Monday, December 15, 2008

Work calls, I don't answer.

How can I be expected to work when, as I sit in my favorite reading chair, the light reflects through the branches of the trees outside, bowed low with snow, crackling in the cold snap?  Clearly, I should instead be sitting still, daydreaming, puttering around my house in slippers, muttering to myself.

I'm supposed to be up in the mountains with a friend right now, but another storm is making it's way in, and there will be four more inches of snow on the ground in the morning here in Denver, which means many more up in the mountains.  We only have one car that's any good in the snow (I've been stuck several times in the Hyundai this year already, and the snow hasn't even been that bad).  Leaving Eric and the girls without transportation--especially if I was late getting back--wasn't an option.  I'm sorely disappointed.  And also not unhappy puttering around my house in slippers, muttering to myself.

There is something about giving yourself over completely to the season.  There is something to moving more slowly, and eating more.  There is something to turning away from work, even when it's calling.  There is something in the quiet.  There is the bite at one's cheeks from being outside, the excuse to hide in flannel and fleece.  There is napping, and avoiding.  There is withdrawing and protecting.  I mean all of these things in the best possible way.  I'm not seeking meaning in any of it or trying to decipher.  I'm just saying what is.

I pick the kids up soon, and will practice lying on the floor and letting them jump on me and cuddle me and tell me stories.  I'll make dinner.  I'll put my pajamas on very early.  I'll sew a friend's childhood christmas stocking, worse for the moth's wear.  I'll read. 

And probably will do the same tomorrow. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

all zen and sh*t

I have done some goofing off this week, let me tell you what.

Oh, I've gone into work everyday, and I've checked email and done a few tasks here and there.  But there was also a whole lotta goofing off.  And man, it was great.  I felt cheerful.  I actually wanted people to stop by my office and chat.  I didn't mind the girls lolly-gagging about in the morning as they got ready for school.  I went out for a few beers with friends and didn't look at my watch.  Not even once!  In fact, I didn't wear a watch!

The goofing off segued into some very enjoyable Christmas shopping today.  You may remember from my agonized posts last year that ew, ew, ew I stress over the holidays and the whole gift-giving thing.  But today I didn't sweat it.  I just bought stuff I thought was cool and that people would like.  And if they don't?  Eh.  Ain't the end of the world. 

Isn't that nice?  Isn't it nice to just buy things because you want to tell someone else, hey, I saw this, and I thought you would like it, and it's a symbol of the fact I was thinking about you?  And to not turn it into some big quantification of my commitment or my love or my generosity?

Also, I'm still going to make some gifts for people.  Cause I like doing that.  It's fun and creative, and sometimes people seem to enjoy getting handmade gifts.  But I didn't mind blowing some cash today either, because we've saved up for it and aren't traveling this year and so we can.

So there. 

Are you wondering if I got my mom a gift?  I did.  A nice one, I think, though one never knows.  She's picky about gifts, very thing-oriented and hyper-critical, reading into things a lot.  When I visited last (ugh) there was a STACK of handwritten notes at the side of my bed with weird directions about what I should and should not get her (she wants panty-hose, for chrissakes, but of a certain kind and size; I need to get her a picture of the kids, but in color only and with no frame, etc.).  I should probably have just got her something off the list.  But that was not what today was about.  I saw something I thought she might like, and I bought it, and maybe when she gets it she'll smash it or send it back or curse it and throw it in the closet or whatever.  But that's her choice.  My choice was to get her something beautiful, and to enjoy that act of buying and now giving.  And then to let go of the outcome.

Aren't I all zen and shit.  Don't let me fool you.  I'm really praying for a miracle, and that somehow we might get a chance to say a civil, normal word to each other on Christmas.  I will probably be a little disappointed if that doesn't happen, and if the day passes with no contact.  But I'm also very aware that this may happen, and I'm trying to be prepared.

Out of my hands, either way.  It will be a good Christmas, either way.  We're off to buy a tree tomorrow, and to get out all of our ornaments, mostly given to me by Mom over the years.  We'll light up the lights and then maybe start to put some presents under the tree. 

Those things are good things, and what I'll hold on to for now.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More Thoughts on the Good and the Guilt

It has been a really good day.  It wasn't supposed to be.  I was in class last night until 9 and got home with a wicked stomachache--swore I was getting sick.  It was also maybe 4 degrees outside and I couldn't get warm.  I got into bed and kept trying to put my icicle-feet on Eric, who was having none of it.  I made him get up and turn the heat on and finally fell asleep.  I woke up this morning tired and feeling vaguely nauseous.

But there is a world of snow outside my windows, and I didn't have anything particularly stressful on the schedule at work (for once), and so it ended up being a lovely day.  From my office window I can see the Golden foothills socked in with fog and giant flurries.  Downtown Golden is lit up like a Lite Brite.  I got nominated for another teaching award today.  I spent most of the day making mix-tapes (okay, cd's) for my friends.  A colleague and I are going to work on an exciting new project together.  Another colleague, one I met in Britain about this time last year, finally got back to me on a paper we're going to write together (I had thought he thought what I sent him was crap and never wanted to talk to me again).  An old friend called to check on me, and I'm just about to head out for beers then go home to my sweet girls and my Eric.

Pedestrians brace against the snow and wind as they cross a street in Denver's financial district

My therapist reminded me last Saturday that what I'm going through with my mom is terrible.  I have to take the time to feel sad and to grieve and to be afraid.  I will feel guilty about having good days.  I will feel guilty about not "doing" anything to help her.  I will feel guilty about saving myself.  But I have to remember all the blessings in my life, too, and remember that I can stand on my own two feet, surrounded by all the love in the world.  

I'm thinking a lot about this.  Is that okay, that I've abandoned my mother to save myself?  I know that my leaving her and cutting her out must be painful for her, though the forms her pain takes these days are completely foreign to me.  What if something happens and I did nothing to stop it?  What if something happens and my abandoning her was the cause?  It's not that I don't think about these things.  It's not that they don't torture me in the middle of the night.

It's life really is good, though, and it's hard to let her in when she seems to poison things.  And my dealings with her since August seem to have done nothing but rile her up.  So if I try to get involved with her again, won't it be just to assuage my own guilt, and not because it's good for either of us?  Isn't my guilt for myself and not for her?

But the real questions are, and always have been,

Is it okay to leave? 

Hadn't I already left?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Let's say the universe is a giant pharmacy, distributing doses of this and that.  This is wrong, probably, and a bad analogy, but let's just say.

Let's say that yesterday the universe decided, let's give that JJ some of this drug here called "Humility."  In fact, let's give her a triple dose, just to wipe that nasty hubris virus clear out of her system for a day or two.

So, here's how the pills were administered.  First, an article I submitted to a journal got what's called in my biz an "R&R," or revise and resubmit.  This isn't terrible news, actually.  A real bummer is to get the flat out rejection.  An R&R means you either have a lot or a little work to do and there's a good chance you'll eventually get the piece published.  And two of the three reviews of my submission were quite positive.  But it does take some humility to go through three academic dissections of your work, especially when they seem to disagree with each other, and to try to make sense of them and THEN dive back into revising a paper you were just happy to get off your desk three months ago.  I'm getting used to the process, but I wouldn't say it's really joyful or anything.  A bit like a vaccination.  You know you need it but that doesn't mean you like getting the shot.

All in all, not so bad, so far.  That first pill went down okay.  Didn't even need a spoonful of sugar.

Second pill:  a friend and colleague stopped by my office yesterday.  In addition to being a friend and colleague, he also is a supremely  nice, funny guy, and a great parent--funny, patient, firm when necessary.  I doubt he has a "mean voice" to use with his kids (mine, on the other hand, is quite polished).  He and his family had come over for dinner Sunday night and, when they were getting ready to leave, Addie had her typical meltdown:  whenever anyone leaves our house (and I mean anyone) she dissolves into big-time tears, near hysterics, can't say goodbye, wails and wails.

We've really been working with her on this, which is to say trying to get her to say goodbye in a semi-normal fashion.  This involves a lot of me holding her while she's weeping and trying to talk her down as people are attempting to graciously leave.  Uncomfortable.

Anyway, this friend came to my office and recommended a parenting book so that Eric and I could try a new approach with Addie.  Totally nice, non-judgmental thing to do.  I don't think I reacted defensively.  I like reading parenting books, will be happy to read this book.  I'll probably learn a lot from it.

But after this kind colleague and friend left, I felt deeply defensive.  Crouchingly, bitingly defensive.  Doesn't he know what I'm going through right now?  Doesn't he know I'm terrified that I will be a bad parent because of what's happening with my parent?  And Addie's fine, goddamit!  Just because our kids aren't all happy-go-lucky...

Well, you get the picture.  Could have used a spoonful of sugar on that one.

Third pill.  A nasty, bitter one, but only because of the two that came before it. 

Every year, Eric and I fight over what to get his family for Christmas.  Every year he stews and stews and in the end can't make up his mind and ends up not getting them anything at all.  Except for the fact that I step in and buy something, usually totally wrong and that he hates.  Or I come up with some cockamamie scheme to just "not to do presents" at all.  My cockamamie scheme this year was to "make presents for people."

Eric is clearly not down with this.  In fact, he practically forbid me to make any of my crappy craft projects for his family this year.  It appears, therefore, that only my family (rapidly dwindling in size) will be receiving my crappy craft projects for the holidays.  He didn't put it this way, of course.  He was more, well, a man of few words, like usual.  But those words said what they needed to say, if you get my drift.

Which made me very, very defensive.  And sad.

And that's it.  Humility in three acts.  All probably deserved, run-of-the-mill dealing with life stuff.  But coming together at once, and making you wonder what the fuck.  Can't I do anything right?

Today I know that sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don't.  You can't always choose your doses.  Just how you swallow them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Hip Mama Responds

I also post these posts over at Hip Mama, one of my favorite sites/zines.  Here's a comment I got from Wildraven.  I'm posting it here because it just makes so much sense, and I don't want to forget it:

"I don't think it is possible for anyone to read about mental illness and not be sure that they have at least some of the symptoms. Can you read the word "YAWN" without yawning?

But I also think that for most of us in this kind of situation, it is impossible to truly separate out all the pieces (the parent, the child, the illness . . .) In some ways that's what defines mental illness is this deep lack of clarity. [Which is probably why you keep wanting to put things in boxes.] There's something to be said for really good boundaries (boxes). There's a time and a place for deep order.

What we (relatively) mentally healthy folks need to remember is that we are capable of adapting and responding appropriately moment-to-moment. We can weep, we can laugh, we can be furiously mad, we can be calm and sensible. The emotions themselves are not the crazy part. I have to remind myself of this every day:

I am my mother's daughter, I see her in myself every where I look. I am my identical twin's sister. But I am not them. When I feel on top of the world, it doesn't mean I have borderline personality disorder, when I can't make a decision, I'm not schizophrenia, and when I'm sad, I don't have chronic untreatable depression. I am not them, and the more I free myself from them, the better I feel. ahhhhh.

OK now I'm rambling about me, and I sound like an armchair therapist.

I hope that time and distance help. I'm not sure we can ever fully cut the thread with our mothers, but we can move forward and build beauty and joy in our own families, the way that you already do."

Thanks, WR--this is awesome.  Just what I needed to hear.

Hiding and Seeking.

I haven't mentioned that Addie is 44 inches tall, and weighs about 40 pounds.  Which means she is a string-bean, just like her old man.  We are working very hard with her on whining, on not to do it, anyway, and on learning to say goodbye to her friends when they leave the house instead of collapsing in a heap of tears.  She may look like Eric, in other words, but she's got a good bit of her mama in her.  Big emotions, big attitude, lots of opinions.  Which is all good stuff, in the right doses. 

Every night before she goes to bed she whips out this old book--a book I had when I was a kid, and then my brother after me--of Christmas carols, illustrated with Mickey Mouse characters.  Eric and I will walk past her bedroom, door closed, and hear her singing "O' Christmas Tree" or "Deck the Halls," to herself.  Across the hall, in her room, Nolie is singing ABCs.  It's a virtual chorale around here.

The girls also play a hilarious version of hide and seek, where one will cover her eyes and count sometimes to ten, sometimes not, and then the other one will hide, sometimes not, and then when one says "ready or not here I come" they both jump up, run at each other, and scream in delight.  There's no hiding, only seeking, and huge laughter and rejoicing at being reunited.  Oh, Lord, that cracks me up. 

Speaking of seeking, I continue to try to find my way in this world in which I have this new family member I've affectionately labeled "Tithtomm," or The Illness That Has Taken Over My Mother."  Tithtomm calls me late at night and whispers conspiratorial fantasies into the receiver.  Tithtomm leaves nasty messages on my voicemail.  Hearing from Tithtomm makes me sad, sad, sad, and some other emotions, too.  I finally had to block Tithtomm's number from calling.  Which was a little like severing my own umbilical cord. 

And which is also not to say I hope my mom doesn't call me again someday.  It's just to say I can't keep letting Tithtomm in.  He's naughty and mean and my personal challenge at the moment is to just let him exist without trying to control or eradicate him, but without letting him knock me over, either.  Such a Buddhist enterprise, and scary.  Sometimes hiding, sometimes seeking.