Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My gift is my song. And this one's for you.

Dear Nick,

Today, nine years ago, we stood up and said simple vows in front of loving friends and family.

Growing up, I always thought I'd get married and then I'd be happy. Then again, as a kid who cried over having pale skin and jute-colored hair, surrounded by people with dark skin, dark eyes, and gleaming black hair, I also assumed I'd grow up to look like Barbie.

Or at least Teen Skipper, whose boobs grew when you twisted her arm.

You could say I lacked realistic expectations.

By the time we met, I'd had enough therapy to understand that if I wasn't happy, it was my own doing. No boyfriend or husband was going to magically make me happy.

My therapist came to the ceremony, wearing the scarf I'd given her as a thank-you gift. It felt perfect having her there.

So many friends came to support us, to offer us their love. My only regret from our wedding is that we didn't record it. Not us. I'm not interested in watching us get married.

It's the other people I want. What I'd most like to have is the part where people stood up and spoke as they felt moved to.
Many of those loved ones are no longer with us. My dad. Your dad. Your grandpa Irv. Lou. Pat. John Cool. Bill, our sham internet minister, and his wife Gouri.

Sometimes I feel like photos and memories are not enough. I long for voices. Why didn't I save even one voicemail from my dad? I save yours, just in case. Perhaps this is morbid and weird.

But our wedding. The people who stood and spoke, and shared what was in their hearts.

My friend Ann was the first to tell you she hoped you knew how lucky you were. I was shocked. This hadn't occurred to me, honestly. I felt lucky.

But you felt it. One friend told me later that when I said my vows, you flushed, and it was so clear how much you loved me, and how lucky you felt.

My friend Jane, California Jane, who scandalized Maude's mom with her choice of skimpy bridesmaid dress, stood up and said, "I told her! Marry the man with the boat!"
Marry the man with the boat!
As you know, your sailboat was not an enticement. Really, I was always a sucker for a man who looks conservative but is anything but, and for kindness, generosity, intelligence and a terrific sense of humor.

The picture up top is one of my favorites. One of the big reasons I chose you is because we laugh so much together.

I was grateful for the friends who stood up there with me, and glad that they wore whatever they felt comfortable in. As I recall, it was Philadelphia Jane who took on the duty of keeping California Jane's boobs appropriately covered by her dress as the night progressed.

I was so delighted to have people I love meet other people I love.

We exchanged rings, yours an engraved gold band, and mine my grandmother's wedding ring, the pattern faint after six decades of loving wear.

I wore my mom's wedding dress. You wore a tuxedo, and then changed into the gold paisley jacket your dad had passed on to you. You wanted to wear the gold jacket, and I was horrified by the idea. Now, it seems so silly caring so much.

It's just a day.

It's just a day, but it's a lucky day where you amass your loved ones. People say this only happens for weddings and funerals, and I have been reminded too many times of the truth of this.

Weddings are a far preferable place for this to happen.

You know, I wanted to wear my mom's wedding dress, because she and my grandmother had made it, and growing up, my Grandma Lillian was my favorite person on the planet. I believed she loved me more than anyone else ever did. It felt amazing to be that loved.

It feels amazing to be this loved. I hope you feel it, too.

Happy anniversary, Nick. I love you more than sunshine.



Monday, September 18, 2017

So now let us speak of something awkward

You know how I wind up writing about stuff that most people don't talk about in polite company because I really need to talk about it?

Now I need to talk about perimenopause. I do

I hate it.

There are going to be words like boobs and period and such.

And now you've been warned.

Perimenopause, which I guess is also called premenopause, for those who don't know, and until recently I didn't, is the period (heh) of time leading up to menopause during which your reproductive hormones begin to decline. This can be a short number of years or a decade, as I understand it.

Hormones are tricksy, and everything affects everything, and you might have very few symptoms or your experience might be extreme. You just don't know until you're in it.

And even when you're in it, month to month you don't necessarily know. Which, for me, makes it not unlike depression.

Several months ago, I thought my antidepressant wasn't working, or that maybe the dosage needed tweaking. Because I couldn't stand anyone in my family.

Nick would walk toward me and I'd think, "Come closer. SO I CAN KICK YOU."

The kids and my mom would do things that my kids and my mom do. Like eat breakfast. And I would think, "OH MY GOD THEY'RE SO ANNOYING."

I snapped and snarled at all of them. I had no patience.

This continued for some days and I was about to reach out to my shrink and ask him for help. And then I got my period. Immediately, much like Dorothy landing in Oz, the world became bright and happy again.

In retrospect, I have always reacted extremely to hormones. What can I say? I'm a delicate flower.

I was raised believing condoms were the answer to most of the world's problems. Not everyone is in agreement, and I had several stints on hormonal birth control. I turned into a raging lunatic. Crying easily, angry, completely irrational. All the time.

Basically when I think about it, it combined all the difficult parts of being me, but taken to extremes.

Like pregnancy. I was a crazypants during pregnancy.

Now it's moot. (Snip snip!)

For years, coasting on my own hormones, I've had a pretty even cycle. Sometimes I'd have PMS and my boobs would get very sore, and I would get mad at them. But still, it didn't last. But it was generally brief, as were my periods.

And on a related note, India calls it my pyramid. "Do you have your pyramid, Mama?"

She also learned about period undies when one day she said, "Don't put those on! They're dirty!" I know, I know, this is a horrifying topic. I told you.

I do have some fear that she's taken this information to school, but what are you doing to do? Her mama has pyramid undies. At least it's true. (Unlike the time she told her class that for time out we put her in the bathroom after Nick poops.)

But now. Now I have PMS on steroids. My boobs are so sore. I extra hate everyone. I eat so much sugar and junk food.

After the kids went to bed last night, this is what I had for dinner. Gelato and Cheez-Its.

Horror. I know.
And I know it doesn't help. In fact, I know it does the opposite of helping. I KNOW.

What I don't know is when this annoying ride it will end. It's not consistent month to month.

It's kind of like being in one of those horrible carnival mirror houses where this one makes you short and wide and this one makes you taller and this one makes you upside down and this one makes three of you but there's only actually half of each of you so I guess one-point-five and where the fuck is the exit?

And this misery could end in a minute, or tomorrow, or next Friday. Your guess is as good as mine.

This morning Nick called and I guess I snapped at him because he said, "I really wish your period would start."

And I snarled, "Just imagine BEING ME right now."

Also, hand me those Cheez-Its and come over here so I can kick you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Thoughts on "commit"

As Suicide Prevention Week draws to a close, I'm asking friends to consider saying "died by/of/from suicide" rather than "committed suicide."

Personally, I tend to say, "died by" when talking about suicide. And as you know, I talk about suicide a lot.

This may be something you say without thinking. It's certainly what I used to say. I am sure there are instances of it on my blog. It was common parlance.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't carry negative connotations. I believe it does, and I personally favor the shift away from it.

It doesn't offend me. A friend recently said about me that I'm not quick to take offense, and this is true. I'm also surprisingly hard to shock, by the way. But the use of "committed suicide" does now bother me, and some people find it very hurtful.

Lots of people have written about the negativity of using "commit," and I think what it comes down to is that we typically use "commit" for crimes. It's the only way of dying that people do not use "died of" when talking about. People die of liver failure caused by alcoholism, but we don't say "committed alcoholism."

I don't typically tell people what to say or how to say it. I do sometimes judge, that's true, but more often I'm interested in how language is used. Deviations are interesting. I'm a descriptive rather than prescriptive linguist. I love the flexibility of languages and how they evolve.

On a tangent, I will admit that the way incentive has been turned into a verb with "incentivize" annoys the tar out of me, but I don't rail against it. You can verbize anything in English (see what I did there?). One of my language acquisition professors at Georgetown liked to point out that "party" was not a verb in his time.

One could argue that commit is neutral because we also say, "commit to doing something" or "commit to memory" and that is true. But we don't "commit joy" or "commit success." One could maybe argue for the continued use of "commit" as historical. There may be other reasons I haven't thought of.

I haven't had this conversation with anyone outside of the mental health community before. I don't correct people's use of language, ever. That's part of my personal "don't be a jerk" code of conduct.

So I put this out there as a suggestion to consider.

It may be that you have lost someone to suicide, and the use of "commit" doesn't bother you. That's OK. We all have things that bother us and things that don't.

I would just ask that you give this some thought, because language is powerful.

Monday, September 11, 2017

You see I've been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain.

Yikes, our whiteboard is filthy!
Nick hates the band America.

We were on hour 10 of our drive back from Maine and Sister Golden Hair came on, and Nick didn't change the station. I said, "Thank you."

If we've had a fight or he's annoyed at me, or if he's just not thinking about it, he'll change the station when the Eagles, or Heart, or America come on. These are among the bands he hates but will leave for me if I ask, or if he feels like I need some cheering up.

If we've just had a fight, the station absolutely gets changed.

I do not know how anyone could pass up Desperado, but there you have it.

In any case, after that, I decided I'd just quietly slip some America lyrics on his Facebook page. Every day, I'd put song lyrics on, and wait and see if he noticed.

Day two, he called and said, "What's with the poetry or whatever on my page?"

I fessed up.

Yah, so you remember how thieves came through our skylights and stole our laptops and Nick's watches? After that we got locking bars on the skylights. There's a key for the screws, just like for locking lug nuts that you can put on so that people don't steal your car tires.

We recently had some roof work done, and the roofers needed to take off the skylights.

The key is small, and doesn't really look like a key, and it is easy to misplace, and a replacement costs $10 plus an hour drive round trip. I know this firsthand.

So when the roofers returned the key to me, I wanted to put it somewhere safe. But then I wrote a note on the whiteboard (which is more of a greyboard at this point) so I wouldn't forget to give it to Nick.

He came home and was all, "More poetry?"

No, reality.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Bedtime is the longest distance between two places

Do you have kids who have recently gone back to school?

If so, are they complete, rampaging, raging lunatics at night?

I know it's impolitic to disparage your own children, but boy howdy have my kids been big jerks lately.

I try to be all, oh, it's hard going back to school, and they have to hold it together all day and I'm a safe person to let it out with. They are feeling big feelings. I do try.

Sometimes I manage.

But sometimes, like after the 54th time I've asked them to brush their teeth, even held the toothbrush with toothpaste up to their mouths, and tried to actually do it for them, I lose my everloving mind.

Typically they're in bed by the time Nick gets home. This is nice for him.

But lately after dinner, or sometimes starting midway through, they've been hanging from the chandeliers, galloping back and forth down the hallway, giggling like fiends and basically ignoring every entreaty/threat to put on PJs, or get in the bath, or brush teeth, or get into bed.

Every single step of the process is an ordeal. And then when they're finally ready for bed, the actual getting into and staying in bed takes another hour.

I'm all, don't they understand that I just want them to go to sleep so Nick and I can sit in silence and watch a video?

Oh! Which reminds me: what are you watching? We have a year for more Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things doesn't come out until Halloween. We just watched the only season of Wolf Hall. What's piquing your interest lately?


Nick has been coming home to the detritus of the evening and two little barbarians in frenzied motion.

The other night I was done, just done with my small humans. Nick walked into the bathroom and I left him to deal with them. I went and sat in our closet. I didn't come out until the noise had stopped.

Another night he came home to them in the bath, and he overheard India saying, "I'm going to kick you! Do you want me to kick you in the neck or the penis?"

Both tempting options, to be sure.

Last night we stayed on the playground until dinnertime. For dinner I chucked a frozen pizza and tiny hot dogs in the oven and cut up a cucumber. I let them keep drawing while they ate, since it was just the three of us.

They were lovely, sweet, and relatively subdued while eating.

I did airplane with India after dinner, and snuggled and giggled with her. I gave her special, one-on-one time while Jordan read a novel in the bathroom.

I thought, surely with all the playing and attention, surely tonight will be better.

And then it came time for PJs and teeth brushing and my cherubs morphed into creatures that I longed to menace back into the Hellmouth with a pitchfork.

Nighttime is never easy. I am tired, they are tired, and none of us are at our best. But lately it's just been brutal.

One night I snarled, "You're driving me insane!"

And India said, "Why did you have kids?"

This gave me pause. The first answers that flashed through my head were snarky, nothing I wanted to voice.

So I made a funny face and say, "WHY? Why did I have kids?"

And she smiled and said, "Because you wanted more family?"

I said, "Yes! Because I wanted my own family. Because I wanted little people to love so much. And I do, I love you both more than anything."

She beamed and gave me a big hug. I thought, "Oh! This is one of those rare parenting moments I've done right!"

I said, "Shall we brush our teeth now?"

A parenting article might end with her brushing her teeth and me tucking her into bed and giving her a cuddle and her falling asleep hugging her teddy bear.


Reality is, she clenched her teeth, giggled maniacally, and bolted from the bathroom.

And I was all, I know, I know, the days are long and the years are short. I am sometimes shocked when I step back and see how big they've gotten. I know I'm blessed. I believe children are gifts and I treasure mine.

But right now where is my space pod and gin slushy machine?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Family Camp

Dinning hall: center of camp, location of endless hot chocolate
OK, so I have approximately a million things to tell you. But first, first I have to tell you about camp!

The last week of August, also the first week of school in DC, Nick, the kids, and I spent the week at Family Camp at Winona Camps in Maine.

Yes, I know, nobody hears "camp" and thinks "Lisa!" I know this.

I wasn't raised by campers. In 4th grade, I was surely the worst Girl Scout in Cairo. Betty earned all my badges. In high school my dad said my idea of camping was staying at the Hilton. I was insulted, but if I thought about it, I generally preferred the Sheraton.

But listen. Camp was incredible. I want all my friends to join us next year. Really and truly.

Now, you know that when I like something, I get very enthusiastic. But I am also candid, which is a thing people appreciate, so I will start by telling you that sleeping in a tent is no underwear dance party.
Tent 12 ready for action!
We did it for a week, and I didn't get one solid night of sleep.

Every night there was something.

In the beginning, the kids were too excited to sleep, despite being exhausted. Instead, they sang a drinking song they'd learned at a friend's memorial service. "Some are here and some have fallen! Bottoms up! The whiskey is calling!"


Another night I felt a tiny bump on my leg. Which was surely a Lyme-infested tick. A tick! Nature is full of dangers large and small!

I could leave it till morning, but the longer you leave it, the more likely you are to get sick. I could pull it out, but then I'd have to keep it, just in case. Where would I put it?

So with one finger on the bump, I felt around for my flashlight. If it was a tick, I'd wake Nick. Together we could remove it and find a plastic bag to keep it in.

It was a scab.

The next night there was a big storm and lots of wind, and Jordan woke up and whispered, "There's a bat on the floor!"

Nick said it was just the tent flap rustling. "Don't worry about it."

Don't. Worry. About. It?

Silently I was all, a bat? Is not a bird! It's a mammal! A bat can have the RABIES! Bats can bite you in your sleep and you don't even know it. Now we're all going to go home dead.

Nick refused to check what he insisted was a non-bat tent flap.

I didn't want to get Jordan worried about his potential impending death, so I stoically fretted in silence, willing myself to breathe. It was like this: Breathe, Lisa. It's a tent flap, that's all. WHAT IF IT'S A RABIES? Breathe, that's right, keep breathing. BUT RABIES! Breathe...

Until Jordan screamed. "DADDY! Daddy! A chipmunk just walked on me!"

So we found our flashlights and calmed him down and pulled his bed into the middle and tied down the tent flaps and then! No more animals in the night.

For example.

Nick was shocked, shocked! that I loved camp. He was delighted and relieved. But astounded at my flexibility. Apparently he was prepared for me to hate it and hole up with a book.

Instead, look at all the campery things I did! All the people I made friends with! All the fun I was having!

In all candor, his surprise has caused me to examine who I think I am, and contrast it with how others see me. Is who I think I am the person I used to be? I don't know.

When I was 24, I trekked for a month in Nepal. We slept in tea houses, sometimes with our sleeping bags side by side on wood platforms. Mice scurried overhead. For a week at highest altitude, it was so cold that the only thing I removed at night were my boots. I slept in my hat.

I wound up going last minute, with new friends and no preparation. I borrowed warm clothes and rented a sleeping bag and bought boots, which fell apart in week two, and which we fixed with duct tape for the rest of the trip.

I was the least fit, and I was always last, every single day. But I got off the bus where the road ended, trekked two weeks in and two weeks out, and at the end of the month got back on that bus.

Aside from sustaining a marriage and raising kids, the Everest trek is the hardest, best thing I've ever done.

And I still think of myself as that person. But the truth is, it's been a long, long time.

So who am I now? I don't entirely know.

It's true that I was worried about being cold, and what to wear, and which shoes to bring, and I voiced anxiety about lack of electricity and whether or not to bring my hair dryer. But that's more because I like to bathe at night and hate sleeping with wet hair.

I solved this issue by barely bathing. We were in the lake every day. Now I know.


Last year, when Nick said he wanted to go to Family Camp, the camp he went to as a kid, and where he was a counselor, and where in his wildest dreams he would live forever, I said, "Sure!"

I never went to camp growing up. I went to my grandmother's house in North Dakota.

When Nick first told me about Winona, which was not long after we met, I thought it was weird that grown men longed to be back at camp, and returned at any opportunity.

And then, four years ago, we flew up for the memorial service of Winona's former camp owner and director, Uncle Al. People flew in from across the world to honor him. The stories told by former Winona campers, boys grown into men whose lives he'd touched and changed, were incredibly moving.

We spent the weekend with Nick's Winona friends. I felt their connection to each other and to the place.

I decided camp was to Nick what my high school was to me.

Since we moved regularly, people to me were more the place than the place, if that makes any sense. When I'm with my Delhi friends, I'm my sparkliest self, and that self is wrapped up in all the memories and delights of who we were as teenagers, with beauty all around us and giant possibilities ahead of us. We laugh and reminisce and revel in the joy of being together.

I don't know if this is how it feels for Nick, and I cannot picture him voicing it in this way, but this is what I imagine.

If it feels anything like that, of course he longs for camp.

So we went to Family Camp. Nick waited all year for it, counting down the days.

When I tell you we loved our week at camp, I mean, even with the tent shenanigans, it was incredible. I, least outdoorsy of us all, adored it. We've already paid for next year.

For starters, Winona is on the banks of Moose Pond, which is spectacularly beautiful. You're outside, surrounded by tall pines. The air is clean. The water is cold and fresh.
Sunset and serenity
The sky is so clear and dark at night, and you can lie on the dock and see all the stars.

I think I took the same photos over and over. Every day. Because it was always that beautiful. And I kept saying, "It's just so beautiful!"

And people just nodded. Because it is true, over and over.
Three times a day, you go to the dining hall for meals. You line up and serve yourself. My children lined up and served themselves. Without my help. Without complaining about what was or wasn't for dinner.

Then, because they'd been running around doing all kinds of activities, they sat down and ate. They were hungry, they got food, they got more food if they needed it, and they ate without whining.

Just like Robin Hood
Jordan did archery! He shot a rifle! (I shot a rifle!) He tried the climbing wall. Me, I love to climb, and never do. So I climbed. I decided my goal was to get to the top of the overhang by the end of the week.

I watched kids dance up the wall. Get to the overhang and pull themselves up. For me, the overhang was a big struggle. I tried and I tried.

And on Friday, our last day, I did it. The counselor belaying me kept the rope super taught, and I know he boosted me on the overhang.
This is me! On the overhang!
But still. I did it. I reached the top. I felt proud.

One afternoon, we all took turns jumping off Eagle Rock. The kids were scared. They hesitated. But eventually, they leapt. And they were so proud.
And one morning there was an across-the-lake swim. They do this every year. It is eight-tenths of a mile. Nick is a great swimmer. I was going to go in a boat and watch.

And then I thought, when do I ever have the chance to do this? I should try. Because it scares me, because it's something outside my normal life, I should try.
You swim from there to here.
When I said this, Nick said I must. There were boats accompanying us, that would pick up anyone who needed help. One new friend took a life jacket for me in her kayak, in case.

I'm not a great swimmer, and the only stroke I know is breaststroke. I only have a bikini, not a serious swim suit. But I'm strong, and very stubborn.

(I don't know if you have certain things you believe about yourself, but I go through life believing that I can always run six miles if I have to.)

So, I was scared (fear of sharks in open water, also on fear list), I was slow, and I was last, save the two good swimmers who chose to stay behind, to make sure everyone was OK.

But I finished. And I felt proud.

At the start of the week, my kids were upset, because they didn't know where anything was. I didn't know where anything was. I wandered in the woods for 20 minutes trying to find riflery because Nick impatiently said, "Just walk up the hill."

This is why we get into screaming, profane fights when we try to help each other park the car.

There are lots of things up the hill. Including many paths and many trees.

I could hear the gunshots. But I could not, could not find this one specific up-the-hill spot. My phone was charging in the dining hall. The Winona map depicts lots of brown squares and open green spaces doesn't label any of them.

It's like a Nick map: here are buildings and here is a lot of nature and there is a hill that you go up. That way is North.

But! By mid-week we all knew mostly where things were. And the kids had made friends. They'd gained confidence.

Jordan started going to activities by himself. He signed himself up, and took himself to where he needed to be.

We live in DC. We lock our doors as soon as we walk into the house. There is never a time where we open the front door, let the kids out, and say, "See you later!"

At Winona, they were free to roam, and we knew they were safe. They ran around with their new friends. They hung out with their cousins. At one point, we hadn't seen India for an hour. We knew she wouldn't go in the water by herself, so we weren't worried.

Nick went to check the tent, and there she was, calmly hanging out, looking at her book. She said she couldn't find us, so she went back to the tent.

Now I think I get it, and I love camp.
My heart
Part of camp is about making new friends and having fun, which we all definitely did. It's about being outside and getting comfortable in the woods and in water, which is a big shift for people like us who are mostly inside.

But now I see that it is also about making you step outside of your comfort zone, and helping you conquer new things, because in the  process you begin to feel more capable, clever, and strong.

You're scared, and you leap, and you immediately want to do it again, because it was so much fun. And then you want to try the next, harder thing.

You forget you were afraid in the first place.

I don't know about Nick, because it was all familiar for him, but the rest of us grew tremendously.

I'm so excited for us to go back next summer.