Winfield bluegrass festival, but that's another story. I can see why a dad wouldn't want to name his kid after a blowup doll.

I remember reading about how most kids born nowadays have unique names, so much so that names like Katherine had become rather rare.

Apparently it's not rare enough for our Katie bird. She wants to be known as KaCy now.

"Fine. You can have other people call you whatever you want, but I wanna call you Kate. Or Katie. Or Katie Bug. Or Punkin. Or Punk. OK?"

"Yeah, Mom. That's fine."

That same day I got an email from one of the members of the church we went to letting us know she'd be happy to answer any questions we had. I found myself replying that we had a great time, and that KaCy and I'd try to make it next week, too. KaCy. This kid of mine. If she wants people at church to call her KaCy, fine. I didn't want to confuse them by my calling her Kate or Katie or Punk or whatever, so I referred to her as her prefered name, KaCy.

When I was in second grade I stood up in front of my class and announced that I wanted everyone to start calling me Becca instead of Rebecca. At home I went by Becky or Beck. But when Mom enrolled me at my new school a month after first grade started, she wrote my legal name on the form and the teacher never bothered to ask if I had a nickname. My teacher was mean, so I never corrected her when she called me Rebecca. By second grade most of my friends called me Becky, and my teacher was nice that year, so she called me Becky, too, but somewhere I heard the nickname Becca and I thought it sounded beautiful. Becca is beautiful and cool and confident. She remembers to pack her toothbrush when she spends the night at someone's house and she's not afraid of the dark. Becky is some dorky girl's name. My name.

I wanted to be Becca.

But no one could do it. Everyone knew me as Becky by then, so nobody could remember to call me Becca. I got tired of correcting everyone and eventually I dropped it. I've gone by Becky ever since.

Once, before Katie was born, my husband Will and I went camping with some friends. One of his friends brought along a woman named Becca. I fell in love with her almost instantly. Not in the I want to marry her way, but in the I want to be her way. Becca was beautiful and cool and confident. She remembered to bring her own food--homemade granola-- and she set up her own tent. I, on the other hand, managed to break our tent that night. Zippers and I aren't very chummy. What can I say? I'm a dork. Call me Becky.

So I get it, wanting to go by a different name because you think you could act differently with a different name. But does it really work that way? Would I be cooler if I started going by Becca? Will Katie or Kate or KaCy feel more confident and in control if she goes by a different name?

My husband, Will, would say so. Try being a chubby 12-year-old boy named Willie when the movie, "Free Willy" comes out. He's been going by Will ever since.

Friday, April 8, 2016

My Best Effort: Existential Depression, My Kid, and Me

I had a really good talk with Katie's therapist this afternoon. Our nine-year-old, Katie, has been struggling at school with her peers. She has temper tantrums when her peers don't act respectfully toward her, and lately even when they don't act respectfully toward others around her. She vacillates between feeling intolerance and disgust for her "immature" classmates and feeling like no one likes her or cares about her and that she's worthless and alone. Things are getting worse instead of better. Today, my husband Will had to go pick her up from school because she was biting herself and talking about how she wants to run away. She told the school social worker that she didn't "want to be part of this world."

Shit. My poor baby.

Shit. That was me when I was a kid. But I'd always attributed my depression and anxiety to my shitty childhood in general and to specific traumatic events such as being sexually abused as a preschooler and being sent to Weight Watchers in third grade. I thought my depression was a product of my upbringing, not my genes.

But it makes sense. My mother had episodes of depression so severe that she received shock therapy a couple of times before I was even born. Her mother was agoraphobic for decades, and she abused my siblings when they were under her care while Mom worked after she divorced their dad. My family tree is fertilized by a cocktail of booze, pot, and sertraline, with a side garnish of God and binge eating junk food. Even if I'm not fucked up because of my fucked up childhood, but because of my genetic quirks, it's those genetic quirks that probably led to my mom's and my grandmother's less than stellar parenting decisions, and, now that I'm a mom, I can join that club, too.

Nature or Nurture? Both.

Despite my husband's and my best efforts to raise Katie to be confident and happy and kind, to protect her from abuse and to teach her to love her body and herself, our kid is hurting.

Shit. I thought all I had to do was be a "great mom" and we'd all live happily ever after. Turns out, I'm not a "great mom," just a mom putting forth my best effort.

Maybe my grandmother put forth her best effort. Maybe my mom did, too. Maybe I should quit blaming bad parents for producing fucked up kids and accept that no one understands completely why life is full of suffering and the best thing we can do is love each other and hang on.

More and more, we suspect that Katie has inherited my depression and anxiety. Not my proudest parenting moment. I'm proud that she inherited my funny face and my smile. I'm proud that she inherited my philosophical nature and my goofy sense of humor. I am not at all proud that I probably gave her the genetic propensity toward depression and anxiety.

Parenting is so hard. And, simultaneously, the most important work I've ever done. Maybe my job is to prepare Katie for this ambiguous life.

Anyhoo, her therapist and I suspect that Katie is gifted, and that she's experiencing what's called "existential depression." Here's a good overview of what that means:

"Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged. For example, why do we put such tight sex-role or age-role restrictions on people? Why do people engage in hypocritical behaviors in which they say one thing and then do another? Why do people say things they really do not mean at all? Why are so many people so unthinking and uncaring in their dealings with others? How much difference in the world can one person’s life make?

"When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns...

"...The reaction of gifted youngsters (again with intensity) to these frustrations is often one of anger. But they quickly discover that their anger is futile, for it is really directed at 'fate' or at other matters which they are not able to control. Anger that is powerless evolves quickly into depression."

Read the full article here.