Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Getting Mamas Talking

     There are several topics I have in the queue to write about that I haven't because I've been worried that they would make people--particularly some people I care deeply about--feel more than a little uncomfortable. I don't want people I care about to feel badly, and truth be told, I'm pretty conflict averse.  So I have not written or posted any of those stories.  And then something happened.    

Thing 2 got a job.

     It's been a long time coming.  He's been out of school and work for over three years. So it's a pretty big deal for us here in the FabFam.  Two weeks ago, I made a terrific fuss about Thing 1 graduating from college.  I want to make an equitable amount of hoopla for Thing 2.  Only, to celebrate this milestone requires me to publicly talk about how messy and complicated life for Thing 2 and the People Who Love Him can be.  

     I am aware that I already disclose way more about the challenges of having a child with co-occurring bipolar and anxiety disorders than most people do. In this day and age, issues surrounding mental health are still not considered appropriate topics for discussion in Polite Society.  Because the silence was literally putting my precious son in a life-threatening position, I finally started talking, but only in whispers, and only after it was too late to help him avoid a string of troubles. 

    It is completely acceptable to have a conversation at the office with a colleague you barely know about his recent colonoscopy.  Soccer moms can talk about their post-partum hemorrhoids while sitting in beach chairs alongside the pitch while their kids chase the ball like a bunch of honeybees.  Our parents can share all the details of their latest "procedures" at a holiday dinner, while the aunts chime in with their two cents from when they went through it, too.  We can gossip and cluck sympathetically when we hear that a neighbor's child has diabetes or asthma or a life threatening food allergy.  But I'm not supposed to talk about my son's (or my own or my husband's or my mother-in-law's or  my grandmother's or my friends' or your) mental health.  I call bullshit. If I have to listen to the details of your husband's prostate cancer treatment, you can put up with my tales of convincing my anxious son that picking up the phone to call the pharmacy to get a prescription refilled will not trigger the apocalypse.

     I get it.  My son's suffering doesn't look like someone who is suffering from a health care condition.  When he's manic and carrying on like Robin Williams (pre-heart attack, extra hyper), you think he's the class clown who needs to calm down and get to work. When depression keeps him in bed for days or when his anxieties paralyze him you don't see a sick kid.  You see a lazy bum.  I know this, because you think nothing of telling this to him, to his girlfriend, to me and my husband.  Thanks for that.  We really appreciate your world-class support.  It oh so very helpful.  Not.
This mama has had enough of that.  

    This is a thought that has been eddying in my mind for a while now.  See, I keep finding myself in conversations with all kinds of people that have at their base two ideas:  that we measure someone's worth by the category we put them in and that we allow others to be harmed when we keep silent about the treatment we receive because of our given category.  Stick with me here.  It should become clear in a second.

  There is always someone we see as Other  and by Other we usually mean Less Than.  We put those Other people into categories--gay, black, mentally ill, female,etc.--and for a whole host of reasons, we treat those Other people differently than we treat the People Like Us.  And by differently, I mean badly.  You know exactly what I am talking about.  You have been mistreated by someone who sees you as Other.  In all likelihood, you have treated some Other people badly, too.  

     Keeping silent about the mistreatment of women, the mistreatment of gays, the mistreatment of the disabled, the mistreatment of anyone deemed Other by someone else needs to stop.  And I think the only category of people strong enough to unite all the Others are the Mamas. 

I'm done keeping silent. 

     I know that I'm not the only mama out there who has been heartbroken by the treatment of one of her babies because of the color of that baby's skin, or because of that baby's gender, or because of that baby's sexual preference, or because of that baby's disability.  Every mama I know has taught their children how to cope with those attacks.  I have taught my beautiful daughter to not go out alone at night and to always have her phone with her.  I have taught my son to stick to his routine and keep with familiar people who understand his disorders. And I'm right to teach my children how to cope in a challenging world, but I should also have been changing the world, so that it was a little less challenging for them.  What I should have been doing all along is telling everyone who will listen that they will not get away with taunting, touching, or attacking my daughter; that my son is not dumb, lazy, or dangerous.

     So, it's a beautiful spring Saturday.  My Personal Chef is at work directing a string of catered functions.  My chores are done (well, done enough). The day stretches out before me, and I have time on my hands.  

I think I'm going to start a movement.  

     Yep.  I'm starting a movement to rally mamas everywhere to start talking about all of those things which we have kept silent about for too long.  Let's change the world, Ladies! I'm accepting applications for memberships.  And suggestions for the movement's name, you know, for marketing purposes and such.  Someone might want to write a protest song for us or something, so it should be catchy.  

   Hey, this is a brand new movement, my mama movement.  I don't yet know how it will play out. I don't have any rules or anything set up.  Well, here's one rule:  you have to be a mama to join  OR you need a note from your mama saying she gives you permission to join with the other mamas. You can sign up in the comments section. 

     And this here is more a guideline than a rule: I'm going to recommend that when you are representing the movement and talking about something We Don't Talk About, try to remain calm, so that the issues you now bring up can become normalized.  However, I recognize that there will be times that barking, screeching, yelling, or otherwise cussing out someone may be justifiably warranted.  

I think that's a good enough start for now.  I have to go take Thing 2 shopping for work-appropriate attire.  He starts a new job next week.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Magic on Memorial Day

     My Personal Chef is an Air Force brat. So, our FabFam is especially mindful to remember the soldiers who selflessly sacrificed their own lives in the defense of our nation's freedoms on Memorial Day. This year, we had the honor of hanging the flag that belonged to a former Army Ranger, and our Evil Genius marched in two local parades.

    Memorial Day weekend is also the unofficial start of the summer season.  Here in New England, where the winters are long and the springs are rainy and cool, this long, holiday weekend is highly anticipated as the harbinger of beach weather and summer fun to come.

     Around the country, but definitely for my extended family, the "Memorial Day Barbecue" is a tradition. Some years, it's just a few relatives grilling burgers and hot dogs in the yard.  Other years, we throw down with a gourmet menu and red,white, and blue-themed decor.  Regardless, whether it is a simple gathering or an extravagant event, our Memorial Day Barbecue requires planning and preparation to be successful.

    We began discussing plans for a gathering of friends several weeks ago.  We suggested to our friends that they watch the Evil Genius in a parade then come to our place for a barbecue.  For one reason and another, it was decided that the get-together would be at another friend's home instead.

     So imagine my surprise when at 11:55 AM yesterday, while at the hardware store picking up garden fencing and petunias,  I received the following text:  "What can we bring?" Yep.  Apparently, we were to be hosting a Memorial Day Barbecue for approximately 20 people.  In an hour.  We were NOT prepared for a shindig.  Our living room was filled with unfolded laundry and papers.  My Personal Chef was in the yard up to his eyeballs in chicken wire.  The bathrooms were a mess.  And there was nothing in our house to eat.

     What happened next is the stuff that legends are made out of.  
Please note, we are highly trained catering professionals. It is not advisable to try this at home. 

     We had until the 1:00 PM parade step-off to pull a rabbit out of our hats.   Laughing all the way, my Personal Chef went to the grocery store.  I white tornadoed the old homestead.  In 50 minutes, two bathrooms were cleaned to Nana Franna White Glove Standards.  Two loads of laundry were folded and put away.  The coffee table was unburied from the piles of papers, mail, and magazines.  The dining room was set up as a red, white, & blue buffet. The screen porch was readied to receive guests.  Burgers, dogs, and a caesar salad were set to go.   Chicken and pork was getting all happy in the smoker.  Veggies were prepped for grilling.  A case of beer was iced down. And a pitcher of "Adult Limeade" was mixed up.  

     And so it was that we enjoyed a parade, were touched by a moving ceremony that honored our community's fallen soldiers and surviving veterans, and hosted a kick-ass barbecue feast with folks we love.


Saturday, May 17, 2014


     Nearly twenty-three years ago on a sunny day in October, my mama sat next to me in a hospital, holding her first grandchild.  Clearly smitten, my mother pronounced, "She's perfect.  At this moment she's just perfect.  She's all possibility."

     In that instant, I believed that there was nothing that this little girl couldn't do; there was no limit to who she could become. Over the next two decades, I continued to believe that and worked really hard to make sure my daughter believed it, too.

Today our family gets to stop at one of the more notable mile markers along the the trip to Becoming. 

Today my daughter graduates from college.

     At five years old, my daughter was interviewed by a classmate of mine from grad. school for a course about teaching young children mathematics.  My classmate was invovlved in what was then emerging research about "math anxiety,"  a diagnosable learning disability where the fear of doing math actually makes it more difficult, in some cases impossible, to learn mathematical skills.  The research was indicating that females were far more likely to have math anxiety than males.   My little girl apparently had not read that paper. Completely without any coaching by me and without any leading questions by my classmate, my daughter announced that, "when I grow up I'm going to be a doctor.  Not a medical one, though.  I'm going to be one of those doctors who work in a college.  I'm going to be a Math Doctor."   No math anxiety for Thing 1.  Not then. Not when she was taking AP Calculus in high school. Not ever.

     Born with an innate sense of structure and a need for order, my daughter was (okay, is) often frustrated with her aging, hippie mother who goes through many of her days by just winging it.  I like to think that God gave us to each other on purpose.  She has taught me the value in a workable routine. I have been rounding off some of her sharper edges.  We meet in the middle with our shared wicked sense of humor.

     Her senior year in high school, though, her stress about getting into the right college was almost too much for me to bear. To her way of thinking, her entire Life Plan hinged on this decision. Her angst was real.  It was pretty awful. No mama likes to watch their child suffer.  Finally, I could take it no more and I brought her to my office.  At the time, I worked at a social service agency that provided a wide range of programming and was staffed by a broad array of professionals.  As I brought Thing 1 from office to office, I asked each of my coworkers to tell my daughter what their undergraduate degree was.  Not ONE person had a degree in his or her current field. It was  mind-blowing to my daughter.  Of course, because she was both very young and super-structured, she insisted that it was because I worked in the social sciences (not the REAL sciences). We were all touchy-feely, earthy-crunchy, and terrible at sticking to The Plan.

     Fortunately for her--and no surprise to anyone--she got accepted at every school she applied to.  In a nod to her mother, she chose Clark.  "It's a wicked hippie school, Mom, but it's got one of the best research centers in the country, and, well, you know, Robert Goddard built his rockets there."  That Goddard had been there mattered, because our future Math Doctor had grown up enough to realize that applied mathematics were way more fun than theoretical mathematics, and that mathematics applied to rockets were about as much fun as a geek can possibly have.  Our Math Doctor was going to work for NASA one day.

     And then life got in the way.  Clark might have been the best school, but it was also the most expensive.  The Air Force offered a path to NASA and a very, very generous scholarship--until Thing 1 had her first ever asthma attack while running a mile during her annual fitness exam.  At the very moment she was being diagnosed with asthma and losing her scholarship, her brother was being rushed to a hospital because of a suicide attempt and her grandfather was in another hospital dying of pneumonia. A lesser woman, like, say, her mother,wouldn't have come through that season with such grace.  She was rattled, but she still was that girl who believed that she could be anyone.  She moved back home.  She transferred to a state university.

She changed her mind.

     She worked through this difficult time in her life by changing her major.  Forget NASA.  Forget calculus and physics.  She would become an early childhood educator like her mother.  

"Kids are great!  My mom is great! This will be great! This is what I'll be!"

     Ah, but she already knew too much about math.  During her first (and only) student-teaching experience, she learned how much early childhood educators earn for a living. It is less than what she makes in her part-time job as a pharmacy technician. THAT math was a deal-breaker.  Besides, everyone knows she really is a scientist at heart.
     And so it is that today that perfect baby, who had every possibility before her will become a college graduate.  She is receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology, because that is what you get when you add math, physics, education, and lab science credits all together.  She just started a new job at a specialty pharmacy that provides medications to long-term care facilities. She has plans (with her there is ALWAYS a plan!) to begin her accelerated pharmacy doctoral program next year, after she takes a few extra lab courses to better orient her towards pharmacy school.  

I love the woman she has become.  
I am exceedingly proud of how hard she has worked to become her.  
I'm excited to see what she becomes next.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Laundry Meditation

     Almost every faith tradition has some sort of tool to help their practitioners with the rituals of prayer.  Raised Catholic, I am most familiar with rosary beads, but Moslems, Ba'hai, and other faiths have their own version of prayer beads.  The Jews have special fringe, tzitzits on the corners of their prayer shawls.  And Hindus and Buddhists have mala beads, traditionally, these are strands of 108 beads to help the devout focus on the mantra they are chanting without being distracted by keeping track of the number of repititions.

     As a kid,  I did not care for the rote recitation of prayers that the rosary required. I thought it was dumb to just say the same thing over and over.  I much preferred having an ongoing conversation with the Almighty.  (Shocking, I know.)  Today, though, I think that maybe I'm beginning to understand the spiritual value of repetition.  There is something to a practice that can drown out the cacophony of swirling thoughts in my head and bring momentary relief from the struggles of my day.  I get it now.

     I don't have any beads or knotted threads to help me with this.  What I have is laundry.  Piles of laundry. As I fold countless towels, I find myself slowing into a peaceful rhythm.  With every pair of boxer shorts I come closer to actually being right here, right now, in this moment.  The tension in my body releases.  My mind calms.  And it is there, in that place of routine and ritual that the solutions to my problems begin to emerge and my worries begin to fade.

     Then I come across a queen size fitted sheet and everything goes to shit.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Learning to Dance

     My dear friend Laurel made an offhand remark about doing the cha-cha--one step forward, two steps back--and it really connected with me.  For the past two weeks, I have been moving forward and back through a series of little (and a couple not so little) dramas and joys.  It's had me exhausted and almost-but-not-quite overwhelmed.  Laurel turned that all on its head for me, though.  I'm just learning to dance!  I've always wanted to be able to dance.

     Yes, I know, EVERYONE can dance, but I'm not talking about that twirling-shuffling-bobbing thing that Deadheads do.

I want to know some traditional dance steps and execute them with at least a modicum of style and grace.

    For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of musical theater.  There's just something about a lavish song-and-dance number that makes everything better, you know? Seriously, wouldn't it be great if  we could really dance, if you could tap your troubles away ?  And my love of all things Bollywood is something that makes my Personal Chef shake his head in amusement, but I cannot get enough of the over-the-top production numbers that move the splotchy plots along.

    So, maybe today, I'll be able to stop fretting about the ordinary challenges that just keep coming.  Maybe I'll just choreograph my way through them!