Monday, January 9, 2017

On Adjustment

A few days ago, I had to change the 'Intro' on my Facebook profile.  I figured it should reflect the recent change in my job description since I am taking baby steps into working again as an English Instructor at my alma mater, Lander University.  An obligatory post explaining this shift in my job description seemed a good idea, too; however, I didn't expect the response I received. 
The Obligatory Blog Photo

Or am receiving, I guess.  Friends are still liking this status update.  Trust me, my own horn I am not tooting; however, over 98 people responded in the positive in addition to 2 shares and 28 comments of congratulations and proud of you's and even one about lucky students. 

So why didn't I feel the same way?

***
The word 'diagnosis' has four listed definitions: the third and fourth ones ring the truest for me this new year.  Just last month, at the end of a year that felt like something between a sucker punch and that kind of blow to the kidneys that only a seasoned thug can deliver, our family was given a diagnosis.  Or, as the definition states, a "determining or analysis of the cause or nature of a problem or situation."  But it was the doctors, not my husband or myself, who had had any real concerns when it came to our son.  We certainly didn't have any problems.  (Situations, yes.  Like when the Internet craps out and Charlie can't watch his Pete the Cat video - now that is a situation.)  

It had popped up at his 18 month check up, nearly 18 months ago, a word that has so many definitions and examples and stories - one that had worried me even when we were trying to conceive because the numbers associated with it were so alarming.  But then we switched pediatricians and opted for second opinions.  Things seemed okay until one appointment in Greenville led to another and then a few months of occupational, speech, and physical therapy for our son that led to a re-check and then, there it was: the word, with its dark definitions that fed even darker connotations.  It came up again.

Autism. 

That was it.  The word.  The diagnosis.  The definition of our lives from here on out.  Talk about status update.  Talk about changing job descriptions.  Talk about the floor falling out from underneath you on the soul level and you still have to save face because its Christmas and it's not about you and you have to do so much and it's not even lunch time yet and don't you have all the answers?  Hardest holiday yet.  And then there were many lost days and not rinsed out wine glasses, tears and life lived but in the past tense.  Resolved in the new year to overcome depression and anxiety and actually doing it to some degree by beginning the process of finding out about insurance and therapy our for son, I was pleasantly surprised by a job offer and an HR orientation and a class section.  But then I was reminded of how my stomach has been living in my throat and looking to move into my mouth for the last month and here I am staring at my Facebook page stating that I had "left Job at Stay-at-Home Parent."  That was that straw you hear about in reference to some poor, unfortunate camel and his back.  Even though my reality had already begun to change around me, I didn't fully begin to process it until I saw it pop up in my Facebook timeline.

Happy and excited about getting back in the classroom I am; happy and excited about leaving the job that the last two years and nine months have been I am not, especially in the still harsh light of that diagnosis and those definitions.  Not only am I a worried mom living with depression and anxiety, but I'm an English instructor.  Definitions are, for good or ill, kind of my thing.

The Not-So-Obligatory Second Blog Photo
And now I've got to leave one job that I thought defined me behind and, despite my inner critic and her not-so-glowing reviews of my ability to re-enter the workforce or remember my comma rules or relate to students who were graduating first grade when I was graduating from my alma mater, re-define words I thought I had defined.  Words like 'mom,' 'instructor,' 'special,' needs,' 'hope,' 'student,' 'work,' 'schedule,' and well, 'life.' 

I've got some homework to do.

And maybe that's why I'm feeling reticent, you know, reluctant or reserved, about changes to my job description.  Because maybe I'm stuck way back at the beginning of this journey still contemplating the other definition of the word, 'diagnosis.'  You know, the fourth one that sounds less like a cold, impersonal analysis of a problem or situation and more like an answer or a solution.  And maybe that's the same reason I don't feel as happy or as proud as so many of my dear friends and family do - because while it feels like I've been given a diagnosis and a job, I have been given; in reality, an answer and a solution. 

A Prologue; or, We End at the Beginning

Here's living in hope that one day soon I will learn to synch my feelings up with my reality.  Here's living in hope that my friends and family will accept my thanks for their kind words of support and encouragement and continue putting up with me.  And finally, here's living in hope that I will make it through to the other side of tomorrow to leave the worry of right now in my dust.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"I have had it!" or, My First Rant

Red means rant
The upside of our toddler waking up over an hour before I had planned on it this morning is that right now, at 6:15pm, he is asleep in his crib.  If you are a toddler mom, then you know this kind of joy.  If not, let me tell you that it made all of the crabbiness and crying and pouting of the tantrum more bearable - especially once I got done throwing it.

After putting him down, gently closing the door, and doing a mama victory dance into the kitchen, I heard my phone go off.  Not even two text message alerts, their canned jingles blaring, woke up or even bothered our little one. 

Back in the kitchen, I finished making my well-earned mama treat, warmed up leftover mashed potatoes and melted cheddar cheese, by adding a very large pour of ranch dressing.  Drinking a glass of red wine with such a meal as this feels no less fancy than if I were eating the real thing in a restaurant - and the special at Casa de Boatwright tonight - screaming toddlers are not on the menu.

And then I decided to check my texts.  And then I got mad.

Not angry.  Not pissed.  Mad.  Mama mad.  Burning, seething, and steeped in a rage that rose instantly because it's been there for a while now mad.  I must confess that more pressing concerns have gotten between my keyboard and my fingers and that I've let ideas and thoughts and praises and trials and advice have get shoved down into the dark places where I promised them that I'd let them see the light soon enough.  Well, the time has come to let this out because rants are like that - they get ansty and unruly when they are kept inside and out of the light for too long.

In part, the text message read:  "...prayers for safety and good thoughts" because someone checked in and safe but in a very dangerous and unsafe situation "in the airport in Istanbul that came under terrorist attack two hours ago." 

Tears.  Then the mad.  Then the prayer.  Then the mad again.  Then the mama treat and the wine and now the rant:

I have had it.  I am done.  I don't know anything about this latest attack other than what I learned from the text and what I just saw flashed up on the Google website and here I am, plunged heart-first into the pain and the suffering and the unknown and the horror of another explosion of violence, hatred, and confusion.  There's another number that will dance up and down before settling on its gruesome truth.  There's another place where candles and pictures and flowers and signs will appear and pile up like Christmas and birthday presents no one will ever open. 

Worst of all, there are that many more mamas out there crying.  What of their sons?  Their daughters?  Was one of them hurt?  Did one of them do the hurting? 

These questions, burning hot behind even hotter tears, will never make it to your news feed.  They will remain painful and sore with the ache of waiting until the answers come.  The answers will bring equal blessing and curse.  One calms; the other destroys.  And then more tears.

What of these mamas?  What of these mamas on both sides of this latest attack?  What of the mamas of Orlando?  What about those in Paris and Belgium and everywhere else? 

What of their pain?

I feel a little of it; all mamas must.  In this respect us mamas are a little like firefighters and paramedics who have a unique and abiding connection: when one is hurt, hurting, or dies - they all feel it.  They heal together, helping one another, especially as they mourn.  Well, what's stopping us mamas?  Seriously.  What's stopping us from feeling that same connection - another woman who has birthed a living being onto this wild and scary plain may have just lost that beautiful beam of light clothed in flesh to violence and hatred.  Another woman, no matter on what side of this skirmish she stands; our sister, does not know right now if her baby she raised is alive or safe or evading arrest or being shot down.  Soon our sister will see her child's picture in the media, portrayed as either victim or villain, reduced to a few words or too many.  No matter what, her crying has only just begun.

May all mamas, unified in pain, find our way to healing that we may share it with the world by teaching peace, love, and understanding to our children.  This is my most earnest and urgent prayer.

Until then, I am going to listen to this.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Even More about Feet

I've missed a month of blogging.  Dammit.  There goes my New Year's resolution. 

ANYWAY.

I missed a month not because I didn't have anything to write about.  Because, trust me dear friends, I've had all the things to write about.  Good things like springtime and growth, baptismal anniversaries, beautiful friendships both new and old, making art with my son, remembering who I am and parenting from that place of truth, realizing that I've never loved my husband more than I love him now, right now, in the middle of tough times and even tougher conversations.  Not so good things like coming face-to-face with just how dark the dark places of my heart and soul are, deep frustration and bitter tears, confusion, heartache, fear, and that kind of pain that only goes away when I scream until my throat hurts.  And really good things like how in spite of all the bad and whether or not there is any good, there is an abundant kind of joy that breaks wide open every morning when I remember that God's love and forgiveness are for all time and will never, ever end.

But the thing I want to write about today comes from something I've heard a lot in the last few years since coming back to church.  I've heard it said by everyone from pastors to bishops and seen it lived out through so many volunteers and brave givers.  It's something along the lines of 'As Christians, we are meant to be Christ's hands and feet in the world.'  I'm paraphrasing because I don't know the original source exactly and since, well, I'm a toddler's mom and my memory rates somewhere between half-gone and barely there. 

Well then, what does being Christ's hands and feet in the world look like?  Let me assure you that it looks different for everyone; however, let's meditate on what this looks like for moms who choose to take on the job of creating and raising a family because that's the place from where I can begin to understand it.

Christ's feet - Have you ever considered what it would be like to walk around the desert in sandals for days without bathing or washing your feet?  Me neither, but take a second to think about it.  Jesus and the twelve who followed him had to accept this as a very big part of their ministry.  There weren't modern conveniences; and by forsaking any comforts of their day, their feet, all 26 of them, would be very, very dirty.   

What does this mean for homemakers?  Immediately, I thought of the days I've gone without showering and got all warm and fuzzy like, "Oh look, Biblical precedent for being too busy to bathe!"  But then I realized that that was me trying to validate my oily hair and smelly armpits.  But seriously, Christ's feet were dirty from the hard work of his ministry on earth.  As moms, we bear the marks of our job in a similar way.  It starts with spit up and snot.  Whether with a burp cloth or the corner of our shirt, we wipe sticky fingers and colorful mouth corners.  We absorb drool, sneezes, and coughs.  We are our children's tissues; we wipe tears and dab blood from booboos.  It's a job of fluids and spills and lids not put on tight enough and leaky diapers and so many stains.  Being a mom involves dirty work.

I have a hard time imagining Jesus and the twelve apostles being proud of their dirty feet or treating them as a kind of 'badge,' nor do I think we as moms should do so.  It's more about accepting those dirty, those less than savory marks of hard work and pretty much ignoring them in order to focus on the truly important stuff.  Instead of bemoaning my bedraggled state, I can go with the proverbial flow and see the blessing in what I'm doing.  With my sleeve I'm wiping sticky jelly off of squirmy little fingers because God has blessed my husband with a job and our pantry with food and my child with nourishment.  Looking at life in this way is also hard work.  I mean, have you watched TV lately?  We are constantly exposed to what perfection looks like and how good it smells and how clean it is and this is what we need to buy right now in order to achieve that perfection.  Ignoring this urge to chase perfection in order to embrace the beauty of life just as it is gives us moms the chance to see our job as the ministry that it is - a ministry of love and teaching and affection that is as sticky as it is special.  

Just think about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus.  She didn't have anti-bacterial wipes and gel or lava soap and a loofah; she possessed only her own hair and her own tears.  And that is what we as mothers possess; no purchase necessary.

Friday, March 25, 2016

All about Feet

Somewhere in the controlled chaos that has been the last three years of my life, there is a DVD.  It contains ultrasound snapshots from our pregnancy, of our then called "Little Muffin."  This little muffin is sound asleep in his crib at the moment; but back in the fall of 2013, he was a wiggly little unknown growing inside of me. 

We had a targeted ultrasound because of a terrible result from some bloodwork.  I still haven't stopped giving thanks to God that it turned out to be a false positive.  However, on that very early morning an hour away from home in a small room with my husband and a complete stranger rubbing warm ultrasound lubricant on my belly, I didn't know what to feel or think.  My nerves and my anxiety over what may be wrong with the muffin in my oven made me vibrate with doubt and worry.

There is no word or words to accurately describe the simultaneous promise of potential and possibility of utter loss that is the first few moments of an ultrasound.  Whether routine or not, it is heart-rending.  So in that wordless void I held my husband's hand and tried to pray while also trying not to cry or barf all over this complete stranger trying to locate the beating heart that wasn't the one trying to beat out of my chest and flop around on the floor. 

"I just have to take a picture of that foot," our ultrasound technician said.  "Oh, I love feet!"  I wish I had a camera of my own at that moment so I could have taken a picture of her face.  She was elated.

Last night, I was washing that foot and the other one.  We had had a long day at the park, and I had to wash off his little boy smell.  Our son had come along to Maundy Thursday worship with me and got to listen to the service in the nursery, so I used bath time as a teachable moment to explain something about Jesus washing his disciples' feet and how we should all serve one another with love.  That's the point of Maundy Thursday service after all.  The sermon I'd heard just hours earlier convicted my heart and made me think of how exactly I can serve others, how God has prepared and is preparing me to do that, and that love is more than words - it's actions. 

Then it dawned on me.  Things happened in God's time, veils were lifted, and my perception got all wonky.  I might not be serving God and His people in the way that I'd like to or the way that God has planned for me; however, in that moment, in that soapy and sudsy moment as I worked a mini washcloth through my son's wiggly toes, as I tried to communicate to him the importance of a similar foot washing moment thousands of years ago - I realized that in that moment I indeed was serving.  I was serving and loving through not just words but action.  I was engaged in the holy work of being a mom.

All of us moms are engaged in holy work: the work of raising up other human beings.  The individual tasks that make up our work at times couldn't be farther from what our short-sighted hearts may consider 'holy' or 'special;' but thankfully, what we think doesn't really matter in the end.  Whether Protestant or Catholic, Christian or Atheist, we as moms get a chance to create, to shape, and to mold another living being into something beautiful.  No matter what system of belief you ascribe to, that sounds pretty holy, pretty special, and pretty Divine to me.

Perhaps it all boils down to this, to a factoid about how another religion views holiness and reveres its elders.  There are Buddhist monks who sweep the floor, clean up after meals, and do the general tidying up of their temples.  These tedious tasks are not unlike those of a mom cleaning up after a gaggle of toddlers.  But in the Buddhist temple, these tasks are given as a reward.  In contrast to our western way of viewing menial, everyday work as some kind of burden or even a punishment; these chores are seen as a blessing, as a distinct mark of a monk's long and holy life.

So take a moment to think about holy work, dear moms of the world.  It doesn't have to be what was done by Jesus or what is done by a monk.  And it won't fit your definitions or meet your expectations.  It's what you are going to do today, what you'll do tomorrow, and the love that flows through your holy work from this day until the last.

 

Friday, February 26, 2016

729 days


It feels like Christmas Eve.  That's the best way I can describe it.  There's an excitement, a knowledge growing into a certainty that sleep will be difficult tonight, and surprises waiting for all of us in the morning.  It's February 26th, not December 24th, but there is magic in the air.

This time just hours shy of two years ago, I was in labor.  From where I sit now, I can walk into the other room and stand exactly where I was when my water broke; I drive nearly the same route we took to the hospital every time I go to church.  That night, I gave birth to a new baby and a new self.  I'm busy raising one and learning how to understand the other.  And that right there is the answer to the $20,000 question of where did the last two years go - they went into the hardest work I've ever done and will do for the rest of my life.

It's been worth it.  Learning how to change a diaper without getting peed on, figuring out which brands of clothes fit best, getting started forgiving myself, learning with and from other moms, gaining confidence and losing baggage, getting over THE FEAR of EVERYTHING (if you too fight the dragon of anxiety, you know what I mean), and; perhaps most importantly, getting to know myself.  My new self, I should say, because whoever I am right now is certainly not who I was 729 days ago.

And I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Toddler Truth Serum

My son is amazing.  He really is.  He'll choose reading over television.  Not every time, but enough to give me hope that he doesn't think he too is a talking train engine that never seems to get it right.  He throws his empty snack pouches in the trash when he's done and usually without being asked.  Sometimes, he throws cell phones and unwrapped gifts in the trash too, but so infrequently that I'm not only hopeful, I'm impressed.  He loves music.  He doesn't just like it, he loves it.  My son will listen to anything we play for him, no matter what, all the time.  And that makes me ecstatic.

He's particularly keen on the pipe organ at church.  The first Sunday I took him up into the sanctuary so he could make his debut as the newest little soon-to-be baptized infant in our congregation, he looked around as if he recognized the hymn; he gazed eagerly around as if the notes were in the air, as if he could see them, and as if he'd seen them before.  It happened again today.  Our organist was practicing, and Charlie would not let me leave without giving him a chance to listen to the church organ.  We sat in a pew together and listened.  He was quiet.  He even wiggled in time with the music.  Like I said, my son is amazing.

He keeps me honest.  That's one of the biggest changes I've experienced as a new mom.  I can't lie to him.  I can't help but tell him the truth.  The neat thing is that I can't even lie to myself when I'm with him.  As someone struggling with depression and anxiety, this is an incredible gift.  As a writer, it's like winning the lottery.  I've got a wealth of subject matter, humor, grace, lessons, frustration, and joy upon which to draw at any given moment.  Having an almost two year old who is the only person around more stubborn than me is a great cure for writer's block.

The truth my son helped me tell myself today was that I'm an addict, and my addiction is strong.  It's not my ever-present cup of coffee; it's not even my love-hate relationship with smoking.  It's writing.  I'm in denial of my addiction to writing.




I always got confused when I heard fellow writers in grad school talk about their need to write, how they couldn't get through the day without writing.  Some of these wonderful folks were as addicted to writing as I am to my morning joe, and that just seemed crazy at the time.  For one thing, I never felt like that about writing.  I enjoyed the creative rush but could totally get through life without putting pen to paper.  Before I got pregnant, I tried making writing a daily part of my life; however, it fell out of my routine so easily that I almost questioned the point of my recently earned degree in creative writing.  My therapist urged me to get back into writing, that's where this blog came from after all, and I began realizing how important it was for me to create something with words as often as possible, even if it's not a sonnet or a sestina.

Recently, I've been feeling stuck.  Pent up.  Anxious, jittery, annoyed.  I attributed it to all kinds of things, concrete and abstract, within and without- but never felt like I found the true source of my case of the blues.  But today, seeing my son's deliberate and repeated choice to listen to the church organist rehearse made me realize the source.  Unlike my son, I have been putting things in the way of what I enjoy.  Unlike him, I've been putting off what I enjoy, what I need, what I cannot live well without, for other stuff that ends up being more life-draining than life-giving.  Unlike my amazing son, I hadn't been deliberate and just insisted that I do what I needed to do.  Not tomorrow, not in a few hours, but right now.

So now, I've gotten my fix.  I've written something.  I've been creative.  And it feels good.  And for once, I don't feel bad about feeling good.  And I can't take the credit for it because it wasn't all my idea.

May we all live like our little ones do, at least once in a while.

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mourning Star

I never knew David Bowie.  Of course, it felt like I did when I learned of his death.  It feels like I did when I think of how big a part of my life orbits around and is lit from within by his weird, space exploring glam rocking, alien persona, Ziggy Stardust.  I feel like he knew me a little through Aladdin Sane, his album based on his brother's mental illness, so eloquently captured in the image of a lightning bolt striking down his own face - a symbol of the divided self, something that we all know quite well if we're willing to admit it. 

In the days since his death, I've read a lot about David Bowie.  Somewhere in there, I stumbled across something along this line: "David Bowie wrote anthems for the outcast."  Like many cultural icons, Bowie's music saved people from themselves, from suicide, from life's lived inside the box or closet, lives untrue or un-celebratory of their own strangeness, their own inherent oddity. 

When I first heard David Bowie, I was that outcast.  I was the arty poet nerd on the softball and volleyball teams.  I was the sporty one amongst my arty friends.  I was picked on from every direction; so much so that I had to pick on others to keep from being at the very bottom.  Even when I went to governor's school to study poetry and was surrounded by fellow poets and outcasts and arty nerds like myself, cliques formed that didn't include me.  I was an outcast among outcasts. 

But sometimes, it takes a stranger to tell us who we really are.

Too stubbornly bold to give in and become someone I wasn't, I stumbled into everything from classic rock to punk to grunge and found a temporary home there amongst bands like The Who, Rancid, and Nirvana.  But it wasn't until I heard Bowie's music, first from Changesonebowie and later The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, that I found a kind of kinship.  I had found someone who looked and sounded as weird or weirder than I felt.  A fellow weirdo, artist, outcast, a living canvas - someone who I'm not at all done mourning.

Tomboy that I was, I didn't really wear make-up until I learned how and why to do it from David Bowie and glam rock, the genre he helped create.  I didn't embrace my own femininity until I got to know this guy who wore more of it than I did.  Eventually curling my eyelashes, putting on glittery eyeshadow, and painting my nails for those pre-mommy nights out on the town to see bands play became where and when I learned to like and to love who and what I saw there in the mirror. 

His entire life as an artist from song to screen inspires me; it's not just the platform shoes and fabulous costumes.  David Bowie did that thing that few others do - he lost himself in life, in art, in music, so that others could find themselves.  For that, I am not the only one who is and will always be very, very grateful.

Don't fake it baby, lay the real thing on me.