Naked Eyes and Angst

Trichotillomania [trik-uh-til-uhmey-nee-uh]

tricho – hair
till(ein) – to pluck or pull out
mania – madness

When I have trouble writing, the cause is usually a story right behind my eyes that’s clogging up the works.

Not always; sometimes I just don’t have anything to say, but often, I’m gutless and full of fear and…stuck. A writerly constipation, if you will.

I have to tell the story that’s right behind my eyes, but I can’t find my way into that story. The cursor? I wish it would quit blinking at me in that nagging, accusatory way it has. Tell your truth. Expose it to the light. Don’t let it fester. Tell your truth, dammit!

Or maybe I’m projecting.

The story that is right behind my eyes is also ON my eyes, right there on the front of my face. My teenage-angst poetry was full of references to “naked eyes,” which is not an uncommon metaphor for the teenage-angst-poetry writing set.

For me? Not a metaphor.

I was eight years old in October, 1979, when my Aunt Nadine (my dad’s younger sister and only sibling) took her own life. Her sudden death and the week we spent at my grandparents’ house (where I was steeped in my family’s horrified grief) were traumatic.

What followed was worse. My parents, unable to find the support that they desperately needed, began to disassemble a few months after Nadine’s died.

This story? It might have nothing at all to do with that story. I don’t know.

But sometime in the year after Nadine’s death, I started pulling on my eyelashes and eyebrows. Pulling them out.

I don’t know exactly when I started because there was no way for me to know then that this little habit would become an important layer of suck amongst many layers of suck. A Dagwood sandwich of suck.

Why I did this thing was a mystery, and in the beginning no idea that it was anything other than a pleasurable habit. I did learn in a big hurry to keep it a secret; in fourth grade, a friend saw the discarded hairs in a tiny heap on my desk and cried out, “Ewww, gross! Quit doing that!”

Already, I couldn’t quit doing that.

And pleasurable? Yes. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t hurt. It never hurt. The after hurts; the swelling and the rawness and the styes. Windstorms? I’m here to tell you that eyelashes are more than ornaments; they serve a function and without them, even a breezy day can hurt. But the pulling itself? Never painful.

If I pull hair from my head or any other part of my body, there is pain. I imagine it feels the same for me as it does for other people, but for the lashes and brows, no pain.

It’s not because I’m used to it, either, because it never hurt. Not when I was nine or 16 or 25 or 32 or now.

If it had, I don’t guess I would have kept going.

I wish it had hurt.

No one really knows what causes trichotillomania (usually called trich or TTM). Right now, it’s technically classified as an impulse control disorder but among the twelve gazillion and nine proposed changes to the DSM5 is one that would move TTM to a new class: anxiety and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. The most recent research indicates that TTM’s closest relative is Tourette syndrome since both disorders have been linked to a mutation of the gene SLITRK1.

Way back in the beginning, though, I had no idea that I wasn’t the only person in the world who did this strange thing.

Ashamed?

Oh, yes.

Why couldn’t I stop pulling the same way I had stopped biting my fingernails?

I pretended to have trouble with my eyesight so that I could get glasses. I thought glasses would camouflage the missing parts of my face. I told ridiculous stories about my missing lashes (the lashes are always a bigger problem; you can’t draw those on like you can brows). Usually I claimed that I suffered from bizarre allergies, but sometimes I claimed to have a form of alopecia areata that only affects the brows and lashes. (No such form of alopecia exists.)

The bald-faced and weird looking part was bad enough; that I was causing it myself? Exponentially worse. I was desperate for any explanation for my bald face that didn’t involve me, alone, reading books and yanking hair.

I was twenty years old when I finally put a name to the cause of my naked face. My mom came across an article about TTM in a women’s magazine – I don’t remember which one; LHJ or Women’s Day or Redbook – but the day she handed me that article was an important one.

For a dozen years, I thought I was the only one. Age and experience have taught me that the perception of aloneness is almost never true, but I didn’t know that then. I just knew that I was making myself ugly by doing something I didn’t think anyone else had ever done, and I couldn’t stop.

After I read that article, I cried for days. When I was done crying, I went to a psychiatrist for the medicine mentioned in the article, the medicine the author said showed promise in treating TTM.

That was a bust, as were several other medications, supplements, lots of non-medication therapies, and a long list of self-help attempts that range from somewhat reasonable to downright ridiculous.

A therapy that I created in the early 1990s, known as spicy fingers, is not recommended.

Not recommended.

The typical course of TTM begins in adolescence, though it can start earlier (as my TTM did) and, if not treated (or, as in my case, not treated successfully) waxes and wanes over the course of a person’s lifetime.

My TTM mostly waxes and rarely wanes. On the other hand, I have not developed other pulling sites.

I was on the hunt for a treatment that worked until Carter was born. At that point I decided that, as much as I hate this thing, as much as I would like to look and feel normal, it is, ultimately, a cosmetic problem.

With all of Carter’s needs, I don’t have time or energy to devote to cosmetic problems.

That right there? It’s a fancy, sneak-up-on-it way of saying I gave up.

I have to draw eyebrows and line my upper lids everyday. If I don’t, I look weird.

Weird enough that people stare.

I’m still ashamed. So terribly, acutely ashamed.

When I first read the research implicating SLITRK1 in TTM, I thought I would feel better. I thought the pain would dissapate and float away like magic.

Nothing ever works that way. When will I learn?

Trouble is, whatever the cause, whether I could control it if I really tried hard or not, whether I’m a person suffering with an illness or a person with a weird habit, making excuses to maintain it, it’s still me, still my hand reaching up from my book toward my face.

In that way, it is very much like Tourette syndrome. I can control the impulse for a little while; a few minutes, an hour, a day, but eventually, the cork will pop.

This thing? I almost never tell anyone about it. Brian knows, of course, and my parents. My kids know because they have watched me draw on my eyebrows hundreds of times. My ex-husband knows because I told him way back when we still liked each other.

I can’t think of anyone else I’ve told.

I doubt that there are many people close to me who haven’t noticed, but they’ve been gracious enough not to mention it.

Honestly? I don’t really understand my reticence to talk about this. I’ve been forthcoming about things that, objectively, are more shameful. Based on the dedication I have for keeping this secret, you’d think I was some kind of criminal and not a person who has a neurological disorder that causes me to pull out my hair.

Secrets are a burden. Ultimately, I believe that secrets will do nothing in the dark but fester and grow.

This is me, putting my money where my mouth is.

Maybe.

If I hit publish on this, it’ll be a miracle. Sitting here at my desk right now, I’m pretty sure this thing will never see the light of day.

I don’t know yet. If there is a picture of my naked eyes anywhere on this page, I found a heaping pile of courage somewhere around here and decided to use it.

If you want to know more about TTM, go to the Trichotillomania Learning Center.

“The time has come,” the woman said, “to talk of bloggy things…”

Two birds with one stone here, folks. First, you’ll know how I decide what to share with you, my lovely readers, because apparently? Some people care (and care deeply!). Second, I’ll have a link I can email to said people when they express their concern about Carter’s lack of privacy. I’ve written on this topic in vague terms here and here, but it seems I need to be a bit more explicit.

For the record, just because you call it concern doesn’t make it so. Concern and criticism are different; please take some time to learn what that difference is. I have gotten some of each and really, there’s no comparison. The people who write to me with genuine concerns make me think, and deeply, about the choices I’m making and why. I have learned a great deal from reading and responding to those messages. The people who criticize me? You just make me want to punch you in the knees.

And how productive is that, really? I’m pissed off; you have busted knees; and no one is listening to you because you? Are a jerk.

Aaand now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s move on to the matter at hand.

Every writer of creative nonfiction, whether for a blog or a book, a magazine, journal, or the family’s annual Christmas newsletter, has to make some big decisions. How much should I reveal of myself? Of my family? My children, spouse, parents, friends, siblings, co-workers, pharmacist, hair dresser, and the woman behind me in the line at the grocery?

How much? And what?

I would really like to think that readers would give me the benefit of the doubt (Most do, of course, but there are always those few who need to tell me all the ways I am wrong.) and assume that, while I may make decisions that are different than the ones you would make, I love my family and am making my choices carefully.

First? Let’s address the issue of my naïveté because that one, being completely and unequivocally wrong, is easiest. I know damn well where I am and what the internet is. I don’t share all that I do because I think nothing bad can ever come of that; I share all that I do because I believe (strongly) that it’s worth the risk. I have been victimized on the web several times, most recently about four years ago when a large cloth diaper company had its gallery stolen by a fetish site. Among the stolen pictures were more than a dozen of Carter. I know where I am; I did not just fall off this particular turnip truck. The people who tell me horror stories and call me foolish, ignorant, naïve, or (in one memorable case) a “hug [sic] fucking idiot” are wasting time and key strokes.

Can’t you feel the love? The genuine, heartfelt concern?

Sorry; sarcasm is my default state.

Anyway, back to it. To those who have accused me of exploiting my child for financial gain, I thank you. If you believe that I will, someday, make money off of this? You must think very highly of me. I do hope, someday (soon? please?) to make money from this habit of using letters and words to make stories. First thing I’ll do when the buckets of cash (snort!) come rolling in? Double Carter’s occupational therapy sessions.

I am all exploitative like that.

Let’s do my favorite one next because it’s amusing, and it’s the one I’ve probably gotten most often. A direct quote from one email, “Why do you share everything about his life? Doesn’t he deserve some privacy?”

I’m a wee bit perplexed. When did I say that I share everything here?  I do not. Perhaps it seems that way to people who are raising neurotypical children; some of things I’ve written here are dramatic, frightening, even shocking. It may seem like I’ve let the blog into every darkest corner of Carter’s illness, but there is more. Some of it is worse; some of it is simply private, and I have my reasons for holding back the things that I hold back. Sometimes the reason is that Carter said, “Don’t post that!”

My bright dream is this: someday, when Carter is an adult, he and I will write a book together. We’ll tell the whole story of his childhood, his illness, all the darkest symptoms and all the shining joys, but there are things I will not share without his adult consent.

This last one is sometimes very sensitive for many, many reasons, perhaps most easily understood by people in the special needs parenting community. We are constantly walking a fine line between the optimism that keeps us moving forward, and a realistic assessment of the possibilities.

That line? So fine that it’s sharp. I cut myself on the damn thing all the time.

People want to know if I’m not hobbling Carter, making his problems known and thereby causing him future problems when he wants to go to college, get a job, find a romantic partner, etc. I’m going to tell you something now that makes most people recoil in horror because it makes me seem like a pessimist: the likelihood that Carter will grow up and live independently is small. The likelihood that he will grow up and go to college, have a career, or have a stable relationship are much smaller.

In no way does this meant that we have given up on him. We are doing everything we can to help Carter gain the skills he needs to have a happy, productive life. I don’t really care what that means; whether he lives independently, in a group home, or with us, I’m all good. Suicide, life in prison, or losing him to the streets are the things I’m interested in helping him avoid.

In some sense, it seems to me that the work of public advocacy naturally falls more to parents of children who are seriously ill. If Carter was mildly ill and had fewer other disabilities, maybe I would choose differently. If he had a better chance of overcoming his many challenges and living an independent life, perhaps I would be more concerned about outing him before-the-fact.

Kids surprise their parents every day. If, someday, this blog is a stumbling block for Carter? I will be overwhelmed with joy and I’ll do whatever it takes to fix that problem for him.

I read quite a few anonymous blogs by parents of children with mental illness and I respect that choice. But I also know that it’s very unlikely I would ever be asked this question if what ailed Carter was cancer or epilepsy. Carter has no more to be ashamed of than any child with an illness of body instead of an illness of mind (and it isn’t like those two things are different, but I’ll leave that for another day). If he suffers from stigma, shouldn’t we blame the stigma (and the society that props it up in a million ways small and large) instead of his mom and her blog?

After the very best parenting that his dad and I can offer him, what Carter needs most from me is that I do my part to change the world. More health care services, better education, less stigma, more understanding…that’s what Carter needs.

I am only one voice, true, but I am one of thousands of people who are prepared to make noise until we die or things change, whichever comes first.

They are TOO talking about blogging!

It’s a Crisis of Confidence Party and You’re Invited!

I’ve been hiding in my hole.

Do you have a hole? Please tell me that you have a hole. In my hole, I play All For Leyna by Billy Joel over and over again.

WTF, right? Unrequited love is not what ails me, but whatever.

Sometimes, I have to get in the hole because it seems like the only safe place. I’ve never been great at protecting myself from the slings and arrows of ordinary life. I run around the world all exposed until I’m saturated, then run away and hide.

With Billy Joel. Because that makes sense.

Also? Exhausting.

I don’t love it in the hole, but it’s a trap as much as a refuge. I can’t leave until it’s ready to release me.

Inside the hole (and outside of it, too), I think too much.

All the people who know me even a little bit are now screaming DUH!!! into their computers. Ignore them.

Because I think too much to the eleventy-hundredth power, plus some more.

This is (finally!) my 100th blog post. It took me a year and change to get here. I’ve been thinking for two weeks about what I wanted to write for my 100th post, about how to sum up this past year of blogging, what I’ve learned, how the blog has changed and how the blog has changed me.

Blah blah blah. I have no fucking idea. I have more questions now than I did when I started.

I feel pulled, stretched, yanked. I love the blog; it gives me a place to make sense of things, to force my very unorderly life into orderly lines of words.

And yet.

Who the hell am I? Why do I do this? Any of it?

I’ve recently tried to expand my blog-reading repertoire and when I read blogs by other parents who are raising kids with special needs, I feel almost hopelessly ashamed of myself.

Where did I ever get the idea that it’s OK to be so damn negative? Why do I think that I have it worse than anyone else? Why don’t I take it all in stride? Why don’t I write more often that I’m grateful, happy, filled with joy? That I wouldn’t change a thing?

Because that wouldn’t be true.

Turns out? Blogs are not magical identity-generating (or altering) machines.

If I pull back and take a look, I know that I am juggling too many balls. I keep dropping one, or 3, or a dozen. I am too many different kinds of mom (step; non-custodial; regular); I have too few resources, both external and internal; I put too much energy into some things and not enough into others; I abandon things that nourish me in favor of things that nourish others; I abandon things that nourish others in favor self-indulgence; I never get enough sleep; I always eat too much; I pay too much attention to my pain and not enough attention to joy; I am always out of balance somewhere, somehow.

Always. Never. Never say never. Never say always.

This symbol means many things to many people, but it means one thing for me: you can’t pull on one of the three spirals without changing the other two. The three spirals represent body, mind, and spirit, the three facets of the whole.

The whole me.

The triple-spiral that is me? Not nearly this tidy and even.

I try to ignore the people on the periphery who are clamoring for more, more, more, the people who are on the outside of the inside, the people who do not know and will not try to understand.

They find their way in, though. I give them space in my brain and they yammer yammer yammer on about how I need to do more of this, be more of that. They are so noisy sometimes that I begin to hate them because hate and anger build walls. I want higher walls, more ways to protect myself from all those slings and arrows.

I want to do and be all the things they want me to do and be.

There is too much, too many, too deep, too broad, too wide. I eat more, sleep less, try harder.

And it all unravels some more.

My house makes me ashamed, and I write about it, hoping that I am not alone, but it is so far beyond a frustration with the act of cleaning that I don’t know how to express it.

Brian deserves more of me.

As do Jacob and Abbie.

As does Spencer.

As does my grandma.

As do my friends.

As do my parents, my in-laws, my extended family and beyond and beyond and beyond.

I miss my church. I don’t know if they miss me. I’m glad they don’t pull at me, but I wonder.

Carter is a bottomless well of need. How deep and wide is the anger in all of us about that? And how much do we hate ourselves for that anger?

In and out, in and out, it weaves, then tangles, then makes knots so complicated and strong, we will never find our way out.

And I want to scream blood from a stone! You’re trying to get blood from a stone!

My parents struggled. There were issues. Like every person caught up in the self-help movement of the late 80s and early 90s, I thought I would do things different. Better.

God forgive me, I didn’t know.

God forgive me.

I steal these hours at the computer, turn up the music, and use letters to make words, lay the words down in lines, try to untangle some of the knots.

They are unyielding.

I know that I deserve as much as anyone else; I know that I have to put on my own oxygen mask first; I know I know I know.

And I come face to face with my wanting, my desire for Something to Call My Own.

Something that says, definitively and loudly, that I matter. I was not born for these people, am not a sacrifice on the alter of Carter’s illness, am not the servant of other’s people’s expectations and anger. I am not a player in other people’s stories but the author of my own.

Author of my own story, and also author of many stories: big and small, funny and sad, light and serious.

Because there are other voices, too, the ones that say, if you want to Matter, if you want to be One of the Important Ones, you must amuse and delight. Be positive! Make them laugh!

You are not enough, were never enough, can never be enough.

And the not enough is also a being too much. My body speaks my truth: there is too much of me. I do not want so much as yearn; am not angry so much as enraged; am not sad so much as despondent; am not joyful so much as euphoric; am not hungry so much as famished, voracious, ravenous.

In 100 posts, I have committed again and again to tell my truth.

But often I get lost on my way to my truth. Is the truth in the not enoughness? Is it in the too muchness? Will I see it? Will I find it? When I get there, will I believe that I matter?

Maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe.

Do I dare?

Do I dare disturb the universe?*

Apologia

If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we should find.
~John Churton Collins

I chose that quote as a tag line for my blog not because it’s pretty (It IS, but there are prettier ones.), but because it’s what I believe and the reason I write. I believe in the power of truth. I also believe in the power of Truth, but that’s not what we’re concerned with here, not the Truth of religion and philosophy, but the truth in ordinary stories told by ordinary people. Speaking of that with which we are concerned, forget about facts.

Truth ≠ Facts

We’ll come back to that.

Let’s start with the power of bullshit. Not the “How are you?” “I’m fine, thanks” pleasantries of daily life. If we dropped all of those and got honest every time we bumped into someone we knew or were face-to-face with a bank teller, the world would grind to a halt. There is such a thing as an overshare. We’ll come back to that, too. (Come back to it with respect to the written word. Across the counter from your bank teller? You’re on your own.)

No, by bullshit I mean the protective armor that we wear to protect our deep wounds, the kind of armor that is so impenetrable that the people around us have no idea there’s anything under our surfaces but sunshine and fairy dust. That bullshit isolates every one of us until we’re no more connected to each other than the rows of canned vegetables on the grocery store shelves. We all have mushy, salty, half-healed (or mostly healed, or not-at-all healed) wounds inside, but damned if we’ll show them to the world.

So we all feel unique. And uniqueness is utterly, terrifyingly lonely.

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When the issue of Brain, Child Magazine that had my story, “Love with Teeth” in it came out, I expected to get a few letters of understanding, a great many messages of pity, and a smattering of hate mail (because you don’t use the words “regret” and “hate” in reference to your own baby without ruffling a few feathers). Instead, starting two weeks before I even laid eyes on the magazine, the messages flowed in like water:

“Thank you for putting words to what I was feeling.”

“I can’t believe I’m not the only one!”

“I thought I was a bad mother. Thank God someone else felt the same way I did.”

Number of haters who wrote to me: zero. Number of “oh, you poor, poor thing” messages: zero. Number of supportive, understanding, thank-God-someone-told-my-truth letters: dozens and dozens.

(We’ll just skip right past the number of advice-giving letters I received. That part makes me weary.)

Many of the parents who wrote to me or came to this blog because of that article still read and comment because telling the truth creates communities and builds relationships. Storytelling creates a bond whereby we are not connected by thoughts but by feelings, not by brain but by blood and bone. Truth is the heat and the texture in any relationship, the thing that draws us back to others again and again, even though it’s much safer to hide inside our armor.

I was so scared of the response I might get to that article, when it was time to submit it Brian had to press the “send” button. I couldn’t do it. In spite of what I wrote about the parents’ groups and the sharing being so healing, I still felt alone. I felt unique when I wrote The Lessons My Bullies Taught Me, too, and was again surprised by an outpouring of “Hey, me too!” messages. Apparently, this uniqueness thing is my curse. I am grateful to have such abundant evidence that I’m mistaken.

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“But I’m an honest person! I stick to the facts; I never lie!”

Yeah, well, when it comes to storytelling, all the facts are in the eye of the beholder and in the words of the storyteller.

This is not to say that it’s OK to bend a story to one’s own purpose by deliberately misrepresenting events. You won’t catch me defending James Frey. But any trial lawyer will tell you that eyewitness testimony is notoriously inaccurate because memory is malleable. We look at the world through lenses created by our experiences and ideas and inborn personalities. What is salient to me might be unimportant and therefore entirely overlooked by you.

This is a concept with which every writer of creative nonfiction must grapple. The truth I tell is only my truth and no one else’s. I take pains to get my facts straight (and to make it clear when I know the facts may be inaccurate), but ultimately I am a human being, not a computer. Objectivity is impossible.

Just because a story is inaccurate does not mean that it’s untrue.

Just because a story is accurate does not mean that it’s true.

(It’s also best to have this concept firmly and confidently embedded in one’s psyche before sharing stories about one’s life with the other people who were there. Otherwise? Big, big mess. HUGE mess.)

Objectivity doesn’t draw us back for more. For all the value our culture puts on “facts” (called truth, but I hope I’ve made my case that, though related, they aren’t the same thing at all), and as important as those facts may be in some circumstances, they’re not what we really seek. Would you read this blog if I wrote the facts? “Carter woke at 6:48 this morning. He spoke of his fear about the school day in a whiny voice. He is nauseous due to constipation so I helped him insert a suppository.” I mean, who gives a shit about something as mundane as a bunch of facts?

*          *          *          *          *

But what about the internet overshare? The references to memoir as “navel contemplation” or worse? To hear the media discuss it, you’d think this was a scourge on the face of our culture, a destructive force akin to fascism. Some seem to view the telling of personal stories as the ultimate in self-indulgence.

Yes, there are lines, but the beauty of the written word (and, to some extent, face-to-face communications) is that we get to choose the limits for ourselves, both as writers and readers. I chose to share about giving my grandmother a manual disimpaction because I think it’s profoundly illustrative of how I think about and experience love. It’s gross, yes, but there is a larger meaning, a purpose. I didn’t share the gory details, but if I saw a good reason to do that, I’d be willing. And if you were reading that and felt your stomach doing flip flops and thought to yourself, “I don’t even care what her point is; this is disgusting and I’m never coming back here again!”, you can leave. And if you choose to write a blog post about how the internet overshare is ruining the world, you can do that, too.

(For the record, I am not going to discuss in any way, ever, my positions on pornography and hate speech. I’ll just state that my opinions about those two things are different from what I wrote above and leave it at that.)

I suggest that the naysayers have never felt horribly alone with an experience or feeling and then discovered the joy of discovering that they are not alone at all. If no one takes that step of putting the story out into the world, how will any of us ever know that we are not isolated and adrift?

The way one conveys other people in writing is always sticky and I’ll refer you to Lee Gutkind and the other masters of the genre for deeper discussion. Ultimately, every storyteller (journalist, memoirist, blogger, or back fence gossiper) must make an ethical decision about how much of other people’s stories to tell. We can’t tell our own stories without telling bits and parts of other people’s stories, but be clear: the truth belongs to the storyteller. When I write about Carter (or Brian or my parents or anyone else), I’m writing about how I see, understand, feel about, and relate to Carter, and reveal infinitely more about myself than him in the process.

*          *          *          *          *

This is my apologia. My purpose in every word is lay down is to tell my truth, and I always do it with a little prayer that you will share some of yours. The facts are only a framework, and a mushy one at that. My heartache over raising a little boy with emotional and developmental difficulties might speak to your pain about a sister who was born with spina bifida. The funny in my day might help you see the funny in yours. I eviscerate myself in public because the truth that spills out of me is the only real power I own.

***A late-night Twitter conversation with two amazing women inspired this post. Nichole’s blog is In These Small Moments and Kris (who named her blog for the very concept I’ve written about here) blogs at Pretty All True. Go now and soak up some of their bloggish fabulosity.

There’s love that gives kisses, and there’s love that does dishes.


There’s the love you feel when you watch your baby sleep and he’s soft and limp, miraculous and sweet-smelling of milk.

Then there’s the love that makes it possible to walk that same baby through the house through the fourth straight hour of fussing and crying. That’s love with teeth.

Love is when you stay married to your partner in spite of all his annoying habits.

Love with teeth is when you never let those annoying habits grow large in your mind and heart.

Love is when you make the decision to breastfeed your new baby because you want to give him the best possible start.

Love with teeth is when you discover that breastfeeding your baby feels like you’ve got a staple gun having its way with your nipples and you keep nursing that baby anyway.

Love is when you tell a breastfeeding friend who is in pain that it will get easier, that she’s doing great, that it will all be OK.

Love with teeth is when you hold her hand at 4 am and tell her that it will get easier, that she’s doing great, that it will all be OK.

Lots of siblings adore each other when they are small.

Extraordinary siblings are still best friends when they’re teenagers.

Love is when you get a new stepmom and you accept her from the start.

Love with teeth is when your stepmom is utterly lousy at fulfilling the role and you keep forgiving her and letting her try again. And again. And again.

Love is when you work your ass off trying to hold a troubled marriage together because a divorce will change your kids’ lives forever.

Love with teeth is when you stay in that marriage for one last year after it dies because your daughter is a rabid mama’s girl and she needs that time living with both parents to bond with her dad.

Love with fangs is when, a dozen years later, your daughter wants to go live with her dad and even though it breaks your heart, you let her go because that is what she says she needs to be happy.

Love is when you’re willing to be a friend’s birth assistant because her partner’s culture forbids his participation.

Love with teeth is when you’re still willing to be her birth partner at the 44th, the 52nd, then the 65th hour of labor and she has turned mean.

Love is when you feel guilty about bullying that weird, shy girl when you were both in 6th grade.

Love with teeth is when you go find that girl and pour your heart into writing the best, most sincere apology letter possible.

There’s the love you feel when you see some pretty flowers and, inspired by sweet memories, buy some for your grandma.

And then there the love that makes it possible for you to give your grandma a manual disimpaction because you aren’t willing to see her suffer even though the task goes far beyond your personal grossness tolerance threshold.

Love is when, just a few weeks before her wedding, your granddaughter’s fiancée breaks up with her and the rest of the family is complaining about the trouble caused by non-refundable plane tickets and gifts that need to be returned, and you send flowers and a card.

Love with teeth is when, on the day of the wedding, you (only you) remember to call your granddaughter and make sure she knows that she is deeply loved.

There’s the love you feel for your children because of who they are and what they do.

And then there’s the love you feel for your children because they are.

No love that is real is ever easy.

Love with teeth never forgets that.

Sometimes, love with teeth holds on with all its might and refuses to let go no matter how tired and tattered it gets.

Sometimes, love with teeth screams and wails and resists, but it releases.

If it’s easy, it’s not love with teeth.

Love is when you have a friend and you enjoy her company.

Love with teeth is when you see each other through marriages and divorces, births, deaths, economic crises, cross-country moves, and a thousand other changes across 20 years and you still look forward to her calls and visits.

Love is when you find a partner you want to live with forever.

Love with teeth is when you find a partner you can’t imagine living without.

Love is when you work hard to hold your family together, to make sure your children have everything they need to grow up safe and strong and healthy.

Love with teeth is when you do all that in the heart of the dust bowl.

Loving yourself means eating well, getting a pedicure or a massage, making sure you get enough sleep.

Love with teeth means you never let anyone (including yourself), any time, ever, treat you like you’re anything less than a divine creature, apple of the creator’s own eye, son or daughter of God.

Because you are.

I am.