Saturday, October 03, 2015

To Dad, who would be 79 today

Dear Dad,

Today you would be 79. More than six years of events have gone by since you died.

When I think in these terms, I find the passage of time extraordinary.

I mean, I know time goes and we're all getting older, but I fixate so much on my kids, who are so excited about their ages. And they're still in the single digits.

They're hilarious, high energy, creative, mischievous. They love their Nana with all their hearts. I often find them all crammed into a big chair together, reading or watching Paw Patrol. I wish they also had these moments with you.
You would get so much joy out of them. Perhaps you do. India and Jordan both insist there are ghosts upstairs. Our house has great energy, and so I tell them if so, they're happy ghosts.

I believe that energy sticks around, in whatever form, and so maybe.

Since you died I've formed nice relationships with your brother Jack's kids Connie and Mike. I don't see Connie, although we are in touch. Mike is in DC occasionally for work, and so we get to see him. Not often, but it is so great when we do, and he and I email. We talk about you.

Mike favors you, and at a glance, he could be a younger you. His son Travis has joined the Air Force, and I know he's so proud of both his kids. He sent me this picture of the three generations.
He has the same Jordan sense of humor, and he says Connie does as well. Mom sent Mike your dummies, and one of them rides around with him in his truck.
I love this for so many reasons. Family connections feel really good.

You know I have your sense of humor, and I feel this was a big gift from you. And I'm still dearest friends with Maude, and I feel that our friendship was also your gift, Lou's and yours.

Maude is still struggling with Lou's death, and we both hope you are hanging out being ridiculous and laughing really hard. 

As I dig more and more into my part of our story, I am able to forgive you and forgive myself. I feel disloyal when I think of you in anger. But the truth is, you can't have deep relationships without any anger. More and more, though, I remember joy.

I still come across sticky notes that you left me. I saved them, you know. I have the one about remembering to put my wedding dress in the car. Another, on a folder, saying not to sign except in front of a notary.

But I so wish I had saved at least one of your voicemails. Now I do. I have tons of voicemails on my phone, just in case I need to hear a voice again.

Now I talk about suicide as if it is a normal conversation topic. I know it still shocks people. But almost 100% of them have lost someone in their lives that way.

Sometimes I still have to fight the what-ifs. And pull my mind out of the should-have-knowns. But mostly, I have made peace with it.

When friends are struggling with new grief, I say that it will eventually hurt less. It doesn't go away, but with time, it no longer crushes the breath out of you.

Time is the longest distance between two places, but what are you going to do?

It's been over six years. You would be 79 today. I love you and I miss you. Happy birthday.



Friday, October 02, 2015

Cargo bike love: Xtracycle

This is my new crush and main mode of child transportation: my Xtracycle Edgerunner 10e.
It is basically magic.

I mean, I know it's engineering. And maybe some pixie dust.

For years Nick had tried to convince me to get a bike, and for years I wasn't interested. I walking and running, and can walk to the kids' schools, grocery stores, everything. We have a jogging stroller. And a car for big grocery shopping.

The last bike I could remember owning was my pink Huffy when I was a kid. About 15 years ago, I went home to Germany with with a boyfriend. He and I borrowed his parents' bikes to meet friends at a pub in the next village; we drank too much beer, and I wobbled into a ditch on the way home.

So, I was not a biker. I did not need a bike, thankyouverymuch.

This was before my friend Andrea lent me her Xtracycle for a week!

It was fantastic. When the week was over I missed it. I needed my own nownownow.

I headed straight over to Bicycle Space to check out cargo bikes.

I asked Xtracycle and Yuba cargo bikes. And I wanted to discuss the regular bike versus one with e-assist (meaning an electric motor that assists with pedaling), and ready-made or retrofit. With motors you have the option to retrofit any bike, or to buy one built with it. Xtracycle's e-assist versions come with Bosch motors.

The staff didn't push at all, and they were also kind when I said that I really knew nothing about biking whatsoever except for my Xtracycle week.

These bikes are expensive, and big investments. I wanted to know that I'd get a lot of use out of it for a long time.

We ultimately determined that some version of an Xtracycle Edgerunner was the bike for us.

Once we made a final decision, we bought it from Bicycle Space. I've since stopped in about 54 times to buy kiddy bike bells (two, so we have no fighting) and ask questions and so forth. I'm waiting for my lights to arrive. They are super friendly and helpful--a nice store to have an ongoing relationship with.

The Xtracycle back wheel is smaller than the front, so your center of gravity is lower, giving more stability. Also, they're both able to climb up into it. No lifting.

Here's the deal. My son, Jordan, at over 60 lbs, is too heavy for Nick's bike seat. India, at 33-ish lbs, still fits. But this always engenders sibling rivalry because why does India get to ride with Daddy when Jordan has to ride his stinky scooter? It's not fair!


So, I pick the up India mid-day, and then she wants to come along when we pick up her brother. She's capable of walking to his school and back, but if he has his scooter, she wants to scoot too.

But she doesn't really know how. So whenever we go out with it, it actually means me bending over and pulling her the whole way. Or carrying her. And the scooter.

My alternative for pickup was bringing her in the jogging stroller. This resulted in jealousy. And me struggling to push both kids in the stroller, while balancing the scooter on top.

But with my new Xtracycle, I can carry both kids together!
They climb into the Hooptie and hold onto the rails. I was riding them home from school the other day and Jordan said, "This is the best day of my life!"

I can fill the side bags with backpacks and lunches and really, an extraordinary amount of stuff! I've even hauled Jordan's scooter with us!

I've only had it for a couple weeks. I'm still learning. My kids together weight just shy of 100 lbs, and I have to keep reminding them not to wiggle. Or fight.

I'm really cautious but getting bolder in traffic. Not that I'm not careful. I'm extremely careful.

But I went from being a not-biker to a biker with heavy and precious cargo. And on just about every road I've been on, someone is double-parked in the bike lane. Which means going out into the car lane to get around them.

We opted for e-assist, and we got the one with the Bosch motor already installed. There was a fuchsia one, but no motor. Motor version comes in black.

I chose practicality over fuchsia.

The bike is both long and heavy. The kids are big and only getting bigger. And when I borrowed Andrea's bike, we nearly fell over a couple times trying to get started on a hill, because I am just not strong enough to pedal all three of us.

The motor doesn't drive the bike for you. It just helps you when you're pedaling.

What I like to tell people is that you're still doing the work; you're just more awesome.

I use it as little as possible, because I want to be doing the work and feel awsome on my own. A couple friends have seen us going by and called me a bad-ass.

When we're going uphill and we start to slow down because I'm working really hard, my kids will say, "You can do it, Mama! You're doing a great job!"

They're happy, I'm happy, and it's terrific. I love all of it.

My bike is nicer and worth more than my first car by a long shot. I'd like to tell you my bike is perfect, and it's very close.

I guess I'd call it perfect if it were fuchsia.

And maybe cooked dinner once in a while.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

For Stacy, who was dazzling

Stacy was not mine to lose, nor mine to mourn, but I do.

I never met her in person, and the truth is, after she shut down her blog, Jurgen Nation, I pretty much  lost track of her.

And still, news of her death punched me in the gut. I know enough to realize that suicide always feels personal to me. But Stacy was someone who stuck with you. For a time, I felt like I knew her, and she was amazing.

When I started blogging, she was an established blogger, a breathtaking writer, and a gorgeous woman. And she was hilarious. I was nervous to comment on her blog. She got tons of comments. She spoke at BlogHer. She hung out, virtually and in person, with other famous bloggers.

She was a celebrity. Cool. Popular. Pretty. Witty.

And also real and raw. Damaged, and so frank about it. She offered herself up to all of us, emotionally naked.

I adored her. I admired her so. She inspired me.

We had a little correspondence. She was kind, so very kind.

And she had that little voice inside her head, the one my friend Michelle describes as saying, "Just quit."

Am I drawn to those with that voice? Those who struggle?

I think I am.

I think it's because these are people who burn brighter, who live and feel more intensely. Whose minds intrigue me. Whose emotions pull me.

She had a sparkle. She burned so brightly. And she was honest, painfully honest, about how she felt, about her traumas. About the urge to just quit.

And you could look at photos of her, and see how luminous she was. You could feel the brilliance in her writing, and think, how could someone that beautiful and amazing feel so bad?

But your own personal truth, as I know too well, eclipses everything.

As the years went by, I kept blogging, but was increasingly in my own world, as bloggers I knew and loved quit  blogging. The DC blogger happy hours petered out. And frankly, even before that, I stopped having much time to go to happy hour or even keep up with many blogs.

But every once in a while, I would do a search for Jurgen Nation. I'd come up with stunning photos that Stacy took. But not the beloved JN posts.

And then yesterday, I saw Heather's post on Facebook, expressing her sadness at losing Stacy.

She didn't say how, but in my experience, when there is no how, the how is self-inflicted.

So I went searching on the Internet.

I found that amalah, who I used to read the minute her posts came out, had written about her. I'd have known before, but as I said, I just read blogs more sporadically now.

And I came across this exquisite post. What an achingly beautiful goodbye.

The just quit voice prevailed. The darkness won.

And the rest of us have all lost.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In which I sift through my mental catalogue and come up with pretty much a lot of insecurity

I am taking a storytelling class at Story District.

I asked Nick for it for my birthday. And then I almost chickened out. But I didn't! Last night was the first class.
Basically, in this beginning storytelling class, they teach you how to construct a terrific story. And the culmination of the class is a performance in which each student gets up and tells their story in front of a kind, friends-and-family audience.

It's not writing but I it all ties together, and I thought it would be fun. Scary and fun. I've discovered I really like out-loud storytelling.

We did all these exercises, both to get warmed up and then to brainstorm seeds for our stories. And then they diagrammed a story for us, told one, and guided us in picking it into components. We talked about the importance of the structure.

All the stories have to end with a resolution. You learned something, or the action changed your life in some way.

You can't just be like, here's something funny that happened to me. You have to craft it into something larger, and it has to resolve in some way.

And they recommend funny, or anyway, not heavy. Or if it's heavy, it needs to have a light, funny element.

This eliminates my Dad stories.

And that's when I started to get really insecure.

There were people who had really funny little grains of potential stories.

Me, all I could come up with in the moment was the time our hot high school science teacher assigning the class the construction of a solar house to submit to the science fair. He put a bunch of other scientifically inept people and me in the same group. We couldn't figure out the angle of the sun and the math and whatever.

So by the due date we had like two walls constructed. But it was fully furnished and decorated.


I started to fret that maybe I only have my Dad stories that are actual, learned something, changed-my-life stories. And all the rest are just funny, weird, ridiculous, ultimately meaningless anecdotes. You know?

Like OK, I farted that once on a plane and it was very terrible and also makes for a great little embarrassing story. But what's the resolution? Did it change my life? Did I learn something?

No. I skulked off the plane and hoped I never saw any of those people again.

Now, the instructors will help you, even help you a lot, if you need them to. They are happy to do so, they made sure we knew. They want us to succeed.

But I got into this headspinny cycle of what am I doing? I think of myself as a storyteller, but maybe I really am only in my safe little personal space. I mean, what actual, interesting, funny story do I have to tell on a stage?

I'm freaking out a bit.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eight totally not valid excuses for not getting mental health help

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. As you know, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

To celebrate (ha!) I'm going to offer up a brief list of not valid reasons to not get help.

Sometimes people will admit to being in a bad place. They will even admit that they could probably use some help. And yet, at the suggestion of professional help, they balk.

Here are some reasons that I have heard.

This is off the top of my head, and not comprehensive. Because people have lots and lots of excuses. (Of course, I've never been one of those people. Ever. Me?)
  1. My family doesn't do that/would be horrified.
  2. We're Irish.
  3. I already know what my issues are.
  4. I tried once but I was smarter than my therapist.
  5. Everyone knows that shrinks are all crazy.
  6. My friends are all the therapy I need.
  7. I just need X to happen (winter to end/to move to another state/to find a new job/to get married, etc.) and then I'll be happy. 
  8. I'm too busy.
If you think you need help, reach out. You need more than just venting to your friends, who are likely not trained professionals. And even if they are, they're too close to you. You need a not-friend trained professional.

And you need to be honest. If you are not fine--and if you're seeing them for help, you're not--say so. Say life is bleak. Say you hate everything, including yourself. Say whatever your truth is. Because whatever you are feeling is your truth.

If you are scared, and it can certainly be scary, ask someone to go with you and hold your hand. Truly.

Life does not have to be so hard. We don't have to struggle so much. I promise.

If you are in a mentally bad place, tell your primary care physician. Tell a friend who will help you find a therapist or doctor.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255.