We have begun intensive therapy in earnest for Jesse’s anxiety and OCD at an outpatient facility of the Rogers hospital system (which formerly would have been known as a mental institution, yeah?). In other words, Jesse has agreed (loosely) to allow us to stick her repeatedly with an emotional cattle prod.

Monday through Thursday, we leave home around 2:00 to travel to Oconomowoc, where we work hard from 3 to 6; we get home around 7 pm. It’s a really long evening, and it screws with our home life and extracurriculars immensely, but so it goes.

I like saying “Oconomowoc” frequently during the drive out. It’s not “AWK-oh-no-MO-awk.” It’s not “OH-ko-NO-mo-wok.” It’s Oh-CAW-numu-WOK,” which does indeed roll off the tongue sensibly once you get used to it.

What? you say I’m engaging in avoidance? No no, I just love Wisconsin names. Waukesha. Sheboygan. Wauwatosa. Kinnickinnic. Winnebago. Manitowoc. Menominee. On and on. What’s not to love? Don’t you love these names too? Do you think it’s okay that I’m talking about this?

What? You say I’m reassurance seeking? Stop, just stop. I think you’re being just a little bit overbearing and anxious about this whole conversation.

What? You say I’m projecting?? Now you’re really upsetting me. STFU.

What? Now you’re calling me infantile and hostile?

… You’re probably right.

* * * * * * *

Last week, Anthony, Jesse and I drove to Oconomowoc and met with the social worker on Jesse’s team for three hours on each of three consecutive days. We had lovely chats in which we went over as many of Jesse’s obsessions and compulsive behaviors as we could think of, as well as all of her expressions of anxiety and hostility. We filled out a host of forms and questionnaires. We were introduced to rudimentary ideas about cognitive behavior therapy, the main tool in the non-pharmaceutical fight against OCD and anxiety disorders. We catalogued all of Jesse behaviors and made a “hierarchy,” from most challenging to least, so we could pick the right ones to start her re-training with.

I challenge any grown up to begin therapy for mental illness like most children have to do it — sit in a room you’ve never  been in before and listen to the people you love and rely on most in the world, the people who know you best and with whom you’ve shared your deepest secrets, disclose just about everything that makes you suck to a total stranger.

Not surprisingly, Jesse was really pissed off.

* * * * * * *

In addition to the obvious extreme anxiety from which she suffers, Jesse seems to be somewhere in a shared zone between OCD and Tourette’s, and maybe her behaviors serve some attention-seeking motives as well. She’s a little messy, as most people are.

Jesse’s tics or compulsive behaviors, or whatever you want to call them, can be extreme: mostly they have to do with all things taboo.  Last summer and fall, issues of sexuality intruded most heavily in her mind and led to word blurts about sex and weird inappropriate physical behaviors. She also threw in a healthy, salty mix of something akin to George Carlin’s seven dirty words.

Then she evolved.

Some time in winter, she read a book at school in which one of the characters used the word “nigger.” Jesse brought the word home and we had intense conversations about the history of slavery and apartheid and inequality in America and the nature of the word, and about the many reasons why we never, ever use the word or say the word, except in some academic sense. She became obsessed with issues of racism and  and white supremacy. Now she blurts the word “nigger”, as well as other bigoted epithets, in all the wrong places and at all the wrong times.

I’m being a little facetious, of course. There’s never a right time or place for that word. As my brother Mark remarked, it’s on the top 5 list of worst words in America. Maybe even number 1. Totally, completely taboo, a word dripping in political and social sin, an evil word.

So of course, it calls to Jesse like a horrific siren song. It fills her head and pops out like a bursting boil, having no moral meaning in her usage except that it’s taboo, serving no purpose that we can discern except to fill her with shock and self-loathing.

This blurting occurs despite the fact that Jesse’s school has a significant minority population, despite the fact that many of her best buddies at school are black, despite the fact that her own mother is half Korean. There’s a really strange disconnect here. It makes no sense.

You can imagine the amount of aggressively negative and punitive feedback Jesse got from Anthony and me when this version of her taboo-blurting developed. We were loud, judgment, and frankly, ugly. We couldn’t bear it.

And still it took us months to realize that our current parenting skills and once-a-week talk therapy are simply inadequate to the task of addressing this problem.

* * * * * * *

Enter Rogers and a whole new bag of acronyms to teach us a whole new bag of tricks. Jesse is now admitted to the intensive outpatient OCD/anxiety program for children and adolescents, known affectionately as IOP OCD AC. The treatment approach for her will rely mainly on the cognitive behavior therapy approach, CBT, as well as a related theoretical model called habit reversal therapy, HRT. Both approaches bring to mind how one might train a dog, only maybe more sophisticated. At its most basic, the patient works on developing self-awareness regarding what triggers bring on negative behaviors, and then engages a “competing response” (the inevitable “CR”) to help block the tics and compulsions.

This sounds easy. It’s not.

Jesse describes the urges she experiences as overpowering. She reports that she tries all the time to control them, and  she simply can’t. She’s a failure, moment to moment. She experiences the urges not as a tingling or a funny feeling, like some OCD patients do. Rather she says it feels like big rocks are pressing on her heart and it’ll explode if she doesn’t follow through on the compulsion. There’s no hint of malingering or make-believe when Jesse finds her way to sharing these little details. There’s just the reality of her suffering.

* * * * * * *

Every day, rain or shine, fun or no, Jesse has to do two basic things as part of her treatment at the IOP OCD AC.

One, Jesse journals her negative compulsive behaviors (with a large assist from adults for now), with the goals of increasing self awareness and tracking progress. We have a wee notebook, and on each page there are three columns: “S” for submit, “R” for resist, and “CR” for competing response. If Jesse gives in to an urge, hashmark under the S; if she fights it off, hashmark under R. Either way, if she engages her competing response (pursing her lips tightly and clasping her hands together), hashmark under CR.

Again, it sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s actually excruciating when tics and compulsions are occurring every few minutes. Writer’s cramp ensues. Also for the first couple days, we weren’t using hashmarks. We were instructed to write down the descriptions of the behaviors. Can you picture how that went? Jesse resists an urge to say the word “ass.” She writes it down under R: “didn’t say ass.” She has effectively come through on her compulsion in a different form, so now she feels an even stronger desire to blurt it and she can’t fight it off.

Fail. We moved quickly to hashmarks.

Two, Jesse does exposure exercises, which basically go like this. She sits down with a timer and engages her competing response. Then I hit her with the cattle prod by presenting her with a trigger that heightens her anxiety. Right now we’re working on a lower-anxiety trigger. Basically, I stare into her eyes and bark something like, “DON’T SAY THE WORD FART. AND DON’T REPLACE IT WITH ANY OTHER WORDS OR BEHAVIORS. FART FART.” And she has  to sit there with her lips clamped, fighting the urge to blurt. She’s supposed to ride the wave of anxiety until it weakens to a place where she experiences it as “low” — until she habituates — or until she gives in. Stop the timer, record the result.

Eventually, we hope, we’ll move to more critical triggers. Show her a photo of two people kissing romantically. She fights back the compulsion to say sexual things or engage in sexual behaviors, through pure will power. Show her a photo of a black face, or of a scene from the deep south in the 60’s, maybe of cops attacking civil rights protestors. She fights back the compulsion to spew racist trash talk.

A strange torture all around.

* * * * * * *

I honestly don’t know how Jesse is hanging on. But she’s this amazing little beast, feral and beautiful and desperate.

On day one at Rogers last week, Jesse told the social worker that her behaviors don’t bother her at all. I pushed back. “Really, Jesse? None if it makes you feel bad?” Nope, she answered. It doesn’t bother me at all. On day two, the social worker wrote down some basic emotion words. Bad. Sad. Angry. Ashamed. Frustrated. She asked Jesse to circle the word that described how she feels about her behavior. Jesse hid her face, resting her cheek on her left forearm. Her scrawny little right hand reached out with a pencil and surreptitiously circled the word “ashamed.”

I felt big rocks pressing on my heart and I thought it might explode.

I don’t want Jesse to be ashamed anymore. It’s time for her to accept that the beast inside her doesn’t define her, any more than cancer or diabetes or MS define a person. Yes, her OCD and anxiety are part of who she is and always will be. Yes, the intrusive thoughts reflect something about her brain. But it’s time for her to comprehend that all the nasty, offensive stuff she does isn’t driven by a moral compass. It’s driven by a disease in her brain.

And the deeper, harsher truth is that it’s time for me to accept and comprehend these things as well. I’m working on it, day by day.

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.

A day (of almost grace) in a life

7:00 am. I wake to the sound of something beating on the wall. I assume it’s Jesse kicking the wall viciously, which I’m used to, but I look over and she’s still sound asleep. Ah. It’s the construction crew getting to work. A few minutes later everyone wakes up and Jesse starts hollering about the noise. I dress and head out the door. 10 feet away, Erick-the-Carpenter is getting things going with his crew. I shuffle in with my morning breath, bed head, and crusty eyes to chat with him about a cubbie that’s going in the master bedroom they’re working on. I try not to scratch in ignominious spots as my body slowly wakes up. I’m vaguely humiliated but the conversation has to happen. Erick manages not to snicker openly at my appearance, for which I’m deeply grateful.

I’ve made a commitment to myself to engage in maximum helicopter parenting for a while. Jesse needs help identifying and foreseeing her flash points, and then managing her reactions. I’m on it today.

8:35 am. We head out the door for summer camp at the Audubon nature center. It’s been a pretty smooth morning. We’re all permanently on edge because of Jesse’s behaviors, but she’s only had one break-on-the-stairs so far, and she and Nick have played well together in our efficiency-apartment basement. I’m all over them, helping them iron out problems with sharing and personal space.

The car ride goes surprisingly well. Jesse doesn’t do anything too awful and Nick isn’t too annoying.

Yesterday before we got in the car, I asked Jesse to first take deep breaths and think about how she would go about not attacking Nick in the car. I saw her standing next to the car door, breathing and thinking peacefully. As I walked over I noticed Nick. He was already in the car. He was pressing his face up against the closed car window beside Jesse and and slapping his palms on the glass, yelling “TAKE DEEP BREATH-ESS! TAKE DEEP BREATH-ESS!”

Today goes better than that.

9:30: I’ve dropped the kids off. They seem to be enjoying my extreme hands-on parenting. They can’t get enough of it. Jesse went into her camp classroom and seemed happy to be there. In fact, she seemed glad to see me go, thus displaying the independence one associates with beautifully parented, self-confident children. Nick refused to let me enter his classroom. He kissed me in the hallway and said firmly, “mommy, you stop right there. Don’t come in!”

During the next two hours, I buy and deliver some donuts for the work crew at the house; hit Home Depot to pick up door handles and start spying out tile tools and toilets; stop by Trader Joes for some basic eats; run by the house to drop cold groceries off and get the dog outside to pee; and do some quick searches about tile on the computer. La la la.

11:45 am: I pick Nick up from his camp class and we head downstairs to find Jesse. She’s peaceful enough that we’re able to stay for half an hour after camp in one of the outdoor preschool classrooms (a play area, really). Other kids are there, including a little five-year-old named Charlie who’s wearing the same taekwondo “board break-a-thon” t-shirt as me. “Heeey!” he exclaims in delight, because we all train at the same academy. We bow to each other. “Pilsung!” He shows us his kicks. Jesse is a perfect senior taekwondo student: she praises him without exaggerating and encourages him with a big smile.

The kids get along really well. Superficially, Jesse and Nick are ideal children. They play cooperatively and without bossing; they watch out for the littlest ones and make sure they’re included; if a big kid takes something from a little kid, they go retrieve it and give it back; when someone’s hurt, they’re attentive and caring. But I have to watch Jesse like a hawk. She veers towards hostile with Nick a few times. I call her over each time I see her swerve and remind her to back off, make distance from Nick, and calm herself. Remarkably, she does it.

12:30 pm: carpenters and plumbers are busy at the house today, so I don’t want to take the kids home just yet. We head over to Qdoba and Noodles & Company. Jesse gets her new favorite lunch, a not-much-cheese chicken quesadilla, and we carry it next door to Noodles. After we order Nick’s lunch, we settle at a table outside. When the food comes, the kids are sweet and well-mannered, and Jesse remembers to say “thank you!” A few minutes later the server comes back with two giant chocolate chip cookies for the kids. “You are such well-mannered children and so sweet! So I thought you deserved a treat and wanted to give you these!”

Jesse’s face lights up — no, her whole body lights up with a brief, radiant moment of pride. She and Nick stare at the cookies greedily.

“Thank you so much!” I tell server lady. “You are so kind!”

And then I have to do the nasty deed. “But we can’t have the cookies because Jesse has a severe egg allergy.”

The kids’ faces collapse. I want to cry. I guess I could just say thank you and let server lady walk away, but it seems wrong to accept her generosity superficially and then throw out the cookies.

Server lady keeps a smile on her face, but the collective disappointment is palpable. Server lady doesn’t give up. “Oh I’m sorry. I wish there were some other treat we had that I could give you!”

I speak up, against my nature. I don’t like handouts and I don’t like asking for free things and it’s hard, but I do it. “Well… They can have your rice krispy treats, and I’m sure they would love it if they don’t have to share this one rice krispy treat that I bought.”

Server lady is on it. She’s back a moment later with a second rice krispy treat the size of a burrito. Jesse fondles it and declares that it is covered in love. It is the most delicious rice krispy treat ever. Jesse can’t wipe the smile off her face for a good five minutes.

1:30: We stop by home ever so briefly to pick up the kids’ iPads so they have something to do in the doctor’s office. Anything to  keep them from playing with the toys in the waiting area. I will never understand toys in a pediatric waiting area. Germs. Why.

1:45: Jesse has two plantar warts that won’t go away, one on the ball of her foot and the other on the bottom of her big toe. Pediatrician Dr. Linsmeier gives those warts a hard burn with liquid nitrogen. Jesse has an extreme tolerance for pain and doesn’t shed a tear. The only evidence of pain is a single twitch and an almost inaudible mutter. “That hurts.”

Dr. Linsmeier shows the kids what’s inside the bottle she was shooting ice from. It looks like water. She does her magic trick and flings the contents across the floor! Most of the nitrogen disappears in an instant and a ghostly fog forms across the exam room floor. A few drops of nitrogen stay liquid and bounce around on the floor. Dr. Linsmeier is the most awesome doctor ever.

2:30: We head home. The construction crew is winding down and the house is a mess. Everyone is a bit tired, and I have to focus on cleaning up. Jesse struggles to keep it together. She spends some quality time outside by herself, and then she requests Alvin and the Chipmunks. Because she knows quality Hollywood when she sees it.

4:00: Daddy’s home!! Anthony has come home early because it’s school registration day. But first he and I discuss the eating bar that’s going in our future kitchen. There’s turmoil over its shape and depth, because the wall its abutting isn’t going to be as wide as originally planned and yadda yadda. I want Anthony to decide, since the bar is his thing, but he’s being weirdly fussy about it. This annoys me no end, and I think he’s feeling cornered somehow. I just want him to make all the decisions, and I want them to be good ones. Is that too much to ask?

4:30: Although Alvin is COMPELLING viewing, we pause the movie and drive over to the middle school where registration is going on. I have remembered that taking school photos at registration is a flashpoint for Jesse. She hates being directed to sit in awkward positions and being told to smile over and over. It makes her all crazy inside. Last year I ignored everything to do with school photos.

This year, I plan ahead. We talk about the hurdle. We see the hurdle, we decide to jump it, and we come up with ideas for how best to jump. No cows are involved.

Nick tries to help Jesse by demonstrating how to smile for the camera. It looks something like this.


Jesse practices.


Does she seem stressed out in this photo?

When it’s time to take the photo at registration, Jesse shows masterful emotional control. She grins, she smiles, she laughs, she goes along with the directions to tilt this way and that and turn this way and that. It goes super smoothly. I could not be more proud of her. Baby steps.

Nick also handles his photos well. He puts on his rictus grin and wiggles. Anthony tries to make him smile more naturally by being silly behind the photographer, and Nick responds in kind. He poses with his mouth wide open. He juts his hip and throws his hands up in mock surprise. The photographers are patient. “Let’s try again. Ok. Try again. Yup. Let’s try that again.” Nick is upbeat the whole time. Unlike Jesse, he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the photos or the photo shoot. He truly, completely does not care. He doesn’t care that anyone else cares. He doesn’t care how the photo turns out. He’s just going along because he’s having fun watching all the adults try to make him do something he’s not doing. He’s a school photo sociopath.

5:30: We’re back home and it’s time for dinner. I have some aging thick-cut bacon in the fridge, along with chicken I took out of the freezer two days ago. It must be cooked. I fire up the grill and get the bacon on there on a cast iron pan. Quick marinade for the chicken, camping style: ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, lemon juice, paprika. Done. I chop farmshare beets, potatoes and carrots to roast. I’ve also got a big cabbage from last week’s farmshare box, and I have to do something with it. So I make a cole slaw, with some onion, garlic, and grated carrot thrown in. The farmshare box also contained something that looks like dill gone to seed. I pull the seeds off and grind them up with a mortar and pestle. I don’t think it’s dill after tasting it, but I throw it in the slaw anyway.

While all this fantastic cooking is happening, random shit is going on around me. I lose track of interruptions. But overall, Jesse is doing really well. I’m still helicoptering and helping Nick and her manage things. It’s been Jesse’s best day in probably a full month, even though Nick is being more annoying than usual, and I’d like to bring it in strong. But something happens; I don’t remember what. Something Anthony says irritates me beyond reason. I step outside and spend 15 minutes or more wandering around the yard and pulling a weed here and there. Also collecting Japanese beetles in a little bucket of soapy water. When I come back in the house, no one seems to have noticed my absence. Excellent.

8:00 p.m. Watermelon. Everyone wants watermelon.

8:10 p.m. Jesse comes up behind me. I think she’s going to hug me. Instead, she screams as loud as she can directly into my ear. It’s excruciating and vicious. I refuse to accept her apology.

Everything unravels for the next half hour as Jesse refuses to follow directions, refuses to stay away from us, and does a lot of mean things — more screaming in ears, hitting and kicking, and a full-on tantrum that results in me putting her on the front porch. Eventually, she settles onto the sofa in the living room to read some of her book. Nick settles into bed in our one bedroom and watches an episode of Dinosaur Train while Anthony and I clean floors and get water and fold laundry. On one trip past Jesse, I ask her if I can give her a kiss goodnight. She shakes her head no. I’m filled with sadness. i try to hide it as I speak. Jesse, I wish you could come upstairs and be with us. If you can just be gentle. We all want you with us. We want you to share quiet evenings with us at bedtime.

9:00: Jesse comes upstairs. Not exactly meek, but she’s trying as hard as she can. It’s been a long day with a lot of little challenges, and she’s emotionally exhausted. I realize that I am too. She crawls under the covers and watches the end of Dinosaur Train. I sneak into bed next to her and spoon up behind her for a bit. I bury my nose in her beautiful brown hair, close my eyes, and whisper, “I love you, Jesse.” I don’t know if she hears me. I don’t know if she believes me.

There are a few yawps and threats, but Jesse hangs on by a thread and falls asleep in our bedroom with us. It’s the first time in a long time, and I’m grateful.

Baby steps.

grumpy about positivity – 99 problems

I’m working on being more positive.

Jesse’s workbook on grumbling too much says some people are more positive and some people are more negative. Some people are more pessimistic, some are more optimistic. Some people are flexible, some people are inflexible. Some people are pains in the ass (pain in the asses?), some smell like mangos and buttermilk.

“Who do you know who tends to be negative? Draw a picture of that person.” Said the workbook page. Jesse drew herself and me.


Before you think weird things, I can explain the body drawings. Those aren’t my ovaries dropping into my groin, nor is Jesse portraying us wearing either hoochie-mama outfits or BDSM gear. Jesse has been working with one of those 3D wood body forms to figure out body dimensions and movement points. She draws bodies with ball joints now, and proportions have been out of whack for a while. And now that I look more closely, she does appear to have given me a cleavage. Huh.

Oh. On the “who’s positive” side of the workbook, Jesse drew a picture of Nick with the caption, “most positive thinker ever.”


I think she’s right. You remember that Sesame Street ditty, “One of these things is not like the other”? That’s Nick, trapped in a house with three pessimistic, pretty inflexible people. Poor little awesome guy.

The workbook says you can exercise being more positive and flexible. You have to learn to jump hurdles. See the hurdle. Decide to jump it. Figure out how to do it. Jump.


Four easy steps. Jesse read it a few times and pondered as we sat together. She wanted to know why the pictures showed a cow jumping hurdles. She looked at me curiously, expectantly, but then before I could say “It’s a metaphor,” she wandered off into her own mind and I left her alone.

A while later she came back to me with a sheet of paper. “Look Mom, I took each of the four steps and I wrote them like what they actually mean.”


Not bad. I guess she doesn’t need cows. But her approach is a little abstract. We worked on it for a while and we’ll continue to do a bit of learning every day on this.

Anyway, I decided to work on being more positive today because, you know, I’ve got to be a better role model. Jesse and I spent much of the day together, because Anthony took Nick on a solo adventure. They took the dog to the beach and went out for food and lots of fun stuff. Jesse sat in the house while I painted wood siding. It was a just punishment for when she bit Nick on the face last night.

Oh no I didn’t! That wasn’t a nice thing to out Jesse on – I’m getting negative already!

Come on, girl. I’m trying to be positive here. Reboot.

After I cleaned up from the painting, Jesse and I went to lunch. I realized I’ve been forming a positivity mantra lately without even knowing it. Every now and then I’ll announce to Anthony, “I got 99 problems but [insert whatever I’m thinking about] ain’t one!”

It’s very upbeat, yeah? I decided to use it with Jesse today.

Jesse and I went to Qdoba. On the drive there she started in on her strange penis chatter.

“I got 99 problems but a penis ain’t one!”

That stopped her. “Mom.”

Jesse wanted to eat a not-much-cheese chicken quesadilla, with pico de gallo and corn salsa, dipped into tortilla soup. We picked up our food. “I got 99 problems but my lunch ain’t one!”

“Mommy, that’s weird.”

“I got 99 problems but being weird ain’t one!”

“Mom. Stop.”

“I got 99 problems but stopping ain’t one!”

“Mommy! You’re embarraassing me!”

I don’t think it worked with her. But bellowing it at her cheered me up for sure.

After lunch, we went to the bike shop and spied out bikes with 24-inch wheels. Jesse found a Trek she love-love-loved, jet black with a matte finish. Soooo emo and soooo expensive. I offered Jesse a bribe, part of my stealth plan to sidestep the meds. “You work hard for the next month on two things: following directions, and improving your mood, you know, like feeling better about yourself and being happier so you stop being so hostile to us. You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to try really hard. Do that for a month, and then if you chip in a hundred bucks from your savings, we’ll get you the Ninja bike.”

Jesse’s eyes opened wide with optimism and a dream of awesome bike rides to come.

We’ll see what she can muster. I’m not optimistic.

No wait. I AM optimistic, really I am!


I found myself thinking about 99 problems all day long after that. I tried to apply it positively as I bent over to paint board after endless board in the back yard, my back and thighs aching from the uncomfortable position, the thumb tendon of my painting hand throbbing in pain.

I got 99 problems, but rain ain’t one! (Damn. Looks like I’ve got no excuse to quit painting.)

(Ah. That’s negative. Try again.)

I got 99 problems, but making dinner ain’t one! (Because I’m spending the entire f*&^ing day painting these damn boards and I don’t have a kitchen to cook in anyway.)

(Shit. Still negative. Try again.)

I got 99 problems, but Jesse screaming at me ain’t one!

(Because she’s inside playing with her iPad, so I’m just delaying the inevitable. Gawd, I’m such a bad mommy.)


I got 99 problems, but going with Jesse to the new psychiatrist this week ain’t one! (I’m refusing to go. Anthony has to do it. I can’t believe we’re going to be reduced to meds. Shaking my head.)

I just can’t do it. I’m born and bred to pessimism.

I got 99 problems, but a functioning kitchen ain’t one!

I got 99 problems, but a functional toilet on the same floor as our bedroom ain’t one!

I got 99 problems, but being underweight ain’t one!

I got 99 problems, but time to exercise ain’t one!

I got 99 problems, but being positive ain’t one!

grumpy about lady bodies (thank goodness for women’s soccer)

How cool that the US women won the world cup?? Not that I’m super nationalistic, but every time women athletes get a lot of airplay, it’s good for our girls. Athletes don’t have chicken legs. Real women shouldn’t have chicken legs. Our little girls shouldn’t dream of having chicken legs.

Jesse and I recently watched a PBS show on the history of the ABT, the American Ballet Theater. We loved watching the incredible athleticism of classical dancers. They are ridiculously strong and flexible. They do things that are impossible, holding their legs out at angles that would land me in the hospital. The women, who are otherwise tiny, have relatively enormous calves and thighs. They could never be hired by a modern modeling agency. They don’t have chicken legs. Their muscles are real, not ‘scaped. I know the dance world has issues with asking its women to be too skinny, but at least it allows them to have real muscles. 

Watching the show reminded us of Misty Copeland, whose career Jesse and I have followed for a year or two. Now she’s the first black female principal at the ABT. Beautiful athleticism and artistry, sweet intense face, historical significance — what’s not to love?

Some time ago we watched the UnderArmour ad that she starred in.

Jesse was captivated by Misty’s musculature, her strength and balance, her determination, her story. One day recently, Jesse wanted to see that ad again so we went hunting on YouTube. We watched it, and then we looked for some different ads by UnderArmour. We found this one of tough female athletes working hard. They have big thick muscles where they’re needed. There’s nothing delicate about them. 

We continued our browsing and came across an UnderArmour ad with Giselle Bundchen.

Sigh. I know, I know. Don’t hate on models. But let’s face it. Giselle ain’t got the chops.  I mean, I’m sure she works hard, but her motivation is modeling. No matter how much screaming there is about it, modeling. is. not. an. athletic. venture. There is no air-brushing on an athletic field of play. 

The thing about athletes is, they come in all shapes and sizes, even within a particular sport. Think about Venus and Serena Williams – could two world-class athletes in a single sport be any more different physically? Who could ever claim that there’s an optimal body type for tennis after those two?

Models all have to be the same skinny and tall. What matters is appearance, not strength or speed or a particular physical skill or tactical sense. I’m not able to grasp how there’s even a debate about this. 

I tried not to say anything though, as the Giselle ad ran. And I was pleased by Jesse’s reaction. In the ad, Giselle takes some roundhouse kicks at a punching bag, and then she rapid-jabs it. Jesse, who’s actually shown real talent in tae kwon do, offered up a real-time critique as the ad ran. “Those are pretty bad roundhouse kicks, mom. How come she’s only taking one at a time? Why is she waiting so long between kicks? Is she supposed to be good? She doesn’t have good snap. Wow, those are bad punches. She looks weak. Why is she so sweaty?” Jesse was making “WTF?” faces. 

Sorry, Giselle, you’re not motivating my daughter. Women’s World Cup soccer? That’s some serious motivation! Speed, snap, strength, endurance, grit. Congratulations to all the women who played in the World Cup, and an extra congratulations to team USA. 

If you love athleticism and dream of a strong, healthy life for your daughters, and if you dream of a world where your daughters can market their strength instead of their skinny to potential mates (even if they happen to be skinny), check out these awesome photos of World Cup athletes and their muscle-ripped thighs.

Awesome. As for underArmour, well… I’ve been a fan of their products since their beginning, but now I’m going to be looking around for a replacement. I guess they’re looking for another market niche, but I wish they would try to win that niche without turning to a runway model. They have the power to empower (and pay) real athletes in the sale of their athletic gear. I’m disappointed they moved in a different direction. 

Grumpy about my daughter (Good lord, she’s ten)

I don’t understand how ten years have passed since Jesse was born. I’ve looked at photos. I’ve aged at least 20 years in that time. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost so much sleep; maybe I’ve been awake during the gone decade as much as normal people are awake in 20 years.

Motherhood has been a challenging, emotionally exhausting journey with Jesse, a climb made tougher by our mutual self-loathing and cynicism, her developmental quirks and tics. Some days it feels hopeless, what with the keening and whining issuing from both our mouths. I wonder sometimes if she’ll ever be happy. 

Jesse struggled through her green belt testing for tae kwon do last night; it was preceded by hours of extreme performance anxiety, expressed in pretty extreme  ways. Anthony reported that after Jesse messed up some moves a little during testing, she started crying. She kept crying, and she kept going. So I was proud. But I wish she could have had more fun, like most other kids, and felt more pride.

When this tae kwon do studio gives a child their new belt, the instructor always asks: now that you’re a higher belt, what do you plan to change and improve in yourself? I asked Jesse to consider this answer for when she receives her green belt and has to announce to the class what she wants to change: “cry less, have more fun, and take things less seriously.” She looked at me sidelong with a  contemplative green eye and said nothing.

On Jesse’s birthday, after she and Nick went to sleep, I pulled out the external hard drive and rummaged through a decade of photographs. They tell a different story of Jesse than I tend to remember, one filled less with sadness and more with joy. Maybe I’m the one who needs to cry less, have more fun, and take things less seriously. (I’m looking at myself sidelong right now, with a contemplative brown eye.) Maybe all the unhappiness Jesse experiences is just on the surface. Maybe under it is something deeper and stronger than the bitter pills of Jesse’s anxiety and miserable self-esteem, something more abiding.

Jesse was born just 5 pounds and 14 ounces, a diminutive doll with porcelain skin, eyes of violet and a passionate temperament that could move her from raw rage to uncontrolled glee in a blink of her enormous puddly eyes.

one hour into life

one hour into life

Dang, she was a cute wee thing.




Her eyes eventually turned to green


but not much else has changed.

The photos I looked at showed me a little girl with an abiding love of the outdoors.


A little girl with loving and connected relationships with her parents.



A little girl who’s sweet on her baby brother.

100_2220100_2962IMG_1959IMG_2093IMG_7339IMG_6972IMG_6138 copy

A little girl who’s not afraid of a little magic.


A little girl comfortable with silliness and individuality.


A little girl made of strength and sass.


A little girl who experiences stress, to be sure.


But who also has courage enough to take risks and partake of triumphs.


A little girl who knows how to revel in simple happiness.


And in recent pictures, I can see shadows of the woman she’ll someday be.


I love so much about Jesse. She has courage without boundaries, and I know this because she soldiers on despite her endless parade of fears and anxieties. She’s passionately altruistic, generous, introspective, intuitive, critical. She has an artist’s eye and soul. She sees what’s beautiful as readily as she sees what’s ugly. She strives. It’s practically trite to say that I’m blessed to have her as my daughter, that she embodies so many qualities that I cherish.

But I can also say this. Even if Jesse was a coward, selfish, shallow, emotionally blind, vapid, unkind, lazy, ugly — even if she was all those things, I would still love her. Because I’m her mother. And that’s good enough for me in this life.

Grumpy transference

I’ve been really busy with practicalities for several weeks. I realized all of Nick’s pants have become culotte length, so I started sewing him a new batch, plus some shorts. Since I was doing that for him, I decided I may as well do it for Jesse. 

Sewing in bulk gives good returns but it requires focused time, which is in short supply. Also unfortunately, the sewing machine has to sit in front of the computer, so that’s a small barrier to blogging. 

What a mess.   

Last week was spring break, so I had the kids with me all week. Woot woot. We had loads of fun but it meant no time to sew, launder, cook, or bathe, let alone write anything. 

Over the past weekend, Anthony had a carpet epiphany. We’re at the tail end of planning an outrageous renovation, but it’s taking forever to get bids and every passing day makes us feel cheaper and cheaper… So we decided to pull out the wall-to-wall upstairs where our bedrooms are. We’ll refinish the original wood floor in one bedroom for now, and that’ll be the haven room where our beds go during the renovation. 

That’s what I’ve been doing with my spare time since Saturday. The twelve pants and shorts will have to wait a bit, and no time to write. Ripping out carpet is dirty work, and when a staple or tack hits a finger, YOOOOOWWCH! This job just has to get done fast. 

Here’s an example of before. Hideous carpet. I hate it. Can you say dust mite hell? 

And after. Floors from the 1940’s, desperate for air and a good sanding.    

 What a mess. 

Last night Jesse and I made kimchi anyway. It was fun, but working with this stuff makes skin burn and eyes water. These jars contain about eight pounds of cabbages, the juice of an onion and a couple bunches of chopped green onions, three heads of garlic, and almost four cups of red pepper flakes. No typo on that last bit.  


Ferment and eat. Mmmm. 

We swirled water in the bowl where we made the spice mix and poured it into a measuring/pouring glass. Jesse then poured that into the jars. Everything got washed well, no worries. 

This morning I used that measuring glass to heat a cup of water for my neti pot. Once I started hosing my nose, I realized my mistake. After I stopped crying, I tried not to wonder for too long about whether running extremely  diluted kimchi juice through my sinuses will do any permanent damage. 

Gah. Anyway, so busy! And I didn’t think I was feeling that grumpy anyway. No grumpy, no blog. I started to wonder if a year of blogging has accomplished one possible therapeutic goal: a grumpy-free life? 

I mentioned this in passing to Anthony. He looked at me in his quiet stink-eye way and muttered, “Please, blog. Keep blogging.”  

Ah. So writing isn’t curing my grumpies. I just transfer them to this blog. My family needs me to keep doing that. 

I guess there are worse crutches to have. 

grumpy about the pick-me-up card

My last post was about how annoyed I am about misdirected inspirational one-liners. So it goes without saying that Anthony and the kids reacted to my grumpy by giving me feel-good cards.

Last week Anthony had to go to Florida for a few days, to a conference where he didn’t have to present or discuss anything. He had to spend his days socializing and eating well and working out instead. Without Jesse or Nick or me. Poor, poor fellow. While he was gone, Nick came down suddenly with a bad fever late Friday night, which left him acting lethargic and miserable like he had the flu. And Jesse seemed to be developing a new cough. I took them to the doctor first thing Saturday morning, and then Nick and Jesse and I were trapped in the house for 24 hours as we waited to see if his flu test came back positive. (I take quarantine seriously for infectious diseases and viruses. I don’t want to be responsible for infecting somebody who has compromised immunities. You probably don’t want to get me started on the anti-vaccination movement.)

It turned out Nick just had a really bad ear infection. Still, being trapped in the house for a couple days with one sick child and one stir-crazy child is always emotionally exhausting for me. I don’t get all “la la la let’s do some crafts!” I get all “stop coughing in my face! Stop whining! Stop playing with the dog’s butthole! Stop touching me!” I’ll never know if the kids really are jackasses or if it’s all in my grumpy, irritable head.

Okay, I do know, but I don’t feel like saying it out loud right now.

So Anthony took the kids away for lunch and a matinee when he got back in town. After 5 sweet, silent hours by myself, the minions came back bearing cards for me.

Here was Jesse’s:


Dang that’s a cute little round thing. Hedgehog, right? The message inside:


Aaaw. And Jesse wrote this note:


“Sometimes when I’m a little prickly you still love me. You still are nice to me. You’re the best!”

Wishful thinking on Jesse’s part, I think, but sweet. I felt like I was the prickly one, but Anthony quietly chewed me out when I said that out loud, pointing out that Jesse was saying she was the one being prickly. Check.

Nick also gave me a card.


Okay then, tell me. What do you see? A giant blue peacock? Are those feathers a romanticized depiction of my enormous ass? (Shrinking, by the way, thanks to the bipolar diet I’m on.) This is apparently what Nick sees:


Really. I’m amazing. Amazingly stinky when I forget to shower, amazingly prickly when I’m overwhelmed by the kids, amazingly under-achieving? I know I know I know, head slap that grumpy out of me! The best part was Nick’s special message to me, dictated to Daddy, who wrote it in his best handwriting:


Perfect. Nick loves me 69. Just last week he loved me 15, so the vector is moving in the right direction. Someday he might even catch up to me:  I love my family infinity.

grumpy about inspiring inspirational inspirations

Thank goodness all the hubbub of New Year’s resolutions has finally died down. The worst thing about the New Year celebration is the vague inspirational one-liners that float ’round the web as people make implausible resolutions. That fluff is always present, but it surges hard for a couple weeks in January, pushing itself into my consciousness like a properly aimed gust of wind bringing me the foul, pestilential stench of an out-of-sight port-a-potty from down the street. I should just plug my nose and go on about my business, but I can’t stop myself from sniffing, spurred on by the unanswered question in my mind: does this shit really help anybody?

This year I spent way too much time on Facebook, scrolling through screen after screen of upbeat one-liners pasted onto images of cute animals and back-lit tree-scapes. And sometimes psychedelic images, which is even better. I eventually managed to get a handle on my dry-heaving and hari-kari-miming, and then I remembered that Marci Shimoff inspired me to own my grumpy by trying to fill my soul with chicken shit so that I could be happy for no reason.

Sorry, slip of the tongue — it was chicken soup she was selling, wasn’t it. Catchy.

Anyway, Marci’s an uber-master of irritating and meaningless one-liners.”Plug into presence.” “Forget the coffee, try a morning cup of connection.” “Feel your feelings.”

Just… Bite me. There’s an inspiring one-liner for you.

It is hard to top Marci’s mastery of the vacuous uplifting quote, but that’s not stopping humanity from trying. Here are some of the lines that crossed my path this year and got my grumpy aura glowing wildly.

Wait. An apologetic before I continue: I know what’s coming is going to sound and seem hostile and, well… It is. Sometimes I have a lot of hostility toward peeps who pour on the random upbeat, positive, can-do crap. I’m too cynical for that. I can’t look at the miseries of life and say, gee, this isn’t so bad, it’s all in my head, blah blah blah. I guess that helps some people. Not me. I’d rather look at the fire I’m walking through and scream “THIS SUUUUUCKS” and come out the other side thankful to be alive, relieved my burns aren’t so bad (i.e., I’m not dead), and grateful if there’s anyone there to help me. See? I’m optimistic and upbeat. I just want my upbeat a certain way. Reality-based and very specific.

Right, so here’s my grumpy list of useless inspiring inspirational inspirations:

ACCEPT YOURSELF. (flowers and sunrises)

But what if I’m an asshole? I don’t think I should accept that at all. In fact, I think the root of change is exactly the opposite of acceptance. DON’T accept yourself. Maybe forgive yourself for being an asshole, and then stop being an asshole by whatever means are available to you — therapy, self-flagellation, confession, meditation, charitable work, whatever it takes.

I get it. Don’t beat yourself up for those extra pounds, don’t look in the mirror and hate on yourself, and so on. But if that’s what the one-liner is getting at, then it should say so. “Accept the things about yourself that are acceptable.”

Dr. Abrams, Jesse’s therapist, has this incredible approach to her self-loathing. When she tells him she’s hating on herself for something she’s done, he typically answers, “Well why don’t you change the things that are making you dislike yourself?” Aha, and duh, and why didn’t I think of that. You want to make a new year’s resolution that matters? Don’t accept yourself. Identify the ways you suck, and then try to fix them.

LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE. (rainbows and trees)

I have an admission to make. I bought a box at Michaels that said these three words on the cover, even though this alliterative word string drives me crazy. In my defense, I bought the box because it was on super-sale and just the right size I needed for some Christmas ornaments and it wasn’t a totally hideous color. Otherwise, honestly. Please don’t ever tell me to live, laugh, love and expect me to be moved in any way. I DO live. I’m doing it RIGHT NOW. Still doing it.

Still. Living.

Miraculously, living just happens to us while we’re alive.

If you mean to tell me to live a certain way, to experience life more fully or something like that, then say so. Jeez. Why be so cryptic?

As for laughing and loving — well, shit, that’s a pretty big directive. If a person is having trouble laughing and loving, there might be some significant problems going on, like maybe her life sucks, or maybe she’s depressed or has some issues. Maybe she isn’t well served by a superficial directive that says, in essence, go stop sucking.

But I guess it’s not as inspiring to put this quote on a picture of a sunrise. “If you’re unhappy and lonely, and you have trouble connecting to people, seek help. Therapy is a good option.”


Make WHAT great, asshole? I know, I know, whatever I’m doing. Well what if I’m taking a dump, or wiping my 5-year-old son’s ass after he takes a dump? Do I really need to make that great? Can’t I just survive it and move on?


I followed a silly-looking link one day to a website whose tag line was “I inspire.” Wow. You INSPIRE? That’s hubris. And very broad. The person who wrote that inspired me to leave his website immediately.

I’ll tell you what inspires me. When people DO inspirational things. Yes, MLK Jr said many inspiring things, but they would have been empty tripe if he hadn’t acted. He inspires me by virtue of what he did, not because he told me he’s going to inspire me. I have a friend who just ran her first marathon and she’s almost 50. I’m inspired. And she didn’t even tell me she was inspiring me. Oh wait. She wasn’t trying to inspire me, in her own mind. She was just running a marathon! Still totally inspiring.

And now I’ve written and said that word enough times that it looks and sounds funny. Inspire. Inspired. Inspiring. Inspiration.


Worst. Advice. Ever. As Anthony-the-economist put it, this advice tells you to discount the future by exactly 100%. That’s just stupid.

If I lived each day like it was my last, I would never do any of the following things. Wash clothes or dishes. Clean the house. Take my kids to school or the dentist. Make healthy meals. Take a shower. Read a book. Exercise. Take my blood pressure meds. Care about anything. Instead I’d spend every day fighting off bitter, angry tears over my imminent demise. I’d cling desperately to my children (I’m talking physically) until they got freaked out and ran away from me. I would live a raw, insane existence.

Come to think of it, sometimes I do live like this. Huh.

(Extended awkward moment of silence while I think about what the hell I’m doing with my life.)

I’m back. Sorry about that. Anyway, I beg you, DO NOT live each day like it was your last, even if this inspiring phrase and the beautiful sunset photo accompanying it come through your Facebook feed. I don’t think it’ll turn out well.


Awww, come ON. This stupid one-liner was in a list of things you allegedly need to do before you turn 50, or something like that. It’s just empty nonsense. Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Timothy McVeigh made a difference.

You want me to make a difference? Point me in the right direction. I’d rather make NO difference than an evil, life-destroying difference. Incomplete advice like this might just create the next Darth Vader.


Uuuuuugh. My head just flopped backwards at a 90-degree angle. My tongue fell out of my mouth. And nooo, it’s not because of the margarita I’m drinking. Here’s all I need to say to the person who tells me “Done is the engine of more”:  fuck you.


This isn’t a one-liner but an inspire-you list someone posted to Facebook, so I’m going a little off-message — but bear with me. A fellow named Jeff Foster apparently wrote some “truths” about suffering. He says things like this. “Circumstances cannot make us suffer… You could probably boil all of your suffering down to this: ‘I want to control this moment but I cannot.'”

Yeah. Tell that to victims of violence, of torture, of war, of famine, of cancer, of all manner of disasters and vicious diseases. I bet most of them disagree.

This guy also talks about “innocent energy clouds.” Oooooh (eyebrows up). I’m crossing the street when I see Jeff Foster walking down the sidewalk toward me, because otherwise I will want to sock him square in the face and tell him this. Jeff, my friend, you are a complete asshole and a thoughtless lout. Circumstances CAN make us suffer, even when we know we can’t control the shit that’s happening. I have a neighbor whose young son was in the ICU for days with whole-body staph-like infections. There were question marks. It was horrible and scary, and those circumstances made her family suffer. I have a friend suffering from a brutal auto-immune skin condition that makes him experience pain like a burn victim, and the treatments have been awful and it’s all very difficult. His suffering is circumstantial and REAL. Even if he accepts that he can’t control the moment, he will continue to suffer until his condition is brought under control.

Can these folks survive what’s going on with grace and acceptance? Of course, and they are. But not with platitudes and false one-liners. They are struggling, fighting to find a path that brings light and hope into their lives. I love them for it. I love them for sharing their suffering and their needs and their journeys, without faking like they’re okie-dokie.

I mean, I get it. If you’re talking to first-worlders who bitch and moan about their opulent lives without having any real trouble to speak of — say, first-worlders who are, I don’t know, grumpy for no reason — then making the point that we, I mean, they shouldn’t be “suffering” is great, because really, we have it good. And I guess it doesn’t work to paste the following one-liner over a picture of a happy polar bear mommy rolling in a snowy bank with her two cubs: “Get over it. Your life doesn’t suck.”

* * * * *

I understand that I’m probably outside the mainstream. Some people need these one-liners to cope with tough moments. But it doesn’t work for me. If you want to inspire this grumpy girl, you’ll need to get really specific and really plain-spoken. Like this:

Have you looked in the mirror lately? (motivation) Get a haircut.  (inspirational directive)

You smell bad. (motivation) Go take a shower right now. (inspirational directive) (Anthony uses this one on me regularly. It works every time – I go straight to the shower.)

You don’t help other people enough. Go volunteer some time for a charitable cause.

You’re really grumpy.  But it’s okay, I still like you. (See? I told you I was an optimist.)

* * * *

Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I’m realizing what a downer I am. I need to change. I need to see myself a new way. I will imagine a different me. This year, I’m going to start over. Because every day is a new day. Every day is the beginning of the rest of my life. And I have the power. I am the master of my feelings. Love can lift me up. Acceptance can bring me closer to happiness. I can make a difference. I just need to smile a little more, because everyone smiles in the same language.