Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Happy birthday, Betty!

Today is my mama Betty's birthday.

What she wants for her birthday is computer help, and a nice brunch out on the weekend. So tonight we will have cake. Fruit tart because she likes it, and real cake for the kids, because without it, it's not a birthday. And candles. God yes, candles.

"Will we have ALL the candles, Mama?"

"I think we should just have a couple."

At this point, all of our birthdays are really about the kids. We grownups don't have quite so much interest.

My kids have no recollection of a life without Nana living in our house. Nana has always lived with us, and always been theirs. It has always been like this and always will be.
Jordan, who deems it supremely unfair that Nick and I get to sleep in the same bed, while the rest of them have to sleep alone, often tiptoes upstairs to sleep with his Nana. I'll often go into his room to kiss him one last time and his bed is empty. I find him sound asleep upstairs in Nana's room, whether she's there or not.

When the kids list our family members, Nana is always one of us. They still don't quite get that she's my mom, that she was a grown-up before I was born. That she had a whole big life without them.

This is beyond their grasp.

When you think of all the places she's been, and all she's lived through to arrive at her current location, on the third floor of our house smack dab in DC, it's extraordinary.

I mean, she started out in North Dakota, and was the only one of her siblings to go to college. She met my dad there, fell in love, and then married him on his Air Force base in Texas.
Note: I wore this dress for my wedding almost five decades later!
They moved to Minneapolis--not an unreasonable move for a girl from ND and a guy from Duluth--where he worked as a pharmacist and she designed children's clothing. They were, as far as I can tell from photos, approximately 12 years old when all of this took place.
The Peace Corps had just been created. They joined and went to Afghanistan, where they made dear and lifelong friends. The ones you've probably heard me talk about are Jordan's parents, Pat and Phil, and Maude's parents, Lou and Tom.

I hope my dad and Lou are hanging out somewhere, having adventures together.

After Peace Corps, my dad joined the precursor to USAID and went to Vietnam. There was a war going on, you know, so spouses couldn't go. So during those years, Betty lived in Bangkok.

And then my dad went to graduate school, and then they moved to India (and had me!), where they lived through a bit of another war. Then Bangladesh gained independence and we moved there (and had my brother!). Then Egypt. Then Virginia. Then India again.
I sometimes forget that she went, willingly, to places with cholera and typhoid and malaria and a host of other diseases that she most certainly didn't grow up with. The first time her mother, my beloved Gramma Lillian, visited us in Dacca, I had worms.
Betty and Pat jaunted off to Burma in the early 70s. When we lived in Bangladesh, she flew to India to buy a Christmas tree and citrus fruit, and came back with oranges and two kind of scraggly Christmas-ish trees that we tied together.

She once got stopped at airport security because she had her enormous garden shears with her. And she said, "Oh! I always carry them!" And they let her through. Wouldn't you?
This was decades before 9/11, let's remember.

My parents spent the 1990s in South America.
 And then in 2000, Dad retired, and they moved back to Virginia.

It was never any of our plan to have her living with us. In an ideal world, she and my dad would still be in Virginia, and my kids would have weekends in the country at their grandparents' house.

But life is unpredictable, and while it can devastate you, it can always surprise you in beautiful ways.

When I tell other Americans that my mom lives with us, they're often shocked. When I tell people from many other countries--and this somehow comes up regularly with cab drivers--they nod. This is how it is where they are from, they say; this is how it should be.
I don't know about shoulds. I just know about is.

This is how it is. And we are lucky.

Friday, August 28, 2015

I feel right at home in this stunning monochrome

When I get into a bad place, I slide so incrementally that I have no idea I'm doing so.

I cannot draw the descent, I don't think, better than I did a couple years ago.

I think, I'm fine, actually. Just tired. Just a little cranky. I cry sometimes, but I've been dealing with some big things. So who wouldn't?

Plus, I have a doctor; I take an antidepressant. I must be fine. (I mean, haha, in the scheme.)

I can live there for quite a while not knowing.

I've been told that if you put a frog into hot water, it will leap out. But if you slowly, slowly turn up the temperature, it will stay in until it boils. I hate this idea. Who tested this, I wonder?

But it's an analogy that works for me. If my mood suddenly plummeted six feet, I'd notice, and so would everyone around me. But with me it is so gradual. Rather than heating, my internal temperature lowers perhaps a degree at a time.

It takes me ages before I realize I'm the frog.

I get a little more impatient, more short-tempered, resentful. And then more. But this could be anything. I don't have enough alone time. The kids are fighting. I haven't had enough sleep.

It probably doesn't matter that much. Because nothing actually matters that much. And everything is hard.

I visit the bleak places in my head. But who doesn't, right? And then I visit them more often. And they become larger. Increasing from a room to two, to a large structure, to an elaborate labyrinth.

And it's grey, sharply, flatly so. It's not jagged. It's smooth, but with sharp corners. And you can see too much detail, like in dressing rooms with triple mirrors. Not muted and glowy soft-focus, like Cher in her later movies.

Time stretches endlessly in both directions. Looking back, my life has always been pointless. And, oh, look! It always will be.

It is bright but here's no rosy sun on the horizon. Just harsh obligation, repetition, joylessness.

It becomes easier and easier to slip into my mind, and harder to get out.

Eventually, because she asks how I'm doing, I mention the bleakness, the utter pointlessness, to my friend Kris. She lives in Europe; we mainly see each other on Facebook.

She expresses surprise. I seem so happy! My life seems full and purpose-driven. Look at my smiling pictures! My cute kids! Our adventures!

Yes. Look at us.

She's also a therapist, and a very long-time friend. She gets it. Can I talk to my doctor? Explore other medication options?

I tell her that I actually have an upcoming six-month checkup. I will bring it up. When he asks how I am, I say, "I'm not doing well."

Normally I'd say, "Fine!" I would ask how he was. I always do. Not with him, but with other doctors, I have often wound up hearing more about them than they have about me.

Deflect! Sit with your back to a wall! Eyes on the door!

This is learned behavior.

He suggests that it's kind of hard to know if this is depression or really just me reacting to the endless repetition and frustration that is summer with 24/7 demands from kids.

Is he validating my suspicion of utter pointlessness? I wonder this silently.

Out loud, I say that I think it is more than that. I visit the bleak places way too often. I didn't go to utter despair on Zoloft, but it made me so tired, which is why we switched. But maybe Wellbutrin is not my friend?

Things are way too ugly and hostile in my mind.

He suggests adding a wee bit of Lexapro. I say that friends have told me it made them tired. Or it made them gain weight.

He says both are possible, but we should try and see. I'm on the tiniest dose. I can double it in a week and I will still be on a fraction of what many people take. And you only gain weight if you eat more. It doesn't slow down your metabolism.

This was a little over two weeks ago.

The bleakness, the pointlessness, the anger, the hostility, the utter despair? At some point a week or so ago, I realized that they just...weren't there anymore.

Nick said I've been nicer to everyone that I've been in months and months. I'm not snapping. I'm not critical. I'm pleasant.

This, obviously, is good.

Now, instead, I'm tired. I could easily sleep 12 hours and still nap. Not depressed tired. Just tired tired. So this is not ideal. But I see my doctor fella again next week.

I've been through this enough to know that it is chemical. And this time, the switch was pretty dramatic.

What I find so disconcerting is this: all of those feelings, they were so real. The version of me and of my life that I visited in my mind, they didn't seem like alternate reality. Or unreality. Or ugly depression lies.

They seemed like the absolutely truth.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I watch the ripples change their size but never leave the stream

I don't tweet very often, but yesterday, I sent this out:
I was venting anger. Rage at the morning's shooting, anger at the power of the NRA, anger that our kids have lockdown drills at school because, as I said, any jackass can buy a gun and take a life. Can buy assault weapons and take so very many lives.

Frustration because the same people who are so quick to yell "murder" regarding abortion are often also quick to defend the right to own guns, no matter how many people, including children are murdered.

It's been suggested that the anti-choicers care about unwanted babies until they're born, but don't want to fund services for them once they're actual out-of-the-womb people.

In any case.

It was foolish of me to put them together, no matter how stupid I think it is that both of these things are true at the same time. Because though it got a bunch of retweets, it also garnered me some attention from both gun owners and anti-choicers. Because, duh, lemongloria, "murder is illegal, and dismembering babies should be."

That was a popular one. A number of these people seem to support Ted Cruz. Anyway, now I know who some of the Ted Cruzers are.

I texted Rachel, who is a social media and women's rights expert, and asked what to say in response to the first person about dismemberment of the unborn.

She gave me a suggestion, and then reminded me that you don't have to say anything. Unless you want to be in a back-and-forth all day.

I most certainly did not. I said nothing. I responded not at all.

As my dear friend Mark Bennett said some years ago (and I still refer to this list on the regular), "If you don't have to deal with a crazy person, don't."

Sometimes I remember this advice and sometimes I unfortunately do not.

Someone also called me a racist, suggesting I want to take guns away from black people and make them unable to defend their families.

What? I want to take guns away from everyone. So that nobody can attack anyone else with a gun.

Not all anti-choicers are crazy, but it is true that we will never agree. So I did not engage.

Not all gun owners are crazy, but we don't keep the crazy ones from owning guns.

And the argument that you need a gun to defend yourself from an intruder? If your intruder doesn't have a gun, why do you need one?

After Sandy Hook, I was naively sure that things would change. How could anyone defend gun ownership when so many children had been killed?

But nothing changed.

My friend Wendy said, "Once we decided that slaughtering children was unworthy of action, it was over."

I hate to agree, but I think I have to.

And I'm sticking to tweeting about my kids. I'm just not a controversial person.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why does he say-ay-ay "Hush, hush! Keep it down now..."

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? I don't know if I'm right, but this is what I think the difference comes down to.

OK. To start.

I found this note taped to the inside of India's closet door.
I was kind of wondering if he taped it on the inside hoping it wouldn't be found but that maybe it would function like a charm or somehow the message would wash over her at night all Brave New World.

Once I found it, I did gently remind Jordan that we don't say "shut up" because it's unkind. But in my head, I was all solidarity, buddy.

Me, I am an introvert. If I don't have a certain amount of alone time, I start to get really tired and angry and resentful. And by alone I mean alone alone.

I've realized that the only time I'm really bored is when I am stuck somewhere with people I don't want to interact with. Otherwise, I can keep myself entertained just fine.

The other day my friend Rachel, who is an extrovert, said she's always happy to be with people. I mean, sure, she likes to be alone. But, you know, with another person.

And I said, "Oh, noooo. I need to be all by myself. Nick thinks I can be alone with him. NO. That is not alone."

I used to wish so hard that I were an extrovert. It would be so much easier to be so people-y.

But I am not.

Sometimes Nick will come home from work after the kids are in bed and I will subtly try to get away but he will follow me from room to room talking to me. And finally I have to be like, "Please, please just give me 10 minutes. I need 10 minutes of nobody talking to me, looking at me, breathing near me."

Anyway, Jordan is an introvert. He's always been able to play by himself. Not necessarily for long stretches, but I see him in his head, and I know it's an interesting place to him.

My daughter, on the other hand, wants to interact. She wants you to talk to her, to touch her, to listen to her. She wants to do a puzzle but she wants you to watch her doing it.

When they sleep, Jordan gets in bed and goes to sleep. Or if he crawls into our bed, he goes to the bottom of the bed. India wants to be right up next to you. She wants her face in your face. She wants to lie there and steal your breath just like a cat. She wants to touch you.

I don't know if extroverts tend to be cuddlers and introverts tend to be not-cuddlers, but I am an introverted not-cuddler. I mean, I cuddle my kids and I cuddle with Nick but when I want to sleep I want to sleep. This is my space and that is your space and now we do the sleeping.


India talks. Oh, she talks. Now, it's often charming. I find her interesting and she has a good vocabulary and it's just plain interesting to see this child of mine express her thoughts. She makes me laugh.

And she makes new friends and chats with new people so easily. This is lovely to see.


Sometimes Jordan will ask her to stop talking. Which just prods her to talk more. She will talk and talk and talk. Or make up songs that go on and on.

Sometimes I think, "How can one little human talk so much? Doesn't she get tired of talking?"

Sometimes she talks so much she makes her brother cry. She knows how to push his buttons.

Every once in a while I will say, "Can we all just stop talking and have quiet for two minutes? Let's all be quiet for two minutes."

India will wail, "I caaaaaaaan't! I caaaaaaaaaaaan't stop talking!"

And it does seem to be true.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

And now I am 46

This birthday business. It happens so predictably and yet somehow arrives so quickly and out of the blue.

When I was a kid I remember always wanting to be older than I was. I couldn't wait to be grown up. And my parents would say not to wish my life away, because it really does go so fast.

You don't really get it until suddenly you're in a position to understand it all too well.

Summers, my absolute favorite season, were almost endless--in the very best possible way--when I was a kid. And now they fly.

Although I will say that this summer home with my children has pretty much been the longest year of my life. I love them with my entire heart and soul. And still. It is so exhausting to watch and listen to and interact with them all day long.

We've started going to the pool a lot, which is fun for all. I have wonderful memories of long days spent at the pool in my youth. It also makes them very tired, which inures to my benefit.

But this requires a lot of watching. Not only because I'm making sure that my little dumplings don't drown. But because they are doing things. Things that would clearly otherwise not happen, like the tree falling in the forest with nobody around, were their mother not watching.

"Watch me, Mama!"

"I am watching you, sweetheart."

"Are you still watching?"

"I sure am."

"Mama! Look at me!"

"Do you see my eyes? They are looking. Straight at you. They are watching you and looking at you with the watchiest looks ever."

Recently I said to Nick, "I'd be a complete fucking lunatic if I were an actual stay-at-home mom."

He paused and said, "Lisa. You are an actual stay-at-home mom."

Oh. Yah. Well.

I think I actually grew up a lot in the past year, which sounds silly because hell, look how old I am. But I did. I realized some huge things, and let go of some even bigger ones. And I'm lighter for it.

I'm not saying I'm limitless (maybe one day!). I'm just stronger and less bound.

So tonight I plan to do something that I would never have done in the past. Maybe for you this is not a big deal. But it has never been something I felt like I could do.

I'm taking myself out. I'm going to a delightful restaurant in our neighborhood. Just me. I'm going to get dressed up and sit at the bar and order dinner.

When Betty asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said, "Time." I want some time. Oh, and a pedicure.

So I cooked up this plan whereby I leave my mother and my progeny and I walk out the door and spend a few hours doing whatever I want. With nobody asking me for anything.

When I told Nick about this plan, he said, "But don't you want to have your birthday dinner with me?"

"Of course I do. Except that you're in Boston."

It's not that I'm trying to be alone. I just want to have a grown-up evening without organizing anyone else, is what it comes down to. I don't want to ask people about their availability or accommodate anyone.

Mostly, I want to go where I want to go and just be.

It feels very selfish.

We ate cake for breakfast because we're not having cake tonight. I felt a pang of guilt because we're not having a real party, and my kids love birthday parties. And then I remembered that we are having birthday party for Jordan very soon. Tiny, and his request, but with candles and cake, which is really what constitutes a party in their eyes.

And anyway, it's my birthday. I got over the guilt pretty quickly. I mean, cake for breakfast, guys.

So. Me. Alone.

I've traveled alone, but I've always been self-conscious about sitting alone at a restaurant. I'm not, as my friend Kaysha likes to say, particularly food motivated. So it's always been easy for me to skip a meal or grab a sandwich or something.

I'm so good with alone at home. I revel in alone at home. And I love running alone.

But being alone at a nice restaurant? Being so very obviously on my own, sitting still? This is the kind of alone that I have avoided like the plague. I was not OK with it.

And now I am.

I'm 46. And I'm taking myself out for dinner.