Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Yes, you do have the right to be a total moron.

I have a remarkably clear memory of one specific day back in my freshman year of high school: A group of girls and I were sitting around waiting for the bell to ring and talking about what jeans we were going to buy with our hard earned part-time job money. In those days, in my high school, our thirst to fit in was marked by one of two extremes: the super tight, high-waist western jeans called Rockies, or the ludicrously baggy, giant pocket, intricately embroidered denim tents called JNCO's. In general, the FFA-loving, junior rodeo crowd was fond of the Rockies and the sk8ters/gangstas/etc. wore the JNCOs. For the record, I wore neither because we all know that I'm fond of dresses and that I have never been cool.

One of the country girls, who I had always thought looked like Cindy Brady in the very last episode of the Brady Bunch where Cindy finally lets down the pigtails, was talking excitedly about a pair of Rockies she'd seen at Western Warehouse. They had the "Rebel Flag" sewn across the front panel. This was a few years before every toddler in the nation had "Juicy" emblazed upon the butt of their sweatpants and we kept our insignia to the front. In my naiveté, I figured the "Rebel Flag" was some sort of declaration of personal independence, yet another secret symbol that all the kids who got it were in on and I was in the dark. I pictured a goofy smiley face or something. Maybe a cartoonish raised middle finger. I tried to recall every t-shirt I'd seen at Hot Topic the last time I'd gone to the mall and I couldn't remember anything with a flag on it. 

Finally, my curiosity overruled my compulsion to look like I was in the know and I asked "what does it look like?" What does what look like? The Rebel Flag? It's the Confederate Flag, dummy. From history class. The one from the South. 

Yes, just like the terms "69" and "dime bag," "Rebel Flag" entered my lexicon in the intensely rushed frenzied moments of freedom that come right before the bell released our hormonal bodies to the blissful purgatory of passing period. 

Before I had kids, I had an extremely high, squeaky mousey voice and I'm picturing myself now standing up, squealing in my overdramatic fashion "THE SLAVERY FLAG?! YOU WANT THE SLAVERY FLAG ON YOUR JEANS?"

The entire class turned to giggle and smirk at me. It wasn't about that, the girls explained to me. It was a symbol of Southern Pride. They weren't racist, oh no no no no no, not racist. Just proud. 

"BUT THE SOUTH LOSSSSSSTTTT!" I whined. 

It didn't matter, they said. It was about heritage, they explained. The bell rang. My confusion was lost in the anticipation of heading to biology, where my teacher was like, totally cute.

Today, in the midst of the horrific tragedy in South Carolina, the memory came flooding back to me.

I'm not going to pretend that the moment spurred some lifelong fight for social justice within my fifteen-year-old psyche. Like I said, I forgot it almost as immediately as it happened. I do remember feeling the same sort of confusion and agitation when I discovered there is a popular restaurant called "Soup Plantation," where people willingly eat chowder to their heart’s content without any sort of unease about the name.

I’m also not going to give you a history lesson about the Civil War. We all get it. We had slaves. It was bad. Honest Abe fixed it.

Today, I wonder why we keep glorifying our past injustices. Is antebellum fashion really just that pretty? My love of dresses ends long before they reach the hoopskirt stage, lord help me if I ever show up in anything made out of curtains. We love the idea of a gleaming white estate sitting on acres and acres of perfectly manicured lawn so much that we emblazon it on our cans of iced tea – yet nobody wants to think about the fact that the forced labor of dozens of slaves held hostage was necessary to create such an image.

One of the greatest fallacies we humans continually fall into is if we don’t personally find something offensive then we dismiss its capacity to be offensive to anyone else.  This sort of egocentrism thrives in the naming of sports teams, the marketing of snack foods, and of course, in the flying of flags. The message is clear “We don’t care that you find this symbol deeply offensive and it is a direct representation of the continued oppression of your people, we think looks cool so we’re keeping it.”

How many boots did we need to cut off Oñate’s statue before someone said “Hey, this dude was responsible for torture and genocide of the entire Acoma Pueblo, maybe glorifying his misdeeds with 12 tons of bronze is inappropriate?”

I guess we’ll know if the statue ever comes down.

The thing is, if you’re not offended, then it’s not about you. You don’t get a say.

Also, you SHOULD be offended because this is total lunacy.

Our history is riddled with horrifying atrocities, but most of us feel no long standing effects. However, there are many groups of people for which their culture’s blatant mistreatment continues to reverberate through each generation.

It seems unfathomable that anyone could be so proud of systematic oppression so as to insist on emblazoning these ethnically loaded symbols on their bodies, their cars, their state capitols. It takes a psychopathic disregard for the well-being of others to defend such a practice.

As Americans, we don’t usually take kindly to the enemies we’ve defeated in the past. I’ve met men who would rather let a car rot to rust than fix it with Japanese replacement parts, hell no, they’re not supporting the Axis powers. Cuban cigars are illegal. Guantanamo bay is still operational.

And yet, the misguided logic has somehow flipped itself and there are those who’d rather align themselves with the losing side than believe that all men are created equal.

This is devastating. This needs to change.

Next time you think that a culture should just “suck it up,” because it is more important for you to feel cool with your cutesy symbols, just remember, you may have the right to be offensive but you do not have the right demand that nobody be offended.

It’s more important to be a good person than it is be so “prideful” as to defend a debunked ideology defeated over a hundred years ago. It’s more important to acknowledge that your belief system may be flawed than to viciously defend your idiocy. It’s more important to teach our children to embrace the differences in others than to sip your sweet tea under an x made of stars.

Flying the confederate flag does not make you a “rebel” it makes you an idiotic follower. Perhaps the flag’s origins were a little more innocent but it has grown to mean something dark and hostile.

How can anyone support that?


On a side note, the last I heard of the Cindy Brady girl from high school is that she was gifted with a nice set of silicone orbs for her 21st birthday. No word on what kind of pants she wears these days. 

























Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Big "A"

About two weeks ago, my son, Lucas was diagnosed with autism. Of course, I knew he was behind, I'd been tracking his milestones since he was born. He was "late" to grasp objects as an infant, late to sit up, late to crawl.  I quit my job when he was 18 months old partially because he wasn't walking yet and I felt that if I was home with him during the day then my presence as a "good" mother would get him back on track. "He's just cautious," his doctor told me.

Last spring, right after he'd turned 3, he still didn't seem to have the hang of walking, he'd fall a lot, he'd get tired after going short distances, he didn't seem to have any muscle coordination. I'd take him to play groups with other kids his age and he just wasn't "keeping up." I looked up three-year-old milestones on the internet and he hadn't reached any of them. He couldn't run, or hop or pedal or trike or do anything that the CDC said that he should be doing at his age. "All kids develop differently," I told myself, "I'm not exactly graceful."

I became convinced that something was wrong with his legs. Maybe one of his legs was longer than the other? Maybe I'd broken his foot when he was an infant in a particularly terrible diaper changing incident in which he'd gotten his foot stuck in the railing of the diaper changing table. Maybe he had cerebral palsy due to a brain injury at his birth. Or, even worse, I pondered the idea of him having a heart condition. Oh my god, what was wrong with my baby?

I took him to our family practice at the time, a nurse practitioner, and asked her to check out his legs. She said "everything looks fine, but are you concerned about his speech?" My response was pretty much no, my kid spoke just fine, he was only three and his vocabulary was outstanding. I'd been marveling over his verbal abilities since he was about 9 months old. I was not concerned about his speech, let's talk about his legs. Why does he walk so funny? Her response was to send me to have him evaluated at Child Find, an early intervention program that works through the public schools. I thought this was a lazy decision, that she was passing the buck, and I made the decision to never, ever take my family to a nurse practitioner ever again. She wasn't a REAL doctor, she didn't know what she was talking about. I set out to find a pediatrician who would actually listen to me.

Either way, since she sent in the referral Child Find called me a few days later and I set up an appointment, because, well maybe they could see what I was talking about. The Child Find evaluation confirmed what I was seeing in the motor skills department, for whatever reason, my three year old  had the motor skills of an 18 month old. He was the required "two standard deviations" behind that qualified him for the special needs pre-k program. I wasn't too surprised there. I'd already committed the CDC's milestone checklist to memory. I knew what he could and couldn't do. The thing about Child Find is that it's a comprehensive evaluation, and they found another problem. My son had a language delay. Specifically, he was markedly behind in his "language comprehension" skills, much farther behind than even his motor skills. This was in stark contrast to his "language expression" skills, which were off the charts. It was odd, they told me, that the two skill sets didn't match, that he seemingly understood less than he spoke, but with therapy they hoped by the time he'd reached kindergarten that he'd catch up with other kids his age. Honestly, I didn't see it. I mean, yeah, the kid seemed like he was constantly, actively ignoring me, but I figured it was because I was just a lame mother and kids do that to lame mothers. And whatever, free pre-school.

Then my husband was laid off from his job, and we suddenly found ourselves without health insurance so I halted my quest for medical answers. The pre-k program turned out to be amazing, and I thought, "ok, well there you go, just a little behind, nothing to worry about, now we're on the right track."

Then, his pre-k teacher called me, saying that she was seeing a regression in his ability to follow directions, he seemed tired all the time and kept falling, he was having difficulty applying new skills he learned in one activity to another, and also, how was potty training going? I was so embarrassed. I had a three and a half year old that wasn't potty trained yet. I'd been trying and failing to get him on the potty for at least a year and it just wasn't happening. What exactly was the point in being a stay at home mom if I couldn't even get my kid potty trained? Clearly, I wasn't cut out for this, clearly, I wasn't trying hard enough. Still, the falling thing bothered me, because it always had, so I tracked down our newly minted insurance cards from my husband's new job and found the kids a new pediatrician, a REAL doctor. One who went to medical school, and I told myself that we wouldn't leave that office until she gave me a referral to a neurologist because at that seemed as good a starting point as any.

When I started to explain my concerns to the doctor, she interrupted me about 2 sentences in. "Have you ever had him evaluated for autism?" she asked. NO. NO. NO. Not another medical professional who was going to blow me off. NO. I could not believe that she was changing the subject. She wasn't listening to me.  I needed a referral to a neurologist. I needed answers. Why do doctors seem so intent on diagnosing everyone with autism? But, because I'm me, I just stared at her and let giant hot tears of frustration roll down my face. "I'll give you a referral to a neurologist," she finally relented, "but I first want him evaluated for autism. I think he's probably at the high functioning end of the spectrum, but you need to have him evaluated." Fine. I left the office fully intending to skip the autism evaluation all together and just take him to the neurologist, I had my referal. That's all I needed.

What exactly did this doctor think she was seeing? I was truly convinced that she was "taking the easy way out" not referencing her presumably encyclopedic medical knowledge and figuring out the real problem with my son. I'd worked with people with autism before. That's not my kid. The neurologist will know. But the neurologist was also booked solid for the next six months.  So I relented. "Ok, I'll schedule the autism evaluation. But she's wrong, she doesn't know my kid. Autism is NOT my kid."

I started obsessively taking online autism quizzes. I think I took the MChat and AQ quizzes at least 50 times each, the result was always the same, "your child exhibits the signs of autism and you should have him evaluated." OMG HOW STUPID ARE INTERNET QUIZZES, WHY AM I WASTING MY TIME?!

Did my son often not respond to his name? Yeah, but again, I'm lame and uninteresting. Does my son have violent tantrums? Yeah, but I have a pretty bad temper too, he's just learning from me. Does your son have sensitivities to light/noise/textures? Yeah, but honestly, does anybody really like tags in their clothing or the sun shining on them in the car or the sound that the vacuum cleaner makes?

Yeah, but. Yeah, but, Yeah, but. That's how I was answering all those questions. Yeah, but.  I had a million excuses and zero answers.

And it's not like I never considered autism. I'd actually been fearing it for quite some time, when my baby who couldn't even crawl yet had the remarkable ability to stack blocks one on top of another until the stack was taller than he was. When I tried to put all the balls from his various toys into one bin and he went and sorted them into correct piles. He'd spend hours making his "machines" or meticulously lining up his toy cars. His favorite toys were two bungee cables he'd taken from my dad's garage. "Ok," I'd tell myself, "he's a little different but incredibly smart. Isn't that the best way for a human to be anyway?"

Then I started down a YouTube spiral of despair. Since my husband works out of town during the week I'd stay up all night watching YouTube videos of kids with autism (there are so, so many) and I'd end up crying myself to sleep because I'd spent the entire evening watching video after video of children behaving just like my kid. He talked like they did, he walked like they did, his tantrums were just like their meltdowns. But not exactly. Not exactly. Not exactly. That means it can't be autism, because he wasn't EXACTLY like all those other kids.

God. No. It's just the internet. The internet can convince you of anything. No. My son does not have autism. No. Go to bed.

Then I'd start my game of looking at old pictures of him on my phone, telling myself that if I could verify that he was making eye contact in 90% of the pictures then he didn't have autism. When that wasn't working, I'd say "Ok, 80%." 70%, 60%, 50%... and so on ... but really who makes eye contact with the camera anyway? He's a kid, not Kim Kardashian. Then I'd start the whole process over again looking for odd body postures or his fingers near his eyes all while conveniently ignoring the plethora of "tantrum" pictures I'd texted to my husband on particularly bad days when I couldn't figure out why my son was screaming his head off. "Put the damn phone down and engage with your kid already," I'd tell myself, "The reason he seems distant is because his mother is distant." "I need to stop being so cold." "I need to work on my patience." "I need to set a better example."

I started fishing for answers from my friends and family. "You guys don't think he has autism, do you?" And they'd always oblige, "Oh, no, of course not."  Did these people have PhDs in psychology? No. But they'd all probably seen Rainman so and I allowed their opinions to placate me. I also found myself hanging around with two of my oldest friends: carbs and wine. I'd ask my husband if he could tell if I'd gained 15 pounds in my butt. "Oh, no, of course not." (my jeans, however, were not so forgiving.)

The thing is, he's such a good kid. He's kind and loving, he likes to be snuggled tightly and held close. He laughs and plays. He has an imagination, albeit how odd it is. His smile. His dimples. That didn't fit with my idea of autism. He's my son. My joy. My light. My baby. How could he be anything else?

Still, by the time the actual evaluation rolled around, I pretty much knew exactly what the result was going to be. After the 6 hour evaluation process, in which I'd watched my son "fail" test after test,  the Dr. said he'd like to see my husband and me the next week to discuss the results. I knew what was coming. But then again, I thought maybe I was wrong. That I'd missed something. It was like one of those terrible dreams that you have where you forget to go to class for an entire semester but you still show up on finals day hoping to perform some kind of miracle.

So when the doctor told us that my son had high-functioning autism I wasn't surprised. I stoically absorbed the information as if I were being told the groundhog was predicting eight more weeks of winter. I didn't cry, or question the diagnosis. I asked a few necessary questions about the next steps in the process, took a tour of the autism treatment center and went on my way. Ok. That's the answer. My son has autism. It doesn't change anything.

The thing is, sometimes you can see a train coming at you from miles away, but no matter how much you brace for the impact, it still rips you to pieces.

The next day I was struck with the most unimaginable grief. The dam of denial that I'd been sitting under for years had finally burst and I was flooded with reality. My baby. My baby. My baby. The world is not what I thought it was.

My answer left me with infinite questions.

I still don't know what all of this means. I'm still a mess. I don't know what the future holds, but really, does any mother? I know that I'm not going to let it define him as a person, that I will do whatever it takes for him to grow into the amazing adult I know he will be. That no matter what, he's always going to be my Luko. That giving a name to this thing that was previously undefined does nothing but open up doors to the help he needs. I'm not labeling him "autistic," I'm avoiding labels like "bratty" or "lazy" or "stupid." I know that 20 years ago he probably wouldn't have been diagnosed with anything, but I also know that there are  20-year-olds out there whose futures would've been infinitely brighter had they received the help and understanding that my son will obtain through this process.

While I do believe I've sliced through my denial and carved out acceptance, the wound is still fresh. It still hurts. So we're just going to take it day by day, because really, we didn't just suddenly find ourselves on the spectrum, we've been here for quite a while.

NOTE: I have the utmost respect for the medical professionals who've helped us through this journey and I am ashamed of being so cross with them, I was just lashing out at them because I was scared and confused. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

May You Never Lose Your Shivers

Today I posted this instagram pic of my daughter and her latest must-have accessory, "BeBEEEEE":

They have the same barber.


The doll pictured is my very best childhood friend, "Shivers." She is named as such because she is a New Born Baby Shivers(TM) doll, manufactured for the delight of young girls everywhere in the late 80's. What made her different than other dolls at the time was that when you took off her PJ's, she got "cold" and began to shiver so you had to warm her up by either putting her clothes back on or giving her a hug. She also looked really, really lifelike, which was uncommon in an era where girls were more apt to play with Cabbage Patch Kids.  When the doll came out I was obsessed with it in the way that my kids are with those idiotic Snackeez cup thingys now.  I would go around singing the jingle from the commercial "New Born Baby Shivers, my love will keep you waaaaaaaarrrrrrrm!" How could you not resist something like that? My LOVE would keep her warm! She needed MY love. After a months-long campaign of begging and selective listening, I finally got my Shivers doll in December, as a birthday present from my grandma. 

Every year for my birthday my Grandma would take me to see The Nutcracker and then we would we would go back to her place and drink cocoa and eat angel food cake and she would give my my present, it is one of my happiest memories, and the year of Shivers was no different. When I opened my present I was elated and wanted to play with her immediately. Luckily, my Grandma had already opened her up and put the batteries in, and the doll came out of the box ready to be disrobed. I ripped off her yellow gown, and she began to shiver! In an era before iPhones, this was high-tech. I put her clothes back on, she stopped. Strip her again, give her a hug, my LOVE was keeping her WARM. Eventually, Shivers was warm enough, or her batteries wore down enough, that she stopped shivering all together. I asked my grandma to show me how change the batteries and she refused. She said I was too young to know and that she'd do it after I'd gone to bed. What did she think I was, some little kid?! I'd just turned seven! I was old enough to change batteries. So I went to the box and found the instructions and read how to change the batteries myself.  Turns out my grandmother was right in trying to save me from the emotional trauma of recharging the doll as the batteries went in her neck, and you put them there by removing her head, which you had to twist 180 degrees, exorcist style, to get off.  As if the act itself wasn't scary as hell, the doll without a head was just totally freaky:

This is what happens when you don't listen to grandma. 

Although she initially gave me therapy inducing nightmares, I still loved that little doll something crazy and Shivers became a family member, slept in my bed every night and went with us everywhere. She also had a little quirk, in that, basically, she was always cold. She would get phantom shivers in the middle of the night and wake my whole family up, or once we almost got ran off the road because she shivered from the trunk of my mom's Geo Prism. Eventually it was decided to permanently remove Shivers' batteries and her constant presence became much more tolerable.  

One time my family took a camping trip to the Jemez and of course Shivers came along.  It wasn't a particularly great camping trip. I'd decided that I wasn't going to use the bathroom in the woods and I refused to eat or drink anything for the entire weekend.  We'd also seen a lot of cow patties on a hike and I didn't trust the integrity of our tent's walls against a two-ton bovine so I'd spent the night sleeping/crying in my dad's truck. Needless to say, I was pretty delirious by the time we packed up the next morning.  As we were getting ready to go two hikers came down out of the woods, carrying Shivers.  We'd left her on top of a large boulder that my parents designated a bathroom spot, and despite the fact that I could not see the appeal in its intended purpose, the boulder made an excellent table/crib/general household furniture when playing house. "Is this your doll?" the hikers said, "We thought it was a real baby."  I sheepishly grabbed Shivers and thanked the hikers and didn't think much about it at the time.  Now I wonder what the hell those hikers must have thought, when they come across what looked like a flat, stone altar, in the middle of the forest on a Sunday morning, with an abandoned newborn baby laid out with its hands raised to the sky. I always picture the sun shining so that it perfectly illuminates the doll like some divine prophecy. Did they want to run? Call for help? Maybe they thought it was the second coming of Christ. When did they get the courage to go up to the baby shrine and realize it was a doll? Were they on drugs? Do they still think about that day, like I do? I'll never know. At the time I was just grateful that I didn't leave my precious Shivers in the forest and lose her forever like in some bible story I'd heard. 

Eventually, all little girls outgrow their dolls, and by the sixth grade I'd pretty much stopped playing with Shivers all together. Although I'd still occasionally peruse the Barbie aisle at Walmart, concurrently making up a story how I was looking for a present for my "cousin" in case I ran into anyone I knew, I was more interested in how get a certain boy to notice me or signing up for band but never going and so I could read old copies of "Cosmo" in study hall than I was in playing with dolls.  

My teacher must have sensed our raging hormones and one day during health we were given the ever popular assignment of "be a parent for a day." Traditionally that meant that you'd carry around a 5lb bag of flour with you at school for an entire day and you were supposed to take care of it like a real baby, feed it, change it, don't let it end up with giant gaping holes, and by the end of the day you were graded on the condition of your flour. My teacher thought this was wasteful and didn't want to get flour all over the classroom, or maybe she had a gluten allergy, so instead of flour she had us all bring in a doll for the day and we were to care for it like we did an infant. Even though the lesson was pretty mature in that it was trying to teach us the perils of having the bad bad sex and becoming teen parents, 6th grade is still pretty young. Shivers came with me to school that day and my friends and I spent the day delighting in the activity and playing with our dolls. It was like nothing had changed, we weren't right on the cusp of puberty, some of us even hiding our training bras, dipping our toes into the bleakness of the adult world. We were just little girls, playing dolls. It was glorious. I got home from school that day and I didn't want it to end but I was hit with the brilliantly clear knowledge that it had already ended. I knew at that moment that I really was done playing with dolls. I went to bed early that night with a stomach ache and I took Shivers with me. I curled around the doll and cried as I mourned the passing of my childhood and fell asleep. The next morning I put Shivers away for good. 

I'd nearly forgotten about the doll completely when my parents built a new house and moved out of my childhood home after they'd lived there over twenty years. My mom came across the doll and thought I should have it. I was, at the time, a shiny, newly engaged young woman, a rising star at my company. I was going to make lots of money. Travel the world. Delect in the delectable for the rest of my life. I told my mom to give Shivers to St. Vincent de Paul. I had no use for her in my modern life, I had just bought a Nespresso machine, after all. Still, my mom insisted, and I took the doll home and left her in a storage bin in the garage. 

Nine months after my wedding I was pregnant with my first child, my son Luke. Long gone were the dreams of jet planes around the world, instead I was flying spoon planes of applesauce into my child's face with the intent of landing them in his mouth. For Luke's first Christmas his great grandmother sent him a silly looking brown monkey with long arms and legs and soft feet and hands. The fact that this was in fact a dog chew toy was lost on both Luke and his great grandmother. Luke was instantly attached to the monkey and named him "Brown Monkey" (naming things is a genetic trait) and despite a brief hiatus in which Brown Monkey was lost in a folded up bounce house for an entire summer, Browns, as he is often called, goes with us everywhere.  Brown Monkey instantly reminded me of Shivers. When I became pregnant again and learned that I'd be having a girl I started looking for Shivers again but my garage was a total disaster due to a valiant, yet failed attempt to recycle in Los Lunas, I couldn't find the doll. When Lils was born her grandfather made her a beautiful wooden doll cradle and I knew that Shivers would be just perfect for it. Still though, I couldn't find the doll. I figured that as the result of various moves and recent life changes that Shivers was probably lost for good. I forgot about her again.

And then this summer. We decided that we would redo our backyard and I wanted to put up a Gazebo that we used to have at this other house, in the pre children/recession era when we had money for things like Gazebos, and I sent my husband hunting for parts in the garage. And there she was, underneath a stack of textbooks, Shivers, patiently waiting all this time to be rediscovered. She was filthy and her head was completely smooshed in from the weight of the books but other than that intact. I cleaned her up with a magic eraser, changed her clothes and left her on a window sill in the hopes that the warmth would help her face regain its original shape. Every single night for two weeks straight either my husband or I would catch a glimpse of this very lifelike baby doll with a crushed cranium in the window and momentarily think this was it, this was actually the end. The horror movies were right all along. Eventually the doll's head did even out and she looked as she had when I was a kid. I gave the doll to Lils, promising myself that I would NEVER, EVER tell her the secret of replacing the batteries. 

And then today: I was sitting outside, watching her brother play in the sandbox. And Lils came up to me, beaming, toddling in her little weeble walk, "BeBEEE, mama, BeBEEE," dragging Shivers by the foot behind her. She was equally delighted in herself and the fact that she gets to be part of this world. The joy was infectious and I scooped both of them up into the chair next to me and took her picture. I realized then how important it was that I never lost Shivers. 





Monday, July 28, 2014

No, Really, Everyone has it.

At about this time last year I was on the verge of just totally losing my mind. I had a 6 month old who just WOULD. NOT. STOP. CRYING. The only thing that could make her stop was to have my boob in her mouth and I was pretty much breastfeeding her around the clock, even at night, to the point where she just started sleeping in my bed suckling all night, which is like, the absolute biggest safety no-no in modern-mama land. When I wasn't completely immobilized by the Very Hungry Caterpillar in human form, her sensitive older brother, smack dab in the middle of the his "terrible twos" spent his time demanding my attention/making me feel totally guilty by systematically destroying the house in a quest for personal development that I felt like I should be providing.

About a million (non-doctor) people told me me that I should give the baby formula because my milk wasn't "good enough" for her and that I must be leaving her hungry, implying that I was starving my (very healthy) child and torturing myself in some self-righteous hippie-love-natural-mammalian quest to advocate breastfeeding. Against my better instincts I gave in and gave her formula, which made her vomit profusely and subsequently she began refusing all bottles from that point on, including ones of my own milk, which meant that I couldn't be away from her for more than an hour at a time without her having a complete hunger meltdown/sleep strike/hour long screaming session. I tried to leave her with my mom so I could go see a friend play music at a coffee shop, my mom called me, sobbing, asking could I please come get the baby? She won't stop stop screaming. 

On top of all of this my husband's job started going downhill in a bad, bad way. His hours were slashed to almost nothing, and it was clear that a lay-off was imminent. Did I mention that I left a very good job, where I was doing relatively well, working my way up through management, and making enough money to provide nicely for the family, just so that I could stay home with the kids? 

All of this lead me to be permanently encamped on the couch, baby at the boob, Daniel Tiger booming in the background, furiously focused on my iPhone, obsessing over breastfeeding/2-year-old development/hydro-geology jobs/everyone on facebook is happier than me. 

I was plagued by a constant narrative loop in my head: "I can't do this. We have no money. What if I am starving her? Why did I leave my job? I will never work again. I thought I was supposed to be smart? I'm never ever going to do anything important with my life.  I am bored. This is the best time my life, I'm an asshole for being bored. The first three years of life are the most important. The first three years of life are the most important. I only have three years. There's only half a year left for Luke. Is half a  year enough time to undo all the damage I've already done? I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG. I am doing everything wrong. What is that smell? This house is a disaster. I need to weigh the baby right now. Nobody understands me. Nobody supports me. Everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I am an idiot. I need to be more engaged. I need to be more friendly. How did I get so fat?  If someone comes to check out this house right now I'd have the kids taken away. I have to be a better housekeeper. I have to be a better mom. I can't do this. I need to stop looking at my phone. I need to get into shape. Oh god, I am bored. There is so much laundry. I am so bad at this. I have no friends. I am bored because I am boring. He shouldn't be eating so much sugar. Why am I so addicted to sugar? I am a terrible example. I'm messing them up, eating sugar in front of them. I only have three years to get it right. I am a horrible mother." And repeat. 

While a lot of people tip-toed around the issue nobody came out and just said it, I had figure out for myself that I was seriously, dangerously depressed. I finally decided to get help when I was sobbing in the the kitchen, binge eating a block of cheese and a loaf of bread, wanting to just run away from all of it, trying to figure out if I had enough money in my bank account to do so, and I knew that I just couldn't keep living that way. 

The thing about depression is that it doesn't exactly look like how you think it would look.  I remember in the 90's when Zoloft first started advertising heavily and the commercials featured a sad little egg, going around the with a permanent raincloud over his head, hiding in a cave, until someone gave him some Zoloft and the sun just came out.

Maybe, for some people, it really is just a matter of being gloomy in the need of a little sunshine, but for me it was so so much more.  I had a very predictable cycle: self-hatred led to binge eating which led to guilt which lead to anger which lead to tears which led to more guilt and more self-hatred, and I was completely immobilized by the crushing amount of guilt. I didn't want to leave the house because I was so ashamed of, well just everything. I was constantly angry. I was glued to my phone. I was so lost. I was so hurt. I hated myself so much, and I was sure that I was deserving of all the misery because I was a terrible person. I felt trapped. In prison: in my head, in my living room, in my body.

I hated everything but I want to be clear that I didn't hate my children. No, my love for them was, is and always will be infinite. What I did hate was myself, for not being good enough, for not deserving these beautiful creatures. The sure one thing about  having kids, for me, was the the knowledge the I was truly the only person in the world who could raise them correctly. The only thing holding them back from absolute perfection was me, the lazy asshole who couldn't access the power within, couldn't find the motivation, didn't have the resources, to be what they needed. There was nobody in the world good enough to to raise my children except my most perfect version of myself, and because I was unable to produce that perfection I was failing them in the worst way.

I'm feeling very vulnerable even writing this blog now. I'm doing my very best to resist the urge to delete everything I've just written. I don't want people to think I'm crazy. I don't want people to laugh at me. I didn't want to admit that I was depressed, I don't want to admit that I am capable of depression. 

The one thing that is motivating me to go ahead and publish this is the knowledge that, depression, especially postpartum depression, often goes unnoticed and he people who do seek help are stigmatized for it. The thing is, a lot of people have it. Like really, a lot.  My doctor said that ALL women get it after having a baby, as there is a literal depression in the hormones in your body. He said that pregnancy is like puberty and breastfeeding is like menopause, and so having a baby is like going from one extreme to the other - in a matter of hours. 

Seeking help was not easy. I seriously procrastinated. I canceled doctor's appointments for stupid reasons. Eventually I made it  the half-mile to my doctor's office and my treatment plan included going on Zoloft (ha ha) and seeing a therapist. I approached therapy with a kind of ironic half-assedness trying to convince myself that I really didn't need it. I wasn't crazy. I was just tired...

I started to casually mention my therapist to people and often I'd see a look of relief cross their faces and they'd confess that they too, were in therapy. We're a secret society of pretty much everybody, unified in the fact that sometimes, we just cant do it on our own.

And things started to get better. I got back on track eating healthily and working out. I stopped wearing the same dirty pair of yoga pants everyday. It was a slow, painful journey, and it had it's many setbacks. I'm still on it. 

So here I am, trying to be brave. Trying to put it all out there so that maybe somebody else, who was suffering like I was won't feel so bad, that I can take a little of the shame away. Because there is nothing to be ashamed of. More people are depressed than you will ever know. Being a mom is hard. Being HUMAN is hard. There are so many THINGS and PRESSURE in our society. It's ok. It happens. We can't do it all. And there is hope.

I know, because I can look back a year ago and I can see how dark things were, if only because they are in such stark contrast to how they are now. I am so grateful that I got help. I can't say that I'm a perpetually sunny zoloft egg, because I'm still human, things still happen, life is still stressful, but at least now, I am ok with the fact that I am indeed, just a human, it makes all the difference. 





Monday, July 21, 2014

On Fat Girls in Bikinis

I follow a local morning radio show, Jackie, Tony and Donnie on Facebook because I genuinely enjoy their banter and I can tolerate the music they play most of the time. They do a weekly write-in, called "Dear Donnie," in which listeners can write in with their concerns and the internet can collectively comment and offer advice, etc. I get that they pick the most ire-inciting emails each week because, hey you gotta drive traffic somehow. Anyway, last week's "Dear Donnie" was a doozy and I can't stop thinking about it. Basically, the author was upset because she works very hard to stay in shape and she is horrified that people who do not work out the way that she does have the audacity to wear "revealing" swimming suits in public places and she doesn't think it’s fair that she has to look at their "nasty bodies" when she works so hard for hers. The anonymity of the author afforded her the ability to say exactly what was on her mind without the repercussions of everyone knowing that she's a total a-hole, but it really bugs me that she even had a platform (and numerous supporters) for her messed up body ideals and sadly, this is not the first time I've this argument. I don't know when and where we came up with this loosely defined set of rules which women can show what parts of their bodies and when and why we think we have any control over it whatsoever but it is becoming seriously outrageous. I kept thinking about if someone wrote in and saying how they were so tired of seeing "fat dudes" mowing their lawns shirtless every single Saturday morning. I have a feeling that people would say things like "well, it's hot" and "mowing the lawn is tough work," or probably some junk about how men’s bellies and nipples are evolutionarily non-offensive because they are men and that is the way that it is. Rather than the slew of comments about how these "whales and hippos" don't belong at the pool because "fatties" don't deserve the right to cool down until they drop the chubs. Double standards aside, the irony of comparing women to aquatic mammals when denying them the right to cool off in a body of water is beyond comprehension. 



My impulse is to say, "If you don't like it, don't look at it and move on," but that doesn't really address the concept of just accepting people for who they are. If these ladies are happy splashing around in a two-piece then why can't we just be happy for them? What difference does it make how they look? Since when does "not perfect" necessitate invisibility? Historically, deciding that people are unworthy simply based on a certain group being "offended" by their physical appearance has led to some pretty dark places in humanity. Of course, this issue gets easily dismissed as a concern for a random stranger's “health”. And it's not that I'm not an advocate for health and personal well-being.  Over the last year I have lost well over 60 lbs through diet and exercise. I was unhealthy, depressed, my joints were killing me, my family has a strong history of type 2 diabetes plus it's REALLY hard to chase two toddlers around with the equivalent of 3 cinder blocks on your back so I decided to make a change in my life. I've tried a million times to lose weight but it stuck this time because I did it for myself, not anyone else, and definitely not to ‘earn’ the right to wear any particular article of clothing. And you know what, I still wear THE EXACT SAME SWIMSUIT I was wearing 60 lbs ago. Not because I have earned the right to wear it, just because I really like that swimsuit.

I can think of five weekly publications off the top of my head that make their bread and butter simply by photographing celebrities and subsequently bashing them for the fabric that they have decided to drape over their bodies on any particular day.  And it goes beyond celebrities, if you go to any event in which there are more than 2 women it’s inevitable that they will spend a generous amount of time appraising and discussing each other’s clothing and deciding if it is appropriate for a particular venue. If middle school had a restrictive dress code, then the real world is just an amplification, rather than freedom from it. While nobody has to sign a contract at the beginning of the year to promising not to be textilely offensive, the consequences of wearing the “wrong thing” tend to be much harsher than getting sent home for the rest of the day. The gossip and judgment is absolutely brutal. It’s a terrible, terrible habit that I am most definitely guilty of too. I recently went to a wedding where I noticed a non-bride wearing a white dress.  I spent 15 minutes judging this woman, almost to the point of anger, “Doesn't she know better? WHO does she think she is?” Then I realized, Did I actually confuse her with the bride? No. Does what she is wearing have any effect on my physical well being in  anyway whatsoever? No. Does anyone else seem to care? No.  It was none of my darn business what this woman was wearing. She was happy in her dress and having a good time and nobody died, and all and all it was a pretty good wedding.  Why on earth did I have such a response her darn dress? Why is this so ingrained in our psyche that we allow what somebody else is wearing to affect us to the point of not enjoying an open bar to its fullest extent?

And the funny thing about dresses is that I wear them almost exclusively, which leads me to be asked constantly why I am so “dressed up” when I wear things like a cotton sundress to a barbecue.  I’m not trying to be more proper or dressed up than anyone else; I just really really hate pants. Like really. I feel like they are too constrictive, I hate the way the fabric clings to my legs, the way the seams dig in, and the complete and utter lack of ventilation, the non functional-pockets.  I have no idea why anyone would ever wear anything but dresses whenever possible, including men. I currently own 3 pairs of jeans and I will begrudgingly put on a pair if there is a thunderstorm or a blizzard, and maybe if I ever go horseback riding, but they feel like pure torture to me. Going sans pants is my choice based entirely on my comfort level, so what does it matter to anyone else? And on the other side of it, I know women who are the most comfortable wearing mens’ jeans, and subsequently they wear them almost exclusively. And that’s their thing. If they want to show up to a funeral in a pair of jeans, well damn, funerals suck so you might as well wear something that doesn't make you feel like you’d rather be the corpse.

I don’t know if I’m a feminist because definition of the term is constantly changing to involve allowing judgment for whatever group of women is being stigmatized at any given moment, but I do know that I am a mother of a daughter, and I don’t want her to grow up in like this, constantly feeling like her worth is earned solely on appearance. I know that I need to first break my own judgmental behavior and then work on helping her have an open, confident outlook on life and I’m doing the best I can in a society that demands the opposite, and I encourage everyone else to do the same, because I really think we will all be happier that way.





Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My urge to helicopter parent is only trumped by my fear of heights.

I think that the last thing that anyone would ever describe me as is "laid back".  I've spent my entire life wound tighter than an LA facelift and promising myself that eventually I will try yoga or something to help me relax but I've never really gotten around to it.  That is why it is so surprising that when I decided to gift myself to the gene pool I learned just how crazy the parenting world can be.  Don't get me wrong, my priorities are to keep my children safe and healthy and happy and hope that they grow up to be semi-adjusted adults with just enough quirk to make them interesting, but I also refuse to keep them in a bubble. I want them to learn and explore and make mistakes and get dirty, and I find that this approach is extremely disturbing to people who are not the sole keepers of my babies' development. It really scares the hell out of people that I let my kids be kids, and I really can't understand why.

For example, the other day my mom and I took my kids to a backyard birthday party where there was plenty of grass and cake and a keg. My mom and I were enjoying a beer and watching the kids play in the grass when an older woman came up to me and said "Your baby is playing with rocks." To which I chuckled and said "Yeah, that's Lils for ya."  Clearly miffed, the woman said "Well, I just don't want her to choke on a rock."  Like I do? Of course not. I made a feeble attempt to explain to the lady that I didn't think she would put the rocks in her mouth - and if she did, well, her father is a geologist and I've seen him put more rocks and dirt in his mouth than I'd like to admit because apparently you can tell what a rock is if you taste it or something. I don't know, I majored in English.  I'll just trust that he's right and he doesn't have pica or something. Either way, I know my child, I know that rocks are a "thing" in our house, and I know that she's not going to start cramming them down her esophagus, mostly because they don't taste like cake. What she will do is take the rocks to me and expect me to identify them, and I will tell her that they are "volcano rocks" because I feel like all rocks come from volcanos at some point and so that way I am sort of right.  What I'm not going to do is freak out and cause a scene and scare the heck out of her by screaming "LILY NO ROCKS!!!! NO ROCKS LILY!!!!" Which is apparently what this woman expected me to do, as she walked off telling me "Well she looks petite for her age." I don't even know what that was supposed to imply but I guess I was supposed to be shamed.  That said, am I going to fill her crib with gravel and just let her have at it unsupervised for hours at a time? Of course not, I'm not an idiot.

For whatever reason, I'm part of a facebook group that is about 500 moms who all had babies in January of 2013.  Mostly it's just swapping advice about tantrums and diaper rash and coupon codes, but at least once a day there is a post like this:  "Look at this picture of a baby that my facebook friend posted, she can't be more than 18 months old and she is in a car seat FORWARD FACING." And this will be followed by a slew of comments about how CPS should come in and take the child away, and how just plain ignorant other parents are. These women are obsessed with with the forward/backward facing car seat issue, and are convinced that you should keep your kids rear facing until they are 18 or until they invent car in which everyone can sit rear facing. This picture is often used as an example as to how even older kids can sit comfortably in a rear-facing car seat:

"Comfort"


Am I missing something here or is this totally ridiculous?  The thing is, I'm totally paranoid about driving around with my kids in the car. Last summer I was in a pretty terrible wreck in which I pulled out in front of an oncoming car and was t-boned. The force of the impact and the side airbags were actually enough that the baby's (rear-facing) car seat base actually dislodged and pushed her to the other side of the car. Although I had a full on meltdown in the middle of Main Street (I'm sure many of you Los Lunians remember) my kids were 100% ok. When the mechanic looked at the car all he could do is shake his head and tell me "This is why I love Subarus. Any other car and this would be a different situation but this car did exactly what it was supposed to do in a wreck - it performed beautifully." So ok, I'll never drive anything but a Subaru and I lose it every time I see the "They lived" commercial. Aside from the free advertising is at that point it didn't matter which direction my kid was facing, she would've been crushed in a different car. Driving is scary and unpredictable and anything can happen, so the need for precautions is not lost on me. And I get why tiny babies are need to face backwards and I don't have a problem with that.  But I'm also not going to cram my three-year-old into a rear facing car seat in an attempt to prevent the randomness of the universe from getting us. Plus, when he turned one, the recommendation was to turn him to the front, so in the 3 years that he's been alive maybe things have changed, but someone please tell me how you explain that kind of logic to a toddler? "I used to let you see out the window and sit like a big boy, but now the internet says I can't do that anymore so I'm gonna turn you around and if we get rear-ended the only risk is snapping both of your femurs." Things are safer now than they ever have been, we are long gone from the days of strapping and infant into a laundry basket in the back seat and hoping for the best,  and really, what's next, should I put my kids in motorcycle helmets every time we head to the grocery store?  

This doesn't even cover the things that I'm not supposed to give my kids to eat (heyyy high fructose corn syrup), the toys that they shouldn't be playing with (ok, no lawn darts), the TV they shouldn't be watching (but Breaking Bad was shot in New Mexico!), the iPads they shouldn't be looking at, the SPF 1000 swim shirts I'm supposed to force them to wear, the ever changing percent of fat in the milk that I'm supposed to be giving them, the hand sanitizer that they need to be slathered in after every human interaction, the dangerous flip-flops they shouldn't be wearing, and the myriad other things that I'm sure I'm doing wrong. I'm just going to continue doing the best that I can and hope to god that I don't end up a cautionary tale. And, oh god, yes, I am scared, but we just have to keep on living. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

International House of Lowered Expectations

I think that I join the rest of the population in the notion that breakfast foods are the best foods. Especially if consumed sometime after 10:30 am. My husband and I have always enjoyed a good brunch, I have a particular fondness for poached eggs, while he enjoys food on a plate. This small joy is something that we felt that we should share with our offspring, so about a year ago we planned a family day at the zoo and decided to stop at the brunch place that everyone else in Albuquerque flocks to right before noon on the weekends. This turned out to be a huge mistake as my toddler did not appreciate his 14 dollar "French style" pancakes and spent the entire time demanding a cookie while his sister screamed and clawed at my chest because it had literally been THREE AND A HALF MINUTES since she'd last nursed.  Within 20 minutes food was everywhere, hipsters were staring, and all I could do was sit silently as the tears fell onto my perfectly executed croque madame. I chugged down my organic iced tea and accepted the $60 loss that was the meal and we got out of there before we were offered a gig as a live-action traveling advertisement for birth control. As we were walking the 3 blocks to the car, my husband and I looked at each other seriously and concluded, "NEVER AGAIN." We would never take the kids to brunch again.  Now, this is a dilemma, there are certain situations: company in town, lack of groceries, common laziness, which require me to take my children out in public to consume breakfast foods. This is how I started my deep love and appreciation of the the most worldly of  breakfast joints, The International House of Pancakes, or IHOP as the young people seem to be calling it these days.

Everything is already sticky

Children, in their quest to pick up as many germs as humanly possible are perpetually sticky. I think that they actually secrete a special kind of glue that allows them to collect large amounts of dirt on their bodies and take it home so that I can sweep it up later. There are never enough wipeys. Most people in public settings do not appreciate our constant tackiness, but at IHOP they embrace the sticky.  You actually have your choice of up to 4 flavors of sticky, right there on the table for you. Would you like some butter pecan with that glob of dirt stuck to your face? Here you go. Is that dog hair, maybe some human hair on your hands? Either way, it will be complemented nicely by this shockingly red strawberry treacle. I cannot be the only one to notice that the syrups are offered in the primary colors, red, blue, yellow, and then there's brown, or "traditional" (NOT maple)  which I'm pretty sure is just the previous 3 mixed together.  By the end of the meal your table will look like a large sheet of fly paper, but not to worry, it's not going to faze the next sticky family that sits there. 

Nobody judges you for bringing kids into a restaurant

One thing I have learned about being on the other side of the childless/childfull line is there is a large portion of our population that gets seriously pissed if you dare feed your children in the same room as they are eating.  These people will spend their entire meal staring, glaring, sighing heavily and giving you the occasional tight smile if you happen to make eye contact with them.  Everyone is welcome at IHOP, but there are three distinct groups of people who come into IHOP: stoners, the elderly, and families with sticky children. The hostesses are adept at keeping these three groups separated. The families clump together in a sort of romper room, the elderly are lead to the back dining room where they can enjoy their senior discount in peace and the stoners are seated near the door so they can go outside to smoke during the 3 hours it takes them to drink that one cup of coffee. When my son inevitably starts screaming because his hands are sticky the stoners will ignore him and the elderly will tell us how cute his sister is, I might let an old lady pinch her cheek and tell me how her granddaughter didn't have hair either, and at least everyone is not completely miserable.

Everybody loves cookies for breakfast

I'm not going to delude myself. I know darn well that the funny face pancake is just a giant chocolate chip cookie, and I'm not even going to try to justify the maraschino cherry eyes as fruit because I've seen the Food Network special on them and there is no way those things are fit for human consumption.  That said, I am not above allowing my child to eat this thing as his morning meal, slathered in at least two colors of high-fructose corn syrup. It is a guaranteed 5 minutes of absolute silence.  I order the thing with the expectation that he's only going to eat about 1/8th of it, and you know what? I've learned to be OK with a 7/8ths loss of food, if means that I can slurp down one scalding cup of coffee before it's time to break up the full-on fist fight that has started between the two littles over the orange crayon.

It's cheap

There was a time, before children, when both my husband and I were working full time jobs, that we had money. Not like bathtubs of diamonds money, but enough to enjoy brunch every weekend without feeling like we weren't going to be able to buy groceries for the week. Then I left my job because I am a masochist and I thought it would be fun to be tortured by children all day. Then the economy was like "hey, your husband doesn't need a job either." And I get, it, I really do. This is why America is fat, because fatty sugary foods are cheap and filling. I do get it. And oh god, GLUTEN. If I had the kind of money that I could feed us all organic grass-fed kale for every meal, I'd probably try a little harder. Maybe. Our economic situation dictates that it's good news if we can get out of a restaurant at for less than the price of a couple of Starbucks lattes, which is more than achievable at IHOP.  Plus, free refills on coffee.  Just remember, the food is cheap and your kids have come in with the strength of a gale force hurricane, so TIP GENEROUSLY. Somebody's gotta clean that mess up and if you think you're having a hard economic time, think how much harder it is for the server at IHOP.  And if you really can't afford the tip then this is definitely an occasion where you need to stay home for with some Cheerios. 


I do look forward to eventually having a luxurious child-free brunch, maybe a mimosa or two and a quinoa omelette or whatever, one day, in the future. Maybe far in the future. I've learned that this is the kind of thing that you enjoy either in memory or anticipation, but you cannot really appreciate it unless it is no longer commonplace. And come on, my kids are actually kind of fun, well sometimes, and I actually enjoy spending time with them so funny face pancakes for all!