Hashtag nofilter

“I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.” –Vitruvius

Since Tuna died, the question “How are you?” has been hard to answer. I’ve considered answering with, “Never been worse. Living my worst nightmare, you?”
If you’re not sure how to answer the question “How are you doing?” when people check in with you during isolation, it’s totally normal for those going through grief and trauma.

My suggestion (since you asked) is to be honest. Don’t say you’re doing great when actually you can’t stand the sound of your cat eating for one second longer. Don’t say you’re fine when really you’re ready to douse the house in bleach because it smells like PEOPLE, your couch is developing permanent butt-indents, and you can only go so far on a stationary bike. If someone checks in and you say all is well, but really you’re having conversations with your dog while watching the Golden Girls (true story), try a more honest answer. Just say it: “My anxiety is through the roof and I need some help with coping right now.”

For me, after Tuna, I started saying “We’re getting by,” or “I’m doing ok,” or “Doing my best.” Those are the family friendly versions of, “I’m living in hell and can barely cope right now.” People don’t want to hear that. Most people don’t know where to put that, it gets awkward, so you water it down.

During these times right here, when we’re contemplating the pros and cons of wearing a fishbowl on our heads to go toilet paper hunting, we might answer the question, “How are you doing?” with the answer, “I’m doing as well as can be expected.” Or, “I think I’m ok, but are you experiencing depression and worry, too?”

Guess what? It’s ok that you’re experiencing that.

If you’re new to grief and trauma (because that’s what the world has been plunged into – – the cold world of drastic, traumatic change), everything you’re feeling is normal. If you’re crying, that’s OK. If you’re acting really weird and loopy, that’s OK. If you’re escaping, that’s OK. If you’re trying to laugh at it all, it’s cool. If you’re over-achieving, that’s fine too. Just be sure to come up for air. Be sure to answer the questions with brutal honesty. Don’t insta-filter your pandemic state. Hashtag no filter that answer: “I’m freaking out, and I need to see your face”, “I want to know what to do when I feel depressed and lonely”… You get the idea.

So this is where I say, “Hang in there!”, which is a watered down version of, “Yeah, this is a really freaking twilight zone state the world is in and I have nothing helpful to say. At all. Hang in there.”

Please talk to your people. Face time. Message. Call. And if you don’t have people, call a church, or look at the Google thingy for a counseling hotline–some are free–just to talk to someone who will listen.

If you’re feeling like hurting yourself, call 1-800-273-8255. Go here if you need to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. I’m not asking you. I’m telling you.

Sorry, the world is closed. The whole world is just hanging in there until further notice. People tell me that it gets better, this grief crap. People are nice. I guess I’m not people… I’m telling you that it doesn’t get better, just different. It never goes away–we’ll all be changed by this crisis–but when further notice comes, we’ll get to let go.

Eyes Front, Don’t Trip

My kick-ass friend Anna sends me love notes that say “drink water”, and “take walks by yourself”. You know, self-care reminders. So today I took a walk. We have woods in our backyard, and I decided to take the trails instead of the road.

I came across a softball someone must have dropped. I thought “Oh cool, a new ball for Molly” (my dog). I kicked it a few steps, went to pick it up, and stopped. What if it had traces of Covid-19 on it? Anyway, maybe they’ll come back for it…yeah, I’ll leave it.

The trail led to the baseball fields at a nearby school, and there was a dad there hitting balls with his kids. The first ball I watched him hit came to the fence, and I thought I should probably walk faster since I’m not baseball and knowing me I’d get a concussion trying to catch it if it went over. I kept walking, and his next hit landed over the fence and in the grass next to me. I picked up the ball and threw it back over the fence for him, without a single thought of the virus. I just thought it would be a nice thing to do.

Why did I worry about the virus with the softball, but not when I was helping someone? It explains our hero healthcare workers’ mentality, risking their health each day for the greater good. And we can extend that to the rest of the workers still out there providing “necessary services” for the rest of us.

I kept walking. Then it hit me that I should probably clean that hand first thing when I got home. How sad that I have to think this way. What a freaking twilight zone we’re in. I picked up a dry leaf and crumpled it up in my hand, willing nature and dirt to absorb the virus that was 99.9% NOT on the baseball. Ridiculous. But what did I do when I got home? I washed my stupid hands.

I had a pretty good pace going on my walk. It felt good to get out and move, and I was just looking straight ahead as I walked. At one point I stopped and stood silent, taking in what I missed in movement. Deciding against sitting a while, I kept going. At one point, I looked around into the woods while keeping my pace, and I tripped on a root. I didn’t fall, but I did put my eyes back on the trail and kept them there.

Walking clears my head. I had been thinking about our situation at home–how we would have to really plan and manage well to get through the next couple of months, the uncertainty in everything right now, financial strain, changes springing up daily–when my eyes strayed into the forest, my head turned, and that’s when I tripped. That root sprung right up, like the daily changes, when I wasn’t paying attention to the path in front of me. Had I been present, it wouldn’t have tripped me.

We’re being pummeled with opinions and statistics and facts and warnings and directives and suggestions and articles and press conferences and terrifying news all day every day. Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep these days at home as stress-free as I can for my family. I’m trying to take in the pandemic forest around me while smoothly navigating my own family’s path forward. There is NO WAY I can do both at the same time. If I don’t keep my eyes front while we go through this, and only stop briefly to assess what’s going on in the rest of the woods, I’ll fall flat on my face.

My job–YOUR JOB–is to do just that for yourself and/or your family. Sure, listen to your most trusted news source. Yes, get the updates. And then face forward again. We won’t get through this if we’re all splayed on the forest floor, ankles sprained, waiting for help that isn’t coming. Step over the unexpected roots, and walk yourselves smoothly home. Then (unless you’re among the necessary) stay home, because the right thing to do is help others…and wash your hands.

Radical Piece Protector

It’s a radical concept to some–I listen to my children. They are individuals with their own ideas, opinions, feelings, experiences, and perceptions. When one of them tells me he’s scared, I listen. When he says he couldn’t breathe and his stomach hurt at school, I recognize that he’s describing a panic attack. When he can’t sleep and begs me not to go, I hear him. I respect my children and believe them when they tell me their feelings. If they can’t count on me to trust and protect them now, how will they trust me with their hearts in the future?

Squishy is grieving, and he has severe separation anxiety. He’s now scared people will leave him. This extends to everything–pets, TV shows, and objects. When one of his mittens fell out in the car and he didn’t have it for recess, he wouldn’t use any others and ran away from his teacher. He ended up surrounded and secluded, and then had a panic attack. His brother died suddenly last year, but no hugs while he’s upset. No understanding that his mitten missing translated as everything being out of place and nothing would ever be right again. This is grief. I’ve been told they can’t help him with anxiety at school. Almost every day I pick up my baby boy with a face puffy from tears, and exhausted with worry about the next day at school. He. Is. 7. Years. Old. And so, we pulled him from school… for the second and last time.

I pulled him the first time in the fall for similar reasons, and because he was being physically restrained and secluded almost every day. I homeschooled/unschooled him for two months, and a lot of healing happened in those two months. He opened up about Tuna for the first time, and he relaxed a lot. He started to like learning. I thought that was a good amount of time for him to breathe and heal, so with high hopes for success, I sent him back to school starting with half days at the doctor’s suggestion.

My hopes were wrong. He was miserable. He hates school. Our family is hurting, and anything that adds to our pain (that we have the power to change) is now unwelcome in our lives.

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When you lose a child to suicide, the person that was you becomes a shattered mirror, smashed to tiny shards, skidded and scattered– stuck underneath in the small dark places–impossible to sweep up. There are pieces of me that are lost forever. They’re lodged in floorboards and bare feet. They’re in a landfill with rinds and wrappers. They’re dust.

And there are just a very few pieces that I found and kept. I’ve tried to repair them–to put them back together–but they don’t fit now, so they just lay there, broken. Now, I’m searching for pieces that will fit where the gone-forever ones should be. When I look into them now, I see shifting fragments of the self I used to know. Where I’ll find the pieces to repair them, and what they’ll even look like, is a mystery.

But, there is one piece I keep apart from the others. It shows me the same piece of me each time I look. I’m protecting this one–giving it it’s own space. Every time I check to see if I’m still there, this piece shows me my boys.

When I only have fragments of myself left, and my two living boys are whole and alive, I will do ANYTHING to make sure that piece is protected. When I entrust anyone to hold that piece, and there’s even a slight chance that it could break, I’m taking it back. That means that if my boys tell me they don’t feel safe, the most important thing in the universe is to make sure they do. PERIOD.

When we still had Tuna with us, there was a lot more worry about the “shoulds”. I like to think that we’ve always been this way–fiercely protective of our children’s mental and emotional safety (We definitely ignored the “shoulds” more than most people I know)– but they did hold us back from the right decision more than once. Now, the things we thought mattered are meaningless.

Now, there are zero “shoulds” for us. There is no room here for anything or anyone that tries to impose on our fragile family well-being with a “should”, or a “have to”, or a “keep up”. If it’s a radical concept to anyone that we listen to our children’s voices, and that their mental and emotional health come first; I hope they may learn to unconditionally follow their hearts and guts. There is no time on Earth for anything else.

May no one judge the grieving in their process, only love and support them in every way, and forever. As trauma survivors we’re doing our best. We have no room for struggle. Zero room for trouble, unless someone threatens the well-being of that one whole, beautiful, fragile piece of me. Then, I will bring that piece back to peace and safety before you can say “should”.

I’m Starting with the Mom in the Mirror

There’s a book called Mindset by Carol Dewck.  It’s becoming widely read by educators, and many parents. A friend of mine just wrote an awesome piece about it here.  The idea of cultivating a growth mindset has been popping up for me, beginning with a consultant at my boys’ school handing me the book three years ago. I put it off, being busy and all, and I think I actually over-borrowed her book by a year or something.  Oops!  So I finally read it, and the gist is that we can choose to have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  You can change your way of thinking, and you can choose to try hard at things that aren’t easy.  Of course there is much more to it, and you should pick up that book.

This seemed like a really simple concept, and I pshawed the idea that needed to change my mindset.  Of course I had a growth mindset! My mind has had a lot of attention!  I spent my late teens and twenties working on myself, understanding how I worked, and I came pretty darn far with that, thankyouverymuch.  I needed those years for that.  My mindset was solid.  It was my kids who needed some help here, not me.

The last couple of years brought parent-teacher conferences where I heard that my boys were awesome, except they needed to learn to persevere when things didn’t come easily right away.  I would heavy sigh, internally blame it on Latefordinner, and say “I don’t know where they get that!” That’s not how I do things!  And I work on it with them.  I take them for very long hikes in the woods and make them figure out how to get back, dragging them for miles when they want to quit.  I make them do chores for screen time, teaching them new chores and following through with my rules.  I use the mantra my parents used: “You can do hard things!” I make them problem solve, forcing them to figure things out before I help them. But the desire to work hard still doesn’t seem to be ingrained in their psyche, in their mindset.

The other day Tuna got a new Transformer.  He was frustrated because it wasn’t easy, and Latefordinner wouldn’t help him.  He reminded him that he used to get frustrated when he was four (he’s almost 11 now), but now he had to big-kid-up and figure it out.  Tuna carried that thing around with him all day, working and working on it until he could transform that thing in 10 seconds.  And he did it!  He was so proud of himself.

Then he came to me and wanted ME to try it.

Asking me to do Transformers is like asking me to sew something–I might throw a tantrum and smash stuff.  I have avoided Transformers for seven years now, passing them off on Latefordinner, because I CAN’T DO THEM. I HATE doing them, and no one is going to make me!!

So I wouldn’t do it.  I actually snapped at him  and asked why he even wanted me to do it.  Did he think it was funny that I’m not mechanically inclined?  Did he want to watch me fail? No, I wouldn’t do it.  I don’t sew, and I don’t do Transformers.  I had the fixed mindset that I couldn’t do Transformers, and I refused to try something hard. I told Tuna I would not try.  Now, there are some things in life we just don’t have to do as adults–taxes, sewing, washing cars, dishes…oh wait, gotta do those. BUT, when my child came to me and wanted me to try his Transformer, it was an opportunity to teach him how to do hard things.  I stomped my foot and refused!

The whole thing didn’t sit right with me. I knew I was being hypocritical and childish. I almost blew my opportunity to model the growth mindset. …..until I realized what I was doing.  I took me a day, actually.  Once the lightbulb went off–I think it was Latefordinner’s account of telling Tuna to work hard that flipped the switch– I went to him and asked him to teach me, and to be patient with me. I explained that I really should work harder on the things that don’t come easily.

It turns out he is an excellent teacher!  And, I was a pretty good student.  Transformers are hard when you’re me.  I can do hard things.

How many other times had I unknowingly taught him not to try?  How to quit?  How to not even begin?? How many other opportunities have I blown?

mirror-on-face

The good news is that Tuna (10), Binker (6), and Squishy (3) are still young enough to catch on, and they’ll have minimal damage.  I am always brought back to the mirror in parenting.  I used to call Tuna my little mirror–he shows me the truth of who I am–he is a reflection of me.  Somewhere along the chaotic way I lost that, (I think because it’s a bit overwhelming to see three different perspectives of your own reflection, like a three-way mirror), and this has been a shining reminder to do some inward reflecting.  It’s the same concept as putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping others–how can I grow their mindsets if I’m in denial about my own?  I’ve spent too much time projecting, not realizing that I’ve been giving away my opportunities for growth. Mindsets, like reflections, are never solid. We are never ever done growing. Who was I to think I didn’t need to change?  I really hope to hear some hard work reports at conferences this year.

This parenting gig is hard! Good thing I can do hard things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just get the pig

IMG_20150313_185741

Me: Ask me for something ridiculous.

Tuna: “Can I jump off a cliff blindfolded while holding a python?”

Me:  “When pigs fly! Ha!”  He thought it was hilarious.  That boy totally gets my humor.

I originally thought this amazing creation would hold a place on my piano so that every time one of them asked me for something I could just point to the pig.  “Mommy, can I have a pet hamster?”  I point to the pig.  “Mommy, can I tie my skateboard to the car with a rope and see how fast it will go?”  (Hasn’t happened yet, but it will.)  Point to the pig.  “Mommy, can I put my drum set in my bedroom?” Point to the pig.

This pointing will totally happen from now on, but it turns out this special guy is holding a place for a much bigger reason.  I originally saw it about a month ago.  I thought it was great!  It made me laugh!  I loved it!  I almost bought it, but then that not-me-judgy-intruder voice in my head said “nah, it’s too weird. Don’t get it, it’s tacky, it’s too much, it’s over the top…”  I took a stupid picture of it instead of just buying it.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the flying pig.  I wished I had bought it, I sighed every time I went back looking for another one and it wasn’t there.  I kicked my self wondering why I didn’t just get it when I could.

So Squishy is getting molars, and he has been whiny/screamy/pissy for about a week now.  I have almost lost my marbles a few times, and thankfully Latefordinner helps me keep them from rolling too far.  I had to get away from the colicky toddler yesterday, so I flew out the door the second Latefordinner got home.  I had a few minutes before yoga, so I stopped just to see if maybe possibly that piggy was at the store,  And it was!!

Now, I realize it’s not normal to obsess about a ceramic pig with wings, and I was abnormally giddy when I found this thing again. I felt like I was being rewarded for taking care of myself though, and I floated up to the register with its wings.  A few people  just looked away, but the woman in line behind me started cracking up!  She had a thick accent, and said “I never have seen that kind before!”  I grinned and said “Yeah, I’m going to just point to it whenever one of my boys asks for something outrageous,”  And she doubled over laughing!!! She was in tears!

I felt amazing as I walked out with my pig.  He just made TWO people’s day!  What else was he capable of? The place he now holds is one of power and pride for me.  I will never again deny my natural state of weirdness.  There is so much freedom in flight!

Question:  Will I forget that I don’t have to listen to not-me-judgy-intruder-voice ever again?

Answer:  Point to the pig.