In December of 1920, Robert Frost published what would become his most famous poem of all time, “Fire and Ice.” (Don’t worry – this post isn’t literary criticism, but I would like to set the stage for my thoughts.) The poem was not like his prior work; it was compact, succinct, but layered with meaning. It came in the wake of events that rocked American society and it came in the year that ushered in what we now know as the “Roaring Twenties.” Here are a few things that happened in 1920:
The League of Nations was established, and while he was at the work of establishing it, Woodrow Wilson suffered a blow to his health that rendered him an invalid. His wife, Edith, made decisions on behalf of her husband and became America’s de-facto female president. Many history books edit out some of that story.
On September 16, 1920, the worst terrorist attack in US history up to that point occurred on Wall Street. The event was enacted using a horse-drawn cart carrying a homemade bomb. The nation didn’t see another terrorist event that surpassed the destruction of that one until 1995. As a response to the Wall Street attack, the US saw the Palmer raids, which were poorly planned (among other things) and ruined one man’s political career forever while teaching another man – J. Edgar Hoover – how to better navigate the American political system to his favor in an upcoming presidential election.
Women gained the right to vote after an American suffrage movement that spanned almost 300 years (282, total).
The 18th Amendment – Prohibition – was passed. It was also openly ignored to the point where many of the most negative statistics (drunk driving, violent crime, murder, federal prison populations, etc.) drastically increased.
The “Lost Generation” – expats who stayed overseas after WWI – took the literary world by storm and ushered in a new movement in literary history.
The KKK decided to revitalize itself by capitalizing on media publicity and inciting acts of hate toward all ethnic groups they didn’t consider to be “white.” It took 50 years for law enforcement to eradicate the leaders of the organization after such rapid growth, and the damage still exists in society today. Their actions made for captivating news, so the media continued to cover it.
A man named Ponzi came up with a certain type of financial scheme, creating a new kind of theft.
Mass media was born when the first commercially-owned radio station broadcasted the presidential election results. In his book,1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar (2015), Eric Burns called it, “the birth of American mass media.”
Almost 100 years later, I see current events and the lines of Frost’s famous poem play on repeat in my mind. The lines are shown in this post in Italics. Let your own mind find the parallels in history and in words.
We can do better than this.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Riots arise from protests. Cities ignited where riots have escalated. Brushfires, lightning strikes, the inescapable heat of being human. Buildings that built history ablaze, stores smoldering, law enforcement vehicles eviscerated. Innocent lives have been lost for far too long, so the people cry out for retribution. Those lives matter.
Some say in ice.
Silence in the face of terror, or worse – apathy, hypocrisy. Deceit. Lockdowns due to plague, violence, distrust. Fear lurks in our conversations and our minds. Its insidious implications interfere with our hearts, destructive as the diseases we are dealt in a new decade.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
Desire for power. Desire for wealth.
Desire for more.
But also desire for control. For health and healing. For justice. For equality, individuality, safety, peace. For happiness, for meaning, for fulfillment. For feeling valued.
Desire for Love.
I hold with those who favor fire.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called them the “summers of our discontent” and the “summers of our riots” and explained the reasons these events erupt. It is when emotions ‘run hot’ and when anger ‘boils over’ that the hurting humans take tragic action. It is when too much is piled on to be ignored – when too much has already been ignored – that we self-destruct, continuing to decompose, to fester, too late to pretend that the heat and stench aren’t overwhelming. Humanity was not meant to devolve into the binary bilge of inequality and pain.
We were built for relationship. Science and religion both agree on that point, at least. That happens so rarely; it matters.
But if it had to perish twice,
We cannot continue to ignore and perpetuate disregard for human life.
We must stand up, together, and insist on living. We must insist on allowing others to live in harmony with us, with the same privileges and opportunities we have, applied with equal measure without separation or bias.
I think I know enough of hate
I am not black. I am a white female with all kinds of issues, but none of them are issues I have because of how much melanin my body has produced.
I know what fear is. I have experienced it. I battle PTSD, so I fight fear daily. I know loss. I know the gnawing grief of knowing there is a new hole in your life you can never fill because someone you love has been taken from you unexpectedly.
And I have never had to attribute any of those things to skin color. I cannot begin to imagine what life looks like from that point of view. It would be disrespectful to say, “I understand.”
No one should be able to imagine it, but people live in that space every day.
I have family, friends, coworkers, team members, and role models who represent not only multiple races but multiple nationalities – and they are indescribably amazing people. My life is richer for knowing them. My heart is grieved for the struggles they have faced. Many of them have faced those struggles alone and have never complained, pressing on in the face of opposition and oppression. They matter.
I also have family and friends in law enforcement who have sworn to protect all lives, and they are grieved by the actions of others who are supposed to stand for the same ideals and swear the same oaths, but who didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. And my life is also richer for knowing them – the good ones – and for watching them show up when called to make sure all of those same lives – the people living them, I mean – are able to exercise their rights to speak, to protest, and to demand that we do better. It is what they were called to do.
Families are often divided by the inability and unwillingness to take a deep breath, listen, and work together. I have watched my family live this division on more than one occasion. The only possible outcome is hurt, blame, shame, and division.
I pray for all of us daily – for family, friends, coworkers, the neighborhood, people – for protection, for comfort, for peace, for hope. For safety. For favor. For love.
I battle fear daily. I cling to hope. And my battle with fear is nothing compared to the fear so many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, and friends face each day.
To say that for destruction ice
Silence in the face of injustice is cold companionship.
Downplaying the current reality is self-deceit.
Failure to self-reflect and self-examine our personal truths and where they came from, failure to identify deeply-rooted habits and narratives that stem from ignorance and tolerance, and failure to actively decide to eliminate barriers of inequality is failure to function with a whole heart.
And whole hearts are what keep us warm, what connect us.
Is also great
100 years ago our nation saw a series of events that paved the way for society.
I would call a few of those events ‘progress.’ The other half were erroneous actions held up as a mirror in time. They reflected (and still resonate) greed, hate, pride, wrath, envy – all the ugliness that exists in humanity.
And the price of those actions is so great that people are still paying for them. It is unacceptable that white privilege exists and that there is still a systemic issue in our humanity a century later.
And would suffice.
When Robert Frost wrote “Fire and Ice,” it was more than a nine-line poem reflecting on the times.
When King gave his speeches, did interviews, and called for action, equality, and peace, he wasn’t just a preacher on a pulpit.
We can do better than this.
We can be better than this. It is a choice. It is active.
We do not have to continue hurling fire and ice at each other, waffling between roiling rage and haughty hate.
If we do, we are certain to destroy the world.
We can choose instead to stand, to love. We can fight fear and choose hope. Hope eventually requires a bold step. That step may defy the story others want to write for you. That’s okay; they can write their own story. We can write a different one – one with more propensity to persuade, one of prosperity and peace, one that acknowledges the past and agrees that it cannot be repeated or perpetuated.
We can actively love and create hope. It will not be easy. It will cost us our comfort zones, our suspension of disbelief, and our delusions. It will cost us the narratives we write about each other without evidence and it will cost our preconceived notions and judgments. It will take courage and it must be intentional.
It is necessary.
Black lives matter.
Be the difference.
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” -2 Corinthians 3:12
“Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other…?” -Malachi 2:10
“This is my command: Love each other.” -John 15:17 (Jesus speaking)
I got the news at 20 minutes past 10 PM on Wednesday night, July 1st. I was told there was a motorcycle accident and you didn’t make it. You were the one on the motorcycle.
I can’t process it.
Jordan Benjamin – or “Jordy B.” as I’ve called you since your birth – you went to rest with Jesus that night. I always thought of you more as a brother, not a cousin. I look back at all my favorite memories from childhood, and there you are.
This is how I remember you.
That was you. Always close to me, always up for a good laugh, a great joke, or a fun time. If you were around, we were together. You were one of the few people I could tolerate for long periods of time without needing to rest afterwards to recharge. You knew when I needed to be chill for a while and you knew when it was time to get into some mischief. I could count on you to be my partner in crime or my partner in laughter. No one else in our family got our humor – except maybe Grandpa when he would help us play a prank on someone else.
Even two and a half decades later, we still laughed about the time when Pa helped me play a trick on Josh because he was being mean and bossy. Just because he was the oldest didn’t mean he could boss us around, right? Right. And Pa drank apple cider vinegar and water every morning, and it looked a lot like apple juice, so a plan was hatched. Pa and I would replace your juice and Josh’s juice with vinegar water and see how that went. He thought we could get you, too. Only you came into the kitchen early to sit down – before Josh – and I couldn’t do it. So I caught your eye when you went to grab your cup and shook my head.
You knew. You set the cup back down on the table.
You grinned, in on the joke without a word needed.
I’ll never figure out how he couldn’t smell the difference, but when Josh drank from his cup and spit the vinegar across the table (and all over his breakfast), the other three of us lost it. You sat across from me, slapping the table, and we had tears rolling down our cheeks it was so funny. Even last Christmas when we were reminiscing about that very story, we got so tickled we couldn’t retell it. That was only 6 months ago.
It probably wouldn’t have been that funny to anyone else, but it was to us.
You would do just about anything I asked you to when we were little kids. No one has ever trusted me the way you did. (I’m not sure you should have, but we made some of the best memories and there were no injuries, so I’m keeping that on the books as a win.) No one has ever been able to read my mind quite so well, either. With a look, you knew when I was getting ready to blow a gasket or when I needed you to run interference. With a look, we could both burst into uncontrollable giggles that would have us rolling in the floor and crying from laughing so hard, even if no one else knew what on earth we were laughing about.
We would say, “You just had to be there and see their face.” And it was hysterical for both of us, because we were there. We saw their faces – could still see them in our heads.
That is how I remember you.
And this is how I remember you.
Always just over my shoulder. Always next to me when it mattered. Always willing to flatten anyone who might hurt me, whether they were blood-related to us or not.
Then again, you kept me posted on things. Will joked once that you called me in to be the heavy when you needed back-up on something. I told him he was wrong; I knew you. It wasn’t that you needed back-up, it was that your truth was sometimes a little more passive-aggressive and you knew that, while we had that in common, if I felt backed into a corner I would swing first before you could.
You knew that if you asked me, I would fight Hell with a water gun to make whatever you needed happen. (Never mind that there was a solid chance I needed the same thing but wouldn’t have done it for just myself.) You knew I would say things we both meant and I would do it in a way so no one would hate me for it later but everyone got the point.
You also knew I would say them to anyone, whether family, friend, or stranger. You would elbow me then pretend you didn’t. I always took the bait.
Then you would tell me later that I was too nice, but it seemed to work, so you were okay with it. You’d say, “I would have just…” then filled in the blanks with a half smirk, finishing with, “…but that worked, so whatever.”
I would then say, “Yep, but you didn’t,” then stare at you until you gave up with, “Fair point.” Then we would grin at each other and go on about our day.
This is not a good illustration of the man you were or the brother you were. This is not at all indicative of why people have confused us for twins all our lives (or triplets that one summer, but I’m pretty sure that was a fluke and only happened because Grandma made our clothes so Josh, you, and me were always wearing the same thing). Even last year, at the hospital, a nurse asked if we were twins. We both started laughing. You were over 6 feet tall and I’m 5 foot nothing. She said it was because of the way we acted. I don’t know how to capture that in words.
There are too many memories for me to sort through the vignettes so quickly. It will take time.
People keep asking me for details. I keep telling them I don’t know any of them – I always got details from you. You always called me or texted to tell me what was happening. You always ended with, “I’m doing this if you want to, too.” From the very first memory I have of you, that is what you would say. It was your way of asking me to show up for you.
People keep asking me how I’m doing. What am I supposed to say to that?
My sarcastic “Jordan voice” has a few things to say, but I ignore it. My abrasive “me voice” wants to let them know that’s a stupid question. I ignore that one, too. I take a page from your book (not the sarcastic one, the more pragmatic one) and say I’m doing about as well as can be expected.
I know I will see you in Heaven, so I feel comforted and at peace with that knowledge.
I am heartbroken for all of us you left behind for now; I was not prepared for this. None of us were.
I feel a little lost. You were my lynch pin.
I keep picking up my phone to call and text you to see what everyone else needs, then I remember you can’t tell me any more. That is the weirdest…
Your light was bright. Days will be dimmer, now. So I will be remembering your light, your laughter, your sense of adventure.
See you soon, bro. Until we laugh again, together.
And tell Grandma (Clara) I said hello and that her peach cobbler is still fabulous.
Here’s something fun: I went to the doctor in March right before the pandemic situation went crazy and she told me she’s pretty sure any GI diagnosis I got in the past has been incorrect or – at the very least – was not treated properly. She said this because no one in my medical records agrees on what’s wrong with me (Crohn’s disease like my dad? IBS? UC? Celiac? Lactose-intolerant? Just plain cooky?) and regardless of what each prior APRN or MD has said, none of them offered the appropriate treatment for whatever it was they thought was wrong with me.
Because of that, I have gotten to do lots of fun lab tests in the past few weeks, have a colonoscopy, and they tell me this week I get to do more fun lab tests.
I was going to write this blog post about my colonoscopy and prep but decided against it. There is enough poo going around in the world right now. (You’re welcome for my restraint.)
What I will tell you about the prep is that it isn’t as bad as it used to be, but I still give it zero stars and do not recommend it. The prep – if you’re lucky enough to get a newer kind prescribed – tastes like childhood illness on a beach vacation. More specifically, it tastes like you just vomited up seawater then your mom made you chase it back down with Dimetapp and 64 ounces of water within the same hour. I can also confidently say that if you have never had the pleasure of experiencing colonoscopy prep and you find yourself in a similar situation, I have two expert pieces of advice: (1) keep your charger cords in the bathroom with you with whatever devices you need to keep yourself occupied for several hours – I chose my iPad and phone so I could scroll through Pinterest or watch funny movies or shows, and (2) for the love of goodness when you go in for the procedure wear warm cabin socks and keep those suckers on your feet – hospitals are cold. (And yes, I followed my own advice – it wasn’t my first rodeo.)
Since I’m not going to go into further detail on that front, let’s talk about genetics at 37 years old and how I’m working on embracing me, shall we? Yes, I believe we shall, because it’s my blog.
My dad’s side of the family is Cherokee and Welsh-American (confirmed on the Cherokee since my great-grandmother was Cherokee, or at least half, and the Welsh is as far back as we’ve been able to trace, which wasn’t really that far if we’re honest – maybe one or two more generations back). My mom’s side of the family is German-American (also easily confirmed). When I was little, my dad had brown-black hair, the kind of complexion that turns into a clover-honey tan, and bright blue eyes. He also has Crohn’s disease and is super smart. My mom had a creamy complexion that would still tan to a golden, peaches-and-cream color, dark blond hair that she used to lighten to a platinum blond color when she was in high school, and aqua blue eyes. She also has a mild form of scoliosis that is easily treatable with chiropractic care. Oh, and she’s nearsighted and she has an astigmatism.
Mom used to iron her hair out straight since it had just a little bit of a wavy texture to it – almost like beach waves, but not really curls. Her mom always got perms, so I’m not sure what her hair texture was like, but mom’s three sisters had/have some wavy texture, too. Dad’s hair, when he grows it long (yes, even when he grew mullets – and yes, he has grown a mullet several times, unfortunately), is crazy thick and a little wavy.
Both my parents come from boisterous families where everyone sings or plays an instrument or both. Everyone grew up performing. I am quite proud to say it’s a little bit stupid how talented my extended family is.
My older brother was born with honey blond hair that gradually turned dark brown over time and was delightfully shiny with little to no curl or wave to it. He tans in about 5 minutes to that clover-honey tint my dad has year-round and his eyes are bright, ocean blue. He does not have Crohn’s disease or any other GI issues and he does not have scoliosis. He also has perfect vision. He is extroverted and has my dad’s charisma – he never met a stranger – and has been known since he could take his first steps to be ready to perform on the spot and with no warning. He draws, he sings, he plays an instrument or three. He is a public speaker and has traveled around the state to give anti-bullying talks. He even helped get an anti-bullying bill passed into law. (Thank goodness he’s not the greatest dancer – that would just be too much.) People love him.
How nice for him.
I have creamy pale skin that turns slightly reddish but will not really burn unless I’m on some sort of medication (which I usually am) and if I get the chance to spend some time in the sun, I can build a nice tan. I was also born with honey blond hair that slowly got darker over time and landed at medium ash brown with some darker blond highlights that come naturally.
I am very beige during winter months.
My eyes are green. My hair is and has always been quite curly. I am 100% introverted and have been tested enough times since kindergarten to say that with full confidence. More than one or two people at a time for me is incredibly unappealing. I love me some me time. I crave it. It makes me happy.
My older brother used to tell me all the time that I was adopted.
I totally believed him.
It still kind of makes sense, except that while my skin, hair, and eyes don’t resemble either of my parents at all, I did manage to inherit a few of their other traits – like GI/immune issues, scoliosis, intellect, my dad’s circadian rhythm (mornings are gross, nighttime is awesome), some of the family talent minus the extroversion and social grace, my dad’s love of cooking, my mom’s nearsightedness and astigmatism, sarcasm as my first love language, etc.
I remember my hair, though, being the biggest obstacle for me growing up. You’d think it would have been introversion, but no. Introversion just made me really, really good at hide-and-seek. I was a champion hider.
With my curly hair, I could look around the rest of my family and easily win the game, “Which One of These Is Not Like the Others.” (I did have some cousins with super-curly hair, but they were boys, so it was always cut short. There was no help for me from that front.) My parents didn’t really know what to do with my hair.
My mom was and is an awesome mom. But she had straight hair. So she treated mine the same way she treated hers. It got washed, then it got brushed a few times throughout the day. We eventually had to invest heavily in detangling spray (Johnson & Johnson’s No More Tears saved my life). I used to cry because brushing my hair hurt so bad. I would beg my dad to brush my hair instead of my mom because I could trick him into using the natural-bristle brush and he only touched the top layer, so it was painless. Also useless and made me look a lot worse. But it didn’t hurt. At age 3, that’s all I cared about.
As I got older, the battle continued. Ironically, it was the 80s and big hair was all the rage. Women were getting perms and making the manufacturers of Aquanet and White Rain boat-loads of money. Mom even got a perm. It was quite poodle-like. But everyone in my family still thought my hair was a tangled mess that just needed taming, and by taming I mean brushing, and by brushing I mean fluffing it into a hot mess that made it look even more unruly. Here’s a picture from my fourth or fifth birthday party. Please ignore my little brother picking his nose (also, you’re welcome Heath) and see if you can look past him and spot me. It won’t be difficult. I’m the Cabbage-Patch Kid look-alike with hair that appears to be growing straight out before succumbing to gravity and hanging in limp tangles.
My hair was always a mess, and no matter how smooth, perfect, and untangled it was when Mom got done brushing it, within three minutes it turned into a frizzy nest from hell.
In middle school and high school, I discovered that if I used a hairdryer on high heat with a giant paddle brush, then went over all of that with a large-barreled curling iron, my hair would fall in slightly less frizzy, shiny-ish waves. I was delighted.
Unless it rained. Rain is the common enemy of every blow-out and flat-ironed style. It brings its best buddy, Frizz, along with it. They do not discriminate.
By the time I got to college, popular haircare lines like Pantene and L’Oreal were coming out with shampoo/conditioner and styling products meant to enhance curly hair. That was around the same time I realized how incredibly lazy I am and that working so hard to dry and straighten my hair while living on the tenth floor of a dorm with no A/C (it was broken half the time) and no elevators (also broken more than half the time) in the eastern half of Kentucky during late summer, fall, and spring is an exercise in futility. (It was dumb, y’all.)
So, I bought all. the. products. for curly hair that I could find in the usual haircare aisle and started experimenting. I met some amazing women of color on campus who yelled at me to come over and chat one day. They asked me what the hell I was thinking brushing curly hair and they gently convinced me to stop it and use a pick or wide-toothed comb instead. They also pointed me to a different aisle of haircare products made for textured hair. Those young women were angels.
With the hard water in the dorm, natural humidity, and sweat build-up from climbing stairs wearing 50 pounds of textbooks on my shoulder, the new products and routine helped me rebuild my hair’s health. It turned out, I had some pretty tight ringlets.
While in college, I did still enjoy experimenting with straightening my hair some days or changing its color, but I wore it curly about half the time, maybe more. I worked in two different restaurants and always made better tips when I wore my hair curly. People seemed to smile at me and want to interact more. They assumed I was fun and outgoing. (I wasn’t.) From an intellectual standpoint, I observed that I got treated differently depending on how I wore my hair. It was… interesting.
Fast forward to graduation and getting my first “big girl” job. I had gone on a few interviews and had read an article somewhere that suggested women with textured hair should straighten it so it appeared sleek and more put together for things like job interviews so others would take us seriously. So that’s what I did, and I got hired in for-profit education working as an Admissions Rep. I continued straightening my hair almost every day to appear more business-like for the first couple of years. After that, I realized how damaged my hair was and decided to lay off the heat styling for a while and let it do it’s thing. I was also very sick, malnourished (due to GI issues), and my hair showed it. Much like my energy levels, it was limp. It had started to fall out. I needed to give it a break.
I was okay at that job. I hated it (loved my coworkers) but I was good at it. I applied for a few other positions over the nine years I was there, landing some interviews at the local university. I didn’t get any of the positions I had applied for – I was under-qualified for one (fair enough), over-qualified for another (I call bull), and for the last two I was told I didn’t appear professional enough to be considered.
I asked questions about those last two. Was I unprofessional in my manner? I was told no. My dress? Also no. My speech? Oh, no, I was very polished and clearly intelligent.
Then what was it? No one could quite put their finger on it. It just seemed to them that some of the other candidates were more polished. There was nothing in my history or in my social media that gave the impression that I would poorly represent any company. Quite the opposite, I was told. I just seemed… like a social butterfly, less serious.
I was floored. That was the antithesis of who I was. I was the person at work who didn’t socialize as much. I was the person who didn’t gossip. I was the one who wore suits to work and full business attire in the business casual environment. I’m the introvert, the intellectual, the observer, the overachieving straight-A student who gets her work turned in on time – often early – and it’s precise and correct. I had friends who called me “Bones” after the main character in that show who takes everything so literally and seriously. How on earth had I shown up as unpolished and less serious?
One of the ladies I worked with at the time pulled me aside one day when I was lamenting my situation and got brutally honest with me. It was my hair.
I had worn it curly (though pulled back neatly) to the last few interviews. I was trying to undo the damage I had done with heat styles over the years. This kind lady – herself with course, kinky-curly hair and herself still in the entry-level position she had gotten over a decade ago – told me the truth: in our world, people just don’t take women with curly hair as seriously.
I didn’t believe her. I thought that was dumb. Surely potential employers understood that was discriminatory and biased. It’s illegal to make hiring decisions like that.
Then I had a conversation with another acquaintance who was also a hiring employer. I wanted advice on how to show up better for job interviews. I had finished my Master’s degree and my family needed me to make more money.
She told me to make sure I straightened my hair. She said curly hair looks unkempt. She personally hadn’t ever gotten a good impression from anyone who showed up to interviews “like that.” In her opinion, if they couldn’t take the time and care needed to “make themselves presentable and look polished,” well, they probably wouldn’t take the time and care needed to do their job the right way.
I felt hot and cold all over. I was embarrassed – for me and for her. Here she was, saying things that were discriminatory based on hair texture, of all things, and thinking it was okay. Here I was, listening to her basically tell me that in my natural state, I would never be enough, never be taken seriously, never be promoted or awarded for the quality of my work or for my accomplishments. In her world, in my natural state, I was incapable of accomplishing anything noteworthy.
What an ugly thing to feel.
I severed ties with that acquaintance pretty quickly. I also quickly got hired at my current company. I am focusing on being as healthy as I can be, and that includes my hair.
All of this has happened within the past 15 years. I have colored and straightened my hair a lot in that time, still, but now I am at a point where I need to focus on my overall health, and that includes my hair. So the other day, I decided to get rid of my heat styling tools, haul out my diffuser, and go curly-product shopping. There is an entire, gigantic community of humans all over the globe who are embracing their natural hair textures and who are focusing on healthy self-image that includes those textures. I’m joining it.
My hair is now more wavy than curly due to damage and lack of nutrients. But I’m a on a mostly plant-based diet, now, so with lots of time (it takes a year or two of patience) I’m thinking I can reclaim some of the actual curl. That’s the goal.
I’ve also been promoted twice in the past three years, and the last time I was promoted I went through the interview process with my hair in its natural state. Progress.
There’s not really a point to this post other than for me to celebrate the fact that at 37 years old I am deciding to be even more me.
Unless the point is about how liberating/frightening/traumatic/rewarding/amazing it can be to embrace everything about how you were made and learn to love it. Unless it’s about loving your life even if you’ve always been the weirdo, the underdog, the different one. It’s important to remember we are made exactly as we are for a reason and that we bring something to the world that no one else brings. It’s important to know that we don’t have to change who we are or how we look to be effective, successful, and most importantly, to be enough.
So cheers to my family for doing their best with what they knew and for supporting me even though I look a little different and act a little different than they do. That kind of love and support feeds feeling comfortable in your own skin and helps you build a good sense of humor.
Cheers to the people (Is it rude to say idiots? Yes? Well, then.) who passed over me because of some serious, deep-rooted social constructs they had developed that were wildly discriminatory. Coming up against that kind of fear after being raised with love and support creates grit and strength of character.
And cheers to me for embarking on this journey back to great hair and good health. And cheers to you for whatever it is that’s unique about you that you were somehow taught made you less than, or other, or not enough. Because how you were made is awesome and just. exactly. right. Be you.
(I’m still a little peeved about not getting the darker complexion and perfect eyesight, tbh, and about the fact that I just found a bobby pin in my hair that may have been from a couple days ago. At least it isn’t sticks and leaves any more like it was when I was little. Ha! I have matured. #curlyhairprobs)
(P.S. I cannot believe I forgot one important group of ladies who also helped me accept my curls and love them! Okay, I can totally believe it, but I have to say… my extroverted brother told me when I started college that I was socially inept – he used a different, non-Kosher word – and should join a sorority to learn how to ‘people’ correctly. He pointed me to three he would recommend and I was invited to join all three. Some of my favorite humans in the world came from all of those organizations and I shunned the one for which I was a legacy to join the one I was most comfortable with. What was the difference? I looked around at my new sisters and a lot of them had curly hair. It was like I found the tribe I looked like, finally. Acceptance is a big deal and a universal language. Never forget that. And cheers to all my sisters from other misters!)
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are Christ’s letter, delivered by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God – not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” –2 Corinthians 3:1 – 3
A lot of feeling and reaction can come from a letter. We get so much junk in our mailbox – ads, coupons for things no one wants to buy (those poor, dead trees), bills, politicians begging for a vote because their actions don’t speak well for them. But think about the warm pleasure we get when receiving a hand-written letter from a friend, a rare occurrence these days. Think about how excited children (and some adults… okay, me) are when they receive a birthday card. If there wasn’t pleasure in writing and reading a letter, people wouldn’t spend so much money and time on Christmas cards, especially the ones that come with a “year in our lives” update on the family.
Think of the comforting power of hand-written notes and letters to offer sympathy and condolence, or the devastation that can be delivered when the military sends a person to hand-deliver the written news that a loved one is never coming home again.
Letters are powerful.
Those were my thoughts when I read this verse from 2 Corinthians. Maybe it’s because I love writing, especially letters to friends (though I haven’t in quite a long time, so there’s my reminder). Maybe it’s because I love receiving a random, hand-written card or note reminding me how fiercely loved I am. It is terrifyingly wonderful to think that we are just as powerful, that we are hand-written letters meant to be read by the world. That’s a lot of pressure.
Our hearts are letters to be read. That means our hearts are meant to be open and available for reading.
It’s a compelling reminder to me that the walls I construct around my heart not only prevent me from being read by the world as a love letter to them; they also prevent me from reading all the walking love letters surrounding me every day. How sad to know so many letters go unread.
What would it look like if even a handful of us tore down those walls and started purposely acting like a love letter sent to a world that is hurting, grief-stricken, lonely, and scared? We will certainly be in danger of being hurt in return. It is certainly daunting. We will absolutely have times when we feel lonely and alone. There will be grief. It will suck. It is hard to sit with people in their hurt, grief, and aloneness and take the time to really see them without squirming. (“Squirming” includes trying to make it better with platitudes and trite sayings, setting a mental timer to stay only 15 minutes at the funeral home or hospital, and convincing ourselves we are too busy to help and someone else will surely be there. Squirming is sympathy without empathy.)
Then again, the letters that are the most valuable – the ones we keep in our boxes with old photos and trinkets – are the ones from people who see us and who minister to our hearts. Those are the letters that stick with us. We keep love letters, encouragement, the funny birthday cards from our children.
That’s my charge to myself, then: to be brave, to open my heart to people and let them read the letters written there, to get knocked down by some of those people, to fail epically on many occasions, and to choose to keep my heart open anyway.
Because if my heart is a hand-written letter then it follows that the letter was written on purpose for someone to read. And I would never want to get in the way of someone reading.
Apparently, it’s my 6th anniversary with WordPress. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. I simply realized I hadn’t posted in forever (again) and thought it might be time to throw down a few lines while my husband watches grown men throw down each other, or throw chairs down on each other. (Wrestling is not my entertainment of choice – that’s “wrasslin” if you’re from my home state.)
I don’t have much to say, though. That’s not like me. I can unintentionally take a 5-minute conversation and drag it out for an hour.
Since it’s my blogiversary, however, I feel compelled to write. So… I shall tell you a parenting story from when I was only 3 or 4 years into this whole step-momming thing. I shall entertain you, and possibly frighten you if you have a boy who is not yet 3 or 4 years old.
Disclaimer: This story happened a decade ago. Much has changed since that time – I have moved to a company I love and a role I enjoy by now, but when this occurred, life was hard. Also, it has been a decade. Memory is a tricky thing, so I’ll fill in the details I can and you’ll have to fill in the rest. Happy trails!
It is Saturday. The husband-child is at soccer practice, or out mowing, or with friends, or something else. He is not at home. It is his weekend to have the kids, so the girl child and boy child are at the house with me. He is around 4 – just had his birthday, in fact – and she is 8 going on 9. I am at the kitchen sink washing dishes that wouldn’t fit into the dishwasher or are not dishwasher safe. Or the dishwasher is broken, which is more likely.
I normally watch TV while I’m doing dishes, because we have an open floor plan and the kitchen sink is backed by a half wall that allows me to see the living room, where the TV is located. Today, though, I need quiet. It has been a long week at work, I am tired and hate my job, and home is stressful, too.
And, you know – kids.
Both kids have been surprisingly easy to handle today. They are watching TV and playing together in the girl child room. She has always been another kind of mother to him, even though we have told her to let him do things for himself and even though they get on each other’s nerves. Her room is the farthest from the front of the house. It is only 1200 square feet, so nowhere is far from the front of the house, which is built in a square shape, but I tell myself they are as far as they can be while still close enough for me to handle whatever they do.
I am precious. Also, naive.
I am halfway through the dishes. My fingertips are raisin-wrinkled from soaking in the suds.
I notice how quiet it is. It is peaceful.
This is catastrophic.
For those of you who are not parents, yet, or who may never be, please allow me to educate you. When it is quiet in your home and you have at least one small child, it is bad. It is possibly/probably a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. Here’s the formula version:
+ SILENCE =
That’s toddler + silence = nuclear explosion if you didn’t get that. The only time that’s not true is if they’re sleeping, and even then it’s only 50/50. (So. Many. Stories. I may have found my new blog subject for the next year.)
*back to the story*
I know they’re both supposed to be in the girly’s room, but it’s silent other than her TV, which is now on a show I know the boy does not like and will not watch. I dry my hands, prepared to investigate. A candy cane odor permeates the air. I wonder if they found some gum and begin imagining all the horrible things that could happen that I will not be able to (a) prevent from happening, (b) explain to their mother, or (c) remove from the carpet.
The dread I feel is an elephant sitting on a dollhouse chair.
I walk down the hall and notice he is not in his room, which is on the way, and the bathroom appears dark, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. Her door is closed. I open it and do not see her brother.
“Hey, sweetie, where’s your brother?”
“He said he was going to the bathroom, then he would go to his room and play.”
I pause, confused. “He’s not in his room, and there is no light under the bathroom door.” The bathroom, in fact, is silent.
“He’s been in there for a while, now. Maybe he had to poop.” Never in the child’s life has his poo ever smelled minty fresh. He is afraid of the dark. Oh, this is bad.
I brace myself, knock on the bathroom door, and say his name. No answer. I knock again and ask if he’s in there, in as sweet and hopeful a voice I can use. He yells back, “I be done in minute!” (He is autistic and his speech patterns and development are a couple years behind on the learning curve. His words sound more like a 2-year-old’s, but I know what he is saying.)
“Hey, buddy, are you okay? The light is off in there!” Nothing – I try the door. It is locked. He is not allowed to lock the door. I begin counting down from 100 so I don’t go from zero to rage in a nanosecond. If he has locked the door, a horror I have never known awaits me on the other side. There is also the very real fear that he will hurt himself, albeit accidentally. We changed the lock last year so it’s easier to open from the outside, though. All I need is a penny. We keep it on top of the door frame. I grab it to unlock the door, letting him know I’m going to.
I hear the knob rattle before I can unlock it, and the door creeps open. The light is still off. I am forced to step back when a noxious cloud of artificial mint escapes into the hallway. I flick the light switch.
A smurf walks out of the bathroom into the hallway.
There is no other explanation.
Every inch of skin is sky blue and the only contrasts are his white-blond hair, gray eyes, and white shorts.
The mint is so overpowering that I continue stepping backward through the hall, away from him. It is burning my sinuses.
His arms are outstretched from his body at 45-degree angles, his eyes are saucer-wide, and he begins inching toward me.
The smurf is stalking me!
He starts promising, over and over, “I won’t do ‘gain. I won’t do ‘gain. I won’t do ‘gain.” His eyes plead with me to believe him and not be mad. The gruesome remains of two tubes of toothpaste and their offal litter the bathroom sink. Another smurf may have died a violent, torturous death within these walls.
The look on his face penetrates the menthol brain fog and I finally ask, “Buddy, what happened?” I am careful to keep the question neutral so he doesn’t have a meltdown and I have a chance to get an explanation.
He says, “I fot it was shavin’ cweam.” His eyes begin to water, two silvery full moons in his cornflower-hued face.
I connect the dots.
He received a toy shaving kit for his birthday or Christmas. The play shaving cream looks a lot like a stand-up toothpaste dispenser. He thought the toothpaste was his toy shaving cream. I have no explanation for why he might smear fake shaving cream over his entire body. Maybe he watched a documentary about a swimmer? I realized long ago that happiness does not await one who travels the road through his mental world and tries to understand it. His mind is not meant to be fully understood by mere humans. It is meant to be wondered at, observed, and enjoyed – a complex work of surrealism juxtaposed with modernist art, all displayed in a funhouse of mazes and mirrors.
It’ll make you crazy.
“Buddy,” I say. “You didn’t bring your kit with you here. It’s still at your mom’s.”
He cries. “It hurts.”
He has eczema. His skin is not tingly fresh. He is on fire.
I run a bath while he stares at his shorts, contemplating his dilemma. His hands are blue with caked toothpaste. He knows he shouldn’t touch his shorts. Crisis.
Meltdown is eminent. Whether it will be mine or his is a crap-shoot.
We get him into the bathwater. It’s the same struggle I had trying to wash toothpaste off my car after the wedding – when toothpaste gets wet, it foams and sticks. It is not easy to wash away.
Also, the water has turned into a toxic, opaque blue lagoon, and less than half of the toothpaste is gone. We drain and start again. Running the shower is not an option, as the boy child cannot handle water anywhere near his face.
It takes three baths to remove blue from crevices that – once we had potty trained – I didn’t think I would ever have to see again. His skin is no longer blue, but the peppermint oil and chemicals in the paste have left him with raised bumps and angry red marks where skin is irritated. I smear him with the hydrocortizone I have left and every ounce of Eucerine cream I can get out of a boat-sized tub. He is no longer a smurf.
He is a baby abominable snowman who hails from a peppermint farm in Oregon.
How am I going to explain this?
Executive decision: I am not.
He takes a nap while I have a meeting with myself and tell myself to get it together. Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream is served at this meeting. It is a lifeline.
His mother picks him up a few hours later and bends down to hug him. She scrunches up her nose and asks, “Why does he smell so minty?”
“I am incapable of telling that story, but we’re two tubes of toothpaste short, now, and he’ll probably smell that way for the next few days.”
It will take a week for the fragrance to dissipate. We write a note to his pre-school teacher. It is an improvement over the last explanation we had to give her. A month prior to this, he accidentally started a melee on the playground and had no clue.
In his defense, he had no idea he inspired a brawl.
Side-note: he has never smelled better than he did that week. (True story – boys going through puberty are stinky.)
I learned today that I have not yet arrived to the point in my salvation where I can cover everyone with perfect grace/mercy.
Well, it was reiterated. It’s a journey, folks, and I know my truth.
I also learned today what it means when people say things like, “Mama Bear came out of hibernation,” or, “She went all Mama Bear on ’em,” or, “You better watch yourself or I will straight up go Mama Bear on you!”
People, when someone says that, what it apparently means is that the desire to do violence is so great that it can only be compared to a Grizzly bear on rampage. Fun fact: the bite of a Grizzly is thought to be able to crush a bowling ball, easily. Grizzlies will also approach other predators to steal their prey for dinner, and they do it in the open with no apologies.
And I hit that point today in less than 3 seconds flat, and I have no regrets. That’s probably a bad sign.
Another fun fact: you have never known true rage until you’ve held your grown child while they weep because someone else hurt them and they did it via phone/text because they were too cowardly to have an adult conversation. (Don’t ask me what happened – I won’t expatiate.)
I hate violence. I am so sensitive to it that I can’t watch it on television, I hate the noise of a violent show or video game, and because of that (much to my husband’s dismay) I will never be a fan of Game of Thrones. (I know, I know – just get over it. Never gonna happen for me.) I come from a long line of hunters who have passed down the Cherokee ways – hunting is for food, not for sport, and nothing gets wasted. In a zombie apocalypse, we’ve already decided which remote location we would move to and that I would be responsible for providing food for the family with the added bonus that I know how to tan leather the old fashioned way, make weapons, and knit (we can’t wear only leather – it would be a horrible fashion statement). I can do it if I have to, but my heart is tender, especially toward animals, and I would not love it. I cry when I hit butterflies with my car, for pity’s sake. I cried once after hitting a kamikaze squirrel on the way to take our youngest to elementary school, and it was so alarming to him that he patted my hand for the next 7 minutes and asked me if I was okay twice before he was willing to get out of the car and leave me alone. And he’s the one who doesn’t read or process emotions like other people do, so I must have been a train wreck for him to be that worried.
Food is food, though, so I could get past it. Or I would openly weep while providing dinner for the family and we would have a rule that no one talks to me for 24 hours after the hunt. Whatever.
I have been subjected to violence and never once has it inspired me to retaliate in kind. Don’t mistake what I’m saying; I will protect my family at all costs and I’m a crack shot, but the threat has to be real.
I am a delicate flower.
Today, my tenderhearted spirit temporarily and gladly vacated my body to be replaced with the rage of a thousand Grizzly bears, and I wanted blood. I wanted violence. I wanted to rip someone’s face off then rip out their entrails while they writhed with the pain of their demise, to hear the snap and crack of vertebrae separating from vertebrae, and I would have done it with a smile on my face.
Whoa. Yeah. It was real. It is not a Christian attitude. It is not something that would come up as an optional answer (for a child of the 90s) if asked, “What would Jesus do?”
Not that, okay?
Would I ever do that? Probably not. I say “probably” because I hope not. I’ve never been given the option and wasn’t close enough today to worry about it. The moment was fleeting, albeit intense. Also, I have the actual upper-body strength of an overcooked spaghetti noodle, so… yeah.
But oh, I wanted it with every neuron and muscle fiber in my body. I wanted to crush heads like a Grizzly biting a bowling ball, use my claws to shred skin like it was paper then throw it as confetti, bathing in blood all the while. (Okay, now I’m feeling a little ashamed, but I’m trying to be transparent, here.)
The worst part about it is that I don’t hate this person. I know that our kids will have to go through hurt, and disappointment, and that it is going to be awful and scary and sometimes humiliating and they will not know how to handle it and they will fall apart and there is nothing I can do about it. I know that. I hate it. But I know it. I even know it’s necessary for them to learn how to human correctly, with compassion and empathy.
The rage is not because one of my own is hurting – I mean, okay, fine, it is absolutely because one of my own is hurting and I want retribution. Happy?
It’s also because of two other reasons: the first is that the idiot didn’t even have the cojones to inflict the wound face-to-face, like a real adult should. He did it via text message, and there is no universe where a mature adult will ever do that. Let me be clear: amature adult who actually has their $%*# together will give bad news face to face no matter how uncomfortable it is. So if said idiot gets ahold of this somehow – WRITE THAT DOWN. YOU HAVE FAILED AT ADULTING. BE BETTER. You can do it; I know enough about you to know that.
The second reason, though, is far deeper and speaks to wounds we have all felt and that I do not want to perpetuate in the next generation. It is a wound that creeps in during childhood when we fail at parenting (we all do it, sometimes – no one is perfect), gets reinforced when things at school aren’t exactly as expected, when friends suddenly become enemies and there’s no explanation, and when we’ve left childhood behind and face disappointments as adults (a job we wanted but didn’t get, a relationship that goes sour, a negative checking account when we forgot to subtract that $5 at the gas pump, the disappointment from our parents if we don’t have the same dreams and strengths they wanted us to have, the list is innumerable).
It’s a nonspecific viral illness, striking when least expected and without a clear, definitive diagnosis in most cases, a festering sore that gets more and more infected the older we get if left unchecked. It poisons our lives, and while the symptoms are sometimes there, we might never know the true source of the infection. It’s that little voice that whispers in the dark when we’re at our lowest, and you know what it says?
It says we’re not enough.
I cannot prevent the hurt I know my loved ones will feel. I cannot shield our children from pain, wouldn’t even know how to in most cases, and I will never have that kind of super-power (or, thank God, responsibility). I know that the hurt is necessary for learning and growth, and that it is uncomfortable. My hope is that I can help make it temporary and that what doesn’t kill them really does make them stronger – not in a false way, where they surround themselves with a shell of impenetrable ice, but in a way that they are still just as soft and vulnerable as ever, but proud and confident because they’ve survived the wound.
I want them to understand that it is 100,000% okay to fall apart, even if they need to fall apart multiple times. I want to be a safe place for them to do that. I want them to be so okay with who they are as a human and so secure in our love for them that they can ugly cry in public or sitting in our bathroom floor, and I want them to know that it is in that exact moment when their beauty and their strength shines through. I want them to know that when someone hurts them I want to tear that other person into a gazillion pieces and then tell God they died, but instead I’ll probably ask what kind of ice cream they want. I want them to know that if they truly need me to, I will step in and handle it, but that there are few instances in which they truly need me to step in to do that.
I hate the pain, but what I hate the most – what inspires the rage – is the thought that they might ever feel like they are not enough.
There is nothing on this earth that will make me go Old-Testament-reckoning on someone like anyone making someone I love feel that way.
I will end them.
(I will want to, even if I don’t do it. Jail is real, y’all. Jail is real. That’s why we have Jesus, friends, ice cream, chocolate, and sometimes even wine – in moderation.)
If you have ever felt that wound, if you feel it now, let me go ahead and tell you what someone should have said to you long ago.
You. Are. Enough.
You are not too much, you don’t fall short, you are plenty.
Sometimes, there are people who need to make an exit to make our lives better. Sometimes, we want things to work out that don’t, and it is devastating. Often, we have no idea what really happened or why, and usually, closure does not exist, but in Hemingway’s words, “isn’t it pretty to think” it does? (Go read The Sun Also Rises if you don’t know that reference. Educate yourself.) All of those things are hard lessons learned from hurt.
But you are enough.
I am still dealing with the rage. I cried while holding the crying child, and in the aftermath I’m still feeling a bit Red-Weddingish. (Just because I can’t watch it doesn’t mean my husband doesn’t keep me up to date.) This is what they mean when they say the struggle is real. I’m experiencing a raging moral dilemma, heavy on the rage.
I will get over it. Mercy is one of my gifts. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but we’ll get there in 12 steps or less.
Pray for me, y’all. I’ll be here eating chocolate while you do. Then go hug somebody and let them know they’re totally and completely enough.
I hate New Year’s resolutions. I hate them for me, I hate other people’s, and I think we should unite as a society and rise against them.
Also, it has taken me way too long to realize how fun it is to post a blog and hear my husband’s resultant sigh as his phone pings with a Twitter notification (this blog is attached to a Twitter account). He tolerates me. We like to bother each other. It keeps our marriage strong.
Back to the resolutions, though. Why do we pretend that the New Year is the best time to reinvent ourselves? Other than the fact that I am off work today and lounging in bed with my dogs, I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday. It is Tuesday. I am still 35. I still woke up to the smell of dog breath because our pug/boxer mix weaseled his way into becoming the little spoon. (His name is Duke, he is a shameless hussy, and for a dog we picked up out of the dust under a tobacco wagon, he has acclimated a little too well to blankets and pillows.)
I am the same person I was yesterday with the same job I had yesterday, the same issues, same quirks, and same foundational belief that separate bathrooms save marriages and that no matter what people may tell me, beets are gross and taste like dirt regardless of how they are prepared.
I guess I hate resolutions because part of my job is to teach people how to set goals for themselves and then how to reach them, what it takes to stick with one and realize that motivation is a myth, achieving anything worthwhile is going to take a lot of baby steps and failures, will suck at some point, and is often completely un-fun, and because the veneer of most resolutions is chintzy.
Resolutions are gold-plated lug nuts sold as diamond rings. They require work, dedication, purpose, and the assistance of several other pieces of hardware that tend to go unnoticed in order to perform the function for which they were created. But people toss them around like confetti, then hope that by the third week of January the book will have written itself, the relationship will transform into a true-love story for the ages after three whole ‘dates’ without the kids, said kids would altruistically wash the dishes without being asked, and that kale will magically taste like cotton-candy drizzled with chocolate.
It sounds fantastic.
I’m sure this year everything will be different and by January 21st, or February 1st, or even by July everyone’s resolutions will still be in full swing, new habits will have been formed, and 2019 will be the year everyone’s life will be transformed. The chrysalis spun on January 1, 2019, will have helped everyone metamorphose into the butterfly they were created to be.
I have another confession: I doubt it.
I think kale will still taste like kale by January 21st, the idea of the resolution will still be a good one but the execution will have been too difficult (read: inconvenient) to be sustainable. The shiny gold plating on the lug nut will have started to flake off under the torque of guilt resulting from not being able to make it more than a week or two without backsliding.
I could spend another 364 blog posts on how to set goals and actually achieve them, which takes not just resolve but also grit, accountability partners, feedback, self-discipline. Those, in turn, take the courage needed to ask for help, the humility necessary for admitting we need help and that we are not Disney princesses or super-heroes regardless of what we post on social media, the fortitude to be honest and transparent even when it hurts like hell, and the grace and kindness – for ourselves and those around us – to admit out loud that we do not appreciate some of the feedback given but we can respect the person and the heart giving it. Then it takes the deliberateness of choice to move forward with that same person or persons and maintain accountability and relationship with them. All of that relies on a vulnerability that is not comfortable and on having good people in our lives who, though flawed themselves, love us enough to tell the truth with kindness.
Very few people know how to do the latter. Very few resolutions succeed because of it.
Instead of dedicating 2019 to writing something that the self-help gurus have already done (and whose editors made sure they did it quite well), I’m going in a different direction.
What if, instead of resolutions – rather than building a better beach bod, forcing ourselves to write for at least 30 minutes every day, drinking a gallon of warm flower water every morning, solving the world hunger problem, or inventing something that can warn us every time we’re getting ready to step on a lego that shouldn’t be in the floor – what if we spent more time being grateful for right now?
For example, I write quite a bit about my issues, which frustrate me, but I am incredibly spoiled. I am loved. I have experienced hardship, but less so than several of my employees, my friends, even my husband (we lost his dad in September). Our dog is a shameless hussy and he has to be walked for at lease two miles every day in order to prevent him from becoming spastic – also because he refuses to poop in our yard or within a 500-yard radius – but he keeps us healthier than we would be without him and he is always happy to see us. How special is it that there is a creature on this planet who is fulfilled simply because I exist?
What if we spent more time dwelling on thoughts like that? What if, rather than a resolution based on who we want to be, we appreciate who we are and what we already bring to the table?
It took me over a decade to get here, but I realized recently that I have arrived at a place in my life where I love me some me. I don’t mean my ego is out of control – I try not to tell people how much I like me. I mean I’m pretty comfortable with who I am. I can admit my faults. I have started to get to know other women and stay out of the trap of comparison (a trap every girl and woman falls into and one that is almost impossible to stay out of) and instead appreciate that they offer something as a human that maybe I don’t, and rather than feeling the guilt of not measuring up to an imaginary standard I created for myself, I think it’s awesome! I am confident. I am less worried about appearances and what other people think of me than I’ve ever been, because I have learned over time that (a) it is none of my business what other people think of me and that (b) I have no control over it, anyway.
There is freedom in that place like I’ve never known.
What if we spent 2019 focused on what’s good about now? What would that look like?
I resolve not to set a resolution, then. Instead, I want to throw myself shamelessly at life the way Duke throws himself at the nearest human if he thinks he can get a belly rub. I want to wallow in it the way he wallows in the bed.
It’s good to have goals.
(As a side note, I do want to write more and see what I can do with this blog. I already have a notebook or journal – or ten – in most of the rooms in the house. It won’t be a stretch. Plus, it posts to my husband’s Twitter feed. I think he secretly loves the notification.)
It is New Year’s Eve, 2018. If the idiots people down the road would stop setting off fireworks 48 minutes before midnight, I would be asleep right now. Hey, it’s been a new year in several other countries for well over 24 hours, already, so I don’t need any judgment. *Thanks.*
I’m ringing in 2019 with mysterious, full-body hives, allergies that decided to hulk up and overpower the prescription-strength meds I have to take twice a day – year-round – for them, muscle cramps in my arms, back, and legs that feel like someone hooked the electrodes of a contraction simulator to me when I wasn’t looking (then turned it up full blast) and bone pain. There isn’t much more to say about bone pain. Anyone who has felt it knows there is nothing like it – in a bad way – and anyone who hasn’t would think I was exaggerating.
All of this is, sadly, normal for me. I don’t mean all of my symptoms are constant and unchanging. No; that would be too easy. The symptoms are rarely ever the same from day to day unless I’ve let things get so bad that I’m in a full-on flare up, and the only thing that can stop that is Jesus and a hefty dose of steroids. (Please don’t message me and tell me about how your cousin’s sister-in-law’s brother’s girlfriend’s dad’s best friend’s godson cured his GI disease with a mixture of probiotics and platypus extract enhanced with the DNA of 17 different dinosaur species and that the first month of the subscription to the product is half off the original price – or any other variation of that. Just don’t.)
It is normal for my system to get so out of whack after the holidays. Basically, it becomes toxic.
I don’t mean like when a person goes septic, although if I pretended I didn’t notice any changes in my body and went on about life I could get to that point pretty easily.
I mean toxic. My red and white blood cells are living in a smoggy atmosphere that rivals India’s most polluted cities or the sludge of the Ganges River. My guts have never been the kind I could trust. And one of our dogs keeps sniffing my right eye, then licking it and growling, then backing away. That’s probably not good.
When I get to this point, I do what any trendy American would do – I detox via herbal teas and a new, raw/organic, cost-inefficient diet. There are those who ask, “If you can change your diet to get better, why don’t you just eat that way all the time so you don’t feel bad to begin with?”
That is a great question.
I like to counter it with one of my own: have you ever tried feeding a healthy, mostly raw, organic diet to a high functioning child on the spectrum whose sensory indicators manifest themselves not only tactilely and visually but also gastronomically, and who loves tomatoes and peas but no other vegetables, considers dessert an emotionally non-negotiable and non-optional staple, Little Debbie cakes well-rounded breakfast food, refuses to eat protein unless it’s a $25 New York Strip or country-style ribs – and occasionally chicken but only if it is literally covered in bread/pasta or at least served with a surplus of it – while also feeding two other grown adults, three dogs with special dietary needs (because we can’t just have a normal dog who eats the Ol Roy from TSC), and occasionally an 18-year-old girl claiming to be your eldest even though she shows up only once or twice per month, all while sticking to a strict grocery budget of preferably less than $1,000 for the month even though nothing is in season because it has been one of the wettest years to date in the area so winter produce suffered, and oh I forgot to mention it but for a family of four who tends to be on-the-go 24/7, all while juggling the exhaustion that comes from working a full-time job, parenting, and battling the fatigue of auto-immune issues? No? Huh. Weird. It is super fun, especially when the groceries still have to be made into actual, edible dinners. If you love adventure, hate having money in your bank account, if the good Lord needs to sand off some of those “rough edges” your church family talks about, or if you’re simply a masochist bent on seeing how much frustration you can handle before you become obsessed with total self-annihilation, well – have I got a deal for you! And as Effie Trinket likes to say, may the odds be ever in your favor.
Here’s the other reason why I don’t eat that way all the time, and it’s even better!
I have chronic diverticulitis and I have Crohn’s disease, which means my immune system is trash and my body can’t figure out the difference between good stuff and bad stuff so it likes to wage war upon itself in a “kill ’em all” kind of way. Apparently, having the two together is fairly rare. I am either a unicorn or a chupacabra. Or a chupacorn, or a unicabra. Or it fluctuates. I haven’t decided.
The diets for those two conditions are completely different. One is high-fiber, with large quantities of whole grains, seeds, and nuts thrown into it, while the other is low- to no-fiber with zero whole grains, seeds, or nuts.
Here’s the catch: if I eat either one of those diets, it exacerbates the other condition. It is lose-lose. Basically, food is trying to kill me.
That is melodramatic. I won’t actually die because of the food.
I did get so malnourished once that I had to have IV nutrition, all the important vitamins/minerals, when I was in college. My mom drove me several hours one way so I could get the treatments, and we went multiple times. They could only do one or two per day. I would not give it five stars or recommend to a friend. It is more boring than trying to read an encyclopedia backwards, and liquid magnesium makes you feel like you’ve peed your pants, but the nurses don’t like it when the patients walk around the family waiting room with the IV stands attached to them and ask people where the bathroom is. Who knew?
I have to do something to cleanse my system but still have the energy to function. That means a full-on water fast is out of the question for the immediate future. So today, as my final act of 2018 related to my health, I decided to pull up the approved shopping/food lists for both diets and circle the items they both had in common. I received both lists from a GI specialist and I figure, if I eliminate the foods that are unique to one of the afore-mentioned lists but not both, and buy only what’s left after I have cross-referenced them, I’ll have a list of safe foods my defective GI tract can tolerate that are also healthy and will help me rebalance my PH levels and immune system. I. Am. Genius.
So far, I’m down to the following:
raw, organic, unsweetened peanut butter (creamy – no actual pieces of peanuts)
an occasional serving of poultry – twice a week is plenty
Also, I hate peanuts and only tolerate the butter form, so I’m happy to live without the peanut butter.
What I’m saying is, I was able to narrow the lists down into one to make shopping manageable. (I’m working on being more positive… pray for me.)
On a good note, I am allowed to have some herbal teas and coffee is not considered blasphemous to the healthy lifestyle as long as I drink it black and have no more than one serving per day, which is not an actual serving in my world, but whatever. We have a new detox tea to give me some beverage options and I tried it this morning. My incredibly supportive and tolerant husband is even drinking it to help his body detox, too, in a sign of solidarity, and we came up with a nickname for it – a pet name, as it were.
We call it…
…wait for it…
…warm flower water.
Yes, it tastes exactly like it sounds.
So today, to wrap up 2018, I sat at my desk with my warm flower water, my healthy grocery list consisting of chicken and air, and a modem that wears a women’s US Size 7 ballet flat on the front so I don’t have to watch the blue and white lights blinking in chaotic anti-rhythm. It is leopard print, in case anyone is wondering. It’s a chic yet trendy modem. I don’t know if the sense of satisfaction I got from my decision was real or if it was the product of my hydrocortisone cream starting to kick in, but I feel new resolve about my health. I’m optimistic. I bet there are even more flavor combinations of warm flower water out there that I don’t even know about. My possibilities are endless!
And now, the fireworks have finally stopped, so I can sleep. May 2019 be the best year, yet, filled with enough flower water for everyone and copious everyday adventures!
There will probably be some typos, cliches, run-on sentences, and disjointed thoughts here. You’ve been warned.
My husband is asleep in the next room after being home all day, sick. He will not love this post. I have to write it, because I have to get it out of me, and he will not love it, but he will still love me. You cannot know how long it took us to understand that.
This is not about that journey.
I am writing this while he is asleep, not because I wanted to be sneaky or because he cannot know. He follows me on Twitter, for pity’s sake, where all of my posts are broadcast. He will know.
I am writing this while he is asleep because I cannot sleep. Typically, that is true because I have insomnia (thanks, Crohn’s and all my other issues!) and because I have always been more of a night person than a morning person. Tonight, it is true because I have experienced the adrenaline rush of all adrenaline rushes and the only way to come down off that is to crash, and I haven’t crashed, yet. If the good Lord is willing, I will crash very soon.
I have not crashed, yet, because tonight, about 20 minutes before 7 PM, my husband got a call that his daughter did crash. She was not injured, thank God, but my heart stopped anyway.
I need you to understand something before I go any further. I exaggerate. I admit it. I also admit that I love to exaggerate. I’m a storyteller, people. It’s what we do.
So when I say, “my heart stopped,” some might consider that hyperbole – an expression, a figure of speech. Most people use that phrase or a similar one as such.
It is one phrase I do not use lightly. I have enough health issues that I have felt my heart “skip a beat,” as some are wont to say. I have a mild arrhythmia, so it happens more often than I care to admit. I also have a plethora of immune system issues, the least of which presents itself as severe allergies with a side of asthma.
If you’ve ever had an asthma attack, you know what my Christmas Day turned into when I had one (and of course I didn’t have my inhaler). Not only does the feeling of not getting enough oxygen make me want to panic, it also has the side benefit of making me hyper-aware of my body and what’s happening within it. When the attack started, I could feel the weight on my chest as my lungs filled with mucous and my airways tightened. My nose and ribs expanded, painfully, because I was desperate for air, even though it was all around me. I calmly told my husband that as long as my face was just tingly and not totally numb we were good to go, then I asked him to go a little faster down the interstate. I didn’t tell him why. It was because my face was tingly, true – the pins and needles feeling you get after a limb falls asleep and you start moving it to get blood flowing – but I knew I was in trouble because I had completely lost my vision. He figured that out by the time we got home and I couldn’t get out of the car and onto the porch by myself. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t walk. He mostly carried me inside to my inhaler, and down the hall to our room after. (It was heroic.)
For those who have ever wondered what it might feel like to drown, ask someone who has had an asthma attack. Fluid (mucous) fills your lungs (yes, you can feel it), you breathe but you can’t get air, then you get tingly (usually your extremities or your face), you get tunnel vision that quickly worsens, and eventually, right after you can’t see anything but you’re still conscious, you go completely numb. Then, your body forgets how to operate and you can’t walk. It’s at that point that the true danger is apparent, but the problem is that you’ve already gone through the other stages, so you just don’t care anymore. The wheezing stops, so everyone else assumes the danger has passed. It’s called “silent chest.” That’s bad.
I’ll spare you the details. We got home, got to the meds I needed, I didn’t go to the hospital (no point), and I’m fine. The end.
Where was I?
Right – heart stopped.
Fast forward a couple of days, and things were going well. Work hasn’t been too busy, and other than an internet outage that shut us down for an hour or two, nothing major to report.
And then we got a call.
My step-daughter had been in a wreck. Her mom and step-dad live farther out into the county than we do, so her mom called my husband to tell him and we left immediately. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I saw his face and heard, “What happened, where is she?” and I grabbed the keys and my shoes. My heart stopped.
When I was younger, my step-dad and his family would loan the teens in the family vehicles if we asked. They didn’t hold back, but they always held the keys just out of reach and said, “Be careful. The car/truck/convertible is insured and replaceable, but you can’t be replaced.” I knew they meant it, because one of the boys wrecked an Escalade and it wasn’t a big deal after everyone knew he wasn’t hurt. Don’t get me wrong; no one was thrilled that it was totaled, and I’m pretty sure he worked for a while to pay at least a token penalty, but no one made a big deal out of it and all was well. I now know what it must have been like to say that and mean it.
Tonight, the 15 minutes between getting that call and getting to the scene was scarier than all of the following, which I have also experienced: being stalked, being threatened, getting a phone call about my brother (a police officer), getting a phone call about one of my step-brothers (both Marines), getting calls about parents/grandparents, almost drowning (there was one actual time in water that I remember, two others I apparently don’t remember – my childhood was… well), asphyxiating, being put to sleep for major surgery, repelling down the side of a 7-story building, cliff diving, enduring a fever of 107 for over 8 hours (3rd grade was rough), PTSD, paranoia, and basically anything else I can think of right now.
There are no words.
I know her mother felt the same thing, if not more acutely. (Fact: it is incredibly difficult for me to imagine that, because I am incapable of imagining a bigger hurt or fear than what I experienced tonight. I may never fall asleep again, and at this rate I’ll be wrapping up this post and alphabetizing all of our dishes and canned goods throughout the night if I can’t get some sleep. I am not a big enough egomaniac, though, to think my feelings are any deeper or purer than another human being’s, let alone her mother’s. I love this kid like she is mine and there is nothing on this earth that will change that, but I am not the only part of this equation. That is another journal entry or ten (thousand) for another day.)
I can say I also saw the differences in parents, tonight. The dads (it’s just easier to say that) were focused on logistics, next steps, process, etc. Her mom and I showed up at different times and went straight to the hugs, the letting her cry while we held her, the assurance that not a single one of us gives a flying flip in space about the car, the stuff in it, or where the money will come from to get another one. The only real thing that matters is that she’s okay. (And yes, she is okay. I may never be the same, but by the time we left her mom had talked her into food, a hot bath, and some ibuprofen, so she’s good, y’all.)
There is no greater fear than that of a parent for their child. There is no greater relief than that of holding your child safe in your arms.
I don’t care if you’re a biological parent, adoptive, step, surrogate, whatever. And I don’t care if your kid is 2 years old or 20. It doesn’t vary. At one point, I was dumb enough to think it might – that I would worry less the older they got.
I was an idiot.
Ask anyone who has lived through a heart attack what it feels like and the answers will vary. Ask anyone who has had a near-death experience what it was like in their mind before, during, and after and you’ll hear harrowing tales of darkness and redemption.
I have felt my heart stop, skip a beat, and start again. I have watched the light fade as I ran out of oxygen and I have come out the other side. I keep telling God there must be a reason he keeps saving me and he’s welcome to show that to me any day, now. It cannot possibly be only to nag my husband and his son to scrape and rinse their plates before they leave them in the sink. And yet…
I can tell you without hesitation that if – in that moment – I would have had the choice to put myself bodily between my step-daughter’s vehicle and the other one, I wouldn’t have asked questions, I wouldn’t have put in a stipulation that I would do it only if the collision were going to be fatal, I wouldn’t think, I wouldn’t wait, I wouldn’t blink or even twitch an eye before I chose to step in and keep her from going through this. I would lay down in front of a moving train. No take-backs.
There is a saying that having a child is like watching your heart walk around outside your body. Maybe for some that’s true.
I’ll tell you this.
That child is not mine – not really. Her mother is alive and well and very present, and forced to loan her to me for this lifetime. That cannot be easy. They enjoy a pretty good relationship for a mom and her teenager. I came into the scene when she was six years old, long after their history had been established.
And that girl, with her knack for high drama, her mama’s nerves, her daddy’s dimples and sense of humor, with her snark and her brains and everything else, is more than my heart walking around outside my body. She and her brother are worth far more than just my heart.
I have desperately wanted my own child for over a decade, but after tonight I am re-evaluating whether I can do all of this again. Her brother is only 13, so we have just now entered into the valley of darkness with him. I’m 35, but after tonight and what small indication I have about how the next 5 years will go, I’m pretty sure that by the time he’s 18 I’ll be 90.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some alphabetizing to do, followed by a collection of 1273 classic works of fiction I just found on my hard drive that I was supposed to move to my Kindle. If that doesn’t put me to sleep, I might even learn a new language.
This is NOT an old draft. Repeat, this is not an old draft. This is new – from today. You’re welcome. (Or, I’m sorry – but I’m not really sorry, so ha!)
I experienced a selfish delight today that I didn’t even know existed. I’m not sure if I’m proud of it because I haven’t had the chance to examine it closely. I probably won’t examine it closely – I don’t love admitting I might be slightly, morally wrong. It’s a thing – go read the earlier posts.
Backstory: I loathe, hate, despise, abominate, and all-the-other-synonyms-for-hate doing dishes. I would rather run unclothed through a rose bush in snow. That will be important in a few paragraphs.
Also, we have neighbors who are retired. The husband tends to stay inside or keep to himself, but the wife helps another neighbor across the street with an adult, special needs son. I know it must be a struggle for them, and my heart goes out to our across-the-street-neighbor and the challenges she faces, especially as her son is non-verbal, so he gets frustrated, too.
I’m not sure what my next-door neighbor does to help my across-the-street-neighbor unless she’s administering meds or some sort of home health care. She does wear scrubs a lot, which makes me think she is a retired nurse or works PRN to pay bills because she rarely leaves the house other than to walk across the street. I asked her once what she did for a living (or had done), and she told a story that had so many twists and turns that no author from O. Henry to Chuck Palahnuik to Jodi Picoult could follow it. She never did answer the actual question. Doesn’t matter.
She’s into everyone’s business, and while it does – occasionally – appear helpful, that doesn’t mean it’s necessary. She also still has a grown son living with her who can’t figure out how to keep his pants above his crack even with a belt, harbors another human who is possibly one of Crack-Attack’s kids, and whether it’s the grown son’s kid or not, the grandson is uber-annoying because he sits in his car, thumping Eminem songs from when I was in high school, and does nothing but vape. Any time we hear the thud and rattle of Y2K’s illest base, I guarantee it is followed by the gentle waft of Blu Raz Cotton Candy or the sweet zephyrs of Smurf Cake.
I’m not joking, that’s the actual name of it.
This is annoying on two levels: (1) I work from home and his busted speakers turned to a volume level of eleventy-five are disruptive and distracting, and (2) on the four nice days of the year when Kentucky weather cooperates and I can open the windows all day, I don’t need his second-hand vape offal ruining the fresh air. It triggers migraines from all the chemicals and reminds me why humans are distastefully unappealing – at least the ones who are incapable of adulting or who are not yet at the age where adulting is feasible. For a bonus, (3) I might suggest it would be better for my neighbor lady to focus her loving attention on raising her grown son and his vaping, maybe-progeny (he’s got to be someone’s kid) rather than butting into the rest of the neighborhood’s business. But I’m not in charge, so, the first and second will have to suffice.
Overall, they’re not horrible people – they are actually quite nice compared to some former neighbors we’ve had – but annoying on a few levels and each in their own way. The lady, though – I just… she’s not awful, she’s nice, but… this is going to sound petty, and it probably is, but…
Well, she mows her yard twice every week from April through October and every. stinking. time. she decides to use her lawn tractor instead of her weed-eater (that’s a weed-whacker for the northern bunch) and she mows a crooked line IN MY YARD. It looks like someone turned a blind zamboni driver loose on the rye – the liquid kind and the rooted kind.
She has been doing this for at least 6 years. I have asked her to stop at least twice, point-blank.
Let me be clear: it is not her yard, nor is it even the “property line.” She legitimately crosses the property line, which is helpfully marked by trees planted by the old man who used to live there, and who gave her a tour and pointed out the tress ON the property line (I was there – I heard/saw it). She is the human equivalent of Mr. Magoo and drives that lawn tractor like George Jones down a back-road before the hangover sets in. She smiles while she does it. Her blades are set so low that she’s scalping the grass, so there is no way to cover up the serpentine stripe she scrapes across our side yard.
So, so strange. (Yes, my problems are stupid.)
Also, we have our mowing crew mow all the way to the property line, do all of the edging professionally – including around those trees – and have told her at least twice that we do that in addition to me asking her to stay on her side. She still mows that blankety-blank crooked line down the yard twice per week. Do I care that much about the yard? No. I bought this house because it is next to a field that can never be added to the subdivision, which means it will always be on a dead end and I will only ever have neighbors on one side. My introverted heart delights in the thought. It has a giant picture window that is great to read by while saving money on the electricity bill, an open floor plan that flows easily from kitchen to living room so it’s easy to spend time with friends and family on the rare occasion we invite them, and it has three bedrooms of generous size for a house this small, along with two bathrooms.
And separate bathrooms save marriages. (Feel free to write that down somewhere so you see it often. Trust me.)
I care because – again, two reasons – (1) my husband goes bonkers every time he sees that loopy line, which means I have to hear about it and I can’t do anything to fix it other than go nuclear (not a great way to treat neighbors, and probably-most-certainly NOT what Jesus would do), which means I have to see it AND listen to why it’s so hideous all the time, and (2) she always mows it in the middle of the morning when I’m working. She even asked me about my work schedule, then proceeded the next day to start mowing at exactly the time I explained how busy I am. I kid you not.
Fast-forward: today was one of the four nice days of the year when I could open windows for more than 30 minutes because the temperature was under 80 degrees but above 60.
She was not mowing, thank goodness.
I had to run the dishwasher a couple of times to get through all the dirty dishes that have piled up over the past week (maybe two), and I had to do a few of them by hand, because I like my expensive cooking utensils more than I hate dishes. It’s a close race, in case you were wondering.
Our dishwasher came with the house over 12 years ago and needs to be replaced. The detergent dispenser lid is broken so all the soap gets used too quickly, making pre-scrubbing a requirement. The spray element thingies are a bit clogged – probably from mineral build-up, but there are other options I prefer not to explore. Most of all, though, it is loud. I don’t mean loud in the way you can hear some dishwashers splash water along the plates.
I mean when the wash cycles start, it’s loud in the way an industrial wood-chipper sounds when fed enough sheet metal and plate glass to outfit a two-story building, with the added grinding noise of a blender slogging through modeling clay.
*Note: Please don’t ask me how I know what that sounds like. My childhood was weird and we probably should have been better supervised, but hey – natural selection was at work, and none of us died, so that’s good, right? Thanks in advance.*
I complain about it all the time and have asked for a new one for Christmas if my husband would rather buy that than the jewelry I wanted, it’s that bad.
Anyway, I started a load of dishes after opening the front windows today. Our next-door neighbor was outside in her driveway, having just come back from the across-the-street-neighbor’s house.
She was tending her mums.
If I’m being authentic and if I don’t self-reflect from a moral standpoint, I will say I took great delight in seeing her jump every time the wash cycle circled back around after a rinse cycle. It startled her. She even looked over her shoulder a few times, vexed and wondering what was happening behind our closed front door. If she’s half as neurotic as me, or anything like Mrs. Kravitz, she was imagining all kinds of scenarios and nefarious plots.
I smiled and waved from the picture window.
If it keeps hitting anywhere between the upper-50s to mid-70s, I might start doing dishes every day.