Look for the helpers

I go to a Rogers Hospital facility four days a week, so it goes without saying that I think of Mr. Rogers all the time now.

?

No no no, it does not go without saying. It’s simply not true. BUT, as my Nick would say dramatically before digging into a story that I’m sure he finds really interesting — in a sort of New Jersey twang that Anthony has taught him, somewhere between stereotyped 70’s mobster and Donald Trump — Lemme  tell ya something.

Friday evening my friend Robin came over with her two boys, twins who were born within a week of Nick. They’re leaving town soon, so we have to fit ten years’ worth of twice-a-year playdates into about 6 weeks. It was just going to be a quick get together, but she blew in with her delightful mom, a rotisserie chicken, a pizza to throw in the oven, and a box of chopped fruit. Also champagne and chilled wine.

I knew exactly what she was doing; she knows we’re suffering. She also has a bag full of detritus to deal with in her own life, but she came here and filled my cup pretty well.

At Rogers, they want the parents of kids in the program to talk about our own needs with each other. And I’m surprised to report that I’m resistant. I don’t really want to talk about it with those parents. We have very different personalities on the face of things, and I’m not sure these hard-core Wisconsinites (Packers gear, every day) will appreciate my TMI attitude and somewhat bawdy sense of humor about our situation and about Jesse’s behaviors.

But Robin pointed out something I don’t really think about, which is simply this: because of my ridiculously open attitude, I have a tremendous amount of emotional support. My family may suffer, but we rarely do it alone. These other parents, however, may be more normal. That is to say, they may feel ashamed and alienated, perhaps even within the scope of their own families. They may not have anyone to really share their suffering with, and they may have a lot of reservations about opening up and receiving support. So talking about it in therapy is important.

That hadn’t occurred to me, big-mouthed and grumpy recipient of much love, support, and encouragement. And so Mr. Rogers comes to mind (even though it hasn’t been a wonderful day in my neighborhood for some time now). We’ve all heard the story. When he was a boy and saw scary stuff on the news, his mom put it in perspective for him:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

My family’s travails are hardly newsworthy. Still, even in this infinitesimal space we occupy in the universe, in the teeny tiny disaster that constitutes my family’s current life, there are the helpers all around us.

* * * * * * *

My brother Mark has a wickedly cynical and comic insight into human nature. I can always count on him to make me laugh and cry at the same time. We had a typical far-ranging chat a few days ago, as Jesse and I were driving back from a tough afternoon session at Rogers. Mark regaled me with classic takedowns of a couple members of our family, and I remarked, “I would love to hear how you make fun of me when I’m not in the room.”

Mark answered promptly, “No, we don’t make fun of you. We just worry about you.”

I was a bit taken aback. “You worry about me? Why would you worry about me?”

There was a short pause before he answered, deadpan. “We just worry that Jesse’s sucking the life out of you.”

Mark and I burst out laughing. It was a raucous, bittersweet shared laugh, with much rueful head-shaking. Mark was making it funny, but I also knew he meant it. It was his poetic, comic way of saying, Carla, your family wants you to be well, we want you to take care of yourself. You matter.

Helper.

* * * * * * *

Jesse missed almost a full week of school a couple weeks ago, because we were going to Rogers daily for our initial work-up and orientation. The Friday of that week was her birthday.

Her behavior had been even more off-the-wall than usual before she stopped hitting school. Just nuts. She has disrupted her class frequently and daily this school year with bizarre behaviors and word blurts. She has caused a lot of trouble. These kids know there’s something wrong with her. In fact she’s told them, honestly and frankly, about what she struggles with.

When she returned on the following Monday, a pack of handmade birthday cards from her classmates was waiting for her. She pulled them out of her backpack slowly and deliciously when I picked her up. I could sense her disbelief. She read them to me one by one as we drove home. I was in tears by the fourth card.

We love you! Stay strong and positive! You are one of the best people ever! I hope you have an amazing birthday! I hope you come back soon! You are the dearest friend. You are nice and caring! I hope you have a fantastic day when we get to see you again. The best girl in the world.

Helpers.

* * * * * * *

Jesse and Nick attended the nature preschool operated by the local Audubon center. Jesse was a very challenging little preschooler, but somehow we built strong bonds with a few of the teachers there, amazing women who opened doors in my heart as a parent and allowed me to see Jesse in many different ways than what came naturally to me.

One of these teachers shares a birthday with Jesse. Last summer, after hearing about some of Jesse’s struggles, she reached out and took Jesse for a hike and filled her cup. Just last week she touched base to share love and hope — eight years after she became Jesse’s teacher. Another preschool teacher sent me a note last week as well, full of love and empathy, and reminders of how precious and unique a child Jesse is.

I was reduced to tears, though the feelings welling up were inchoate. Somewhere in the range of gratitude, awe, and relief. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve this kind of support, but I know what Jesse did. She has always walked with her curious eyes wide open, engaged and conscious — which may explain why life terrifies her so much.

But anyway, preschool teachers? Maximum helpers, Mr. Rogers style.

* * * * * * *

Anthony’s colleagues, our friends and acquaintances, Facebook friends, distant family, even total strangers who happen to read my blog posts. Everywhere we turn, there’s someone with an encouraging word — you’re making the right choices, don’t give up, Jesse is amazing — or an offer of practical help, like the family that took Nick home from school at the last minute so I could get Jesse to therapy one day. Life savers. My old college mate Jeanne, who declares that she’s the crappiest friend ever — totally wrong, because I’m the crappiest friend ever — sent me a loving and hope-filled note out of the blue. Mates from around the world chuck my figurative shoulder and lend me an emotional hand day by day. Cup-fillers all.

Just as important are the people who break with stigma to tell me about their own and their children’s struggles with mental illness, their own journeys to wellness, their own reliance on meds and therapy to survive. These aren’t celebrities who get airtime out of their disclosures; they’re just incredibly decent folk who want to help alleviate my family’s distress. I’ve heard from total strangers and I’ve heard from friends I never would have guessed have survived mental illness. The wall of silence makes us feel alone, but it’s a paper wall. Anyone who walks through it is a helper.

* * * * * * *

The problem for people dealing with mental illness is that there’s no news coverage telling Mr. Rogers’ helpers that we have a need. We have only our own voices. When I started writing about this stuff, I thought I was just getting it off my chest. But I’ve since realized that I’m also crying out for help. I’m making my own newsreel, because I don’t have the strength to survive Jesse’s mental illness in silence, by myself. I need to laugh and cry and share and laugh some more about it all, and I need to teach Jesse to do the same. The only alternative is emotional death.

So here’s today’s two cents from Carla, if you’re reading this and you’re suffering: ask for help; then look for the helpers. They are everywhere.

But not in a creepy way.

They’ll come through for you and yours, and they will lift you up. They’re listening, watching, waiting to catch you when you fall. You just have to let them know you need them… and then don’t be too proud to accept what the helpers offer.

I know what you’re reading here is weirdly positive and maudlin for this grumpy girl. Don’t get me wrong. I still think people suck. Humanity is full of blood-sucking not-helpers who get off on others’ suffering and failure.

For instance, there’s the person who overheard me at a party telling someone about Jesse’s OCD and our move to more intensive treatment. She interjected to tell me about a neighbor who’s child has struggled with “that same problem” since childhood, and now she’s in her twenties and it’s been AWFUL. Shakes head to accentuate miserable failed life.

Note to self: not a helper.

So yes, I still think people suck.

But also they don’t.

 

 

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grumpy about happify

It’s time once again to see if I can claw my way out of grumpy space and into someplace better. Recently I haven’t been successful pursuing happiness for no reason, despite best-selling author Marci Shimoff’s assurances that I should be able to do that. I’m still struggling with grumpy, and even depression and anxiety.

Maybe it’s because our house has been a shambles for 6 months as a result of our renovation project, and my body is starting to tire from all the manual labors and my fingers are bending sideways from arthritis and I’m sick of the filth. I don’t want the PODS unit in my front yard anymore. It feels exactly the same as having a wheel-less car up on blocks out there, and small rodents are making homes under it. Maybe it’s because we sent the dog to the babysitter for a month and my son cries every day for missing her, and I miss her too. Maybe it’s because my daughter is in a tailspin because of her anxiety disorder and flaring OCD. Maybe it’s because the intrusive, obsessive thoughts she can’t get out of her mind right now involve penises and sexuality and cutting her family up with knives, which is extremely disturbing and a terrible affliction for her. Maybe it’s because she got suspended from school for a day after standing up suddenly in a math class and screaming out compulsively that she wants to have sex with all the boys.

(Meditative pause)

Nah. That’s probably not it.

More likely it’s because I don’t work at one of the Fortune 500 companies where Marci the chicken soup lady does seminars and plies her trade, selling happiness for 20 bucks a pop, corporate discount included.

I know it’s my own fault, because I haven’t replaced my cup of morning coffee with a cup of connection. My chakras are obviously out of balance and in need of an adjustment. I’ve been in touch with my grumpy chakras, not my love chakras or my happiness chakras.

The all-knowing Universe has seen my need. The Big U secretly friended me on Facebook and presented me with a link to the website for HAPPIFY. Numerous times. I investigated (aka I mouse-clicked and random-googled), and I quickly learned from Happify that “worrying is a waste of [my] intelligence.”

Good advice. I’ll try not to worry about the fact that “happify” is annoyingly NOT A REAL WORD. It’s a noun that’s been gussied up to masquerade as a verb, along the lines of… liquify. Or stupefy.

Okay, okay, I can accept that. To happify: to make someone happy. To stupefy: to make someone stupid. Totally get it.

I suppose the next question is inevitable. Which will be done to me if I enter the world of Happify?

According to Happify, “It’s an exciting time for those who want to overcome negative thoughts, worries, and everyday stress. Happify has turned a decade’s worth of research into a series of activities and games that train your brain and build skills for lasting happiness. That’s our mission. Discover what our personalized tracks can do for you. They are effective and measurable.”

I mean, look at these numbers.

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Hold on a minute. I’m tucking my unmitigated cynicism away for a bit as I go on a hunt for my personalized happify track.

* * * * * * *

I believe the way it works is, you do stuff for free a little bit until you’re hooked, and then you can pay a monthly fee to have access to all new levels of happifying activities.

Isn’t it fascinating how “free” and “fee” are so similar when they roll off the tongue? Just throw in a little growl, and you can make such a big difference.

Here’s the important point: this shit is science-based and measurable. In case that isn’t enough to grab you, it is also important to the Happify people that you know that they’ve been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Today, The New Yorker, AND World 3.0 with Katie Couric.  Whoa.

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Yes, yes! I’m ready to train for happiness! I’m so ready to elevate my optimism, be fearless, conquer negative thoughts, fix relationship friction and re-pattern stress!

Wow, that’s asking a lot. I gotta do all that to be happy? I definitely need help.

I’m joining Happify.

I have to do a starter questionnaire. The first question sets me off.

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“Everyone’s different.” That’s deep. NOT. I do feel that I’m female, and this is consistent with my current body parts. But let me explain the answer I selected. When I read “none of the above,” I look above. Because this shit is science based, so I expect the materials to be precise. But there is nothing there. There is no option above to select. And I am not nothing, nor do I have any of “the above” in my gender that I know of. So this seems like the correct answer. I think it’s a trick question.

Anyway, now that I’m IN, Happify says  I can WIN happiness!

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Happiness is winnable! I never knew! I didn’t know happiness came from a competition. I thought it was something more… cooperative and peaceable.

This is a whole new paradigm for me. No wonder I haven’t been finding happiness. Other people are winning it instead of me.

* * * * * *

I’ve finished my deeply insightful, 6-question, multiple-choice questionnaire, and so Happify has offered me a track.

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Happify nailed it. I’m starting my free track.

* * * * * *

Happify takes me to a menu of sorts and instructs me to “start depositing positive emotions in [my] bank.” I have just 10 days to earn gold. Damn. Performance pressure right up front.

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This money analogy is just as confusing to me as the winning thing. Happiness is about wealth? I should connect happiness in my life to images of money? I’ve been so off-base on this happiness thing, no wonder I’m grumpy all the time. Normally I would be skeptical and cynical about this, but since Happify is based on solid science, I’m going along with it. I sooo need to find some happy.

I start with the first option offered. “Uplift.” What might this be? I feel a sense of anticipation as I prepare to conquer my negative thoughts.

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I read the instructions. Aha. It’s a game. Pick out and focus on the positive words. Happy air balloons. Got it. I click start.

The game consists of air balloons floating about on the screen with ephemeral words appearing and disappearing on them. I have to click on the balloon before the positive word disappears, and then the balloon “launches” away and I get points. If I click on a balloon bearing a negative word, I get dinged and lose points.  I rub my hands together in anticipation and work on peppy thoughts. Sorry, happy thoughts, happify, not peppify. Happiness coming right at me. Soon. Getting rid of my negativity, right here right now. With the air balloons.

I start clicking away. “Cozy.” “Comfort.” “Love.” Gosh, those words don’t last for very long on the balloons before they disappear. GAH! I almost caught “success” but right when I was clicking it, the word disappeared and was replaced by “honk.” Minus 20 points for “Honk”? WTF?? F&*ing game, who comes up with this shit. I start noticing the negative words. “Hoax, clutter, mold.” I see “muddy” and click on it. Minus 20 points.

Wait just a honking minute! “Muddy” is a negative word? What the hell is wrong with mud? Mud is good! Mud, dirt, nature, gardening, lots of positive associations. Good, right??

Nooooo, science-based happy gaming says it’s bad, BAD. And there are balloons everywhere now! They’ve filled the screen in a giant balloon mess. I have to concentrate, but I can’t stop thinking about “muddy” and how off base that is, so I just click on every goddam balloon I can reach and “-20” keeps showing up all over the screen so I can’t read any of the F*$&ing words anyway.

Game over.

I suck, and now I’m all stressed out.

But Happify isn’t done with me yet. It gives me power ups to improve my performance. Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.18.58 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.18.25 PM

But you know what, that doesn’t make me any happier. Why do I need to UNLOCK power ups? Why couldn’t I chill out and have a best case beacon up front?

I take a deep breath and try again. It goes pretty much the same.

This game sucks. It has decidedly not reduced my negative thinking.

* * * * * *

I decide to try the next game. Maybe this is like exercise. The balloon game was a first round, and I feel shitty the way your body gets sore after you start a new exercise regime. But the next game will make me happier.

This one is called “negative knockout.” Awesome, because images of boxing, one of the most violent sports on earth, is super uplifting and happifying. I start with “the battle at stormy meadows.” More excellent, positive imagery: war. What better way to solve problems? I have to select 5 negative words from a sort of screen mess of negative words. Then when I start the game, the words are on signs being held by little monster-ish creatures. I lob happy things at them to knock them (and the negative words) out.

I apparently choose guilt, fear, unease, insult, and bitterness. After a round or two, I realize this game is a shameless knock-off of Angry Birds, only there’s less of a parabolic feel to the flight path. It’s frustrating.

When I win a round (I knock over all the negative ninnies), I get this happy shiny message.

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I knocked out my worries! Yay! I’m no longer filled with guilt, fear, unease, insult, and bitterness! But then I get to harder levels. Each time I fail to knock out the bad’ns, a moody grayness creeps westward over the screen.

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GAH!  I have to knock those fuckers out — SHIT SHIT SHIT I LOST THE ROUND!! I’m trapped in a dead, barren wasteland without meaning or color.

This is still not making me feel happier.

* * * * * *

I decide to give Happify’s opening track one last try. I click on a third option.

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Let me just say — though I know it’s not a happifying thought — that I think a fancy web page that’s trying to sell crap to me should be able to spell the word “Thanks” out correctly, with all the correct letters. What, their web creators were working on a smart phone and couldn’t be bothered to type the whole word?

But I digress. I need to focus on today’s victories. I try my best. Honest.

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And then I click “happify it!” I wait for something amazing to happen. Nothing happens. This is just a log entry. A chance for Happify to collect data about me.  Well now they’ve done it. They’ve collected data about the shit going on in my life.

* * * * * *

It’s good to know that someone’s out there, putting together a bunch of happiness games to help people feel better. We need more of that sort of altruism in this world. I’m obviously not the right market — my brain must not be wired up right for these games to be working in their intended way — but there must be really awesome people behind this quest to happify the world.

I decide to read about them.

The CEO and co-founder is a guy named Tomer Ben-Kiki. Seriously, with a name like that how can you not be a happy fellow? He likes to scuba-dive. He’s a start-up guy.

The president is Ofer Leidner.

Who named these people?

Ofer would like to help people “dance their faces off.”

That is kind of creepy.

The chief scientist is actually named “Acacia Parks.” Doesn’t that sound fake too?

After perusing the peeps running Happify, one thing becomes abundantly clear. These folks like to start tech companies and make money. They’ve done it in a variety of subject areas. They are in it for money. Happify may be selling happiness to you, but its motivation is profit. You figure the odds that it offers a true path to happiness.

* * * * * *

Is being grumpy the same as being negative and not happy? I have to think about this.

(20 seconds later)

No, grumpy isn’t the same as negative and unhappy, in my grumpy opinion. It’s rare that I get in a mood like this, but let me get on the grumpy soap box for a second and do some preaching, because I’ve been pretty depressed lately, and I know a lot of loving people are really worried about (and rooting for) me and mine.

I do think it’s possible to be in a depressive episode, or trapped in a terrible situation, and “happy” at the same time. Not singing-in-the-rain happy, but deeply contented at the core of things. Settled and satisfied — the sort of feeling that leads a person to say things like, “I’m pretty blessed.” That sort of happy can anchor you through the bad times and keep you from disappearing.

There’s my real conceit. Despite all my whining and bitching and moaning, despite my self-loathing and guilt, I actually feel really blessed. I am incredibly happy at the root of things. I was born into a loving (albeit insane) family. I lucked into love with an amazing man I can’t possibly deserve. My children are… well, they’re children. What can I say.

Okay, okay, I can say that they’re spectacular human beings. All our flaws together amount to nothing, next to the love we have for each other.

It really worries me that there are so many disembodied solutions being offered for personal happiness and emotional wellness. People who mass-market happiness don’t care about any particular individual buying their products; they don’t know any of us little people. They have their own best interests at heart — the almighty buckaroos they’re searching for or the massive infantile ego they need to feed — and they’re selling little more than a superficial, pretty package.

I say, if you want to find a happier you, look local. Find a friend, a therapist, a family member — someone who looks at you, sees you, hears your story — and have that person help you find a way forward. Or find something to do locally to enrich your life — charitable work, gardening, volunteer tutoring, exercise, anything that’s about you and your relationship with what’s nearby. Don’t waste your time on useless mantras written by people who’ve never met you, don’t know you, and don’t give a rat’s ass about you (with my apologies to the much-maligned-yet-highly-loving-and-intelligent rat).

And don’t believe it when they tell you you’re going to find happiness at the end of some journey.  If you’re waiting to find your way there, you’re fucked. You’ll never arrive. There’s no terminus. If we have to use this stupid travel metaphor, then let’s get it right at least. Happiness is the road, and it’s covered in potholes, bad drivers, and roadkill. Stay the course. Make fun of the things that piss you off, including yourself. Laugh and yell at the losers, including yourself. Cry if you have to. I know I have been a lot lately. And let yourself suck sometimes. Go on then. Just suck at everything. And when you’re done, pick up the pieces, wipe the bile off the front of your shirt, and get a move on. There are probably people depending on you, so get out there and take care of them instead of playing ridiculous games on sites like Happify.

grumpy about mental health stigma (quasi-guest blog!)

I am always amazed by how much stigma is attached to mental illness. Behavioral disorders like ADHD and autism have gained more traction in mainstream thinking, or so it seems to me. If your kid is diagnosed with ADHD or autism, you get additional school resources, special ed help, and access to pretty well-developed resources and support mechanisms. And lots of social support these days. Still not hardly perfect, but better than it was.

But issues like tic disorders, anxiety, and depression are still more taboo, and our children who suffer from them have few rights in school systems, which are sort of bellwethers of social acceptance. Even if kids are diagnosed officially, they’re not entitled to any special assistance or resources in schools unless they completely fall apart and become non-functioning human beings. So parents like me are stuck sort of lobbying and begging teachers to go along with what we say our kids need, and hoping they do it without bringing their own not-expertise to bear (I’ve stopped counting the number of times teachers have known better than me how to handle Jesse’s anxiety issues), which just adds to the feeling of STIGMA.

And we all know stigmatized people don’t exist in a vacuum. Those of us who befriend them, or are born to them as family, suffer along with them.

It sucks, which is why I choose to be so naked about mental illness in my family. We are going to own our crazy, along with our grumpy. Jesse should never be ashamed of being born with a brain that leans the way it does, or of needing help to overcome the challenges her brain and body present to her — any more than a person should be ashamed of being born with a missing limb or green eyes or a defective heart or cystic fibrosis. What is, is. I should never feel ashamed of how difficult it is to be an effective parent for Jesse. But it is a hard, hard thing, overcoming stigmata.

* * * * * * * *

One of the most delightful aspects of my emotional nudity is the feedback I get from parents who are struggling with their own kids. Some like sharing, some like knowing they aren’t alone, some are relieved to have found a person who can offer a referral to a good shrink. Some just open up and tell me about their own childhood struggles with depression or anxiety. I know it sounds twisted, but I love hearing about it all. I love knowing that I’m not alone, that there’s a thriving cohort of pretty fucked up people out there, getting along just fine.

Just this week I received a very open-hearted private note from a mom Somewhere Else in America. She told me about her own struggles with a challenging, explosive child. It made me laugh a little and cry a little, for her and for myself, for our families and our children. it made me feel less alone, and less of a failure, and also it gave me some ideas to think about. In particular, this mom has used some energy recently to take care of herself and improve her own outlook, which is in turn helping her kids. It’s a trickle-down theory that doesn’t sound or feel like economic bullshit.

There are so many of us drowning in this crazy, crazy world. If only we could speak openly with each other about our challenges, it would all be so much easier. Along these lines, Somewhere Else mom gave me permission to reprint her note, so here it is (with identifying information changed), as a sort of guest blog post. If you’ve ever felt like your kid “takes a big shit on your day” more often than seems reasonable, maybe it’ll help you a little, as I hope my tales do too.

* * * * * * * *

I would like to tell you a little about myself. I’m a 45 year old housewife from —. I have been married for 17 years and have 3 kids. Eric is 14 and going into 9th grade. Straight A’s super athlete well liked. Harriet is 7. Cute and so sweet. And I have Hayden. He just turned 13 a few weeks ago. Going into 8th grade. He’s smart creative and very funny. He’s also a huge mystery to me. I swear he came out of my womb pissed off at the world and not much has changed. He has extreme anxiety which he tries to hide and has the ability to make our home life hell. He has very dark moods and can be very destructive. He doesn’t hurt others yet but breaks his favorite toys and destroys his room and doors and walls when he has one of his episodes. He usually saves these behaviors for home and especially me. He acts like he hates me often. Probably because I usually have to be the “enforcer”. Believe me I’m as sick of it as he is.

We went to a small elementary school. One teacher per grade. All was good until 4th grade and school life went to shit. He was in the office several days a week. I also volunteer several days a week and the behaviors he was in trouble for were mostly little boy BS. By sixth grade I had enough. Like you I’m not opposed to meds but resistant. My husband comes from a family that believes herbs and diet can cure anything. We tried everything. Nothing worked. They actually tried to cure a schizophrenic cousin with herbs and she ended up in a state hospital for 4 months. My husband was worried that if we got a diagnosis he would be “labeled”. We knew he had ADHD anxiety and was starting to show signs of OCD. I took him to his pediatrician and he diagnosed him with ADHD. Against everyone’s wishes I put him on a non amphetamine med. it was a few months till summer and we agreed we’d see how it worked and take him off for the summer. The changes were minor .

Then 7th grade which is jr high here. Things really took a nosedive. I mentioned his siblings because as a typical middle child he lives in the huge shadow of his super successful brother and became even more resentful of his sweet little sister. His anxiety and dark dangerous behaviors escalated. He made every morning trying to get to school hell. I used to think “he just took a big shit on my day once again”. I think he had a total of 42 absences in first period last year. Several F’s. He started cutting himself. I got the school psychologist involved so we could get a proper diagnosis and maybe get him into a study skills class to help with organization. Big fail. That teacher truly hated him. She would put his name on blank papers and turn them in so he would get zeros. After many tearful meetings nothing changed. At the end of the year we have equivalency exams. He got all A’s. During this time he started cutting himself. Lots of self hate talk but not suicide so no hospital would take him. OCD got worse. He flat refuses counseling. We tried “tapping”. For anxiety. A bust. Acupuncture, nope.

I feel like it’s my fault. If I was just a better mom this wouldn’t be happening. Did I do something when I was pregnant? What am I doing wrong? My patience with him was gone. I yelled at him constantly. I mention his siblings because they are so affected by this too. His brother wants to kick his ass for being so awful to me. My daughter is just scared and cries. My husband says if I were more positive he would be too. Maybe?

I was just feeling hopeless and helpless. I was drinking to cope and said mean awful things to Hayden I am not proud of. Then I got sick. Really sick. I knew something was wrong for the last couple of years but was scared to go to the dr. This summer it got really bad. I lost 20 lbs in 3 weeks and looked like a ghost. My parents made me go to their dr and it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

What I have is totally curable but this wonderful Dr recognized something else in me. I was so stressed out. My anxiety levels off the charts. I was having panic attacks. I suffered from these things many years ago but didn’t want to admit it was back. I thought it was just stress. He gave me a few different things but the meds I was so against taking have literally changed my life.

It’s only been a month but I feel like I’m free. My husband said he was so glad to have his wife back. I haven’t yelled at my kids. My patience is back. I feel so positive and motivated. Of all the things I could do to help Hayden I would never have imagined this would be it. I make a point to talk with him often. I’m trying to find ways to get in sync w him so maybe, just maybe we can work things out without fighting. Im still going to keep trying to get him to counseling. The Dr I saw said he would take him on and try to put counseling in a perspective he can understand and not fear. Regarding meds for Hayden my thoughts have changed a little. I wouldn’t love to do it but wow! I am amazed at what a help they’ve been to me in such a short period of time.

I don’t know what your daughter’s issues are and I hope I haven’t offended you in any way. I think as moms we put so much pressure on ourselves to have perfect kids. I just wanted to tell you what has helped me. I have No delusions that this is going to fix Hayden. But health issues and all I am so much happier. I think that’s a good start for my son myself and my family. Hang in there. Life is stressful so are kids and marriage. But we can do it. We have to, right?

* * * * * * * *

That’s right, Somewhere Else mom. We can do it because we have to. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Thanks for sharing your story and becoming part of my lifeline.

Grumpy about iFart

Jesse had a tough morning at her new dentist yesterday. They did a full cleaning, took x-rays, painted sealants on her molars (don’t start in on me about toxicity and all that — rotten teeth are toxic too, and she was born with ’em, so we’re in a balancing act here), took out an ineffective space-maintaining appliance (hence new dentist) between some missing molars, and did a mold on her upper teeth (which took two tries, ugh) for  a new orthodontic contraption that will hypothetically work better.

Jesse handled it like a Marine — tough and pretty grim, but also polite and compliant. Afterwards, she was spent. I gave her my iPhone as I drove her to school. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw her staring blankly at the phone as she tapped away. A few seconds later, I started hearing her iFart remix.

In case you’re one of the rare people who don’t yet know what iFart is, I hope you can guess from the name. It’s a smartphone app. You hit a button, it plays a fart. Many fart options are available, and you can repeat and layer them on top of each other to create rich symphonic effects.

Jesse can knock out a dance mix on iFart like the best house DJ you’ve ever met. She lays down thumpers and high descants, embedding them in repeating rhythmic patterns that leave me bouncing my head against all sense. Fart noises shouldn’t make me want to dance. Yesterday Jesse was all business as she laid down her track post-dentist, her face set in a serious mask. You wouldn’t have known she was having fun. Except for the extensive fart noises.

iFart is, sadly, one of the most-favored apps on my iPhone. It says something so sad and juvenile about me, but iFart never lets me down. When we were in California last month, I sat down one day on the big sofa in my mom’s living room. To my left on a neighboring sofa was my brother Eric — a master scatologist, a keeper of the poop flame, never ashamed of his bowel functions. To my right on a neighboring barca-lounger was his wife Wendy, a mild-mannered and modest-souled woman who I imagine excuses herself from a room to go silent-fart in private. Poor Wendy. I wonder if she knew what she was marrying into, this family of free-farting animals passing for human beings.

I don’t know what came over me. I placed my iPhone next to my right hip on high volume and punched up The Wipe Out, a fart option that lasts exactly five seconds. It doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but trust me: a five-second fart is unholy long.

The Wipe Out sang out.

I looked to my right and smiled. Sweet Wendy, who would never make fun of anyone or call someone out for something embarrassing, looked at me. 1.5 seconds into The Wipe Out, her face screwed up into a mix of horror and revulsion as she cried out in earnest from her barca-lounger, “Oh my God, Carla!”

I looked to my left and smiled. 3 seconds gone. By now Eric was also looking at me in total disgust. “Jeez Carla, what the hell is that??”

5 seconds gone. I started laughing and couldn’t stop. It took just a moment for them to figure out that it was the app and not me, but for that short moment they must have thought my pants were full of crap and I was the most revolting human being in the world.

It set me to wondering. Just how much does it take to fill Eric with a sense of scatological loathing? A lot, really. He’s my brother, after all.

But iFart did it, in just 5 seconds. That’s impressive.

Grumpy about the neti pot 

I’m obsessed with my new neti pot, the most spectacular snot-sluicing ceramic container I’ve ever come across.

I’ve been really sick with a cold — the 87th cold in our household this winter — and I finally started feeling really guilty about using the Simply Saline nose hoses. I’ve been hosing like mad to try to get this illness cleared out without resort to medicine. With the Simply Saline devices, I generate so much garbage. I could be showering my sinuses instead with a re-usable thingy.

So I got right on Amazon and ordered me a neti pot made by the Himalayan Institute. With the word “Himalayan” in the company name, I knew I could trust the manufacturer. And, according to the product blurb, the neti pot “has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to alleviate allergy and sinus problems.”

Thousands of years! Let’s hope that’s TEN thousand, because then this neti pot is Paleo-worthy, duuude, it’s evolutionary maaaan. I don’t know what “Ayurvedic” is but it sounds caveman when I say it, especially with all this phlegm in my throat.

I hosed my nose with the neti pot 3 times yesterday. It felt so goooood I just couldn’t stop. I let Anthony watch me do it once, as a sort of demo. He stared at me with concern as I started to pour. “Is that coming out of your other nose hole?”

Yeah, that’s right baby. It’s HOT, isn’t it? I bet Anthony wanted a piece of this action after he saw snotty water dripping out my nose into the sink.

But this morning I woke up feeling terrible for the 8th consecutive day and my eyes looked like vampire eyes. At Anthony’s urging, I went over to the clinic. Now I’m on antibiotics for a sinus infection and antibiotic drops for pinkeye.

In this age of careful, critical thinking on matters of medicine, climate, and all things science, we all know one truth: correlation constitutes causation. Call it the Three C’s of Post-Modern Pseudo-Scientific Thought. You’re probably already familiar with this  trending philosophy, also known as PMP-SciT (pronounced “pimps-it” by those in-the-know).

And also we all know, once you hit the Three C’s, the next truth is that SOMEONE IS TO BLAME, followed by the close corollary SOMEONE MUST PAY. These are fundamental to the philosophy of PMP-SciT.

What is, is. I used the neti pot for the first time yesterday. Today I have a sinus infection and pink eye. Naturally, I blame my all-natural neti pot. It’s true that my eyes were sort of gummy day before yesterday, and my nose was full of unholy clogs of snot day before yesterday (and the day before that and the day before that…), but I was not diagnosed with pinkeye and a sinus infection until today, the day after I used my new neti pot. So that settles it.

I will never use a neti pot again. I have done research since my adverse reaction to the neti pot. Now I know THE TRUTH. Neti pots cause eye infections and can kill you by delivering a lethal dose of a flesh-eating amoeba to your brain. My friend Larry posted up a photo of the amoeba for me:

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My god.  It’s looking at me. It’s wearing Minion glasses. Are YOU feeling lucky, dear neti pot user?

I googled “dangers of neti pots” and found all sorts of scary stuff. Did you know that medical doctors — members of that blasted, lying profession that dares to tell us it’s safe to vaccinate our kids — seem to recommend reasonable use of the neti pot? WTF?? Why would we do anything they recommend??

I’m experiencing terrible, terrible cognitive dissonance. I used the neti pot to avoid modern medicine. The neti pot made me turn to modern medicine. The natural salt water may cause my brain to be eaten by amoebas. The antibiotics will eat everything in my intestines. Uuugh, uuugh, does not compute, does not compute.

I don’t know what I can do about it. Just tell me one thing. Where do I find the neti pot adverse outcome hotline and database? I need to file a report and make a claim. There’s got to be some money in this somewhere.

grumpy about my immunities

Looks like I have another cold, or at least some sort of virus that’s making me feel blah. I’ve taken a minor beating this winter, probably to make up for the incredibly healthy handful of years I’ve had recently. Everyone in my household caught whatever took down half of our school district in December, and then we caught another round of cold-like sickness in January, and now I’ve got something new to usher in February. Or maybe it’s all the same virus up-cycling itself through my system. Or my thyroid.

Why oh why have I had such a tough winter and such weak immune responses this year? My immunities must be bunk. Otherwise I would never get sick. I keep hearing gurus tell me that my immunities would be amazing and I would never get sick if I followed their lifestyle prescriptions, or at least if I did get sick, my body would issue a cosmic HA-YAAAH! and do away with whatever bug was assaulting it in, like, an hour. AND I’d be horny as all get-out.

It’s probably the vaccines my parents gave me when I was a kid. And the boosters I get every 10 years or so for tetanus. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be catching all these viruses and getting sick all winter (assuming I made it this far in that alternative universe without dying of one of the diseases I’m vaccinated against). Those vaccines are also the reason why I’m OCD and ADHD and have a borderline personality. Also poor impulse control. And a problem with social cues.

That’s all self-diagnosis, by the way, because I don’t trust the medical and psychiatric community except to the extent they write the DSM and define the disorders that I would like to blame them for causing.

Could be I’ve gotten sick so much because I haven’t snuck over to the walk-in clinic and squeezed them for a dose of antibiotics. I hear taking a round of antibiotics every year or two really cleans up a system — gets out all those little infections that run through our bodies constantly — and gives it a chance to sort of reboot. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve taken any antibiotics. Maybe I should head over to the clinic soon.

Okay, okay, I admit that I just made that up. No one has ever told me to take antibiotics regularly, and I haven’t ever read that anywhere, not even on any big-pharm sites. Never mind. But I did have to give Nick a round of antibiotics last month because of a brutal ear infection that turned out not to be viral. Huh. Maybe my illness now is a karmic justice for doing that awful thing to Nick. I’d probably be feeling fine, except for I’d still be nursing him back to health right now.

Or it might be because I haven’t turned to eastern holistic medicinal ideas for managing my health, which I should do now to improve my immunities. Hm. I grew up in third-world South Korea from 1966 to 1976. Acupuncture and herbal medicine wasn’t an exciting new trend being laid on us by white people in nice offices. Acupuncture was something that slightly crazy old Korean men and women did to people in our living rooms using ancient Chinese secrets and, one can only hope, sterile needles. Herbal medicine was something you went to some stinky apothecary’s shop to pick up, mysterious powders that came folded in paper, or a humongous jar of pickled ginseng root sitting on a shelf in the living room for good health and good luck, looking an awful lot like an internal body part. I think I had plenty of eastern medicine in Korea. I’m good on that front. Also I find that I’m not so tempted by the highly processed, wrapped-in-plastic powders and pills that are being offered up as holistic and homeopathic alternatives to western medicine. To my ignorant eye, they look an AWFUL LOT like the samples available at the MD’s office. Nothing at all like the scary stuff I used to see and smell in Korea.

Maybe my poor immunities come from the poison in the water I drink out of the tap. I’m not sure what to do about that. For a time I used to buy bottled water, but that came in plastic containers and I know the BPAs – or is it PBAs? – leached into the water and hurt me in a whole different way. I probably need to stop drinking water altogether unless it falls from the sky into my ceramic bowls, unless it’s a high-pollution day. Maybe I can cure the water by boiling it with a mushroom/seaweed/copper/chamomile infusion I saw last week at Whole Foods.

Wait. I think that was for my feet. Never mind.

Maybe it’s the chemicals and nasty shit in the food I eat, all the processed and packaged and frozen foods that make up 90% of my diet, and all the fast food and soda filling my gut every day, the lack of good fat and excess of bad fat, all the chemicals in the conventional fruits and vegetables I eat. At least, that’s what I read last week, because if I changed that, my immunities would be GREAT.

Dang. I don’t eat like that already. Must be something else.

I don’t eat enough probiotics. I should drink pickle juice and unfiltered vinegar for breakfast. What’s that you say? Kimchi is a probiotic? Ooooh. Never mind. I guess I got the probiotics covered.

But let me set aside my inane reverie for a moment to say this passionate, long-winded and probably-offensive-to-someone thing: KIMCHI IS KOREAN FOOD. It is not “a probiotic.” It is not, as a person I don’t speak to anymore told me, paleo. I am not embracing the paleo lifestyle by eating kimchi. I am eating the food of my Korean ancestors.

In case I haven’t made my feelings clear: KIMCHI IS FOOD, AND IT IS KOREAN.

Also, if you brine a vegetable and then put some spice on it, that does not make it kimchi. Don’t call it kimchi. Kimchi is a very specific type of traditional Korean food. I’ve seen some of the stuff that’s hawked as kimchi in stores these days. One day a (not Korean) lady at Whole Foods offered me a kimchi sample. I don’t know what the f— it was, but it wasn’t kimchi. It was some weird-looking minced vegetable with with an all-wrong orange hue. I was appalled. Before I could stop myself, I made an “ew” face with my tongue hanging out and got the shivers and said something like, “that doesn’t look like any kimchi I know.” (see above re: impulse control and social cues.) The lady looked at me like something was wrong with me. The nerve. They shouldn’t have called it kimchi. It’s false labeling. Call it what it is, something like… “A pickled food inspired by kimchi that we are marketing to peeps interested in the paleo thingy.” Or better yet, “a poor imitation of kimchi.” Calling that shit kimchi is like mashing up a head of cauliflower and calling it “mashed potatoes” or “rice.” It’s not. You’re not fooling anyone.

This is what real cabbage kimchi looks like.

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7 pounds of kimchi in one enormous, beautiful glass jar. I’ve got two of them in my fridge right now, because I just made a run down to Chicago to stock up. And yes, if you’re reading the label carefully, there’s a little bit of MSG in it. That’s just how H Mart’s kimchi rolls, and the kimchi is soooo gooood that I just let that MSG go. I’ve been too lazy and embarrassed to make my own kimchi for the last couple months, because it hasn’t been turning out so good.

Oh shit shit shit. It’s the MSG, isn’t it. I mean both things you might imagine: it’s the absence of MSG in my homemade kimchi that’s making it bad, and also it’s the presence of MSG in my diet, via the KIMCHI-THAT-IS-NOT-PALEO-FOOD, that’s weakening my immunities.

If my own ethnic food is poisoning me, there’s no hope.

I’ll go take a nap and see if that helps me feel better. Maybe I don’t have to blame any particular thing for this season’s sicknesses. Maybe it’s just life, and I can be thankful that I’m alive enough to get sick and be grumpy about it.

Grandma tales (grumpy about vaccines and polio)

Everybody’s doing it, so why not me? Talking about vaccines, that is.

I have a good friend who doesn’t vaccinate her kids. She claims it’s because she has auto-immune issues herself so she wonders what vaccines will do to her kids, but in moments of honesty and clarity she’s admitted the real reason to me:  her oldest child gave her hell at some vaccination visit and the pediatrician was a jerk about it, so she won’t do them anymore. Since she knows everyone else is vaccinated, it’s okay for her kids to skip the shots. Her attitude slays me, because she’s a pretty hard-core Republican and she likes to mouth off about freeloaders. It is so hard for any of us to avoid hypocrisy. All I can do is shake my head and let her be as human and imperfect as me. But also, she’s not opposed to vaccines. She’s just freeloading. She knows it.

I chatted some time ago with another mom who actually opposes vaccinations. She’s holistic and homeopathic and Eastern medicine and all that, and her reasoning was that her kids don’t need the vaccines because she uses natural methods to boost their immunities. Thus, she reasons, her kids are unlikely to be infected even if a vaccine-avoidable disease comes around, and also if her kids are infected they’ll survive just fine because she knows how to treat these things. As far as I could tell, the idea of her kids infecting other, more immuno-compromised individuals wasn’t a relevant consideration. I was recently reminded of how much that bothered me when I came across an Onion op-ed, “I don’t vaccinate my child because it’s my right to decide what eliminated diseases come roaring back.” (On the off chance you don’t know, the Onion is 100% bullshit and 100% brilliant satire and social commentary.)

Then this person had to go and use polio as an example, arguing that many people contract polio but survive anyway because they have strong immunities, so it’s not a disease she’s afraid of even if her kids catch it, and also we shouldn’t be giving any kids a polio vaccine because it’s not necessary, the disease isn’t so bad. I remember seething secretly and ending the conversation as quickly as possible.

You don’t have to dig much at all to learn that polio is an extremely contagious disease that has no cure and also it suuuuucks. In fact, almost all of the vaccinations we’re giving our kids are for diseases that are highly contagious and have no cure. And that are capable of maiming and killing. In the case of polio, it’s certainly true that many lucky people who are infected never even show symptoms. But I wonder how they would feel if they could calculate how many unlucky ones they infect in turn, especially if they could avoid catching polio at all by being vaccinated.

My Korean grandma was both lucky and unlucky. She contracted polio as an adult (before a vaccine was available) but survived. A paralyzed foot was polio’s life-long gift to her. She walked with a pronounced limp as a result, and as a little girl I was fascinated by it. As far as I could tell, her foot was frozen in a flexed position. When I asked why she walked funny, Grandma told me of a terrible sickness that caused the paralysis, and I later learned the pesky disease was called polio.

Grandma was an extraordinary person, a bottomless pit of kindness. When I was very little, she would encourage me to work over her foot and try to make it move. As hard as I tried, I never could. So she always won the game, and we’d laugh together and then I wasn’t afraid anymore of whatever had almost killed her. Now I wonder from the vantage of 48 years, did she also secretly hope that her magical little granddaughter could make the foot come alive again?

Over the years, my mom shared bits and pieces of her memories about Grandma and polio. Mom was a child, too little to understand the danger, when the disease came. Grandma was hit bad. She almost died and had to go live in some sort of institutional setting to recover. This was a time of Japanese occupation, before there were two Koreas, when Korea was still a beaten-down, occupied third-world place. It would have taken a lot of money and resources (which my family had back then) to send Grandma to a place where she could survive and recuperate. She was lucky to receive any medical attention at all.

Grandma had a baby at the time (my mother’s oldest little brother) who was still nursing, so she took him with her to the hospital. But Mom, who was also still a very small child, stayed home with the aunties and servants. Grandma was gone for about two years. Mom felt abandoned, lost without her mother, treated unfairly because her baby brother got to go. I remember her talking about it long into my adulthood. I could hear in the rhythms of her stories the deep, unhealed cuts in her heart, the bitterness she couldn’t let go. It mystified me. The child who survived her mother’s polio, who still lived in my mother’s soul, couldn’t grasp that Grandma didn’t have a real choice. The disease owned all the decisions. So it didn’t just paralyze Grandma. It paralyzed a piece of my mother too for much of her life, just not in the flesh.

Some years after Grandma died, my mom finally told me a story of retrieval, not of abandonment. I don’t remember it perfectly (which doesn’t really bother me – I’m okay with reality becoming mythology, especially when it’s the mythology of connection and love). Mom came home from school and a strange woman was standing outside of the house. Mom got closer and realized with a start, it was her mother! She ran over to the woman. Her mother embraced her hard. Her mother looked at her face, touched her, looked in her eyes. Her mother told her, I’ve come back for you. I don’t want to live in the country anymore, I’m moving to Inchon. I’ve come to take you with me; I’ll never be apart from you again. Her mother had survived polio. Her mother came back for her.

As Mom told me this story, I realized that I was finally hearing the last chapter of her family’s polio tale, which had now spanned something like 70 years. I felt a sense of relief, of thankfulness that my mom could finally forgive Grandma for a parental betrayal that had been beyond anyone’s control — so many years after the disease crippled not just Grandma’s foot, but also her relationship with her daughter.

I always think of Grandma and Mom when people talk about vaccine-preventable diseases like polio. The damage they do isn’t just to a body, but to a family, a community. It’s why we owe it to each other to avoid the diseases together, each of us bearing a little bit of risk via vaccination, for ourselves and for each other.

It’s easy for people in first-world countries, living in the lap of hygienic luxury, to argue in smug ignorance that diseases like polio aren’t that dangerous and don’t need to be vaccinated against. Goody for you. As for me, my kids are fully vaccinated. Jesse gets the shots even though they’re grown in egg whites and she’s allergic to eggs. I give her antihistamines prophylactically and she seems fine. It probably isn’t helping her outgrow her allergy. But if vaccination means she can’t eat eggs for the rest of her life, I’m actually okay with that. I guess I’d rather have her get stuck with an epi-pen now and again than crippled by polio, or killed by small pox, or scarred by measles. For the anti-vacc’ers, know this: if my grandma was still alive and had the means, she might just sneak up behind you and stick you in the ass with a polio vaccine, just so you don’t catch polio and go give it to someone else. She’d probably giggle and say a happy prayer for your wellness as she did it. I guess I’d be laughing with her.

Grumpy about a heart attack (a sibling tale)

I learned yesterday that my brother Mark was taken to the hospital the night before. He had a heart attack. He seems fine, but it’s early in the evaluative process. So far all indicators are that my family is still completely ridiculous.

I heard the news after we finished a pretty strenuous 4+ mile hike with the kids in the Shenandoahs. We’re still on our 3-week vacation. There’s very little cell coverage in this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the hike ended at an overlook where we had a few bars of coverage. So on a whim I unlocked my phone. I was greeted by a text from my brother Eric, filling me in briefly on Mark’s attack. It was a terrible emotional jolt, and I blurted out an exclamation.

My bad. I got about .4 seconds to process the news before Jesse stepped into the fray. “WHAT?? What’s wrong??” She’s already been in full-throttle jackass mode for a couple days, so this came easy to her.

Uncle Mark seems to have had a heart attack, I answered.

“What does that mean??” She yodeled. “WHAT’S A HEART ATTACK??”

Deep cleansing breaths as we looked for kind ways to tell her to shut up.

Standing on the overlook, I called Eric. He was at the hospital. He started to answer my questions but there was noise in the background, and in exasperation he said, “here, I’ll just let him tell you himself.”

Mark got on the phone. He spoke in a gravelly, sickened whisper. “Hey Carla, thanks for calling…” Then he started cracking up and spoke in his normal gravelly voice. “I’m just kidding, sis!” Sooo funny.

I hit back. “What happened, Mark?? I got Eric’s message and almost had a heart attack!!”

He answered with more. “Hey don’t worry, sis. You know most FATAL heart attacks happen in women. So I’m fine.”

There’s nothing like stupid joking around to mask deep, painful feelings of love and fear.

Here are the essentials of what I understand happened, based on what Mark and Eric told me:

For two days, Mark experienced pain in his left shoulder and severe heartburn. Also he couldn’t stop sweating. Finally Mark called Eric, who lives about 3 hours away, and asked him to get on the internet and look up the symptoms of a heart attack. Bingo. Eric also called a doctor friend, who suggested Mark take an aspirin and get help. Now. Eric passed this along.

Meanwhile, at my mom’s home (where Mark was hanging out)…

Mom’s husband John also called a doctor for advice. He called Dr. Kim, who’s something of a family doctor. For the dogs. He’s a vet.

Mark realized he didn’t want Mom or John to drive him to the hospital. Mom doesn’t drive since her stroke. John’s driving would have just given Mark another heart attack and finished him off.

John promptly pulled out the yellow pages. He was going to find an ambulance company, presumably under “A”. Mom decided this wasn’t the right approach. She called 911. But her English has gotten so bad since her stroke that she couldn’t articulate the situation to the operator. Also she gave the address of one of her rental properties, not her house. Mark, recognizing that all of this was problematic, took the phone from her and cleared things up.

Mark made it to the hospital in one piece, they did something with a stent, and he’s alive.

I learned most of these details from Eric, who shared them with me in a tired, wry voice that told me he had moved past anger straight on to humor as he tried to manage the situation and keep me and our brother Ted (currently in Malaysia) in the loop.

Some time after I spoke to Eric at the hospital, I called Mom’s home number, hoping to find her there. A male voice answered in Korean. “Yoh boh seh yoh?”

“Hi John, it’s Carla.”

There was a brief silence, and then, “Helloo?” piped the voice in a Korean accent.

I was irritated immediately. I didn’t need this shit right now. I spoke very slowly and carefully, as I’ve done many times before. “John. It is me, Carla.” I prepared myself for more confusion.

The voice started laughing. “Carla, it’s Eric. I’m just messing with you.”

Sigh. We both made fun of me for getting grumpy so quick. We chatted about Mark, Mom, John. Without my asking, Eric gave me the data points he knows I need. BP, O2 sats, heart rate, status. We told stupid jokes, made loose fun of the situation without really meaning it, gave each other a few laughs.

As my brothers and I held each others’ emotional hands, my heart broke and healed and broke and healed. If I’m the princess of grumpy, then Mark and Eric are the crown princes. We grew up under the same duress, grumbling and yelling our way through the days. But in a time of crisis and fear, Mark and Eric are both coming through, as I hope I’m doing, turning that grumpiness from ugliness into a head- shaking acceptance of the comedy that shapes our world. If Ted weren’t in Malaysia, I know he’d join us in this essential, life-affirming self-mockery.

I’d probably break if it weren’t for the laughs. Mark is an anchor in my life. He keeps me grounded when I get uppity; he picks me up when I’m down on myself; he face palms me when I get too grumpy. I can’t imagine this world without him. So I’m afraid right now.

But good news: Eric just told me that Mark has now achieved full volume and grumpiness, and he should be going home soon. Mom and John are going to visit Mark at the hospital today anyway. He isn’t all that thrilled. “They’re just going to stand there and stare at me.”

Yeah I know. It’s annoying. But it’s probably what I would do too if I could be next to Mark right now instead of 3000 miles away, because I’m so grateful that he’s still alive.

Perineum isn’t a dirty word

My note yesterday about Nick’s investigation of his penis got me mulling about sexism and modesty. It’s common for moms of little boys to share news about their male spawns’ unsavory penis antics — doing things to or with their penises as they explore their bodies, having silly conversations with or about their penises. I haven’t noticed the same lively chatter about little girls, but if my Jesse is any indicator, free-minded little princesses can get down and dirty with their ‘nads just as well as any little boy. So why do I feel a social compulsion to avoid sharing Jesse’s tales?

I’ll give it a go. My fingers hesitate as I prepare to type this: when Jesse was a toddler, she was fond of exploring her crotch. While naked of course, and, well… She masturbated. One night she got out of the bath and assumed a porn queen position on our bed, got busy with herself and started yelling gleefully, “Mommy! Daddy! Watch this watch this!” Anthony took one look and ran out of the room, yelling back in an earnest state of fright and horror, “Jesse, stop doing that! You’ll hurt yourself!!” I turned away from Jesse so she wouldn’t see me laughing as I yelled back, “that wasn’t PAIN you saw on her face, Anthony.”

Jesse was all of two or three when it happened, and it was extremely funny to me – exactly the kind of thing I’ve talked openly about when it was Nick and his boy body. Both were equally naive and innocent in their behaviors; both were really normal toddlers openly exploring their bodies. So why does it feel eye-rolling and funny to talk about Nick and this stuff, but skin-crawling and kind of vulgar and dirty with Jesse?

We don’t really do “modesty” at home, nor are we body shy. Our bathrooms are open-door; we dress and undress in front of the kids and vice versa. My philosophy is that little kids learn a lot about the adult human body in a safe way by seeing their parents nude, and they observe the naked body going about the practical business of life — hygiene mainly — with no sexual under- or over-tones. In the sexed-up gestalt of 21st-century America, that’s important to me.

We teach “privacy” of course, the usual yadda yadda: go ahead and get to know your bodies with your eyes and hands, whatever you want, but please don’t put dangerous things into ANY of your body holes and please explore your genitalia in private, because JEEZ mommy and daddy don’t need to see you do that.

There’s a lot that’s funny about the cringe-inducing dissonance between our grown-up need for this sort of privacy and a small child’s indifference to anyone’s discomfort as she whacks her privates around in the living room. So why do I have an instinct to cloister Jesse, but not Nick?

I could argue that it’s because I’ve been fully immersed in our cultural sexism my whole life, and this is just another example of ways I carry on those biases without even realizing it until it’s too late. I’m sure this is a big part of it, though I hate to admit it.

I could argue that there’s an anatomical basis for the more modest instinct I have with my daughter. A man’s gonads sit front and center, on full display, while the woman’s are less obvious to the eye. I’m not convinced.

Maybe it’s just language. “Penis and balls” about covers it on a boy human, and that’s easy to work with in sharing notes. It’s so much harder for a girl. There’s a lot of equipment and holes down there. I’ve gone over the words and parts with Jesse, and her eyes glaze over like I’m chanting the periodic table of elements to her. Vagina, pee-hole (honest, I don’t know the formal name, except maybe urethra), clitoris, vulva, labia, etc. Ew. I mean, what do you call all that stuff in coffee chat? I used to call it Jesse’s “girly parts,” but that started to feel prudish and wrong. I hear moms telling their kids that a boy has a penis, a girl has a vagina. That strikes me as pretty wrong too, because they’re not quite equivalents.

My nurse neighbor Jill came over to a house party one night and, after a couple drinks, started talking passionately about how we mis-use words about this stuff. She was irate about women teaching their girls to call their entire crotch area the “vagina,” and equally irate about the euphemisms we use to describe all the business down there. She pointed out that the medically correct term for the the region that includes our genitalia is “perineum,” and there’s no reason NOT to use that word with kids. It’s accurate, it’s gender-neutral, and there are no weird cultural/sexual connotations associated with it.

She made a compelling point, but until now I haven’t made a concerted effort to change my speech patterns. I’ve taught my kids the word, but maybe I need to use it more consistently. Perineum isn’t a dirty word. Maybe it’ll free my mind a bit and help me think of Jesse and Nick in the same light. I’ll practice.

Pull your pants up NOW, Jesse, no one in this restaurant wants to see your perineum!

Nicholas Lee, don’t even think of touching that sandwich, you just had your hands in your pants and were playing with your perineum!

Stop being such a perineum head!

Get your head out of your perineum!

It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but maybe it’s worth a try.

grumpy about pedicures (don’t touch my feet)

I hate the very idea of a professional pedicure. I think I’m in a very tiny minority on this among women, and I do like the idea of healthy callous-free feet.  I just don’t want to pay someone for them.  I guess I’m cheap that way.

More important, I don’t want a strange woman coming at my feet with a razor. It makes me anxious. I’ve also heard that my feet might share soak water with other people’s feet? Musing on that actually gives me shivers and a mild gag reflex. But maybe the shared water is an urban myth bandied about by the 8 women in America who don’t get pedicures. On behalf of the professionals, well… Come on. Other than wiping people’s asses after they poop, I can’t imagine anything worse in the personal hygiene field than having to deal with a bunch of skanky, calloused feet all day. Plus I would just feel awkward going in as a customer. What would I say? Hi Pedicure Lady, it’s your lucky day! Meet my nasty feet!

And yet as I age, I’m finding I need a solution to all this cracking and callousing.  Last summer, I was even occasionally almost embarrassed when I wore sandals, and the heel cracking was sometimes deep and painful. I’ve tried pumice stones, softening lotions, and those scraper thingies, but really it’s too much hassle. I’ve considered my Dremel and the belt or orbital sander, but they don’t seem like super wise choices. I was even starting to think about the need for a pro.

Costco to the rescue! Last Friday I hit the big box and in the pharmaceutical section I saw a display of what I thought were battery-op tasers. Strange and unexpected, but… Sweet! They were packaged Costco-style, with batteries and extra parts in a 4-foot-by-3-foot hermetically sealed double-thick plastic tray that I could use to boomerang your head off. I drew closer and saw that it was actually the Emjoi Micro-Pedi, which will grind the callouses off your feet. If it has batteries and moving parts, it’s a power tool, and I can always go for that. I brought one home.

It’s actually a tiny little doll-size drum sander, so even if it’s not a taser… Sweet! I set that drum sander to work on my feet and oh my god!! I think I may have taxed the motor as the drum worked its way through my half-inch reefs of callousing, but I never smelled a motor burn. Amazing. It was fun too; I felt like I was sanding a piece of furniture to prep it for refinishing. After just 10-odd minutes of effort, my feet looked and felt great.

I never ever have to have a real pedicure, ever, as long as I have double-A batteries and I can order replacement tiny-drums for this brilliant little tool. But I may need to wear an asbestos mask because it generates an extremely fine dust, and it occurs to me that I was probably aspirating my dead foot skin. Another gag reflex moment.

It says a lot about the wealth of our nation that engineers were able to devote energy to crafting an affordable mini-drum-sander to safely take the callouses off my heels. Maybe it also says something twisted about our culture. I’m too tired to go there tonight though. I’m at the tail end of solo-parenting-day-4, and all I want is for Anthony to come home tomorrow and take a good look at my newly primed feet. Sweet!