Archive | November 2013

A Gratitude 180

I’m grateful for the obvious. My kids, my husband, my house, my job, my health and friends.

What about the things I wish were different? Can I be grateful for those?

What would it feel like to be grateful for gray hairs, extra pounds, consequences of poor choices, and dreams deferred?

Today I put those too on my gratitude list, for they are as much a part of my life as the parts going exactly according to my plans and desires.

And I’m grateful to them, those things I wish were different, because they are mine, and in a state of gratitude, I may be able to make better use of their un-idealness. I may be more open to their lesson, their meaning. To how they may serve my transcendence.

Surely, gratitude is a better use of time than all the energy bound up in futile attempts to change reality and bend it to my will.

I am grateful, then, that there are no shortcuts to the desires deep within me. There’s no express train to comfort and peace of mind. But there is this moment, this mixed bag of beauty and longing, and here I am. So I’m choosing to greet it with “welcome,” “thank you,” and “please teach me.”

This entry was posted on November 28, 2013. 21 Comments

It’s A Privilege To Be Sick

imagesI was too sick to lift my head and see what time it was.  I could tell from my children’s energy levels it was probably after 5 PM but before 8 PM.  I couldn’t hear any crying– just laughter and a coupla bars of Gangnam Style.   I could picture Jeff dancing with the children– probably hurting his sore back– and knew that everyone was OK.  Him, them, me.

It was dark in my room, but I could feel it spinning.  I’ve never been this sick in my life.  I tried to remember what it was like to have the chicken pox and miss seven days of Ms. Hunter’s kindergarten class.  I know I felt awful that week in 1978, but this was worse.  Now I have a fully formed prefrontal cortex and can truly know how awful I feel.   Every muscle pulsed with ache and the nausea was a billion times worse than the worst day in pregnancy.  At least during my first trimester I could eat vanilla ice cream with mac and cheese.  Friday night I had nothing.

At 8:15 PM I was able to sit up and squint at the clock.  I could still hear the kids.  Jeff half-heartedly told them to keep their voices down because Mommy’s sick and sleeping.  I was glad they were loud– their giggles were my lullaby.  It was a way to stay connected and distracted from my body’s revolt.

What a privilege, I thought to myself.  As I heaved and sweated and prayed for sleep, I could feel how privileged I was.  I could totally let go and be sick as a dying dog.  It was OK; my kids were having what sounded like a magical night with their Daddy.  I didn’t have to get up or work the night shift or nurse a baby or feed the chickens.  I could take those long hours to collapse into an unproductive heap of physical distress and simply lay there.

What a privilege.

When I was single, I’d dread my annual bout of the stomach flu for all the obvious reasons.  But also, it was so lonely to lay in my bed, writhing in pain, all alone.  I’d listen to the sounds of the Ohio on-ramp alone in my condo thinking I could die here and no one would find me for days.  While I am sure that the maintenance man or one of my bosses might have come looking for me eventually, it wasn’t the same as having three warm bodies disturbing  my sleep patterns all evening long.  When I lived alone, I never let my shoulders fully relax; my body never made a full indent into my bed and pillow because I couldn’t possibly just surrender to illness.  A full exhale and collapse into bed is the privilege of someone who’s safe and held closely by people who love her.   A night to fall apart physically is possible for someone who knows that under her roof are people who love her and will come looking for her in the morning. Probably before 6 AM.

What a privilege.

This Is Not An Open Letter To The Mice Family Living In Our Van

Awwww. How cute? Why is everyone so hysterical? We're just here for the Pirate's Booty crumbs.

Awwww. How cute? Why is everyone so hysterical? We’re just here for the Pirate’s Booty crumbs.

I’m level-headed most of the time in the real world (though hardly ever on this blog).  The proof: I am raising my two children with my husband, holding down a Costco membership and a job that requires my full mental faculties, all while maintaining a rich internal life as detailed on these pages.  While I’ve been known to do deep emotional work on mass transportation, Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s NOTHING compared to the emoting I did yesterday in my very own mini van.

The kids were strapped in.  Jeff was driving and our beloved cousin, Gabe, was riding shotgun.  I happily scrambled into the “way back” because I was getting out first for a shower that I was cohosting for a dear friend.  I was gazing at the two dozen yellow roses we bought for the bride when I saw a shadow out of my left eye.   Odd, given that it was high noon and the car was only going about 5 miles per hour.  Then I saw it again, and I knew.  I knew that the mouse Jeff was sure he’d “taken care of” last night was back.  Or had friends.  Lots of friends.  And family.

I took a deep breath, mindful that my children are deathly afraid of ants, so it would be imperative that they NOT know (1) there was mouse in the car AND/OR (2) that their mother was severely freaked out by the emerging rodent sitchy in the car we were all presently riding in.

I signaled to Jeff that I’d seen a mouse.  The signal? “Jeff, there’s a mouse in this car.”  Then, I cooed softly to the children, “Don’t worry, kiddos, this is just a grand adventure– like lice with an “M” or a rainstorm when we’re headed to the pool.  We define ourselves by how we react to these unforeseen events.  Laugh with me!”

We’ll never know if they were buying that because as soon as I shut my yapper, the mouse ran across my feet.  And yes, I had on my cowboy boots (I was going to a fancy shower, after all), and yes, I was setting an example for my children, and yes, I emitted a sound so plaintive and blood-curdling that my throat still hurts.

“Kids, this is what it sounds like when the doves cry!”

What followed, dear friends, is best described as mayhem/chaos/bedlam, or “chabedhem” as I now call it.  Both kids burst into tears, and Jeff turned the car around, pulled back into the garage, and gave me the task of calming the children while he and Gabe dealt with the critters.  We are not sure who had the harder job.  I tried to tend to my children while also listening to what the menfolk were doing in the garage.  I could hear the vacuum going and tried not to picture what exactly they were sucking through that hose.

Trying to get the kids back in the car was similar to trying to herd spooked horses back into a haunted field.  Had I been in the possession of lollipops or cupcakes, I’da bribed them with zero regrets.  All I had was my own sweet talking, which sort of fails me when the going gets furry and carries the bubonic plague.

All of the adults in this warm little vignette were convinced that all the non humans (read: members of the species Mus musculus) were equitably displaced from our mini van.  We laughed at the thought of two little mice living on our detritus. Ha, ha– there are enough snacks and dried up Goldfish to feed a whole colony!  I tried not to draw any adverse conclusions about my own housekeeping or general cleanliness.  I sure as heavens tried to forget that vivid chapter on the Black Death we spent weeks on during world history with Ms. Duff junior year.

We clinked our glasses as we congratulated ourselves on our cleverness and cunning.  For kicks, Jeff put one last trap in the truck.  You know for peace of mind.  And it would have given us just that except that when we opened the trunk, the cheese was gone and the trap was empty.

Yeah, so then Jeff and Gabe went to Home Depot at 9:15 PM looking for more peace of mind.  I spent the evening on Facebook trolling around to see if any of my friends have a cat I can borrow.  Seriously.  Anyone? Cats for rent?

I Forgot To Name My Babies After My Grandparents– Now What?

Apparently, it’s grandparent week here at Outlaw Mama.  In case you missed yesterday’s riveting portrait of my connection to my grandfather through an almost-shared hernia, click here.  Continuing on that theme, today I am thinking about baby names.  Specifically, I always pictured myself having babies named after my grandparents.  Little Virginia, Lucile, John and Joseph– they were supposed to be in the mix.  Small problem: I am done having babies and neither of the ones I already gave birth to have those names.

Welcome to grandparent week!

Welcome to grandparent week!

I didn’t think I cared.  Then I saw a little girl at the park named Virginia.  That sparked a flame of regret about the baby names that will never be.

And I remember suggesting Virginia as a name for Sadie.  It was in the mix for a while, though we abandoned it around 30 weeks into the pregnancy.  We arrived at the hospital with our two finalists: April and Sadie.

As for Simon, I can’t say that either of my grandfather’s names were really in the running.  He does have my maternal grandparents’ last name as his middle name, but that’s not quite the same.

Since the womb is closed, I have started looking around for things I can name.  Things that are precious enough to name after my grandparents, even though “things” are not flesh and blood.

Here are my contenders for things to name after my grandparents:

  1. Mini Van: My first fancy car was named “Sadie,” so why not name the mini van after one of my favorite forebears?  Our Odyssey is gray, sleek and hearty.  She’s just like my Texan-born grandmother, Virginia.  Also, she get shiz done, just like Virginia.  “Kids, get in the Virginia! We are late for school!”
  2. Our House: Ok, it’s not a ranch or a manse, but it’s a house and I think it deserves a name.  It’s compact, sturdy, and pretty tall.  Just like my paternal grandfather, Joseph Thomas.  If you hear “we are headed back to Joseph Thomas after the game,” just know we are going home.
  3. Kitchen Aid mixer: It’s going to last forever right?  Why not give it a name? It sits on the counter, all shiny and red– it deserves a proper name.  We shall call in John.  It might get a little confusing since some people use “john” to refer other fixtures in the house, but if I tell you that I made pasta dough in the John, just know I’m talking about the one on the counter, not the one in the bathroom. (Plus, the odds of me ever making homemade pasta dough are roughly zero.)
  4. Baby Doll: Do you know my precious baby doll, Blue Baby? Maybe it’s time to give her a name.  Out of respect for all parties, I will not give her the name of the grandmother who tried to murder her in the burning can, but she can have my other grandmother’s name.  Lucile.  Everyone wins.
Never miss a chance to post this little beauty's picture

Never miss a chance to post this little beauty’s picture

Did you give your children (or your household items) your grandparents’ names?  How’d that work out for you?

The Little Hernia That Could

Can hardly look at this without crying for my grandfather and my hernia

Can hardly look at this without crying for my grandfather and my hernia

What’s a hernia? I wondered when I heard my grandma talking about my grandfather’s.  I didn’t think too much of it– it seemed perfectly natural that an old man would have medical “stuff” to deal with.  To this day, I’m not sure if they were talking about a hernia or hemorrhoids because those two are fused in my brain; they are filed under “uncomfortable stuff that starts with ‘H’ and afflicts old people.”  Neither were any concern of mine.

Yep, no concern of mine at all.  Until of course the dull ache on my left side was diagnosed not as uterine cancer (as I was convinced because I am hysterical and do not understand human anatomy), but potentially the start of a hernia. Maybe.

A frizz-eaking hernia.

“Are you sure it’s not cancer?”  I asked, because oddly I was more prepared for that than a pre-hernia.

It’s not entirely clear why I was begging my doctor to diagnose me with cancer, but there was just something about the hernia.  How could I possibly have the same thing that my grandfather had when he was already a grandfather?  I’ve been ransacking my brain for more memories of my grandfather, but my grandmother’s impression was so much more vivid that she’s almost crowded all of the memories of my grandfather.  All that’s left of my grandfather, the taciturn farmer who wore overalls most days of his life and died in 1981, is an impression of a man who worked hard enough to run a family farm and lost most of his hearing from riding a John Deere tractor.

I’d long ago given up the idea that I’d find common ground with him, a man who died in the same room he was born in inside the old yellow farmhouse outside of Forreston, Texas.  But this thing, this pre-actual-problem on my left side feels like an invisible thread leading me back to him.  We’re connected! I found something that’s ours– it’s a hernia!  I was really seeing the bright side of my almost-hernia.

For the days after the doctor said the “H” word, I felt the ache all the time.  I was convinced my abdominal wall was rupturing, and I hoped my boss wouldn’t be too mad if I collapsed at work.  I looked up med-alert bracelets and taught my children how to dial 911.  I was going to be ready when my “might be a hernia” developed into a code-red emergency.

Then, the ache went away.  I poked and prodded the spot where I’d pictured my intestines rolling out onto  the floor.  And nothing.  Except I’ve now got a bruise from pressing so hard in search of my little hernia that could– could connect me across two generations to my daddy’s daddy and open up a longing for him inside of me that had been dormant for decades.

As the doctor promised, it seems like the issue “resolved itself.”  So it’s gone.  Without it, I feel the thread to my grandfather has been severed.  I feel him slipping back behind the spotlight where my grandmother’s memory glows from center stage.  And I miss him and that dull little ache that had been keeping me company.

Help! I Need A Food Tribe

Foodwise, I’ve lost my tribe, and I’m wandering in a vast, lonely wilderness with a bag of snacks that no one will share with me. (Except my children who would as soon murder me as share them so I hide my snacks from them.)  Trying to keep track of who’s off sugar, who’s avoiding gluten and who’s gone raw foodist is like trying to keep track of my children’s favorite toy– the ground is ever shifting and the stakes are high. 

After years of extreme and rigid eating (think: cabbage, mozzarella cheese and milk every morning for three straight years), I have found my spiritual home in moderation.  Once I got into recovery for my eating disorder, it still took the better part of a decade not to be a full-out freak about food.  A few of my old friends enjoy reminiscing about the days that I would carry a can of tuna fish to a restaurant because… well, at the time I thought I was doing it to “follow my food plan,” but really I was scared to death of not controlling my food.  I wasn’t, however, scared of embarrassing everyone around me by popping open a can of chicken of the sea while everyone else supped on falafel or steak frites.  (Have you ever brought your own can opener and canned meat on a date? Not exactly an aphrodisiac, people.)

A long time ago, I came to terms with the fact that I had used up all my privileges to engage in eating trends.  But now I am feeling like that one child who actually was left behind as everyone else forges a new identity as “paleo” or “vegan” or “nondairy” or “sort of that Crossfit diet but not quite as extreme.”

I’ve asked myself if I am jealous that other people can dabble where I can’t.  The answer: hell yes.   But like an alcoholic who knows she can no longer drink alcohol socially, I know in my marrow that dipping into something extreme or restrictive will trip a trigger in me and I will lose my hard-won battle to be mostly serene about food. 

(I will note Jeff and I are experimenting with more plant-based dinners, but I recently made some pumpkin thing that was so inedible that I was craving chicken wings smothered in ground beef for weeks.)

What I find most upsetting is that I don’t really know anyone who is serene about food.  Everyone’s sure she is eating wrong– too much of this and too little of that.  And who the hell can follow the “advice” out there, which is confusing and scary?  Unless I can figure out how to grow my own food on my fourth floor balcony in downtown Chicago, I have to trust someone else to do that for me.  And I don’t have free time to suss this all out; in my free time– those precious 15 minutes per week– I want to play with my kids, write, and read books for pleasure (not to confirm the 800 ways I am going to die of cancer before the next lunar eclipse).

What I remember and miss about being engaged in a way of eating that was counter-cultural is that it created community.  In my tuna-in-my-purse-days, I knew everyone who ate like I did, and we had a bond.  It was a glue that was thicker than blood.  Now I am only glued to the handful of people who are left who don’t engage in the other sects of eating.  The catchall group.  The “and everyone else” group.  And I guess that’s fine, but it still feels lonely and unspecial.  And ooooh, sweet buttercream on a fudgey chocolate muffin, I sure like feeling special.   It also feels lazy because everyone else is working so damn hard around food, and I just don’t have the bandwidth to pick up a new hobby right now.

So, I’ll soldier on with the only barometer that works for me.  Is there tuna in my purse? No? Then I am doing just fine around food.

Turd By Turd: Bird By Bird’s Sequel and a Warning For New Novelists

About a year and a half ago, I decided to write a book. For “fun.”  Now, I am 104,000 words in and mired down in the mess of it all.  Frankly, I am peeved at all of you.  I was clearly not in my right mind when I embarked on this little hobby.  You could have warned me.  Would it have been that hard to leave a few breadcrumbs of reality in the comments section?


Fine. It’s not your fault, but I am my charming, blaming mood, and Jeff’s out of town so there is nowhere for the rage to go.

Because I am a good, kind, and decent person, I am sending up the warnings.  Just in case YOU, wonderful, idealistic, ready-to-pen-your-story YOU, are thinking “Hey, I’m going to start my book,” let me tell you the five things I wished I would have known in advance.

  1. Lots of drafts suck, not just the first.  Every writer loves to quote Anne Lamott who famously urged writers to commit to writing those “sh*tty first drafts.” I clung to that advice as I slogged through draft numero uno.  Looks like I’m going to have to write the sequel to Lamott’s Bird By Bird— it’s going to be called Turd By Turd: Write Dozens of Sh*tty Drafts.  Because I am two drafts in and it still smells like a sewer when I open my document.
  2. It gets harder not easier.  In addition to thinking why didn’t I dive into knitting or fracking, I spend a lot of time thinking how the process gets harder.  Because of gems like this that roll through my noggin: You’ve been at this for 18 months and it still sucks.
  3. Not everyone has a story to tell.  Not everyone has a symphony in her, right?  It’s possible I may not have a story to tell.   I may just have a random collection of scenes that mean something to me, but don’t come together as a story that someone else would actually want to read.
  4. I can’t do it OR maybe I don’t want to do it.  In the dark nights when we are out of ice cream and my soul aches for artistic solace, I think I cannot do it. I squirm in my chair and consider ditching the whole thing to watch a Sanford & Son marathon.  It’s entirely possible that I lack the stamina and discipline and passion to carry this book thing to the finish line of official publication.  But also? I am not sure I want to.  Eight more years of this?  Twelve? Twenty?  Maybe I want to spend my evenings laying on the bed watching the moon through the clouds. Maybe I want to watch YouTube videos.  Maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to write a book.
  5. It’s OK to let go.  I know I haven’t given myself permission to just let this go– you know, to let it be something I worked on for almost two years and learned a lot and then moved on. Moving on feels like failure, but then I open the document and see those 104,000 words staring at me and I think I am deeply confused about the definition of failure.

Confidential to Ms. Lamott: I adore your work and think we could really make a go of Turd by Turd.