Hystery (her story)

Perhaps it’s a by-product of age, or maybe genetics, but the last few years of my reproductive health have been tricky for me.  An incident of extreme pain and heavy bleeding put me in the hospital back in 2007.  The doctor discovered cysts on both ovaries, one of which gave him a cause for concern.  The next 8 months were filled with tests: blood tests, exams full of poking and prodding, and both external and internal sonograms.  I spent that time waiting to hear if I had ovarian cancer or not.  I was 39.  My kids were 9 and 4.  My son had recently been diagnosed with autism, and my husband was physically present yet somehow always somewhere else in spirit.

I was scared shitless.

The thoughts flooded in: mortality, death, fear, anxiety, uncertainty.  I worried about what John and the kids would do without me.  I didn’t want to die.  This was all on top of so many other changes and challenges that I was stressed out to the point of no sleep and hair loss.

After months of not knowing what was going to happen, I finally heard from my doctor what I had prayed to hear.  I did not have cancer.  The cysts were shrinking.  I was going to be okay.

I was just days away from turning 40.  I was too relieved to care about the significance of this milestone birthday.  I was just overjoyed to be living to see it.

During this time, there was one piece of information among all the others that stood out and stabbed me in the heart every time I thought of it.

I was not able to have any more children.

The news was hard to swallow.  I had been on the fence about having more kids because of my son’s diagnosis, and also because of the financial woes we were experiencing.  Even so, I was not ready to give up on that part of my identity.  I didn’t know what it would mean to be unable to have children, to be one of THOSE WOMEN.  Yes, I admit (with some significant shame) that I had always felt sorry for “barren” women.  I didn’t think of my uterus as superior to theirs, but I had embraced my own fertility and childbearing so fully that I couldn’t be compassionate toward my sisters as I should’ve been.  Pregnancy and motherhood became strong feminist statements for me.  I pitied those who couldn’t experience it (but not those who chose not to — that was a weird dichotomy for me…).

Now I was one of them.  I grieved the loss of the babies I would never have.  I cried at this unwelcome change in my status.  I worried what this change would bring to my marriage, which was going through some pretty heavy difficulties.  Even though I was happy to be alive and not have cancer, I was devastated that this choice had been taken away from me.  It was one thing to not want more children and another to not even have the option of more children.  I was pissed.

Frankly, I was really a big baby about the whole thing.  In retrospect, I’m pretty ashamed to even admit that I felt this way.  I’m also happy to say that I’ve come to my senses.

After our move to Oberlin in late 2008, I found a new gynecologist. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), told (again) that I was unable to have children due to a “uterus full of fibroids”, and put on birth control pills and medication for pre-diabetes.

I’d always been predisposed to depression, and this situation sent me reeling. It was a slow and steady decline into isolation and drinking too much wine in front of the tv. I’d also become obsessed with running and physical fitness, which wasn’t bad in and of itself. I was looking for something to fill the hole created by the loss of my career, my friends, and my fertility. Not everyone could see it, but I was spinning out of control.

Even worse than finding out I was unable to have more kids, I changed gynecologists and found out that I was not infertile and never had been. At that point I felt so cheated. It was another knife in my heart.

It was a long journey back to feeling good about myself after that. I did a lot of hard work and soul searching. Eventually, I came to terms with my body as it was. I accepted my situation and moved forward.

About a year ago, I noticed that my periods were getting heavier and more painful, despite the fact that I’d been on the pill for a few years. I was seeing a primary care physician, but I’d put off finding a new gynecologist (the third since my move). My doctor referred me to someone she recommended highly. Unfortunately, she was also ridiculously popular and damned hard to get an appointment with. I finally was able to schedule something two or three months out, which seemed to be okay.

Toward the end of April, I went in for my yearly check of my lady bits: external and transvaginal sonograms and a 3D mammogram. Everything seemed fine, and so did the tests of my blood and urine. I went home feeling like things were okay. John left town the next day. Everything was going as it always did.

Four days later I left work early and drove myself to the ER.

I had not felt pelvic pain like that since my trip the hospital in 2007. I was scared, alone, and worried about my kids. There were more tests, including a sonogram that necessitated a catheter. I was embarrassed and humiliated and I just wanted to go home. I was told that there was nothing readily apparent going on and that I needed to do everything I could to get my appointment moved to the soonest possible date.

By the time I saw the new doctor, I was ready to remove this defective uterus myself with dental floss and a spoon. She was somewhat more cautious and significantly less interested in hopping straight to the surgical option. In hindsight, I really appreciate her reluctance to cut first and ask questions later. She took me off the pill so we could see how my natural cycles would go. A cycle or two. She asked me to come back in about six weeks.

As bad as they’d been, they got worse without the hormonal help the pill provided.. I went back as prescribed and reported my situation to the doctor. I will always appreciate how she listened to me throughout this process, and how she laid out all my options with their pros and cons. She was never in at hot hurry to start cutting me to pieces, which clearly showed her respect for my health and my body.

Our first step would be a procedure called endometrial ablation. After dilating my cervix and scraping the endometrium, the doctor would use an instrument to cauterize the vessels supplying blood to my uterus. I would be under a light general anesthetic because the entire thing would take less than an hour. My recovery would take about a week. There was the possibility that I might continue to get periods, but they would be lighter and eventually cease. I would avoid a more extensive surgery and keep my uterus. It seemed like a win-win situation.

I had the ablation the week after I returned from vacation in Virginia. Aside from some normal post-op bleeding and a bad reaction to the pain killers, I was doing fine. My post-op check up was really good and I was cleared to return to normal activities. Everything seemed fine.

For six weeks, I had no period and no pain. Finally, I thought, I have some relief. It was short lived.

I got my first period on October 4. I was surprised, but I was aware that it might happen. I was told that it would be shorter and lighter than before. It was neither of those things. Within 24 hours, the flow was heavier than it had been in years with episodes of gushing that soaked to the outside of my clothes. I tried desperately not to panic, but I was petrified with fear. I called the doctor on call and waited to hear back.

I was put on a medication to stop the bleeding and told to see my doctor as soon as possible. When I saw her, we discussed my options once again and again I was sent home to wait and think. Was this bleeding a one time thing or the shape of things to come?

That period lasted 35 days. At the end, I was gushing and hemorrhaging again and had to take more pills to stop the bleeding. I was hysterical. There was no way I could live with this level of blood loss and still function as I waited the two to five years before menopause. All I could do was work and come home to lie down. I was gaining weight and feeling like a sloth. I knew what I had to do. I was afraid, but my frustration and feelings of hopelessness had overridden my fear. At my next visit, I said the words I was trying not to say for months.

I want a hysterectomy.

From here things moved pretty quickly. I made the decision with my doctor on November 5. I was scheduled for surgery on November 24. I made arrangements at work and for my kids. John took time off to be with me the day of the surgery. I sought advice and council from women I knew had been down this road. I did research. I prayed. I asked folks to pray for me.

I tried to come to peace with what I was doing. I knew I was making the right choice, but it was a hard choice. Perhaps it seems overly dramatic to some, but I mourned the loss of my babies’ first home, and the children I was never able to have. I worried about how this change would effect my sex life and how John would see me. I worried about how I would see myself.

The day came, and I kissed my kids goodbye and sent them to school. John drove me to the hospital and I was taken back to prepare for surgery. I met all the nurses, anesthesiologists, and assisting physicians before my doctor came back to see me. We had discussed everything beforehand: she was doing a laparoscopic super-cervical hysterectomy, taking my Fallopian tubes, and leaving my ovaries if they appeared healthy at the time of surgery. My cervix would be left behind to prevent vaginal prolapse later on. There would be one incision, about an inch long, just under my belly button. Surgery would take about 90 minutes and I could even go home that night if I wanted.

I said no to that last part. I wanted to be observed by professionals overnight and not put John through the task of taking care of me post-op. Knowing what I know now, I’m glad I chose to stay.

John stayed with me until it was time for me to go to the OR. He kissed me and told me he loved me. He smiled and did his level best not to look scared. I knew he was, and that was okay. He put on a brave face for me. He knew I was terrified and conflicted. One look at the tears in my eyes told him that.

Before my previous procedure, I had been given a shot to “take the edge off”. I had gotten one this time as well, but it didn’t seem to be working. Before, I had fallen asleep (or so it seemed to me) before I got to the operating room. This time I was still awake and aware. Why wasn’t I asleep yet? What was happening? I saw the OR, I heard my doctor greet me, and I saw some of the apparatus and instruments. I panicked. Please, God, knock me out now. Just as I was about to ask someone why the hell I was still conscious, a man on my left took my hand and told me he needed to stretch out my arm. His voice was kind and reassuring.

It was the last thing I heard.

Darkness fell over me quickly. From that darkness, seamlessly, I remember gradually becoming conscious again. I was in post-op recovery. It was over.

I was really thirsty. The breathing tube had left my throat scratchy and dry. I began to feel pain creep into the periphery of my awareness of my surroundings. The nurse gave me morphine. It felt like she was asking me over and over what number the  pain was, and over and over I said 5 or 6. I thought this heifer was going to OD me, so I stopped telling her 5 or 6 and just said 3. I went back to sleep after that.

All I remember saying other than that was, “I want John. Where’s John?” I wanted to see his face and hear his voice. Only then would I know everything was okay. He was waiting for me in my room. I was groggy and only vaguely coherent, but I was tremendously comforted by the sound of his voice. It was after that initial feeling of comfort that the surprise came.

There had been a complication during surgery. There were “unusually strong adhesions” between my uterus and the lower part of my colon. During surgery, my doctor had to call in a consulting colorectal surgeon to come assist her. There was an additional small incision made and my uterus was able to come out without damaging my colon. But my doctor was concerned that someone with no prior surgical history and in good health as I was would have adhesions like this. I was told to see a gastroenterologist to check this out. The hysterectomy was a success, and now I had to deal with round 2: the battle of the sigmoid colon.

I was seriously beginning to wonder just how twisted God’s sense of humor really was.

Since the surgery, I have been on a slow steady incline toward normal. I’m beginning to exercise again and my energy level is increasing. My worries about my sex life were… unfounded, shall we say. I’m still mourning a little, especially when I see women with babies. My own beautiful children are each standing at a threshold, about to enter new phases of life. That makes it hard for me too, I suppose. My daughter is nearly 18 and about to go to college. My son is growing and changing on his journey to manhood. My time for babies is done, at least until they have babies of their own and I have the privilege of being a grandmother.

Rites of passage are common for young people moving from one phase of life to the next. We celebrate them in our spiritual, cultural, and religious lives with bar mitzvahs, first communions, confirmations, and other celebrations. I wish there were a rite of passage for women, and men, whose children are growing up and leaving. I will have devoted the vast majority of my life to the upbringing of my two kids and their subsequent well-being. They will move on and leave me, as they should. How will society mark my passage from fertility and reproduction to my current state? What am I now that I can no longer bear children and the ones I did bear are no longer babies? I am neither young nor old, neither maiden nor crone. I am a woman in between times. I am a woman who must tell the world who she is, rather than wait for that world to define her. I’m a woman who must change the way she sees the value of womanhood rather than give up and feel she is somehow less than a woman as she is.

I am a woman. I am still here. I am still strong. I am not defined only by my parts or my babies. There is so much more to me than that.

Losing my uterus has taught me how to look beyond the basic functional definitions of womanhood and to see myself and my sisters in a new light. If my life was never defined by my parts, then losing them doesn’t end my life. That’s such a simple thought, but it was too much for me to grasp until now.

Today, I am moving away from my grief to a new life. The future is bright. I look forward to the next leg of my journey.

21

Day 29: the night of your 21st birthday

That was a LONG time ago. I’m surprised by how dim a memory it is. I’m amazed by how the events of adulthood — marriage, children, career — can blur the memory of the very beginning of that adulthood. I don’t remember most of my birthdays, really.

I do remember some of the circumstances surrounding this event, though.

I turned 21 in 1989. That day in early June, the Ayatollah Khomeini died. That day was also the beginning of the the brutal enforcement of martial law in Beijing. Within a year after my 21st birthday, the Berlin Wall fell (11/9/89) and Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years (2/11/90). The world as I’d always known it was changing. As I was turning 21, I entered a new phase of life in a world that was brand new in so many ways. It was a time of infinite possibilities.

Seven months before my 21st birthday, I got engaged to my beloved husband, John. It was just after I’d voted in my very first Presidential election. It was 1988 and I’d cast my vote for Michael Dukakis. We all know what happened…

So, I approached a milestone birthday as an engaged woman in turbulent times. I’d just finished my 3rd year of college at Oberlin and I was looking forward to spending the summer at Meadowmount Music School in (far) upstate New York.

There’s a little more to the story.

John was not the first man to ask me to marry him. That distinction went to someone I’d met and fallen for — hard — the summer between high school and college. That relationship had changed me in really important ways, and I was sad when it and the summer ended. The following summer, we met again and the relationship resumed. It wasn’t the first time I’d been in love, but this relationship was intense and passionate. He was two years older than me, and much less of a wandering spirit than I was. For him, life was simple: go to school, meet a girl, fall in love, get married, get a job, live happily ever after. At the end of the summer, I had to return to school and he was staying put. I didn’t know how to merge the life I had at college with the life I had with him, but I tried to hang on despite the distance. We talked almost every day.

Then, one day he asked me to marry him. He had already turned 21. I was only just 19. I completely freaked out, and I stopped calling him. I dodged his calls. I just couldn’t say what I knew I had to. I knew it would break his heart. So, in the boneheaded play of the century, I started dating someone else. That was how I ended the relationship. I was young, stupid, and scared out of my mind. I ran rather than talk about it.

I came to find out that just a few weeks later he met someone else. They started dating and it became serious. When I screwed up the courage to finally call and apologize, I got the cold shoulder. When I saw him for lunch a couple of months later, I got two shocks: he was joining the army and he had asked her to marry him — the night before. I deserved every bit of the pain that news caused me. He threw it all in my face and then rubbed it in. I had never known him to be cold or cruel, but he was both that day. I couldn’t be angry with him for it. This was his response to what I’d done and I’d earned his wrath. So I took it.

John and I were engaged less than six months later.

Fast forward to the spring of 1989. Within a few weeks, I received two things in the mail that rocked me back on my heels: an invitation to his wedding, and a letter from him sent from boot camp. I had assumed that the wedding invite was the final fuck you flourish meant to hurt me. The letter told a different story.

He was lonely and scared. He was worried that he was making a mistake by getting married. He wanted to talk to me.

He wanted to see me.

My heart was beating like a drum and my head was exploding. There was no way I could see him again. I couldn’t do that to myself, to him, to her, or to John. If we saw each other, everything would be an enormous emotional mess. No, I couldn’t do it. No. No matter how much I may have wanted to reach out to him, I knew it was dangerous and foolish.

I never answered the letter. I put it and him away, presumably forever. There was only one thing left for me to do. I had to survive his wedding day. I wasn’t going, of course, but the day would be a difficult one. It was exactly one week after my birthday. We had spent his 21st birthday together, as well as my 19th. I spent my 21st birthday doing stuff I don’t remember now. I’m sure it was a lovely day, and I suspect that I spent it with John. There were other things on my mind and my life had gone on. I had moved on.

The day he got married, it was clear to me that I had not moved on. I spent that day alone in my room, crying like a baby. In my mind that part of my life had been over for a long time, but the last piece of my heart broke for him that day. It was over and there was no going back.

I cried all day and then I was done. It was over.

John and I married almost three years later, ten days before I turned 24. We’ve been married nearly half our lives.

About 21 years after I ended that relationship, we got back in touch through an odd set of circumstances. I had tried to find him over the years. I needed to apologize. I finally got my chance. I am forever grateful for that. I did not want to carry that around with me for the rest of my life. It was generous of him to listen to me and allow me to set that burden down. It was even more generous of him to forgive me. What a blessing that was.

Looking back, I can see how much I didn’t know at 21. I was smart in an academic sense, but I was so innocent and naive in the ways of the world. I did so many stupid things. I used to have many regrets from that time. I have learned to let regret go. I have learned to forgive 21 year old Lisa as I can clearly see her now through my 47 year old eyes. My life was all ahead of me then, and I had no idea what that meant. I wish I could talk to young Lisa and help her understand how much life would mold and shape her over the years. I wish I could hold her close and kiss her tears away. She had so much to learn.

None of that was on my radar at 21. It was just a birthday that told me I was adult now. It was so important then. It seems so silly now. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

ExFiles

 

Day 26: things you’d say to an ex

Whoa. This is some heavy shit. I have a few exes, and I’d say something different to each of them. I’m still friends with quite a few of them, which shows that both parties involved grew up at least a little bit.

So, what would I say? I don’t want to go all Adele on them, if you feel me, but there’s still some pain and anger lingering in a couple situations. I’m almost 50 and I’ve been married — to one of my exes, actually — for almost half my life. What’s left to say?

I don’t want to name names or kiss and tell, but here are some thoughts.

  • I loved you once, with all my heart.
  • You broke my heart, but I forgive you.
  • I knew you were gay, but I didn’t care.
  • I still think about you sometimes, and always with a smile.
  • You taught me a lot about myself.
  • You made me so mad I wanted to kill you.
  • That was some really mindlessly awesome sex.
  • That was some really pathetically lousy sex.
  • Remind me again how drunk I was?
  • I should’ve called the police after the first time you hit me.
  • You’re a rotten bastard and I hope you rot in hell.
  • You raped me.
  • I can’t believe you tried to kill me.
  • How did it come to this?
  • Do you even remember our relationship?
  • We split and you started dating that cow?
  • You don’t marry your rebound, honey.
  • That was the sweetest summer of my life.
  • You made me feel like a princess and I always remembered that.
  • What were we thinking?
  • Love is some complicated shit.
  • You chased me and then you dumped me, then it was somehow MY fault?
  • What took you so long? What were we waiting for?
  • I could barely keep my hands off of you.
  • I’ve never felt that way before, or since.
  • What can I say? The first cut is the deepest.
  • We were so young.
  • Oh my God, I was so stupid.
  • I’ve always wondered what you saw in me.
  • I only remember the good times.

The most important thing of all is what I’d say to the most important of my exes:

  • I’m so glad you didn’t give up on us.
  • You have the patience of Job. I can’t believe you waited this long.
  • You were there when I finally landed. Thank you.
  • You had a vision of you and me that I couldn’t see at first. I see it now, and it’s beautiful.
  • I’m sorry it took me so long.
  • I’m sorry I hurt you.
  • I’ve loved you so long I can’t remember when I didn’t.
  • Thank you for asking me to marry you. I’m glad I said yes.
  • I can’t imagine life without you.
  • I’m so happy that we get to grow old together.
  • Thank you for the life we’ve made together.

And I’ve never loved anyone more than I love you.

Weird

Day 25: 4 weird traits you have

I have come to really hate the word weird. My son, who’s at the mild end of the autism spectrum, has been characterized by many as weird. He is different. He is not mainstream in his thoughts and behaviors. He’s socially awkward and has a hard time relating to his peers. Frankly, he’s really kinda like a teenage boy but much more so. When I think of him, I find the adjective weird to be very hurtful and excluding. Being weird separates him from the world rather than making him stand out in it. He doesn’t want to be separate. He just doesn’t know how not to be.

But this isn’t about him. This prompt is supposed to be about me. That’s an even harder pill to swallow. I see a lot of me in my son which both worries and encourages me. I’ve managed to overcome a lot and have a full and rich life, so there’s hope for him. But at what cost? What odds did I beat? What color was/is my freak flag and how high did it once fly?

Weird and wacky me stuff:

  1. I have this foot thing. I love to have my feet rubbed. I love to get pedicures. I pick at my toes when I’m barefoot as a nervous habit. Then there’s that little shoe problem I have… You get the picture.
  2. I collect Royal Albert china. That is actually an incredible understatement. I am obsessed with Royal Albert china. I have nearly 450 pieces that I’ve collected over six and a half years. Yeah, I’ve got a problem.
  3. I binge watch Law & Order. No, really. It connects me to NYC during the time I lived there (I was there 1990-2008 and the show ran 1990-2010). I probably watch 2 episodes a day. Everyday. Thank God for the DVR!
  4. I love to knit, which isn’t weird. I also love yarn — again, not really weird. Unless, of course, you consider one thing I do when I choose yarn. I sniff it. I LOVE the smell of lanolin and wool! What a wonderful and comforting smell.

I’m sure that more time and thought would yield even more weirdness about me. We all have our own particular kink.

Missing You

Day 24: Something you miss

Wow.  There are a lot of things that come to me.  Perhaps I need to make a list rather than try to put one topic into paragraphs.

  1. My grandmother: her voice, her giggle, her food, her unconditional love, her advice.
  2. My dad: there’s so much I never said and I’ll never have the chance.  I have to live with that, and it hurts.
  3. My babies: mind you, they still live with me (for now — one’s off to college soon), but I really miss them as babies.  I know babies are labor intensive and exhausting, but my kids were beautiful and amazing and I wish I’d enjoyed that time with them more.
  4. New York: yes, I’ve been saying that for over seven years, ever since we left.  The New York I moved to in 1990 no longer exists.  Hell, the NYC I left in 2008 no longer exists.  I miss the raw energy of the City, with all its creativity and crazy.  I miss the feeling that making it there was the end all and be all in the life of an artist.  Now it’s just an expensive and sanitized Disneyland full of chain and big box stores.  The little businesses and restaurants are closing.  People in other parts of the country don’t seem to understand that NYC had its share of mom and pop stores too.  They’re gone now.  It’s so sad that it makes me cry.
  5. My hair: this always happens after I cut it short.  It’ll pass. I’ll grow it long again and then cut it all off again, all in 7-10 year cycles.
  6. My friends: my social life here in Ohio is very different from the ones I’ve had pretty much anywhere else.  I miss the closeness I enjoyed with my neighbors in New York, and with my colleagues.  People keep to themselves and their families more here.  It’s hard for a person like me who’s used to creating her family wherever she calls home.
  7. The over 40 family members and friends who have died since 2008: among them were my colleagues and mentors from my NYC music scene days, along with treasured members of John’s family and my own.  It got so bad at one point that folks were passing away in groups of three within a week for a while.  There’s been a lot of loss.
  8. Ethnic diversity: I miss riding the subway with Orthodox Jewish diamond merchants, Mexican mariachi bands, old ladies in saris, and Korean restaurant workers who smell like kimchee.  I miss that feeling of each subway car being a mini United Nations.  I miss living somewhere where catching a cab is a magic carpet ride that might take you to the middle east or sub-Saharan Africa.  I miss readily available sushi delivered to my door so many times that the restaurant sent me not one but two Christmas cards.  What I really miss is that Arabs are just another group of people in NYC, and not viewed and talked about with suspicion and trepidation.  In NYC, folks were folks and we all lived, worked, and co-existed without too much trouble most of the time.  I’m not that dark, but I’m often the darkest thing in the room around here.  It’s gone from being annoying to being just plain infuriating.
  9. The ocean: I’m an east coast kinda gal.  I need an ocean.  This Lake Erie beach shit is NOT cutting it.
  10. Cheese steaks, hoagies, bagels, (real) pizza, pastrami, egg creams, and Sabrett’s hot dogs: ‘nuf said.
  11. The feeling that my entire life is ahead of me: at nearly 48, that’s not really true anymore.  Sure, there’s a lot of life left for me to live, but I’m rapidly approaching the time where I will have lived more than half of my life.  I may live to be 96, but I doubt I’ll live to be 120, if you catch my drift.  I’m not 40.  I’m not 30.  I’m definitely not the wide eyed 24 year old I was when I last graduated from something (Juilliard in 1993).  More than ever, the phrase life is too short is becoming truly meaningful.
  12. My uterus: another odd thing to say, but still true.  We parted ways nearly two months ago.  I don’t miss how it was in the final days, but I miss feeling like I’m whole.  I miss the possibility of having more babies.  My two are awesome, but I have always regretted not having more children.  Having my hysterectomy ushered me into a new stage of life that there is no way to prepare for — very much like becoming a parent or losing a parent.  There’s no way to explain how it feels.  It’s just the new normal.  Most days it’s okay, sometimes even great.  Then someone brings a baby into the room and I start to cry.  It’s hard to change how I see myself, but I’m trying.

I miss you all.

I Don’t Like You

Day 23: A family member you dislike

Again, only one?

Seriously though, there isn’t just one person that I loathe and everyone else is okay.  I can’t say that there’s anyone in my family I truly dislike.  I dislike certain aspects of most of my family members’ behavior or personality, but as a whole I either like or tolerate pretty much everyone in my family.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I mean, come on.  Even if I really did dislike a family member, do you really think I’d throw it up on a blog post?  Unless I get a book deal with the prospect of having a NYT Bestseller on my hands, I’m not sticking my neck out quite THAT far as a writer yet.

Still, there are tendencies about a few members of my family that irk me.  Badly.  Badly enough that I may share some of those traits here without any names.  Remember, I gotta see and talk to these folks again at some point, and I’m not into the awkward family holiday thing…

Passive aggressive behavior: let’s just say this is a behavior that I married into rather than grew up with.  I’m from direct people who say what’s on their minds — sometimes far too much, too loudly, and too often.  When I communicate, I’m not interested in screwing with your head.  I want you to understand me.  So this behavior was not only annoying as hell, it was confusing too.  As of today, I can’t see that this is something that has passed on to my kids, so the bloodline may be dying out.  We’ll see.

Lying: this one I am very familiar with since, well, birth.  Some were lies of omission, and some were just big ole whoppers.  They mostly came from one person close to me who, of course, claims these lies never happened and that I’m crazy (that was another hallmark of my childhood that I’ll get to later).  The lies were such a big part of my growing up that I’m not really sure I understood reality as a concept until I was in my 40s.  No, I’m not joking and that’s not an overstatement.  It took me a while to figure out the real truth about myself in a lot of ways, and it was a hard-fought war.  I’m pretty sure I won.  At least I hope I have.

Denial: deep, painful denial of shit that was so obvious it was insane.  My parents (that’s as personal as I’ll go with this) were the king and queen of denial, to the point that stuff didn’t exist if they ignored it or said it didn’t happen.  Revisionist history was the specialty of my parents, especially after I grew up and was no longer afraid to tell my story from my point of view.  So, the catchphrase was, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  That never happened.  You’re crazy.”  I heard that so many times, I began to believe it.  That was the root cause of my long battle with mental health, but we all have those, don’t we?

Unwarranted advice giving: this comes from a number of sources on both sides of the family equation.  Folks, I try to only give helpful advice, as in the kind that neither assumes you’re stupid nor talks to you like you’re 3.  Please don’t give me advice that sounds like you think I’m an idiot.  If I’ve been married longer than you, or you’re on spouse number 3 and I’m still married to the only person I ever intend to marry, please don’t feel obligated to give me marital advice.  I may not be the woman you want to marry because I don’t (fill in the blank) the way you like, but someone wanted to marry me and he’s still happy I said yes.  Clearly, I’m doing something right.  So drop it and keep it to yourself.  I’m good.

Fear: this doesn’t sound like such a bad thing on the surface, but fear has kept a large chunk of my family from doing much of anything.  They often live in the same houses forever as the neighborhoods around them crumble and decline.  They don’t travel — not even outside of the city they live in.  They say disparaging things about other groups of people, not out of hate but out of fear of the unknown.  To these folks in my family, I have always been something between an adventurer and a lunatic.  I have traveled abroad quite a few times, I went away to college, I lived in NYC (thought of as Sodom and Gomorrah by members of my family), and I married outside of my race.  Clearly I’ve lost my damned mind!  To this day, I’m not sure how I lived my life surrounded by this fear and still managed to accomplish all I’ve done.  It’s a miracle, truly.

All these traits and character flaws are not from one person in my family, but they touch on the personalities of several of them.  Over the years, I’ve learned to overlook some, speak out against some, and just plain tear my hair out over others.  Family is something I take very seriously, so it takes a lot for me to just write somebody off — but I’ve done it more than once.  Some toxins don’t get to live in my life, no matter how much I may love their source.  Dislike is the limit for me.  I don’t want to make it to hatred.

 

Mornings

Day 22: your morning routine

I am NOT a morning person and I never have been. I was even born at 4am, which I remember more as the time the clubs close than the time farmers get up. However, having children changes the balance of things. I’m not a morning person, but  fake it pretty well.

Middle age has thrown another monkey wrench into the works: insomnia. Not sexy, folks.

So, what is my morning routine? I already outlined some of this in a previous post, but I didn’t go into too much detail. Here’s a closer look:

There are three versions of my morning routine — weekends, weekdays, and weekdays when John’s gone. Weekends are only slightly less early than weekdays. Mornings are busy, but not crazy. Weekdays when John’s gone are usually my most efficient. I suppose the “you’re on your own” switch gets flipped and I just get stuff done. When he is here, I’m a bit of a slug. He picks up the slack, but I know he’s not always happy about it.

The alarm goes off at 6:00 when he’s here and 5:45 when he’s not. There’s usually a snooze button involved, unfortunately. Fortunately, there’s always coffee. Coffee happens earlier when John’s around. When it’s just me, I often just rely on leftover coffee heated up and thrown in a travel mug.

Coffee is usually followed by a trip to the bathroom. You know what I mean. After that, I brush my teeth and shower. I get dressed and get my work stuff ready. I also make sure that kid 2 is downstairs, medicated, fed, and dressed. I and both offspring are usually in the car and on the road before 8:00.

Kid 2 gets dropped first, followed by kid 1 a minute or two afterward. Then my commute begins. This is when I pray. Each time I begin with the serenity prayer (God grant me the serenity…), and end with the Lord’s Prayer. In between I ask for guidance in raising my kids, help with being a good teacher, and for peace for the whole world. In times as trying as these, it’s good to check in and give a voice to one’s cares and concerns — and lay your burden down before the Big Guy. Prayer helps keep me focused and keeps me peaceful during my otherwise hellish commute.

Not flashy, but certainly routine. Gotta start somewhere.

Five Fears

Day 19: five fears that you have

Heights: I can’t even look at movies with sweeping views of heights without getting that tingly feeling in the backs of my legs. Heights have always terrified me, mostly because I’m afraid of falling from them. Think Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Yeah, that’s me.

Death: even though I am a person of faith, with all of the requisite views and beliefs of Christianity, I am afraid to die. Why? Lack of faith? No, I don’t think I’m lacking in that. Perhaps it’s more about my overall fear of the unknown than anything else. Life is hard, but at least I know what happens to me in life. I’m not familiar with what happens during the process of dying. That moment of transition between life and death is frightening to me.

Harm coming to my husband, children, family, or friends: my hubby travels a lot for work and I’m a nervous wreck every time he flies. Maybe it’s because of 9/11. John and I were living in NYC at that time, along with our 3 1/2 year old daughter. I didn’t fly for 4 years after that. Watching John or Imani go through the security line at the airport gives me chills. Knowing that Iain crosses the street alone at a busy intersection frequented by tractor trailers makes my heart stop. Anything could happen, and I can’t stop it. Worrying won’t change anything, but I still do it.

My son’s future: will he be able to go to college? Live independently? Have a career? Marry and have a family? Those are all enormous question marks for him. We know how much better he’s gotten since he was diagnosed with ASD at age three. I’ve always believed that he could have what others might call a “normal life”, and I still believe it. But what will it take to get him all the way there? Are we on the right track? Only time will tell, but it’s a nail biter waiting it out.

Failure: I wrote a blog post about failure once. I should probably go back and read it again. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to change careers. I am beginning to worry that the change will never come for me. Right now, I’m stuck in a job that has no security, no benefits, low pay, and no future. And I’m about to send my firstborn to college in the fall. I need a chance, an opportunity. I need to put down the instrument and move on. My career has prepared me to do just about anything. I’m afraid — terrified — that I will never be seen as capable of any other work. The older I get, the more afraid I am. I fear my window of opportunity is closing fast.

My life isn’t ruled by fear, but I do try to be honest about what scares me. I cannot fix flaws I don’t acknowledge.

Words to Live By

Day 17: a quote you try to live by

One of my all-time favorite quotations is one that I have said for years, though I can’t remember where I first heard it.

“Life’s too short to dance with ugly men.”

Okay, that’s completely heterosexist, objectifying, non-PC stuff. I know. It’s not the first not PC thing I’ve said, and it is unlikely to be the last. What can I say? I do have a reputation for being blunt, pithy, and opinionated. Every now and then, I just go there.

So, what does this all mean?

Don’t settle. Don’t take the first thing that comes along just because you’re afraid to wait for the right fit. Wait and be discerning. Make mistakes, kiss frogs, and screw up royally — but don’t just do the safe thing. Risks make us stronger and braver. We may succeed brilliantly or fail miserably, but we tried. I don’t want to live with regrets about all I should’ve or could’ve done. In short, I don’t want to be stuck dancing with the proverbial ugly man. I’d rather dance alone knowing I gave everything my best shot.

Life is short. It’s shorter than we think. Settling is for sediment. Life is about living. You’ll never know more than ordinary if you never look for the extraordinary. Why not? What have we got to lose?

Train for that marathon. Take that trip overseas. Call that person you’re interested in. Sign up to take the music lessons you’ve always wanted. Risk looking like an idiot and laugh at your mistakes. Live!

Life’s too short…

Bullet Points

Day 16: Bullet your entire day

  • Wake up — harder than it sounds
  • Bathroom — no explanation necessary
  • Coffee. Must. Have. Coffee.
  • Check weather and traffic — it’s best to get the bad news early
  • Shower and brush teeth
  • Pick out clothes and dress
  • Breakfast — rice and eggs with TONS of hot sauce
  • Take kids to school
  • Hit the road to work — otherwise known as the highway to hell
  • Arrive at work. Expect the unexpected. Troubleshoot as needed. Never a dull moment.
  • Commute home
  • Pick up kids from school
  • Home and homework
  • Coffee and snack while relaxing with dogs and (inevitably) watching an episode of Law&Order on the DVR
  • Make any necessary phone calls, schedule appointments, etc., before the close of the business day
  • Tie up any loose ends from work
  • Walk dogs, no matter the weather
  • Supervise transportation to extracurricular activities: swim practice, choir rehearsal, etc.
  • Handle dinner: who’s cooking what
  • Eat — usually too much, too late
  • Watch tv with hubby if he’s not on the road, but always with the dogs
  • Write my daily blog entry (at least these days)
  • Clean up kitchen, do load of laundry
  • Supervise instrumental practice for kid #2: drum set, piano, and tuba
  • Be sure kid #1 is alive and try to nail down her schedule
  • Be sure #2 makes his lunch and gets his clothes ready for the next day at school
  • Be sure #2 gets ready for bed, goes to bed, and stays in bed
  • Send emails, pay bills, work on budget, all while trying not to worry too much
  • Send texts to tomorrow’s students
  • Fall down the Facebook rabbit hole under controlled conditions
  • Still watching tv, too much too late
  • Collapse, exhausted, into bed

Observations: not enough me time. I need to make time to work out and consolidate scattered tasks into one or two bigger tasks. I’m not using my time efficiently.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Everyday is a new beginning. I need to start now. The spirit is willing, but… You know the rest.

Looking over that list makes me tired… No wonder I’m tired all the time after actually doing all of this stuff. I need to make life and career changes too. I’m in a rut. Putting my day into a list of bullet points has made that painfully clear.

To action!