Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Remote Killing: Rep. Alan Grayson Invites Pakistani Family to Speak at Congressional Briefing about Drone Strikes

Today I'm adding things to my "To Do" list faster than I'm crossing things off.  I really don't have time to sit down and write a blog post at the moment.  Tomorrow is Halloween and I'm the mother of a seven-year-old American girl.  I need to run to the store and pick up more bags of Snickers and Milky Ways to replenish the contents of our Halloween candy bucket from which I've been stealing all week.  I must scrub the toilet and the floor so our guests don't walk into the filthy bathroom and throw up the candy they've already scarfed down from their Trick or Treat bags after we gather at our house following a fun evening of socially-sanctioned begging for candy from neighbors.  I need to assemble 25 Witch's Hat cookies for my daughter and her classmates to enjoy at tomorrow's Halloween party.  Room mothers have little time for political activism.

But I must take a moment out of my busy life, put my party-planning aside long enough to share some important news:

For the first time in history, members of The United States Congress heard from alleged victims of our country's drone attacks.  The Pakistani family flew to our country to give their account of the horror.  Two children speak of being out in the field picking okra with their grandmother.  They saw the drones coming and they ran.  Their grandmother, in her sixties, couldn't get away.  She was killed.  She was a grandmother.  She was a midwife.  She took care of living beings and helped bring life into this world.  She was not a terrorist.  Her son, the father of the two children who were injured physically and emotionally from the drone attack had this to say:

"As a teacher, my job is to educate. But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand? How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?"

I first heard about this landmark congressional briefing on NPR this morning.  I had just turned on the radio, wanting to feed my head while I loaded the dishwasher with the remnants of last night's evening meal I enjoyed with my family.  They interviewed Rep. Alan Grayson, the heroic critic of our government's handling of the War on Terror.  I turned up the volume on my boom box when I heard his name.  He's one of those people who live in the spotlight who I actually trust to not spew bullshit from his mouth.  I've grown weary of listening to most people who have a big platform from which to be heard: celebrities, politicians, TV news anchors.  Representative Grayson seems to be the real deal.  He's not perfect and he's sometimes controversial, but I respect his fervor.  He insists we pay attention no matter how busy we are.

Only five members of Congress paid attention.  Only five members of Congress could be bothered to attend the briefing.  Only five members of Congress had the honor of listening live to the translator stop and weep as she attempted to tell them of the atrocities committed against this innocent Pakistani family by our government. 

This post points out how shameful it is that only five members of Congress could be bothered to show up.

But you know what?  Screw the No-Shows in Congress.  We can vote them out of office soon.  For now, please take some time from your busy schedule to watching this important congressional briefing.

You can watch the video in full here:

It's long, and I understand our time is precious.  If nothing else, please skip ahead to minute 11:55 to hear Representative Grayson say these remarkable words:

"Apart from the 100 plus people who are here in this room with us today, watching me, watching us, watching the testimony you're about to hear, everyone who hears this testimony will hear it from afar.  It could be in the next room.  It could be in another city.  It could be in another country.  That technology in one form or another has been with us for one-hundred and fifty years.  Remote viewing, remote listening, seeing things from far away.  My children engage in it virtually all the time.  And it has become pervasive in our lives.  Now today there's a new technology in our lives.  And that technology is remote killing.  The ability to kill people from a great distance.  Through drone warfare."  --Rep. Alan Grayson

Please share this post to spread the word.  While our children celebrate a day of pretend-fear, where they dress up in costumes and walk door-to-door in their neighborhood to get free candy they can eat til their tummies ache, children 8,000 miles away live in actual fear of leaving their homes to go to school, let alone to go door-to-door begging for candy.  Because the people we elect into office think of them as not "our" children, but as nothing more than collateral damage.

Thank you so much for staying with me this long.  I know, I gotta go too.  I've got a family to take care of, just like everybody else on this planet.  Including people 8,000 miles away.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Cycle of Life

I just got off the phone with my Mom.  My step-father Bob is on morphine.  His heart, lungs, and kidneys are failing.  He's eight-one.

"Where is his pain?" I asked, knowing they only give morphine to people in severe pain.

Mom said, "Uh..."

I immediately felt stupid.  If his heart, lungs, and kidneys are failing, his pain is probably all over.  I get the flu and I'm crying about my aching joints.  I spend four hours at the pumpkin patch with my seven-year-old and I'm complaining about my old aching bones.  Of course he's in pain.  He's dying.

It's weird to watch someone get old and die.  I watched my brother Pat die a couple of years ago, but he was young, 49, and his death progression seemed much more sudden than Bob's.  Both my brother and our step-father were drinkers and smokers.  Pat drank and smoked right up to the very end of his life.  I'm proud to have had the honor of helping him smoke his last cigarette.  Bob gave up smoking last December when he found out the arteries surrounding his heart were all clogged up.  He was still asking for a highball the last time I saw him a couple of months ago.  This morning Mom said the only thing he's had to drink today is a sip of orange juice through a straw.  I didn't bother to ask if the orange juice had some vodka mixed in it.  At this point, give him whatever he wants to be comfortable.  Same reason I helped Pat smoke his last cigarette.

It's weird to watch someone grow old and die because you see before your very eyes the cycle of life.  Will's grandmother was growing old and dying when Katie was young and potty training.  We used to joke about how both the toddler and the old lady had to wear diapers.  Once Katie and I went over to "babysit" Will's grandma so his mom and dad, her primary caretakers, could have a night out together.  Katie enjoyed feeding Grandma with a spoon the pureed food she ate like a baby.

We are born totally helpless.  We live life, each year patting ourselves on the back for how self-reliant we are.  Sometimes we falter and we need help from others.  We get sick.  Sometimes we just need a night out, away from our care-taking duties.  So we gladly accept help from others.  But we think it's temporary and we'll be back on our self-reliant track soon.  Then we grow old and start to die.  We become totally helpless once again.  We need others to feed us.  To change our diaper.  To give us a bath.  Often its our own babies who we once cared for in this way who end up taking care of us as we are dying.

That's weird.  But it's also beautiful.  It's like Life is trying to teach us that we need each other more than we admit.  Only babies and dying people really seem to understand this lesson.

If dying is painful, does it hurt to be born?  It certainly hurts to give birth to a child, but does the baby experience pain as it is being born?

I recall looking at Will on the drive to the hospital, clutching my belly, and saying, "Wow, this hurts worse than I expected it to so soon."  But I'm a big baby.  I'm the worst kind of patient.  I think I am so tough and healthy when I feel well, but I cry and beg for sympathy the moment I feel nauseated.  I cry over paper cuts.  Giving birth to a human baby feels like The Universe is giving you one giant paper cut from your vagina to your asshole.

Because I have delusions of grandeur I told myself I was going to give birth "naturally".  Meaning no drugs.  Meaning vaginally.  As things turned out, I was crying for an epidural a few hours into labor and I succumbed to a C-section when the doctor informed me that my baby was stuck and needed to be pulled out via a small incision along my "bikini line."  Bikini Line.  That's the term the doctor used.

Even through all the pain and panic, I laughed at the absurdity of a doctor talking about my bikini line.  Like that is so important.  Like she was bragging about her efficiency.  Like she thought I'd be sliced, stitched, medicated, and out on the hospital lawn sunbathing just in time for the break of dawn.  It was 1:30AM when the doctor told me I needed a Cesarean section, eighteen hours after I felt my first contraction.  At that point I was ready to shout, "I don't care how you get her out!  Just rip her out!  RIGHT NOW!"

But instead, feeling defeated and exhausted, I just mustered a pathetic, "ok" as I sobbed uncontrollably.  It's a horrible feeling to lose control of your own body.

That must be what it feels like to be dying.  How strange that giving birth to new life feels a little like dying.  I'm lucky to live in modern times, in a wealthy nation.  If I were born in Grandma's time, or on another part of the globe, I could have actually died at childbirth.

"Don't come up.  He won't recognize you."  Mom said when I asked when we should visit.

He can't talk.  He can't walk.  His memory is fading.  Just like a baby.

Will and I are always amazed at the things Katie, now seven, can't remember before she was about three years old.

"You don't remember Oswald?!" Will and I say to her, in unison, after she asks "Who's that?" when Will tells her the boy in the movie "The Princess Bride" is the voice of "Oswald" on Nick Jr.

"Oswald?" Katie asks and our hearts break a little.  Our baby is growing up.  Things that seem to us, as adults, to have happened just yesterday actually happened four years ago, back before our baby's memory was fully developed.

We told her about Oswald the Octopus.  And Henry the Penguin.  And Weenie, the Weenie Dog.

"Oooooooh yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah," she said.  "And Daisy.  I remember Daisy."

"Yes!"  Will and I shouted in unison.  "Daisy!"

Our baby vaguely remembers a cartoon we used to enjoy watching together.  Some day she might recall this conversation we had where we reminded her of an early childhood memory she was starting to forget.  Perhaps it will be when she's talking to her own seven-year-old who is starting to forget one of her favorite early childhood memories.  Perhaps it will be on her own deathbed, when she's looking back on her life.  Most likely by then she won't remember much of her life at all.  Her mind will be a clean slate once again.  Her spirit transformed.  In death, as it is in birth.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mad Science Halloween Spooktacular

Katie is mad for science.  Last night Will and I took her to the Mad Science Halloween Spooktacular at Roeland Park Community Center in Johnson County, Kansas.

Jetpack Jason demonstrating various fun science experiments
Mad Science Halloween Spooktacular at Roeland Park Community Center

The community of Johnson County has traditionally been known for its high education standards.  We've got good public schools, many highly educated parents, and a great public library system.  Beyond education, the community is known for being kid-friendly, period.  Lots of parents who work in the Greater Kansas City area reside in Johnson County because it's such a great place to raise kids.

Whenever we go to kid-centered events, we usually have to fight the crowds.  We had a different outcome last night.

To keep track of all the kid-centered events, I've signed up with Katie's school district to receive email notices about upcoming activities.  When I first read the flier they sent me advertising this Mad Science Halloween event, I noticed it said the first thirty kids through the door get an extra surprise.  I made a mental note to get my butt into gear after work so we could make it on time.

My mental notepad must have a glitch.  The thing hardly ever works right.

We were late.  Not by much, just ten minutes or so, but still, on the drive there, Katie lamented, "I'm sure glad I'm no longer a kindergartner or else I'd be crying that I didn't get to be one of the first thirty kids to win an extra surprise."  Our big second grader has long passed the crying phase and has moved on to the guilt-trippy, passive-aggressive comments phase of children not getting their way.

"We don't know how busy they'll be.  Maybe we'll get lucky and be one of the first thirty," I offered.

"It said the first thirty kids through the door.  Not the first thirty people.  We're not that late.  You might very well be one of the first thirty kids to show up, Punkin," Will said.

We pulled into the community center parking lot.  There were maybe ten other cars parked there, at the most.

"Wow, if this is it you'll definitely win an extra surprise," I said.

And she did.  As far as we could tell, we were it.  Those ten other cars must belong to the science instructors running the program.

Two women in lab coats with the "Mad Science" logo and their name stitched on them were chatting as we walked up to register.  When they saw us approaching, they both smiled crazily and shouted, "Hello!  Welcome!"

"Am I one of the first thirty kids to win an extra surprise?" Katie asked.

"Oh yes!" one of the Mad Scientists said and reached into a bucket to pull out a box full of fun little Halloween decorated toys: a kaleidoscope, a spinning top, and an eye patch.

"Yes!" Katie shouted triumphantly.

She was instructed to grab a handful of candy and some fake plastic vampire teeth.  She happily complied.

She rode "the haunted hover board" and checked out a science experiment about air pressure involving two hair dryers and a bucket of plastic, bloodshot eye balls.  Then it was time for Jetpack Jason's show.

Jetpack Jason demonstrating various fun science experiments 
Mad Science Halloween Spooktacular at Roeland Park Community Center

Katie is pictured on the left.  She was so excited throughout the show she kept squirming around and contorting her body into odd poses, as if she were Frankenstein's Monster getting shocked alive.  As you can see, a couple of other kids eventually showed up.  

Whenever Jetpack Jason would ask the audience to answer a question or to volunteer to assist him, Katie's hand was the first to shoot straight up.  By then there were three other kids in the audience, so Jetpack Jason kept saying, "Hold on, Katie.  Let's give somebody else a turn."  He finally got two of the other kids to begrudgingly assist him.  After those kids served their tour of duty, Jetpack Jason let them go and let Katie go wild.

Jetpack Jason: "How do you think we'll get this egg into this narrow jar?"  Pause long enough to survey the audience to see if anyone else wants to take a stab at an answer.
Jetpack Jason: "OK.  Katie?"
Katie: "Shove it in!"
Jetpack Jason: "OK.  Let's try that."  Tries unsuccessfully to shove the egg into the narrow jar.
Jetpack Jason: "Anybody else got a guess as to how we can get this egg to fit into the jar?"
Will raises his hand.
Jetpack Jason: "Yes!  Splinter?"
Will: "Fire!"
Jetpack Jason: "Yes!  Fire!  That's right!"

After demonstrating that experiment, any time Jetpack Jason would ask the audience to answer a question about what they should do to get the other experiments to work, he'd look around at the silent audience, give up and say, "OK.  Katie?" and Katie would shout out, "Fire!"

What she lacks in knowledge she makes up for in enthusiasm.

You should have seen her when another Mad Scientist demonstrated "The Exploding Pumpkin" which really just looked like a Throwing Up Pumpkin.

Katie, front row
Everyone else, in chairs way back here
Mad Science Halloween Spooktacular at Roeland Park Community Center

Katie had a blast.  I've never seen her experience such prolonged joy.  We were there for 110 minutes, til they were packing up and shutting down the place, and Katie was smiling, jumping up and down while clapping, or standing still with her mouth agape nearly the entire time.

Katie doesn't like big crowds of people.  Neither do I.  But I was sad to see so few kids show up.  

"It's a Saturday night," Will pointed out, "and lots of parents go to adult Halloween parties on the Saturday night before Halloween."  

"I think one of the games of the World Series is on tonight too," I said, trying to think of excuses for why the event didn't draw the crowds we were expecting.  

"Yeah, or some other big event going on the in city.  One we just don't know about," Will said.

Katie didn't care.  It was almost like she had the whole place to herself.  She didn't have to wait in line to participate in any of the activities or experiments.  She had the attention of a dozen grown ups who love science and love kids who love science even more.  She didn't seem disappointed more kids didn't show up.  Since her two best friends moved away a few months ago, Katie complains to us a lot about not having many close friends, other kids with similar interests and enthusiasm for things as she does, but when it comes down to it, she seems fine doing her own thing.  She's learned to adapt to her only child position in life.

I told her once, "You'll have to be your own best friend."
She looked at me like she was surprised I said something so wise and said, "Yeah, you're right."

My lessons are not usually so easily received by her.

No matter how much I say, "It's no big deal," one lesson Katie has definitely not learned yet is how not to be a sore loser.  I think because she's had fewer opportunities to compete with her peers, having no siblings and having few friends with similar interests, she hasn't learned that it's really no big deal to lose a game or a contest.  As the youngest child in a big family of smarty pants, I'm totally used to losing.  And it's really no big deal to me.  I'm just happy when the big kids let me play.  But not Katie.  She'd rather not participate than take a chance at not winning.

She certainly didn't have the opportunity to learn this lesson during the Mad Science Halloween Costume Contest. As one of only three kids participating in a contest with a prize for first place, second place, and third place, Katie was guaranteed to win something.  When they announced it was time for the contest, I asked Katie if she wanted to enter it and she immediately said no.  When I pointed out to her she was guaranteed to win something, her eyes lit up and she ran to get a place in line before the judge.

Mad Science Halloween Spooktacular at Roeland Park Community Center

Will and the other participant's siblings joined the winners of the Halloween Costume Contest.  I love how Andy Kaufmanesque Will looks in this photo above.  Sonic's brother Mario looks like he thinks Will is not just a mad scientist but an actual crazy person.  I love it!

The awesome minion won first place.  Sonic won second.

Katie won third place for her Donatello costume.  She beamed when the judge handed her the prizes: a Mad Science t-shirt and a $50 gift certificate to Mad Science Camp!  I did not burst her deliriously happy bubble by reminding her that third place in a contest with three participants is, well, actually losing.  No.  Much of my job parenting involves stepping back and letting Katie experiment with life on her own.  One of these days she'll learn it's not about winning or losing.  It's about being an active participant. Often, just showing up is what counts.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Lessons We Learn with Our Confident, Bright Young Girls

Katie had the day off school for Parent-Teacher conferences.  My meeting with her teacher was at 9AM.  I'm not a morning person, so Katie has learned to keep herself occupied until her mom is ready to leave the house by noon for fun, kid-centered activities.  If I can get myself out of bed at all.  We certainly usually don't have time to spend a full day anywhere, but because of the conference at her school, I was up, showered, and ready for the day anyway.  We headed out to the Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead to go on a hay ride, play at the pumpkin patch, and feed some baby goats.  Who knew it'd turn into a life lesson.

Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead
Overland Park, Kansas

My sertraline must be kicking in.  I went back on it recently and I feel much better.  I actually look forward to getting out of bed and participating in life again.  Especially when it means doing fun stuff with my kid.   I get a kick out of life's little lessons once again.

Becky and Katie Carleton
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead Pumpkin Hollow

Other than the hayride itself, which was definitely the highlight of our day, Katie's favorite part of the Farmstead was inside the replica of a one-room school house.

Katie Carleton (left, pink jacket) in front of the one-room school house
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead

A volunteer stood at the front of the class and had each child sit at an old desk with a slate and a piece of chalk.  The volunteer wrote her name on the chalk board at the front of the class.  She wrote in proper cursive like a real teacher would, "Miss Courtney."  

She instructed each child to write their own name on the slate in front of them.  

Katie writing her name on the slate inside the one-room school house
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead

I watched Katie try to copy Miss Courtney's cursive, then erase her attempt with the cloth napkin provided.  They don't teach cursive in school anymore.  Katie re-wrote her name in her best non-cursive handwriting and held it up for the teacher to see.

"Good, good," Miss Courtney said.  

Katie set her slate down and beamed.  She would have made it back in the day.  Katie responds well to rules and regulations and structure.  I do not.  I don't care if my handwriting is sloppy.  I'm skeptical of, not eager to please, people in authority.

After Miss Courtney's prepared speech about the history of rural schools in Kansas, she asked if there were any questions.

Katie's hand shot up immediately.  When I was growing up I was too shy to talk in class.  I chuckled to myself and recalled a couple hours earlier, during my conference with her second grade teacher, being told how confident and bright our child is.  I beamed.  I guess the opinions of people in authority mean more to me than I admit.  

I'm a total sucker for good comments about my kid.  One of my goals as a parent, and it's a lofty one I admit, is to raise a confident girl, to break the cycle of depression and mental strife too common in my family. 

I know I'm working against genetics.  

My maternal grandmother had severe agoraphobia and would only leave the house to ride the bus to the doctor's office to acquire her "nerve pills".  My mother was admitted against her will to a hospital and administered shock treatment when she freaked out after learning that her husband was cheating on her.  I saw my first shrink when I was eleven after my mom took me to the doctor when I passed out in school and the doctor diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  One of my brothers died of alcoholic liver failure at the age of 49.  My dad's dad died at age 48.  My dad, only 22 at the time, found his dad dead in the shower.  They said it was a heart attack, but Dad said there were tons of empty bottles of booze lying around the house.  It was a couple of days after Dad's mom left town with another man.  Growing up, Dad was a rageaholic, but he's mellowed with age and, I found out a couple years ago, he's on sertraline too.  When I was growing up, the worst thing Mom could say to me was, "You're just like your father."  A long time has passed since she last said that to me, and now that Dad and I are both on sertraline and more stable I take it as less of an insult.

The medications people have access to today have made life better for people with mental illness.  I don't kid myself.  I know not every person living with a mental illness responds well to medication, and I'm also skeptical of Big Pharma and their huge profits.  But my life is so much better now that I have medication that treats my illness.  

Raising a confident girl with my personal and family history feels like a Sisyphean challenge, but I'm compelled to do it no matter what.  I want my daughter's mental health journey to be as smooth as possible.  Each generation pushes the rock up so it's smoother for the next generation.

As I was thinking about all this, Katie's voice interrupted my thoughts.  Miss Courtney had just called on Katie and Katie was asking her question, "What's that?"  Katie pointed to the big black metal thing in the center of the room.

"That's the wood-burning stove.  That's what they would have used one hundred years ago to heat this building.  You were lucky if your desk was by the stove and you were not so lucky if your desk was in the back.  If you were a boy you would have to go out and split wood for the fire.  If you were a girl you would have to go to the well and draw water in a pail and haul it back to the classroom for drinking water."  Miss Courtney seemed delighted telling these modern, spoiled children how rough life was in the olden days.  She continued, her cheeks getting rosy, "One hundred years ago you did not ride the bus to school.  Or have your mom drop you off in a car.  You had to walk.  One, two, sometimes up to five miles, one-way, to school.  And then back home, where you would work on the farm until suppertime and then go to bed."

All the modern, spoiled children sitting there in these old-fashioned desks looked up from their smart phones and stared at Miss Courtney, their mouths hanging open.

"Life back then was rough.  You walked to school.  You had chores both at home and at school.  If you acted bad or didn't do your homework the teacher sat you in the corner and you wore the Dunce Hat."  Miss Courtney walked over to the corner and put on a cone-shaped hat with the word "Dunce" spelled out in bold, black ink.

She stood there, silent, for a moment.  I could hear the wind blow outside.  I was glad the fake school house was fitted with an HVAC system and I considered taking off my coat it was so warm.  

"Which do you think is better?  Going to school one hundred years ago, or going to school today?"  Miss Courtney asked, looking both ridiculous and wise, still wearing the Dunce Hat.

The fake class of modern, spoiled children said in unison, "Today!"

It was an unintended but wonderful lesson for Katie to learn on a day off from school.  I love instructional entertainment.

Another fascinating historical tour that will remind you of how good we've got it in this day and age is The Glore Psychiatric Museum.  Here's a little video blurb about it:

Here's a longer video, although still short at 3 minutes and 35 seconds, with more information about the mental health museum:

My sister Kit and my husband Will, both always up for an unusual adventure, agreed to go on a tour of The Glore Museum with me back in 2010.  I wrote about my mom's reaction here.

Mom is not a fan of psychiatry and does not understand my fascination with its history.  I have to remind myself that it's easier for me to face the history since my modern life is easier than Mom's was.  No matter what I've been through, Mom had it worse.  She was forced to submit to electroshock therapy over forty years ago, back when women had less control over their own lives.  Back when girls were raised to be less confident and more conforming.  Back when we didn't have blogs to brag about the lessons we learn with our confident, bright young girls.

Katie, modeling her Glore Psychiatric Museum T-Shirt

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Following Rainbows with You

Happy Anniversary, Will!  

We got hitched nine years ago, on October 22, 2004.  I was too shy for a big ceremony, so you agreed to a small one at the park across from the apartment that we shared.  You used to play there when you were a boy, and I took the dogs there to explore.  We loved the enclosed, shady area and thought it would be the perfect place to begin our union.

It rained, of course, so we had to get married inside our apartment.  Which is fine.  Things never go as planned, and I've learned that the best thing about being married to you is that even when things go wrong they're always right.

I'm going to wear my wedding dress on our lunch date today.  The purple and blue tie-dye one with a big heart pattern in the center, the one you call my Care Bears heart.  

I get you all to myself while our daughter is in school, a luxury in our busy lives.  Then we'll pick her up from school and go roller skating as a family.  We are such nerds.  I love us.

Our Wedding Photo 
October 22, 2004

The photo above was taken at your brother and sister-in-law's apartment where we enjoyed a homecooked meal and champagne after we said our I Do's.   My mom bought the fancy cake.  On the ride from our apartment to their apartment we noticed it had stopped raining.  We saw a rainbow.  It looked like it began at our apartment and ended at theirs.

We took it as a good sign.  

We followed it.

I love following rainbows with you.

Us on Our 8th Anniversary
October 22, 2012

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rest in Peace Tiffany Sedaris

***trigger warning: suicide***

I'm heartbroken.  Tiffany Sedaris killed herself last May and I just found out about it tonight.

Goddammit!  Fucking writers.  The way they suck you into their stories.  So you feel like you know them.  Like they're a good friend and you can call them up on the phone and say hi or some such Holden Caulfieldesque shit.  I've been a fan of David Sedaris and his stories about his big, crazy, amazing family for so long I feel like I'm part of the family.  (See my blog post I Am the Lucky Owner of David Sedaris' Giant Pimply Ass.)  Then today I come across this heartbreaking story Sedaris wrote about how his family came together after his sister Tiffany's suicide.  Now I feel like I've lost a sister, too.

This story hits home for me, too, because Tiffany was just 49 when she killed herself.  My brother Pat was just 49 when he drank himself to death.

God, people who kill themselves don't know how much pain they are putting their survivors through.  And it totally sucks because I can't even fucking be mad at them because they had a good excuse: uncontrolled depression.  They were so obviously depressed to have offed themselves that I don't need to add my anger to the burdensome load they carry off into oblivion.  Or Heaven.  Or Hell.  Or wherever it is that people who once lived on this earth and made us laugh and made us cry and pissed us off and made us care go when they die.
If you really want to cry your eyes out, read this beautiful tribute to Tiffany Sedaris here.

Rest in Peace, Tiffany Sedaris.  If there is a Heaven, look up my brother--will ya?  I think he'd like your company.  Tell him I miss him and I forgive him.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Katie's Artwork 10/20/13

As I was cleaning up the living room today, I found these drawings on Katie's art table.

"Donatello" by Katie Carleton, age 7
crayons on paper

"Michelangelo" by Katie Carleton, age 7
crayons on paper

"Raphael" by Katie Carleton, age 7
crayons on paper

"Leonardo" by Katie Carleton, age 7
crayons on paper

"A Chipmunk" by Katie Carleton, age 7
crayons on paper

"The Weird Bug Creature" by Katie Carleton, age 7
ink on paper using a Spirograph

What Halloween Costume? These Are Just My Regular Clothes

"Becky Wearing Her That's Just Like, Your Opinion, Man T-Shirt, Grey Shorts, Blue Robe, Black Socks, and Brown Sandals à la 'The Dude' from The Big Lebowski"
photo credit: Katie Carleton, age 7

I hope your Halloween is very Dude-like. 

Sex is Exercise

Oh my goodness this is a funny post.  It also happens to be quite informative.  It's about finding your own personal exercise bliss.  I like this quote:

"Exercise is like sex.  If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right."  -- Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

Dude!  Sex is exercise.  My favorite kind!  It's like doing aerobics, Pilate's, yoga, and bouncing on a trampoline all at once.

Our society needs to figure out that neither sex nor exercise are dirty words.  Maybe as our culture evolves into one with a more enlightened view of sex, we'll simultaneously become a nation known for its vast population of fit people.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Theme Song, Reworked by Katie Carleton

Katie was singing Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song.  She sang along with the proper lyrics until she got to a line that inspired her to add some lyrics of her own.  She sang :

Can't stop these radical dudes
The secret of the ooze made the chosen few
Emerge from the shadows to make their move
The good guys win and the bad guys lose

Then she added:

But the bad guys think they're the good guys
And they think the good guys are the bad guys

She ended the song there and looked up at me like she could tell I was listening.  She smiled.  I was beaming.  I walked over and gave her a hug.  I grabbed her head with both hands and planted a kiss firmly on her forehead.

"I'm kissing your brain," I said.  "Did you know that you figured out something a lot of grownups haven't even figured out?"

"What?" Katie asked.

"You figured out that we think we're the good guys and that who we think are the bad guys think they're the good guys and that we're the bad guys," I said.  I kissed her forehead for a second time.  "For that, I kiss your brain!"

Katie beamed.

"Mom," Katie asked, "do you think my brain just got bigger?"

"Yes," I said, "Yes I do."

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Stellar Girl

I've been following a group called Toward The Stars on Facebook.  Their mission is to "empower little girls all over the world to grow up healthy, happy, self assured and educated allowing them to achieve all their dreams."

They share a lot of photos of cute girls dressed up in superhero costumes with captions such as, "you don't need a prince to rescue you."  They offer inspirational quotes from parents about raising their daughters to feel strong and smart and confident.  It's a chicken soup for the feminist mother's soul kind of thing.

I also recently came across this BuzzFeed post, 24 Badass Halloween Costumes To Empower Little Girls, featuring adorable girls wearing non-traditional costumes.  It's super badass.  But one thing about the article annoys me.  Under the headline the article states, "No Disney Princesses allowed."

I get it.  Our culture is crazy.  Our girls are drowning in a sea of pink.  But I let my daughter watch Disney Princess movies if she wants to.  A big part of being a feminist to me is the concept of not-restricting access.  How is my telling a girl she can't like Disney Princess movies going to empower her?  I think feminism is about giving women the opportunity to make their own decisions, and teaching young girls how to think for themselves.

Katie's favorite video to watch whenever she's sick is "Snow White".  It's a comfy movie.  But she's not one of those kids who is stuck in some kind of pink glittery princess trap.  She likes pink, girly stuff in small doses, but she likes other things too.  When she's feeling well, especially when she's feeling boisterous, her favorite DVD is Nickelodeon's TV remake of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  She's obsessed.  That is why I must remember to show her number 20 on the list of badass Halloween costumes: Tiny Michelangelo, the girl dressed in the half TMNT shell/half tutu costume.  I wish that girl lived around here so I could quit hearing Katie complain that there are not enough girls at her school who like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles too.

Katie's favorite is Donatello, the inventor.  When you ask her why he's her favorite she doesn't hesitate to tell you it's because he's "the smart one."

"Donatello: The Smart One" by Katie Carleton, age 7

Last night we were driving to the local high school's "Safe Trick or Treat Night."  High school students host games and activities for young kids to enjoy, handing out candy galore.  It's really sweet to watch the teenagers interacting so well with the wee ones.  This was our third year attending the event.  On the car ride there we talked about all the different costumes Katie has worn for Halloween.  

3 months old: A pumpkin

1 year old: The Itsy Bitsy Spider

2 years old: A Bee

3 years old: A Bee (The same exact costume as the year before.  She was going through a not-liking-change phase.)

4 years old: Buzz Lightyear

5 years old: A Princess (she got to wear the gown she wore when she was in my niece's wedding)

6 years old: A Candy Corn Witch (a really cute outfit handed-down to us from a co-worker with older girls)

And this year, at age 7, she's Donatello:

"Donatello" as played by Katie Carleton, age 7

We didn't do it intentionally, planning it out to be gender-neutral or switching off from "boyish" to "girlish" and back again to "boyish" each year, but that's what happens when we let Katie decide what costume she wants to wear.  Well, I admit, the first two costumes, the pumpkin and the Itsy Bitsy Spider were my idea, but since she's had the cognitive ability to make up her own mind, Katie's Halloween costumes have all been her idea.  I'm impressed with her decisions.

As soon as we walked through the door to the high school and figured out which table Katie wanted to stop at first--it was crowded with kids in costumes everywhere--we approached the "make your own Halloween cookie" station.  It was there that we saw through the crowd another girl dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume.  As we walked closer toward her, the girl saw Katie, pointed, and called out to her mother, "Look!  Another girl Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!"

Katie and I winked and nudged each other.  There wasn't enough room for us to both sit at the cookie making table so I stood back and let Katie take a seat.  The two mutant ninja turtle girls sat across from each other, silent, but beaming.  If I were closer I would have whispered into Katie's ear a suggestion--tell her you like her costume-- to spark some conversation.  Katie feels shy around people she doesn't know.  Even kids, now.  She's always been leery of adult strangers, but it's sad to see my baby grow up and lose the "all kids are my friends" attitude she used to have.  When she was younger, whenever we'd be out and about and Katie would see another kid she would approach them and ask them to play.  Not now.  Now she sits back and observes until the other person makes a move. 

The girls sat there smiling at each other for a few minutes until Other Girl Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's mother announced it was time to move on as she was being tugged on the sleeve by her other child.  Other Girl Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoved the rest of her cookie into her mouth, but still managed to smile, got up, and waved good-bye to Katie.  I looked over at Katie to see if she had disappointment in her eyes.  I'm certain I did in mine.  I was hoping Other Girl Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle could stick around long enough for her mother and I to exchange phone numbers for a future playdate.  But all I saw was Katie waving back at Other Girl Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with one hand while trying to remove her mask so she could eat her cookie with the other.  I wanted to rush over and help her take off the mask, but I knew she'd holler, "Mom!  I can do it myself," even if I could manage to make my way through the crowd to her.  

I want making friends to be as easy for my kid as reading has been.  Maybe it's that way for many librarian mothers.  Other mothers compliment me on Katie's affinity for reading.  I shrug my shoulders and claim I did nothing more than read to her every day, which, to me, is like bragging that you fed your kid that day.  Big whoop.  Sometimes, if I'm talking to the mother of a more gregarious child, I'll compliment her on her child's gracious social skills.  She'll shrug her shoulders and say something like, "Yeah, that's what happens when you have to share a room with your brother."  I'll wonder if she pities me my sub-fecundity.  Will and I both wanted a large family.  We joked that we wanted six kids when we first got married, but with my PCOS and my advanced maternal age, we knew we'd be lucky if we had one.

And we were right.  We are so lucky.

But, I wonder if Katie would be luckier if we were able to have more kids.  Give her someone to practice her social skills with on a more intimate level than one can attain at a playground or on a playdate.

It's hard not to butt in.  When Katie was learning how to read and she'd get stuck on a word I'd immediately sound it out for her until I read a note from her teacher suggesting that I let her sound it out herself.  It pains me to watch someone struggle.  When I was in second grade my own mother was told by my teacher that I hurried through my own work and jumped in to help my neighbors, whether they asked me to help them or not.  My mom told me this and laughed like she was proud of me for being such a "good helper".

Overfunctioning is the big girl word I learned from reading Harriet Lerner books.  I tend to overfunction in my relationships.  (Will is the exception.  He's one of the few people I feel comfortable enough to allow him to take care of me as equally, if not more, than I take care of him.)  I tend to make suggestions for ways they can handle the situation to people who just want to vent.  I worry more about making everyone around me feel comfortable that I sometimes ignore my own discomfort until later when it's been stored up so long I feel overwhelmed and anxious and like I just want to be left alone in an isolation chamber, away from questions and requests and needs.  And when people do come to me with their problems and they don't take my advice, it drives me insane.  I am a control freak.  Obviously.  I'm a writer.  I manipulate stories.

So I have to watch it with Katie, my only child.  I don't want to overfunction with her too much or she'll become one of those smothered only children who get restraining orders for her parents when she goes off to college.  But being a parent automatically puts me in a role of authority.  It's hard for me to separate my desire for control from my ability to parent effectively.  

But as I thought about all that, the crowd kept me back anyway, so my worries were moot as they often are.  So I stood there and watched Katie and said nothing.  She didn't look up at me.  She finished smoothing the frosting over her cookie and then added some sprinkles.  Again, without looking up, she took a huge bite of her cookie, happily chewing away.

When she finished the cookie she found me standing there waiting.  We walked together to the next activity table.  I bent down to get close to her ear so she could hear me without embarrassing her with a loud question everyone around could hear.  I asked, "What'd you think of running into another girl dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume?"

As much as she's been complaining lately about how hard it is to connect with her peers, I expected her to mention it's too bad she got away from us before they got a chance to talk.  But instead she smiled and said, "It was great!"

And that was all.  

She went to all the activities she wanted to go to, never once suggesting we try to find Other Girl Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle like I would have if I were her.  Maybe I'm overthinking this whole I-need-to-socialize-my-kid thing.  Maybe I need to back off and let her friendships happen naturally.

As Katie sat down to have her face painted--a purple mask over her eyes so she could be Donatello without even having to wear the plastic one--I remembered another time I had to tell myself to back off.

Katie was about four.  I had taken her to the local playground after I got off work "to socialize her," I explained to Will.  Like I was informing him I'd be back in a bit after I took the dogs to the dog park.  The playground was full of kids.  It's right next to an apartment complex, so there's nearly always someone for Katie to play with when we visit this playground.  I took a seat at an empty bench and watched Katie run around, climb, slide, swing, and run around some more.  I kept expecting her to approach one of the other kids, to ask them if they wanted to play tag or something.  The way I had instructed her to do so when she was much younger and I had to explain to her that you go up to someone who looks about your age and ask them to play tag, then you run around and chase each other and laugh.  But this time, instead of asking one of the many fun-looking kids to play, Katie eventually wandered off to the side of the playground, onto a patch of grass, and laid down.  

I immediately ran to her.  "Are you OK, Sweetie?" I asked, my heart racing.

"Yeah, Mommy.  I looking at the clouds.  You wanna look at clouds with me?"  She shielded her eyes a bit so she could see me standing above her.

"Oh.  No, not right now," I said, relieved she wasn't hurt.  I turned and walked back to the empty bench.

I sat there, watching my kiddo, wondering if she was going to get up and play with someone else, worrying if she was starting to become a loner, questioning whether or not Will and I had made the right decision to not put her into preschool more than just one hour a week, feeling like an incompetent parent.

But someone broke my anxious internal monologue.  A person.  A stranger.  A stranger was approaching the spot next to me on the bench.  Oh crap.  I hate small talk with people I don't know.

The person sat down next to me, smiled, and said hello.  I smiled back, as I've been trained to do, and looked away dramatically as if I were searching for my child, even though I knew she was still lying there, looking at clouds.

I hopped up and began walking back toward Katie.  I giggled at myself as I crouched down to lie next to her.  Not because I was embarrassed and worried about what the other parents would think of me like I had been when Katie first invited me to look at clouds with her.  I giggled because I realized that it's ridiculous of me to worry about my daughter's introverted decision to enjoy the clouds, away from the crowd, when I myself get uncomfortable having to sit next to Humans I Don't Know and Who Might Want Me to Carry on a Dull Conversation with Them.

"Back off, Mama!  Enjoy the clouds with your daughter," I told myself that day.  

As I watched my child at the face-painting station transform into Donatello, I thanked my lucky stars that some days I remember this lesson.  

I wanted to name Katie "Stella" when I was pregnant with her.  It seemed like such a stellar name.  But Will talked me out of it, convincing me that she'd spend her entire life having people yell "Stella!" in their best Marlon Brando voice, which he's right, would be annoying.  But it doesn't matter.  No matter what name we chose for her, it's certain she's a stellar girl.

Obamacare is Broccoli

The stereotype of Democrats is that we want you to live in a nanny state, that we act like we know what's best for everyone and if you don't like it you'll be punished.  Like parents trying to force their kids to eat broccoli.  No matter how much we insist, "it's good for you!" or "just try might like it!" most kids are too stubborn to listen.  They'd rather be sent to their room without desert or some other kind of punishment.  My anti-Obamacare friends speak about the law like it's broccoli.

"I'm not buying it!  I'd rather just pay the fine!"

When I point out that they'll be saving money by buying the discounted insurance from the Obamacare marketplace rather than paying the outrageous medical bills they'll receive the next time they're faced with a major illness, I get a lot of yeah-buts and not a lot of conversation about consequences.  Just like kids.  I guess my anti-Obamacare friends don't have the capacity to think that far into the future.  "I never get sick.  And if I do I'll deal with it then."  Or, like kids, maybe they're just too stubborn to understand how ridiculous it is to say you don't like something without trying it.

Parent:  "Eat your broccoli."
Kid: "No!  It's gross."
Parent: "Have you ever tried broccoli?"
Kid: "No!  It's gross!"
Parent: "How do you know it's gross if you've never tried it?"
Kid: "It's gross!"

Pro-Obamacare American: "Buy health insurance at a discounted rate on the Obamacare marketplace!"
Anti-Obamacare American: "No!  It's awful!"
Pro-Obamacare American: "Have you logged onto the website and tried to enroll?"
Anti-Obamacare American: "No!  It's awful!"
Pro-Obamacare American: "How do you know it's awful if you've never tried it?"
Anti-Obamacare American: "It's awful!"

Now, I don't like Obamacare all that much either.  I'd rather see our nation turn to a single-payer system, or universal health care, so that everyone is insured with a Medicare-like program.  And Medicare is great.  Just ask my 86-year old conservative dad, a retired accountant who, one could argue, loves money more than people.  He freaking loves his government-provided health insurance.

It's grumpy old man approved!

Universal health care would be more cost-efficient, more humane, and better for business.  It would free businesses from the extraordinary burden that is providing employees with private health care insurance.  So guess what?  They could pay employees more, or hire more workers.  Or they could continue to be jerk offs too, if that's the route they want to take.  See: Wal-mart could continue to pay its employees non-living wages, keep their prices low and their profits high, and basically not change a thing since most of their employees already qualify for Medicaid because they are so poor anyway.

With universal health care, those of us who like our free time (Dad would call us dirty hippies) wouldn't have to work forty-hours a week just for the health insurance, so more people could switch over to a part-time job that allows them to spend more time with their kids, spend time on creative hobbies, or just swing their asses in a damn hammock in the backyard while sipping lemonade if that's what they want to do.  This whole working-forty-hours-a-week thing is a drag, man.  I'd love to see our culture evolve into one where unpaid work (spending time with your children) and leisure pursuits (writing, painting, fixing up old cars, hiking through the woods, binge watching TV shows, whatever the hell brings enjoyment into your life and harms no one else) were valued more.  

I might be a dreamer (Dad's voice reminds me of this in the back of my head daily), but I'm pragmatic enough to understand that, as much as I think I dislike Obamacare, it's better than nothing.  I'm at least willing to try it before I say it's awful.

I wish more Anti-Obamacare people would be willing to try it.  There's a great article in Salon from a journalist who fact-checks a Sean Hannity segment.  He re-interviews guests who had been on Hannity's show complaining about how Obamacare is ruining their lives.  During the interviews, he discovers than none of them had even tried to enroll in it yet.  

The journalist, Eric Stern, puts the blame on Hannity:

"I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions (Paul Cox, for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to Paul’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist."

Now, quit dilly-dallying around on my blog and go check out the Obamacare marketplace website.  And when you're done, go eat some broccoli!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yes Does Not Always Mean Yes: Teaching Our Kids about Drinking and Sex

***trigger warning: rape, sexual abuse, bullying***

Brace yourself.  The whiz reporting makes this story read like one of the best true-crime novels, it's so good.  But you might need to visit your doctor to up the dose of your anti-anxiety meds, it's so horrible.  Stories that make one physically ill to read them are the best!  Or is it just me?

In all seriousness, how has this story of underage drinking and alleged-rape and small-town politics not gone viral?  I just became aware of it this morning when my friend shared a link to the story by Dugan Arnett, "Nightmare in Maryville: Teens’ Sexual Encounter Ignites a Firestorm against Family" from the October 12, 2013 edition of The Kansas City Star.  You can read it here.

A couple of young girls got drunk, snuck out of the house, met some boys, allegedly got raped, got dumped back home (one of them outside in 30 degree temperatures), told their moms, alerted the authorities, hired lawyers, and went through the whole legal process of pressing charges against their alleged-rapists.  But then, seemingly because of small-town politics, the charges were dropped.  Read the story to find out what happens to the girls.  It's absolutely heartbreaking.

The part of the article that, to me, seems like a clear-cut case for pressing charges against Barnett is this:

"Barnett was not charged with statutory rape, as that Missouri law generally applies in cases when a victim is under 14 years old or the perpetrator is over 21. But felony statutes also define sex as non-consensual when the victim is incapacitated by alcohol.  Hospital tests around 9 a.m., roughly seven hours after her last imbibing, showed Daisy’s blood alcohol content still at 0.13."

A fourteen year old girl and a seventeen year old boy.

Parents, pay attention.  We must speak to our children about consent.  When we talk to our children about sex, we must emphasize that it is not just uncool but unlawful to have sex with a drunk person.  Children get confused.  They need our guidance.  Basically all of teenagerhood is a battle between your hormones telling you one thing and your morality telling you another.  No matter how much we instruct our kids to not drink, to not have sex, they are most likely going to do it.  I did.  Didn't you?  So let's be honest with them.  Let's educate them that if they are going to drink they not drive, and they certainly not leave drunk girls outside in 30 degree temperatures.  Let's educate them that if they are going to have sex they always make sure their date is coherent.  Yes does not mean yes when the person saying it is slurring the words.

If you're a tough, pro-girl advocate, please share this story.  To raise awareness.  To get these girls and their families the help they need and the justice they deserve.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


When we first moved to Johnson County, KS, I was twelve.  Mom suggested we drive around to see the neighborhoods.

"We can show Becky Mission Hills," Mom said.

"Instead of showing Becky the richest part of town, I'd rather drive her to the ghetto to show her how good she's got it," my dad countered.

They never did either.  My parents at the time were homebodies, more content to sit in their living room after a long day at their white-collar accounting jobs, watching TV, Dad dropping popcorn onto his chest hairs peeping out of his undershirt, Mom draped in whatever afghan she was crocheting or blanket she was quilting or clay she was molding or colors she was painting.  Mom is the kind of person who can't do just one thing at a time.  She can't just sit and watch TV.  She has to craft and watch TV.  She can't clean the house unless she's also listening to music.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are of watching mom dust the living room while we listened to her eight-track tape of Queen's "A Night at the Opera".  She sings along.

So I never did get a chance to drive around much until I met some friends with cars and a sense of adventure.  Still though, Kansas City is a sprawling town.  I've lived in the Greater Kansas City area since I was six years old, and yet there are many neighborhoods I have never seen.

I finally got to visit one of them yesterday.  For my job at the public library system on the other side of town, I took a tour of the LH Bluford Library in the inner city, the traditionally "black" part of town.  Many middle-class African-Americans have migrated to the suburbs, so today the area around Bluford is primarily black and poor.

The tour was fascinating.  The building itself is quite nice.  They remodeled it in 2010.  It's open and inviting, painted in vivid colors, orange and purple.  There's lots of space for teens, free computers, free wifi, and a big meeting room where they conduct children's programs and other community events such as an exercise class a couple of times a week and periodic health and wellness screenings.

Here's an informative blurb from their website.  They can say it better than I can:

The Bluford Branch Library is located in Kansas City's east side. Along with its strong collections in African American literature it is the first library in the Kansas City Public Library system to host a Health & Wellness Center. Among the amenities in the Center are specialized collections featuring extensive materials on topics ranging from teen pregnancy to diabetes; health kits for adults and teens containing books, DVDs, brochures, and articles relating to particular ailments, conditions, and diseases; and a machine to measure blood pressure. Also, a series of special programs take place on a monthly basis featuring health experts, healthcare industry job fairs, workshops, and health screenings.

The branch is named after Lucile H. Bluford, a local civil rights activist and managing editor of The Kansas City Call newspaper who spent her fascinating life working for civil rights and building a strong community in Kansas City.  There's an exhibit about her life and her work at the front entrance of the building.

There are posters on the walls throughout the building featuring local historical figures who have helped shaped the community.  Reading about these people and what they did for the community strengthens the connection to the neighborhood.

One of the best programs the library offers is for teens.  They periodically charter a bus and take trips to different parts of the city to experience culturally significant events, such as attending the ballet, going to Powell Gardens, eating dinner at a nice sit-down restaurant in the fancy part of town called The Plaza, and other field trips that allow these children to experience life in a way they never have before.  The woman giving the tour, branch manager April Roy, explained to us that some of these kids had never eaten at a sit-down restaurant where you order off a menu.  They saw big pitchers full of ice water and freshly sliced lemons.  Several of the kids exclaimed, "Oh, do we get to have some of that?"  Ice water with lemons.  This is what kids who have lived in poverty their entire lives think is a treat.

One program the library offers in its large meeting room is an after-school meal program featuring food from Harvesters, a local food pantry, for kids who might not get a decent meal until they go to school the next morning.  The money it takes to fund the program will be cut in a few days if the federal government continues to be shut down.  The government shutdown is affecting a children's nutrition program.  Kids aren't going to get the fresh food they need to nourish their growing bodies and minds.

This library is in one of Kansas City's most poverty stricken areas.  When the Kansas City Missouri School district lost their accreditation a few years ago, those who had the means to left, so the area's population has dwindled.  Most of the people left in the area are senior African-Americans who have lived in their homes for decades.  There must be some younger people, parents, somewhere.  At low-wage jobs.  If they're lucky to be employed.  There are condemned houses in the area where criminal activities take place.  Wherever the parents are, the kids in the area are often unsupervised, so the library has become a safe haven for them.

My favorite quote from this tour came after someone asked if they ask patrons to get off the computer if they're "just playing games" rather than doing research.

Ms. Roy laughed and said, "No.  Everyone in this library is entitled to their 60 minutes of internet time.  If that guy wants to spend his 60 minutes playing Bejeweled, so what?  It's his 60 minutes.  It might be the only 60 minutes of his day he's not under stress.  No I'm not going to tell him he can't play his game!"

Empathy.  The Bluford library has it.

I wish we lived in a country where rich white men in Congress would forget about greed, forget about party lines and lobbyists and all their political addictions and wake up from their greed-addled fog.  People all across this country, not just this one community I had the honor to visit yesterday, need help.  Those of us who are in positions where we can help them must do so.  End the government shutdown so great programs that help people rise up and find knowledge and develop a sense of themselves as empowered people worthy of a life of their making can continue.

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Not Just Walking It Off: A Romance Story

***trigger warning: depression, eating disorders, sexual abuse, abuse***

Mom always encouraged me to write romance stories.  I fucking hate romance stories.  I hate formulaic writing.  I hate lies about intimacy and connection.  I hate gender stereotypes and two-dimensional characters.

I tried to read the romance novels my mom would hand me.  I could never get past a couple of pages.  Ugh.  Such horrible writing.  This romance crap is not for me.  The closest thing I ever came to reading through an entire romance story is acting as the Nurse in the play "Romeo and Juliet" in sixth grade.  I can't even say I read the entire story.  I just skimmed through the script enough to figure out when it was my turn to talk and what I was supposed to say.

My sixth-grade teacher who was producing the play loved my performance.  She wrote, "To my little thespian" on my report card, which I read on the last day of school.  I was supposed to ride the bus home, but it was the last day of sixth grade at a school I would never attend again, so what was the worst they could do if they caught me walking home?

I opened the envelope that had my report card in it.  I scanned the grades.  All Es and Ss.  Our school went by ESMIF, not ABCDF.  E for excellent.  S for satisfactory.  I didn't really care.  I always got decent grades in elementary school.  It wasn't until I hit high school and started skipping too much school that my grades began to drop.  I say skipping like I was out having fun with my bad-influence friends, and sometimes it was like that, although most people's parents treated me like I were the badder influence, not their kids, but mostly it was just me not being able to pull myself out of bed in the morning after a full night filled with commiserating with Morrissey on the turntable, writing bad poetry in my journal, and lying in bed in the fetal position or sitting inside my closet either sobbing or staring off into space after the endorphins kicked in after a good cry.

When I got my GED--after being informed I was ineligible to graduate high school during my last semester, even though I was on the honor roll and had a 3.4 GPA, because I had missed the official limit of days required to graduate by one day--I never had to take any practice tests.  I just showed up on the day, paid my twenty-five bucks, and took the test.  I finished before anyone else and I got a perfect score in one of the sections.  I can't remember now and I'm too lazy to go look it up.  I think it was in English.  I know for sure it wasn't math.  I barely squeaked by in math, but considering I hadn't taken a math class since tenth grade because I didn't give a shit that my counselor warned me I wouldn't get into any decent colleges without taking algebra, I did OK on the test.  Maybe it wasn't English after all.  I evidently don't know how to use a period.

Anyway, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, in sixth grade I was walking home on the last day of school.  I opened up the envelope that had my report card in it.  I scanned the grades.  Then I flipped to the back to see what my teacher had written under "comments".  I wanted to see what she had to say about me.  It had been a hard year for me, I thought.  I had only recently recovered from being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa the year before, in fifth grade.  Starving yourself makes your brain cloudy, so my school work wasn't as easy for me to fly through anymore.  But mostly, I felt isolated from everyone.  I felt like no one understood me.  Just as I had begun developing breasts at age eight and menstruating at age ten, at age twelve I began my teen angst phase early.

My sixth grade teacher said something about how much she enjoyed being my teacher and how great it was to see me improve over the year, and she ended her nice comment with something that made me gasp with worry:

To my little thespian.

Oh my God.  Why would my teacher write that?  And why does she think that I am one?  I mean, yeah, I kissed that girl I met at storytime when we were four years old, but that was just little kid type experimentation, wasn't it?  Surely she didn't think I like girls that way.  How was I going to be able to show this to my mom?  She'll cry.  She'll be so ashamed...

Of course when my mom finally got around to asking me about my report card and I drummed up the courage to show her, she laughed when she explained to me that a thespian is an actor, not a gay girl.

The funny thing is.  I'm no longer an actor, but I really am a gay girl.  Well, a gay woman.  Well, a bisexual woman.  A lesbian.  Sappho, who the term lesbian comes from, was married to a man and she wrote love poems to her female lovers, so if she is a lesbian then I am one too.  Only I don't take female lovers anymore.  In my young adulthood I had three long-term relationships with women, well, four if you count three months as long-term.  But something queer happened when I was thirty-one, just a few weeks after I had broken up with my latest in a series of monogamous lesbian relationships: I fell in love with a man.

Will and I worked together at the public library.  He was a twenty-one year old part-time page in the Reference department.  I was a thirty-one year old full-time clerk in the Interlibrary Loan department.  One of Will's tasks was to come into my department once a week, every Friday, and bag our mail.  Sometimes I'd get done with my work early so I'd go over and help him bag mail.  We'd get to talking about the things we were bagging.  "Have you read this book?"  "Have you seen this movie?"  That sort of thing.  He picked up the DVD "The End of the Affair" and said, in a derisive tone, "The End of the Affair?  I wonder what this is all about?"

"Oh my gosh, that's a great movie!" I exclaimed, sliding a bag under the electric stapler and tossing it into a mail tub.

"A great movie?" Will cocked his eye-brow at me.  "A movie about an affair is a great movie?  You mean, like a cheating-on-a-spouse kind of affair?" He asked, incredulous.

"Well, yeah," I said.  I didn't know what else to say.  I'm terrible at defending my appreciation of art.  I just like what I like and I don't often know why I like it.  All I know is I'm drawn to complexity, intensity, and ambiguity.  I don't go searching for religious awakening or moral guidance when I read a book or watch a movie.

But I didn't say any of this to Will at that time.  Now that we've been married nearly nine years, he knows all this stuff about me.  But back then, when we were bagging mail together, just co-workers who barely knew each other, he had no idea.

"How could you like a movie about cheating?" he asked me.

"Well, it's more than that.  It's about how love is complex.  You'd have to see it for yourself to understand.  It's weird, because I HATE romance movies, but this is more than that.  It's romantic.  But it's philosophical too."

I must have sounded condescending because he gave me a look and I felt bad.  I don't like to sound like a know-it-all, but I often do just because I'm such a poor verbal communicator.  I tend to talk at people rather than with them.

"Speaking of seeing movies," Will segued smoothly, "have you seen The Fellowship of the Ring yet?"

"You mean that Lord of the Rings movie you were telling me about?  At the staff chili cook-off?" I asked.

"Yeah.  Have you seen it yet?" He pressed.

"No, not yet..." I began debating inside my head whether or not I should break it to him that I also HATE fantasy movies...really, any movie that requires any amount of suspension of disbelief.  That part of my brain appears to be broken.  Maybe it's associated with verbal skills.  I like my stories as realistic as possible.

As I was off in my own little world contemplating my next move, something Will said suddenly interrupted my internal monologue.  "What?" I asked.  I knew what he said, but I needed a minute to think.

"Do you wanna go see it with me?  This Saturday?  It's still playing."  He stood there, his shoulders straight, smiling so wide, his blue eyes shining with confidence I'd rarely seen in a mere mortal before.

"Uuuuuuhhhhhh," I said.  "Sure."  I was so taken off guard, I didn't know what else to say.  I mean, he seems nice and all.  Really nice.  And loyal.  Wow, that whole conversation about affairs thing.  That's pretty impressive that a young kid like this guy would be so offended by a movie about a marital affair.

So there I was, a thirty-one year old lesbian, just out of basically twelve years of thinking of myself as someone who would most likely some day end up in a long-term partnership with another woman, standing there accepting the offer to see a movie with a guy, a young guy, ten years younger than me, a guy so young when we got a beer before the show he said to me, "It sure is nice to be able to legally buy a beer at a bar now," since he had just turned twenty-one six weeks before.

What am I getting myself into?  I thought at the time.

I'll tell you what.  Saying yes to Will's invitation to see a movie I didn't think I'd like with a guy I thought I had nothing in common with was the best decision I ever made.  Having Will in my life is the best thing that has ever happened to me.  Without Will, I would not have Katie.  Without Will, I would not have my sanity.

I don't say that lightly.  I don't say that as someone who believes in fairy tales and stories about men rescuing damsels in distress.  I don't believe a woman needs to have a man in her life to be sane.  I know lots of women who live happily single or in partnerships with other women, and they do just fine.

But something about Will has just clicked for me.  I did OK for myself before I met him.  I bet even if I never met him my life would be fine.  But he has illuminated my world in such a way that I thank the Universe for the opportunity to know him, to love him, to care for him, and to be cared for by him.

And I sure need it.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in my doctor's office, sobbing, after I explained to her why I stopped taking the meds she prescribed to me when I came to her in another depressive crisis when my brother, the one who, along with his friend, had sexually abused me when I was a very young girl, was dying of alcoholic liver failure, how I had been trying so hard to follow the advice of Dr. Andrew Weil in his book Spontaneous Happiness by tackling this depression of mine naturally, by taking fish oil pills, by getting enough sunshine and working fewer hours and writing more and eating healthier foods and walking.  Every day.  As often as I could.  Taking walking breaks instead of coffee breaks at work to stave off the mental illness fog I felt approaching.  My doctor said the kindest words to me when I said all of this to her.  She said,

This isn't the kind of thing you can just "walk off", Becky.

I pictured myself as a child who had just fallen off her bike and skinned her knee, my dad in the background screaming, "Get up and walk it off!"

My doctor, like my husband, is younger than me.  I'd guess she's around Will's age.  But the way she was talking to me in her office a couple of weeks ago it was as if she were my parent.  I don't normally respond well to authority.  I've had too many people in my life who were in positions of authority abuse me, so I distrust those in authority in general.  It's hard to crack my rebellious shell, but my doctor did in her office that day when she explained it to me so simply even I could understand:

I'm sorry you went through what you did as a young child, but you did and we can't change that.  Your early childhood trauma changed your young developing brain.  Your brain doesn't make the same connections other people's brains that haven't been through what you've been through can make on their own.  This medicine helps your brain make those connections."

Or, as Will put it, "Dr. Andrew Weil is a great doctor, but he's not your doctor and he doesn't know you.  If he knew what your young developing brain went through he'd say, 'Fuck you, Becky!  You don't have mild to moderate depression.  You have chronic, major depression, so take your fucking medicine!!!'"

Don't worry.  Will was smiling when he said all that.  He wasn't really yelling at me like my dad did when I was growing up.  In fact, Will has been the best caretaker I could have asked for these last couple of weeks.  These last eleven years.

While I was stuck in bed these last couple of weeks, waiting for the sertraline to kick back in, periodically sobbing and staring off into space when the endorphins kicked in, Will took care of everything.  Literally everything.  He went to work.  He took care of all the housework.  He took care of all of Katie's needs.  He took care of our two dogs and our cat.  And he took care of me.

Anything you need, Babe, just ask.  

The other day we laid in bed, kissing.  I like to whisper things mouth-to-mouth with Will when we're this close.  I whisper-kissed this to him,

Thank you for taking care of me.

He whisper-kissed back,

Thank you for giving me someone to take care of.

I finally got him back yesterday.  I've been back on sertraline for over two weeks now.  I don't feel 100% yet, but I'm out of bed and getting back to work.  I was in the kitchen making Will's lunch for him to take to work.  He was in the bathroom, shaving.  I packed everything up, neatly, the way he likes it.

If I were packing my own lunch (something I rarely remember to do, which is why I keep nuts at my desk in case I show up to work, absent-mindedly starving) I'd just grab a bunch of random stuff out of the fridge and throw it into my bag and head out the door.  I might end up with a cup of yogurt, a jar of left-over green beans, and a half-rotten but cold pear.  But when I pack Will's lunch, I try to make it the way he likes it: neat and traditional: sandwich, pickle, chips, fruit, treat.  Half the time we're out of chips and treats, so he's stuck with an all-healthy lunch, not because I'm a naggy wife trying to make him eat better but because I'm a wife who lives with depression and some days it's hard for me to get to the store.  He never complains.

So yesterday as he was in the bathroom shaving and I was in the kitchen packing up his lunch, I grabbed a square sheet of paper I'd cut up from some of Katie's discarded drawings to use as scratch paper.  I wrote a little note for him and taped it to the inside of his lunch box.  I smiled as I imagined Will opening his lunch, the one I finally felt well enough to pack for him, and smiling as he read my note:


I love you so very much.  I don't know what I would have done without you these past two weeks, and longer.  Thank you for taking care of me, Katie, Earl, Sawyer, and Thatcher.  



I love making a lunch for you to take to work so you feel cared for too.

I guess my mom was right to encourage me to write romance stories.  I just had to find the right one.