Monday, October 30, 2017

That time lice taught me about happiness

I'm going to be all over the place tonight. I know this now. The last couple weeks have been kind of nonstop and full of stuff. Work stuff and school stuff and friend stuff and sibling stuff and kid stuff and spouse stuff. You know all the stuff. 

When I sit down to write any thoughts, it's as if they're dollar bills swirling around one of those money-blowing machines. What's the thing I want to say? What's the thing to share? What can I hang on to?

Today, oddly enough, I find myself clinging to the bills marked "happiness."

And, oddly enough, I think it started with the lice.

Yeah. You read that right. 

The lice.

As in the lice we found casually crawling around both girls' heads a couple weeks back. The lice that required the application of some pretty pungent shampoo followed by hours and hours and hours of combing through their hair in search of wayward bugs and eggs.

I now have an intimate understanding of the word nitpicky. Up until a couple weeks ago, I'd never describe myself as being particularly nitpicky. I've always felt pretty laid-back a little bit more loose-y goose-y when it came to details. No, it wasn't until I was literally picking for nits that I realized just how nitpicky I can be. It was a real moment of clarity and self-awareness. 

But that's not where the happiness came in.

That came from all the time I got to spend with my girls. All the hours they had to sit in front of me as I sorted through their hair section by section. I haven't studied their scalps so closely since they were infants. And it brought me back to those moments of their babyhood– when I had to be so careful and so gentle and so thorough. How I had to invest so much time in them. As they've gotten older and more independent, those moments are becoming fewer and further between. It filled me with a sense of peace almost that I could still be that sort of mother to them. Who could embrace them and care for them in their ickiest moments. 

Nitpicking. It's both humbling and kind of empowering. 

And also amusing.

Because then I got to experiment with fun hairstyles the girls would never, ever, ever let me do otherwise.

And then there was how nonplussed the girls were by the whole thing. They weren't freaked out by the bugs. Weren't embarrassed either. We told them that until we'd done the second RID treatment, they shouldn't hug any of their friends. We practiced this whole routine where if a friend was going in for a hug, they'd hold out their hand and say "Stop! High five!" 

Lily went off script a little on the way to school one morning when she ran into her friend and shouted proudly, "Stop! High five! I have head lice!" 

As Brad tells it, her friend's mom (our friend and neighbor) did a double take and might have gone a bit pale before asking Brad if she'd heard Lily correctly. To be absolutely clear, at this point, she had no living lice on her head. Still. The mention of lice living or dead would make anyone a bit cringe-y and a bit itchy.

Good news though. We're officially lice free. 

Big win. More happiness.

This whole lice episode happened just a week before I was schedule to spend five days in middle school subbing for a special ed teacher. I'd agreed to the job a while back. As it neared I found myself kind of regretting that I'd signed on to do it. Middle school hasn't become any less anarchic since I first started subbing. And special ed is its own unique brand of chaos. A unique brand of chaos that I've had zero training for. I worried that I was way in over my head. 

That worry was not unfounded. I kind of lost track of the number of times I had to ask myself what hell I was doing– like during garden club, when I watched in horror as one of my students nearly decapitated a kid planting seeds during some especially exuberant hoeing or all the times I had to pray that the kid who just ran out out of the classroom shouting bathroom would actually return. 

They kind of run you around in circles, these kids. Completing two worksheets on mixed numbers seems straightforward enough, but doing it with students who wander the classroom reciting entire episodes of "The Littles" or who spend a majority of the class making fart noises on their arms while their classmates groan in annoyance or who refuse to even look at the work in front of them because they're already convinced there's no way on earth they can do it– trying to get work done under those circumstances is nothing short of a miracle. 

Part way through the week I was forced to accept that it was OK that I had no idea what I was doing. That there was no one single formula that would work in these classes– except for patience. So much patience. And the willingness to plow ahead through the absurdity. And to laugh about it even. And to celebrate any win, no matter how small.

I felt pretty good about myself when I remembered to hide the Play-Doh before the class with a habitual Play-Doh eater arrived. My pride was quickly tampered when said Play-Doh eater showed some problem-solving skills and grabbed a glue stick and ate a chunk of it. I mean, they are trying to teach these kids to have some flexible thinking– so, if you think about it, it's kind of a win.

(I made a note to myself to hide the glue sticks, too.)

But this same student– a boy who rarely talks except to ask repeatedly for an iPad (he liked to watch "Sesame Street" during downtime)– surprised me when he started singing "Here Comes the Sun." I sang it back to him, "here comes the sun" and he did the "doo, doo, doos" and then I sang, "and I say" and he sang "it's all right." 

And then he asked for an iPad (uh-gain).

But I didn't care. Because my heart was smiling. 

You know, this what you get in this life. These moments. This is it. That's what special ed has taught me. We're all fumbling through this life in our own ways. Whether we're the (substitute) teacher trying to show students how to add fractions or we're the student who's overwhelmed by fractions and who just wants to listen to the theme song for "Strawberry Shortcake" 15 times in a row (she may be small, but no task is too tall). We're all kind of winging it. Instead of panicking– maybe we just need to go with the flow. 

Don't worry, be happy.

This is hardly revelatory, I know. Boy do I know.

I have an entire page-a-day calendar about happiness that keeps reminding me of this exact thing almost every day.

There's a whole self-help industry that's centered on teaching all us broken people how to be happy. And in the end the message is always the same, it's the little things. 

At the start of the year, under advisement from Liz Gilbert, I bought a jar that I was supposed to fill with notes about what made me happy each day. That jar is far from full. Not because there haven't been things that have made me happy every day, but because I haven't made it a point to write them down. To acknowledge them as more than just an isolated passing thing. 

The thing is, while these moments that make us happy might be fleeting and finite, strung together, they strengthen the fabric of our lives. And anyway, they're only fleeting because we forget them so quickly. We don't allow them to become more permanent in our brains. We allow them to run off into obscurity because we don't think they're important enough. But they are.

They are important enough. They're the most important.

"And I say, it's alright."

This week as I'm grabbing at the bills swirling around me, I'm aware of so many more moments that are worth noting. Like instead of staring at the night sky polluted by the lights of the suburbs, I'm staring at the sky in the middle of nowhere. There are so many more stars. All the stars.

Here are some from the past week:

  • Taking the girls to see my friend Stephanie's dad, who I hadn't seen in years, and listening to he and Lily exchange terrible jokes (he was always known for the dad-est of dad jokes. i.e. "What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear." Har. De Har. Har. Har. Lily has met her spirit animal.)
The girls, posing with anthracite coal, shortly after Stephanie's dad says,
"Come over here! I'll show you what anthracite coal looks like!"

  • The girls making dying cow noises back and forth with my 17-year-old nephew Finny as we pulled away from their house. To be clear, the dying cow noises were awful. But engaging in obnoxious shenanigans with their cousin? Priceless.
  • Listening to one of the students last week ask another teacher for a ride home because he didn't want to ride, "the junky bus." Because what kid doesn't think the bus is junky?
  • Getting a surprise package with Stephanie's handwriting. The same handwriting she's used for letters and packages to me for the more than 20 years I've known her. How lucky am I to have such wonderful friends for so much of my life?

  • Randomly giving a mom and her 12-year-old daughter, in town from Arizona, a ride to the Metro station and learning that the girl is a near pitch-perfect incredible singer after she serenades us.
  • Jovie as Poppy from "Trolls" and Lily as Elena of Avalor.

Subbing in special ed last week was exhausting. I came home every night wanting to sleep forever. My brain hurt. So did my feet. But on Friday, when another special ed teacher asked if I could come in for her on Monday, I said, yes.

Because they're teaching me about how to be a better human. 

A portrait of me. Drawn by one of the students I taught last week.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Being a girl

Photo courtesy of Ian D. Keating/Flickr

Last night, after reading stories about Harvey Weinstein and Mayim Bialik's New York Time's Op-Ed and then criticism of Bialik's Op-Ed– I felt agitated. Disgusted, too. Angry. But I had this itchy feeling that I get under my skin when I'm trying to find clarity on an issue and can't quite sort out my thoughts.

I started writing in my journal* hoping to figure out why it was I felt so angry and frustrated about everything I was reading. Part of it, of course, was that someone could amass so much influence and wealth while systematically and habitually abusing women for three decades. It's disgusting and disturbing. But it's not new, is it? We can't honestly say that we're surprised that someone would leverage their name and their money and their power to take advantage of a person or a situation, can we? 

It's infuriating, but not because it's anything new. Maybe it's that bang-our-head-against-the-wall fury we feel when these stories are unearthed every few weeks or few months or few years. Now do you understand why women feel so angry? Now do you understand why women feel so marginalized? Now do you understand why women feel so vulnerable? Now do you get it? 



Except that even now as we're tar-and-feathering one Jabba-the-Hut-sized lothorio parading himself as a champion for women, there are others doing the exact same thing at this exact moment. And who will continue doing the exact same thing. Because we don't demand more of our CEOs, presidents, generals, heroes, leaders.

Even as I'm writing now I'm recalling another Washington Post story from the past couple weeks– this one about an Air Force Colonel who trapped a female subordinate in an office and forcibly kissed her after months of sending her lewd and harassing texts (including a video of himself masturbating). Instead of being courtmartialed, sent to prison and being registered as a sex offender, he was disciplined for "minor offenses."

And you could click the "related links" in this story or the Weinstein story or the Cosby story or the Fox News stories or the stories about sexual harassment at Uber or the stories of sexual assault at [insert name of NCAA men's sports team here] back to the dawn of the internet and still not scratch the surface of the problem.

And these are only the stories of the wealthy, influential and famous. This doesn't even account for the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of incidences we will probably never know about. The ones involving regular people going about their regular lives. 

Remember Nabra Hassanen, the 17-year-old Muslim girl beaten to death just miles from my house? The man suspected of killer her was indicted today, not only for her murder, but also for rape

My Facebook feed today is filled with "Me too's." All these women I know posting that they've been sexually harassed or assaulted. I'm certain there are plenty more who chose not to raise their hands. And I'm angry for them. Angry that they feel their hands were held to the flames of just ... nonstop, endless, forever assault and that the only possible way they felt they could change the status quo was to face the demon yet again. The one they don't get to escape from ever. 

Who are we as a society that this is what we require of our most vulnerable?

I've hesitated about posting a "Me, too." Not because I'm all that shy about exposing my fleshy underbelly, but because I'm not sure my experiences quite qualify. Maybe they're on the spectrum. Maybe that's enough. I'm not sure. 

This again is where I lack clarity. But feel that itch. Right under my skin.

Last night I found myself writing in my journal, "I feel dispossessed of my body." I'm not really sure where that comes from. Only that I've felt that way for years. That I really feel uncomfortable in this body. That it's not really mine. That I'd prefer not to acknowledge it or deal with it in any way. That way nobody needs to have an opinion about it, least of all me. 

It's not about feeling like I'm in the wrong body. It's not a self-esteem thing. Just that when I'm alone, out in the world, I feel like a balloon head with all its thoughts and ideas floating above a body that isn't about thoughts and ideas. And that I'd rather just be the balloon head.

I've gone down a rabbit hole, I realize.

It's these memories that pop up. Like being nicknamed "Piggy Sue" and "Fridge" (after William "Refrigerator" Perry) when I was little. Little, little. How my hair was always too wild and untamable. And that time those boys in elementary school followed me, barking as I walked home from school. And how these guys in high school called me a feminazi– which somehow made me feel less attractive, less feminine, which probably means I wasn't a feminazi, but a high school girl, like so many other high school girls, who was profoundly disappointed by high school boys. How by college I had the sinking feeling that while I'd go out of my way to validate men, they weren't going to go out of their way to validate me. I had the sense that men see the world as theirs already. That I saw the world as something I needed to fight to have a piece of. How I got to a certain point in life– maybe mid-high school– and I had this thought that what made me attractive was that I was a certain type of shape. Like it all came down to geometry. 

I know, I know, this doesn't make any sense. 

I can and will only speak for myself. But I thought of this analogy the other day while trying to get to the bone of my thinking. It was this: That I feel like a rock that's been tossed around the ocean for millennia. That my whole sense of self has been shaped by the perceptions of the things I've bumped into and scraped against. 

That's probably not particularly original. Or even enlightening. 

But it feels kind of true to me. 

So when it comes to conversations about sexuality, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, my attitudes about it, its affect on me– that's where I stand. I've been thrown around waves of our day and age for almost 36 years and the result is I don't spend much time in front of mirrors, I hate selfies, I hate (most) pictures of myself, and even if I do like the images of myself I hesitate to share them for fear of what sharing them might say about me. 

It's less about disliking how I look– I feel like I'm a pretty standard-issue person– but that I hate the idea that I have to look any particular way. And that people react to it. And that people might have an opinion about it. And that it might put me in a vulnerable position.

I was subbing recently, making small talk with another sub. I mentioned I had two kids. The sub (a male) reacted in surprise and commented that I didn't look as if I'd had two kids and made some mention about my body looking one way or another and I wanted to disappear. I wanted him to stop talking. I understand he meant to be flattering. But instead I felt flustered. 

I understand it was probably an innocuous moment. No big deal. But for me, it felt hugely uncomfortable. 

I feel uncomfortable, too, reading reactions to Mayim Bialik's piece. It's not that I'm a diehard "Blossom" fan or a diehard" Big Bang Theory" fan. But she went out on a limb, wrote from her heart and from her truth and I admire that. As imperfect as it might have been. And it frustrates me that so many people were so quick to be critical of her. You know, because she is us, too. A woman who has shaped how she moves about this Earth by her experiences with all the others on it. I get that. Me too.

I admire the women sharing about the harassment and the trauma they've faced. They're brave and resilient– even though maybe they just think they're regular people. I hope it makes an impact.

But it's an enormous ocean we're all in here. 

Last week in middle school, I reconnected with my feminazi roots. A couple of boys were teasing another boy because a girl had scored a goal on him playing soccer in gym. Not only were they flabbergasted that a girl could be good at soccer, but it was a "shocking" enough incident to antagonize another person with. 

I felt the blood rising. "Seriously, guys? Why is it an insult that a girl scored on him?"

Their response: "Because she's a girl."

I found myself gearing for a fight, like I might have at 14 or 15. But they were back on their phones. I'd lost them already. 

Forgive me for feeling a little cynical. 

*Which will never not make me think of Paul Rudd in this scene of "Wet Hot American Summer."

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Now can we talk about gun control?

Photo courtesy of Malmo/Flickr


The five stages of grief

Virginia Tech
Sandy Hook
Las Vegas

After all the others
(And there are many, many others.)

Round after round of denial.
This can't happen here,
We say.
Again and Again and Again.

Round after round of anger.
This time. This time. THIS TIME. 
We say.
Again and Again and Again.

Round after round of bargaining.
We don't want all of your guns.
Just the ones that fire bullet after bullet after bullet in seconds.
We just don't want them to get to the people
Who fire bullet after bullet after bullet
into innocent people
We just want some control.
We compromise.
Again and Again and Again.

Though we don't really want to compromise.
We always want more.
But we'll settle for anything.

We sink into depression.
in round
of moments
of silence.
The seeping realization 
That no amount of surgery
Can repair our shattered hearts.

What stage is next? 

We can't accept this.

Can we?

We can't accept that it's acceptable
For men, women and children 
to be gunned down 
in classrooms, at concerts, on campuses 
in movie theaters, in dance clubs, in churches.
That it's OK for them to be collateral damage
for our right to bear arms.

We can't accept that it's acceptable
For kindergartners to have to do lockdown drills.
Cowering in the same corners
They play pretend
As their teachers tell them, "hush, hush."
Pretending there's an armed assailant nearby
Because of the times there was an actual armed assailant nearby.

We can't accept that it's acceptable
For there to be a rush on firearms and ammunition
the day after the slaughter 
of one or tens or 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s.
That even though the common denominator 
in all shootings is guns, we should battle for our right to own them.

We can't accept that it's acceptable 
For 315 people to be shot each day by guns
For 93 people to die each day because of guns
For 46 children to to shot each day by guns
For seven children to die each day because of guns
For 114,994 people to be shot each year by guns
For 33,880 people to die each year because of guns
For 17,012 children to be shot each year by guns
For 2,647 children to die each year because of guns.

We can't accept this.

Acceptance is complicity.
Acceptance diminishes our humanity.
Acceptance makes us something else.

There can't be acceptance. 
Because this is unacceptable.

Source for gun violence statistics: