Saturday, January 24, 2015

Basketball All-Star

In my defense, I was on drugs.

Not the fun kind. The kind my doctor tells me to take when I have a headache: over-the-counter, generic Excedrin Migraine, which is basically a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine. I took it before basketball practice, after I got up from a nap. This migraine that's been following me around all week pops up out of nowhere, makes me feel nauseous and cranky. The kind of cranky that comes from feeling like someone stabbed you in the head with a hatchet. I find that taking my meds and lying in bed with the lights turned off, surrounded by no sound, is the only thing that helps.

Mom tells me to wait it out. It's a thing some women experience in their forties. It'll pass once my hormones get themselves straighted out. Then I can look forward to developing osteoporosis and growing coarse grey hair out of the moles that will make an appearance after my fiftieth birthday. Ah, isn't aging fun? It's fan-freaking-tastic compared to the alternative.

So I had a headache and took some drugs and drove to the school for our scheduled practice time. I'd been feeling dizzy and pukey off and on all day, but once I stepped into the gym and started chatting with these girls I coach--this poor sad sack team that was so desperate for a coach they accepted me for the job--I forgot about my headache.

Three girls were out sick and others had other obligations, so we didn't have enough players for a decent game of scrimmage. Without thinking, I offered to play.

Let me remind you: I'm a short, fat, middle-aged librarian. I break a sweat when I take a brisk walk around the park during my breaks at work. My favorite "activities" are reading and writing. When it's time to cast my biopic, Kathy Bates and Roseanne will have to fight over the lead role.

And I'm fine with all that. I have no desire to work out three hours a day or pass on the dessert tray. I wasted too many years hating my body--from the time I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade til I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at age eleven til I finally gave up dieting in my early forties. Guess what finally changed my mind? A book. Sitting my ass down in a chair and reading my life story written by a doctor I'd never met but who saved my life. After I finished reading Dr. Linda Bacon's triumphant book, Health at Every Size, I vowed to give up dieting, move my body in pleasurable ways, and love myself.

Not only do I feel healthier and satisfied with myself, I've become a good role model for my eight-year-old daughter. I want Katie to love her body, to take care of herself, to avoid developing an eating disorder or an exorbitant need to follow fads and please others. It's a tough job raising a self-confident girl in our society. The only way I know how is to work on my own confidence.

So when the league emailed the parents asking for a volunteer to coach Katie's team, instead of rolling my eyes and deleting it, which was my knee-jerk reaction, I thought about it. I could coach a youth basketball team? Me?

Baller Becky, 7th grade


The question sounded less weird the more I thought about it. I used to play basketball. I was good. Really good. It was my game. I was on the all-star team two years in a row, and in seventh grade I won the layup contest at school by making 24 out of 25 layups. Then my boobs got too big and my bra didn't fit right and it became painful to run down the court. And it was so embarrassing. I was the guard, so it was my job to dribble down the court and either pass to an open teammate or score by going for the layup. I could feel my boobs bouncing, which made them sore, but it was nothing like the agony of feeling all eyes in the auditorium on my gargantuan boobs. I quit after seventh grade and never played again.

I grew up, my boobs got even bigger, and I forgot about playing basketball. I didn't miss it. I found many more obsessions to occupy my time. Thirty years flew by and my daughter needed a coach.

"I'll do it if you can't find anyone else," I wrote back to the league. Within five minutes they replied, offering me the job.

I have no clue what I'm doing, but I like to think it adds to my charm. The first step is showing up. I haven't missed a practice or a game all season. If a parent complains about my coaching ability, all I have to say is, "You wanna coach? Be my guest. If you think you know what's best, why didn't you offer to coach when they needed one? Now they don't. They've got me."

I've only had one girl's parents pull her from the team. At first two girls left, but suddenly, after we won our first game, the second girl started showing up to practices and games. We haven't won any more games since she came back, but so far she's sticking it out with me.

It's been a few months now. Other coaches might be better at teaching their girls the rules of the game and the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't get myself to care. I'm finally feeling more comfortable in my ability to teach these girls to love the game, and, if I'm lucky, to teach these girls to love themselves. That's not the goal of the league. That's my own personal goal.

"I'll be the guard on this team," I announced, pointing toward Katie and one other girl. Katie's by far the least skilled player on the team. She can shoot as long as no one is within ten feet of her to break her concentration. In other words, not at games, not at scrimmages. The other girl is a great ball handler and knows when to pass, but when it comes to making baskets she's not quite as skilled as the other two girls who were playing against them. I decided to get out on the court and help them out. Show the girls, especially my girl, some moves.

"Yeah! Coach is playing!" they all shouted. These girls are in third grade. They're just barely not babies anymore. They don't seem to care what we do as long as we do it together. I'm constantly amazed at parents who buy their children expensive gadgets to keep them occupied when so often kiddos would be just as happy if everyone just set down their devices for a bit and played a round of HORSE together.

"OK, girls! Watch out! The coach is IN THE GAME!" I shouted and smiled like a crazy person. The girls squealed with delight.

I manged to stay in the game for about five minutes, just long enough that I was starting to feel pleased with myself. I was thirteen again. The sweat tricked down my body and captured the breeze as I flew down the court, spinning around to avoid the other girls with their greedy hands. This ball is mine. This is my shot! I'm a star!

That's when I lost control of the ball. I could feel it all happening in slow motion. Just like last month when I twirled down a snowy slope as we made our way to our car after a ballet performance. I could feel myself falling, but I couldn't stop it. Is this going to be something else I get to look forward to in my forties, along with headaches? Am I going to need to start wearing a bracelet that pegs me as a "fall risk"?

Just before I fell, I knew I was running too fast, as if my inner momentum was saying yes, go forward but my outward body was saying nope, time to stop! My shoe caught funny against the carpeted gym floor. I fell down. Hard.  

My immediate thought was to place the blame on someone else. Who the hell puts carpet on gym floors? It's the carpet-layers' fault, not mine. But then I laid there for a moment, staring at the ceiling. Nope, I just got too cocky and it was time for my inner dork to sub into the game. I started to laugh.

"I'm okay! I'm okay!" I shouted from the floor. I heaved myself up, smiled and announced, "OK! Now, that was a demonstration on how NOT to do a layup."

We all broke into hysterics. It took several minutes for the girls to stop giggling. We're lucky no one peed on the floor.

I got back up and into the game. We played a few minutes more, and then it was time to go home. Katie and I were the last to leave. As we walked out the gym doors and into the hallway and headed toward the doors to the parking lot, I felt alive. I felt good. I could feel the blood pumping through my entire body and my headache was completely gone. In fact, despite my fall, I felt euphoric.

I'd missed it so much, that feeling you get after a good game of basketball. Like runners get their highs and lovers get their blissful drowsiness. If this isn't moving my body in pleasurable ways, I don't know what is.

The euphoria lasted all night til I woke up the next morning stiff and creaky and in pain. Oh yeah. I really am a short, fat, middle-aged librarian. No longer a basketball all-star.

But you know, so what? I'm not gonna quit this time. Get the ice packs and Ibuprofen and get back to bed! I slept like a teenager for the rest of the day, ignoring my responsibilities except for one: resting up for the next game like an all-star.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yusuf Islam's on my shit list?

“It is the most ambitious and driven among us who are the most sorely in need of having our reckless hopes dampened through immersive dousings in the darkness which religions have explored. This is a particular priority for secular Americans, perhaps the most anxious and disappointed people on earth, for their nation infuses them with the most extreme hopes about what they may be able to achieve in their working lives and relationships.” 

― Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion



Crap. I forgot about the boycott. I forgot I'm supposed to be mad at Yusuf Islam for jumping off his peace train. Deserter. Traitor. Hopping onto my shit list. Back when I was in my early adulthood, when I was nice and crazy, trying to find my way in the world, this asshole Yusuf Islam who had once been someone whose voice soothed me through the radio of my youth, made comments suggesting he agreed with the fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. When the singer I thought of as Cat Stevens jumped into the hot mess of a war between the Ayatollah Khomeini and author Salman Rushdie, I decided to bail. I mean, I like Cat Stevens' songs, but not as much as I dislike any beliefs that promote killing.  My brilliant friend Rachel reminded me this morning:

Yusuf Islam's comments in support of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie put him on the side of the violent Islamists, not any kind of Peace Train rider I want to ride with.

Oh yeah. I forgot.

It's hard to remember all the people who've pissed me off over the years. It's an embarrassingly large group. I'm pretty judgy about judgmental people. I like to think I'm righteously indignant, like Jesus, but if I'm honest with myself even I can see I'm simply hysterical. And not the good kind of hysterical. Not funny. Well, yeah, funny, but in a neurotic way. Like Woody Allen.

Oh, speaking of people who've pissed me off. This amazing filmmaker has the audacity to make one of my all-time favorite movies, "Annie Hall," and then he goes and gets accused of sexually abusing his daughter, who, to this day, insists she's telling the truth. How can I in good conscience, as a sexual abuse survivor, not side with Allen's daughter? For a long time after she first publicly accused him, I still went to see his movies. He's an artistic genius. Too bad he's a jerk, too. I can't do it anymore. I've boycotted his last several works.

That's the thing. We're so disappointing, humans. Our imperfection. Our proclivity toward fucking up. Oh, Dear God, we drive me crazy. That's why I love Jesus. It's easy to follow the advice of someone who never fucks up. "Love God. Love yourself. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!" Well, thanks, Jesus. It's easier said than done. You're the only one in the history of humanity who has not, in some way, disappointed me. You and maybe Fred Rodgers. It's easy to adore someone who has never disappointed you.

If I stop and think about it, I have a long list of people whose lives fill me with both adoration and disappointment. Some more than others. I'm number one on the list. Let me rattle off a few more off the top of my head, including a list of grievances.

Woody Allen (accused by his daughter of sexual abuse)
Bill Maher (Islamaphobic, intolerant of religious expression, misogynist)
President Obama (drone attacks that kill innocent people across the globe)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (lead the Civil Rights Movement while cheating on his wife)
My dad (narcissist)
My brother Pat (secrets, sexual abuse)
John Lennon (wife beater)
Anne Lamott (fat phobic)

Sorry, Anne Lamott. I had to throw a woman on the list. I had trouble thinking of women I admire who have disappointed me enough to go on my list. I mean, I could list all my ex-girlfriends, but my name would be on their list too, so why not call a truce? Am I not fazed as much by my disappointment in women because, as a woman myself, I understand them more?

Or maybe it's because I can't get past myself. I'm the quintessential disappointment. No other woman in the world could possibly disappoint more than I can! Game over.

I know one time I fucked up, a long time ago, but I still feel bad about it. My friend Rachel, the very one who reminded me that I was disappointed in Yusuf Islam, was getting married. I didn't like the guy she picked to marry. I thought he was smart, but show-offy. And not terribly kind. I mean, don't get me wrong. I like smart people. But if I had to pick between hanging out with a jerk with a high IQ or hanging out with a sweetie with a low IQ, I'd pick the sweetie. Every once in a while I'll meet someone who is both brilliant and kind, my friend Rachel, for example. That's what I've always admired about her the most. Brilliant and kind is such a rare combination of personality traits.

But I never said anything to Rachel about my disappointment in her choice of a spouse. Instead, I passively aggressively ditched Rachel at the gown fittings and only later, when she called to see where I was, admitted that I didn't want to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. And then I chickened out about my reason why:

No, it's not that I don't want to be in YOUR wedding. I don't want to be in anyone's wedding. I just don't like the idea of marriage, not yours specifically...

Rachel knows all this now. I finally grew up. Fessed up. I said I was sorry. We're good.

I think I'll take the advice of my brilliant and kind friend, Rachel. After reminding me of our long-ago falling out with Yusuf Islam, she said this:


I stopped boycotting Cat Stevens's music a few years ago -- dammit, I just love his music so much! I still boycott Yusuf Islam's music, and yes, I realize that the defunct Cat Stevens's royalties go to the new man, Yusuf Islam. But . . . I decided I couldn't go the rest of my life without listening to this, one of the most perfect songs ever, I think. 



Perhaps it's time I lifted my boycott on Cat Stevens' music, since I'd forgotten about it anyway. I've found it's easy to forgive and forget if you're forgetful.

It's too bad that Yusuf Islam, someone I think of as a peaceful brother, could favor following violent rules over peaceful intuition. Oh, but I could say that about so many people. Everyone I admire except maybe John Lennon, the wife-beater peace hero, would be on that list.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tongue Tied

***trigger warning: life***

It's really sunny outside. So bright the sun flickers through the dark brown shades. I keep them drawn so no one can look at me. In order to have a proper meltdown, one must find their happy place. For me, it's a dark small space. When I was a child, I'd hide in the closet. Today, I hide in my home with the dark brown shades drawn.

I thought about writing a memoir called Letter to Myself, which I'd write now as a forty-four year old suburban, white, middle-aged, midwestern, wife, mother, pet companion to my inner angsty adolescent. Me at thirteen. Hating everyone. Especially myself. Just. Wishing. The. Misery. Would. End.

The story of my depression is not an entirely depressing story. That thirteen year old girl had an amazing thing happen, which made life more bearable: I met a group of misfits. The friendless make the best friends. This group of punks and gay kids let me join their parties, their car rides, their Boone's Farm fueled conversations. It was one of the best worst times in my life.

Those misfits carried me through my miserable teen years until I was ready to put on my big girl underpants and carry my own weight. I got fat again. Which is good. I'd been anorexic when I was eleven. By thirteen, when I hated the world and everyone in it, I was eating again, but only to keep from being locked up in a mental hospital like my mom. She had two nervous breakdowns before I was even born.

"No matter what you do, don't upset Mom. You don't want to make her go back to the hospital, do you?" It was the threat my brother Pat said to me when I balked at licking his friend's penis. I was four. I was scared. I did not want to touch anything on Pat's friend. The game Pat and I played--the tickling, the Eskimo Kisses, the bouncing on his bed--they were grand. Like how you feel when old black and white movies come on TV when you're under the afghan on the couch and Mom brings in a tray of chicken noodle soup. That touch was comforting. It made me feel special.

But then, when Pat brought his friend into his room one afternoon after they got home from school, the game changed. Pat's friend lived in the house behind us, and although they looked about as different as two fourteen year olds could look--Pat hadn't reached his growth spurt yet, so he was still short and skinny, a dandelion just one blow away from being extinguished, his friend big and heavy--his first name was supplemented with the world "Fat" like "Fat Albert" that cartoon we used to watch on the living room TV. The one Bill Cosby made. You know, the dad-next-door. The celebrity with a string of women who have accused him of drugging and raping them.

You don't have to keep going if you can't. My feelings won't be hurt if you have to quit now. It's hard to witness secrets breaking.

But it's the only way I've found to survive. Telling a story and asking for help.

There I was, minding my own business reading gossip on my Facebook timeline when all of a sudden, I saw this...this. Horrible. Post:





I read it. What? I'm human. I come fully equipped with all human accessories, including a rubber neck. I could feel the steam rising inside me. I was in danger of becoming a cracked tea pot. Then, all of the sudden--black screen. It got quiet in the house. No more whirr of the laptop fan. God shut it down.

There, I said it. I've become one of those crazy people who believe in God. Soon you can catch my act on the nearest street corner.

But: such perfect timing. Like God was saying, "Nope! Woman, you do not have time for that bullshit today. You've got other shit to share..."

I like that God has a potty mouth. My God doesn't wear white robes. Life is too messy. My God looks more like The Dude. And God knows The Dude says fuck a lot.

OK, fine, God, if this is what you want me to do. Has my husband been talking to you lately? Sending requests that you fry my computer so I'll get off my ass and put the laundry away? Did my daughter complain to you that she's getting tired of PBJs every night for dinner because I'm too affixed to the screen? The screen that shows me such horrors as the comments section of any local newspaper and, also, allows me to blog hard, like I mean it. Where else would I find an audience to share my rabidly morbid, starkly honest, sad, sick tales but The Internet. Thank you God. Thank you Al Gore.

So I turned on the TV, not to watch it, but to stream the Joni Mitchell station on Pandora from our Roku. Even though I love the Internet, really anything that helps me communicate with my fellow human beings while I'm balled up on the couch in the safety of my own neurotic muck, I'm actually quite the Luddite. My eight-year-old daughter's classmates all got a smartphone from Santa it seems this past Christmas, while if you want to get a hold of my daughter you have to call me. And good luck with that. Both of my parents, all of my siblings, and every friend I've ever had will tell you it's impossible to get a hold of me. The best bet is face-to-face: you just happen to run into me at the store or at work or wherever it is I am. Second choice is via email, because after a couple days I'll read your message, think about my answer for a couple days, and with any luck respond to you within a week. Last choice is talking to me on the phone. To me, the phone is only used to call 911. And maybe occasionally The Thai Place for some chicken panang.

I hate talking on the phone. Talking doesn't come naturally to me. My mom says I was a late talker, two before I said much. My oldest brother Jay was in the middle of a funny story as he slipped out Mom's exit. My other siblings learned their twelve words by twelve months, some assessment level she'd read about in some baby book she'd checked out from the library. Mom was great at giving birth--pregnant six times, producing five live births. But when my brother Jay came along when she was nineteen, she had never touched a baby. She was the youngest, never around babies. Didn't babysit. Her mother was crazy, no role model she wanted to emulate. So Mom turned to books to learn how to take care of her babies. I'm forever grateful that my mom relied on her own instincts and recommendations from child care experts in books rather than taking parenting advice from her own mother. At the same time, even experts are wrong sometimes. The ones who recommended letting babies "cry it out" in their cribs alone at night. Tough love. Don't let 'em see you cry. If I'd had my druthers I'd have grown up today when doctors and scientists and religious healers prescribe attachment parenting, close physical contact, and unconditional love as the best way to raise a healthy child.

My own daughter, Katie, is eight years old and just so freaking wise. Exceptionally brave. I'm constantly shocked at how well-adjusted she seems to be, so far, having me for a parent.  I haven't screwed her up too much. Will's influence must be mighty to deflect my maternal neuroses.

Just this morning, Katie asked me if my brothers and sisters felt sorry for me.

"Why would they feel sorry for me?" I asked. We were in the car, on the way to school, after just having spent an hour awake together while Katie got ready and I drank a cup of coffee. Why does she always wait until the last minute to ask me such complex questions? Why does she ask me questions I don't know the answers to?

"Because you were sent to Weight Watchers when you were in third grade," she said, reminding me of the conversation she and I had, also inside the car, on the way back from visiting my dad in the hospital. She'd asked me if I'd ever been in a famine. Out of the blue. Apropos of nothing it seemed.

"You mean like in The Hunger Games?" I asked. My husband Will and I recently finished reading the trilogy and watching all three films that have been released so far. Katie is too young to read the books, both because of their length and lack of illustrations, and also because she's not ready to comprehend the violence inside them. But we let her watch the movies with us, even though they're rated PG-13. She's seen the later installments of Harry Potter too, and they have the same parental guidance rating. But Will and I know our daughter, and we know what she can and cannot handle. Now she can't stop talking about the story, asking us questions since we read the book and can fill her in on some of the back story the movies leave out.

"Yes, like the starving people who live in the districts," Katie said.

"No, I've never been in a famine. But I'd probably survive since I've got all this extra fat my body could use for energy when the food runs out." I laughed out loud at my own joke.

Katie laughed too, then she asked, "What does that mean?"

"Well, people who have slow metabolisms digest their food more slowly and we burn our energy more efficiently than people who have fast metabolisms, which means they digest their food quickly and burn lots of energy from their food instead of storing it as fat for later--"

"Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom!" Katie interrupted.

"What?" I stopped.

"If you lived in The Hunger Games you could probably survive," Katie said.

"Well, I dunno about that. I'm not very hearty. One of my favorite stories by David Sedaris is the one where he complains that his family is so fragile that if they were lost in the wilderness they'd shrivel away and die once they ran out of shampoo," I laughed.

Katie laughed too. Then she asked, "What does that mean?"

"I just mean that, like, my survivor skills are great for, you know, like talking about my feelings and stuff. But my survivor skills are lacking when it comes to living out in the wilderness. I don't know how to pitch a tent."

"But if you were starving your body would keep you alive if you lived in the district," Katie argued.

"Oh, yeah, I know what you're saying. Like how I survived anorexia."

Oh no! It came out of my mouth before I had time to think about what I was saying. Like the time I accidentally told Katie, who was then five, the plot to Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. When I mentioned the part about how the people were starving so much that they ate dirt just to fill their empty stomachs, she burst into tears and I had to console her with lies about how it's just a fiction book, not a true story at all, when really, someday soon she's going to figure out there's more truth in most fiction books than in real life. Life is too hard to face the truth. Sometimes you have to get your mind wrapped up in another story. Another song.

"What's anorexia?" Katie asked.

Oh, God! No. I'm not ready to have this conversation with Katie yet. I must be strong for her. I must not tell her my troubles. But if I really mean it when I said she can talk to me about anything, I guess that includes myself.

"Well, when I was young, when I was eleven, I was diagnosed with a mental illness called anorexia nervosa," I started. I didn't want to upset her with too many details.

I went on to tell her about how after my parents had sent me to Weight Watchers in third grade I had developed an obsession with dieting. I did not tell her that most girls who develop anorexia have been sexually abused. She is not ready. I am not ready to tell her about Uncle Pat and his friend. When I finished telling her as much as she and I both could handle, she was quiet for a minute. Then she said, "Mom. I'm sorry that happened to you. You did not deserve it."

I had to bite my lip to have something else to focus on besides the tears pooling inside my eyes.

"Thank you, Sweetie. But you don't need to worry about me. I got through it. I'm healthy now. And happier than I've ever been."

"Because you have me and Daddy?" Katie offered.

"Yes, but also because I have myself. I've worked really hard to figure out who I really am and to not feel bad about not being someone who others think I should be."

"Yeah!" The pity from Katie's voice had lifted.

"Yeah. So now I get to help other girls who are going through the things I went through. To teach people to love themselves just the way they are and to take care of themselves and to not hurt themselves."

"You're the Mockingjay, Mom!" Katie announced.

I couldn't help but laugh. "No, I'm flattered that you think so, but no. I'm not a fighter."

"Yes you are. You're a writer!" Katie said.

My cheeks hurt from so much smiling as we drove on the interstate home.

This morning, when Katie brought up the subject again, not only did we not have much time to discuss it, but I just don't want to go into too many details of my misery. I don't want Katie worrying over me like I spent too many years worrying over my own mother.

"Many people have a bad childhood, but most people get through it," I said, trying to deflect the subject onto people in general instead of me specifically.

"I'm sorry you had a bad childhood," Katie said.

"Well, thank you, Sweetie. You're very kind to be concerned. And when you're older and you can understand more I'll tell you more stories but for now just try to focus on the fact that I got through it. I might have had some bad things happen to me as a child, but that doesn't mean my whole life is bad. This is the best part of my life, right here, and I want to be here to help you have as good of a childhood as you can."

"My childhood is the best part of my life!" Katie exclaimed.

"Well, good," I said, not mentioning that childhood is the only part of her life she's lived.

I dropped Katie off at school and came home to write about our conversation. First, I logged on to Facebook to get caught up on my newsfeed. That's when I saw the horribly racist, Islamophobic post. Right when the computer shut down. I got up and went into the bedroom to tackle the five full baskets of clean laundry while the computer cooled off enough to write again.

Thanks a lot, God! Is this your way of telling me I need to do more housework? I thought you, of all deities, would be a feminist. You would understand my need to write during my time in the home alone. How could you reduce me to housemaid when all I want to do is read depressing news articles and write on my blog?

I hung up a couple of shirts before I remembered that this shit is more fun when I'm listening to good music. I went into the living room and brought up the Joni Mitchell station on Pandora.

That's when I heard it. This beautiful song:



Sometimes it's easier to figure out how you feel about something by listening to someone else's song. Just when I was starting to lose faith in humanity, God reminded me that we're not all bad.

It's rather disgusting that I feel compelled to remind the world of examples of our peaceful Muslim brothers such as Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens, who said this amazing thing:

"While on holiday in Marrakesh, Morocco, Stevens was intrigued by the sound of the Aḏhān, the Islamic ritual call to prayer, which was explained to him as 'music for God'. Stevens said, 'I thought, music for God? I'd never heard that before – I'd heard of music for money, music for fame, music for personal power, but music for God!'" --from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_Stevens

But I do feel compelled to talk about it. I feel like it's my duty as a Christian woman to defend my non-Christian brothers and sisters in the world. As a Presbyterian woman, I have more in common with this Muslim man than I do with some of my fellow Christians (see: Westboro Baptist Church members, et al), just as Yusuf Islam has more in common with me than he does with his Islamist fellow Muslims (see: Osama bin Laden, et al). We wish for peace. We long for love. We know that the best response to an internet troll is to kill them with kindness. The best comeback to an insult from your enemy is, "I love you," because what kind of asshole would say "no thanks" to that?

So I put some laundry away and listened to the Joni Mitchell station and I felt so much better. Thank you, God. You know how to remind me I'm not going it alone.

I took some clean hand towels into the kitchen to shut them away in their drawer when I picked up a scrap of paper--the same one I'd written my dad's hospital room number on last night when I returned his call. Rarely do I answer calls, but in cases of life or death, even a phone-slacker like me can pull her head from her navel long enough to return the call.

The problem is, my dad is mostly deaf. He began losing his hearing the year after I was born. I have no memories of my dad ever hearing me the first time I've said something to him. I blame him for my yelling streak, both because he's a good jerk to shout at, he doesn't just walk away or start crying like most people do, he fights the fire spewing from another's mouth with his own vocal volcanic eruption. But also because he simply can't hear me, and I can't talk loudly unless it sounds like I'm pissed off, so all of my conversations with my father sound like we're screaming at each other. I long ago quit worrying what people think of me as I'm yelling at this elderly man across the table from the Hometown Buffet. Judge me after you've lived with him.

So I somehow got through to him that yes, I'm Becky, yes, his daughter Becky not his dancing partner Becky, and yes, I'll stop by for a visit.

I brought Katie with me. We visited. It was unremarkable. It was good.

I still feel weird that my relationship with my dad has improved so much. As Katie pointed out the last time we saw him, "I don't know why you say Grandpa was so bad when you were growing up. I think he's pretty nice."

"Yeah, he is, now. That's what sucks about it. Now people won't believe me that he was such a sucky father!"

Katie and Will laughed at me, and I laughed at myself, because what else do you do when you're life's pretty good and pretty fucked up at the same time? Laughter is uncomfortable gladness that life moves on even when we don't feel ready.

I picked up a scrap of paper--the same one I'd written my dad's hospital room number on last night when I returned his call--and I prayed. Not out loud. Not stuck inside my head. From inside myself and through my fingertips, turning these squiggly symbols into words and thoughts and feelings and experiences so that I could do the simple thing that is also the hardest: ask for help.

This is what I wrote on the crumpled piece of paper with my dad's hospital room number jotted sloppily on it. Dad will be released from the hospital today so he can make his dance tomorrow. The old man will be eighty-eight in April, on April Fool's Day if you believe that. And still, he makes it to every dance he can make it to. How did Dad go from being a jerk, a pain in my neck, someone I blamed my problems for to this harmless old man, in a backless nightgown sitting in the hospital waiting for his doctor's OK to go to his next dance. Like a kid waiting for fifteen minutes after lunch before his mom lets him dive into the pool.

I get so distracted by thoughts as I try to navigate through life. I thank God for these distractions.

OK, here's my prayer. Finally.

(while listening to Mama Cass Elliot's "Dream a Little Dream of Me")

Sometimes God interferes by shutting down my computer so I am forced to fold the laundry and listen to Mama Cass. Reminding me to look outside myself from time to time. If I were a drag queen my name would be Missin Dependent.

Dear God, I'm lousy at praying. I can never think of what to say. It's all too BIG and too IMPORTANT. It makes me feel tongue tied. Some people speak in tongues while in the presence of God. I get tongue tied.

Two of my favorite books--Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and The Color Purple--have protagonists who write to God. It sounds cheesy even to me, and I have a high tolerance to ridiculous displays of religious expression. I'm the one who waves and smiles at the crazy street corner preachers.

Writing to God? Gimme a break. Why not just write to yourself? A diary to you, the one who pulled you through life's messes, right?

I don't know anymore. And that's when most people I know find God. When we just don't know anymore.

God, I think the reason I want to write you a letter is because I'm afraid I might crack if I reveal too many secrets to myself. I need a dispassionate third-party to weigh in on this ambiguous life. Maybe that's the trinity? God, Me, and My Inner Spirit. All along I'd been taught that the trinity is God, The Holy Spirit (implying, not me), and Jesus. That is just too much for my tiny human brain to comprehend, which is a nice way of saying bullshit, that doesn't make sense. So I simplified it. To me, I see no difference in God and Jesus. To me, they are the idea and the human symbol of love. Jesus came into our hearts and has hung out in our thoughts for over two thousand years because he wasn't afraid to speak the truth. He had found Nirvana. And so has Kurt Cobain. God doesn't shove away depressives and drug addicts. God's grace is most noticeable among the needy. Like me. I think I'm ready to allow myself a crack up. Oh look, Becky's gone looney toones. Looks like it's time to up her meds.

I'll get so much writing done when everyone gives me a pass, because that's what we do for our harmless mentally ill brothers and sisters, and in this case fathers and mothers too. We give them a pass. We give ourselves a pass. We say fuck it, this is going to be just fine. Lock me up if you want to. As long as you don't take away my writing implements it's going to be just fine.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Haymitch

***Hunger Games spoiler alert***

"I really like Haymitch, even though he drinks too much alcohol," my eight-year-old Katie announced from the backseat of the car, seemingly out of nowhere. We were in line to drop her off at school. It was too cold and windy for our spoiled suburban asses to walk, so we got in line with the other parents who had the same idea. We hadn't been talking about The Hunger Games, or alcohol, or anything related to the subject, but I long ago gave up asking what Katie's comments have to do with anything in the present moment.

"Yeah, me too," I said, meeting her eyes in my rear-view mirror. "You know why he drinks so much, don't you?"

"No, why?"

"He drinks to numb the pain."

"What pain?"

"Well, you know, he won the Hunger Games when he was younger, that's how he gets to be the mentor for Katniss and Peeta. So, can you imagine how awful it would be to live your life knowing you've killed other kids?"

"They're not kids. They're teenagers," Katie corrected me.

"Teenagers are kids, just big kids. So Haymitch drinks so he doesn't feel so awful all the time about what an awful life he's had," I explained.

"Oh. Why don't the other victors drink, too?" Katie asked.

Katie's questions are getting harder and harder to answer as her thinking becomes more complex. "Well, everybody handles their pain differently. Abusing alcohol is not a healthy way to deal with your pain, but it's a very common way. Those other victors from--was it District Six?--were addicted to morphling, which is a made up drug, but it sounds a lot like morphine, which lots of people use for pain control in the real world today. But some choose not to dull the pain, but to use it to fight the cause of the pain, like Katniss with The Capitol."

"I think I'd drink alcohol, too, if I were in The Hunger Games," Katie said.

"Yeah, well it's good to try to understand why people do unhealthy things, but if you're ever in that kind of pain I'd hope you'd talk to me or Daddy so we could get you some help that's not going to harm your body. I've known too many alcoholics in my life. I'd really appreciate it if you not become one yourself," I smiled.

"Yeah, like Uncle Pat?" Katie asked. Katie was just four when my brother died of liver failure.

"Exactly," I said. "Uncle Pat was not a bad person, just like Haymitch is not a bad person. Many alcoholics are kind, caring people who just don't have the strength to fight to make this world a better place. But you're not like that, are you?" I asked, glancing back at Katie. "You're more like Katniss. I'm not worried about you," I said, wishing I really meant it. Maybe if I pretend I don't constantly worry about her, Katie will keep charging ahead bravely.

"Yeah!" Katie said, opening her door. We'd finally arrived at the drop off spot. "I'm like Katniss. I'm not going to be an alcoholic when I grow up!"

One of the teaching assistant's was standing there, holding the door for Katie. She'd obviously heard just the last statement Katie'd made, which when you think about it is a pretty odd statement for a third grader to make at 8:00 in the morning. She gave me a strange look and said in a robot voice, "Have a nice day."

I smiled awkwardly and said, "You, too." Then I called out to Katie, who was already half-way to the front door, "Have a great day, Punky!" I looked back at the teaching assistant and started to explain myself, but she shut the door before I got a chance.

It wasn't until hours later in the day, when I looked at the calendar, that I realized it was January14th. Four years exactly to the day since my brother Pat had passed away. There's no way Katie could have known, and yet, somehow, it's as if she did.






Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vegetarianish

I'm not a vegetarian, just vegetarianish. I occasionally eat meat such as chicken breasts (off the bone), smoked turkey (to mask the gamy taste), some fish such as tuna/salmon/tilapia (if it's smothered in sauce or garlic encrusted or prepared in some such taste-altering way), ham if my husband goes to the effort to cook it (because I want to be supportive), and bacon, (because, come on, I'm only human). But the last time I ate red meat was December 31, 1989. Before some of you were even born.

I don't miss it at all. In fact, although I love most veggie burgers made from black beans and whole grains, I don't like Boca burgers because they are too greasy and beefy tasting. Yuck. I don't understand fake meat. If I wanted to taste greasy meat I'd eat a hamburger.

I gave up meat altogether at first, then I went back and forth eating some flesh and then not eating any flesh at all, then eating some flesh again. Kinda like how I'm bisexual instead of all-the-way gay. I've also never been a vegan. I love cheese too much. And yogurt. And ice cream. Oh. My. Gosh. How could anyone live without ice cream? I've known lactose intolerant people who gladly put up with the ridicule that comes with being Farty McFartypants just to indulge in an occasional ice cream cone.

I admit the reason I first gave up meat has nothing to do with health or the environment. I first gave up eating meat for the same reason I dyed my bangs blue and stopped shaving my legs when I was a teenager: because it was cool. My favorite novelists and songwriters at the time were vegetarian. Author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker. Michael Stipe of REM. Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs. Morrissey of The Smiths. k.d. lang. The Indigo Girls. I wanted to be cool like them.

After I'd been meat-free for a couple of years I found myself inside the office of our local Greenpeace Action. I'd seen an ad in the paper for summer jobs so I went in to apply. I was on break from college, living with my girlfriend. I drove a 44 MPG Ford Festiva and recycled my cans. I was a veritable hippie by late '80s-early '90s standards. But I still didn't know much about environmentalism generally or Greenpeace specifically. The real reason I applied is because the ad mentioned that they offered benefits to not just the Greenpeace staffers but also the spouses and cohabitants of the staffers, regardless of gender. Woah! They'd pay for my girlfriend's health insurance?! That is so freaking cool!

I didn't work there long enough for the benefits to kick in. Our job was to canvass neighborhoods, asking people to sign petitions and donate money to the cause. I had too many doors slammed in my face. Too many scary old men scream at me to get off their property. One day this guy scared me so much I literally walked off the job, right then and there. It would be at least an hour before my boss would come pick me up, and these were the days before cell phones, so I just hoofed it. It felt good to break free, to walk off the anxiety.

My girlfriend was a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant about seven miles west of where I'd been canvassing. When I first began walking, my destination was home, about eleven miles west of where I was. Then I remembered my girlfriend was working that day, so I decided to pay her a visit and catch a ride home with her. If I timed it correctly, I'd make it in about 2 1/2 hours, right about when she'd get off work.

I was tired and sore by the time I plopped my ass down in a booth at her restaurant, but I also felt euphoric and alive. I hadn't walked that far since I'd been an anorexic eleven year old, and I'd forgotten how much I got off on the endorphin high. To this day, there are few things that pick me up when I'm feeling anxious or depressed as much as a long walk.

Two months before I abruptly quit my job, I sat in the Greenpeace Action office on 39th and Wyoming in Kansas City, filling out new-hire paperwork. I sat with a clipboard on my lap, trying to remember my phone number. My girlfriend and I had moved around so much, and this was back when we only had landlines that got switched with each new address, that I often had trouble remembering my own phone number. I could remember the childhood phone number we hadn't used since my family moved when I was six. I still to this day can remember it: 279-2580. Mom must have drilled it into my head in case I ever got lost or something. But the phone number at my current address? Uh, um...

I looked up from my paperwork. I must have looked stumped because my new boss asked me if he could help me with anything.

"Well, this is embarrassing, but I can't remember my phone number," I admitted. I glanced over at a poster on the wall. It pictured a long-lashed cow chewing her cud in a field of golden grain with a beautiful blue sky in the background. Around the poster it listed the top ten reasons to Go Vegetarian!

While my eyes were still fixed on the poster, my new boss said, "That's OK. You know, they say Einstein didn't know his own phone number. When someone would ask for it, he'd say, 'why should I fill my brain with unnecessary information when I can simply look it up in the phone book?'"

I briefly glanced over at my new boss, thinking, is this guy for real? I was used to bosses who ridiculed my forgetfulness, not bosses who compared me to the guy whose last name means genius. I think I'm gonna like this job.

"Here, let me go get you the phone book," my new boss said. He sprung up from his swivel chair and left the room. As I watched him walk out the door, the Go Vegetarian! poster once again caught my eye.

"Number 8: Cow farts contribute to global warming."

I laughed out loud. My new boss could probably hear me. He probably thought I was high. Although I wasn't at all, this was the first job I had where getting high might actually get me somewhere in the organization. I suspected as much when I'd used the restroom earlier and saw the sign above the toilet that said, "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Mellow? The only people I'd ever known who used that word carried roach clips in their pockets.

"What's so funny?" my new boss asked as he reentered the room. He was smiling like, hey, don't leave me out of the joke!

"Oh, I was laughing at that poster."

His smile dropped. My new boss looked like I'd hurt his feelings. "Methane gas is a serious problem in our country. The more people go vegetarian, the better for the environment," he explained.

"Oh, yes," I agreed. "It's just, you know...cow farts are funny." I smiled awkwardly and looked down at my Birkenstocks when my new boss wouldn't stop staring at me like I was an idiot. He's right. I never said I was an Einstein.

Despite my boss' humorlessness, Greenpeace would have been a great place for me to work if it weren't 1991. Back then, mainstream suburbanites in our metro area, the ones who had enough money to donate, were not nearly as concerned with saving the environment as they are today. I remember a friend of mine saying that although he loved k.d. lang's voice, he threw away his cassette tape of "Angel with a Lariat" when he saw the ad for Peta that k.d. lang did:


KD Lang's PETA Ad by PETATV

The sad thing is, I didn't even question the guy for his ridiculous reason to stop listening to a great singer. I didn't dare. These were the dark days when you rarely spoke of your vegetarian ways, let alone outed yourself as gay.

Not today. There has never before been a time in history that being gay is such a non-issue to so many people. Yes, there are still people who hate gays, but now they're the ones in the closet. If you heard someone sneer, "What are you some kind of homosexual or something?" back when I was twenty the answer was a definite no, whether you were or not. Today the answer, whether you're gay or not, is a resounding, "What, are you some kind of homophobe?"

Same with vegetarianism. I read today that the United States government is thinking about changing their recommendations for a healthy diet to encourage people to eat less meat. It's the first time they're considering it based on environmental issues and not just human health. Health for the entire planet.

Wow, we've come a long way.

Today I can go to practically any chain restaurant and order a veggie burger. Even one that tastes good. If you're in the neighborhood, I recommend Chili's mushroom and Swiss on a black bean burger. Whether you're a vegetarian or not.

When I gave up beef in 1990, servers would look at me funny when I'd order a cheeseburger with no meat.

"So, you want a grilled cheese sandwich?" They'd ask, cocking one eye.

"Oh, I didn't see the grilled cheese on the menu," I'd say, scanning it again.

"Well, it's not. But what you're saying is you want a hamburger with no hamburger?" They'd say, still not getting it.

"No, a cheeseburger without the meat. A meatless cheeseburger. I mean, if you want to grill it and call it a grilled cheese sandwich, that's great, but I was just trying to make it easier on you since I didn't see any vegetarian items on the menu." I'd say.

They'd nod and smile and walk away like I must be on leave from the mental hospital.

Once a kind waiter offered to help me find something I'd eat. "Oh, you're a vegetarian? We have vegetable soup!" He said.

"Oh yeah, and it's meat-free?" I asked to make sure.

"Of course! It's vegetable soup!" he assured me.

So I gobbled it down. It wasn't until I paid and got my receipt from the cash register which said "vegetable beef soup" that I realized my mistake in assuming everyone knows what vegetarian means. So I guess that means I have eaten beef broth since 1989. Accidentally.

Oh! And one time on purpose. I remember when Katie was born. I was famished afterward. I'd spent most of my time in labor puking out my guts, but as soon as that baby was out of my body I became ravenously hungry. It was in the middle of the night and the kitchen wasn't open yet, so the nurse brought me what they had in the mini fridge at the nurse's station: beef broth and green jello, you know, made with gelatin, which comes from hooves.

I didn't care. I ate it. And it was the most delicious meal I've ever had. It's just that now that I'm not starving, it doesn't sound appealing. As I tell Katie, who is now 8 and often asks me why I don't eat beef, if I were starving I would eat just about anything. Your body has amazing powers to overcome strong distaste when your blood sugar drops. But if I were starving and my only options were a steak or a dirty turnip pulled from the earth, I'd pick the turnip. Not because it's "healthier". Not because it's more humane. People who say they don't eat meat because they have too much respect for life are not considering that turnips have roots and when you eat them they are no longer living. Also, I'm a dog lover, and anyone who loves dogs cannot in good conscious call themselves an animal lover because dogs are unkind to small fuzzy creatures. My sweet, innocent fur-kids turn into wild beasts as they sink their teeth into a freshly caught squirrel, or even worse, a baby bunny. You simply cannot love dogs and be too squeamish about the circle of life.

The reason I'm vegetarianish is as simple as this: I prefer vegetables to beef. It started out because I thought eating that way was cool. Then I felt good about the environmental benefits to vegetarianism. Then I liked how eating low on the food chain gives me the most energy and keeps my cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure low. But honestly, it's just a matter of taste. Some people prefer beef. Some people prefer turnips. Some people prefer men. Some people prefer women. And our tastes can change over time. I loved hamburgers and hot dogs when I was a kid. Now? Uh, no thanks.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Approachability

God is nudging me to make friends. You know, like, in real life. Not Facebook friends. Not just people I say hi to and smile at as I pass them in the halls at work or at church or at the grocery store or at Katie's school, or wherever I routinely see people whose faces I instantly recognize but whose names I don't know. God wants me to talk to people. About things. You know. Like people do. Nothing too fancy or deep. Just, you know, what's going on in your life, what's going on in mine.

When I was a little kid, it was easy to make friends. I remember just walking straight up to other kids and saying "you wanna play" and they'd say "sure" and then we'd be friends. Just like that. No big deal. Easy peasy.

Over time I've grown self-conscious and awkward. It's not that I have a low opinion of myself. It's that I have a low opinion of new social situations and my ability to fit in. On more than one occasion I've had friends tell me that they were surprised by how nice I am once you get to know me.

I'm back on my meds now, and they help. I take sertraline for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It helps with social anxiety too. But when you've spent your entire adulthood more or less trying to avoid uncomfortable social situations, it's difficult to change your ways.

Social media has helped big time. I'm much more open online than I am one-on-one. I'm super spacey and I like to think before I remark, so a written conversation is much easier for me than a verbal one. It's hard for me to know what to say to people because when they talk I don't want to interrupt them, so if I think of something to say I hold on to it and then I lose it by the time it's my turn to say something.

"Uh, I forgot what I was gonna say," is a phrase I say during most of my conversations with other humans.

Approachability - my word of guidance for 2015
Star Sunday at GCPC

So it was funny when I pulled a paper star from the basket we were passing around the pews in celebration of Epiphany. I picked yellow because there weren't any purple. As soon as I passed the basket to the girl sitting next to me, I flipped my star over and read what my nudge is this year: approachability.

 Here's a blurb from my church that explains what these stars are all about:

Join us for a favorite Grace Covenant tradition: “Star Sunday.” On Epiphany Sunday, January 11, we remember the Magi (the 3 wise men—or “kings” with their gold, frankincense and myrrh) who followed a star all the way to the manger. During the service, everyone receives a star bearing one word of guidance for 2015. You do not have to be wise or a king to have one of these stars. You do not need to bear any gifts yourself. You do not even need to be a member. Just come to worship January 11 and get your own star....

So my word of guidance for 2015 is "approachability". Hmm. How do I do that?

As any socially awkward person would do, I asked the internet. I turned to WikiHow. They actually have some good advice:

http://www.wikihow.com/Be-More-Approachable

As I was reading their recommendations, I kept thinking, "but when I do these things I feel like such a fraud". When I'm having a good conversation with someone I don't know well I feel like shouting, "oh yeah, you think I'm so nice and funny now, but it's all a sham! Once you find out how nice and crazy I can get, you'll think twice about befriending me!"

The evening after I got my star, I forced myself to socialize with a group of people I don't know very well in real life, other mothers of kids who are in the choir at our church. As the kids were rehearsing, the five of us sat in comfy chairs and chit chatted. Yes, me, too. And you know what? It was nice.

At first when I saw the four of them sitting there I said hi and smiled and walked by. I've become Facebook friends with three of them since I joined the church last spring, but I barely know them in real life. It's a big church and it's easy for a socially awkward person like me to scoot out as soon as church is over without hanging around to talk to anyone.

I started to head out the door toward the parking lot when I realized I only had about forty minutes left until Katie's choir practice would be over. By the time I drove home I'd just have a few minutes before I'd have to turn around and come back. What a waste of gas.

So, between God's nudge and my own frugality, I decided to stay. I felt like finding a hidden corner somewhere to do one of my favorite activities--sitting and staring at the wall--but I decided to be brave and go talk to the other mothers.

"May I sit with you guys?" I asked.

"Of course!" they said.

So I did. And we talked. About our families--our aging parents, our young children. About our daily lives--how to cram all our duties into our jam-packed schedules. We discussed whether or not being chronically late is just a sign of a flaky personality or if it's a sign of depression and we need to up our meds. We complained to each other about things that might seem small to people who don't devote their lives to the care of small children--how difficult it is to get our older kids to wash and brush their hair, how babies inevitably poop in the tub, how wonderful it is when the kids have a sleepover and we get to go on a date with our spouses, even if it's nothing fancier than dinner and a movie and maybe a couple of beers.

The time flew by and soon the kids started flooding out of the sanctuary and into our arms. All the kids were talking to their moms and I didn't want to interrupt. I started to feel anxious. So I collected Katie and left without having a chance to say, "goodbye" or "thanks for the conversation". I felt both energized by the good conversation and disappointed in myself for my impolite exit. I gave myself a little pep talk on the drive home.

Good job. Way to put yourself out there. Next time just take a few breaths and stay put til you can say goodbye.

When we got home I felt like taking a break before starting dinner, so I sat in my comfy chair and logged onto Facebook.

There was a message from one of the women in our little group of mothers saying how much she enjoyed visiting with us. We all agreed.

As someone who has struggled with depression and PTSD most of my life, little things like visiting with my fellow human beings can seem like such an overwhelming challenge. So moments like this, I feel proud of myself for having he guts to override my knee-jerk reaction to hide away and instead step up and announce: challenge accepted.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brady Moved Away

"What if I forget their names?"

It was the first thing out of Katie's mouth. No "good morning." No "what's for breakfast?" No "mom get off the toilet so I can pee!"

It was the first day back to school after winter break. Katie had been complaining all semester about how much harder third grade is than second grade, but after less than three weeks of winter break, she was jonesin' to go back. There are only so many times a person--even an eight-year-old--can watch iHasCupquake play a game where she throws poo into a toilet before their brain needs a little more stimulation.

"What if you forget whose names?" I yawned.

"What if I forget my classmates' names?" Katie said. She sounded annoyed, like I should be able to read her mind.

"Why would you forget your classmates' names?" I asked, heading down the hall toward the kitchen. I could tell where this conversation was leading, but I was going nowhere til I got a cup of joe.

"Because it's been so long since I've seen them!" Katie said, following me into the kitchen.

"It's only been two weeks--"

"THREE weeks," Katie interrupted.

"Well, two-and-a-half--"

"No, THREE! It's been three weeks since I've been to school," Katie argued.

"Why are you so upset, Punk? I thought you were excited to go back to school," I said.

"I am, but I'm sad about it, too,"

"Why do you feel sad?" I asked.

"Because Brady won't be there!" Again, the duh tone.

Brady. Oh yes, I remember. On the last day of school before winter break, I was in their classroom, helping out as a room parent during their winter party. I had brought sugar cookies and tons of icing and toppings so the kids could decorate their own cookies. This ingratiated me to Katie's classmates. I had a hard time hearing everything they were saying since they were all trying to talk to me at the same time.

"You mean WE get to decorate our own cookies?" they said. Here I thought I was just being lazy and making them do all the work.

After decorating cookies, everyone returned to their own desk except for Brady. He stood by my side nearly the whole time I was there, talking to me and packing up his cubby for winter break. I guess some kids are more tidy than others. I'm sure Katie will just leave all her crap in her cubby and deal with it when she gets back in January.

I recognized Brady as the boy who used to aggravate Katie in first grade. She'd come home from school and tell me stories of how they'd get into fights, how Brady would lose his cool and start tipping over tables and chairs in the classroom, how he had to go talk to the social worker pretty much every day to sort through his uncontrollable anger and frustration.

By second grade someone had figured out that Brady is allergic to most everything: wheat, dairy, soy, nuts. "Do they have any nuts?" Katie would ask as I'd pull her birthday cupcakes out of the oven. "Brady can't have nuts," she'd remind me. I overheard Brady's step-mom tell the teacher that Brady's been a lot calmer since they changed his diet and "switched his meds".

Before I had a kid, I was always one of those people who complained about our society's proclivity toward throwing pills at a problem child. Now that I'm on meds myself to treat PTSD and clinical depression, which I've had since I was four, I wonder how my life might have been different if I had the medicines available to kids today. I might have been able to get to class without sobbing uncontrollably in the bathroom day by day. Or maybe not. But still, it would have been worth a try. I no longer begrudge anyone their meds. Whatever treatment works.

By third grade, Katie and Brady had become good friends. Katie sometimes has trouble controlling her temper too. They're both smart and funny and too mature for their age. It made sense. They understood each other. I was happy to hear the stories Katie would bring home from school since Brady had evolved from "the bad boy" in first grade to "my friend" in third.

"Well, I guess this is it," Brady said, swinging his backpack over his shoulder. I had begun packing up the leftovers. The office had just made an announcement over the intercom that the winter parties were over, everyone have fun on their break, and parents hurry and get out to your cars in the circle drive that are blocking traffic.

"What is 'it'?" I asked. Katie had made her way over to where we were standing, which was right in front of her cubby. She began to put her coat on and shove the remains of her candy into her backpack.

"I guess this is goodbye," Brady said. He's a funny kid. He talks too much like a grownup, just like Katie does.

"OK, goodbye. Happy holidays," I said. I patted Katie on the back, "Katie will see you next year!" I could tell my joke was lame as soon as the words left my mouth. Both eight-year-olds looked at me like I'm a total dork.

"No, Mom. I won't see him next year," Katie said.

"I don't mean in a year. I mean next year--2015--in a couple of weeks when you guys come back to school," I explained.

"No, Mom. This is Brady's last day. He's not coming back," Katie explained.

My first thought was surely they don't send third graders to military school, and anyway, I thought Brady's behavior had improved. "Why aren't you coming back?" I asked, looking at Brady.

Brady looked at his shoes. It was the first time I'd ever seen him avoid eye-contact. He's not like many kids their age who are shy around adults they don't know well. "I'm going to school in Topeka next semester. My family can't afford our house anymore so we're moving in with my grandma," he said.

"Oh no!" I said, too loudly, before thinking. I forget sometimes that as an adult I'm not supposed to overreact to every little thing. I was always the mom at the playground who rushed to her kid's aid whenever she'd fall. Or sneeze. Or look bored. Other parents would sit on the benches and yell, "you're fine!" when their kiddos would fall off the swing and start to cry. I'd sit there and dart my eyes back and forth between the tough parents and their kids, wanting to rush over and console the child but knowing that's not my place. More often than not, the kid would get up and stop crying and go back to playing. Tough little buggers. Katie, on the other hand, would need to talk about it for 30 minutes after she'd trip over a twig and twist her ankle. I knew my oversensitivity was rubbing off on her, but I couldn't force myself to care. I'm of the opinion that we need more sensitivity in this world. It's rough out there. Yes, it's my job to teach my kid how to take care of herself, but I can accomplish that better through empathetic parenting rather than tough love. Maybe. I hope. Now that Katie's eight she's finally learned how to shout "ouch" instead of crying every time she stubs her toe.

Katie and Brady were looking at each other like they didn't know what else to say or do. Should they hug? Should they just take off with a simple "goodbye".

"I'll be back to visit. Probably." Brady said. "My aunt still lives here so we'll come visit her."

I didn't say that generally when you visit your aunt that does not entail a visit to your former school. I could tell by both their faces they already knew that. Too smart. Too mature for their age.

"Well, I sure hope we see you around, Brady," I said. "It's been nice getting to know you, and I know Katie really appreciates what a great friend you've been," I said. I had to stop when I felt tears pooling in my eyes.

"Yeah, see you around," Brady said, looking at me, then Katie.

"Bye, Brady. I'll miss you," Katie said.

We turned and walked out the door. It was time to get my car out of the circle drive so the other parents could collect their kids.

I'd forgotten all this before Katie brought it up again the morning before school resumed. Oh yeah, Brady won't be there, I remembered as I filled my mug with coffee. Poor Katie, I thought. How can I help her get over this loss? Especially with my own hangups about losing friends.

My family moved from St. Joseph, Missouri to suburban Kansas City, Missouri when I was six, one month after first grade started. I was so miserable at my new school, my teacher wrote on my report card at the end of the year that I still cried too much. Ugh, she was such an awful teacher:

"I have enjoyed having Rebecca in my class.  She has been a good worker.  She is still easily upset and cries at nothing, but is doing better as we only have tears once in awhile.  I think if everyone would discourage her instant outbursts she will learn to tell her problems without crying first."  --Priscilla Nairn, first grade teacher, May 30, 1978

She didn't even bother to check to see if I have a nickname. I felt like saying, "It's BECKY" every time she'd call me Rebecca, but instead I'd just burst into tears. No one but Mrs. Nairn and one of my crazy ex-girlfriends has ever called me Rebecca.

As you can see, I'm still not over it. At any given time, I cannot find my car keys, my driver's license, my wedding ring, or my glasses.  But I went right to the spot where I keep my first grade report card.  Don't all forty-four year olds?

I cut back on crying enough to make a few friends. By sixth grade I was loaded with them. School friends. Neighborhood kid friends. I had friends out the wazoo. Then, the summer before seventh grade, my dad announced that he'd gotten a new job in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb about 30 minutes away. My siblings had all moved out of the house by then, so it was just me, Mom, and Dad when we moved. To this day I don't understand why my dad didn't just commute. When he worked in downtown Kansas City, his drive took about twenty minutes anyway, so I don't see how shaving ten minutes off your morning commute was worth uprooting the family yet again, especially since Dad was always up by 5am anyway. It's not like he had to deal with traffic. And God knows he had to deal with a super-sensitive kid.

When we had Katie, I told my husband I didn't want to move once she started kindergarten. I always wanted to be one of those kids who lives in the same house and grows up with the same friends until they head off for college. I wanted to provide this type of stability for our kid, too.

The problem is, every close friend Katie has made since kindergarten has either moved away or started homeschooling. So even though we still live in the same house, and Katie goes to the same school, she's losing her friends. I realize now instead of sheltering Katie from the realities of life by staying in one home, I must prepare her for how to deal with change.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and leaned against the kitchen counter. "That's right," I said to Katie. "Brady's moving to Topeka."

"Yeah!" she said like now you get it! "How come all my best friends move away?"

"Well, we live in tough economic times, Hon. People move around a lot. It's something you're going to have to learn how to deal with, losing friends and making new friends. I know how hard it is. You've heard me talk about how my family moved around a lot and how much I hated it," I said.

"Yeah," she agreed.

"But I got through it. And you'll get through it, too. You just have to learn how to make new friends," I said like it's such an easy thing to do.

"I'm not good at making friends," Katie frowned.

"Your problem is you expect your friends to be just like you, and there aren't too many people in this world who are just like you," I poked her in the belly and she giggled. "You're a unique person, very bright, very sensitive--"

"Yeah, and my classmates are so immature!" Katie complained. It's hard not to laugh at a person with an eight-year-old body who talks like this, but oh no, I won't do that. Once Katie came home from school fretting, "I wish kids my age had MORE EMPATHY." I had to point out to her that she was lacking empathy for them. "Most kids your age don't even know what that word means," I teased.

"So what if they're immature?" I asked. "You love to play with the little four-year-olds at church," I reminded her.

"Yeah, I like little kids," she said.

"And you like to play with older kids, too," I said.

"Yeah, just not kids my age," she said.

"That's because you're expecting them to be you instead of themselves. You know, you don't have to have everything in common with someone to enjoy their company."

"I know, but I can't find any company of theirs to enjoy!" Katie growled.

Don't laugh, don't laugh, don't laugh. "Well, I bet if you try, you'll find something you like about everyone. Even if it's small. Like, you both like cookies. Or you both like Minecraft--"

"Minecraft's not small!" Katie argued.

"I mean, you don't have to sit around and talk about deep things with other kids. You don't have to always talk about "mature" things. You can talk to people about anything," I said, feeling like a fraud. I hate small-talk, too.

After Katie didn't respond, I decided to give her some examples. "Let's say you see Mia at recess. What does Mia like?" I asked.

"Just a bunch of girly things. She's really sassy!"

"Well you have that in common!" I laughed.

"No, I mean she likes to walk around like she's wearing a lot of jewlery and she talks like she's a movie star or something...that kind of sassy."

"Well, does Mia like cookies?" I asked.

"Mom. Who doesn't like cookies?" Katie peered over her glasses to look at me.

"That's what I mean. Talk to her about cookies. Tell her about the cookies you had over the holidays--"

"Mom," Katie started to argue, but I cut her off.

"I know! Ask her how her winter break was. Tell her what you got for Christmas and then ask her what she got for Christmas."

"What if she doesn't celebrate Christmas?"

I remember when Katie was about five and she asked me why not everyone had Christmas lights up on their house. When I explained to her that not everyone celebrates Christmas, she was shocked. Now she's using her multicultural awareness against me.

"Then ask her if she celebrates something else, or what was her favorite thing about winter break."

"Mom, can I ask Adrienne or Emily--or anyone else these questions?"

"Sure. I'm just using Mia as an example because I've heard you talk about her."

"Good, because I don't think Mia and I will ever be friends."

"Well, that's OK. Just remember: you don't have to like everyone, but you have to treat everyone with respect."

"I know, I know. You've told me that a thousand times."

"Well, maybe one of these days it will sink in. I'm still learning it myself," I winked at Katie and she smiled. "Oh, look at the time! You better go get ready. I'll make you some oatmeal," I said.

"Mom!" Katie growled. "You talked to me too much and now I'm going to be late!"

"Oh, simmer down. You won't be late if you go get dressed right now. Would you have rather I just said something like 'eh, you'll get over it' when you told me you were sad about Brady moving away? Just so you could take your time getting ready?"

Katie smiled and said, "Yeah, you're right."

What I would give to have her say that on video so I could play it back to her a few years from now when she's a teenager and she's completely forgotten.




Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year?

Something very strange happened this Christmas. I had a good time. Now it's New Years. A week later, and I still don't know what to do about it.

"Enjoy it!" Will says. Will is an amazing husband. Supportive and grounded and even-keeled. The perfect Yang to my moody, neurotic, anxious yin. But sometimes it's like he doesn't know me at all. Enjoy it? Who does he think he's talking to? Evidently some kind of emotionally stable person, and not his wife at all.

Whenever Will gets like this--rational, upbeat, sane--I have no choice but to turn to one of my other favorite humans for advice. Will's great and all, but he just doesn't understand the depths of my neuroticism. Writer Anne Lamott does, even though she technically doesn't know me. Just look at what she has to say in one of her best essays:

"It’s not that I don’t have a lot of faith. It’s just that I also have a lot of mental problems. And I want to fix them all, and I want to do that now..." --Anne Lamott, My Advent adventure

Wanting to fix my mental problems. That I understand. Enjoying odd moments of happiness. I just don't get it. Especially around the holidays. I once spent a Thanksgiving afternoon in my twenties locked inside my car so I could get in a good cry. I had decided not to go to any of the feasts my split-up family was having, assuming being alone on Thanksgiving would give me peace, but instead I felt more miserable. And my roommate was home so I couldn't even go inside to cry. I sat out in the parking lot of our apartment for hours, feeling like I had nowhere to go.

"Mom, I don't know why you complain about your dad so much. I know you say he was so mean to you when you were a kid, but he seems so nice now."

Our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, said that to me in the back seat of the car as we drove home after dropping Dad off at his apartment. I looked over at Will and smiled like, can you believe this kid but I found that his face matched hers.

"Yeah, Mommy," Will said, smiling slyly. "He's just a harmless little old man now."

"Ugh!" I shouted, but I was smiling too. They've heard this rant before, and even I know how ridiculous it sounds, but I feel compelled to remind them. "Nobody believes me that I had a shitty childhood! It's not my fault my life has turned out so good, so nobody believes all the hardships and pain I've been through. "

"Oh, we believe you, Mommy," Katie said, although she was giggling along with her father. She shares his lack of neuroticism. "We're just happy your dad is happy now."

"Yeah, me too," I said with a sigh.

I felt like punching them both in the nose, my wonderful husband and magnificent daughter. But I just turned to face out the passenger side window and waited til I could get home to someone who understands me, my imaginary friend, Anne Lamott.

This whole thing started because I accidentally invited both of my parents to spend night with us on Christmas Eve. What was I thinking? My parents have been divorced since 1992, though they quit acting like they liked each other long before that. The first time I remember Mom talking about divorcing my dad was in 1975, when I was four. I have no memory of them hugging or kissing or telling each other I love you. Not until I was twelve years old and my dad was getting ready to drive off to his new job in a different city, meaning we wouldn't see him for six weeks, when my mom pecked my dad on the cheek. I was shocked at their display of affection, even if it wasn't public, but inside our suburban garage.

It wasn't just their coldness toward each other. It was Dad's hot temper, too. Dad was always grumpy. He worked too many hours at a desk job, ate crappy food, rarely got fresh air or exercise. He had heart problems and vision problems and anger problems. Mom finally got up the gumption to leave him and they both moved on with their lives. They both remarried, for the third time, having both been married before they got together and had me. Dad's marriage ended in divorce. Mom's third-times-a-charm husband passed away last year. Dad and Mom are both single now. Each live alone in small apartments. It's weird how people's lives get smaller as they get older, just as our bodies start to shrivel up.

I remember one fight they got into when Mom wanted to buy a house that was big and had a swimming pool in the back yard, but Dad wouldn't cave and refused to accept the seller's counter-offer, which was just $1000 more than Dad's offer had been. When Mom said she was disappointed, Dad started screaming at her, getting in her face, calling her "stupid". Mom got up, walked to her bedroom, and closed the door. It was their last argument. Divorce papers were filed and their twenty-two year marriage was finally over.

Now they're two old single people, living quiet, calm lives of their own. Dad went on medication to treat his chronic anxiety and it's changed him. That and just the inevitable slowing-down of growing old has made him tolerable. And dare I say it, nice.

And yet, I feel traitorous when I acknowledge how nice Dad has grown over the years. It's easy to forgive him for his part in the rocky relationship we had together, but it's harder to forgive him for how terribly he treated my mother and siblings--his stepkids--years ago, even though he's not so bad anymore. It's difficult to release the old memories and accept him for who he is today, forgiving him for who he used to be. It's difficult to forgive someone you have hated as much as you've loved.

I once read in an astrology book I was obsessed with one summer before ninth grade this statement that has stuck with me ever since, long after I gave up my belief in horoscopes:

"The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference." Linda Goodman, Love Signs.

Mom's mostly indifferent towards Dad now. She's cool. She doesn't necessarily want to spend time with her ex-husband, but she's fine when he shows up to Katie's birthday party, my birthday party, Christmas Eve. Even when I spring her with the information that Dad's spending the night too.

"Sorry, I didn't think he'd say yes," I explained to Mom when I broke the news to her. "I asked if he had anywhere to go tomorrow and he said no," I said.

"It's OK. I can ignore him," Mom said.

I felt like I needed to explain myself, so I kept it up, "I asked if they do any Christmas parties in the community room of his senior apartments, but he said no, everyone goes home to their families," I frowned, knowing I put Mom in an awkward position, but also feeling sorry for my dad.

"It's OK, Beck. Don't worry about it," Mom said, again.

I ignored her and kept explaining myself, "So I asked him if he wanted to come over to Will's folks with us tomorrow and he said yes. So we got to talking about the logistics of it, and the simplest thing would be for him to sleep over here tonight," I said, clenching my teeth.

"I'm fine. Give him Katie's bed and I'll sleep on the chair in the living room."

And then I remembered who I got it from, my need to make sure everyone around me is comfortable, even if it's at my own comfort's sake.

Inviting them both to a sleepover is one of the unwisest things I've ever done. And yet somehow it wasn't awkward. We had a wonderful time. At one point I found myself sitting in a pew at church with Dad to my left and Mom to my right, Katie on my lap, and Will to Mom's right and my sister Kit and her husband Scott to my Dad's left, watching the Nativity program. The room was full of families big and small. Full of hope and joy and love. The children and teens who were singing and acting out the story of our savior's birth were wonderful. I simply could not stop the tears from streaming down my face.

I sat there for a silent moment and reflected upon my position in the world.

What the hell am I doing here? In church? With both my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my husband and our kid? Who is this person I've become? How did I get here?

Isn't this what I always wanted? Isn't this the quintessential happy family scene I envisioned back when I was a teenager locked away in my room, wishing my family was something it is not? Close, warm, supportive. And now, it's here, right before my eyes. The great big happy family I've always wanted.

And there I sit, looking like Dustin Hoffman at the end of "The Graduate" when he gets what he wants, too.



So now I face a new year, with a family that gets along, a husband and a child who love me so much they're willing to call me on my bullshit and still love me anyway. It's weird. Getting what you want. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Knowing you should feel more appreciative of this happy moment, and then beating yourself up for not appreciating it enough.

I suppose instead of wishing for a happy family when I was an angsty teen, I should have asked for the ability to appreciate the moment I'm in instead of worrying about what's next. I'm getting there. But it's hard.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: #NewYearNewView

Virgie Tovar is my hero. She has the best advice for making New Year's Resolutions:

"For many, many years I was like a lot of Americans who list 'LOSE WEIGHT' as their top new year’s priority. I was utterly convinced that this was my mandate, my destiny, my greatest soon-to-really-really-happen-this-time accomplishment! January 1 was met with a mixture of jittery hopefulness and prescient dread. We understand this date to be the biggest opportunity all year to wipe the proverbial slate clean. And we collectively lunge forward into this opportunity to create a 'new you.'

"But what if I told you that the current you was actually pretty awesome and you didn’t in fact need a you-replacement?"

"You’ve been a slave to the scale long enough! Break up with your old resolutions and start 2015 with the reminder that you’ve got your dream body right now. 

"Tell your friends that you’re not starting the new year with weight loss goals. Announce that instead of getting a new you, you’re getting a new view for 2015. Share your #NewYearNewView images and your body poz intentions for 2015 on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter!"

Thanks, Virgie Tovar! You're an inspiration for every body. Here are my New Year's Resolutions:

1. I will believe my husband when he tells me I'm sexy.

2. I will be proud of my greying hair.


3. I will move my body in pleasurable ways. I will not exercise to lose weight. I will exercise to have fun.


4. I will not make self-depricating remarks about my body around my daughter.


5. I will teach my daughter to love her body by loving my body.


6. I will remember that my body was not put on this earth to make profits for the beauty industry.


7. I won't wait to lose weight to live life fully.