Invisibility Cloak

It’s been really hard trying to adjust to life in Oregon.

People have been telling me that it’ll take time.  Like, 2 or 3 years.  You know, to find friends and get used to the rain.

Well, it’s been 3.75 years and I’m still waiting.  Waiting to feel…adjusted.

I’ve moved before and it hasn’t felt like this.  So I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out what is different about this time and this place.

Many things are different: this move is permanent, with no end date in sight.  I didn’t move here for a reason of my own, meaning that we moved here because of my husband’s job and not because of work or school for me.  We don’t have any family close, not anywhere in state.  I moved here 8 weeks pregnant and have been largely housebound raising kids ever since.  The weather suuuuuucks.

But all this I’d been over in my mind, again and again, and nothing felt heavy enough to be such a roadblock.  Perhaps all of them put together is what is blocking my road?

Of course, there’s more.  My life is pretty unrecognizable from what it was 4 years ago.  I was working full time, not yet married, not yet a mom (of two).  I had friends and family.  Hobbies.  A brain.  A life.

Now I feel like I am getting somewhere – that along with grieving the loss of my homeland (via the move), I am grieving the loss of my identity.  Before, I was a therapist.  A partner.  Active, creative, thoughtful.  Productive.  Energetic.  Mobile.  Free.

I look at the clothes hanging in my closet, and I don’t recognize the woman who wore those clothes.  She’s not me, but I kind of remember her, the way one remembers a grandmother who died when you were a child.  I deeply miss her.

I feel like becoming a capitol M-O-M has wiped out any identity I had that doesn’t pertain to my relationship with my kids.  People no longer ask about me, they ask about the kids.  Or they ask about how I am in relation to the kids, as a mom, and not as a person.  (Because moms aren’t people, you guys.)

Edit: To be fair, my momfriends very much DO genuinely ask how I am doing.  It’s just that most often, I’m unable to answer honestly or with much gory detail because of the circumstances (read: kids running around trying to kill themselves).

Make no mistake, I’ve definitely been making an effort to integrate myself into my new life.  This introvert and homebody has forced herself to join a moms club, get to library story times, and go to various playgroups.  I’ve made friends and enjoyed some of what Oregon has to offer.

What finally hit me was something my good friend said to me recently.  I was bitching about how being a mom gets in the way of making good quality friendships because even when my momfriends and I can get together we’re still always chasing after our kids and can’t have a decent conversation.  I can’t remember how the conversation went, but I think I said that my momfriends and I mostly talk about our kids because that’s what we have in common, but we don’t share who we are as people.  And she pointed out that none of the people I am meeting and trying to forge relationships with in Oregon knew me before I had kids.  I just read back what I typed, and I can see how that may not sound so earth-shattering, but it definitely felt that way to me.  Besides my husband and this particular friend, zero people in Oregon knew who I was before children.  There’s been essentially no carryover from my old life to the new one, in every way possible.  Ugh.

As I take this thought and play the tape through in my mind, I’m seeing another layer of difficulty in trying to make new friends: not only do we lack the logistical opportunities as moms, but I am working blind.  I don’t even know who this new me is yet, and no one here knew the old me, and in that sense I feel completely invisible – swallowed up by my children (and then pooped out for me to clean up).

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On my back on a park bench

I just needed a break.

I hadn’t been outside all day, so I stomped outside to our tiny sideyard and started blasting the hose watering the garden like I do most evenings.  And then I just started crying.  So I cried, finished watering, and then left.  I just left.

I took a walk not really knowing where I was going (like how I am writing this blog post).  I just needed a change of scenery.

I ended up lying flat on my back on a park bench and watched the fading light reflecting off the clouds for I don’t know how long.

Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed, it helps me to just manically tackle my to-do list so I’ll feel some sense of control and competence as soon as possible.  Other times, I just throw my hands up, say fuck it, and walk out the door.

This was obviously the latter, although it was just a short break from chores that I completed upon my return.

Since having a kid, one of my biggest struggles has been trying to accept that I will rarely get to do things that I want to do when I want to do them.  On the surface, this is easy to accept.  I have a kid and of course his needs usually come first.  Yup, no problem.  But living this every day?  It’s fucking hard.

I’m a reasonable person (don’t ask other people to corroborate this).  I am a planner.  I’ve scaled my daily goals waaaaay back.  Things like: Today I am going to do one load of laundry.  Tomorrow perhaps I will clean the kitchen.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Ugh.

Yesterday, I just finished (well, kind of) a project I had been working on for months.  It was a struggle to finish.  I just wanted to FUCKING GET IT DONE.  And I was pushing it to the limit – Dylan needed to go to bed, there were chores to do, there was screaming and poopy diapers and food on the floor (thank goodness it wasn’t poopy diapers on the floor)- but goddamnit, for once I wanted to accomplish something for myself.

And then in my haste to finish, I made mistakes and when it was all said and done, I didn’t even feel any satisfaction.  No pride.  No accomplishment.  Ok, well, maybe a little.  But it was such a s.t.r.u.g.g.l.e and a letdown.

And so I cried and then left.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I wonder how to change my mindset so I don’t continue this struggle that makes me and everyone around me feel like crap.  But I also want a house that feels like a home.  I want to do projects.  I want to feel accomplished.  And I have no problem doing this after I ensure that my kid, myself, my family are safe, fed, and clean.

Well, maybe just safe and fed.

Violence, Sex, and Football

I watched the Super Bowl like most Americans (Is it most? It sure seems that way…), only a few hours delayed because I wanted to go grocery shopping without the crowds.  I wish every Sunday all the people stayed home from the grocery store so I could shop in peace.

And I watched it half-heartedly because my team is the Packers, but that’s for another day.

It was a fun show- a really exciting game that came down to the wire.  I enjoyed watching it…except for one part.  And I was sadly surprised that there wasn’t more outrage about this one part the next day on social media or daytime TV.

I’m talking about the horribly immature fist-fight that broke out during the last minute of play.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t too surprised to see grown men hitting each other at the culmination of months of playing a pretty violent game.  It reminded me about studies I read during college about how aggression levels in pro football players increases as the football season progresses (which points to the “catharsis effect” for getting rid of aggression as completely bunk).

I remember there being a good amount of outrage after Beyonce’s halftime show – how she had been too sexy, shown too much skin and/or done too many sexy moves.  “Little kids are watching this!  Cover up!  Be a role model!”  I remembered parents saying.

…so why not outrage at the fighting?

In my opinion, there should be far more outrage around the inappropriate display of aggression than around any display of sexiness.

The way I see it is this: most people will have sex in their lifetime, and even if they don’t have sex, they will be aware of their sexuality and will express their sexuality in some way.  It’s innate, it’s normal, and it’s healthy.  I draw the line at harmful, destructive behavior.  Yes, aggression is also innate (to a point), but most people do not go around hurting others.  It’s not healthy, and I don’t want my kid seeing it.  I am not advocating an all-or-nothing or good/bad approach – of course, kids’ exposure to both sex and violence should be both age appropriate (interpret how you will) and in context.

I find it really interesting that, when it comes to what we allow our kids to see in the media, we seem to be so much more permissive of violence and aggression than sexuality.  What makes sex – even healthy, consensual sex – so shameful?  And what makes violence so acceptable?

Eve Ensler once said something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing from memory): people are more afraid to love than they are to kill.  I think she has a point, and it saddens me.

Shame on you, NFL players who took part in that fight.  It’s a frickin football game and everyone is watching.

Ripped Open

Someone once told me that becoming a mother had ripped her open, both emotionally and physically.

At the time, I had an idea of what she meant, but now I have a much clearer sense.

Never have I felt so wide-open, so vulnerable.  It’s exhilarating and exhausting.

I cry much more easily.  I cry at diaper commercials.  Sometimes I cry when my son cries.  There is also such joy.  Pure, radiant bursts of joy.  My son’s smiles.  Watching my husband lovingly change a diaper for the first time.  Crying at diaper commercials.

The lows are lower and the highs are so much higher.

For me, becoming a parent has slammed me into the present like nothing else.  I am so overwhelmed, and my son’s needs are so immediate, that I am forced to focus on right now and little else.  Right now, he needs to eat.  Right now, I am going to sleep.  Right now, I am changing a diaper.  While I wipe his butt, we’re the only two people in the entire world.  He stares up at me and watches my face as I concentrate and hurry to finish the job.  I catch him looking at me and we share a smile.  Then we’re on to the next right now.

At the same time, becoming a parent stirred up my past.  I am remembering how I was raised.  Brian and I have discussions over how we were parented and how we want to parent.  I hear my mom’s voice, and even my grandma’s voice, come out of my mouth.  The past has been unearthed and laid over the present for me to walk through again.

Also at the same time, the beginning of life has catapulted me towards the future.  Since Dylan is our first child, and the first grandchild for both sides of the family, his existence has shifted everyone into a new life stage – a couple to parents, parents to grandparents.  It makes us all think of end-of-life issues.  With luck, Dylan will live to see us die.  He’ll see a world that I will never see.  It’s a concept that is very hard for me to wrap my brain around, and it’s both comforting and terrifying.

It seems odd to me, but the times my son just rips my heart out aren’t when he’s screaming bloody murder.  It’s when he seems bored or has this dejected look on his face.  Up here in my brain, I know that this is me projecting my stuff onto him and that he’s probably just content, or at the very worst, he’s just trying to process the world around him.  But here in my chest, my heart breaks for him, and I am not quite sure why.

Many, many parents say that they can’t imagine their lives without their kids.  I know this will happen for me at some point, but it hasn’t yet.  There are times, sometimes multiple times a day, when I wish for my old life back.  I wish to feel productive in a way that I am accustomed to.  I wish to have more free time.  I wish to have more sleep.  I wish for more predictability in my day.

When I find myself making these wishes, I reframe my frustration and ask myself what I can learn from this.  Again and again, the answer is patience and acceptance.  When I was working as a therapist, a supervisor of mine once said that we are given the clients we need.  So far, I think the same goes for kids.  My son is going to teach me, even force me, how to be more patient and how to accept that I am not in control (and I never was to begin with).

So, thanks, my baby Dylan, for ripping me open.

You’re going to teach me how to be a better person.

And I’m going to let you.

Delay of Gratification

I have tremendous amounts of willpower.  Clinicians and researchers call this “delay of gratification,” and it has been studied in young folks and correlated to certain behaviors as adolescents and adults.

When I was little, I remember being given Oreo cookies and eating them the same way every time.  You can tell a lot about a person by the way they eat their Oreos.  For me, I would twist the two cookies apart and then look to see which cookie had more frosting on it.  Then, I would eat the cookie with the least amount of frosting on it, saving the delicious frosting-covered deliciousness for last.

As a child, my Halloween candy would last until Christmas.  My Christmas candy would last until Valentine’s Day.  Hell, I still have some Valentine’s candy from this year in my pantry that I haven’t yet eaten.

These behaviors just came naturally to me.  As soon as I could understand the concept of “saving the best for last,” I did just that.  Somehow, I also correlate my wanting to clean up and liking rules and structure with being able to wait for things I really wanted, or even making myself wait for them.  In other words, I think my ability to delay gratification was helped by me being (and continuing to be) a little OCD.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to get dirty when the time is right, but after playing in the mud with my brother in the backyard, I would come inside and hold out my hands to my mother: “Need da wag, Mommy, need da wag!”  Translation: I needed a rag.  Out, out damn spot!

I still do these behaviors to this day, and I probably won’t ever stop.

I think about coffee and sugary drinks on a daily basis.  I fantasize about them.  Usually when I am trapped at work and want to leave, my fantasy includes sitting on a magical beach where sand can’t get in my crack and sun can’t harm my skin cells, and in one hand is a good book, and in the other is a bottomless grande caramel frappuccino from Starbucks.

But do I drink Starbucks everyday?  No, despite passing one every single time I drive to and from work.

Last story before the fun research part: My clinical internship during my master’s program was in a rural area and I worked with survivors of trauma.  Every day, I had to drive past a Dairy Queen that was within walking distance of my office.  Like I said before, I crave sugar on a daily basis, and I often turn to sweets when I am stressed.  For 9 long months I forced myself to not stop at that Dairy Queen.  It haunted me.  It called to me.

Finally, on the last day of my internship, I walked to DQ and got a blizzard.  Man, did that taste goooood.  Delay of gratification, FTW!!

So how do they test kids to see if they naturally perform this behavior?  It’s quite hilarious to watch.  First, they sit the kid down at a table in a room where they are being secretly videotaped.  The researcher puts a marshmallow down on the table and explains that the researcher is going to leave for a few minutes, and that the kid can have the marshmallow now, but that if the kid wants to wait to eat the marshmallow, and if the marshmallow is still there when the researcher gets back, then the kid can then have TWO marshmallows!

So then the researcher leaves the room and we watch.

Some kids eat that marshmallow so fast and never look back.  Some kids sit and wait patiently for the researcher to get back, because damnit, they want TWO marshmallows!  The interesting ones to watch are the kids who desperately want to wait and get their two marshmallows, and so they employ every tactic they can think of to cheat, avoid, or distract themselves.

Cheat – some kids will take tiny pieces off the marshmallow, or lick it, in hopes the researcher won’t notice and they can get their cake and eat it, too.

Avoid – some kids will turn their back on the marshmallow, or some even played under the table.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Distract themselves – some would use the marshmallow as a toy and play with it.  Some even tortured themselves by pretending to eat it…poor souls.

So what does this mean for behavior later in life?

Well, studies have shown that kids with an ability to delay gratification (meaning they have ‘impulse control’) are less likely to use drugs and break the law as adolescents and adults.  In my case, I wonder if it’s positively correlated with being crazy OCD?

Check out two videos I found and watch the kids squirm….

This last video also had some hilarious kid-coping-skills-moments, but I stopped watching after the speaker went in a religious direction with the analysis.  To each his own.

So, my Psychos, which kind of kid were you?!  Would you have eaten the marshmallow right away?  Would you have cheated?  Would you have waited patiently?

A Walk in the Cold

On Fridays I usually take a walk from my office to the local grocery store a few blocks away to buy a sandwich for lunch, or a coffee, or both.  Today I was feeling particularly antsy and restless, so the walk felt really good.  Invigorating.

It’s been particularly cold here the last week or so (meaning that I’ve had to scrape ice off my car at 8:45am more mornings than not…which is cold for not-the-mountains-in-NorCal) and I packed one of my mom’s hand-knitted slouchy hats into my bag and it came in handy for the walk today.

I walk fairly fast compared to most people I know.  My family was raised with German common sense and efficiency – you just gotta get there fast.  Dilly-dallying is for the weak.  I am The Short One at 5’6″ in a family of basketball players and giraffe lasso-ers, so I learned to pump my legs at twice the speed or be left behind to eat their dust.

Needless to say, I found myself at the grocery store in a very short amount of time.  As I walked back with my delicious white chocolate mocha, I had the realization that I’ll be 30 soon.  Thirty.  This is the first time in my life where my age is starting to sound old, and that’s kinda scary.

This, of course, brings up a lot of existential issues, one of them being regret.  I worry a lot about wasting time.  Too often I find myself waiting for things, and that takes me out of the present.  I wait for the weekend.  I wait to get married, buy a house, have kids.  Hell, some days I’m looking forward to coming home from work and I haven’t even left my apartment yet.  I don’t want to live like this, and I worry about looking back on periods of my life and regretting that I didn’t do more, whatever that means.

But I suppose I really do need to figure out what that means.  I’ve asked myself what it is I really want to spend my time on, and right now, I think the answer is wrapped up in three themes: I want to spend time creating, I want to spend time (and money) seeing the world, and I want to spend time cultivating relationships with people I love.

1. Creating

I want to invest more time and energy into writing.  Could this really go somewhere?  I feel like I need to give it a fair chance.

I want to set aside a place and more time to paint.  I think I’ve only done two major paintings in the past 4 years or so, and that makes me sad.  I have oil paints that I haven’t even learned how to use yet.

2. Travel

There are few places on this earth that I don’t want to see and experience.  I’m pretty thrifty with my money, but I have no problem spending it on plane tickets, museum tickets, and amazing food half a world away.

3. Relationships

The time I spend at work with clients who come to me at their lowest and in the most need has really highlighted how important friends and family are to me.  There is nothing like spending time with healthy, supportive people to recharge my batteries and remind me that not everyone in the world is either a victim or a perpetrator.  I’m also reminded that life doesn’t feel worth it if it’s not shared.

I also can’t wait to create a family of my own and have a relationship with little people who are half me and don’t even exist yet.  This part overlaps with the first theme of creation, although I hope my future kids aren’t offended by being lumped in with blogs and watercolors.  I’m sure they’ll be too screwed up to notice, at any rate.

So.  Are there ways to begin working on these things now and stop waiting for them to magically happen?  Absolutely.

Are there ways to stay in the present and stop waiting?  Yes…This is the part where I should actually practice what I preach to my clients.

I didn’t really start out to write a new years resolutions-ish post, but I suppose I just did.

Sometimes just taking a walk in the cold can do a person a whole lot of good.

Memories from summer camp: Dodgeball, peanut butter, and bodily fluids

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t know what the frick to write about.   This sucks.

So, I think I will post about a blast from the past, the best job I ever had – a summer camp counselor.

This camp was a day camp for different age ranges of kids in the town I grew up in, run by the local park district.  One week we’d have Tadpoles (kids 4-6), and the next week we’d have a combo of Explorers (7-9) and Ohlones (10-13), and these weeks alternated.  Camp was always M-F, and the Tapoles went home around 1:30ish, but the older kids stayed later, and for Explorer/Ohlone week, on Thursday nights they’d all stay for an overnight campout extravaganza!

This camp was called Summer Nature Camp, and it freaking rocked.  Every day the counselors planned a different theme.  Examples of themes: Reptile Day, Bug Day, Pond Day (usually a Wednesday, when kids would get to wade into the pond and catch amazing creatures), Unpopular Animal Day (you know – bats, skunks, snakes), Bird Day, Ranger Day (kids got to dress up like the rangers and learn about what rangers do all day.  hint: not much.  we taught the kids to write parking tickets for our fellow camp counselors, for instance).  For Explorer/Ohlone weeks, on Thursdays we did a big day hike, followed by face painting and games, then a campfire and stories, followed by an epic game of capture the flag at night.  Friday was always Adventure Day, where the counselors would plan a plot where some sort of evildoer was planning harm to the park, its plants and animals, and to the campers themselves.  The campers would then have to do a series of tasks completely unrelated to the danger at hand (like a trust fall, and passing kids through sections of a giant spiderweb made of rope), and magically the danger would be vanquished by the end of the day!

Some days, I think I had more fun than the kids, if that was even possible.  Don’t tell my former boss, but this job was so cool that I probably would have done it for free.  Below are the best examples of what I learned from working at this camp several summers in a row.

1. The younger the child and the greater the number of children, the more they must be herded like sheep

Always place one counselor at the beginning, one at the end, and several spotters throughout.  Try not to nip at the kids’ heels; parents really hate that.

Herding done right

2. Kids are hilarious when you least expect it

Some of my favorite quotes over the years:

During dodgeball: It’s like the Civil War, and that side’s Europe!

I love it when kids share TMI:  My daddy wears bandaids on his nipples!

I’m this many (holds up 3 fingers) but mom says to say I’m this many (holds up four).   Remember the age limit to be a camper is 4.  Yeeeeah.

My who-who itches!   Another wonderful example of TMI.  Keep it coming, kids.

3. Whipped cream spoils incredibly quickly in the sun

At the very end of the week, the kids got to cash in their Counselor Cards they had earned throughout the previous few days.  Counselors wrote these cards for other fellow counselors and no one counselor got to write the card pertaining to veself.  As an example, one of my counselor cards once read:  Melissa is a birthing cow.  Please encourage her young to be born quickly and healthy by spraying Melissa with whipped cream for 10 seconds.

10 seconds never felt so long.

4. It sucks trying to get peanut butter out of hair

For some reason, peanut butter is also a proven method for helping cows safety birth their young.  Who’dathunk?

5.  They’d better invent mucous and blood free humans when I’m in the market for a newborn, cuz I can’t handle the bodily fluids

It was summer.  It was hot.  There were rubber balls flying about, and there were kids running.  Kids broke skin a lot, but what was literally gag-inducing for me was when fluids flowed freely from noses in particular.  Skinned knee?  No problem.  Broken arm?  Come here, I’ll make a splint.  Walk it off.  Rub some dirt in it.  Blood running out of your nose and down your shirt?  Hells no.  You’re on your own, kid.  Actually, stay here and hold my hair while I throw up.

6.  I will never be able to rid myself of the trauma I suffered playing dodgeball at camp

Imagine this: you’re the only counselor still left on your team full of small, defenseless campers.  The reason you’re the last counselor on this team is because career counselor K is on the opposing team, and you’ve been hiding behind the chunkier kids on your own team for fear of ball-to-face humiliation.  Now, counselor K is fucking terrifying when playing dodgeball.  Picture a gorilla, all bent over with arms swinging and a look of intense concentration with knowledge of victory across his face.  His eyes practically glowed red.  He’d wait for the perfect moment when I wasn’t behind a kid, trying to grab a ball for a smaller tyke, and then I’d see it.  The wind up.  My body initiated an involuntary response that involved me hunching over, arms in front of my boobs and face (gotta protect the goods), one leg comes up to protect the abdominal vital organs, and then the scream.  Blood-curdling doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Wait for shame-inducing SMACK of the rubber ball against my exposed thigh, and then the collective sighs of disappointment from the little shits on my team.  Thanks a lot, you guys.  Then I went and cried in the bathroom.  I still have nightmares that involve my mom suddenly turning into a gorilla and serving me eggs that smell of sweat-covered rubber.