Heavy Things

I had a panic attack this morning, minutes after getting out of bed. I had peed and put in a load of laundry when a wave of dizziness dropped me to my knees. I tend to get a bit “head-rushy” upon first waking; a cool by-product of low blood pressure. But this did not pass like it usually does…my peripheral vision began to dim further and my heart began to pound. I reached up and flicked off the light and crawled back in to bed, where, thankfully, my two girls were still sleeping. I haven’t yet had to parent through an episode, and I don’t relish the idea.

It went as it always does. Soaking sweat. Tunnel hearing, air that just won’t go deep enough into my lungs. It went as these things do and ended just as The Littlest began to stir for the day.

I made it, without incident and kids in tow, to the Y for leg day, and as I squatted, and lunged and grunted, I began to follow each link in the chain leading to the pit of stale air in the center of my chest.

Each sarcastic meme, each partisan sound byte, each peripheral male But-Due-Process!!! comment on each Believe Women post. I replayed each article and each smarmy politician’s quote and felt the bile start to rise again.

An assault and the subsequent victim-bullying in a book I’d just read replayed on a loop next to Why-Did-She-Wait-So-Long? and the anger that yet another woman is shouted down in the interest of some other gain.

It is my duty to listen to the stories of each of my friends, of EACH WOMAN and yet, as I listen, these stories scald my ears. For as these murmurs escape out of their mouths, my own stories, long tamped down, emerge. A sudden burn of embarrassment, a turn of the stomach, the phantom feel of a hand searching for gaps in clothing at a bar on a bus in a grocery line at a wedding. A foggy memory. A liberty taken and explained away. All bubble up and suddenly/not suddenly I find I’ve been vibrating at a higher frequency for quite some time.

I made it to the end of this day, productively, despite the anchor weight of its beginning. There wasn’t any particular trick to it. I just picked up and put down some heavy things and let my daughters make me laugh.

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Started out as a thing and ended as another thing.

As of this writing, I am 58.4% of a year shy of my 40th birthday.

I have un-ironically referred to college students in my life as “kids”.

I have a small stash of muscle relaxers for when I ‘tweak’ something, and I (also un-ironically) drive a Subaru wagon.

All this to say: I’m GROWN. Grown but not old.

I’m grown in the way that my joy these days is found making children laugh. It’s just around the corner from ‘I’m getting my carpet professionally cleaned on Saturday’ and ‘Sorry I can’t, I have a book club meeting.’

Grown in the way that children of kids I went to high school with are dipping toes in collegiate water.

“Yes! This flannel shirt is awesome again!” grown.

Grown; but also, old.

I’m old in the way that death has begun to peek out.

Grandparents’ flames dimming. Childhood friends’ fights with cancer lost.

A generation of First Pets wagging tails across rainbow bridges.

I am old in the way that the future is not so much mapped out by what *I* will do, anymore, but rather, what My Girls will do.

I am approaching “Oh no, I’ll sit this one out, I like to watch YOU having fun” years old.

The change in my dancing tells you all you need to know.

The Nasty Bits

I woke up this morning and the news about Anthony Bourdain was the first thing I saw. I won’t say that it ruined my day, (because with kids, everything moves too fast to be able to dwell for too long) but it did affect me more profoundly than I was prepared for. I felt and thought two things equally and immediately:

1. “Wow, I never met this guy, why am I so sad?? and

2. I’m not surprised at all.

I’ve been busy all day, but Bourdain’s decision to end his life has been running in the background for its entirety. And I’m not alone. About half the people I came into contact with today expressed that they were feeling out of sorts…that their connection to him through his shows or books seemed to go beyond just guilty pleasure consumption or pipedreams. His choice of work, of craft, touched something visceral in these people (and me) and his decision felt personal and almost beyond belief.

For me, it was the same with Robin Williams. I don’t know him. I never met him, but his exit from the world was so abrupt & untimely, and his connection with the world so intimate as to elicit real tears.

Why? Why am I so sad about this? They weren’t people in my life. I knew neither personally, and yet, I felt connected to them in more than just a guilty pleasure, pop culture kind of way ( Hello RHOBH!!). Connected in a way that impelled me to immediately start reaching out to the people in my life to take their pulse.

What’s the draw? Where’s the difference? Why with these two is the darkness so relevant and painful?

I think that part of what strikes me with them is that they seemed to have tapped into things that were uniquely human: food and laughter. Things that bring humans together, that bind us, that get us through the dark times.

I don’t think that you can touch on those things in a way that resonates so clearly with such a large number of people unless you are intimately familiar with the darkness from which each protects us. Both of these guys connected with a large audience by tapping into the connective tissue that binds is all. One of them made us laugh through our tears and the other shared countless meals and stories of the world; each in his own way shining a light on those things that we have in common. The things that we use to cope. The stuff that gets us by.

And so it’s painful to hear that someone who made us say so strongly, so many times, “Yes! ME TOO!” could not himself see the connections that he made his life’s work to point out to others.

How could someone who sat down to so many meals with so many friends, someone who, week in and week out brought different versions of Home to each of our media screens, have felt so alone as to end it all for himself? How could a man who lived to make others smile through tears be so profoundly sad as to not feel any of the joy and light he radiated onto others?

I wish that only for a moment, I could have held their hands in those final moments, and let them feel for a second the warmth that they’d given the world. Because maybe, if they just could have felt that for a second, it could have cut through the pain, through the imbalance, through the dark, through the impossibility and given just enough flicker of strength for one more try.

#dontbeshittyhumans

So this morning, someone was mean to me.

She was mean in the way people are mean to those in their lives who don’t rate…the baristas, the clerks, those ATTENDING.

Mean in the way someone is when they demand satisfaction, but refuse to allow speech from the other party.

Mean because she’d been inconvenienced, and meaner still when I would not yield.

Because I was acting for my job, I held my tongue on a tight leash. Tighter than you’d anticipate. Tight to the point that not only had my fight-or-flight response been triggered, but my anxiety as well, for being unable to effectively and justly defend myself.

It affected me all morning. It continues to affect me now.

It doesn’t sit well with me to be in a position where I cannot tell someone clearly that they’re being an asshole when so perfect an opportunity arises. It sticks in my craw and it shuts me down. I fritz out, and there I am, dumb; for when I hold back my own hostile words, there’s only enough brainspace for the holding, nothing left for the release of a measured reply.

All morning I wondered at how someone could be so openly rancid, so rude, so truculent, to the people in their life doing them a service.

It’s a big reminder to me…I’m prone to a scowl. Prone to annoyance. Prone to a hot temper. It’s a compass check: Lend people some grace. Give them a break. Smile. Because this bitch ruined my day. Her scowl, her disgust, I felt all of it. She spiked my anxiety. Hijacked my mood. (And of course, I let her, but that’s for another therapy session). Her lack of simple courtesy harshed my fucking mellow, man.

And so I’m going to work a little harder myself. At patience. At a smile to those I see everyday and especially those I may see only once. See if I can’t offset someone else’s black cloud.

You affect those around you, kids. Do you want to ruin someone’s day, or instead maybe be the reason they go a whole day without crying?

Doggone It

You guys. YOU GUYS. I am….I don’t even know what I am now.

For a little under a year we’ve been searching to rescue another dog after losing Matilda. I’ve filled out so many applications that I now have a final draft file for every question I’ve been asked. Out of the 30 or so applications I’ve submitted, I’ve been seriously interested in about 10 dogs.

Of those 10, 4 checked all our boxes.

Our universal experience with rescues has been one of difficulty, choking red tape and Cirque du Soleil-style hoops. We’ve been denied because we have children under 10. Because we live in an apartment. Because we don’t own at least 2 other dogs. Because we live an hour away. Because we wouldn’t allow regular visitation to the family that gave a dog up in the first place. Because we wouldn’t agree to using a vet more than an hour from our home. Dogs have been foster fails. They’ve been given to friends over other serious and well-fit applicants.

This process has been a lesson in the absurd. It’s been heartbreaking. It’s been maddening. The Old Man has been uncharacteristically hot-headed about it, but still, I maintained the course. The right dog will find me, the right dog will find me, the right dog will find me. I kept jumping. Kept applying. Kept managing my expectations.

This weekend, we had an appointment to meet another dog. I’d found him on petfinder and followed all the contact rules of the posting rescue. I didn’t get my hopes up.

At the beginning of each contact, I make sure to outline exactly what I’m looking for and what our family is like. I’ve got it down to a science and a couple of short paragraphs. In general, this is enough to make sure that the dog ticks our boxes and we tick the rescue’s. It keeps us from wasting time on dogs who aren’t okay with cats or who have resource guarding behavior et al.

The woman didn’t respond right away. When she did, two days later after my second attempt at contact, she didn’t answer any of my questions, but she also didn’t mention that we failed any of her criteria (which weren’t listed anywhere). I did my best to ask again without seeming needy or annoying. This is a fine line in the PNW. No one here (personally or professionally) gets straight to the point, and it’s been a constant battle for me to reign myself in….we all know I love specificity and clarity.

She responded again with a couple of half-answers and asked if we’d like to meet on Saturday. I accepted quickly and made sure to mention how interested we were.

All week, I’ve talked myself down from the ledge. I’ve fought building excitement. I’ve attempted to maintain a cautious optimism. I contacted her to confirm our appointment. She confirmed it.

Five minutes ago, I received this email:

“Jennifer,

I wanted to let you know Pluto did get adopted today.”

Kids, if it weren’t naptime and I weren’t lying underneath a sleeping baby, I would have fucking screamed. It was all I could do to maintain a civil tone in my response.

Once again, with no communication, we’re back to goddamned Square One.

This whole process is so fucking frustrating, and the lack of communication from EVERY FUCKING ORGANIZATION is ludicrous. I wanted to tear through cyberspace and slap this woman. I STILL want to slap her, but with so few rescues who will even speak to us because we’ve got kids, it’s a bridge I can’t afford to burn.

Is it too much to ask for an explanation? For a timely response? Too much of a request to not be led on? I mean, Jesus, rescues, look at what you’re wearing. You went through the process to become a 501(c)(3) and it’s too big a burden to send a thorough email?

Fuck all of them, today. They do good work. They save so many animals. But I hope they all stub their toes en route to the bathroom tonight in the dark.

Check please.

Now, at this very moment, I am attempting to get The Littlest to sleep without nursing. That will make yesterday at 1pm our very last session. I was going to post this as a Facebook status update, but then I realized that I was having some feelings about it…so here I am.

  1. Right now, at the top, in a pretty thick layer, I’m relieved. This has been a pretty long journey. I nursed both the Littler and The Littlest to 15 and a little beyond 16 months respectively. That’s a collective 2.5 years of clutching hands and gaping mouths and NEEEEEED. The Littlest is my last, and I’ve seen and anticipated this finish line for some time. I’m ready for my body back.
  2. I’m mournful. No more tiny hands or soft gulping sounds. No more milk-drunk faces. No more sweet, quiet moments, skin-to-skin, eye-to-eye. Oxytocin is legit, kids, and breastfeeding is a mainline.
  3. I’m thankful. There are so many ways for breastfeeding to be difficult, arduous, pained…unsuccessful. I am lucky to have had gentle seas for both girls. From first latch to last, our time nursing passed without discernible hardship. The bonding that this afforded me is something that I am so grateful for.

  4. I’m proud. This shit is beautiful. It is enveloped in a hormonal haze. It’s got gauzy, soft edges and it lowers a heart rate better than dogs. But it is a COMMITTMENT. Both my girls were exclusively breastfed. No bottles, food on demand until each started solids at 8 months. It’s hard. You can’t have weekends away. Not even overnights, really. So yeah, I’m feeling a little bit like I just finished a marathon.

Now if I can just make it to school-age….

A Light Went Out

We met over a game of Boggle which is what served as our elementary schools’ “Gifted & Talented” program; the name showing its age in its derision of those who WEREN’T…

Funny how the wording seems so ancient now as time passed and culture changed, and what ended up being so precociously gifted was the fucking cancer.

For years we walked together to this AP English class or that typing seminar, cursing the upstate NY weather and sharing mixtapes and those foul Goetzes caramel creams.

Unlike so many, you remained constant in my life; didn’t get too cool, didn’t kiss the boys I liked (ha!) just to prove you could, didn’t lord your ability to reason over those of our “less fortunate” peers, never gave up your identity to high school politics.

You were YOU, and I could be ME, and no joke was too juvenile for the field trip bus.

Flash forward years and you handed me my dog, then a puppy. Forward again and “just throw them together, they’ll figure it out” you said when I couldn’t figure out how to introduce that dog and our new rescue kitten; your humor a nod to real life, wry and gimmick-free.

The friends I’ve kept from those early days are few, despite the pressure of Facebook to connect with People I May Know. Their number is pointedly small, and the loss of you from their ranks noticeable and raw.

I will miss you, and I will tell our jokes to my children who will roll their eyes, but (with any luck) will someday understand what it’s like to have an oasis in the chaos of young adulthood.

Goodbye, my friend, rest well.

In Defense of The Saturn

In a short period of time, it became necessary to replace both cars in our family.

First to go was The Saturn.

I was deeply sad to see it go, but, apparently, none of my friends were.

This one is for the haters.

After graduating from college, I did a few, responsible, adult-y things. I consolidated my school loans, I got a full time job and I bought a car.

It was 2002. I’d just bid ‘adieu’ to The Rustang–which had carried me through all university adventures and holds a dear space on my heart–and I wanted a car that I could drive without fear. A car that didn’t have me constantly asking: “What smells like it’s burning this time?” With my Dad as my Wingman, I visited RL Smith Auto Sales in Rensselaer, NY.

Mr Smith purchased cars at auction and ran a small lot. He had a son and some grandkids and he was honest. By the end of the afternoon, I’d acquired both a 3 year old Saturn compact–midnight blue–and my very first car loan.

It had power nothing and a manual transmission. It was the nicest car I’d owned, following a string of FSBO hoopties. Low miles, a shine still to its paint, and a jaunty zip.

AND EVERYONE LAUGHED AT IT.

My closest friends snickered because even their rusty, 4th generation Hondas had power windows. “It’s made of plastic!!” shrieked a friend who paid a mortgage-sized bill on her brand new Montero every month. “It’s so tiny!” said the backseat full of people who had no other way to get around. “You still HAVE that thing???” gawped EVERYONE IN MY LIFE at least once over the course of our relationships.

No one gave that car any respect, and it ticks me off.

It died at the side of the road in 2016, nearly 15 years after I’d purchased it. In that time, I replaced only 1 clutch, 2 sets of brakes, a rear door lock mechanism and a side mirror. IN TOTAL.

The Saturn explored the entirety of NY and pretty much the rest of New England. It got sandy in Hampton Bays and it bumped down dirt trails in the Adirondacks. It made a few visits to Niagara Falls and it crossed the entire country in 3.5 days stopping only for gas and Mount Rushmore. It got me to and from work and was my constant companion as I explored Seattle one parking lot at a time. Not content to know only a single coast, The Saturn moved on to explore the PNW…rugby games, hiking trips, long weekends at the beach, another move to another city and wine country.

All this, to say, I loved that car, and it served me well. It is undeserving the condescension and snooty snubbing it’s received these long years. So here’s a big middle finger to all the naysayers; The Saturn was awesome, and you all were lucky to have ridden in it.

Rescue me

You guys. I am stressed out and sad. Stressed out and sad in that way that runs like a reel in the back of your head and keeps you from sleeping. In the way that sits in the bottom of your stomach and leaves a metallic, hungover taste in the back of your mouth. The way that ‘helpless’ feels when a situation is out of your hands and entirely depends on the whims of a stranger.

There is a dog that we’ve applied to adopt; the perfect dog, I might dare say. He’s a dog that “checks our boxes” such as that goes, but more than that, FEELS to me like the perfect guy. But the rescue, as is its right, does not look like it’s going to give our application any consideration.

For about 8 months now, I’ve scoured the internet, looking for the dog to fill our lives in the space that Matilda left behind. Adoption is the only avenue I am considering. I’m willing to pay a foster fee to a rescue, but absolutely not to a breeder. But the process, here in the PNW, borders very nearly on absurd.

To be fair, there are a number of considerations that narrow our field. I don’t want another dog-aggressive dog; 10+ years of that was difficult with Miss M and I’m not up for that challenge again. We have a cat now, and children, and though both are respectful of dogs (the children and the cat), we need a dog who has patience with them as well. We live in an apartment, so exercise will be of the family play, leashed walk and dog park variety…we need a dog with energy, but maybe not that agility dog energy.

We want a snuggler, a couch-companion, a road-trip buddy. This dog will share our space, all of it, even the bed. We want a family member more than just a pet.

Up until now, I have responded to all dog posts that look promising. I’ve asked myriad questions and I’ve accepted being turned away for one small reason or another over and over again in the belief that THE dog is out there. I’ve labored at maintaining a zen mindset about it to offset the disappointment at one near-miss after another, choosing to live in a space that says “The Perfect Dog Will Find Me”.

I’ve been truthful on all applications. There are many ways to lie to get around the process. I know lots of good people who have done so and have ended up with beautiful dogs for their families…but I’ve refused to do the same. Because the perfect dog will find me.

We walked away from a gorgeous pointer mix not long ago because she just didn’t feel quite perfect. And I didn’t look back. Because the perfect dog will find me.

And about 3 weeks ago, I was grateful to all the other rescues for being as annoyingly strict as they were. I was glad to have said “no way” to ridiculous dog visitation clauses. In debt to the rescue rep who questioned how I could afford a dog if “[you] can’t even afford [your] own home?” Happy to be turned away for having children, for not having a fenced yard, for not living in state, for not living in state even though that state was a 40 minute drive away, for not being willing to adopt certain breeds even though the dog we were interested in was not that breed. I was happy because a dog popped up at a local rescue that immediately felt like HOME.

With every update the rescue posted, this guy got more perfect. Every new picture melted my heart. I waited for the other shoe, the. “Oh man, I guess I’ll keep looking” deal-breaker. It didn’t come. The opposite happened. It was like our lifestyle and needs wrote a want-ad and this guy was created to reply to it.

I counted the days until he was ready for adoption. I put in my application within hours. I supplied references. We went to meet him at an adoption event. Being able to pet him and look into his eyes and cuddle him did nothing for opposition research. He is perfect and walking away was torturous.

But our application went in on Tuesday and we’ve heard nothing. All subsequent phone calls have gone unreturned. Follow up emails have been ignored. FB messages unanswered.

The writing is on the wall. This is the dog rescue equivalent of He’s Just Not That Into You.

And thus, the system that I, for a split second, lauded (Because The Perfect Dog Will Find Me), I am now cursing because it is breaking my heart.

Every new post about this dog that says Ready For Adoption!! makes me want to scream “MEEEEEE!!!! Meeee!!!!! Look at my application!!!!! PLEASE PICK MY HOME!!!!!”

I spent last night dreaming of hugging this dog. Loving this dog. Welcoming this dog.

And even though I am holding on to a glimmer of hope (she was busy, it was a big weekend, all the other applicants are self-avowed puppy-murderers), in my mind, I know we aren’t going to hear from the rescue.

It’s an awful feeling. An awful, awful feeling.

January

This morning I spent two hours in my own home, alone, no kids. For the first time in 3+ years. I had to. I have a time-sensitive task that needs completing. A deadline. I’d needed to start over at a critical point and my cushion disappeared.

So I sat here, in the girls’ room, with a window open and a playlist that came up when I queried ‘Cello’, and I actively concentrated for an hour and a half.

I was astounded at how difficult it has become for me to maintain focus…to just sit quietly with a task that requires a manner of timekeeping and counting. I barely held it together. I joke about the Swiss cheese brain with other mom-types, but I’ll be honest with you: That shit is REAL and it is not even remotely funny, and we all know it. I’m a space cadet and you’re a space cadet, and so is she, and we’re all secretly terrified that our children are ACTUALLY sending us to the loony bin.

My attention span is non-existent. I’ve gotten sidetracked writing these 100 or so words like 5 times. I can’t zero in. Outside activity throws me off. I can’t have a conversation if the radio is on and a child is speaking in the background. I’m harried. Scattered. Fuzzy. Brain dead. Unchallenged. Untested. Gathering dust.

So this year, I think, is going to be a year of rebuilding focus and regaining the ability to drown out the unnecessary and not just turn off when presented with multiple stimuli. In 2018, I want to be sharper and more focused. I want to clean up around the edges and in the corners. I want to get back to fighting weight. Mentally as well as physically. I want to find something to occupy me, to push me, to require effort and skill of me.

If given two hours, I want to get to the point where I can make use of all of it without distraction. With fewer nerves and less sense of a clock ticking down.