Monday, December 19, 2016

How My Girls Showed Me that Life is the Shit

Photo courtesy of J.H. Fearless/Flickr

My children have recently embraced the potty-mouth phase of childhood with a dedication they've only ever reserved for macaroni & cheese, "Frozen" and leaping on freshly folded piles of laundry (Lily calls it taking a walk through laundry forest. I call it infuriating).

Their craptivities usually revolve around the word "poop" and with a butt reference here or there. Peak potty-mouth generally hits after Lily gets home from school until bedtime – giving me a full three- to four-hour window to document just how many times references to No. 2 can be made. Jovie, in particular, has turned poo and bottom references into an art form.

A recent (fecal) sampling:

Jovie: Lily, Pretzel pooped on my head. (No, the cat did not defecate on my child.)

Jovie: What are we having for dinner, Poo-getti?

Jovie: If you do that, I'm going to poop on you.

Jovie: Lily, wanna have a poop fight? I'm gonna spray poop at you from my butt.

Lily (Looking at Facebook): Is that a picture of Papa?
Jovie: You mean Poopa?

Jovie: Knock, Knock.
Lily: Who's there?
Jovie: Pencil sharpener.
Lily: Pencil sharpener who?
Jovie: I'm a pencil sharpener that pooped.

Then there's been the festive array of holiday-related references, too ('tis the season!):

Jovie: Merry Buttmas!

Lily (to the tune of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"): We won't go until we get poop.

Jovie: Jingle poop, jingle poop, jingle all the waaaay!

As you can see, the potty talk isn't clever so much as prolific. Still, there are moments when I can't stop myself from giggling. Like that time when Lily referred to one of their favorite fast-casual dining establishments as Poo-nera. Or, when Jovie singing "Do You Hear What I Hear?" in the voice of an angel, trilled "A star, a star, dancing in the poopy ..."

In the realm of developmental stages, the crapload of poop references I hear on a daily pale in comparison to the days of their infanthood when I was wiping up actual excrement from their tiny behinds or the days of their toddlerhood when I'd periodically have to fish out floaters from the bathtub. I try not to put up a big stink about it – only asking that they limit their pooversations to our house or the car – definitely not in school or in public or around strangers or grandparents. They've been granted a deuce-pensation at certain friend's houses whose parents, like me, have crapped out on enforcing manners.

Sometimes as a parent, in order to keep your shit together, you have to pick your battles.

And of course, as adults we're not immune to talking toilet for shits and giggles. When those Poo Pourri commercials first came out my sisters and I were rolling in laughter (I imagine one or two of them were ready to buy company stock, too). You can imagine my glee when during closing for our York house (we don't need to talk about that right now) our real estate agent started sharing about a traumatic experience from his childhood (complete with pantomimes) whereby he had to use a shared toilet in the middle of the nursery school basement while a line of 20 or so kids stared at him.

Then, of course, there's a a tale that will go down in the anals -- err annals -- of family lore about the time when my sisters and our cranky kids all went to a water park at the beach on the hottest day of the year and chose to not make eye contact with a little log leisurely floating across the pool. Don't judge us. Earlier, as soon as we'd arrived at the waterpark and slathered sunblock on the kids (and you know that's no picnic) they closed the pool on behalf of a wayward doodie. By the time they reopened the supposedly clean pool, the kids were bouncing off the walls. We soon discovered the pool wasn't clean. But by then we were all in. Did I mention it was really hot? I mean, it was a big pool. Like, a really big pool. And we kept our distance from the uninvited guest. As far as I know, nobody suffered any gastrointestinal distress afterward. 

You know what? Let she who has never had an unfortunate poopcident cast the first turd.


Moving on.

It occurred to me in the midst of this recent kid-induced shitstorm that my sense of humor had returned. I'm not claiming to be any sort of comedian. Only that I have the ability, once again, to laugh at my little shitheads instead of just feeling like shit all the time.

The depression I'd been experiencing earlier this fall had completely flushed my ability to be silly. There was no space for joy in my brain. It was too cluttered with darkness. And there was no hope that the darkness would ever, ever go away. It felt like a permanent state of being.

I wrote in my journal that I felt as if my soul had left my body. That the fire that used to fuel me had been extinguished – or at the very least was the smallest of dying embers. I know this all sounds very overdramatic. Very 16-year-old theater student discovering the true depths of Hamlet's grief or something. So many feelings. All the feelings. Well, not really. Actually just a select few of the feelings – Sadness, Desperation, Apathy, Hopelessness – building pathetic outposts and miserable little settlements around my brain. All allowed to grow unfettered like the crabgrass in my old back yard.

In yoga today, we were asked to think about contentment. About being content in this moment. Allowing that feeling of contentment to roll over our tongue, down our throat and fill us. 

Our instructor asked us to reflect on contentment. Several people raised their hands and offered thoughts about finding inner peace or making the choice to be optimistic. Without thinking too much I raised my hand and started talking about moving and depression and the realization I had recently that I was OK. I had a bit of mouth diarrhea (sorry couldn't resist). But saying out loud what I had been thinking in that space really helped affirm its truth. 

I'm OK. 

As we were breathing through different poses, our instructor made sure that we paused. Sometimes we'd pause in an uncomfortable place, but we'd pause just the same and look for contentment in that moment. And often I'd find it. 

It occurred to me that in the midst of depression, my brain tells me I'll feel awful for always. Like it was where I would always land. And that in moments of happiness, my brain always seems to remind me it's fleeting. 

This contentment our instructor spoke of, it felt both lasting and fleeting. I could feel it in moments of discomfort just the same as I could feel it in moments of happiness. It could be my new baseline. I could laugh and land back there. Or, I could be sad and land back there. And that feels like a huge gift.


Earlier this week, the girls and I were decorating sugar cookies. They frosted and sprinkled for a record amount of time, but, as is usually the case, got tired of the job before all the cookies were done.

First Lily told me she was done. Then Jovie.

"Here we go again," I whined. "Every year I get left to decorate the rest of the cookies all by myself." 

Jovie paused on the stool she was about to hop down from. And then you know what my little shit stirrer did? She looked me in the eye and said, "Not this year mom," and decorated with me until every last cookie was covered in technicolor sugar.

My girl might be full of shit, but she's also made of sugar and spice.

She's always reminding me that while there are plenty of times when life is crap, it's also a pretty wonderful life.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Treating Myself to Myself On My (Almost) Birthday

Here's a picture of me with Amadeo.
I generally hate pictures of myself and
 avoid sharing them, but I like this one.  

It's the eve of my birthday, so naturally I'm feeling a bit reflective. I'm also feeling like a bit of a flight risk as  Santa's Marching Band has been in full concert mode for the past 20 minutes, Jovie's shouting about her plans to defecate on Lily in between begging for candy and Brad (i.e. bringer of sanity) just texted to tell me there's an hour-long backup on his drive home. 

And this is all after I spent 15 minutes running back and forth in front of my house in the dark attempting to apprehend an escaped cat who is lately obsessed with bounding out the front door each time it's been opened. He'd dart across the two yards to our right, forcing me to sneak up behind him like a total creeper (I mentioned it was dark, right?) while praying that particular homeowner was not so fanatical about his second amendment rights. Then, just as I'd get close, he'd leap away in the opposite direction. 

I'm sure I offered fantastic entertainment to the family next door sitting in their car on the driveway as I dove into bushes, tripped over the tethers of our giant inflatable yard snowman and generally made an asshole of myself trying to nab a cat who, apparently, has no interest in being a member of our pride. I grabbed the cat twice, only to have him wiggle free of my grip, tearing away for vagabond adventures in the wilds of the Northern Virginia suburbs. 

Meanwhile, the girls were sobbing at the front door afraid that I would never return from my pursuit down the block and also concerned that I'd give up the chase completely and return without the cat. 

It was all very suspenseful. 

I apprehended the cat, eventually, scruffing him and tossing him back into the house to the relief and delight of my children (who, between crying, I could hear shrieking in laughter inside the house each time the cat hightailed past the front door with me calling in my sweetest voice the phrase cats worldwide willfully ignore: "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty"). 

This is (almost) 35. 

And, like, I know it's no big deal. People in their 70s would say 35 is young and people in their 20s would say 35 is eons away and people like my children would spit water across the dinner table at hearing I'm almost 35 (yeah, that also happened tonight). Like I just told them that I was really the Princess of Herdondale and I'd only pretended to be a grumpy, hairy, perpetually exasperated stay-at-home mom. Or, that this Christmas, everyone was getting unicorns.

I'm not so fixated on the age thing, truly. In fact, I've always sort of felt that my spirit animal was a mini-van driving soccer mom in her mid-30s, even when I was younger. When I asked my sister what age she thought represented her truest self, she said she felt like a 7-year-old boy trapped in a grown woman's body.

If anything, I'm finally coming into my own. 

But the past couple years haven't felt so much like that. I felt like I've been warring with myself. Frustrated and angry and sad that I haven't figured out what it is I should be doing down here, feeling as if I've failed at the things I thought I was supposed to be doing down here. I'm not sure what came first, the war or the depression. They keep each other company in some sort of twisted, dysfunctional sisterhood.

We're kind of programmed to find significance in anniversaries, right? So every year that swings by of my life, I check in on the state of affairs. And the past few years the answer has been kind of the same. Still under the cloud. Still unable to locate the joy. Still finding plenty of reasons to be disappointed with myself.

As an objective, outside observer, I know that the stories I'm telling myself are just that, stories. Depression loves a good tragedy. But, unfortunately, day to day, I'm not an objective outside observer. I'm very much entrenched in my life. So, as logical as I try to be, I'm entering my 36th year annoyed by the fact that my mental health hasn't fixed itself. That I'm back on antidepressants. That I'm unpublished and uninspired. That I haven't figured out suitable alternative aspirations.

"Oh, we're still doing this?" I'm asking myself. To which myself replies, "Looks like it!"

I just started reading "Furiously Happy" by Jenny Lawson based on the recommendation from a friend and the ridiculous grinning taxidermied raccoon on the cover. 

In it, Lawson writes about her own experiences with being "a bit crazy." It's both really, really funny and really, really relatable. And today I felt like she was writing to me specifically when she discusses using medication to treat her depression and anxiety:

"We hear it from ourselves. We listen to the small voice in the back of our head that says, 'This medication is taking money away from your family. This medication messes with your sex drive or your weight. This medication is for people with real problems. Not just people who feel sad. No one ever died from being sad.' Except that they do. And when we see celebrities who fall victim to depression’s lies we think to ourselves, 'How in the world could they have killed themselves? They had everything.' But they didn’t. They didn’t have a cure for an illness that convinced them they were better off dead. 
"Whenever I start to doubt if I’m worth the eternal trouble of medication and therapy, I remember those people who let the fog win. And I push myself to stay healthy. I remind myself that I’m not fighting against me … I’m fighting against a chemical imbalance … a tangible thing. I remind myself of the cunning untrustworthiness of the brain, both in the mentally ill and in the mentally stable. I remind myself that professional mountain climbers are often found naked and frozen to death, with their clothes folded neatly nearby because severe hypothermia can make a person feel confused and hot and convince you to do incredibly irrational things we’d never expect. Brains are like toddlers. They are wonderful and should be treasured, but that doesn’t mean you should trust them to take care of you in an avalanche or process serotonin effectively."

Now, I feel like I should reassure people (i.e. mom) that I'm not suicidal. And I feel like the rest of the world should feel reassured, too. Because we're all a bit crazy. It's not a statement of our character or our abilities or our sturdiness in this life. It's OK. And it's OK to talk about. 

Lawson's reflections seem perfectly timed for my end-of-year check-in with my psyche. An early birthday present, really. 

If I can be gentle with myself about the depression, maybe it's also time I stop berating myself for not having figured out my purpose on this Earth. Because maybe that's a question that's already been answered anyway. 

I was listening to an interview with Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest (apparently he's well-known, I'm not churchy), on "On Being" (where else?). 

In it, he reflects on how he was called to the priesthood (he started out his professional life in business) and how the rest of us can figure out what we are called to do.

"Everyone has a vocation. I mean, the most fundamental vocation is to become the person whom God created. And it’s both the person you already are, and the person that God calls you to be. And I think we find that out through our desires. What moves us? What touches us? What are we drawn to? Part of that’s career, but only part of it. I mean, it’s really who you are called to be, and that’s why that question really spoke to me. But yeah, there’s a popular misconception that having a quote/unquote 'vocation' means that you have to be a priest or a sister or a brother. But a vocation is your deepest identity, and as well, being called to married life, or being a lawyer, or a teacher."
OK, so for me at first read/listen, the phrase "God calls you to be" comes off as a bit, you know froufrou and the glowing haloed white Jesus cuddling with lambs. That disembodied voice in burning bush telling Charlton Heston what's up in "The Ten Commandments." 

"Susan, thou shalt be a catcher of wayward felines..."

But while I might not be particularly churchy these days, I do absolutely believe that we are constant communication with the stuff of creation. ("Whoa, Sue, let's just go back to cuddly Jesus," you say.) We do each have a purpose. Just as each cell that makes up our whole being has a purpose. And Father Martin's direction to discover what that is through our desires feels natural and intuitive, and therefore probably spot on.

I've been thinking about the times I felt moved, things that I've been drawn to. And I feel like my heart sings the most when I'm able to connect with people -- whether they're family or old friends or near strangers -- about the things we don't always feel comfortable talking about. And creating that space for conversation. 

I think two of the most soul-filling moments of the past year have been the day on the beach when I used rocks in the sand to express the Love I felt for our world and the evening I shared my story about that day on the beach. Both moments were magical -- the first because I learned that big sentiments can be shared in quiet ways, not just grandiose ways. The second because I was able to share a message I believe deeply in my heart with a community of people who are out there in the world expressing their messages of love in their own ways. 

In thinking about this and thinking about Father Martin's words, I realized that I'm already doing the things that move me. Right here in this space. And I'm attempting to in my conversations with people I meet in the world. 

I started this blog more than four years ago with the goal of holding myself accountable to finish that novel I was working on at the time (remember all the way back then?). I finished the novel, but this site has persisted. And transformed into something I hadn't expected. A home for sharing the ridiculousness of child-rearing and sorting out the difficult questions I'm facing in life. I always look forward to coming back here and writing about what's happening in my world in hopes that I can find kindred souls who can help carry me through this adventure. And I haven't been let down.

Perhaps that question about being the person I was created to be has already been answered. 

I just need to be myself.

So maybe this year I'll give myself a gift. Remember that that's enough. That I'm enough.

And so are you.