The One With All The Thanksgivings

This is the first year that my husband and I are hosting Thanksgiving.

I mean, there was one year where we had it just the two of us, in Boston, after we had just moved in together for the first time. That was…way back in 2006. It was kinda cute, because we didn’t have a dining table of any kind, so we ate sitting on the floor on opposite sides of our Ikea coffee table.

I don’t entirely remember what we did for all the food…we only cooked a portion of turkey, not a whole bird. I do remember feeling a little sad that we weren’t with our families, but also cozy, quiet, and comfortable being with my most loved one. No drama. No fuss. Just us.

Fast forward to now, when I was the one who decided to host and invite family over, and I am also the one who doesn’t cook. Ha! Hilarity will ensue! Let’s get a reality TV show camera crew in here.

My husband is a good cook, but I am a better planner. And I’m told that cooking for Thanksgiving, in the crazy all-out way that Americans choose to celebrate a holiday supposed to be centered around gratitude, is largely about planning. I’m optimistic that our dynamic Thanksgiving duo will be able to put on a fairly chill, simple-but-yummy holiday meal.

We’ll cut corners where we want. Like, we’ll cook some turkey parts again and forgo a whole bird. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m gonna bake the pie cuz I likes to bake. My mom is gonna make her famous potato casserole. Yum!

Our Thanksgiving will also have to include some kid-friendly backups, like turkey-shaped pb&js or something, because the last time I checked, my kids only eat the rolls anyway. Kids are so weird. STUFFING IS AMAZING, YOU GUYS! FOR THE LOVE, JUST TRY IT!

A side note about Thanksgiving, which I alluded to above. Only Americans could take a holiday supposed to be about appreciating things you have and surviving the winter by creating excess, by exercising gluttony. I picture the fat disgusting dudes from The Oatmeal cartoons saying something like, “Shit, James! We didn’t starve or die from the measles this winter! I’m so happy to be alive! Let’s celebrate the way our forefathers would want us to – by eating everything in sight and bringing on early onset diabetes. ‘Merica.” And then they high-five each other.

It just makes more sense to me that, in order to truly know and show gratitude for something, you’d need to know what it’s like to be without it. Maybe one of these days I’ll put my money where my mouth is and actually fast for Thanksgiving evening. Perhaps having control over the meal this year – and simplifying it – is one baby step closer to that goal.

And, having said that, perhaps my kids have the right idea by just eating the rolls.



Don’t Be So Scared

I wrote the following post as a guest post on another person’s blog a few years ago, and I liked it so much that I am reposting it here as a way of reclaiming it, and to see how far I’ve come.

That, and I am way too busy packing for our trip to California for Thanksgiving, so I am phoning it in today.

It’s weird reading it now, because I am not working at the moment, and now I’m a mom.  But one thing hasn’t changed – imposter syndrome still creeps up…just for different reasons.



It was the fall of 2007.  I lived in Boston, was halfway through my master’s degree and I had just started my internship seeing therapy clients for the first time.

I felt like the biggest fraud in the world.

You know when you’re about six years old and you put on mom’s heels and pearls and lipstick and then go prancing about the house, hoping you don’t trip and fall and give yourself away?  That’s about how I felt.

They all say you’ll never forget your first client, and while I can’t remember her name, I do remember what she told me when we sat down across from each other for the first time:  “Don’t be so scared, honey!”  But I was, and what terrified me the most was that my fear was apparently obvious.

I inherited the tendency to suffer from general and social anxiety, and over time I have learned that if I just push through my discomfort, I usually come out on the other side having learned something about myself, having grown as a person, and feeling proud of myself.  As I made my way through high school and college, I slowly realized that 1) I wanted to be a therapist, of all things, 2) I thought I’d be good at it, and 3) It scared the shit out of me.  That settled it – I sent out applications to counseling master’s programs.

It’s weird that I am a therapist.  No one in my family has been one; I didn’t go to therapy as a child.  Therapists (and people who have been through the process as a client) use this language, this psychobabble, as if it were normal, but when terms like unconditional positive regard and attachment figure slip out of my mouth in front of friends and family, the looks on their faces highlight a distance I sometimes feel from the general population.

What I do during the day is odd.  I get paid to listen to perfect strangers tell me their deepest, darkest secrets, and I am expected to say brilliant things to make those people feel better and think about their problems in different ways. An added layer for me is that I work at an agency where we serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence – talk about alienating people at cocktail parties.  While I feel comfortable talking about abuse (with both my clients and the general population), most people don’t, and I completely understand that, but it’s tough when some people ask what I do or where I work, and the conversation basically ends after I give my answer.

For the above reasons, being a therapist can be an ironically isolating career to have.  Yes, I get to listen and work with people in such an intimate way, but that intimacy has to stay private…confidential…sacred.

Another side effect of shrinkdom that I have to actively reframe is my distorted perception that the world is a very, very dangerous place.  Every single one of my clients comes to see me because they have been victimized in some way, often by more than one person.  If I’m having a bad day, I think about all those perpetrators running around and it makes me terrified at the thought of one day having children and sending them out into the world.  I’ve noticed that I do little things to make myself feel safer: I always lock the door when I am home.  I carry my bike up to my second story apartment because it’s just too easy to steal.  If I am in my car, it’s locked, no exceptions.  The trick is to not let these little things turn into big things that get in the way of me living my life, hence the reframing.  I’ll hang out with healthy friends and remind myself that not everyone abuses others.  That may sound ridiculous, but for me, it’s essential to my sanity.

Another thing that adds to my therapeutic performance anxiety is this notion that therapists are held to a higher standard as humans, as if our training gave us mystical powers to analyze others and cultivate perfectly healthy relationships with loved ones.  As an example, a former boss of mine, who didn’t have a clinical background, once commented to me when several therapists at our agency were having a dispute, “You’d think that with all your training, you guys would know better how to get along.”  Yeah, thanks for that added pressure to be perfect, but it doesn’t really work that way.  Sure, we have mad skillz, but we also have baggage just like anyone else.

One of the ways us therapists get a handle on our issues and biases is through getting our own therapy.  My first experience of being a therapy client didn’t happen until after I realized I wanted to be a therapist.  Some therapy degree programs actually require that the students get into counseling, and while mine didn’t require it, I still wanted the experience.  I wanted to see what being a client felt like because I knew that it would later help me connect with clients, but more importantly I needed to deal with my own junk and gain some personal insight.

Let me just say that therapists make the worst therapy clients.  We analyze, we second guess, and we try to usurp the process- Oh no! I know what you’re trying to do!  You’re trying to get me to FEEL THINGS!  Well it won’t work!  Nonetheless, my first therapist’s name was Rebecca, she was a godsend, and I miss her.  I was able to unload and process all the crap that was happening in my life: moving across the country away from my family, moving in with my partner for the first time, and starting this crazy master’s degree.  She laughed at my jokes, she was there when I cried, and she didn’t judge me.  It was life changing.

It was through my time with Rebecca that I began to integrate these seemingly polar opposite sides of myself- the competent therapist and the anxiety-ridden fraud.  At first, the competent therapist in me felt guilty for getting my own therapy, because I was functional, healthy, I was taking a time slot from someone who probably needed it more than I…and I should know how to get by on my own, right?  I was supposed to have all the answers.  On the other hand, the anxious pretender in me felt so relieved, because I didn’t have to pretend in therapy.  Oh, it felt so amazingly good to admit how fucking scared I was and how I had no idea what I was doing.

Rebecca thought this was bullshit.  She didn’t think I was supposed to have all the answers.  She didn’t think I had no idea what I was doing, either.  And she was right.  Looking back, I think I knew this about myself all along, but just needed someone to say it to me.  There is room for both parts of me, and they aren’t opposing forces.  They’re just me.

So where does this leave me?  I still worry.  I worry that my older clients won’t take me seriously as a young professional.  I worry that my non-white clients won’t take me seriously.  I worry that my low socioeconomic clients will see me as a spoiled brat.  I worry that clients who are parents will reject my feedback because I am childless.  I worry that I won’t be able to help people.

And then I remember what it was like to be a client myself.  I remember that I was terrified of crying in front of a stranger, terrified that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, terrified of being judged.  I remember that all I wanted as a client was to be heard and understood.

And I think to myself, I can do that.

nanopoblano2015lightNaBloPoMo Day 20

Fish Out of Water

I never thought I’d be a stay at home mom.

And actually, I still don’t really feel like one.  I feel like a working mom who just isn’t working right now.  (WMWJIWRN?)  For the time being, I know that this is where I am meant to be, and knowing that brings me peace.  Do I want to be a stay at home mom forever?  No.  Do I want to work full time?  No.  Ideally, I’d like to work part time and be home part time.  We’ll see how all that pans out.

As an introvert and a homebody who moved to a brand new state while pregnant and unemployed, making social connections has been a challenge.  When left to my own devices, I will stay at home and watch TV, read, blog, clean, do projects around the house (in addition to parenting duties, of course)…and to get out with the kid, we’ll go to story time at the library, grocery shop (which I generally hate doing), walk/run (hate running, but it’s free), or try to arrange a play date with another mom (Which is SO MUCH HARDER than one might think.  Babies, and their weird, ever-changing schedules never sync up when you want them to).  That’s about it.

When Dylan was 8 weeks old, we started going to story time at our local library.  That has been our saving grace, pretty much.  For a long time, it was Dylan’s only social interaction with other kids, and it was/is my way of trying to awkwardly make new mom friends in the area.

And I’m not kidding about the awkward part.  It makes me feel like I’m still in grade school, cuz all I wanna do is raise my hand during a lul in the action and quietly ask if anyone wants to be my friend and come over to play.  Pretty please with a cherry on top.

And then a lovely fellow mom lady came in to story time and announced she was starting a support group for moms.  It was during a time I could make (which was practically any time, honestly) and kids could come along.  Oh thank goodness.

Note: I wrote the following two paragraphs several months ago, but wanted to keep them in here as I edit and add to this for posting.

I’ve been going now for 4 weeks and, while we haven’t really talked about anything deep or mind blowing…it’s been SO NICE.  I’ve left each time feeling so much calmer and more connected than before, and I find myself looking forward to it all week.

And it just hit me today that I’ve never actually been in a support group that wasn’t being run by me.  Come to think of it, I’ve led or co-led a good number of support groups and it’s a lot of work.  It’s draining and takes up a lot of my energy and concentration.  To be on the receiving end of a support group feels…incredibly comforting.

Sometimes I wonder about getting back into therapy for myself.  Like, as a client.  Goodness knows I could benefit from it.  The first time I ever went to therapy was precipitated by being in my therapy master’s program – I figured that I should know what it’s like to be in therapy as a client if I planned to actually do it.  So that got me into therapy, but the main issues we talked about swirled around the fact that I, like now, felt like a fish out of water.

I had just moved across the country, living outside of California for the first extended time, Brian and I had just moved in together, and I was working on launching from my family of origin in what felt like slow motion.  Everything was new, and adjusting was hard.

The feeling is familiar, but with one difference.  I knew that living in Boston was temporary.  Now, living in Oregon, we’re here to stay for the foreseeable future.  I didn’t see my life ending up here.  I didn’t see being a stay at home mom, either.  And that’s okay.  I mean, how can I possibly be expected, or want, to predict how my life will go?  I’m just dealing with all these changes the best way I know how.

nanopoblano2015lightNaBloPoMo Day 17

The Brats

I babysat on and off from age 12 to 25, and those experiences helped me to figure out what kind of parent I might want to become someday.

When I was in grad school in the Boston area, I babysat for two lovely children, ages 2 and 4, whom I lovingly call The Brats.

They were impulsive, they didn’t listen to me (or their parents), they threw tantrums, they fought, etc., etc.  Part of that was because they’re kids.  Kids are impulsive because their brains lack the capacity for impulse control and planning ahead, and they’re just learning how to be people and being a person is hard.  But a huge part of that, I quickly learned, was the way they were being parented.

I remember the first time I sat for these kids in the evening when part of my job was to put them to bed.  I got instructions from the parents on what the kids usually do for their bedtime routine, and then they said goodnight to The Brats and were off.  The Brats got to watch TV before doing things like jammies, brushing teeth, stories, and bed.  I turned on a half hour show (about a half hour before bedtime) and told the kids that right after the show, it was time to get ready for bed.  They had no response to this.  None.  I wonder if I should have been clued in at that point, but the TV was already on and their eyes were glued to it, so I let the moment pass.

As soon as the show was over, I got up and turned the TV off and announced it was time for jammies.  They erupted in wailing sobs and started thrashing in their dark places on the floor.

Holy crap, I thought.  At first, I was shocked.  And then I realized…Oh.  They didn’t believe me.  Their parents must set flimsy boundaries with them and break them all the time (this suspicion was later confirmed).  I tried to tell them that I mean what I say, but I seriously doubt they could hear me over their very loud display of despair.

As I got to know the family more, I found that the parents let the kids run the show (and then the parents would complain to me, a therapy student, about not having control over their kids).  As the babysitter (and NOT their therapist), it was very hard for me to walk the line that was being scribbled out in front of me.  Since the parents had no authority, they didn’t have any to give to me while they were gone.  And what was worse, the majority of the sitting I did for them was during the day while the mom was home, which meant that anytime I said no to the kids, they’d go running to mom and instead of backing up my supposed authority as their caregiver, she’d say yes.  I started to wonder why they hired me at all, but I kept that thought to myself.

The point to all of this is that getting to see how other kids are parented really helped me to see what worked and what didn’t, and also what I liked and what I didn’t.

I realized that I wanted to have authority over my kids – not to feel all-powerful, but to give my kids structure and predictability and security.  I wanted my kids to get used to dealing with their feelings after hearing ‘no,’ and I hoped to have the courage to tell them ‘no’ when it really matters.  I also wanted to continue telling kids- well, everyone really- exactly what I meant.  I feel that setting a well-meaning boundary that never gets enforced is doing kids a disservice, and I wanted to make sure my kids could take me at my word.

Hopefully, I’m doing an okay job of meeting these goals.  I’m glad I got to spend time with The Brats and their family; they taught me a lot about myself.


An unbearable feeling

Ok.  So this whole Boston thing has been weighing on me this week and I feel so pent up today that I just need to word vomit and vent…

So I imagine this post will be really raw, unorganized, and frenzied….kinda like how I feel.

I’ve felt particularly numb ever since Monday when I saw my Boston friends on Facebook start posting about bombs instead of about running and celebration.  For a bit, I honestly didn’t understand why I felt this way…but I think it just had to settle in.

This is the first time for me that a tragedy of this magnitude has felt so close to home.  Sure, I live in Northern California now, and I was born and raised here.  But I lived for 2 years, from 2006-2008, in Brighton, Mass while I earned my Master’s degree at Boston College.  I lived on Comm Ave., a few blocks away from BC and directly on the marathon route, just after Heartbreak Hill.  Right now, all those areas are locked down.

I was a spectator at the marathon, cheering on the runners, in awe that humans actually put themselves through such peril so they can say they’ve accomplished something awesome.

That place on Boylston where the bombs went off?  I’ve been there, I’ve walked that street before, where blood now stains the pavement.  It’s really hard for me to wrap my mind around this.

I have a lot of former classmates still living in the area, several of which who were at the marathon that day.  One of my bridesmaids doesn’t live very far away.  My dad went to MIT, where an officer was killed last night.  My parents first lived together as a married couple in Cambridge, which is now shut down.  I have an aunt, uncle, and cousins living in Cambridge right now.  My aunt and uncle are journalists and my aunt still went to work today to cover the story.

I spent time processing all that is going on with a client this morning who also has ties to the area, when I can barely process this myself.

I am worried.  I am so sad.  I am also so angry.  My client this morning made a comment that the tragedy isn’t about her or me personally, so why would we make it about us, about the fact that we feel close to Boston?  I see the point, but you know what?  This may not be about me, but it involves me.  It involves everyone.  I am involved because my loved ones shouldn’t have to lock themselves in.  They shouldn’t have to be afraid.  People should be able to be a part of a public gathering and be safe.

It pisses me off so much that these two young men (maybe more?), younger than myself, can wreak so much havoc and cause so much physical and emotional destruction.  That they took from us….took power?  A sense of safety?  Took life.  All of the above.

Shame on you.

I also hate feeling so paralyzed.  Because I feel such a personal connection to this crisis, I either want to help or I almost want to be a part of it, experiencing it along with the people I am worried about.  Because then, if I was there, at least my paralysis would feel justified.  Here, I was just able to take my Friday walk to go get lunch, and I almost felt guilty for doing so, because I know people in Boston can’t do that right now.

I can handle feeling mad, and even feeling deep sorrow.  But feeling helpless, powerless?

That’s such an unbearable feeling.

Eerie Images From An Empty Boston and Cambridge

UPDATE: a friend just sent me this piece, and it very much describes how I feel.

You say it’s your birthday…

This gallery contains 9 photos.

…well it’s my birthday, too, yeah! Holy crap, I am 29.  How the frick did that happen? Let’s launch into a 9 year birthday review, since my world basically ended and I was reborn the day after my 20th birthday, been cancer free ever since! 21 It was extremely important to me that my 21st … Continue reading