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I’m a swearing parent, and as such the first time my son delivered a perfect swear (both in inflection and situational awareness) it was perfect and funny.  He was less than 2. We laughed.  He did it again.  It quickly wasn’t a rewarded behavior, but that first time – it totally paid off.

I think the reward of the dramatic and surprising is how we got to this moment in time regarding the election.  For my WHOLE LIFE we have raced away from nuanced policy discussions and towards absurd accusations, lying, and media grabbing attention.  In terms of money and access the foxes are guarding the hen house.  It feels far away and out of my control.

All I can do is vote, and that feels useless.  It feels like sand against a tsunami.

I need to do more.

If our next president is a two-term president, they will finish up as my son is 17 and preparing to register for selective service, go to college, work … the decisions that happen now will make a difference.

I need your help.

I need you to vote.  I don’t care for who, I need to understand where the nation is going and the best way to do that is for each of us to vote.  If my candidate wins, then the shape of the work of our nation looks one way.  If the other candidate wins, then the shape of the work of our nation looks different to me.

Policy over personality.  I don’t want our president to be friendly at dinner, or beer worthy, I want them to be contemplating the world and our place in it.

I won’t shout in public.  That never changed a mind, and maybe nothing will change your mind (I doubt anything would change mine) – but I need to understand WHY people in my nation are behaving the way they are, because that shapes the work for the next years.  This is more nuanced than a Twitter mic drop or a Facebook meme.  So much more important.

It is our nation.

My intention –

I will not make fun of my fellow citizens about their politics anymore than I would about their hobbies, appearances, or taste in music (which is to say – you do you man).

If I am in conversation with someone whose politics surprise me, or are in opposition to my own, I will ask a question to learn more before I do anything else.

My social media intention is to stay policy and fact driven.  Just because it is funny or sassy doesn’t mean (and in some cases expressly DOESN’T mean it adds to the conversation).

I will find a way to be active on election day to ensure that it is possible for people to vote.  I don’t know if that means election judging or driving or what – but there will be something I am ACTIVE in, that I DO to try and make it possible for every citizen to be heard.

 

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Nearly two weeks ago our house was broken into by someone to who took technology and sentimental jewelry.  This isn’t about them, this is about my specific actions regarding parenting (and what my child is showing me) because google didn’t really seem to have a plan or pointers or clickbait or anything about such things.

We looked at long-term and short term goals and started behaving as if those were the truth.  There were two easy short-term goals – get the entry route contained (they broke the glass on a side door) and find a way that felt safe for our 7 year old to sleep.  Dave took care of the former, and Jeff said he wanted to sleep in our room and that took care of the latter.

That identified a mid-range goal, the return to “normal” sleeping where our 7 year old hangs out in his room after bedtime rituals and sleeps there.  For the first night, that was clearly not an option but staying in the Emergency Situation Sleeping Arrangements would need to come to a swift end both for our sleep habits and to put perspective on the event in general.

First long-term goal – how do we process random bits of misfortune that are sad, or scary, but not tragic in a larger sense?  What does it look like when the adults model that in an out-loud way?

My mom, who lives in another state, was concerned and needed an update and I needed to re-order our bedroom so Jeff sat in the bedroom with the speaker phone and talked to his grandma.  That worked well because I trust that my mom knows the general parenting direction I point in and she is supportive of our communication style with Jeff.  He told her that he was unlikely to tell anyone at school the next day except maybe the counselor (who he has an established relationship with).  I was glad I was able to hear where he was in thinking about it and what his school plan was.

The basic rule in our house about secrets is that you need to find a way to share them if they make you sad, mad, or scared but that secrets that don’t feel that way to you can be kept private.  It separates “birthday present” and “I have a crush” secrets from the ones   we want to hear about immediately.  I talked to Jeff about it, emphasizing that we didn’t *do* things that brought this on us.

We slept

We went to work and school the next day and at the end of the day we worked on the second mid-range goal: normalizing internal craziness that happens after that much adrenaline.  While making dinner the three of us talked about two things that happened in common for all of us:

  1.  Even the nice, normal, well-meaning things that our friends said and did was … exhausting and made us wish that they were quiet, or faster, or …. something.  That we couldn’t focus on anything because it all just felt far away and strange.
  2. That it felt like our brain split in two pieces – the Imagination Brain that made up stories to fill in the gaps for the things we didn’t know (Why did they? How did they know? Why this and not that?) and kept running it past Thinking Brain that had to hold firm to the We Can’t Know That Because We Weren’t Here and We Aren’t THOSE Thieves Official Party Line.  The Thinking Brain had to keep separating what was known from the stories we made up to fill in the gaps.

We worked on the original mid-range goal and Jeff suggested that he would be able to sleep in his room in a normal way in three nights.  We agreed to one more night in the same room, and then two nights with a parent camping in his room with him.

We went back to learning a game we had gotten for Christmas.

We slept.

Thursday went fine but we had a setback on Friday when a bunch of generally un-alarming things happened and we all had a huge adrenaline rush when we wondered if they had come back (for what? Who the hell knows).

Friday night when I saw Jeff he asked, “When you heard, did it make your head funny and your heart pound fast in your chest?”  You betcha kiddo.

We didn’t worry about replacing technology the first weekend and it felt like things were heading back to a normal pacing.  It was nice because we were heading into a week that is a physical gauntlet for Dave and generally an emotional one for me.  I thought we were doing pretty well.

The second Friday after the burglary I was with Jeff at the end of his school day and he was in that head space where he was working hard to be the boy he wants to be.  He told me a couple of hours later that it seemed like we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and I agreed.  Because of the nature of the weekend and the holiday I was able to confidently say that he and I could spend all of Sunday (today) together – with the help of having a Saturday to be ready for it.

You know how it feels when you look at a friend / lover / spouse / confidant and you are both stressed out (for different reasons or the same one) and your heart can only think, “You mean the world to me but you’re on your own for this one cuz my shit is barely managed and I just … can’t.”  Well I took Saturday to gain my own health points and woke up this morning with the singular goal of helping Jeff feel seen and filling his cup.

Filling his cup isn’t about opening my wallet and closing my brain and letting him run roughshod over the place.  It is about not asking him to be the only one in the room that is accommodating others.  It is about showing that he is *known*.  So there was breakfast and video watching.  We picked a movie to see.  I had a couple of grown up errands to do and we talked through if we could do them on Jeff Day (they were not urgent but they were fast and handy – and they are done now).

Mainly though, we played Little Wizards.  Two things before I go on …

  1.  There is a quote of something someone said to Neil Gaiman years ago that I can’t find.  It was an author who said that the only person he has ever wanted to impress was the 7 year old version of himself.  The years where his imagination and reality we on equal footing in his mind.  A quote – that although unfindable – is the parenting mantra of this year for Jeff.
  2. Little Wizards is a role playing game for kids where he developed a character over the summer and I narrate an adventure for that character with dice rolls to see which way the action goes (D&D Jr or a Choose Your Own Adventure on the fly depending on your reference point).

For 2.5 or 3 hours today he and I told the story of the yellow, elephant sized dragon and his monkey having adventures with mysterious keys, strange girls named Emily, the cops, recently invisible iguanas used as magic wands, and the mystery of the birthday party 5 weeks from now.  We didn’t even make it to why Dr. Cornelious (chaotic good based on a dice roll for those of you who track such things) wants to see Tarphoon in the first place.

The level of engagement for that sort of story telling is how I know that I’ll never be a novelist but I finally understand when writers talking about a character surprising them.  Jeff brought Dr. C into the story … I had no plan for him or anybody like him so I rotated laundry and talked to Jeff about Dr. C and what relationship Jeff had that was like the one between Dr. C and Tarphoon (Mr. Mo it turns out – which helped a ton).

So, today, nearly two weeks past the burglary Jeff needed me in the way infants need food in the cluster feeding days.  We spent the morning physically tangled into each other or romping through adventures shoulder to shoulder as we built an enormous world where the cops cared about what the child said.  Where even the dragon wouldn’t go into a strange place alone.  Where even friends need to reconfirm their friendliness now that things are strange.

By the afternoon his cup had filled up, we went to the movie and did errands much more as ourselves than we had been in the past couple of weeks.  I was mentally exhausted because I still am drawn to being in my own head right now, but he had a different pace to his step.  Tomorrow he spends with just his dad – I suspect that adventures will abound.

 

 

In my circles it is easier to acknowledge Privilege than it ever has been before.  We are, on whole, people who have a safety net of one sort or another.  Our pride may push back, and it may feel like hell but in the end we are not alone, and we know it.  We may be afraid, or broken, or scared, but through friends and family we have people who want (and who can) help keep us whole.

So I’m going to try out another of those power words.  Entitlement.

Right now I feel entitled beyond measure and beyond good sense.  It toys with my self-soothing mechanism of Buying Things, and it promises me a calm space.

When my dad was waiting for PET scan results to see the extent of his current cancer I left work early because I couldn’t stop crying. A friend of mine asked how I would spend the afternoon and said, “I’m going to go buy an iPad I’ve been waiting on.”  She laughed and commented that she had forgotten that is what I did.  I did.  I do.

My skin is doing that bullshit thing it does when the seasons change.  If  I wait, it will settle down but if I get a ($70) facial it will settle down faster.  I have a job now, I want a facial — and frankly a massage ($80)  and my nails ($30) done.  I have a job now and I have less silence so of course I still want to tend to myself.

I also have a car that sounds like I’ve never heard of a mechanic and I’m $2,000 into a $5,000 dental bill.  I have life that needs some handling right now.  Especially for me to make my car goal.

I went to a Cancer Summit hosted by Free to Breathe last weekend, and it was amazing.  It was crippling in the amount of NEED the lung cancer community has right now – the research for such a deadly disease is so amazingly underfunded.  The stigma and the shame that comes with lung cancer makes me ACHE.  In what other cancer is it assumed that you somehow brought it on yourself?  In what scenario would you choose to identify with another cancer instead just because you wanted compassion instead of contempt?

I bought an outfit that looks amazing at a five-story Macy’s in Pittsburgh.  It was a good sale and the cost wasn’t exorbitant but I got it the night after I got myself a surprise Cabaret ticket.  I was exhausted and so very sad.

I will support my friend in her annual drive to raise money for LLS.  John Green wants to buy wells in Ethiopia and Bill Gates promised money to match dollar to dollar if they raise $100,000 in 10 days (GO NERDFIGHTARIA GO!!!).  In the end I bought an album from a man I met a couple of time 15 years ago because he knows Brian and Brian knew John and John is dead.

On a scale of 1 to 10 I need a new phone at about 4.5.  My current phone is 2.5 years old and the home button is starting to get fussy. It will last until I’ve remedied the teeth cost but.  BUT.  I want it now.  It proves I’m ok.  It proves everything is going to be ok.  There is a new model of my phone out and I’ve never gotten one when they were just released – it would be fun.

Like the clothing.

Like the cabaret.

Like the iPad.

Like the massage.

Like the facial.

Feeling sad is a lot of work, so instead I will buy something sparkly and hope that it helps.  I don’t enjoy sitting with sadness so I’ll distract myself with thoughts of what I should get myself or the people that I love.

Or.  As I grow older, and approach growing wiser, I will see myself for all the things that I am and I will feel lost and rudderless.  I will go to sleep early and try again tomorrow.

 

Fast version:

After two years of working part-time or less, it took less than a month of working full-time again before Aspirational Me said, “If I had a little bit more time I would definitely cook more interesting meals.”  Aspirational me is a total liar, that lazy bitch didn’t even come up with Munchie Monday.

Slow Version:

In January I had instated a Civility Bootcamp that had a troubling ending (tl’dr he was delighted when I packed up 90% of the stuff in his room and he never really cared if he got it back).  That is kind of coming to a head right now.

I think that it is a good thing to make sure my useful things have a chance to be useful for someone else if I am done with them.  To that end I’m a believer in consignment and my hometown has a vibrant (aka rabid) consignment system.  Now, it seems (in retrospect) that the spring consignment would have been a good time to make some money on the things Jeff didn’t want.  For reasons I don’t even fucking remember anymore I barely sold anything at the spring consignment.  It seemed right – and occasionally I am a Dumb Dumb – hard to tell what won here.

So now it is time to prep for fall consignment.  I have a new full-time job, and I won a scholarship to learn a TON of neat stuff about lung cancer (cool, given the fact that my 83 year old dad is handling a second occurrence in the last year right now), and ….

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I spent the weekend gathering up every place I had “Jeff’s room” tucked away and touching every damn piece of it.  Stuffies for goodwill (consignment won’t play that), every piece of “precious paper” in the trash can, every multi-hundred set of everything sorted the (OMG) out.  I didn’t clean it, or tag it, but at least I got it sorted.  I haven’t washed the clothing or found enough wire hangers, but it is sorted.

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Aspirational Me doesn’t think this is all headed to the goodwill.  Aspirational me thinks that I’ll work 12 days in a row, and then on the first day I’m home with my family I’ll be tagging 80 pieces of clothing and then heading to the 7 bins of toys.

Aspirational me is kind of a dumb ass.

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“These are the hands of a man drawing the exploded views of the gift he will soon send his grandson.  With minimal help/supervision the 6 year-old will be able to complete the project.  These are the hands of a man who loves his family very much.” ~ His wife, to his daughter.

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And I am grateful.  And I am humbled.  And I bear witness to the love he has for us.

This morning I was driving down a local divided highway muttering under my breath, “That is EXACTLY the kind of strip mall shopping center that would have a nail shop and there (LongWindedVulgarity) better be one!”.  Happily, there was one.

 

The lovely photography of cajsa.lilliehook when you creative common search "mani pedi" on flickr.  Who knew?

The lovely photography of cajsa.lilliehook when you creative common search “mani pedi” on flickr. Who knew?

 

After a Saturday of work related training I was going the other direction on the same divided highway and pulled in to get my toes done.  Even in the south you can be excused for no longer maintaining painted toenails after Labor Day.  We won’t be wearing boots (comfortably) for another six weeks, but we all understand that it is ok to acknowledge that other people are experiencing fall.

So why was it such a big deal?

I’m not sure, but I know that part of it is connected to coffee.

For everything that I have read and considered about money, for every time I’ve thought about pointless calories, or how much better off I am without caffeine, or how I like to sleep an extra 10 minutes in the morning, I am LOATHE to put down and walk away from a morning cup of coffee handed to me through a Dunkin Donuts window.

Dunking Donuts was the third place I knew how to get to in the town where my new job is (my job, and my new gym were the first two).  I just love saying something to a near-stranger in the morning and four minutes later having that handed to me through a window.

For me, it is a form a self care that I am willing to trade money for breakfast.  I love that they don’t run out (usually), that I don’t have to buy the component pieces, that I can choose a bagel or a wrap.

That is the connection, in the end.  I have the skills & tools to make coffee at home*, AND I have the tools and skills to do my own nails.  Neither is difficult, and neither is important.  They are absolutely trivial things, and yet it feels like amazing self care to just give to (and some money) to somebody else and just let THEM figure out what to do next.

It has been a busy few weeks, with a few more to come, but by golly my toes look nice.

*To be fair, I got an AMAZING new coffee maker for my birthday and so home coffee is tidier than it was a month ago, but I still like coffee coming in through the window.

The Raccoon Tail –

This is what it means to travel in the family you grew up in.  Family reunions where they are thrilled to see you but nobody brought anything to DO, trips that take a long time in the car but you have a lot of books.  There is always a pool, you realize later that had a lot to do with you.  Sometimes you and your dad go swimming without mom.  It is just what it means to travel in your family.

The Places They Have Never Seen –

Somebody in your family picks you up so you can go away and try to put down parts of yourself.  You pretend to know about Warren Zevon and Jethro Tull until you actually did know about them.  Learning about walking out a hotel by yourself and still managing to get back.  Coming home and telling your parents about a place they’ve never seen before.

I’ll take one ticket (or two) –

You’re doing it for real now.  Traveling.  With your own money, taking time off of your own job, making the plans, and learning your airport.   Vegas because you’re supposed to, Barbados because it is fun to say,  Savannah because of the book, because it is warm, and you might want to live there some day.  Panic hits in Savannah, it was too soon to go away, and the rescue comes at the airport in the middle of the night when your night-owl best friend arrives with cigarettes and enough room for you and your suitcase.

Come on, it’ll be fun –

It is a weekend, or a week, or a month.  You make sure there is a pool, and maybe a park too.  It is more than one suitcase and more than one ticket but you have company that makes you laugh and is brave enough to mention that you should eat instead of just hissing at them.  He naps in the backseat, and you mourn the loss of map reading while your phone helps you navigate.  It just what it means to travel in your family.

The Well Worn Seat –

Some random day that you didn’t even notice pass was the day that traveling was done.  I mean, you *could* with some help – but with all the gear, and how easy you get tired, or cold, or sore it wouldn’t be worth it.  It might have been London you missed out on – but they never even knew to miss you.  A ride north a few hours in the fall maybe, see the colors and stay the night.  Maybe, but the leaves will change color here too so maybe you’ll just wait.

All of this because I got off the phone with my mom, thought of a raccoon tail tied to the back of a bike, and thought of Jeff.  I’m feeling deeply sentimental about all the parts of my life today.

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I’ve learned that having kids who are both capable AND on the same side as you are is something that comes and goes.  Before I had kids I thought that the Terrible Twos and Teenagers were tricky but that the lengths in between were, on average, calm.  Now, I sense that is an optimistic and naive version.  It is clear when looking at LIFE that stretches of 12 years in generally good spirits was just not … not thinking.

This weekend my corner of the internet has been filled with variations on two themes: (1) the new Doctor episode and accompanying spinning and wringing of hands, and (2) oh SHIT DragonCon is in a week and the costumes aren’t done.  My mind has been chattering about both, and this morning was slated for some hard core costume work.

When Jeff & I went last year it was a brand new adventure, with so much to see and so much to think about.  It is true this year as well, but there is a lot to consider when moving with a kid through huge crowds and a fair number of mainly naked folks of all body types.  There are questions.

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We have spent the year talking about costumes.  We had some big plans which we shrunk down to a reasonable level.  We made compromises.  We imagined with reckless abandon.  Even now, with only 5 days to go we are negotiating bits and pieces of each costume based on skill, time, and dollars.  I painted his pokemon hat and shoes, he made bloody bandages for me.  We killed hours in the car wondering about things.  We filled silent spaces with discussions of cannon and who and why and how.

The second year will be different.  He’ll be bigger, John Barrowman won’t be there, I won’t have a day on my own, there will be less driving because we’re staying with family in ATL.  There are fewer panels that I really want to try and make, and I understand just how long the lines can be for other things.  It will be different.

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None of that really matters though.  Last year when we decided right away that we wanted to come back we were different people.  It won’t be last year with him being taller.  It will, and can only be, he and I right now.  We’re tired, we’re trying to negotiate new jobs and new schools, and new rules, and a different pace than we’ve been at for the last couple of years.  We’re fragile and hopeful all at the same time.  We both are fast with the F*ck It flag and quick to repent when the flag flies early.  We’re excited about it, but happy to have had some time at home this weekend.

We’re ready for this and ready for it to be a memory too.

And if nothing else, there is this.

I NAILED the fucking hat.

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I bought sheets today, they are white.  At forty one I trust that they will be washed and bleached enough to not be a humiliation.  Besides, I’ve wanted a white bed for awhile now.

At the foot of the bed is a footlocker my dad made.  He is clever and it opens from the back, so that robbers can’t steal my socks without being equally clever.  I assume you know it held other things awhile ago.

I’m not sure what grabs the most attention when someone first sees it.  Maybe the drapes, my mother-in-law made those for us, but I chose the fabric.  I take full responsibility for that – she tried to make me see the light, honest.  Or maybe it is Chuck – a Halloween 2001 clearance item that I bought so that he could stand next to Frosty & the Soldier at Christmastime in the all-too-brief house in Gurnee.

The more subtle stuff, the clock a grandfather I never met built, the two stained glass pieces (one by my first husband, the other by my mother’s best friend), the statue I was given because I officiated a marriage that made my family bigger, a card from my husband, pictures, Civil War memorabilia from my favorite battle (of course I have one).  Ashes of a dead man.

I shuffled it all around today.

Chuck guards it for me.

Chuck guards me while I sleep.

I have new sheets and deep memories – because I am forty one.

 

My friend Ashley mentioned a book called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown back in July.  Now, Ashley talks about a LOT of books because she is quite literary and writerly and stuff.  Happily, she has many friends and other lovely folks keep up with her on such conversations while I sit quietly, eat my lunch, and wait for an opportunity to talk about mysterious desert communities.  This book stuck in my mind though, as a possibility to read.

Brene Brown is perhaps best known for her research on shame, and specifically from a couple of lovely TED talks about same:

This book, however, is about living a whole hearted life and I absolutely loved it.  I didn’t *read* it, so much as let monotone Kindle lady read it to me (she is also currently dead panning How To Think Like a Freak – which is awesome).

My friends were surprised that I was so giddy about a book that was written by someone whose main calling card is shame.  They don’t see me that way, and I don’t see me that way.  I would say 98% of the time I am not driven in my actions or thinking by shame or guilt in an conscious way.  I would like you to like me, but more than that I am confident that I am likable and sometimes … meh.  The Gifts of Imperfection was exactly the book I needed right now.

She drew pictures that said, “the world can be this way” without the hint of a parenthetical “and everybody else already knew that”.

It is in that storytelling (because, she is deeply rooted in a rich ability to tell stories) that she opened the windows again for me.  I know and live a lot of the things that she said, but we all know that there is a difference in a warm spring day, and a warm spring day with the windows open.

She talked about Digging Deep and what it can mean BEYOND “I will continue though exhausted and disinterested” and it was brilliant.  She had enough cred in that moment that I would have listened to the rest in just the hopes of another glimmer – I got plenty.

She talks about the connection between gratitude and joy in a way that makes sense and is something I’ve seen in my life.  I want to keep that chapter for myself.

She talks about play and rest in a way that reminds me that I have a new ukulele that hasn’t been tuned up and tried out yet.

She dances in her kitchen with her family and describes it as “full body vulnerability” and can only think of one other situation for adults where that description is also true.

She talks about meaningful work and how it interrelates to the rest of life but not in a way that screams Follow Your Bliss but that clearly gives a nod to Not Feeding Your Child Bliss.

Chapters (she calls them guideposts, but ok, yeah, they are chapters) have ways to “dig deep”, and other people who have done work in specific areas (as an example – the Happiness Project lady – who I also enjoyed), and what she personally can attest to as her own experiences in each Guidepost.

It was lovely, and if you wonder what I’m going to get you for Christmas?  THIS.