31 days of gratitude, Sleeping Bear Dunes edition, grumpy and abridged (days 27 to 31)

About a month ago, Anthony muttered aloud as he stared at his phone, his thumbs busy on its surface. “We should go somewhere after Christmas for a few days.”

Sure, because traveling with the kids is so much fun and will add statistically significant value to our holiday spirit.

He started hunting to the south, wishing apparently for a little warm weather.  The Florida panhandle? We could drive there in just 12 (hellish) hours and rent a place on the Gulf of Mexico. But further investigation revealed that it would be a little too cold to really enjoy swimming in the gulf. We didn’t want to spend the money and emotional energy to fly somewhere even further south with the kids, and we couldn’t find a locale close enough to make warm weather drive-worthy. So I eventually said, if we can’t go warm, why don’t we go cold?

We rented a cottage near Sleeping Bear Dunes, a national seashore on the northeastern coast of Lake Michigan, about a 7-hour drive from our home. This is one of those perfectly under-utilized midwestern gems, a place of such beauty and quiet and strangeness that I can’t get enough of it.  It’s made up of a vast array of enormous pure sand dunes and scrubbish dunes, some unexpected woodlands, stunning shorelines, mystical hikes along dunes and bluffs, and the freezing-yet-somehow-welcoming waters of northern Lake Michigan.

We’ve camped here a few times, but had never visited in winter.  It’s north, so when we made reservations we anticipated snow and thought to bring sleds. Back in October and November the area had received almost 3 feet of snow.  We imagined climbing some of the biggest sand dunes and sledding wildly down them, head first, crash helmets firmly in place and first aid kit well-stocked in the car.

But by the time we hit the road, the day after Christmas, there had been a warm spell and rain for a few weeks.  All the meaningful snow finally melted the day before we arrived.  Rain was forecast for the duration of our stay.  We didn’t even bother to pack sleds.

Thanks for nothing, Mother Nature.

* * * * *

Fear not. Our family is proud, resilient, flexible! We are all that and more! We packed our outdoor gear and headed off.  And of course we were not disappointed.  Snow or no, Sleeping Bear Dunes is breathtaking, even under glowering skies. The sun never once shined down on us. But all the snowmelt along the shore turned the water into that unearthly teal/green/blue color that shows up in mountain tarns filled with glacial melt water.  Our phone cameras couldn’t quite capture the color, but I literally gasped when we came over the last seaside dune of our first walk and saw it.  Here are some of my favorite views from our hikes.

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Oh hey, here’s a photo of Nick and me. Both of us are quite elusive about camera shots, so this is really rare, like finding a dodo and a snow leopard in the same shot:

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See that doofy look on my face?  That’s apparently what peaceful-but-also-slightly-stressed-out happiness looks like on a perennially grumpy person, because that’s how I remember I was feeling when Anthony took this shot. Either that, or I was making wind in the gusting wind.

I managed to get one decent face shot of the elusive and frenetic Nick, but it sure took a lot of work.  For this one, we were lying on the beach, relaxing in the  windbreak provided by an eroded shelf of sand. I finally got Nick to look at me and laugh for the camera by yelling at him, “MY BUTT IS GOING BOOM BOOM!”

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My magic was as irresistible as my maturity is fictitious. Afterwards, Nick told me the boom boom trick would only work once. Sure enough, here was my next try – a more typical pic of Nick:

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Nick did allow me to take a video of him. Mom, get down so you can see the blowing grass, and I will run.   So I did that.

It really was magical out there.

We also got some good shots of Jesse. She is such a little beauty, but these days she dresses like a person who randomly grabs clothing out of street gutters in large cities, and her eyes carry such a weight of sadness.

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IMG_0455.jpegI have no explanation.

Here’s what happens when I try to get the three other hypothetical humans in my family to line up for a photo, any photo.

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Hopeless.

* * * * *

The thing about hiking in dunes is that you can see really, really far across the blank expanses, and trails present themselves easily.  One day, we headed out on a trail that would take us through large dunes and back around through a small wood.  Jesse saw a deep dune bowl and wanted to slide and run down it, so Nick followed.  Anthony and I did not, because when you go down a steep sandy dune, it’s pell-mell leaping and fun; but then you have to go back up the steep sandy dune, and that is a lot of slogging work.  The kids went down the bowl, and they spotted what looked like a foot trail on the rim on the other side.  Anthony hollered, sure, that’s our trail! You go and we’ll meet you there!  But it turned out, our trail went the opposite direction, so the kids had to turn around and come back to us.  This did not go over well:

We eventually gathered them up and continued on our way. It was mostly a fun walk. I eventually got Nick to stop feeling bitter, and then because it was getting late and dark, I also eventually got him to stop being afraid that we would be lost after dark.  After all, he had brought two flashlights.  He eventually let go of his fears when I explained that even if we got lost overnight, we would be fine. We would all four huddle up together under some brush, someplace out of the wind.  We would maybe have some frostbite, and we would be desperately thirsty in the morning. Also hungry.  And grumpy.  But we would be fine.  Either that explanation helped him, or it was the fact that I agreed to jog as much as possible along the remaining couple miles of trail.

Here’s an almost-360 meditation on the beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

The native American legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes is a sad one. There are different versions, but the one I remember goes something like this.  Long ago, in the age of legends, a Mother Bear and her two cubs lived on the western shores of Lake Michigan. One day a massive wildfire erupted, setting aflame the woods in which the bears lived.  Trapped between the burning woods and the lake, Mother Bear chose to take her cubs into the water and seek safe haven on a distant shore.  They swam out, away from the terrible raging fire.  Across the lake they swam, ever eastward.  As the hours passed, the bears grew more and more tired. After an eternity, Mother Bear saw the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. Exhausted and near death, she exhorted her children to hang on and keep going.  But they were so tired.  Using the last of her strength, she swam into shore.  She turned around to help her cubs in, only to see their exhausted bodies sink into the lake and drown.

Mother Bear fell to the ground in despair, and fell into an endless sleep, awaiting the arrival of her children from the inland sea.  The Great Spirit, passing near, saw her sorrow. He took pity on her brave children and made them into two small islands off the shore. He took pity on Mother Bear and made her into a giant dune, so she could watch over her babies forever.

* * * * *

This past year was complicated (unlike the three years before? I think not). Weight recovery from anorexia took time, and we weren’t able to safely do things that required a lot of energy expenditure from Jesse. Now that we’re really in a safe zone on that front, she contends with the body image issues that follow healthy weight gain, and she’s still recovering strength. And also there’s the ongoing coprolalia (aka Nasty Tourette). And also Nick’s anxiety and not-too-disruptive OCD. And also my own depression and anxiety and emotional exhaustion and volatility. It’s all very noisy and emotional and messy. Every member of my family ends up feeling like a pretty shitty person at some point of each day, because of things we’ve said or done that we regret. And on this front, no one suffers more than Jesse, which is so very sad because she’s only 14 years old. We just keep picking it up and trying again, another day and another day and another day.

So after another tough year, it was a wonderful thing to get away from the regular grind and be able to enjoy a national park, and go on long hikes accompanied by tics and yelling and gritting teeth and whining and gloomy weather and the extraordinary beauty of land less touched by humans than usual. It only takes a quarter mile, in bad weather and tough conditions, to get away from all the people. And being away from most human beings, in a space where there’s little threat of someone I know appearing unexpectedly, is a very peaceful and renewing thing for me. On most of our hikes, Anthony had a phone for photos, but not me. I just wanted to savor where I was, breathe the air, and let some quiet into my mind. Yes, I yelled at the kids every day at least once. No, I wish I hadn’t; but also yes, in any ordinary view of things, they deserved it.

There are days when I feel like Mother Bear. I exhort my kids, and especially Jesse, not to give up.  Keep going, just keep going. I don’t know where the shoreline is, but I wish to find hope when I arrive, not despair.  I wish to be strong enough to carry them in with me.

* * * * *

On the last hike of our trip, we turned the last corner and headed over the last dune toward a small stand of evergreens, through which we had to pass to reach the trailhead.  It had been a tough hike, behaviorally. I was grumpy and I was behaving badly.  So was Jesse. I noticed a small patch of moss growing among some brush.  I looked more closely, and on top of little mounds of moss, no more than a few inches across each, were wee shriveled round leaves of a ground cover.  I looked closer and saw that on a couple select moss mounds, lichens were growing; they looked like strange little fairy trees, no more than a quarter inch tall.  It was magical, a miniature world from a strange manga tale.  I called to the kids and pointed to the round leaves. “Do you think these are fairy wings or fairy poo?”

Jesse ran over and lay down on her belly.  Her imagination had been awakened, setting her free for a moment from the obsessions and intrusive thoughts and tics that dominate her world so often.  She lay there for some time, taking in the tiny kingdom. Nick did Nick, wandering around aimlessly and investigating everything. Anthony and I walked up to the top of the last bit of dune and sat together quietly.  After a bit, we each rolled down the dune.  The inevitable grunting and laughing caught the kids’ attention, and they joined us, thumping their own way down and enjoying the sweet dizziness that follows a good roll. We all walked to the trailhead together, with Jesse leading me on a short detour to investigate a “tree nursery” she had discovered in the woods.

It was perhaps fifteen minutes, a micro-moment in the long hours of our days together.  I added it to a bucket in my mind of little moments during our trip — jogging and laughing on a darkening trail with Nick, snuggling with Anthony on the beach to warm up, standing on a bluff with a strong wind in my face, watching the dark clouds roll across the lake — and it was enough to fill my cup and give me memories worth saving, untainted by the flat dimensions of a photograph.

As we drove out of Sleeping Bear Dunes and headed back toward Milwaukee the next day, fresh snow began to fall anew.

Thanks for nothing, Mother Nature.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

 

31 days of gratitude, extremely abridged grumpy edition (days 21 to 26)

Merry Christmas and all that, a day later than I anticipated, because (thankfully) I decided to enjoy a bottle of champagne with Anthony last night, Christmas night, instead of sitting at a computer screen gratituding. So a dollar short and a day late, here is a week-ish of grumpy gratitudes.

* * * * *

Anthony and I spent more than an hour yesterday trying unsuccessfully to find Jesse’s iPhone (which she had apparently sent through a portal to an alternative universe) so that I could set up her new iPad (a Christmas gift from Little Grandma).  We hunted because in order for Jesse to set up the iPad with her existing Apple ID, she needed to enter a verification code that was sent to her iPhone, which was dead and had been transported to an alternative universe, and was therefore incapable of delivering the verification code to her.

Technology security winning! And on Christmas day no less.

Jesse’s phone was in my purse for more than two months because of some extremely inappropriate texts that were passing around a group of peers (gratefully, Jesse did not participate in most of the gross and ew and OMG how do 8th graders know this language). I gave the phone back to her a few days before Christmas, thinking it was time.  She laid down in bed and played with it for six consecutive, catatonic hours until the battery ran out and then, instead of plugging it in, promptly lost it.

We ransacked her bedroom and found nothing. She insisted it was in the house. “I remember it died, and then I put it down on a flat surface.”

Helpful. The aforementioned flat surface must have constituted the portal to the alternative universe, because that phone was gone.

We had to decide whether to go on a deep dive into every corner of all three stories of our house to find a tiny device, or whether to just take Jesse off our phone plan.  The choice seemed simple. I’m thankful for simple choices.

But an hour after the hunt ended, and after I set up a new email account for Jesse and then a new Apple ID using that email, and entered five unique 6-digit verification codes — which were sent variously to my phone, my computer, my email, Jesse’s email, and the silicon chip embedded in my brain by space aliens — into 5 different devices, for security reasons, and after I used the new email and Apple ID to finally set up Jesse’s new iPad successfully —

After all that, Anthony called to me from the living room.

“Hey Carla.”

When you’ve been together for 500 years, a lot can be conveyed by “hey [insert call sign].” I knew instantly that he had found the phone. I walked into the living room and there it sat, in plain view on top of our dog Everest’s huge crate – a crate we had shoved around the living room repeatedly on Christmas Eve as we set out gifts and such, never once noticing the phone on top. We stood for a moment, blank, just staring.

I’m grateful we found the phone. But more than that, I’m grateful that we found the location of the portal to an alternative universe, right on top of Everest’s kennel. We need to be very careful around that spot.

* * * * *

This was a year of evolution in Christmas for our house, because our kids are both unbelievers now. I’m thankful that the myth of a white male Santa is finally destroyed completely, and that the kids know, without any doubt, that Santa is actually me and Anthony. Now we can have really direct conversations about things I’ve come at gently in the past. Like, say, why Santa doesn’t go to Jewish households. The answer now is just, duh. And I can proffer hypotheticals like: imagine what it’s like to be Jewish or Muslim, and you walk into a store where you are greeted by a 20-foot-tall blow-up white hairy Santa and a bunch of clerks muttering “Merry Christmas” while eyeing you suspiciously. It’s kinda creepy. We may not be a religious family, but when we celebrate our secular Christmas we are still supporting the Christian hegemony in America, and we should be very aware of it.

Of course my kids don’t know what hegemony means, and they’ve never asked when that word comes out, because it only comes out when I’m a little, um, worked up, and probably feeling smug. It goes without saying that only smug people use words like “hegemony,” even though it is a really great word.

Thankful for a solid vocabulary that confuses my kids sometimes.

* * * * *

A few days ago as Jesse and I drove off to therapy, I asked if she wanted to hear a song. Her answer was dry, tinged with a certain fatalism.

“Not if it’s just you singing it.”

I was filled with a deep joy and love for my daughter’s dripping wit. I reached for the radio button and bit my tongue.

* * * * *

I was grumbling to my therapist recently about how much “mindfulness” annoys me. It’s so jingoistic these days, like keto and yoga pants. Folks are walking around being Mindful and Present in the Moment and just as goofy and nasty as ever. Plus, I cannot do group mindfulness. When peeps try to lead me in a mindfulness practice, I just want to throw spit balls.

My therapist made a passing remark, to the effect that mindfulness basically grows out of Buddhist traditions, which are rooted in the fundamental notion that all life is suffering.

Oooooh. Maybe my resistance is misplaced. If mindfulness is about universal suffering, then mindfulness is, in its essence, grumpy.

I can work with that.

Grateful for deep insights.

* * * * *

On the morning of Christmas Eve, I hit the grocery store to stock up. As I was filling my trunk, a cheerful, blond, slim Amazon rolled her own shopping cart up to the car next to mine. By the time she had unloaded her own stash, returned her cart, and walked back, I was just finishing up with my own 400 bags and boxes.

We made eye contact as I closed my trunk. She smiled a cheerful smile and offered to take my shopping cart away for me. She was so confident and firm, and also two feet taller than me, so what could I do? I offered a hearty “thank you, how kind of you!” She wished me a jolly merry Christmas as she marched off with my empty cart. It was a cheery moment.

But as I watched her walk away energetically, thoughts tumbled unbidden into my mind, breaking the sound barrier in their rush to fill space. She wasn’t actually being nice; we were parked tightly next to each other, and it would have been awkward to get out at the same time, so taking the cart away broke the likely impasse. She saw how short and fat I am and thought I needed help. Maybe I look so old and tired these days, she thought I was a miserable wretch and took pity on me. Helping the stout little half Asian lady assuaged her guilt over her white privilege and wealth. She needed to meet her quota of 10,000 steps and I was the right excuse for 80 more toward that goal.

All this and much more raced through my head in the 5 seconds it took me to get in the driver’s seat. I turned on the engine and drove off quickly, marveling at my grumpy.

But I found myself shaking it off quickly. It was kind of weird. Positive thoughts came into my mind, along the following lines:

I’m grateful for my child with big needs. Thanks to Jesse, I’ve found my way to therapy, and profoundly accepting friends, and compassion, and kindnesses big and small, and perspective.

These things have slowly been filling my empty and grumpy and cynical cup for nearly a decade as we’ve soldiered on, picking up all the broken pieces again and again, hunting for courage to meet the challenges our family faces. These things have taught me that my automatic cynical thoughts aren’t always my friends. Sometimes they’re just bullies.

Everything I thought about the Amazon’s motivations may or may not be true, but it doesn’t really matter. Her smile was deep and infectious, and the laugh lines around her middle-aged eyes seemed true. She put a smile on my face, and I appreciated her jolly aid. It was more than I could ask from a total stranger, really. I accepted her gift as I drove home, chuckling with rue over my grumpy tendencies.

Sometimes I don’t even know myself anymore.

#GrumpyGratitude

31 days of gratitude, extremely abridged grumpy edition (days 13 to 20)

Oh dear.

I just want to say, in my defense, that for the past week I have been full of gratitudes of various sorts.  I think grateful thoughts all day long, as I visualize myself making it down to the computer and writing about those thoughts.  I’m grateful I don’t blog for a living, with a deadline and a fussy editor.  I’m grateful that I can just shove this blog to the side when other matters of the day take over, without feeling particularly bad about it.

EXCEPT FOR THIS MONTH, WHEN I PROMISED MYSELF I WOULD BLOG EVERY DAY ABOUT GRATITUDE.

So, as I probably should have anticipated, a commitment to daily gratitude has kind of dragged me down, the same way positive affirmations and up-beat music take me down.

Never mind.  I offer you the following data dump of various grumpy gratitudes, and I invite you to chunk them out and assign them as you see fit to days 13 through 20.

* * * * *

This morning I settled down on the sofa after making Nick’s breakfast and school lunch.  The dogs sat all over me, and Nick was in an armchair nearby.  I opened a casual game called Archero on my phone.  Some months ago, Nick introduced Anthony and me to this game, which is basically slightly more complicated dodge ball.  The hero player moves around the screen and dodges enemy attacks, while randomly throwing out her own projectiles at the enemies and destroying them before she runs out of HP, which I just had to google so that I could tell you it means “health points.”

Nick quit playing after a few days, but Anthony and I remain hooked.  We’ve been tracking our way through the levels of this game slowly, upgrading our respective heroes and monitoring each other’s progress, and also occasionally throwing in a little smash mouth.  Anthony was ahead of me for a while, probably because he was playing the game more obsessively.  But I’ve caught up as of a couple days ago, and I announced as much this morning.

“Can you believe I’ve caught up to dad??” I issued a jaunty chuckle.

Nick, staring down at his own device, spoke in a matter-of-fact and supportive voice,  “That should not be surprising to you.”

What curious, articulate, grown-up phrases come out of the mouths of 10-year-old kids.  I replied, “Why not?”

He looked up at me and shrugged.  “Because you’re MOM.

Jesse came down later in the morning.  She’s been on a very short school schedule for a little while now, and she gets to sleep in.  She saw me making coffee with this stovetop device.

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She looked at me. She looked at the pot.  She looked back at me, her eyebrows raised, her eyes hiding a laugh.

“What?”

“Mom.  Does that say Grouch?”

She didn’t need to say aloud that she feels it suits me.

I love my kids, both of them.  I love being put on a parenting pedestal now and then, even if it’s slightly weird.  I also love being fed humble pie; that goes down much easier because it fits into my natural self-loathing more easily.  I’m grateful for the honesty of my children, who see me with such fresh eyes, and who offer me insights every day into all the ways I amaze them and let them down.

(I’m also thankful that Anthony and I can sit happily next to each other playing silly iphone games. Very little beats light chatter about how Archero is going, after a long day.)

* * * * *

It’s not only and all about electronic devices in our house, though they do tend to take more of our time than I’d like. Nick made me go running with him yesterday, and apparently he’s decided to harangue me into doing so most days. Yesterday, he wanted to re-create a cross country practice.  So after we walk/jogged with the dogs, Nick made me stay outside and do a full cross country practice with him. We started with stretches, sprints, lunges, something involving weird sideways crab running with legs crossing over like bad dancing, power skipping, knee-ups and leg-ups.  He didactically informed me that his coach had explained the warm-ups are the hardest part.  Then he made me head out on a closing jog.

It’s great when your ten-year-old son gives you the exercise what-for.  I’m not wheezing this morning, but there’s a reason I’m sitting in front of this computer screen typing instead of hitting the gym.  I need to save something up for Nick, who’s going to be coming at me about running when he pops out of school this afternoon.

I’m thrilled that Nick has finally found something physical that he loves.  He says running feels like “an instinct.” He has a work rate that I cannot match without dislocating a hip, his feet pitter-pattering down the road efficiently.  I’ve explained to him that I’m 53 years old and quite overweight right now, so running doesn’t come so easy to me. He’ll always be faster than me, because he’s still growing stronger and stronger, and I’m at the age of entropy.  It’s hard for him to see that, I guess, because I’m MOM and apparently that means I can do anything.  I’m thankful for his faith in me, and I hope to reward it with effort and more effort.

* * * * *

Much gratitude that the ninth and final (yeah right) episode in the Skywalker saga is finally out, and that I’m going with Anthony to see it on Sunday.  We’ll see it a second time with the kids a couple days later, but we deserve to see it first without any attendant parenting obligations. No pee breaks!

The original Star Wars movie, Episode 4, came out when we were just ten years old! So we will hit the theaters Sunday with our marital inner child on full display.

Luke was always a whiny snowflake who I wanted to slap upside the head, and the Ewoks were so annoying, and poor Leia had to wear those outfits — but the first trilogy was still good.  Then episodes 1 through 3 came along, and we learned that Anakin could be even more annoying than Luke — a feat I had believed to be unattainable, until I saw it with my own eyes (for 6+ horrible hours). By the time episode 3 came out, in 2005, I had endured the tragedy of the incredibly awful Matrix sequels as well, and the so-so-ness of Terminator 3, and I abandoned all hope for excellency in cinematic sequels.

Nonetheless, 43 years after Star Wars was first released, I find that I have really enjoyed the latest round of Star Wars movies.  I love the new characters, Rey and Finn and Poe and Rosie and Kylo Ren. I’ve enjoyed where the story is headed.  Still, I’m ready for it to end, and I’m looking forward to a final resolution — though I would guess even episode 9 will leave some wiggle room for further sequels.  It’s become just like one of those endless sci fi/fantasy novel cycles — the Game of Thrones series (up to 6 books so far) or Wheel of Time (fourteen books so far!) or Dragonriders of Pern (well over twenty books).  How many versions of a death star can we face before it just gets old?  Move on already, creators. Make money some other way.

But still, grateful.  Anthony and I have seen a million movies together over a million years, and going to movies with Anthony is one of my very happiest of things. So, gratituding heavily for my movie date with Anthony on Sunday.

* * * * *

Speaking of making money, if you’ve been reading my blog recently, you’ve probably seen the incredibly gross ads WordPress has been throwing up. I have nothing to do with them, except that I’ve been cheap and have been maintaining this as a free WordPress site.

Look at these ads, which WordPress has been relentlessly wedging in among my own lovely photos and incredibly brilliant prose:

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WTF WORDPRESS.  What is that hand holding?

I literally wince and flinch when I see these ads.  Because ew. What is it about grumpiness that makes WordPress think my readers want to see this stuff? Do my readers suffer from toenail fungus and enjoy handling unidentifiable greasy little balls of shriveled… something?

Well. I did a quick sweep through WordPress settings and learned that for 8 dollars a month I can get rid of those ads.  So I holiday-gifted myself an upgrade just now and the ads should officially be gone.  Thank you, WordPress, for offering me the  chance to pay you actual money to get rid of the grossest ads you were able to find for my blog! And for this wonderful follow up screen display after you took my money.

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My blog is doing somersaults in excitement?  My eyes just rolled up in my head. Awkward.

* * * * *

For 98 bucks a year, I get a lot of PREMIUM stuff, “best for freelancers,” not just no ads.  Look at all these other goodies:

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Yay! If I want, I can give even more data to Google! I’m sure my visitors would love to have Google take an in-depth look at them. Thinking about it… thinking about it… No.

But Google is tenacious.  I also can get a $100 credit with Google!

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As long as I spend $25 bucks first on ads.  Thinking about it… Nope.

I can MONETIZE my site.

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Oh now that’s tempting.  I think Anthony would like that. Would you like to advertise here? Give me a call or drop a note, and let’s see what we can work out – you will be reaching the same audience that looks forward to toe fungus and ear wax ads.  It’s a niche audience, what can I say.

Grateful to have a niche, but also grateful that I don’t yet have toe fungi or excessive earwax, and ditto Anthony.  Much gratituding about Anthony today.

* * * * *

I’m still not done telling you about all the amazingness arising out of my PREMIUM WordPress plan.  Two more things.

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Ooooh I get a jetpack??? That is definitely worth $98 a year.

But no.  It’s just the site security and stuff like that. That is a really unfair tease.  Not grateful at all.

And finally for the win:

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I’m sorry, but when I saw this one, it took me over the edge. A Happiness Engineer.

Who comes up with a name like that? What does Happiness have to do with blogging? What kind of stupid euphemism is that?

Just stop, WordPress, because if you throw one more piece of PREMIUM stupidity at me, I am going to move to another blog site.  Put your Happiness Engineer, which I assume is a faux AI, in a dark hole and turn the key.  Carla isn’t having it.

(Grateful I can ignore the Happiness Engineer and carry on with grumpiness.)

* * * * *

Rummaging around in IMDB to find the specific dates for movie releases I discussed above, I was reminded how much I adore Keanu Reeves.  Grateful for Keanu.  Grateful for the John Wick movies so far, which have renewed my faith in the possibilities of good sequels.  Grateful that, despite my adoration of Keanu, he was not cast as Kylo Ren, because no, just no.

And finally [she whispers with misgiving]: I see that Keanu is signed up to make a fourth Matrix movie.

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I’m not sure how I feel about this.  Possibly grateful.  Possibly not.

But I can definitely be grateful for that emoji right there, because it captures pretty much how I feel for a majority of each day.  I just don’t get life, I don’t get people, I don’t get systems and institutions, I don’t get family, I don’t get any of it.

And yet… I have life, and people, and systems, and family; and I’m (pretty much) grateful for all that.  Despite all the grumpy, despite the way people suck all the time, I continue to breath, and I still have a strong hope that my children will outlive me and go on to fight for mother earth and social justice, and I’m lucky to still be so in love with my Anthony, and my blood pressure is well-controlled most of the time, and I know I don’t have calcified arteries thanks to a $50 CT scan that took three minutes. So that’s all good.  It’ll be fine.  I’m fine.

#GrumpyGratitude

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