Fighting Like a Girl and Pulling Punches

Fists are raised. Her right hand is balled next to her chin and her left hovers in front of her mouth and nose. A slight tuck of thumbs and a swallow of bile burns her throat, but she has a face to wear. The determination in her gaze hides the fear that is urging her fight into a flight, but she steels her resolve and plants her feet, bending her knees slightly so they don’t lock on her when it’s time to move.  He doesn’t realize he tells her his next move as he steps before he reaches for her shirt. His cologne met her before she saw him and this close the assault on her nose is enough to make her flinch. She’s been here before and she knows that she has learned the next move like a dance based on muscle memory.  She drops her chin and shoulder in a hook aimed at his ribs stepping in and on her right side below the left side of the rib cage he exposed in his attack. With a quick draw back of her stinging right hand, she lifts up his slightly slackened left arm with her left forearm, moving closer and following through with the force of her right elbow and forearm, twisting her back for a second hit with the back of her elbow, catching his ribs again. As he’s bent in pain she takes a second to snap a left cross at his cheek and feels positive his stubble stung her more than her bony hand could have hurt him.  He was taller than her but he didn’t have her solid frame.  He probably didn’t look past her jeans and stilettos.  He takes a moment to fight the pain, and step back.  His fury builds but that moment was all she needed and she runs off, slapping the pavement in bare feet as her shoes lay abandoned on the street and her purse is still miraculously strapped across her body.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all just defend ourselves? My first fist fight was me getting punched in the stomach because I teased a boy about his teddy bear on the school bus and insisted on touching it even after he said it would get my butt kicked.  I had the wind knocked out of me but the shock was most painful.  I remember walking home and the anger fell from my face in silent tears and shame.

In middle school I had more enemies than I knew what to do with.  I think it started as jealousy, but I was so not aware of anything related to my looks that I didn’t know what to feel other than fear.  I was the last to leave the classroom after each period because I was afraid of getting jumped.  My looks were always given as you see them.  I still can’t work with a curling iron and frequently see men in drag that deserve my girl card and breasts more than I do.  (Perks of not being afraid of a beautiful man is they will sometimes help you with makeup tips.) I will rarely spend more than $20 on any one item of clothing or accessories.  My designer purses are all gifts.  I’m loved.  Envy me. That same love showed up for me one day after school. I finally told my family what I was so afraid of.  The next day my sisters came to pick me up from school after drill team practice. They sent me to the car and went up to the drill team room where some of my biggest fans were.  I have no idea what was said or done.  I just know I was told to take a vacation for the rest of the semester.  The problems went away and there was talk about my sisters stepping out of line as the adults that came to my rescue when my teachers and administrators didn’t.

Growing up I saw my Mom rage at my Dad, then pick up the pieces of their life and do what she could to take care of us and any other person who needed help. She’s the most giving person I know.  There is something inside of her that she’s given to me that has the ability to cut down the strongest tower.  For her, it is the ability to get up and do what survivors do.  For me, it’s an ability to frame ideas that seek out the vulnerabilities that can be used to undermine a situation and tilt things in my favor. She has this fight that is full of strength and determination, but as a kid, it always came out as the phrase, “grab and twist.”

I’ll just leave that there a minute.

My Dad marched with Martin Luther King Jr.  He served in the Army during the TET Offensive in Viet Nam. Naturally, I grew up around his post traumatic stress and with a healthy dose of patriotism and respect for our vets. I know not to wake him abruptly because his fists rise before he does.  He’s not a fan of fireworks and he taught me that time doesn’t heal all wounds.  Work and perfect love do. You can’t ignore or drown out your pain.  He never fought with Mom. She would rage, and he would stand quietly.  He didn’t want to fight with her, and she needed a reaction.  Any reaction was better than feeling ignored.  It also taught me to work around a shaky temperament and I can dance on eggshells if I need to. That dance came in handy as a wife.

We learn a lot from our family of origin and sometimes we have to unlearn what we know.

I wasn’t always an advocate.  For most of my youth I was self centered and obsessed with a good story and personal time. Fighting for someone else wasn’t my thing because I didn’t care if it didn’t involve me, until it did involve me. When I had kids, and learned about autism is when I learned about  a good fight.

When we first married, we lived in the garage at my Mom’s house.  It was converted and my project home.  I was learning plumbing basics and I was so proud of putting the trap in under the sink all by myself.  That was the first toilet I installed and it will be there forever because when I tiled the bathroom floor, I didn’t know I was supposed to remove the toilet first.  It’s grouted to the floor and it doesn’t leak.  But a new toilet would require a new floor as well. Live and learn. When we moved into our first apartment it was perfect for our family of three.  When we were about to become a family of 5, it was time to move.  I expected part of our deposit back.  They tried to charge us a few thousand above that.  I looked into renter’s rights.  I took them to small claims court and I won.

Later we moved and I started pseudo managing a property for my Mom.  She wanted a tenant evicted and I started and finished it.  In hindsight, I may have missed a few steps, but at the end of the day they moved out and it’s not my fault they didn’t search for loop holes. They would’ve found them. Now Mom gives and takes the responsibility from time to time, but I’m okay with that too. I usually have quite enough on my plate.

My kids have always been in public schools.  I was grateful that the free assessments set us on a path with Regional Center and the school district that started services and therapies we needed.  My kids didn’t come with instructions.  Most people figure it out as they go and I’m in that boat, rocking and upchucking over the side and on the deck with the next person still finding those sea legs and just as annoyed that there is only one Head on deck and it’s busy. It built up over years, but their behaviors were adjusted and worked around in the classroom to the point where we saw it as behavior that needed adjustments, and not the emotional neglect that my kids were suffering.  I was always involved.  I sat through classes.  I still know the voices of all of the principals and vice principals that have overseen my kids. At the end of the day, becoming a teenager is hard enough without sensory dysfunction and below average social and communication skills.  My son was taken from school by ambulance and put on a 72 hour 5150 hold.  Our constant vigilance at his side and his calm when with us got him released early.  He still had to endure being at that school for another 6 months until we were able to get him an emotional disturbance diagnosis and placement in a nonpublic school for autistic kids.  I had to write letters, follow up respectfully, document and keep on top of things. I’ve had to make calls to different departments and regions to see where I could rattle a few chains.  A couple of years later and my second child went through the same process.  A short while after that I would fight for compensatory hours and a refund of therapy co-payments and win with the help of an attorney that the district paid for me.

I’m also an In Home Support Services provider for my kids.  They have needs outside the scope of typical parenthood and the state recognizes this by  paying me and sending me W-2 forms at the end of the year.  My kids would need me to do what I do anyway so when the union started taking dues I had a problem with it.   It took a few months, phone calls, and even and affidavit but I got a check from them too.

I think the hardest fight is the one in which you decide early on that you don’t want to give it your all.  It’s when you pause to think about the repercussions instead of doing what you know comes next, instead of worrying about consequences you won’t face.  It’s when you decide to be gentle in your attack, setting yourself up for defeat, and knowing the road you are on is the high one. It’s hard when people think they have you beat, but don’t realize you haven’t taken off your kid gloves and have been pulling punches because part of you still cares enough to want to protect them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hating Motherhood While Being In Love with Mothering Children

I can’t tell you what kind of a mother I wanted to be because before I met my husband I didn’t want to be one. My high school years included my parents and their journey as foster parents. I saw kids in foster care with more trauma in their lives than I have the right to imagine. Witnessing so much pain coming out as anger, hate and tantrums was really strong birth control. I saw that having kids wasn’t all dress up and play time. I saw enough to know I wanted no part in that. It added to a messy soup of my trauma from the sudden (to me) destruction of my family. I saw my parents not talk for years and still live together and I couldn’t understand what would change our functional dysfunction into not working and why my Mom would divorce my Dad. I get it now. As much as I love my Dad, and I do, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling I wanted a husband like the one he modeled. I can see that same pattern in my own marriage now. I can see where I adopted my Dad’s stoic indifference as my Mom railed out her frustrations and I would take my anger out on dishes and silence. I think of the ouroboros snake rather than irony. Irony alludes to humor and I see none when I look at my kids. A few hours ago I could hear my middle son rehearsing a made up conversation with his Dad and trying to make sense of what he has to work with now that most of his memories are impossible to see in the current changes in our family. Healing is a lot to ask for and I’m looking at it as an adjustment we’ll all make.

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I was in a liminal space that was so beautiful I didn’t want to see what was before it or what would come after it. I generally felt fine and infrequent bouts of morning sickness were distractions of novelty. I enjoyed the changes in my body and I remember we laughed as we explored the faint stretch marks that trailed across my belly as we marked week by week of his pregnancy. Even when I was bedridden toward the end and he wasn’t growing steadily enough, I was in my own haven of life bearing. I was busy counting his taps and tapping him back. September 11th hit our nation in an attempt to strike fear in every home, and I was so focused on my husband’s safety in downtown Los Angeles, that I didn’t think far enough into the world to see that I would be sharing my child with it 15 days after the towers fell. It was a terrifying few weeks but early on I made a choice to not live in fear. A life of fear is hardly a life worth living.

Once he was born, I had to reconcile who I was with who I thought I should be. When I met my husband I was hanging out at pool halls, drinking with the guys and smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day with a few cigars now and then. I was decidedly everything a mother shouldn’t be. It took a while to discover there were a few things I could enjoy and things I wanted to let go of, but mainly I learned I couldn’t blame my kids for my choice to have them, or hold them responsible for my choice to give up a few things for them. Joint custody has given me the space to be the mom they deserve when they’re here, and the free spirit I crave to be can stay out of the house as often as I have been.

I remember his first birthday rolling around and I had the perfect outfit chosen for his party. I had no idea he was autistic then and how strong his sensory integration dysfunction was. I had a bad habit of taking him out of the tub and getting him dressed and then going back to drain the bathwater. It was after he was dressed that he climbed back into the water. I was so frustrated and angry and my upset only upset him into vomiting on himself. I already had my mother in law calling because we were running late and I was overwhelmed because he was climbing in the tub when I was telling her we were on our way.

I had our second child and his behaviors were almost the same as his big brother’s. The differences were mild enough that I thought it was a personality variance. They were born 18 months apart and it wasn’t until the older one was 4 that I asked for an assessment with the school district. We had an assessment and IEP on the same day and that afternoon we learned what autism is and that both of our sons had it. I remember right after the diagnosis I was at Kaiser and still pushing two kids in a double stroller. I was in a pediatrician’s office and the boys were sick and being themselves. The doctor looked at me and said, “you poor woman. We have medication for this. You don’t have to live like this.” I sobbed into my hands at that moment while she stood uncomfortably, but quietly, affording me a rare moment to fall apart. After researching options I would later decide that the risks outweighed the benefits and I chose to medicate myself before medicating my kids unless they got to a point where they felt they were overwhelmed. Typically they’re happy in their world, and it’s others that are perplexed by their behavior.

With my youngest son’s pregnancy I had the well meaning and quite invasive questions about my judgement in choosing to have a third child when we already had two with autism. It was during his pregnancy that I realized having children is a complete act of faith. With the stresses of a new child on a tight one parent income, I didn’t always see the support I needed and I had to dig deep. I was very weak at times, even asking my OB doctor about late term abortions, which I had never believed in before. I realized having children is an act of faith in your partner and your commitment to a long lasting relationship that would see your children into adulthood. It’s a physical expression of faith in a world that includes teachers, babysitters, family and friends that will all see and at times be alone with your child and it’s faith that your child will live in safety with a protection that you can not see. It’s faith that what has happened the first two times won’t happen again and the blessings will outweigh the sacrifices. It’s faith that I will be faithful in raising boys who will become men that will contribute to the world in a meaningful way and that my relationship with them will nurture men who will want to be the fathers and husbands their family deserves, rather than the one they might want to be as I find it a task of intention to push past my selfishness as a parent. I hope to one day nurture a servant’s heart (as I’m still looking for it) and a spirit of generosity in them (that one I see when they ask if we can feed homeless people when we stop for fast food). I admit that the extended family, as a whole, only sighed in relief when the youngest was tested and found to not be on the spectrum. At that point our oldest offered to teach him how to be autistic. The baby has been hospitalized twice in his young life. The first time was for a near drowning. I didn’t realize our firstborn had filled the tub to play with his toy Lego boat while he was home alone with their Dad or that the baby could climb into the tub at 8 months. My then nonverbal middle son (about 4 years old) saved his brother’s life. The second hospitalization happened when he fell off the top bunk of their bunk bed. He was hospitalized for a few days for that concussion. I expect he will do great things in life. You don’t survive trauma like that without having an indelible mark of destiny on your future.

My sons were born in 2001, 2003, and 2006. The following years saw surrogate journeys end in 2008, 2010 and 2012. I really loved being pregnant. Being a surrogate had more than monetary benefits. I was able to just enjoy the life growing inside of me. I went to my appointments with a cheering section that was there to celebrate and worry with me. Through my agency I was able to meet people I never would have encountered otherwise. I learned enough about fertility to understand the gift I had been given with irregular cycles and miracles on my side. After the first surrogate birth while my legs were still up in the air and I was in the glow of joy coming from the parents I had just gifted, I already knew I wanted to do it again. The last pregnancy was high risk. Being born is difficult enough. Usually we’re all happy to see a wrinkled invalid that looks like it spent a few days being beaten up by a uterus. With each pregnancy, my body just seemed to know exactly how to shift and grow to accommodate the newest child. With the twins, my body had been through it five times before and decided it was at the right dimensions to start labor at 29 weeks. I was hospitalized to keep them in. I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence. There were extremely miserable moments. I held it together for the most part but it was difficult. It made me appreciate my kids when I couldn’t see them every single day and just be with them. I felt like my choice to be a surrogate removed my freedom to complain. The agency and my couple were great about helping my husband at home, but I was so lonely during that time. I had this fear that I had to do everything perfectly or risk killing someone else’s babies. That is a huge burden and in my hormone flooded state, I couldn’t see how unreasonable I was being to myself. When they were born I would visit daily, then every few days to bring breast milk. When they left the hospital I felt relief and nausea. As amazing as my journeys were, I wasn’t interested in another surrogacy and the agency wasn’t interested in another high risk pregnancy.

In October 2014 my birth control pills gave me pulmonary embolisms. There’s plenty of warnings in the fine print that comes with every pill pack. There’s something about the level of hormones that triggers blood clot formation. I felt extreme cramps in my legs one night after walking a few miles that day. Later I had mild chest pain. It wasn’t a big deal, except I typically didn’t feel my chest, let alone pain from breathing. The doctor checking on me wasn’t that concerned at first. He started with blood work that looked a little curious and followed up with an MRI. When he had the scan results he changed his posture and attitude from one that made it clear I was a hypochondriac to one where he sat down next to me and started looking me in the eye. I got it. It was serious. They couldn’t release me or death would be their liability. I didn’t really get how bad it was until the nurse hooked me up to the heart monitors and walked alongside me as I was rolled through the hospital to the cardiac intensive care unit. The nurses couldn’t believe how casually I accepted the fact that sudden movements could dislodge a clot and I could have a heart attack or stroke. She was quite serious when she asked me to move slowly and freaked out when I wasn’t moving slowly enough. I was hospitalized for a few days and on blood thinners for months and if I ever get pregnant, I would have to be on blood thinners and then reverse the medication for childbirth to prevent bleeding out. At the same time I can never go on birth control pills again. Hormones. When I start dating, there are many reasons a random test drive wouldn’t be worth it. I still don’t believe in abortion.

Believe it or not I’m more relaxed as a mom than I deserve to be. I wasn’t at first. I’ve left kid parties early and never again spoken to mothers whose children treated mine badly. I’ve hovered in playgrounds as a barrier between my kids and anyone that would look at mine differently. It’s not just playgrounds. There was one day at an In and Out in Laughlin a few years back when my son was being himself. A woman commented about his behavior and I apologized. After she watched us for a while she approached our table to apologize because she didn’t know “there was something wrong with him.” Clearly she missed the part where there was nothing wrong with his hearing. She left and I then had to apologize to my son for the ignorance of others. Now I will often try to let them sort out their own fights until I feel they absolutely need me involved. At least with each other. With strangers I’m still a fierce Momma Bear and I will cut you. Tonight kid1 had kid2 in a choke hold and kid3 was crying from kid2 punching him in the stomach. That required the Momster. Otherwise I listen until it can no longer be ignored. Usually if no one is dead, dying or has broken bones I’m good. I get cautious when I hear crying but it’s that specific tone of crying that says there is pain or fear. That cry doesn’t change from infancy. Mom radar is fine tuned for it and we have an ability to ignore most other noises, being hyper-aware when it becomes too quiet for innocent shenanigans.

We’ve had several conversations about all sorts of things. I write to find peace but I’m also a blabber. Usually this happens when we’re in the car. They can’t run away. I control the radio and there’s no eye contact. We’ve talked about autism and what it means to our family. We’ve talked about divorce. We’ve talked about depression and suicide. We’ve discussed homosexuality. They know they’ll always be loved and accepted no matter who they love. And yes, I talked to them about wet dreams and changing bodies, and individually I’ve had to talk to one about masturbation. This conversation happened in a closed bedroom. The first wet dream conversation was about 4 years ago. My oldest was 10. I wanted them to know it’s a normal part of growing up. They don’t have to say a word, just put soiled laundry where it goes and don’t be afraid. I suppose moms with daughters have to have the period talk so their kids don’t think they’re dying. Lately my son’s masturbation has been a problem because of his transparency. He’s not great at hiding it and I’m not sure he even tries to. I told him private time with private parts should be private. I didn’t want to body shame him when he’s already othered from his contemporaries. I also suggested lotion might curtail injuries. It’s not comfortable, but I know he has no problem talking to me and he felt relief after the conversation was over because in the end, it wasn’t that bad.

I forget to take something out for dinner on many nights. Two to three loads of laundry a day will keep me from falling behind, but it doesn’t save me from that special sweater that needs me to stay up a couple of hours on a Sunday night because they need it for school Monday morning. I do what I can without losing my calm and some things require them to compromise because I won’t. Housework is not my friend when there are a million other things I need to do but on weekends when they’re with me and I have nothing to do but listen to their sounds, it’s relaxing to get a good scrubbing in. I realize they will talk like sailors if they think I can’t hear them and my police patrols won’t teach them to be the kind of adults I hope to raise. Homework frustrates me because I want to just give the answers. That was part of why teaching wasn’t my calling.

I’m a mom. I’m a daughter and sister too. At the end of the day, I’m still trying to figure out who I am, but I know that the woman in the mirror is gorgeous and loved by the woman looking at her.

I’m Sharing My Coping Skills

It’s unfortunate that life seldom flows in ways that are consistent and expected.  Those who marry would never divorce.  Parents would never bury their children. Dreams and plans would never be deferred or denied and disappointments would not be part of the human experience. But then we’d also never understand the peace and joy that come from knowing what their absence really looks like.

I wasn’t always a coping kinda gal.  There were a few times in my life when I decided quitting made more sense, or that I needed help because I couldn’t do it on my own.  I’m really glad that I’m not a superstar at everything I do.  Failure can be an amazing blessing.  Depression has been a life time companion since the 7th grade.  Don’t get me wrong, I was a bit of a loner long before then, but I think of the 7th grade as the starting point because that was when puberty hit, and those grown up hormones destroyed what ever illusion of normalcy I had going.

Hormones made my body change.  Long before that, I remember walking home from school one day and I must have been in about the third grade when a guy in a red car pulled up to me to ask for directions. I don’t think my parents allowed me to walk to and from school before then.  I lived in East Hollywood in the 80’s and early 90’s and I was walking down Virgil near the city property on Santa Monica. I saw my first penis that day.  I didn’t realize I should feel fear when the driver pulled over and asked me questions while his pants were unzipped and he had his penis in his hand.  I was confused about what he was doing and had no idea where he wanted to go. I think I was most concerned about not knowing where he wanted to go.  When I was 10 years old, a neighbor in his teens put his hand on my ankle and started moving up.  I didn’t know what to do and stopped him at the the middle of my thigh.  There were plenty of other stories about my youth being perverted and my personal space invaded but by Grace alone I can say it stopped at physical violence and I feel without being physically beaten my emotional scars are harder to see but are getting easier to heal. Puberty made me much more obvious to men and the hormones made me feel like I wasn’t loved on top of that. Rejecting advances is a skill I learned early on, but that brokenness that wanted acceptance made that a bag of confusion that I still have collecting dust in my closet somewhere. I pick it up from time to time and start to unpack things, but then I shove it deeper than it was.  It’s on my to do list and will probably be worked out in a blog post one day. Usually when I’m feeling low, I start exposing flesh in skimpier than normal clothes. That’s me regressing. My first real attempt at suicide happened in the 7th grade with a bottle and a half of over the counter pain medication.

I was hospitalized.  My stomach was pumped and I’ll never forget the neon green bile that made it’s way out of me through the tube that was shoved up my nose.  Ice water was supposed to numb my throat, but it didn’t.  I was in intensive care next to an anorexic infant and when her mother discovered why I was there, the curtain around them closed so she could hold her contempt without having to see me. My great grandfather died and I was alone in a hospital bed while most of the family went to Texas for his funeral.  My oldest sister stayed behind and checked on me from time to time. I was in the hospital bed when I got my third period.  It took a few more to realize PMS was real and genuinely going to mess with me as long as I am fertile. It’s one of the reasons I loved being pregnant.

Years later there was another attempt or two but nothing quite as serious or dangerous as that first time, and the last attempt was before my second decade.  In hindsight I wasn’t quite as motivated to end my life as I was to end that feeling.  Time and experience has taught me that those feelings are cyclical and will pass. It helps to not dwell on the low points, but to change my focus. It helps to curtail the low before it bottoms out, and it hurts to not let other burdens add pressure when I’m already feeling like Atlas with my world on my shoulders. When I’m good, I’m really good.  When I’m low, I’m doing everything I can think of to get better.  I try to find something positive or stick to something physical.  Angry sex used to be my go to. Now I pull weeds.

I gave my firstborn life, and he gave me the baby blues.  I finally sought help when he was about 4 months old.  I remember crying on the phone with my mom and thanking her for not killing me in my infancy.  That was when I realized it wasn’t normal. Therapy helped.  Talking to someone that didn’t expect me to do it all and do it well was enough.

There was one point when I was on medication a few years back.  I had been dealing with funeral arrangements and cleaning out a hoarder nightmare without the support I needed. It was my father in law’s brother and at his request but against my husband’s wishes.  It was also at a time when my second child was transitioning from his public school to a nonpublic school because his emotional needs weren’t being met and his depression and suicide attempts were hard on me too.  Going off of the meds was difficult.  I was often dizzy and started having irrational panic attacks when my youngest wanted to snuggle with me.  I was glad when things settled into normalcy which is still a constantly shifting landscape. If I can help it I will never go on anti-depressants again.

Last year my marriage ended.  I’m still married, but it’s over.  Neither of us has filed but that just speaks of our stubbornness. He decided we were done and it was almost a year before I decided I liked his decision and while I continue to forgive him, I no longer want him back.  I told my doctor in the beginning and she asked if I wanted to go back on meds.  I was quick to say no.  I started seeing a therapist.  I realized I had given her enough of my deductible when she was telling me I was inspiring her.  I already had the skills I needed to get through that phase and I thought she might have been taking notes.

I was setting goals.  I was reading books on finance because it was an area of my life I needed control over.  I started setting 18 month plans and long term goals because Suze Orman and Sheryl Sandberg give great advice.  I learned about Leaning In and it showed me where to focus my energies.

I made improvements to my home.  I created a space that I wanted to be in, putting my degrees in frames and on the walls, along with the kid’s certificates and awards.  I didn’t for so long because for  long time my husband only had his high school diploma, certificate of baptism, and a picture with other security guards from and old job.  I didn’t want to make him feel bad. I was doing the things around the house I had always wanted to do, but I was no longer waiting for someone to do things for me.  When the kids are gone, I’m not in a hurry to get home, but once I am home, I love being in the quiet.

I started buying things I had wanted for myself without waiting for someone to buy them for me.  I love Pandora charms and fresh flowers.  I didn’t realize how much I love fresh cut flowers until recently.  He didn’t buy them often, and sometimes not at all. I’m still not a fan of baby’s breath, but flowers cut in their prime and set on my table for a private show have made that something I now do for myself, along with regular hair cuts and nail appointments. Some things require planning and saving, but I am no longer waiting for something that might not happen and hoping it might be able to happen without planning for it to.

I apply sensory techniques I learned for my autistic sons.  I have a plastic bin filled with playground sand that I stick my feet in on some mornings while sipping coffee on my front porch.  Just an hour ago I was walking on bubble wrap in my bare feet. I keep Play Doh cups in my desk at work and work the dough with my left hand while clicking my mouse with my right.  I have a small bottle of bubbles in my car.  When I get stuck in traffic I blow bubbles.  It is silly.  Other grown ups giggle at me or smile.  I sometimes smile or wink back. Slow intentional breaths required for blowing bubbles also triggers the parasympathetic response. The breathing helps slow down my heart rate and lower my blood pressure.  Most commutes to work include loud music that I sing and dance to in my seat.

This is how I cope when life throws me a curve ball and I’ve just finished a manicure with wet nails. This is how I face the lemons I was handed and make a gluten free lemon curd tart with spiced whipped cream and stretch what’s left into lemonade.

Searching For My Happy Places

Over the last few months I had been part of a few Facebook groups and Christian ministries.  One of the many lessons and gifts they gave me is PIES.  I have PIES days and they make me happy. It’s when I focus on myself, and the acronym is about the ways in which we care for ourselves.

I was standing for my marriage.  I was a firm believer that what God had joined together, no man, including my husband and myself could put asunder.  I was praying for a reconciliation and trying to be a submissive wife, even though he stopped being my husband. I still believe who I am and how I choose to behave has nothing to do with anyone but me. I was willing to forgive anything he did.  If he could do it, I could forgive it.  I can still forgive him.  Forgiveness is a gift to myself.  Taking him back is no longer something I’m interested in, because it’s something I would have done for him, not me. He doesn’t want that and I’m learning to accept that I expected too much for him and it’s time to fully appreciate that even his very best will never be at a level I deserve, and I don’t need to compensate for his deficits when I can be alone and do exceedingly well for myself. I’m starting to see whatever path I’m on as a path where God is leading me, and taking care of me, because with all of the scary bits and uncertainty, I have been okay.  I’m certain I will be okay.

P is for something physical.  It could be a work out but usually it’s more like getting a pedicure or my eyebrows waxed. This weekend might include a hair cut. These are things that would usually happen once a year before and now I have a regular lady I look for at the nail salon.  Her license names her Thuy but I call her Anna.  That is her choice.

I is for something Intellectual.  It’s about learning or growing mentally.  I have never had a problem with that because I’ve always loved learning and reading.

E is about doing something to make you emotionally happy.  I’ve found ways to boost my emotions but it’s usually entwined with something intellectual.  This was facing my credit report without guilt or shame and taking on the responsibility of contacting companies to make payment arrangements and clear my name.  The fruit of that came in January when my 1989 Ford Contour quit and my usual plan B’s were all unable to support my needs.  I went to a dealership with a smile and a prayer and drove away in my 2016 Toyota Camry.  Realistically it’s a lease with an option to buy and a horrible deal, but I like it for what it is and already plan to trade it in next year.  It felt amazing to put my CSULA Alumni license frame on it.  My plates came on my birthday and that was my gift to me.  The day my husband moved out of our home, I pulled out the bathroom sink and vanity and I replaced it myself.  He moved on a Friday and I couldn’t use it until Saturday because of all of the leaks, but figuring it out made me happy.  I also swap out my own outlets but needed to call in reinforcements because a 1920’s bungalow with knob and tubing electrical ghosts had new wiring which is old wiring and I couldn’t see all of the piggy back connections. When in doubt, hire help. The times in the past where I had to remove the toilet to flip it and flush out stuck toys and puzzle pieces used to make me so angry because I didn’t want to have to do it myself but I couldn’t wait for my husband to get off of work. Now I know I’ll have to get it done and it feels good that I can. Changing my exterior light bulbs and facing my fear of heights while on the phone with my sister felt amazing. I get an emotional boost in slapping on a new coat of paint and putting up shelves where I’ve always wanted them.  I swapped bedrooms with the kids and mounted two televisions one night and that made me happy.  I will soon pick colors and paint my bedroom and I’ll have paint under my nails and in my hair and probably in my favorite clothes because I’m not a planner and I probably won’t bother to change clothes first.

S is about doing something spiritual.  I pray.  I read my bible.  I listen to worship songs, but the last few days it’s been Megan Trainor and Taylor Swift.  They say a lot of what I need to hear right now.

The butterflies go back to this theme of crushing the chrysalis.  Butterflies have also been my happy place . . . seeing butterflies in the unexpected places.  It’s getting a skirt from a family member that was thinking of me and it was covered in butterflies.  It’s seeing one land on a flower in my yard and watching it lift up into the air with a graceful shift and fall of beautiful wings on warm winds from the Santa Ana and kissed by freesia and honeysuckle.  There are times when I’m home alone and my skin is exposed and tracing the lines of my butterfly tattoo brings me peace and for a while I can just enjoy how great it feels to be me, and in my skin and in the moment when I get to define who I am and nothing else is capable of defining me. For my birthday my mom gave me a silver and natural stone ring from Thailand and pointed out the hearts. They are actually butterflies. The ring is huge and not typical of the daintier rings I prefer but I love it.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I took off my wedding band.  It’s the longest I’ve had it in a jewelry box in over 15 years.  Even when my belly filled with life and my fingers were too swollen to wear a ring, I kept it close to my heart on a necklace. I can still see the faint line of memory my finger holds.  When I’m lost in thought, the sensitive pad of my thumb traces the faint callus where even years of that skin to ring connection couldn’t ease the friction of such a foreign symbol of unity.  We’re no longer united and it seems silly to keep it on.  For the first time taking the ring off wasn’t about my husband but about giving myself permission to be gentle to myself and remove the guilt in allowing another person to make me smile.  It was placed on my hand with ceremonial significance and the weight of the decision to never look outside of each other, but came off alone on a quiet Sunday with our kids in a different room from me and now sits in my jewelry box.  It’s been through births and deaths. It’s seen our love and our fiercest arguments, but now it sits alone, dented and deformed as my finger slowly heals from it’s wear.

Pushing Past My Comfort Zones To Reclaim Ownership

There is a beautiful woman I work with that has encouraged me to push past my comfort zones.  She is blonde and petite and if you ever want to know where the good in humanity has gone, spend a few moments with her and she will fill your cup.  She always wears pretty dresses and killer heels.  One day she challenged me to wear a dress.  I did. I decided to keep going. I’ve decided there are great rewards in pushing past my comfort zone.

Dresses aren’t really my thing. Not now, but they are slowly making a come back. It’s not really in my comfort zone. There’s a back story and I have time if you do.

I used wear dresses and short skirts all of the time.  I once wore a short skirt when I worked at the VA Hospital and my supervisor noticed I kept trying to pull it down.  In her classic no-nonsense way, she pointed out that I knew how short it was when I put it on, and she was right.  I knew how short my skirts were.  I knew how high my heels were.  I knew how low cut my tops were or how high I had to reach to expose the skin on my stomach. I knew what looks would encourage a guy and what would intimidate and excite him. I may have really enjoyed working with veterans for personal ulterior motives. I used every ounce of who I was for the attention I craved.  I was like a puppy waiting on her back for a belly rub.

On my birthday right before Valentine’s weekend I wore my Home Depot dress to work.  It’s a white dress that hugs my curves and lets you know I have boobs. I wear it at Home Depot when I’m feeling low and it lifts me up by the time I leave.  I had a rough birthday this year so I wore it to work and it delivered for me all day. A special gift was a look I received. It was fleeting, but in that moment I felt like I was dessert on a cheat day and I wanted to be tasted.

Being a wife and mother changed a lot of that.  I became aware of what I looked like and it was suddenly covered in shame.  A mother’s breasts were for food.  My legs were only for my husband’s enjoyment.  Only he should imagine my legs wrapped around him. I covered up my body as it grew from a size 14 to 18 in the first few months we were together.  At my heaviest I was in a 20.  Right now I’m in a 14W. 7 kids later and I’m happy to take the W. I changed my appearance because of the weight gain, but also because of the guilt feeling that I should only be eye candy to my husband. This shame goes beyond him.  I had a problem with high heels before I met him.  With the men I dated before my husband, there was only one that liked how tall I was.  At 5 feet, 6 inches the guys I dated felt I was perfect in flats, but too tall in heels.  My boyfriends ranged from 5’8″ to 6’4″ and after the 7th grade I stopped caring about how tall someone else was.  Today I wore 5 1/2 inch heels.  I realized how tall I am only matters when I’m about to kiss someone and these lips aren’t kissing anyone right now.  Besides, a guy that could dip a girl into a kiss without making her feel like she might be dropped has super powers and should really use that power for good.  How crazy that something like my height would make me acceptable or not, and it had nothing to do with how short the guys I dated were.  Their height didn’t matter to me, but mine did to them. My sister loves me and loves shoes. It was a pair she had given me.  I have 14 pairs of heels from her and I’ve now worn two out in public.  I plan to work them all in at some point. At that height, they aren’t really heels anymore. They’re hooker shoes.  I looked at myself in the mirror and I loved how my butt and legs looked.  Never mind the lessons from Naomi Wolf and Betty Friedan.  I didn’t care that it put my posterior in a ready position. I approved of it and that was healing.  Tomorrow is casual Friday and there will be no heels.  I didn’t fall, but my toes didn’t like me much by the end of the day.  They’re better now.  I had a moment where my super busy crush opened a door for me and remarked at how much taller I looked today.  He didn’t follow it with a comment about it being too tall or say anything negative, but he did notice.  In my mind I might have thought that I was still at the perfect height to kiss him but in reality I just said it was the shoes. And there goes that puppy with the belly rubs again.  If you’re picturing a puppy piddling all over the place, dial it back a bit.  Not that much, but close.

I went to a 1920’s theme wedding about 5 years ago.  I bought a tube of Ruby Woo lipstick from Mac.  It is really red.  It’s matte.  I wore it for the wedding but then never put it on again because I felt like it made me look slutty.  I now wear it almost daily.  There’s something about it that makes me want to pucker up in the mirror.  I was told more than once by more than one man that lipstick made me unkissable, because they didn’t agree with wearing my shade of color.  It should be enough that my wanting a kiss would be worth the sacrifice. Again, I’m not kissing anyone, so it doesn’t really matter.

Dresses are making a normal rotation in my wardrobe.  I’m still most comfortable in jeans, bare feet and t-shirts, but I’m liking the feel of a skirt and the look of my posture in heels.  I can’t slouch or I risk tottering into a face plant. I like my bare feet on the ground, but I don’t want my face there. I’ll always enjoy being in nature and just enjoying the sounds.  I like waking up to the sounds of water falling and flowing, birds chirping and the rhythms of peaceful slumber next to me. It’s just nice to know that the girl who used to hit the clubs in Hollywood every weekend is still around.  I may have even considered hitting a bar and seeing what happens for long enough to remember I’m not a drinker.  I went to my holiday party at work and had several Shirley Temples with a lime wedge to look like a grown up, but I was sober.  I still had an amazing night.  It’s nice to know that I’ve grown enough to not fall into easy patterns of behavior because I know I deserve better and I have no need to lower my standards for that puppy dog feeling. Besides, I get normal doses from my crush. He just has no clue.  I hope.  I can be pretty transparent.

Hotness and Eye Candy Men

On my way to work this morning I actually slowed down while driving to watch a man jog.  He was fit, and glistened in the morning light blazing over Hollywood at 8:30.  The golden sunshine is not a myth.  He wasn’t my type at all, but I appreciated the curve of his muscles and the bounce of his pectorals and he ran toward me and I followed him in my rear view mirror.  The sweat of his labor didn’t make me hot and bothered, but I did appreciate what he was doing for me.  It was decadently naughty and delicious and I loved that it slowed my commute for just a moment.

I’m falling into a full appreciation of the human male form.  I feel less afraid about getting caught looking at someone else, and I’m starting to understand my personal needs for connection on a mental and emotional level that helps me regulate the lustful instinct to reach out and start playing. I have dreams at night that are sexual in nature, but by day my mind is still figuring out what I like after all of this time.  A decade and a half of tunnel vision is a long time to not entertain the idea that there could be something that looks, smells and feels different.  Different looks good.  I have no idea what it will smell or feel like.

 

How Writing Is Healing My Broken Places

 

I’m writing again.  It’s not good.  I will be the first to admit that.  But words are coming.  For months I associated reading and writing with destroying a marriage.  I couldn’t do it.  I’m learning that when you make a choice, the feelings will follow.  I decided to start blogging.

I plan to read this weekend. I plan to get through at least one novel.  Maybe two.  Not Mommy Porn.  I’m not feeling 50 Shades of Mommy issues and domestic violence. I used to love paranormal young adult books.  They are full of angst and not a lot of sex.  Literary sex feels too unrealistic to let me get lost in it.  Maybe true life has me jaded.  I’m okay with that.  It might be Twilight again.  I love making fun of Bella for being too stupid to live.  I might see Edward’s jealousy and abusive tones in a new light.  Maybe watching her sleep at night will be a little less creepy.  Then again Vampire Academy has it all and Rose makes me feel empowered. I’m excited.

I had to take a moment to remind myself that there has been too much good in my life to feel that I needed my husband more than I wanted him.  I had to really examine the difference between needs and wants.  It’s okay that my wants have changed.  I’m human.  We evolve.  Maybe it’s a Pavlovian response. Kick me enough times and I’ll stop coming back for more.

I reminded myself that I was a surrogate mother.  I carried my own children, but then carried two singleton boys, and a set of twin girls, totaling 7 babies in 6 pregnancies.  The second child was born in my first quarter as an English major.  I took 8 units starting in September.  I had a human come out of me in October.  In December I got my passing grades.  The last pregnancy included a hospital stay for a month, with a week spent upside down in the Trendelenburg position.  I helped three families grow.  I carried both Jewish and Muslim children and grew as a person because of their parents and the relationships that helped me see beyond what I thought to learn so much more than I thought I knew. I earned six scholarships in two years based on essays and in spite of my GPA.  I took care of the house, kids, husband, and went to school, raising a GPA I spent my adolescence trying to lower. I might not have been great at it all, but I got through it all. That B.A. hanging on my wall feels like proof that I’m a Bad Ass. I have that advocating super gene that mutates and grows in all parents that have kids with special needs.  Press hard enough and we can prove to be dragon slayers. I fought a property management company, a worker’s union and a school district and won.  The proof was in the checks they sent to me. I had pulmonary embolisms, drove myself to the hospital and survived.  I’ve had an amazing dose of grace and favor in the last year and supernatural strength to hold my anger back from bitterness.  It’s all balance and positivity.

I’m writing.  I will read.  Maybe one day I’ll spend some time with Foucault again.  I will be gentle with myself and accept attention and flirtations with an ounce of seriousness and just enjoy that I’m not the only one that sees how fabulous I am.  I am going to fully enjoy having a crush that has no possibility of a future.  I give myself that permission even though I am still married. I had a day of walking past him in his neatly cut suit and hoping I would catch him looking at me.  He was. It felt great.  At one point we made eye contact while I was making a last push to finish my work and I was a hot mess. I kept running my hands through my hair. I hoped it would make him wonder if that’s how I would look after fooling around with me and not that I looked like a mess.  Either way, I’m healing.