Snarkeling

Just beneath the surface of normal


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Story Time

I won’t lie: it was a rough summer. Between Corinne being in Europe all summer/deciding to move to Spain next year to finish her degree (eeeeeeek!), and the unfortunately wide variety of soul-sickening news, I’ve been a bit at a loss for words. I still want to say…something…about those things, but I’m struggling.

In the meantime, let’s talk about my best friend – my daughter’s semi-namesake and the primary person who helped me refine my sense of humor (so any complaints should definitely be directed at her). She’s also the woman who taught me about crocheted fetish-wear. QED.

Her daughter is in kindergarten, so she’s still square in the world of story books. Which means I get these texts that go something like “I have to share this with someone – I’m so proud of myself for keeping a straight face on this page!” followed by some of the most blatantly inappropriate content that can only have gotten past editors & publishers as a sort of easter-egg gift to parents who have read this book 63 nights in a row and need something to prevent them from lighting the book on fire.

I have to admit, I was too overwhelmed with figuring out parenting when Corinne was small to notice the funny little things that would have gone a long way to keeping my spirits up. This is just one of the many secret benefits of waiting to breed worth trading in for the ability to get by on minimal sleep (really the only benefit of starting young).

Seeing her and her adorable daughter was one of the highlights of my summer (getting caught up in the Delta debacle on the way home was much less so). Since I’m fresh off a healthy dose of best friend, you should probably prepare yourself for more than one Why-I-Love-My-BFF. Yes, know – I keep avoiding naming her here because she’s a teacher; but that’s difficult, so now we shall call her Katrina. That’s not her name, but it’s close enough, and gives me something easier to type than “my best friend”.

Here are some of the actual book pages Katrina has sent me:

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That…sea lion? Loch ness monster…? whatever it is is definitely UP to something, IFyaknowwhatI’msayin!

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This is from a Norwegian book so popular that they built a whole theme park about it. One assumes kids can even extract their own ass-breads!

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This is a sketchier out-of-context book, because I’m not sure how one could even do a goat in front. Though I guess props for asking first?

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Katrina: “Do you think Mr. Vagin is compensating?” Yes. Yes I do.

Have you ever had to stifle a laugh reading a kids’ book? Come on, share the wealth!

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Statuesque

Okay, so I know like half my posts are about my kid right now, but look at it this way: they’re not about medical oddities!

Corinne just spent a couple days in Milan getting her Euro-legs (which I guess are 50% larger than her American ones and are threatening to come apart?) and did a little sight-seeing. I’m not going to show you the picture of her holding a line of pigeons on her arms, because all I can think of when I look at it is all the germs pigeons carry. But Corinne has always had a tough-love approach to her immune system, and basically she could burn off an Ebola-filled Bubonic Plague with a single 105-degree  fever spike and then go out the next day like it never happened. When I begin to feel envious of that, I remind myself that she’ll be 40 one day, and the warranty will expire on her body just like it does everyone else’s.

Anyway, instead we’ll focus on her interesting interpretation of statuary in the Duomo:

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“they know they’re in the fashion capital – YAAAS, work it angels!”

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“Pose for the camera, darling”

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“Rapper Popedaddystax?”

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“Is he starving, or does he hit the gym?”

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“I am so not impressed by your handstand”

All of this from a single day. There are still 2 months to go. Best. Investment. Ever.

If your kid is driving you nuts right now, just remember that this is the sort of payoff you have to look forward to. But also remember that they only have one childhood to be imbued with a keen eye and quick wit. Go forth and make them absurd. If not for yourself, then for the future.Save


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Traveling While Female? Don’t Forget Your Sausage Shield

Thanks for your patience, guys. I’ve got my legs underneath me again, and am starting to get pretty well adjusted to the Cymbalta (though holy fuck, that was one rocky-ass road). We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

A month from now, Corinne will have spent two days in Milan adjusting to the time zone differential, and will be en route to a week in Berlin. After that, she’ll head to Salamanca, Spain for a Spanish-intensive summer semester, paid for with a piece of my soul my tuition remission benefit. She smartly decided that since she’s already going to be there, she might as well get in some serious budget backpacking around Europe for not too much extra cost.

The catch is that she’s never planned her own travel before and she’s kind of overwhelmed. I, on the other hand, would have made a great travel agent if online booking hadn’t made them mostly obsolete. I plan trips for fun – with spreadsheets, budgets, itineraries, and everything. I’ve even made them for trips I’ll probably never take, because I’m one of those weirdos who finds planning the trip to be as much fun as taking them, especially since they come with a bonus of not requiring a financial outlay or multiple recovery days. Besides, half the fun of a vacation is the joy of saying, “oh look! It’s just the way I read about it!”

So yeah: while I was home struggling with the brain fog and anxiety of recovering from my breakdown, I was also helping plan a nineteen-year-old’s first solo trip abroad. I realize that to some of you I might as well have just said, “so I found this old airplane and I don’t know how to fly it but I went ahead and took it up anyway and I took my kid along, and there was this old parachute so I suggested she use to to skydive for the first time.”But the fact of the matter is that she’s a grown woman who knows her own limits far better than I did at her age (or possibly even now). I took plenty of absurdly dangerous risks at 19, but since I never left my home state to do it (except that one time I flew to LA to meet a friend I only knew online – which was AMAZING by the way, because not everyone online is a predator) nobody really even blinked about it. My mom hitchhiked from Chicago to San Francisco in the late Sixties at around the same age. Nineteen is a perfect time for exploring and taking risks. Most of them go fine, but we sure do love to fixate on the ones that don’t.

And fixate we do. There’s nothing like helping your adult daughter launch herself across the Atlantic to uncover the absolutely stunning amount of sexism attached to the idea of a woman traveling solo, and to begin to see American sexism in a new light.

What really grabbed my attention was the trip to Marrakesh she was planning to take right after Spain. In researching the experience (like you do), I found plenty of blog posts and forum discussions about women traveling to Morocco alone, and most of them talked about how to cope with street harassment and how exhausting and stressful it is – but also how it’s completely worth it. These women wrote about how you have to concoct a husband or boyfriend who will be right back (and for +10 constitution, wear a fake wedding ring!) so that men will leave you alone, because it’s not really customary for women to do anything alone there. And when men full-on grope you for being an American woman alone in public, you have to be ready to shame them and slap them or they won’t leave you be – the one nice thing is that when you do, all the other women will come running over to support you because women have each others’ backs there.

That last part is what really got me thinking – specifically about how difficult it is for American women to speak up for ourselves. We are taught that when we’re harassed, we should silently ignore it or else we’re encouraging them and/or deserve whatever violent retribution occurs. I imagine that, for better or worse, Moroccan men must read our passive silence as consent when they’re used to being reined in with a harsh “shooma!” and a swarm of protective sisterhood, which (along with porn) is probably what perpetuates the legend that American women are sluts. Can you imagine any one of us saying to an American street harasser, “what the hell’s the matter with you? How dare you treat me like an object instead of a human being! Shame on you!”? We wouldn’t dare. Why?

Something about looking back at our culture through another culture’s lens brought into sharp focus the many ways American women have been taught to subjugate ourselves:

  • If something happens to Corinne while she’s abroad, it will be mine and her father’s fault for “letting” her – a grown-ass woman – travel by herself. And it will be her own fault for being stupid and putting herself in that situation. It will never be the fault of the horrible people who were horrible, because they just took advantage of an easy opportunity that presented itself. If she goes to someone for help, they’ll probably dismiss her as hysterical because men don’t trust women’s feelings or experiences. If she didn’t want to be a victim, why was she traveling alone, anyway?
  • Women here are rarely even aware that they’re in constant competition for the scarce resource of male approval – publicly, socially, and professionally. There is very little assumed sisterhood out in the world (which is why I’m such a huge fan of the Red Tent Temple movement); if another woman is harassed in public, who among us would have the courage to stand with her and have her back, rather than avert our gaze and keep walking? I find it interesting that this Arabic monarchy whose culture plenty of American women might judge as backward and oppressive in actual fact has women who feel more empowered to protect themselves from harassers than we do (yes, they’re expected to go out accompanied, but at least they have each others’ backs).  But it’s the water we swim in, and we see that we’re “allowed” to wear whatever we want and marry whoever we want and go alone in public, and that somehow adds up to freedom instead of a naturalistic zoo enclosure designed to protect us from…whom? The very people who tell us it’s for our own good.
  • Women ALWAYS have to have a plan for what happens if something goes wrong, and where to steer clear of, and what to do if it’s getting dark, and how to know who to trust, and how to escape notice, and when you just have attach yourself to some men to do so. Our adventures come with a gauntlet of concerns that, sure, everyone has to think about, but not as carefully or completely as we do.
  • Pretty much everything she said.

Personally, I’m optimistic about Corinne’s ability to cope with Moroccan street harassment since she spent her adolescence in Philly, which has plenty of homegrown aggressive men of its own. For some reason she still trusts my judgment, so with excitement and trepidation, she booked her trip.

A week later she changed her mind.

She’s worried that constantly dealing with defending her body will be exhausting and stressful, and she’d rather wait to go to Morocco until she’s a more seasoned traveler. I respect that choice (see above re: knowing her limits), and can hardly blame her. She’ll lose the money she spent on airfare to Marrakesh, and then to Rome afterward, but she’s decided it’s worth it.

Now she’s back to trying to decide where to spend the week between Madrid and Rome, but everything she looks at seems to come with some sort of caveat about how dangerous and difficult for women it is, and she’s overwhelmed.

Corinne: I looked up “Budapest experience” and the first thing that came up was the serious scams people get trapped in…like to the tune of $200-800.
Me: Think on it a little bit: scams are everywhere. Forewarned is forearmed, they say.
Corinne: That’s true. But no doubt they’re especially bad.
Me: I’ve also heard people say that Budapest is their favorite place.
Corinne: Yeah, it’s definitely beautiful and has a huge hipster scene.
I’m gonna be honest, if something doesn’t go wrong I’ll be a little disappointed. Only because even the US Embassy’s view on women traveling is bedtime 8 o’clock and don’t forget your daddy (parental guardian or otherwise). If you’re gonna look at me like a child there damn well better be reason for it.
Me: LOL! Don’t worry, no matter what happens to you it’s your fault for traveling with an unaccompanied vagina.
Corinne: Literally, like how can you across the board just say don’t do it alone? Are you kidding me? Is Canada any more dangerous than the US !? Should I just go to bed at 8pm and be surrounded by a sausage shield 24/7????
Me:NOW you’re getting it!

“Sausage shield”- you guys I am so proud right now I could cry! But also angry because SERIOUSLY, US State Department? What year is this?

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The internet is sadly lacking in shields made of sausage.

Know what I think? I think that whatever happens she’s going to have an amazing, transformative trip. Hold the sausage.


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Anatomy of A Breakdown

Well, here we are at another healthcare post. I swear, 50% of this blog is me talking about medical issues. But I think that it’s important to talk about the stuff that nobody wants to talk about, because otherwise it always seems like we’re going through something unique all alone, which is pretty much never true. But my brain is really foggy and unfocused right now, so I have no idea how this will turn out or if you’ll be able to follow. At any rate…

Stuff I’ve learned this week:

1 in 6 mental health crises are due to workplace issues. That’s too many for me to accept the notion that I should hide this. Mental illness is still stigmatized, but it shouldn’t be if that many people are struggling with their jobs (which of course they are because humans were never designed to live like this). I came out at work that I was sick with a nervous breakdown, just like I would tell the truth if I’d had a heart attack or a broken leg. We don’t have short term disability (which should really be renamed, because STD sounds like something you wouldn’t want at a workplace when you actually should) so I’m using FMLA leave to get my brain functioning again, and I’m not going back until I feel like I can do the job I’m paid to do again. I started wanting to die instead of going to work, and I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be ashamed of that when the environment is as toxic as it is. Absolutely everyone has been very kind to me about it, and I don’t have to hold the shame (or mental cohesiveness) of a secret, which is too much for me to handle right now anyway.

New meds can do super-weird things to your brain. For example, last night I accidentally made cupcakes. Yes, accidentally. See, I keep winding up at events that serve desserts I can’t eat because they have gluten and/or dairy in them, so I’ve had a growing urge for chocolate ganache, as I sadly pass up the pretty pastries. Last night after I dropped Jim off for his trip to Boston, I was rummaging in the cabinet for a snack and found these really bland gluten free cookies, so l decided that I would make some dairy free ganache (literally just some almond milk and a chopped up dark chocolate bar melted in the microwave & stirred, with a dash of salt at the end) to spread on the cookies and make them better – which I did. Except that by the time I finished making the ganache, I had forgotten about the cookies and I was all, “Why the hell did I just make a whole cup of chocolate goo? What am I going to do with it?” So I rummaged in a different cabinet and found expired gluten free cake mix and decided I’d make cupcakes or something. Which I did, adding a bit of extra baking powder to accommodate the expiration problem, and then I sat down on the couch and waited for them to bake.

At which point I realized that I’m home alone all week and not working, and I now have 18 gluten free cupcakes, which have an edible lifespan of about 48 hours, and nobody to share them with, and I only really wanted one cupcake. So now, instead of “why did I just make ganache?” I was left pondering, “why on earth did I just make cupcakes, and what the hell am I going to do with them?” (answer: probably freeze them) In other words: accidental cupcakes.

Which is all to say that while the new medication seems to be affording me a certain amount of volition, it’s not offering any focus or linear thinking/problem solving skills to accompany it. Which is probably why a lot of suicides happen right after a medication change. Don’t worry, I’m being careful. But this is also why I’m on leave. I can’t do my job if I’m losing track of what I’m doing this easily. I deal with academic petitions and confidential information, and that’s too important for me to lose someone’s paperwork and accidentally make cupcakes instead. Also I seem to be having panic attacks at semi-predictable times every day, which really doesn’t work in a customer-facing job.

There are a lot of resources for when you’re crashing, but they aren’t where you’re looking. Finding a new Psychiatrist is a joke, especially when you need one now. Because there’s a massive shortage, and the insurance industry still doesn’t treat mental illness as an illness, so what Psychiatrists there are often don’t  work with insurance companies. The good news:

  1. There is a thing called a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, who can help with medication issues. I’m seeing one at the crisis center until I can be shoehorned into a practice, but I’d be perfectly happy to just see her forever. The more time I spend with NPs, the more I prefer them to doctors, because they listen and have empathy and aren’t in it for the ego trip.
  2. This is too hard to figure out alone. Call a crisis hotline, or go to the Health & Human Services Mental Health site for immediate resources. If you don’t want to talk to people on the phone, you can also go to this services locator and find all the resources in your area. If all of that is too much, enlist a friend or family member. If that’s too much, you should probably call 911 right now, because you’re in worse shape than you realize, especially if you’re thinking about how nice it would be to be not alive right now.
  3. This is a serious illness, and it is eligible for leave from work, school, etc. while you figure it out. All of it will wait, and that happening is much better than dying, even if it fucks with your plans.

I am a fucking badass. I have endured sexual abuse, rape, assault, emotional abuse, abandonment, and a veritable shit-bouquet of other traumas. I have PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Most people like me are unable to sustain relationships, and are trapped in some form of addiction (which is pretty much why I can’t watch Jessica Jones even though it’s really good). I’ve been in therapy for the better part of my life, and the return on that is that I know when I’ve gone too far and my feelings are out of my control and I need to get help. I know that hitting a wall is usually actually a stair step higher than I was prepared for, and I can see it as an opportunity for growth, even if the process is bullshit. I’m in a happy marriage with a supportive spouse who is an active partner in my healing process, and helps me confront things like shame and overwhelm and irrational terror with grace and kindness. I have a kid who appears to be a successful adult and is more or less free of the generational cycle of abuse. I’m doing better than most, and still I struggle and fall. Not to say that I’m better than anyone who is trapped in addiction or abusive relationship cycles, just that I have worked for long enough to have earned some perspective and I’m grateful for it. Usually I’m sort of embarrassed to be me, but the crisis counselor was genuinely blown away by how functional I am despite my breakdown, and how able I am to speak for what’s happening to me rather than from it. Go me! I rock at breakdowns, woo!

This is survivable. I know that most of the people who read this know me and know a lot of this (though I’m not talking much these days, so this also serves as a sort of an update). But I also hope that someone somewhere stumbles on this when they’re lost and don’t know what to do and at the end of their rope and finds their way to help, because even though it feels like a hole you can’t get out of, you totally can. And you will, because nothing stays the same even if you want it to (and hey, who WOULDN’T want to hang out in this pit forever, right?). But first you have to ask for help. And then you have to let go and trust that instead of falling further, you will rise. I totally believe in you – you can do this thing. Ten seconds at a time.

If random encouragement from a stranger doesn’t help, go read this, because cartoons about depression are somehow really comforting.

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Allie Brosh is like the matron saint of depressed people.


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When Your Mental Health Crisis Doesn’t Fel Crisis-y Enough

I have a couple of half-written posts that I’m struggling with because I’ve been going over an emotional cliff in slow motion for a couple of weeks now. Yesterday I went over the edge- which is basically a good thing, but sucks balls while it’s happening.

I forced myself out of bed with this song:

to drag myself into my miserable job and try to hold it together another day, while I thought things like how much nicer it would be to be dead than to continue dying slowly in this place, and then tried to keep that line of thinking as controlled and non-specific as I could. About an hour in, someone pulled the panic alarm in the bathroom, where it went off for 10 more minutes. That was the straw was too much for my already camel-laden nerves. Tears came, and wouldn’t stop, so I had to go home. Not sobbing or ugly crying or anything, just leaking from the eyes and nothing I could do about it. So I grabbed a tissue and walked the long way around campus and took the train home, wishing I’d taken more than one tissue as the one I was holding got soggier and more full of eye makeup.

Jim came and got me, and I sobbed in the car a little bit, then took a whole Ativan and went to sleep. I woke up last night feeling hollowed out and still on the edge of tears despite a long walk in the sunshine, and so I called out sick today because this is the mental health equivalent of a cluster migraine, or possibly a TIA.

I spent this morning trying to find a new psychiatrist, because my last one moved away and I just let my primary keep renewing my prescriptions for the past 18 months or however long it’s been because I seriously can’t keep up with time anymore. Over the course of two hours of searching and calling, most weren’t taking new patients, some didn’t take insurance, and some were just incredibly impatient with me.

I went online to request a referral, but I had to name the unit to complete the request – and all of this is so fucking much to cope with when you’re about 80% of the way to catatonic. So I went to the website of the hospital network to look up what to call their behavioral health practice, when I came across a crisis number. I called it and they referred me to a place nearby that does walk-in intervention for people who aren’t at the planning point of suicidal (if you’re starting to plan, just call 911). I see my therapist in half an hour, after which I will go to my calculus class because I’m afraid of missing any more and there’s an exam next week and I need to improve my grade to pass, and then I will go get walk-in help before I get any worse. I’m afraid of being hospitalized, but I feel sort of safe that they’ll be able to determine if that’s the right thing, and it isn’t up to me to try to assess myself and navigate this on my own.

So I guess I’m writing this to say that nervous breakdowns are going to happen when you’re being treated for depression, anxiety, and PTSD and have been in a shitty situation for a really long time, and that if everything seems hopeless and inescapable and you’re having vague thoughts about dying but you’re sure that you wouldn’t follow through, you should still contact a crisis hotline right away – even if you’re not an immediate danger to yourself. They can do all the rational thinking bits and help you find the resources you need so that you can find a way through and get away from those intrusive thoughts.

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you can’t bring yourself to talk, there is also an online chat option.

 


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Return of Dicktater

Somewhere, my friends, there is a pornographic sweet potato farm, and Whole Foods has bought exclusive rights (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, new readers, this has happened before. Now it’s somehow an industry). In what may be one of the stranger sentences I’ve ever uttered, I can no longer buy sweet potatoes without getting sort of confusingly turned on.

I defy you to contradict me:

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Son of Dicktater: bigger, straighter, more…veiny. I am not entirely comfortable with chopping that up to roast.

…veiny?

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Seriously. Veiny sweet potatoes. How does that even happen? I really don’t think that’s how tubers’ circulatory systems work. It’s not even suggestive, it’s just a scary ‘roid-neck tater. But VEINS!

And lastly, y’all, – and I think this proves that I’m not just making up some kind of weird tuberous conspiracy theory – I give you:

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Where do baby dicktaters come from? Why, vagtater poontato, of course!

To be fair, that last one could also be Our Lady of Guadalupe.

But I don’t think it is.

 


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Mommyversary

This is the post about Corinne turning 18 that I’ve been trying to write for an entire year. Technically she doesn’t turn 19 for another eleven hours, so I made it. Barely. It took this long to come to to terms with the transition to being the parent of an adult. The past year saw her graduate from high school, be responsible for translating Mexico for me and vice-versa (“Mom. Stop trying to speak Spanish. Just stop.”), move into dorms, make the Dean’s List, get a driving permit, and plan a trip to Spain this summer. She’s had a remarkable year, and I’m so proud of her.

It’s SO hard, though. Nothing prepares you for the Age of Majority. One day their entire life is your responsibility, and the next they can do whatever they want and in order to access to their confidential information, they have to sign a document giving you explicit permission. Having a relationship with you becomes fully their choice, and it’s remarkably sudden.

When she was born, I used to say that the upside of having a baby at 22 is that I would be “free” at 40 and it would be awesome because I’d get to have my twenties when I had the sense and money to properly enjoy them. I used to think that freedom was something I wanted, because I wasn’t prepared to be a mother when I found myself becoming one. But somewhere along the way she became my dear friend and I stopped being in such a hurry for my friend to go out into the world and make it hers. Now I jump at every chance for even 5 minutes to be helpful, because motherhood is a habit, and it’s almost impossible to kick.

One of the things about being among the first in your social circles to breed is that you end up being the voice of experience, even if that experience is barely a step ahead of theirs and you’re basically making it up as you go along because you had no siblings & rarely even babysat. Still, the one thing I’ve always been clear about advising is that parenting is one long letting go, pretty much from the moment they depart your body. First you’re kind of happy about it – you can eat a full meal without your stomach getting kicked from the inside, then they sleep through the night, they wean, they play by themselves, they play with other children, they have overnights, they have sports, and you have little moments where you get to rediscover yourself as something other than a mom, and you long for more. Then sometime around adolescence they start filtering themselves, and develop entire lives that you may or may not know much about depending on how acceptable you make it for them to be fully themselves, and they don’t want to connect with you as much and you long for more. Then suddenly you’re packing up their stuff, and it feels like someone else is taking custody of your left leg and you realize that you never want to stop being a mom, and in fact it’s really hard to figure out what to do with yourself now that you’re not momming most of the time. Even if you’ve spent their whole lives preparing for it, one letting go at a time, the longing is still there.

So I’ve had a year to grieve, and to adjust. I sometimes forget how much I miss her, until we drive 75 minutes to her campus just to have dinner, and for a couple of hours I feel right again. She just left from being here for Spring Break, and it was particularly hard because I knew that I wasn’t going to see her on her birthday for the first time ever. It’s hard to explain the simultaneous sadness and joy of having an adult child (and can I just say that I hate that term? But not as much as kid-ult, so until I find a better word, it’s going to have to suffice) to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Just like it’s sort of impossible to explain what it’s like to have boobs no matter how hard we might try.

I guess as tropey as it is, what I’m saying is that they really do grow up unbelievably quickly. Please know that in what ever way your kid is driving you nuts right now, you will miss it terribly one day. It always feels in the moment like you’re going to suffer like this forever, but things change before you can blink. It feels like yesterday that I sat in the park on her first day of Kindergarten, crying because my baby wasn’t a baby any more – which seems sort of silly now because five is pretty damn little, but at the time I wasn’t ready for her to already be on to school age and I was sort of amazed that my toddler had vanished in the night and been replaced by an honest-to-goodness little girl. Now she’s an honest-to-goodness woman, about to go spend two months on another continent.

The good news is that you never stop enjoying watching them grow and change. And she will always be the only person who once knew my body as the whole universe.