31 days of gratitude, grumpy (abridged) edition (days 10 to 12)

Keeping up with daily gratitude feels very burdensome, especially when it messes with my grumpy mojo. Daily gratitude is creating existential questions, and I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

If I’m not grumpy, who am I?

If sarcasm and cynicism disappear from my repertoire, what could possibly fill the gaping void they leave behind? Pink puffy hearts?

Without helpless rage, what will motivate me to wake up on any given day?

If I can’t just keep hanging on in quiet desperation, the English way, will Anthony still love me?

Maybe I haven’t given it long enough.  I will carry on.

Day 10 (day before yesterday).

Today, I yelled at Jesse after she yelled at me about five different unfair things and then told me to shut up. She was having a bad day.

So I yelled back, HEY IT’S THE CHRISTMAS SEASON, A PERFECT TIME TO GIVE MOMMY HELL.  I KNOW, LET’S FILL HER CHRISTMAS CUP BY TREATING HER LIKE GARBAGE. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

But day before yesterday, I’m thankful for the Christmas Spirit.

We got a Christmas tree last weekend.  So the kids were all excited about CHRISTMAS, and they decided to make tree ornaments from pipe cleaners and make some things as gifts to put under the tree.  They absconded busily to the basement for at least an hour, during which I heard various mutterings and crashings, and then they trotted back up and placed cutely wrapped packages under the as-yet-undecorated tree.  It was very sweet and cheerful.

Later I headed down to the basement for something and found, well… I think it’s better if I just show you.

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I froze, breathed, took the time to snap some photos, because that helped me calm down… and turned around and headed right back up the stairs, stepping over these small entrails along the way:

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I muttered to Anthony, you should see the basement, WTF. He hugged me.  “At least they have the Christmas spirit, Carla.”

I tell you what, the Christmas spirit hasn’t moved me to clean that mess up yet, but he’s right. It’s very sweet that the kids have a giving, albeit outrageously messy, spirit.

So day before yesterday, which is the relevant GRATITUDE PERIOD here, I finally got around to putting up the tree lights. Normally Anthony is around, so we end up being slightly more parsimonious than I prefer. The typical refrain goes something like this:

Carla. That’s enough lights.
Carla. It’s fine.
Carla. It doesn’t need more lights.
Carla. Stop.

I usually relent.  But day before yesterday Anthony went to work and I did it myself.  Heh heh heh. I put three strings on that we had lying around.  After several wraps, unwraps and re-wraps, I realized that this was my rare opportunity to just go for it. So I ran off to Ace and bought some more lights.  I felt like a conspirator.  Nothing felt better than adding that fourth string of lights to the bottom of the tree. Gratitude for my shiny lit Christmas tree.

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Day 11 (yesterday).

I’ll be honest. Right now I don’t remember anything about yesterday, at all.  Let me check my calendar.

Oh! Right.  Nick was home sick, and I had to take Jesse to the dentist to have two baby molars pulled, one on each side of her mouth, and since Nick and Anthony are both sick and I might be toxic, I cancelled a planned walk with a new friend. Then later in the  day I had to take Jesse to the nutritionist for a weigh in.

Boy, was it a great day.  Lots to be grateful for. I’m totally overwhelmed by thankfulnesses, it’s like a tsunami of gratitude. I’ll let you know what it is I was grateful for yesterday, when I figure it out.

Day 12 (today)

This morning I went to a session of a pilot “compassion resilience” workshop that I’ve been participating in.  It’s for parents who have caregiver fatigue from raising kids.  In other words, it’s a workshop with universal application to all humans who have ever spawned.

In these workshops, we do mindfulness practices, and it is very, very hard for me.  I have to work so hard not to impersonate Stuart Smalley or snicker occasionally.  I feel like a terrible person during those moments.

Today we talked about parental guilt and shame, and the cycle that moves us from enthusiastic parenting — in which we serve our kids only pastured-grass-fed-yoga-practicing-beef, meditate 2 hours a day in unison as a family, grow all our own vegetables, and have an in-house mediator to settle all disputes peacefully —  to zombie parenting.  In the latter state, we try to eat our kids alive as the flesh falls from our bodies.

No no no, that can’t be right. I better check my notes.

In zombie parent state, aka full-tilt compassion fatigue, we are on the brink of complete decompensation.  We develop a bloated sense of self and a persecution complex.  We’re suspicious, we drop out, we go numb.

That’s compassion fatigue, is it.  I thought that was just what typical parents are like. Huh.

Anyway, this is good, it’s all good.  It’s a wonderful lens shift to look at myself and think… Hey, you’re not just an awful mom and a natural born A-hole, Carla!  You are suffering from compassion fatigue!

We talked about self care or self compassion, and what things we might do in that regard, and how it can help us let go of guilt and shame.  All good, all good.

We ended with an exercise called “just like me.” The moderator said each line, and then the participants, in a state of mindful repose (don’t roll your eyes, Carla!), would repeat it to ourselves silently (don’t do it in Stuart Smalley voice, Carla!):

Just like me, my child is seeking happiness in their life.

Just like me, my child is trying to avoid suffering.

Just like me, my child has known sadness, loneliness and despair.

Just like me, my child is seeking to fill their needs.

Just like me, my child is learning about life.

Now this is a beautiful thing, an exercise in empathy.  I think it was supposed to make me feel better. Instead, it left me fighting back tears, and with stronger feelings of guilt than I had experienced in at least the three hours prior.

Because damn, shouldn’t I know and remember those truths every single day without having to chant them? Why is it so hard to remember to see my kids this way?

Probably because they’re jackasses.  Just like me.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

 

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (day 9)

This evening I was chatting with my friend Pseudonymous Bob (PB) about why we do the things we do.  He pointed out  that most people tend not to care about a thing until it touches their own lives.  People who never donated a penny to breast cancer research suddenly become hardcore fundraisers after a family member gets diagnosed. People who never cared about disability rights suddenly become hardcore advocates for systems and legislative change after they have their own child with a disability.

My eyes narrowed slightly, as I knew PB was probably talking about me.  I’ve jumped full-throttle into the wheelhouse of disability and mental health advocacy, and there’s no doubt I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my own daughter’s profound challenges.

If PB did have me in mind as he spoke, I’m not in the least offended. There’s a deep truth to his cynical view, and I will admit that the same thought has crossed my mind many times over the years. I’ve often wondered if my commitment to disability advocacy  is fundamentally selfish, not altruistic.  But as I’ve aged and softened — and after 8 transformative days of gratituding, honestly it’s like I don’t even know myself anymore — I can look at this phenomenon through a different, gentler lens.

Here, I’m going to make a Venn diagram to help explain my theory. Give me second.

Ooooooh did you know there are free Venn diagram generators all over the internet??  You just plug in data here and there and PRESTO there appears a bunch of overlapping circles and labels.  See you in a couple hours; if you need me right away, you can find me at this free site making Venn diagrams.

* * * * *

Here we go:

PEOPLE WHO DO ADVOCACY STUFF

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Maybe my ratios are off.  Let me try that again.

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Better.

Hold on, I just figured out my Venn diagram doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work at all, except to point out what I now see is obvious:  that little dark triangle in the middle of all three circles, that should bear the label “Most Annoying People on Earth.”

Good lord, do I live in the bulging triangle?  Aw shit. Much self reflection is required, but I don’t have time for it today.

Let me try that again:

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That is one ugly Venn diagram. It’s just awful. And now I’m sitting here wondering where all the other annoying advocates in the blue circle come from.

Is this better?

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Nope, it’s not better. Venn diagrams and social theory clearly are not my skill sets.

* * * * *

Never mind the Venn diagram.  I just figure, most people, no matter what happens in their lives, go along with those lives without ever stepping into the public service ring. But among those of us exposed to a particular challenge — say, cancer — there are some collection of people who are prone to take up a cause, any cause.  Social justice warriors do it because something demands action, and they’re altruistic that way (or at least they think they are).  Empaths do it because they don’t want others to suffer the way they’ve suffered.  Egomaniacs do it for the likes. (I feel so post-modern to have said it that way.)

But regardless of our personalities and needs, maybe it isn’t as selfish as it appears, to drop into the advocacy bucket of what touches our lives most deeply.  Those are the subjects we know the most about, after all, and so it makes good sense to spend our energy there. Maybe I don’t have to feel so cynical about myself. I can catalog the ways I cared, before I even became a parent — as a lawyer, as a devotee of pro bono work, as a donor to various causes.  It’s just that now, I know a whole lot about this one thing, youth mental health, and I’d sure like to make the world better on this front.  Is that so wrong?

[end of blog]

Oh! Wait. I forgot to do the gratituding.  Fine:  grateful for Venn diagram generators, grateful for my friendship with PB, grateful that I don’t have to work in a job where I have to make Venn diagrams.  Good?

#GrumpyGratitude

 

 

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (days 6 through 8)

HUMBUG.  I didn’t even make it a fifth of the way before I failed.  Two days without a written gratitude.  I should have gratituded someone or something.  I will make up for it today, now:

Day 6, back-dated:

I’m preemptively grateful for the grammar Nazis who will bite their wicked tongues about my turning gratitude into a verb.  Go on then, feel the hate inside your hearts, pour it in absentia all over my soul.  As long as you don’t bother me in my real life with it, I’m good.

Day 7, back-dated:  

Yesterday I’m grateful for — stop it, grammar Nazi, just stop and take a deep, slow breath; and remind yourself that time, in particular past-present-and-future, is a fluid concept and requires fluid use of language tenses. Right.  Yesterday I’m grateful for… Well there’s the rub.  I wasn’t feeling very grateful yesterday for anything.

I was feeling weary and sad, and sick of the way humans make up pretextual reasons for the cruel and thoughtless ways we hurt each other out of fear.

I was feeling angry about how people who talk about community and the village are often the same people who put their own tiny cohort ahead of anyone else, and reject the concept of a village when they’re afraid, proving that Darwin was right, the biological imperative to give our own tiny pool of genes the best chance of carrying on overrides altruism and generosity.

I was feeling used up by the mental health complex, which generally refuses to see a human as a whole, compartmentalizing her challenges and abandoning her when their “expertise” in a tiny niche is exceeded, rather than digging into the creative process of connection and understanding and healing.

I was feeling enraged by the mental health stigma that has recently reared its head in our community, masquerading as a whole lot of things, but still nothing more than a small-hearted, feral beast of ignorance and avoidance, lashing out at a child in public forums, a child whose authentic story we don’t know.

I was feeling disheartened by the abject failure of my work of the last few years, wondering what more I should have done, what more I could have said, to help move us further past this ugly space my community apparently still resides in. And then I was feeling really angry at myself for harboring the arrogant thought that I’m so important I could make any real difference.

So all I can say is… Yesterday I’m grateful I was able to handle these feelings and still get out of bed;  still cry and rage senselessly at the injustice of it all, because that means I haven’t yet despaired of hope; still think tactically about what to do, and how to garner support for compassion and kindness; still accept the loving hug a friend offered me when I dropped my son off at a birthday party; still wonder and hunt for compassion for people who appear to have lost their own; and still look in the mirror and know that I’m as flawed and pathetic and ugly as the next person.  Because nothing is worse than smug self-righteousness.  Dear reader, just slap me hard upside the head if you see me going there, and yell at me as loud as you can: SNAP OUT OF IT.

Day 8, real time:

Today I will engage in exactly the hubris I just asked you to save me from.  Today I’m grateful for my big, fearless mouth; my blunt, opinionated ways; and my black-and-white sense of justice.  I mean what the hell, I’m only going to live in this body and in this time once.  I might as well just go for it and speak for what I care about.  What I care about is inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, kindness, empathy, compassion, the true village — wherever it’s needed, whoever needs it, when they need it, even if it demands courage of us.  Because a world without those things isn’t a world worth sending my children into.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (day 5)

Today I am grateful for the school lunch Nick asks me to pack.

1. Naked smoothie, flavor Mighty Mango. This and only this passes muster. Anything else comes home untouched.

2. Canned mandarin oranges. Used to be I could at least give him fresh fruit. No. Canned mandarins. Drained. If not drained, not eaten.

3. Sandwich. White bread. Not homemade, not artisan, not whole wheat or multigrain. White. Thin slice. Preferably with preservatives. Colby Jack, 1 slice. Small amount of mayo. 1 slice ham. 4 slices pepperoni. Crust off. Any mistakes? Uneaten.

Every single day, for more than two years now, this is what Nick eats for lunch at school.

I can make his lunch with my eyes closed, with one hand behind my back, drunk, sleepwalking, doing headstands. Not a single thing in it is unprocessed.

I make puff pastry from scratch. He won’t touch it. I make pies, cookies, cakes, crumbles, puddings, and donuts that others rave about. He hates them all.

I make fresh tortillas, pico de Gallo, and guacamole from scratch. He tolerates the tortillas for dinner, as long as he can have processed cheese with them, the gross kind that comes pre-grated in a plastic bag. But no tortillas in his school lunch.

I can make so many delicious foods. All Nick wants is microwave breakfast sausages and pirates booty and goldfish.

I am mortified by Nick’s food choices. Except at 6:30 am on Monday through Friday, when I make his school lunch, and I whisper my thanks to his culinary palette for letting me make a lunch that takes less than 5 minutes and no imagination, and requires nothing fresh.

#GrumpyGratitude

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (day 4)

Ssshhh! Whisper this paragraph: My whole family fell asleep at bed-time, including Anthony and the dogs.  I’m in the basement on the computer.  By myself. This is a rare wonder and enough of an event to constitute the basis for today’s tiny gratitude.   DON’T DO ANYTHING TO WAKE THEM UP.

The reason I’m desperate to be alone is that I spent a couple hours at a school board meeting where a bunch of parents talked about a business that is sad and divisive and not to be discussed in this space, because to do so could potentially hurt more than one child.  It was a lot of humanity and and a lot of emotions and some hypocrisy and some dishonesty; and dear reader, you know I don’t recover well from that.

I spoke too, because I’m a broken record with an agenda.  I’ve been attending every school board meeting this year to natter at them about getting more mental health supports into our schools.  I want them to arrange for school-based mental health services, which is a fancy way to say: give a therapist office space for a day every week, so he or she can see students on campus. I want them to hire social workers at each school, so that families can have guidance in navigating needs and services and insurance and all that jazz.  I want them to fund educational programming for parents and teachers, to build wisdom about mental health and stigma and resilience and the importance of community and healthy relationships and on and on and on.

Why do I care? Because Jesse told me to care.  She insists that it’s not fair that she has access to therapists and meds and psychiatrists; that her parents care about her so much and get her help, even when she doesn’t want it; that we’re not ashamed of her and insist on school supports that she needs.  It’s not fair because she has classmates who don’t have the same resources, and they deserve all of this as much as she does.

She’s right. So I’m on it.

The school board is generally good natured toward me, but I’m not sure what to make of them.  They make eye contact with me when I speak, but sometimes I get the feeling they think I’m cringey.  Maybe next time I’ll ask them if they remember anything I say, if they care about anything I say, and if they are being impacted in any way by anything I say.  If their answer is a resounding “NO” to all of the above… then clearly I will have to attend more meetings. For the sake of Jesse’s profound sense of social justice, I will carry on with the lobbying and advocating and wheedling.

And then, when I’m done with that public business, I will always need to curl into a figurative fetal ball somewhere.  Tonight, I’m thankful to my family, dogs and all, for passing out and letting me curl up in peace.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

 

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (day 3)

Today I am grateful for modern medicine and technology.  All of it.

I had my annual mammogram this morning.  I was easily distracted from my half-nude state and the repeated handling and smashing of my boobs by the elegant and mobile tomography machine that photographed my tissues.

As I walked out of the radiology area, I peeked into as many rooms as I could to see all the cool stuff– X-RAY, MRI, CT, PET, TOM, JANE machines.  Donuts, plates, platters, sliding beds, swinging arms.  They are pure magic, looking inside our bodies without so much as a poke.  Modern scan machines are beautiful, mostly with soft edges and mild colors.  The industrial engineers must watch Star Trek episodes when they design this stuff.

Just a few hours after the boob-smashing, I received an e-mail message through the on-line information system my clinic uses. It informed me that my mammo was fine, no malignancies detected.  Ta-da.

A couple weeks ago, I had a CT scan of my heart.  For 50 bucks, 1 or 2 minutes inside the CT donut, and a couple hours’ wait, I learned that I don’t have any calcium in my arteries.  This is relieving news, given my family’s history of keeling over from heart and arterial disease.  The respite from worrying is probably good for my health.

I also did some bloodwork, which is itself something of a miracle.  With one little stick and the offering of a little blood, we can learn so much.  I learned that my potassium and iron are low-normal, as usual, and that my hormone levels mean I’m in post-menopause.  Yay! My genetic purpose has officially ended and I can die without further affecting human evolution!

Many years ago, I learned that I had bladder cancer.  The doc found it by shoving a long hollow metal rod — the scope — up my urethra and staring around inside my bladder with the help of a camera and a wee lightbulb.  A week or two later, he shoved another scope up there and used tiny robot hands to clip out the tumor and scoop it out through the rod.  My bladder remained intact, and I didn’t have to be cut open. I would no doubt be dead or bladderless by now (quite possibly both), if not for modern surgical methods.

And meds, all the meds. Without my BP meds I would have stroked out several years ago.  Anthony’s gout maintenance meds have made life livable again.  Jesse’s anti-anxiety med makes a functional life a little more possible for her.  Antibiotics, antihistamines, asthma inhalers, epi-pens, advil, flu shots, vaccines, melatonin in pill form.  What would my family’s life be without all these things?

Because I hate people, I often find myself ruminating on the origins of all this wonder. So much of our understanding of the human body arises from cruelty – human experimentation, animal testing – and from the work of bigoted, misogynistic scientists. Pharmaceutical companies are motivated more by profit than by altruism, and have messed with costs and supplies in so many ugly ways.

And yet here I am, alive because of the good we’re able to make out of humanity’s inherent evil.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

 

 

 

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (day 2)

I’m on day two of my month of gratitudes, and already I got nothin’.

Give me a second, it can’t be that hard.

[Stares into space glumly.  Plays with annoying label on neckband of t-shirt.  Puffs out cheeks and makes squirting sounds with pursed lips. Sighs noisily.]

Fine, I’ll just make something up:

Today I am grateful for this lovely fire I’ve got burning in the grate.

Around this time of year I typically order a face cord of mixed hardwood – I think I have that right, but I’m not sure. Face cord? Half face? Whatever – it’s a mix of oak and birch, so the birch bark makes our fires go like we’ve hit them with napalm.

I love a real fire, whether it’s in a fireplace or at a campsite. There’s nothing quite so toasty.

But these days it’s hard for me to feel good about burning wood. It makes me think of Brazil, and Australia, and California.  I recently heard a report that 80% of wild koala habitat has gone up in smoke in Australia, with burns reaching something like 2.8 million acres.  I struggled with that number. I had to google it to make sure it was real.  It was.  Scientists think koalas may be facing practical extinction because of lost habitat from the wildfires.

I read a thing today about the ice sheet in Greenland weeping waterfalls as it cracks apart, with worries about accelerated rising seas.  I think it was in Greenland.  But does it really matter? Does it matter that our world is burning and preparing to drown from rising seas all at the same time? Does it matter if we’re not going to do anything about it? All the religious nuts think this is a sign of the second coming, and not a sign that humans are selfish, greedy creatures destroying everything we touch.  Does it count as a “sign” of an apocalyptic religious event, if you make the sign happen yourself?  Not in my book, but surely in a charlatan’s.

Jesse and I chatted as we drove  home from school a few days ago, about the situation with the koalas.  She was thoughtful as she stared out the window. “It just makes me feel so hopeless,” she said quietly.

I was struck by the strange sadness of a 14 year old girl speaking like this about the world. She sees that our president and one of our two major political parties doesn’t believe in climate change and isn’t going to support any effort to respond to it.  She sees that adults aren’t changing.  She’s not alone.

But we chattered away.  I had no choice but to say what I said to her, as a parent who bothered to bring children into this world, knowing what they may face in the years ahead.  I said it’s never hopeless.  Humans are adaptable.  We suck, but we’re also capable of great things. Humans cared enough to bring species back from the brink of extinction, like the peregrine and the bald eagle.

She interrupted me.  “Yeah, that was a long time ago. It’s not like that anymore.  No one cares.”

I argued on.  It will take courage, I insisted.  Your generation will have to find courage and strength. Dad and I are raising you to be anti-authoritarian for a reason – so you can think, and dream, and act for yourself, guided by your own moral compass, without reference to what the people with all the power insist you must do.  You might be the very person who saves the world.

Jesse rolled her eyes at me. Maybe I deserved it.

* * * * *

And well, with all that dreaming set aside, here I sit in front of a fire, spewing greenhouse gases out the bunghole of our chimney for the mere pleasure of my warmed feet; stewing in my hypocrisy and indolence; and wondering if I’ll live long enough to really despair for my children as it all falls apart.

Okay then, I’ve done it.  Day 2 of gratitude.  I think I nailed it.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

 

 

31 days of gratitude, grumpy edition (day 1)

I’ve decided to make a run at a December 2019 full of gratitudes.  Everyone is doing gratitude and has been for years, so I need to make a real commitment to it.  Why? Because I want to fit in and follow social rules.  That’s what we teach our kids — fit in, go with the flow, follow social rules — so I need to model it myself.  I think I’ve said something like this several times on my blog, but maybe this time I can really do it.

This is a challenge, but I will rise to it.  Day 1.  Here we go.

Today, with her express permission, I am grateful for my friend Patti and her son Benji.  Last weekend, Benji came over for a while.  When I dropped him off, my kids started snickering as I pulled into his driveway. I eventually saw why, as I walked up to the front door:

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Yes, that is her door cover for the holidays.

(**No I don’t have express permission to reprint this image here, but it was on Patti’s door.  I’ve never bothered to understand the vagaries of copyright law.  I hope I don’t get sued.  In the meantime here’s a link so you can purchase this door cover on amazon if you want.)

When Patti opened the door, I sighed deeply and gave her a big hug.  I told her, in so many words: any time I observe an adult other than me being entertained by poop humor, I am thankful — because in that moment I know I’m not alone.

But Poopy Santa isn’t my only reason for being thankful for Patti and Benji.  Dare I say it (at risk of provoking argument): I’m not that shallow.

Last winter, when Jesse began weekly therapy in earnest for anorexia, the regular time slot her therapist was able to give us was on Saturday mornings.  For a few sessions, we brought Nick along.

It was not ideal.  Both Anthony and I needed to be with Jesse at the sessions, but it was really hard for Nick to sit in session, and even harder for him to sit alone out in the waiting room playing on his iPad and wallowing in stranger anxiety.  There was much fidgeting and much disruption, along with the occasional erudite interjection that stopped all the adults in our tracks.  Nick has a way of cutting to the heart of important things, when he isn’t bouncing off  the walls.

I don’t remember how it happened, but soon after we began this schedule, Patti offered to let us drop Nick off at her home every Saturday morning. It was hard to say yes.  I felt like we were imposing mightily, and I felt terrible for abandoning Nick.  Patti is a single mom and a high school teacher and a doting mom, which means that during the school year her life is insane! But she insisted that Saturday mornings were fine.

I stepped back and reminded myself that Nick loves a playdate with Benji; that I would offer the same; that there’s no shame in needing my village; and that the gift of being needed is almost as important as the gift of having a need met.  So I said yes.

Nearly a year later, Nick and Benji continue to have as many Saturday morning playdates as we can manage.  Jesse’s sessions have moved to every other week, so on off weeks we try to have Benji over to our house.  There are many thank you’s going on in all directions.

I am grateful for so many things about Patti and Benji.  They accept my family with all its foibles and quirks. Patti has a belly laugh that fills my cup every time I hear it.  Benji has a silly imagination that sits just right with Nick and me. Patti and Benji are both generous and funny, and they’ve given us a steady trickle of love and acceptance in a year when we really needed it.

But I’ll be honest, Patti:  you had me forever at poopy Santa.

#GrumpyGratitude