Life Is Difficult

Life is difficult.

M. Scott Peck opened The Road Less Traveled with that line and I don’t guess I know anyone who’d disagree. A few weeks ago, when my family was in the midst of yet another minor crisis, my dad asked me, “Aren’t you glad you gave up on waiting for life to finally calm down and get easy?”

Yes, I am. Very glad. That was exhausting, when I thought that eventually, the universe would finally bestow upon me the easy, angst-free life to which I would like to become accustomed. It was like hiking, and I’m climbing the hill, and I’m convinced that when I reach the summit, I’ll finally see the lake spread before me, but no. Every hilltop grants me the view of another hill to climb. Surely this one? Nope, another hill. And another.

The hills are less steep now, the hike less arduous, but I don’t quite know how to stop climbing.

If I had to guess (It’s really only a guess; I used to think self-awareness was an achievable thing and now I know self-awareness is the narrative I tell myself, about myself, and as soon as I think I have myself all figured out, something will change and I need a new story.), I’d say I’m in a very late process of growing up. My adult life has been defined by nothing so much as chaos, some of which happened to me and some of which I happened to create. The past three years have been the calmest I’ve ever experienced and while that doesn’t mean life has been easy or quiet or calm, it does mean I’m face-to-face with myself. For two decades, my life was dominated by turmoil: a bad marriage and the subsequent divorce; single parenthood; trying to get an education while parenting; blending families; unemployment and financial challenges; our youngest son’s disabilities; alienation from my two eldest children; protracted, bitter battles with extended family; and my own mental illness.

Now. Now, for the first time, though life is still difficult, we’re not living in perpetual chaos. When the crises come, they recede. Life has as many challenges as ever, but far fewer emergencies.

I am grateful. Deeply, extraordinarily grateful, but I don’t know how to live now. I’m not depressed, exactly, but I’m lost. I have what I wanted all along: for life to stop demanding I put out one fire after another after another and give me some space to breathe and create a life that revolves around spirituality, family, and creativity. Now that I have that space, though, I find I’m calibrated all wrong. I don’t know how to show up for life when there’s no air raid siren demanding anything of me.

I Now Pronounce You MARRIED

Yesterday, New Mexico State District Judge Alan Malott issued the order: all clerks in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties must begin issuing marriage licenses “without regard to the couples’ sexual orientation or gender” by today at 8 am, making them the second and third counties in which same-sex marriage is legal.  As of this moment, 6 pm on Tuesday, August 27, 2013, same-sex marriage is legal in a total of 6 New Mexico counties: Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Doña Ana, Valencia, San Miguel and Taos.

I promised myself years ago that when marriage equality came to my city, I wouldn’t miss the party. Equality New Mexico and the Democratic Party of New Mexico hosted a mass wedding celebration at Albuquerque Civic Plaza at noon, so I went there. Early.

Very, very early.

But it could not have been a prettier day if we’d ordered it up special, so I found a shady spot where I could see happy couples emerging from the county clerk’s office and settled in with my Kindle.

Soon, people began to arrive and prepare: flowers, a sound system, and excitement.

And media. Lots of media. Since I was there so early I’d staked out my spot. I think it may have been physically painful for the media people to see me, with my little Canon PowerShot, in the prime photographing spot while they jockeyed for position with their giant cameras.

There were lots of people on hand to perform weddings. The man on the right is Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Congregation Albert.

It’s always good to see bored cops at events. The opposition (Which is a funny way to put it; what do they oppose? LOVE???) was one man with a sign. He had three friends with him. They gave up and went home not long after they arrived.

Showing off the piece of paper that represents all that has been denied them for so long. It looks just like mine! Hooray equality! Hooray love!

Judge Jason Greenlee begins reading the vows, using spouse throughout. He declared everyone married and the crowd erupted with joyful shouting and whistling. After the mass wedding, some of the couples peeled off to request vows with clergy of their own faith tradition.

There were a lot of people shooting out flames of happiness.

I’m so proud of my city, and so happy that we have taken this giant step in the direction of real equality for all our people!

I’ve been waiting years for my own marriage to stop being a privilege that is vaguely tainted by others’ lack of access to it. Today, here in my city, my marriage feels cleaner and lighter because any two adults who want a marriage can have one. That doesn’t weaken my marriage; that strengthens it.

It’s a good good good day. Congratulations to all the newlyweds (though of course some of you have been married in all ways except this one for much longer than I have). May your lives together be filled with love and laughter and all the recognition that many of us take for granted. Congratulations New Mexico!

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BlogHer Voices of the Year: The Videos

Alternative title: The Most Fun You Can Have While Reminding Yourself Not To Lock Your Knees

The good folks of BlogHer put the videos of the 2013 Voices of the Year readings on YouTube today and I just finished watching the whole event, top to bottom. Can I just say, holy wow. I mean, it was fun. It was thrilling. But to see it now, I’m more amazed and honored than ever to have been in such talented, brilliant company. There are two videos below. The first one is my reading; the second is the entire event and you don’t want to miss a minute.

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That was so much fun I’d like to do more of it. Lots more. Call me, OK? Let’s set it up. I promise I learned my lesson about touching a podium with a mic on it.

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Like I said, wonderful. Did you hear the part where Queen Latifah used my name and said I had power? It’s at 45 minutes and 0 seconds in case you want to listen to it 20 or so more times.

*I totally didn’t do that.

**It was more like 25 times.

 

Eyes Open, Eyes Closed

Carter doesn’t talk about his illness. Not ever. Not to his dad and me, not to his therapist, not to his psychiatrist, not to anyone.

If asked why he goes to therapy, he says, “I go to talk”

If ashed why he takes medicine, he says, “I need it,” or, “My mom tells me to.”

We have tried, on occasion, to discuss the matter with him. Or rather, to test his curiosity about it. It seems that he has none.

No, that’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that he is anti-curious. When any of us (parents, grandparents, therapist, siblings) tests the topic Carter reacts almost violently. “I don’t want to talk about that! Don’t talk about that where I can hear you!”

So, OK. That’s fine, except that I don’t understand it even one tiny little bit. I am endlessly curious, and so possessive about my own internal life that I’m rendered furious if anyone thinks they understand something about me and I don’t agree with them. I gauge my internal environment constantly. Even when I was a child I explored my mind and my behavior for clues to my motives and feelings.

And if someone thought they knew enough about me to hang a diagnosis around my neck? I damn well would have wanted to know what that diagnosis was, what it meant, what I could do about it, and what the prognosis was (even if I didn’t yet know the word prognosis).

Not so for Carter. We do know that he has put together a few things (like the fact that among his medicines are some that are meant to make the “little guys” go away), but he refuses to let us tell him more. His therapist says this anti-curiosity could be a result of the trauma he experienced two years ago, when he was so deeply ill that his own behavior terrified him. His psychiatrist says his anti-curiosity could itself be a symptom of his mental illness, or that it may have to do with a delusion or hallucination.

Me? In a stunning impulse to look on the bright side (something I usually have to tie myself in knots to accomplish), I’ve decided that he knows on some deep level that there is a whole vocabulary swirling around him, and he’s not ready to know those words and their meanings. Once he hears and understands the words bipolar, psychosis, borderline IQ, generalized anxiety disorder, and all the rest, he can’t un-hear them. He can’t un-understand.

When he wants to know more, I will tell him, but until then, I’m glad that some instinct has helped him maintain what little innocence he has left.

This post originally appeared at Hopeful Parents.

I guest posted at my friend Katie’s blog today. She’s one of my favorite people in the blogosphere and if you don’t know her, you’re missing out on an extraordinary woman. Come on over and read Naked Broken Afraid.

All this, and yet…

My dogs knocked over the kitchen trash during the night last night and spread tissues and coffee grounds all over the house.

Infuriating.

I took Carter to get blood work done this morning and the orders weren’t in the computer system, so we have to go back again tomorrow.

Frustrating.

It took me over an hour to pair my Droid X to my new bluetooth keyboard.

Annoying.

I went to lunch with my grandma today and her mental status is declining precipitously.

Heartbreaking.

I went to get my haircut and they were piping hip-hop music into the salon.

Aggravating.

Carter barfed twice this evening, which he’s done most evenings lately after a long, long period during which he rarely puked at all.

Discouraging.

Abbie didn’t return my call or my texts.

Depressing.

I didn’t realize until after I put the pasta into the pot that Brian used the last of the spaghetti sauce.

Maddening.

And yet.

Life is still better than it was in November when I was so depressed I could barely get myself off the couch.

Hell, I brushed my teeth today. I’m calling it a win.

I don’t want to hurt…

I don’t want to hurt my children, so I am not honest about the pain and anger I sometimes feel about being a parent.

I don’t want to hurt my parents, so I am not honest about the wounds from which I am struggling to recover.

I don’t want to hurt my sister, so I am not honest about the terrible hurts between us.

I don’t want to hurt other parents of kids with disabilities, so I am not honest about how much I wish that Carter was a typical kid.

I don’t want to hurt my in-laws, so I am not honest about . . . anything.

I don’t want to hurt my husband, so I am not honest about the ways that our relationship is difficult.

I don’t want to hurt my church family, so I am not honest about how disappointed I am that they don’t share their own difficulties more readily.

I don’t want to hurt Jacob, so I am not honest about how painful it is when he speaks to me the same way his dad does.

I don’t want to hurt Abbie, so I am not honest about how devastated I am by her rejection.

I don’t want to hurt Spencer, so I am not honest about the ambivalence I feel around my role as his stepmother.

I don’t want to hurt Carter, so I am not honest about how angry I am that he is ill.

I don’t want to feel embarrassed, so I am not honest about the anguish I feel about my weight.

I don’t want to feel your pity, so I am not honest about my depression.

I don’t want to feel your condemnation, so I am not honest about they ways I feel helpless and stuck in my life.

I don’t want to feel your judgment, so I am not honest about my opinions if I don’t feel like an expert.

I don’t want to be less than you, so I hide behind false notions of privacy.

If I believe that the truth will set me free (and I do), then I have become my own jailer.

And who have I protected?

Really?

The Kind of Rabbit Hole Only a Nerd Could Love

The trouble with taking a sabbatical from blogging (or anything, really) is this: it’s hard to get back to it.

Making it even harder for me is the fact that I have fallen down a rabbit hole, and it looks like this:

Yup, it’s a rabbit hole, the kind only a nerd could fall into, and I’m in it hard.

That’s my office, and covering my makeshift desk are hundreds of photos, plus letters, newspaper clippings, funeral programs, and miscellaneous other papers that I’ve gathered over the past few years. The bulk of it came from my grandma, but bits have come from other family members. All that’s spread out on my desk is perhaps 20% of the total.

I love that my grandma saved so much, that I have this abundance of memorabilia to sift through and enjoy. She made notes on many of the photos so I know who is who* and, often, the year and even the location. What she didn’t do is organize the pictures by any system that I can understand. One album contains photos of my grandma’s mother’s funeral in 1961, followed by some pictures of my grandpa, aged about 3 (so sometime in the mid-1920s), admiring his family’s new Ford. Many of the pictures aren’t in albums at all.

Hence, the pictures spread all over the desk as I try to put them together in groups. Jones family here, divided by generation, Derry family over there, Holmes family in this basket, Sutton family in that one. For some categories, there are hundreds of pictures, and for some, just one or two faded snapshots. Sadly, there are also a great many whose stories I don’t know, and that my grandma doesn’t remember. Unless one of my great-uncles knows the names and places behind those photos, the stories are gone for good.

These are my people. One branch of my family’s history, here in this room. The papers and photos in all these albums and boxes tell a story. My story.

Some of the things I’ve found are almost too sweet to bear, like this photo of my dad’s mom’s mom, Freda Holmes, when she was 17 years old. Her husband-to-be, Roy Harrold, carried this picture during World War I.

My grandma talks more and more these days of her mother and how she looks forward to seeing her again. This is a bit of a puzzle to all of us since she spoke of her very differently 40 years ago. Apparently, she had a habit of locking naughty children in the closet until Roy came home to deliver a whipping.

These days, my grandma recalls a flower that her mother grew in their kitchen during the Christmas season one year, how carefully she tended it so there would be something pretty in the house in spite of the family’s nearly unbearable poverty. She never mentions dark closets or painful whippings unless I ask her specifically to tell me about those things.

These two photos tickle me because it’s proof that teenagers are teenagers and they will goof around, no matter the decade.

I came across this snap of me and my dad with his brand-new officer’s commission in 1973. I love seeing pictures of myself as a kid. My parents always had slides, not regular photographs, so the only “real” pictures of me come from relatives other than my parents. Since the projector broke some 20+ years ago and no one repairs them anymore, it’s been a long time since I saw many pictures of myself as a little girl.

There are lots of pictures that break my heart, too. Like the photo of Freda and the one of my dad and me, there are many that show people who are happy and carefree before something in their world smashed their lives all to hell like so many grapes in a wine maker’s barrel.

Some photos forewarn, like these three school pictures of my dad’s sister Nadine from 8th, 9th, and 10th grades.

I called my dad to ask if Nadine had bad teeth, but no, she was just that miserable, almost all the time. She was a happy little girl, but from the onset of puberty forward, she struggled with near-constant, debilitating depression, culminating in her suicide when she was 26 years old. My mom tells me that Nadine suffered from PMDD, which would explain the marked change around 12-13 years old.

Sad as much of this is, I’m mostly in a dream state built of fascination. Really, what little girl who loved Little House on the Prairie as much as I did wouldn’t be thrilled to search through a stack of photos and find this?

I have no idea who the man in that picture is, but it tickles me to scan a photo of him and share it on the internet, given the fact that he probably had no more than a passing relationship with electricity and running water.

*There is one photo of a dog in a field. At the bottom of the photo, my grandma jotted the word dog. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she thought dogs were endangered and that future generations wouldn’t know what to make of this fluffy, four-legged creature.

Body Memory

I’ve been sick for five days (I think? It could have been four. Or six.). Fever, coughing, stuffy head, gastrointestinal ickiness, the whole unlovely, unpleasant drill.

My mind doesn’t understand the difference between staying in bed all day because of a virus, and staying in bed all day because of depression. If I stay in bed all day, I get depressed.

Sort of like, if you hold me under water long enough, I drown.

My brain says that life sucks, has always sucked, will always suck, and it says all of that loudly. My brain says that I’m useless; that I’ll never accomplish anything that matters. Adrift on my couch, I believe everything it says.

This morning, Carter woke up and told me a dream story; something about hairy pigs wearing dresses, and then he wanted to get all our dogs on the bed with us. He laughed at Blossom’s bald anus (Brian shaves it every month because otherwise, she runs around with a poop-encrusted ass which is, to understate quite dramatically, unpleasant.) and Lolly crawled under the covers like a giant worm while Doodle made how did I get mixed up with this nutty crowd? faces at us.

I can breathe again.

And just like that, the world is right-side-up again. Turns out, my body can make new memories.

The World Is Burning

On September 13, 2001, I was home alone. I don’t remember why; there should have been kids in the house. Perhaps I wasn’t alone, and the kids were napping? In any case, I was at my desk, doing daycare paperwork, when the phone rang.

The phone had been ringing a great deal. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk, to connect. The world was burning.

A very officious-sounding woman was on the phone, “Hello, this is Deputy Smith from the Bernalillo County sheriff’s department. Is this Adrienne Jones, child care provider for the infant Kyle Marks who died yesterday?”

“Excuse me,” I squeaked. I set the phone down and vomited in the wastebasket. The world went black around the edges as I rinsed my mouth and tried to regain enough composure to speak.

On the phone again, Deputy Smith was apologetic. “Ms. Jones, I thought you knew. I’m so sorry; I would have been gentler. I thought the family would have called you.”

“No, I haven’t seen them since Tuesday. They got scared. No, they were upset. Everyone was upset and they came to get him right before the second tower went down. What time was that? When did Kyle die? Oh, my God. Was it the same thing? Did he die the same way as his brother?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know. The coroner has to make that determination. Kyle died early yesterday morning. The parents woke up and he had passed away. I’m so sorry; I need to ask you a few questions. I’ll try to be brief, OK? Can you answer a few questions?”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry.”

The deputy asked me a dozen questions – standard stuff, and since I’d never noticed a thing about Kyle or his parents that concerned me, we were done before too long.

When I had answered all of her questions and finally hung up the phone, I lost my mind with grief. For Kyle, yes; for the loss of a little boy who had only lived four months, but even more, I wept for Kyle’s parents. Their first baby, Noah, had died just 10 months earlier.

Twice, in one year, they buried a child.

Twice.

A few days later, Brian and I went to Kyle’s funeral at a tiny church in the North Valley, then followed the funeral procession to the cemetery. I rode head-down the whole way, crying into a giant ball of tissues. When he stopped the car and I finally looked up, I realized we were just up the hill from Gabrielle’s grave.

I dissolved into a puddle of overwhelming grief – for Kyle and his brother, for Gabrielle and Rachel, for parents and siblings and spouses and lovers and friends and children. The weight of a nation – the world – one family. The grief.

So much pain.

The number dead in the September 11, 2001 attacks is staggering – 2,996 – but it is, in some sense, meaningless.

Her spouse; his niece. Their daughter. His sister. Her best friend. His lover. Their youngest child. His mom.

Individuals.

Wives wept in the shower; pastors, imams, rabbis, and priests comforted their people; fathers held their children. People suffered. People. Individual people, bound together by the threads of pain.

Do you remember in the days after the towers came down, and the people on the ground were covered in ashes so that they all looked the same? People showed up to help – thousands of people – and those of us far away from the site of the tragedies said prayers and helped in other ways. We held our breath and hoped for survivors; we wept together when there were only a few. We cried with gratitude for the many heroes – first-responders and ordinary people who risked everything, or gave everything.

There was so much heat in that connection.

I hugged Kyle’s dad after  the funeral and said, “I miss your little boy. I loved him.”

He wept into my hair, crying, “I can’t stand it. It hurts too much. I can’t stand it!” We cried like that for a long time, together.

Together.

It’s better that way.

Not easier; not less painful. Just…better.

Multiply compassion and love in the world this weekend, my friends. Multiply hope.

Overcorrection

Jacob is taking drivers’ education.

Oh, you’re sweet. Yes, I was very young when he was born.

Jacob is doing great with the whole learn-to-move-3,000-pounds-of-metal-down-the-road thing. I, on the other hand, had a hard time.

Let’s look first at what I had to work with.

In my case, the family truckster was 1980 Volkswagen Vanagon. Affectionately nicknamed The Brady Bunch Getaway Mobile, this thing had no amenities, no luxuries, nothing. It was a shoebox on wheels with a sewing machine engine to propel it forward in space. When we were traveling and got bogged down on a hill (read: slowed until a 4-year-old on a tricycle could have passed us), Dad would holler at my sister and me to get back there and whip the hamsters.

But I begged to drive it. Why? Because this:

was the only other option. Sorry for the lousy picture, but that’s the one, the real truck in which I learned to drive, a 1965 Ford F100 small bed. The people who own it now didn’t answer the door when I knocked and I thought it might be a bit rude (read: I go to jail for no photo) to stand in the yard taking pictures.

That’s Old Blue, so named because it was old, and also blue. We’re a very creative family that way. My dad told me that if I could drive that truck, I would be able to drive anything.

On that point, he was correct. You could put me behind the controls of a locomotive and I wouldn’t be intimidated.

Trains have a steering wheels and clutch, brake, and gas pedals, right? Good.

The first thing my dad (who handled all the driving instruction; my mom sat in the backseat and gasped herself dizzy) taught me to do was start the car. Simple enough. On Sunday mornings I would rush to be ready to go first, then ask my dad for the keys and run out to the driveway to start the van.

That was how I managed to destroy one of the garage doors. I smashed right into it with one of those giant vehicles. My folks bought a new garage door, hung it up, and painted it to match the other one.

I waited almost 24 hours before I smashed the other garage door.

There was much sighing and shaking of parental heads, but they ordered another garage door, hung it up, and painted it.

I waited over a week after the second new door was installed before I smashed the first new garage door. Again with the sighing and shaking of parental heads, but that time my dad went into the garage with a mallet and pounded out the smashed parts the best he could.

At which point I stopped driving into the garage doors.

My parents decided to hand some of my driverly education over to the professionals and signed me up for drivers’ education, which involved some classroom time, several sessions on the driving range, and several hours of street driving.

Our driving range looked like this:

I fear I have made you jealous with my mad drawing skillz. Buck up, little artist!

See that little row of boxes? Those are the cars. They were all automatic except one, and I had to drive that one because both of our vehicles had standard transmissions.

Every car had a speaker in it, and the teacher and his assistants in the control tower could talk to us, the drivers. Our first task was to drive forward to the dashed line. In spite of my hands sweating half a quart per minute, I successful completed that skill. One minute, I was in front of the little practice road, and the next minute I was idling in front of an orange cone 20 yards away!

Hooray! Success!

Oh. It seemed we weren’t finished.

The next task was to drive from the dashed line back to where we started. Backwards.  I looked over my right shoulder. I looked over my left shoulder. I let up on the clutch a little bit…a tiny bit more…just a bit more…and the car moved a few inches.

Oops! I wasn’t going in a straight line. I slammed on the brakes, corrected my direction, and worked the clutch and the accelerator again.

Oops! I was going in the other wrong direction. Worse? All the other cars were back where they started.

No time to start over! Everyone was staring! Quick; correct the steering! No, wait, the car is about to stall! Give it some gas!

When the cloud of dust started to settle and my dizziness was subsiding (and, I assume, the other driving students had begun to catch their breath), one of the instructor’s assistants came to get in the car with me. That assistant rode in my car the rest of the hour and I still managed to rear end another car and take out half-a-dozen orange cones.

None of this should have surprised anyone. I was always the kid who, when I got into a bumper car at the fair, immediately got stuck in a corner and never managed to get out before the time was up.

All early indications to the contrary, I did eventually learn to drive, and drive well. Since that little fender-bump on the driving range, I’ve never been in an accident that was my fault.

Of course, that might be because I drive like a little old lady. Do you know who first told me I drove like a little old lady?

My grandma.

Sigh.

Sometimes I think it’s a wonder I’m smart enough not to eat my own head.

Jacob is doing great. He would never spin out on the driving range. Or eat his own head.

Hooray! Success!