The Pull of Addiction

She calls your name, and you shiver. You try to ignore her, but without her, life seems meaningless. She whispers in your ear, and you strain to catch what she is saying. Shaking your head to stop the spread, insidious and encompassing, you can’t help but wonder how anyone can live without her. What a dull life others must lead without the pull of something so alluring and exciting. “Stay busy,” you think, “that will help.” But on your feet or lying in your bed, curled up to stop the onslaught, she finds you, her voice urgent now. She needs you, you need her, her beckon is intoxicating. You think of your family, your friends. They hate her, they say she has taken you away from them, robbed you of your joy. “Don’t listen to them,” she purrs, “I love you, we have so much fun together. You are happy with me, how can something that makes you happy be bad? They don’t understand.” She tugs on the cable surrounding you, ensnaring you. It is a beautiful chain. Golden and glistening with diamonds, you allow yourself to be pulled. “She is so beautiful, beauty is good. She knows me, understands me, she accepts me,” you reason. On your feet now, walking, then running to her, excitement building, your heart pounding. Your loved ones, watch you go to her once again, and they keep watching, hoping you will turn around and see that they are still there, right where you left them. But you become smaller and smaller until even eyes sharp and bright with love, can’t see you anymore. And you? You run to her now, the decision made, the die-cast. But she turns before you can reach her, a swirl of beauty, the ecstasy you have chased just out of reach. “wait,” you say, “you promised that we would be together, you told me you loved me, I left everything for you.” Laughing, she darts out of your grasp, pulling you with her, you can’t keep up and you fall on your knees. She is dragging you now, you are no match for her strength. You try to stand, but she runs faster, the golden thread now a rusty chain, wrapped around your neck, choking you. Too late, you realize that your family was right. Her beauty is hideous, terrible and alive. How did you not see? Why didn’t you listen? Shame falls on you like a black blanket, stifling and paralyzing. You know that it won’t be long now, you have thrown away everything for her, and she will make you another victim. Taking one last furtive glance back, you can see your family, maybe a whole group still, or maybe only one left, standing on a hill, backlit by the setting sun, as steady and unfaltering as an oak, with roots so vast and so deep, they tremble below you now, and jolt you with the truth. You have been deceived, you were wrong, you hate yourself and you want to die, but you keep looking at that beautiful tree as you bump along ensnared by your master, Addiction. Hope gone now, regret, bitter on your tongue, you are ready to accept your fate until you become aware of love and forgiveness raining down on you, a sprinkle at first, then a downpour. Clean and refreshed, you struggle to your feet, causing Addiction to stop for a minute, bewildered. She’s coming back to get you, beautiful once again, whispering to you so sweetly. But, you have seen the truth, you have felt love and she is not love, she is deception. The decision made, the chains around you fall, and you trudge back up the hill, beaten and battered, but feet moving toward your shelter. She still calls you, you are still attached, but it is a thread now, and the velvet cord from your family to your heart strengthens. It has always been there, it will always be there. It is called love and it will never fail. You are still pulled, you will always be pulled, but you know that the love and devotion of others will tug at your heart with a strength that far surpasses the pull of Addiction. You are sheltered now. You are home, you are loved and forgiven, you are where you belong.

Sunflower

Today, as I dropped Bean off at preschool, we were a few minutes later than we usually are. The door to the classroom was already open, and she started to head in without saying goodbye. “Hey!” I said, “where’s my kiss?” “Ohhh, duh” she said, slapping her head in a gesture I’ve done myself, many times. I bent down as she turned her sunflower face to me, open and beautiful, framed by the purple petals of her dress and matching hair bow. “Have a good day, love you, see you later.” I said, after kissing her, a scene that has replayed countless times in my 25 years of motherhood, first with her mother, then her uncle. I will be there to pick her up when school is over, she knows that I will, as I know that she will greet me, face up, radiant smile on her face.

Our little ones are like this, at least for a short while, hungrily lapping up attention and affection rays as greedily as a seedling, their small stature forcing them to look up at us, their sun. But our sunflower will grow, and there will come a time when she will be your height or taller. Then, you will raise your face to your flower, as eager for affection and attention as they once were. If you have cultivated what you have sown, with rains of structure and discipline, winds of hope and love, and rays of joy, if you have tended your little garden faithfully, pulling weeds and whispering words of encouragement, and with a little luck on your side, someday your sunflower will smile down on you. Eagerly, you might say,  “hey! Where’s my kiss?!?” Your flower, woman sized now, will incline her lovely head and you will kiss her forhead before she leaves for school, driving now. “Have a good day, love you, see you later,” you cheerfully wave her off, while you throw a prayer out to the universe or to God, “take care of my baby, keep her safe.” You are no longer the gardener in her life and you can only hope that the seed you planted, cultivated, showered, and weeded, will bloom making the world a more beautiful place, bright and joyful like a sunflower.

10 Reasons to Love a Millennial

The other day in the grocery store, searching for a line that was not too long, I decided to test out my husband’s “line” theory. One time, I complained to him about how I always seem to get stuck in the wrong line. He said, “That’s because you are looking at the length of the line, instead of the cashier.” Curious to see if he was right, and in no particular hurry this time, I pushed my cart past the shorter lines, the ones manned by older ladies with short, permed hair who paused at every item to comment on the weather or the unfairness of the price of eggs, and arrived at a longer line with a cashier 1/3 of the age of some of the others. The line moved quicker than I thought it would, thanks to the ease with which the young man could chat, scan coupons and produce and help bag the groceries. I usually try to give credit where credit is due, so I said “Wow, you are fast.” he shrugged and said, “I try to be.”

This short exchange made me think a few things: first, my husband was actually right about this, and secondly, and more relevant to this post, I thought about the fact that millennials often get a bad rap and that’s too bad, because I think that they are awesome.

Let me start by saying that I am firmly ensconced in Generation X, having a birth year of 1972. My husband is too, although just barely because he was born in 1965. We have two children, both millennials. I have worked with, and have both family and friends that are baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and even traditionalists, who were born between 1900-1945. I have realized recently that I enjoy working with, and hanging out with millennials the most, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Millennials are great communicators. Because they grew up in a time where they were encouraged to talk about their feelings, they do, and this is great. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to know where I stand with someone rather than suffer through years of passive/aggressive BS and wonder if that person is mad at me or just a jerk.

2. Everyone knows that they are great multi-taskers, but as in the case of the cashier, we all can, and will benefit from this skill. This is great news for someone who is as impatient as I am.

3. They have time management skills. Many millennials had very structured childhoods. Practice, lessons, even free time was scheduled. Because of this, they know how to be where they are supposed to be, and on time.

4. They are willing to share their knowledge without judgement. They are patient and even chuckle fondly, shaking their heads at my helplessness when I ask them to help me navigate Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

5, They like to make connections. Thanks to social media, the millennials I know, seem to view the world as a smaller place than I did as a kid. They find it easier than some generations to find a common ground with any age group.

6, They work to live, not live to work. They already know what some people don’t find out until it’s too late. Life is too short to not have fun.

7. Many of them actually like their parents and enjoy spending time with them. As a mother of millennials, I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. I’m pretty sure that my generation was not supposed to like their parents and certainly not choose to spend a Saturday night with them. I love that about this generation.

8. They are tolerant. They accept and appreciate different cultures, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. Because of that, I know that they will not mind at all if I include this Bible verse from John 15: 12. “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Millennials, you are great at this.

9. They received a trophies for participation as children. I know, I know, this is one of the  things that other generations don’t like. Gen X’ers and baby boomers like to brag that if we got a trophy, it was because we were the best at something and we deserved it, not just received an award for showing up. I’d like to challenge that belief. How else are kids going to learn the value of trying something out and sticking with it even if they were not the best at it? I mean really, its well-known that hard work and dedication can carry you pretty far in life, even if you haven’t been born with a specific gift. Actually, why should someone be rewarded for raw talent as opposed to participation anyway? If you were born with it, that doesn’t make you special, just lucky. As adults, don’t we get the grownup equivalent of a trophy by bringing home a paycheck for showing up at work and at least participating? I believe that these kids learned life lessons about perseverance, commitment and just maybe, they got a little self-esteem boost, isn’t that what we want for our kids and traits we want to foster into adulthood?

10.  Last but not least, someday a millennial might be pushing my wheelchair out to the courtyard at the nursing home. I’m counting on that diligent, parent-loving, connection building individual, with a passion for life who is looking for a little bit of fun, to take an extra minute and share a cigarette (yes, I quit 18 years ago, but plan to pick it back up in my final days!), and a laugh with me. I have no doubt one of them will.

Why I love Teens

This is my last night of being a mother of a teenager, a role I have had for almost 13 years. It may seem strange, but it makes me sad to think that my son will no longer be a teen in less than 24 hours. I have enjoyed these years immensely, actually this has been my favorite stage of child rearing. I know, it’s weird. But I have loved going to games and meets, plays and concerts and even having tons of their friends in the house. It made me feel like one of them, in a good way, without the crappy school part.

My son especially, has had a steady stream of visitors since he was in the first grade. As the boys grew older, the sneakers hastily kicked off by the door got bigger and so did the appetites. Sometimes I would get up in the morning and found that gallons of milk had been consumed as well as whole jars full of cookies. frozen pizzas, potato chips, any leftovers I had, and one time a whole jar of cinnamon for some ridiculous “cinnamon challenge.”  I never minded this. I loved having them at home where I knew what they were doing and I also loved just hanging out with them.

My daughter’s friends were fun, because I could get the detailed information about school happenings that she was either unwilling or unable to give. Nothing major, just high school gossip, who was dating whom, who cheated on who, that kind of stuff.  It was fun and helped me to see my daughter in a different light and it felt like I was back in school with them. Watching movies, taking them shopping, doing hair for prom, I loved it all.

My son’s friends were different. They came in packs, rarely alone. Most of the time, at least two that would spend the night, or that’s how many there were when I went to bed. Sometimes a few more would be dropped off later by their parents and I wouldn’t know until morning when I would stumble over several pairs of Nike’s that were littering the area by the door. Sometimes there would be so many boys, there would not be any available room to sleep on the bed, or the floor and some poor soul was forced to sleep on the couch. You might think that this would be better than than sleeping five deep in a smallish, slightly stinky bedroom but they weren’t there to sleep. Not unlike puppies, sleep was not on the agenda, until exhausted from a night of wrestling, rolling around, and teasing each other, they would fall asleep in what appeared to be a large pile of blankets, arms and feet. In more recent years, as the boys got their licences, a jumble of old sedans and a rusty SUV or two littered my driveway and spilled out onto the side of the street some mornings, making our property look like a used car lot until one by one, they stumbled downstairs at different intervals to go to work or an early morning practice. I loved it.  I loved it when they would grab a freshly baked muffin on the way out or when they would sit in the kitchen to talk, some drinking milk, some drinking coffee.

The best thing about having a teenager though, was when we were alone. Watching one of our shows together, going out to eat, or my favorite, and the best, most comfortable place to talk, riding in the car. This is where our most organic conversations have happened. Music on, staring straight ahead, no pressure, that’s when the real stuff comes out.

Teens can be challenging, they can be thoughtless and selfish at times. It has not always been a joy to raise them. It certainly is not as easy emotionally as it is to have a preschooler who throws her arms around you and tells you that you are her best friend or the first-grader who grabs your hand and tells you that he will marry you someday. No, teens make you work for their affection and their time. They will not say either of these things to you and you are not usually their first choice to hang out with. But, if you cherish the pieces they give you, you will see a glimmer of the adult that they will become, and you will see that you have been raising  your future best friend.

 

Forgiving a Mother Who Never Asked

Mother’s day is a hard day for my husband. His mother passed away several years ago due to complications from the chemotherapy she was receiving for the treatment of breast cancer. It damaged her heart to the point that she needed a heart transplant. The attempted transplant was not successful and a mechanical heart was implanted. She suffered several strokes shortly after and died within a week of the surgery. Her untimely death is not the only reason that Mother’s day is hard. It is a tough day because he has had to learn to forgive a person who was not sorry.

A mom of two boys by the age of 17, she missed out on the normal experiences of a teenager in the mid 60’s, and often told her sons this. She frequently left the boys with relatives, dumping them off for weeks at a time. It is testament to the poor living conditions that he had with his mother that the days of living with grandparents and a few times with an aunt and her partner were some of the best times of my husband’s life, and the people he credits for giving him some semblance of a normal childhood. She was mentally and physically abusive, and had some of the things happened in this day and age, the boys would surely have been removed from her care. The addition of a stepfather and later on, two half-brothers did not help the situation. The younger ones were favored but even they didn’t escape some of the abuse. My husband tried to run away multiple times and ultimately left for good as soon as he turned 17,  joining the army with his mothers written permission.

Seven years later, when I joined the family, things had only improved marginally and although my he never complained about his upbringing and rarely said anything negative about her, I could see the situation clearly.  She was not a big part of our lives through the years, and her death only bothered me because of the grief that it caused my husband. He mourned her passing even when he was handed a letter at the funeral, written by her before she entered the hospital to await her transplant. The letter was not the apology that I initially assumed it would be. It was a list of his shortcomings and the hardships she endured in her selfless attempt to raise him and his brothers. I watched him burn the letter that night, and I saw him cry. There would be no absolution, no explanation, nothing that said “I did the best that I could.”

Yet, he misses her, especially on her birthday and Mother’s day. Maybe he misses her good points, she was beautiful, and witty, and at times, generous. But I think he misses most, something he never had. A relationship like I have with our son. I wish that he had with her the easy friendship that I have with our boy. The shared jokes and favorite TV shows, the ease with which he shares things with me that sometimes I don’t really want to know. I wish that my husband had that with his mother. I wish he had a lifetime of sweet memories of her instead of the painful legacy she left behind. I wish that she had left a different letter. I think he just misses having a mother, good or bad. He loves her and has forgiven her, although she never asked for it.

It is a strange thing to behold as a nurse, and as an observer of human nature, how children love their mothers. Selfish and abusive or unfeeling and negligent, these things do not prevent a child from having the desire to be with his mother. They long for them, and call for them until suddenly they don’t. Until finally, the child is old enough to protect himself from the pain of rejection. The heart hardens and a wall develops. A wall that a future partner will spend a lifetime trying to knock down. A wall that a mother, nearing the end of her days, lonely, and with a lifetime of regret, could dissolve with a few words… “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry, I did the best that I could.”

Afterword: I almost didn’t post this piece. I asked my husband to read it because I wanted to get his permission since it is his life, and his story. He told me initially that is was alright to post, but I could tell that it made him sad. He doesn’t want his mom to look bad. I actually had a different title in the beginning, and some unkind comments. We talked about it and I changed some things. Tines, thank you for letting me share with others a small piece of your amazing, crazy life.

More Precious than Jewels

She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10

This is the face of a mom who has to go to work. Her daughter wants her to stay home but she has to go. Her mouth smiles but her eyes do not. She has her keys in her hand, her purse on her shoulder and she has had to ask for favors from family and friends to watch her daughter because it is nearly impossible to afford daycare and because her evening and weekend work schedule does not allow her to send her daughter to one anyway. She cries as she drives and she thinks about that sad face. “I can’t do this,” she says aloud. But she is doing it. She works in a busy emergency room where she will see good moms, with pinched, worried faces. Mothers whose children have high fevers or a broken arm. She will also see a few bad moms. Selfish and rude, with coarse voices and a hardened exterior, they will sneak outside for a cigarette or demand to know in a loud, disruptive voice, “what the f#@$ is taking so long?”  But those moms are few and far between. Many of the  mothers are single and many are like this mom; trying to get by, struggling to raise kind, productive citizens on boxed macaroni and cheese. This is a picture of my daughter, She is a single mom. She is one of many, many women who are doing it every day, even though they feel like they can’t.

This is to the mom who drops her kids off at daycare after an early morning wake-up call in which the first thought was that you are going to go to bed early tonight for a change instead of basking in the one hour of alone time you have all day. A morning spent changing diapers, feeding the cat, asking, then telling, then finally yelling at your preschooler to get her shoes on in between trying to make yourself presentable for work and then suddenly remembering that the baby has a well-child checkup mid-day and you will have to get out of work early. You drop them off in a rush, but the baby clings to your legs and puts up his chubby arms for you to pick him up. You smile and remove him, give him a kiss and tell him that you love him, and leave him with his caregiver. You cry on the way to work and think, “I can’t do this. ”  But you are doing it.

This is to the mom whose six-year-old exhausts you with requests to play Uno, Barbies, and hopscotch. “Read to me, watch me, play with me” is her battle cry. You go to the bathroom to get a minute to yourself but the door bangs open and in she comes, asking to make cookies with you. You need a break, an hour alone to not talk or smile and to please no one but yourself. But there is no one to relieve you, and you feel guilty for wishing you could be alone. “I can’t do this,” you think as you get out the chocolate chips and she pulls a kitchen chair up to the counter so that she can “help.” But you are doing it.

This is to the mom whose teenage son is angry with school and with life. His music is loud and his hair is long. His friends are questionable and his girlfriend is sullen. He stays out past curfew one night and you do not sleep and instead, frantically text, call, and social-media stalk him and his friends to determine his whereabouts. You wonder if you should start texting other parents or maybe call the police, until finally, two hours late, he stumbles in, the stench of rebellion poisoning the air.  You know that you should wait until the morning, but you are tired and relieved and angry all at once, so you yell at him and he yells back. Your sweet baby boy punches a hole in the wall and in your heart and then slams his door while you think to yourself, “I can’t do this.” But you are doing it.

Mom, this is the hardest task you that will ever be entrusted to you. You won’t be sure of yourself and you will always feel guilty. There will never be a time when you think,  I’m doing a damn good job. You will always worry, wonder, and at times wish it away. As a single mom, the full mantle of responsibility rests on your shoulders. You are the good cop and the bad cop, the yin and the yang. You have no one to bounce ideas off of, to tell you when you are being ridiculous or to support you with an end-of-discussion Dad voice warning the whiner to “listen to your mother.”

It is a struggle: financially, mentally, and emotionally. There will be days when you feel confident and in control and nights when fear, the friend of darkness, pins you to your bed, paralyzing your body and stimulating your mind.  But when the sun comes up, and your phone alarm goes off in the morning, and you roll out of bed swearing that you will go to bed early tonight, know this: You are strong and beautiful. Your strength comes from adversity and your beauty comes from every challenge that you have faced along the way. These hard times are polishing you and preparing you for the day when your babies are grown and they show you off  like a young woman shows off her engagement ring. “Meet my Mom,” he will say, diploma in hand, his face alight, “I couldn’t have done it without her.” On that day, you, in a green dress, tissue in hand, standing back to let your baby have his moment, will be brought forth and your worth and brilliance will be on display for all to admire. You will finally know what your children have learned and what we bystanders have always known; that you are precious and that you did a damn good job.

 

What it feels like to be a Nurse

#1 Most trusted profession? According to Gallup’s annual poll, nurses have ranked highest in honesty and ethical standards for 15 consecutive years. Today is National Nurses Day and this is what it feel like to be a nurse.

You work 3 days a week (unless you feel guilty that everyone is working short-staffed and you pick up an extra shift) but during those three days you see only your co- workers and your bed. Everything and everyone else cease to exist.

Returning home after a 13+ hour day, you have learned to ignore piles of dishes and laundry and force yourself to get to bed ASAP because in a few hours, you will do it all over again.
Friends and family say to you, “wow, you have a lot of time off!”

Your first day off after two or three shifts in a row is a day of catching up on laundry, not on sleep.
At any given moment at work, your feet hurt, your back or neck hurts, you are probably hungry, and you may or may not have had a chance to go to the bathroom since you got there.

You optimistically bring a lunch everyday but sometimes don’t have time to eat it.

You are really good at nodding and smiling, but your nurse friends know the truth. Sometimes, you only have time to exchange glances, but that’s all you need to feel better.
Your long hours make you depend on co-workers to switch shifts or come in early for you so you can rush to your child’s basketball game or concert in your scrubs.
Saltines and graham crackers? Yes at work. Never, ever at home.
Someone else’s bowel movements; Cheered, charted, reported and discussed. Weird? Not to us.
Same with urine, sputum and vomit.
Walks, talks and pees in the toilet is a wonderful phrase to hear during report.
Ditto with alert and oriented.
Speaking of report, giving to and getting from the same person a few days in a row can make your whole day.
Admission is a dirty word.
So is quiet.
Holidays and weekends and nights. Enough said.

Donuts from Drs, chocolates from patients and cakes for birthdays can cause a stampede in the break room.
When you are off, random medical emergencies in which you must take action, seem to happen frequently around you, although you try to avoid these situations like the plague.
Regarding the health of your children, you are one of two ways: certain that every headache is brain tumor and every stomach ache is appendicitis or shrug off every complaint with a “you’ll be fine.”
Among your coworkers, you know who is the best at different tasks like a difficult IV start or putting in an NG tube so you trade tasks or beg them to come along for “moral support.”
You have uttered the phrase, “I absolutely HAVE to get out on time today because I have to do X, Y and Z.” It doesn’t happen.
After a long day, when your spouse says, “how was your day?”, you say “fine” because to even begin to tell a non medical person everything you did and saw seems exhausting.
When you do feel like talking, usually when eating, your spouse abruptly ends the conversation with a hand up and a “please!”, when the word diarrhea makes its appearance.

No subject is off-limits with your co-workers and they know everything about you.

Wolfing down a meal with another nurse is the perfect time to discuss bodily functions. or lack thereof.

You think maybe you have seen it all, until the next strange things comes along.

You learn to accept anything, odd requests from patients, OCD behavior from other nurses, mood swings of physicians, and try to accomadate them all, as they also accept your quirks.

You live in fear that you will accidentally cause a HIPPA violation.
Because of HIPPA, your spouse has probably said to you, “xxxx said they saw you at work. Why didn’t you tell me?!?”

As a nurse, you have been punched, kicked, sworn and spit at. You have also held hands, cried with, hugged and even kissed strangers. You have been called a bi*%# and an angel in the same day. You have truly loved and disliked certain patients but have treated both the same way. You have loved and hated your job. You have cried and laughed. You have seen births and deaths. You have seen tragedy and triumph. You have seen people at their worst and their best. You have been at your worst and at your best. Your co-workers are like siblings. You are proud to be a nurse.

Happy Nurses Day.

Bullies and the Lessons We Learn

Minutes ago I read a blog post from a woman whose teenage, autistic son was made fun of at a mall by a group of teenage girls. She said that as far as she knew, he had never been made fun of before and that this event broke a thirteen year streak for them. She wrote that chances are, one of them will grow up to have a child or grandchild with a disability and that she hoped that they would not remember the incident if that child is bullied because they might not be able to stand the pain. I’m sorry that this happened and would not wish that any child be bullied, those with a disability and those without. I am happy for her that her son attends a school whose peers do not make fun of him and that a some small saving grace is that when she turned to confront the girls, her son “probably would not have understood much of our exchange if he had been listening anyway.” I am thankful that my children do not have a disability, but they have been bullied anyway and they were painfully aware of it all.

Not only have both my children been bullied, but my husband and I have been bullied as well. Given the fact that 100% of my immediate family has been bullied at one time or another, this must be extremely common. Of course this is not right. It is not good. It is painful for the children and heartbreaking for the parents, if they know. I never said anything to my parents, what would be the point? My mother is meek and mild and would have offered unhelpful advice such as “Just stay away from them,” and this is not something I would have shared with my father. My husband took care of his own bullies and the bullies of the less courageous kids with his fists, an effective but not recommended remedy. My daughter’s bully was small, but mean as a snake. She pulled the chair out before my daughter sat down and laughed when she fell on the floor. She teased and laughed at her so much that in the third grade, suffering from panic attacks, my daughter could not go to school for a while. My husband and I tried different tactics to combat this pint size tormentor. He offered my daughter 20 dollars to punch the girl in the face and it’s a testament to the desperation of the time that I secretly hoped that she would, even though I outwardly discouraged it, as a mother should. She wouldn’t do it. I tried calling the school and the parents but gave up on that idea when I didn’t get anywhere. Finally I decided that this girl was really just a little girl who was in pain, so we started praying for her every night (we both balked at this, my daughter outwardly and me inwardly) and invited her to a Awana, a weekly Christian based children’s ministry where the kids play games and earn badges for learning bible verses. The girl surprisingly agreed and ended up coming with us every Thursday night for years, sleeping over once a week on a cot in my daughter’s room. This arrangement actually worked but it was not an easy time for any of us.

My sons bullying experience was shorter but considerably more violent. He was taunted at the age of 12 by a 14 year-old indigent with a striking resemblance to my son, both blonde haired, blue-eyed with a slight build. I wondered then and still wonder if he noticed the similarities and the heartbreaking differences. This boy was brought up by an allegedly abusive, alcoholic father. I’m sure he never felt cherished and loved a day in his life and maybe because my son looked something like him, decided to take it out on him. It started with threatening my son in school and online, progressed to yelling threats about bringing brass knuckles to school while following him home, and ended with this kid waiting outside of his classroom, and while my son’s head was turned, knocking him out with one punch and climbing on top of him, punching his face the whole time until one of my sons friends pulled him off and the teachers finally heard the commotion. The kid was suspended, although many teachers favored expulsion and the bullying stopped. Shortly after that, the boy went on to high school and we didn’t see him again until one day, my husband came home and told us the story of his own interaction with the troubled kid. The story goes like this:

My husband was in the garage one day, when he heard the sound of a dirt bike, zipping up the road. He came out of  the garage in time to see what appeared to be teenager riding my son’s old dirt bike. We live in a small town and this was the only one of its kind in the area. We had recently sold it to a friend for his son after our son had outgrown it, and just the night before, the man had called my husband and asked him to be on the lookout for it because it had been stolen.  My husband, an adrenaline junky, and adventure lover, jumped in his truck in hot pursuit of the kid and followed him until he saw the kid turn off the road and in to a field. He pulled up in time to see the boy drop the bike in some high grass and duck down. Undaunted, and now sure that this must be the stolen dirt bike, he got out of the truck and walked through the field until he saw our old dirtbike and the bully, now 16 years old, cowering in the tall grass. “Get your a*$ up,” my husband said, “and help me load this thing into the truck.” The kid jumped up and together they loaded the dirtbike into the back of the truck, “I’m not going to say anything about this” he said, “but you leave my son alone.”  The kid stammered and mumbled something, probably surprised and relieved that he had escaped both a beating and a summons. My husband drove off and gave the dirtbike back to the grateful owner but kept his word and did not report it. We never saw or heard from him again. That kid is 22 now and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he is prison somewhere but I hope he isn’t. I wish him well because I know that his bullying came from a place of insecurity, jealousy and anger as it often does with bullies.

Unfortunately, being bullied is all too common in childhood and sometimes even for adults, in the workplace. For the four of us, I think it has made us stronger. My daughter and I are alike in that we often speak for those who cannot speak up for themselves, she and I and have both been described as “feisty” when the situation warrants it. My son and husband always stand up for the underdog, individually, and on one memorable occasion, together, taking down and subduing a crazed, dangerous man (but that’s a story for a different day). These experiences were not pleasant when we went through them, and as a parent I wish they had not happened. I wonder though, if we would have turned out differently if we had not had them. I want this mom to know that although her son was made fun of for the way he ran, due to his disability, quite likely he would have been bullied at some point in his life even without his disability. Children are made fun of for the way they dress, how they talk, if they are too skinny or too fat, where they live, and for being too pretty or not pretty enough.  This is the sad reality of childhood. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a bully (I think we tried them all), and girl bullies and boy bullies are very, very different. But what we did learn is that families need to stick together, that you cannot allow anyone to push you around and if you can, stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves.  Finally, try to show kindness to the bully because they may not have seen it at home and they are hurting too. You never know what seeds you may be planting in their lives that may grow into flowers later, when the soil is more fertile. To the mom at the mall, your children are lucky to have you and you are doing a great job.

 

The Heartache of Bipolar

I wrote this piece about bipolar disorder after watching an episode of Shameless on Netflix. I could identify so strongly with the family and also with the character, that I had to write about it. My husband is bipolar. I know that there are some people who prefer the term to be “has bipolar” rather than is, but this is who he is, the good and bad. You can’t shake it off like a stifling hot coat or wrap yourself in it when you are cold. It is who he is and it is who we are. Courage and tenacity are the requirements to survive, love and acceptance are needed to thrive. Bipolar can be beautiful and exciting when experiencing the “up” side. There is creativity and generosity and fun there, but also risk and danger.  I wanted to write from his point of view as well as mine. I wasn’t sure if I captured his side of it and asked him to read it and then I went to bed, When I got up, I saw that he had added two paragraphs at the end. It is honest and real. It is written from the low side but I don’t want this to be depressing. I want the reader to know that a person with bipolar does not choose this life, and they suffer so greatly when they can’t be who their loved ones want them to be. But that is not the end of the story. There is help. There is no cure, but there is relief. If you love a person with bipolar, or you are that person, you are brave, you are strong and you are not alone.

 

What if you felt dead inside, although you were still breathing? What if you felt so dry that you thought that your bones could wither and die? What if your child’s laugh felt like nails on a chalk board? What if the sounds of breakfast and of your family preparing to face the world, melted the small amount of courage that you had left. What if the sound of the birds chirping was an assault to your ears and the sun seemed to mock the darkness of your spirit? After all, the sun is up and you should be too, both your body and your mood. Everyone else is, it has been a cold, snowy winter and a rainy spring. But now, summer is here, people are happy, why can’t you be one of them? They come out to wash their cars, walk their dogs and barbecue with friends. But not you. The pain in your body joins the pain in your mind, crippling you. Your bed is safe and the world is not. The weight of responsibility sits on you like a ton of bricks, it overpowers you. You can’t breathe out there. The air is too fresh and the light too bright. Darkness is the place to hide, where for you, wrapped in your blanket cocoon, in your darkened room, solitude is the only safe place in this world. But the price of security is shame. You wallow in your guilt, you wear it like a chain draped over your shoulders, crushing but reassuringly familiar.

 

I see you there, in bed, wrapped up, nothing sticking out but your head which faces the wall. I know that this is a “down day.” I know that you will not get up today. I know that you will not take the kids to the playground and to get ice cream and to play outside all day like you promised yesterday, because that was yesterday, an “up day.” I hear the kids downstairs, letting the refrigerator door bang open and the bowls clunk together as they get cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons. The sun is out, and they are ready for their day of fun. They argue about what they will do with you first. I know what will happen when I go down. “Where’s Dad?” they will say, disappointed to see boring Mom instead of fun Dad. “He’s not feeling well,” I’ll say. “Probably it will just be us today,” my voice will be light and bright but they will not be fooled. “OK” they will say, turning their faces back to the TV, no longer questioning why. I will turn up the emotional barometer to extra happy to combat the rapidly declining moods, sun or no sun. But. before I face them and spend the day making it up to them, I go to your side of the bed. You have tears in your eyes, you have the saddest face I have ever seen, at least since last time. “I’m sorry, I just can’t” you mumble. “It’s ok” I say, “you will feel better tomorrow.” You nod because you know that this is true. I know that you are grateful for the steadiness of my moods, neither high highs or low lows. I know that you will wrap yourself in sadness and guilt all day, It would be cruel to say the obvious; that this is not fair and that I never planned on being at the park all day and that I have tons of laundry to catch up on and would it be too much to ask to give me a freaking hour alone to read a book or take a nap for God’s sake? My only consolation is that I know that you would never choose this. You have told me more than once that at least I can get away from you when you are like this, that you can’t get away from yourself. I also know that if there was a choice between you and me having this disease, you would choose it a thousand times so that I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of darkness. I give you a kiss and tell you to rest even though I know a hundred days would not make your exhausted soul feel rested. But, we are a team. We are one. When you are down I am the half that is up and when the buoyancy of your mood threatens to carry us all away, I will be an anchor and bring us back to earth. I do this because I love you and because I promised to be there in sickness and in health and because I know that joy comes in the morning. Tomorrow you will probably be “up” even though it will rain. You will roll around and wrestle with the kids on the floor. You will play games and make omelets and clean the whole house. You will not feel the pain that yesterday, made you feel like you had been “run over by a truck.” You will be fun and exciting and everyone will forget the darkness of yesterday. Just as it is impossible to remember the chill of winter while basking in summers warmth, so it is with Bipolar. The lows make the highs even sweeter. But today is not that day, today you are down, so I will be up. I put on my sneakers and my happiest face and off I go.

Last night my husband added this….

This is the life of someone who has to deal with a bipolar person. It isn’t pretty and it is such a burden. I am bipolar, and I pray for a good day. I am alone but aware of my surroundings. I want to be accepted even though I can’t accept myself. I fail at most things, in my eyes. I am never proud of myself. I see wrongs and try to help others, even though I can’t help myself. If you need anything, I’ll try. When I’m up it’s because I’m trying my best to put on a good act, even though my mind is a battlefield. The woods seem quiet but the sounds are loud. I know what is true, but never seem to find the truth. I feel that the bad things that happened to me, even as a child, are my own doing. I want to mature but feel that is a pipe dream. I love my family, and know they love me too. We have some fun times, and have created good memories, along with the bad. I will clean your feet with humility. I will jump off a building for you. Even though I can’t comfort you, I cry in sorrow when I can’t do what’s right. I long for acceptance, but never earn it. I feel the pain I cause, to my core, and I am riddled with guilt. I want to give up but feel loved. This is my battle and I have drafted people in my life, to this war. It seems so easy to give up, until I see the love around me, but I will never be free of guilt, it has haunted me since I was a child. I have a battalion of guilt, that will never leave my mind.

The good things in life, for me? My wife. She is beautiful in every way imaginable! She is there in my lows, and picks me up. She loves me unconditionally, totally unwarranted, in my view. My children and grands, are my lifeblood. Without any of them, I am dead. It’s hard for me to see any positives, of who I am. I know they must be there somewhere, but I can’t seem to find them. I wander in the dark woods, even though I have a light to show me the way. This is bipolar; anguish, pain, guilt, worthlessness, self-destruction, and a trail of tears because of my selfishness. You’re welcome to join, but beware, it’s no fun. I love my wife and regret all the bad I have caused. My attempts are minimal and despicable, to make her happy. I can never repair the past, and can’t guarantee the future. I don’t think I’ll ever be who she wants me to be. I couldn’t do it for my Mom, or my children, so it is a dream she will probably never see. That’s probably true, but I hope not the truth. That’s all I have.