Just beneath the surface of normal

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Not Too Shabby

Yesterday I had a D&C to get my polyps removed. I wasn’t there for most of it, because I went straight from “this is going to feel like you’ve had a couple drinks” to waking up with an oxygen mask (which is like no couple of drinks I’ve ever had, but maybe the Nurse Anesthetist has been roofied before), but Jim tells me that my doctor told him a) there were A LOT of polyps and b) my uterus is very large. “A lot” as in, she usually takes out enough to fill about a two-inch square and I filled an area about five times that. I always was an overachiever. I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that if your uterus is holding ten square inches of polyps it’s going to be rather large in order to accommodate the extra inhabitants. That or I’m just really well-endowed. Actually, let’s go with the second, shall we?

There’s less to report about surgery than I was hoping. I was unconscious, then really tired, then really nauseated trying to play Skyrim. We ended up the day taking turns reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography, which is weird but entertaining, and more importantly didn’t make me queasy despite many episodes of bad weather at sea. That’s pretty much it. OH, except I also won the menstrual lottery: since my period was just starting it all got scraped out in the D&C and I left spotting less than I was when I came in. That was pretty exciting. It doesn’t make up for well over a decade of bleeding more days out of the month than I don’t, but it’s a start.

Today I’m up and about but still very crampy, which makes sense since my uterus is trying to close fully for the first time since probably not long after my daughter was born. Jim and I went to Home Depot to buy stuff to build me a desk and also “accidentally” come home with eight plants. It was nice to get out of the house, but also a bit irritating because I was sort of limping around and being uncomfortable while he hovered over me like a mother hen. We were walking back to the car when I finally identified the sensation.

Me: It’s like a really tender water balloon inside my pelvis and when I move around it sort of sloshes painfully.

Jim: That…doesn’t sound so great. Are you sure you’re okay?

Me: I’m FINE, I swear. Let’s go build a desk!

{silence (just normal married silence, not awkward silence, in case you were worried)}

Me: I really want to come up with a portmanteau using the word ‘portmanteau’. Maybe if I use one in Kathmandu it’s a portmandu? Or in Canada it would be a portmanitoba?

Jim: The anesthesia still isn’t all the way out of your system is it?

Me: ….no.

{more married silence}

Me: Wait, I KNOW! It’s like a water balloon filled with angry hamsters. Except that’s not the right metaphor either because the hamsters would drown in the water. What’s kind of vicious but wouldn’t drown? Bettas? That would just tickle. Snapping turtles?

Jim: hey, portmanteau lady, why don’t you just call them “dampsters”?

Me: ….

Jim: You know “damp hamsters”?

Me: …. I don’t…. I… I don’t know whether that’s awesome or horrible. Every time I veer toward one, the other beckons me convincingly.

Jim: What can I say? I’m good like that.

Me: Like what, “I’m the best at what I do, and what I do is mediocrity”?

Jim: Yeah, Mediocre Man! Not so much a “super hero” as a “pretty alright hero.”

Me: Ha! And his battle cry is “Meh.”

Jim: He could have that on his costume instead of a giant S. And people would be like, “thanks, Mediocre Man! We’re pretty banged up, but you basically saved us!” And he would drive away in his Civic shouting “Not Too Shabbyyyy!” like how Superman yells “up, up, and away!”

Me: OMG, it would have to be a tricked out older Civic, with the ridiculously high spoiler and-

In Unison: Spinning rims!

Jim: -and one of those prismatic paint jobs.

Me: But maybe with a little rust. I think we have a full-fledged television show on our hands here!

Jim: No, they already made The Tick.

Me: Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Jim: Meh.

It’s good to be back to normal.


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How Do You Fall Apart in Public?

Sometimes life isn’t funny. Sometimes it’s just really hard. When that happens, my impulse is to hide, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Nobody wants to see that stuff; it’s ugly and messy and proof of my great mountain of shortcomings. I’m also the one everyone comes to for support when their own lives go to shit, so I sort of figure nobody wants to take this mess on – they’re too busy trying to handle their own. For someone whose supposed “religion” is vulnerability, I kind of spectacularly suck at it.

The fact is, I have a lot of people who care to listen if I ask them to, and it’s okay to ask for support even if it makes my throat close to do it. So here I am, and this is as brief a summary of what the last few weeks have looked like as I can muster:

Corinne got suspended for “trespassing” at school, because she went in after softball to get the phone and transpass (they give out transpasses in Philly instead of using buses) she had accidentally left in her locker. The adults in the school who confronted her neither offered to help her solve her problem or even seemed to understand that they had any obligation to do so. So, being my child and used to being empowered to solve her own problems, she walked past the useless adults and got her stuff. She was grabbed on the arm repeatedly by a coach. He supposedly called the police, though they have nothing in their records about a call. She was told she would have been allowed in “if she had been nicer” to the custodian (wait, what about those rules?). She went off. Drama ensued. Should she have gone into school after hours when there is an express rule prohibiting it? No. Should she take all the blame for this mess? Hell no. The school’s solution if you have no way to get home after an extracurricular activity? If you need help, walk to the fire station down the street. Except it’s not really official – they won’t put it in the handbook because they don’t have the fire station’s permission to do so. What. The. Fuck. Used to be that arriving safely at your doorstep was the school’s responsibility. Of course, it also used to be that you could go into a school without a security guard present.

To make matters worse, the principal was in China so they had a substitute (substitute principals! Who knew?!) who was nice in that pacifying and completely disingenuous way, and she held a meeting with Corinne and the two staff members involved without a parent present, and they attempted to coerce her into accepting one of the staff members’ false characterizations of what happened, and was told that she needed to understand their position. She held firm that just wanted someone to be responsible for her getting home safely. She was called selfish and spoiled and told that one of the staff members probably wanted to hit her but restrained himself, so why couldn’t she have? She threw another festival of f-bombs, walked off school property, and I was called again. She would be allowed to return to school if she apologized to the administration for going off. It seemed like she was being punished more for her attitude than for the so-called trespassing. Also, the softball coach tried to kick her off the team.

Now she’s considered to have “anger management problems” and there was for a time concern that she would be excluded from the International Baccalaureate program because of her suspension, regardless of her academic standing. So now her entire future is being shaped by five minutes of bad calls brought about by feeling powerless in a situation where she expected to be supported?

And that’s where my PTSD took over entirely and I stopped coping in favor of marathon sleep sessions and random bursting into tears.

Here’s why: when I was eleven my mother found out I was being sexually abused by her second husband. She did the right thing and kicked him out and went to the police, who interrogated me alone and came to the conclusion in their official report that I was at least partially to blame. I was sent to counseling as a stipulation of my mother being allowed to keep me, and so began the process of intellectualizing what happened to me. I became very good at dispassionately talking about it, or worse, shedding a few manipulative tears to boyfriends who were blindsided and unprepared for the emotional scarring and neediness that comes from the trauma and abuse. Eventually it just receded into the landscape of my past. What I never did was grieve it.

Sometimes circumstances line up in just such a way that you get what you need whether you meant to consciously or not. Or, as Terry Pratchett so eloquently put it, “one in a million chances happen nine times out of ten.” In this case, my friend Katie offered to give me reflexology in exchange for all of Corinne’s old kid books and whatnot that I had been purging in her general direction for the past few months. I freakin’ love reflexology; it’s all taking care of your feet and relaxing you without any of the hassle of not messing up the paint job that comes with a pedicure. Also, for reasons I can’t really throw hard science at, it seems to work; like my mama taught me, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

So there I was, totally getting cared for on a day I really needed it, which also happened to be the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, because insult and injury are GREAT friends in my world. Oh, I should add: in the middle of all this school bullshit, there’s also big issues Jim is going through that required lots of support, and my pelvic ultrasound showed two fibroids, which were bigger than they had been in a 2006 scan that NOBODY EVER TOLD ME ABOUT, and I got scheduled for a D&C for the polyps on Friday. Pelvic ultrasound and D&C: sounds like I’m getting one of them new modern abortions, don’t it? So yeah. Red-motherfucking-line.

But so Katie is going to town on my feet (in a professional way. I have rephrased this no less than three times and all of them sound like a foot fetish scenario) and there’s this one spot that makes me go “WHOA! OW!” and she goes, “oh, that’s grief. What grief are you not processing?” And I’m all, “??” Because I felt like I pretty well did grandpa’s death and the TFA debacle last summer, and I wasn’t sure what else there could be. I shrugged and continued reveling in the happy reflexology love instead. She said a bunch of stuff about using your resources, accepting support, blah blah blah, some other stuff. I shrugged it off pretty well until afterward when she handed me goddess cards and had me draw one and it was ALL THE FUCK ABOUT using your resources and accepting support. Now, I’m well past my woo-woo stage and have settled pretty comfortably into a sort of Secular Humanism, but occasionally you  gotta wonder at the magic of coincidence. Whether it’s driven by the unconscious or by some unseen force, sometimes you just have to laugh at how brilliantly things align.

The next day was an amazing day; I woke up feeling a million times better and had energy, volition and focus. The day after that the story changed again around the softball component and the PTSD kicked into overdrive. And that’s when I realized that I had never really grieved the destruction of my sense of safety and protection. This experience of my daughter being powerless when she should have been supported was pretty much exactly what hurt in me. Even now my throat closes typing these words.

For the past week or so, doing any little thing has sent me into full-blown panic overdrive. There’s only so long you can live in constant fight-or-flight and I finally had to see my doctor for some anti-anxiety medication and a change to my antidepressants. I’m doing better now, though I still feel somewhat fragile. I’m just doing whatever grieving arrives and today I see my therapist for some next steps. I’m okay, but it’s been way too overwhelming in here to attempt to write.

The school drama seems to have settled out. She’s learned some difficult lessons about picking battles and about setting boundaries when she’s getting overwhelmed, and the best a parent can hope for is that each shitty experience your kid encounters helps them grow into more functional adults. The fact is, she’s lucky to have made it to sixteen without that feeling of being shamed for taking power into her own hands. The kids I work with in Camden got that lesson young: don’t speak up for yourself or there will be big trouble. She’s got all kinds of privilege, but I wish it was a privilege afforded to all. The whole experience was like, “who are you to be powerful? You need to be taken down a notch,” and mostly it makes me sad wondering if this shaming into obedience is really the best we can do for our children.

It also makes a lot of sense around my avoidance of being powerful and my terror about my potential next steps in life, all of which require me to step into that power I’ve so carefully avoided since I was taken down a notch myself so very long ago. Whether everything truly happens for a reason or we are just meaning-making machines, it seems like maybe this whole mess, for all it has sucked, is what I needed to finally take those steps.

Thanks for bearing with, y’all.

PS. Jim points out that this post is actually pretty darn vulnerable and that I shouldn’t characterize myself as having strayed from that. I guess the more accurate thing would be to say that sometimes it’s easier to describe the falling apart once the pieces start coming back together. Howling at pain and injustice doesn’t make for the most coherent blogging.

PPS. It finally occurred to me that we now keep databases of sex offenders. I looked him up and he wasn’t there. I hope that means I was his only victim. It would be some comfort to know that even though he got away with it, he never hurt anyone else. Unfortunately, I’ll never know for sure. Let’s just say I was. Sometimes comforting lies are okay.

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Like Herding Teens

Months ago I committed to chaperoning Corinne’s honors English trip to see Othello in Philadelphia since I’m one of the few parents who has the flexibility to help out during the day. Since I am me and my timing is what it is, I was of course still rebooting after my latest trip to New York. Because nothing says ‘nervous recovery’ like fifty adolescents on a warm spring day. I couldn’t back out, because if I did there wouldn’t be enough adults and the trip would have to be canceled. I would have to be on death’s door before I’d be willing to be That Guy. Obviously her English teacher doesn’t read this blog, or she’d know better than to make me responsible for anything. I am barely more than a teenager myself, emotionally, so I’m not even sure who is chaperoning whom here. But I own an ID card that proves that I am an adult in the eyes of the state of New Jersey and I guess if all you need is a warm body to round out the count, that’s enough.

Since insult and injury are apparently spring’s hot new color combination, I accidentally stayed up until midnight playing Skyrim with Jim, which left me about six and a half hours to cram in some sleep before being responsible for a bunch of teenagers thrilled to be away from school on a sunny Friday in spring.

Still, anxiety dragged me out of bed in time to clean up and put together a trendy teen-approved outfit, even rolling up my jeans so that the roll peeks jauntily out over the tops of my booties because this appears to be what passes for trendy these days. Thank you, Pinterest, for keeping me from embarrassing myself. [if only there were some way to adequately convey in writing the dry sarcasm with which I express that last statement. If only you could appreciate the delicately exaggerated roll of my eyes. This aside will have to suffice.] I know it sounds silly to go to all that effort, but trust me when I tell you that teenagers respect you more when you show some knowledge and respect for their world. This is the first secret of Teen-Fu. Use it wisely, grasshopper.

So here I need to stop and explain that I was raised in a town; not a small town, but certainly not a city. Corinne went to elementary and middle school in the suburbs. So the sum total of my experience of field trips follows the basic formula of school→bus→location→bus→school. I was (as indicated by my choice of footwear) completely unprepared for the urban equivalent, which was school→walk→subway→walk→location→WAAAAALK→location→walk→subway→walk→school. My adorable and increasingly uncomfortable booties logged around 40 blocks, and began actively trying to destroy my feet somewhere around block 25. I suppose I should have been more suspicious when I noticed all the other chaperons wearing comfortable shoes back at the school, though there’s nothing I could have done about it at that point anyway.

I will say this: those kids were amazing. They were respectful, engaged, and not a single kid bailed on the trip, which was my greatest fear because I couldn’t even conceive of how I would explain losing an entire teenager, and I would forever be that mom. I am already that mom enough for my comfort, thank you. The trip itself was pretty unremarkable, due mostly to them being good kids. I think I only embarrassed myself four or five times, which is actually pretty decent for me. Othello was excellent, for what it’s worth. My primary criticism was that the teacher probably could have chosen someplace less than twenty blocks away to get lunch; possibly someplace with fewer choices since most of the kids wandered around the crowds at Reading Terminal Market for at least half the allotted time, wracked with low-blood-sugar-induced indecision about which of the many confusing international food stalls at which to eat.

As we staggered back to school from the subway that afternoon, Corinne asked me if she could sleep over at a friends house, to which I may have answered “yes” a bit more forcefully than was polite. There may or may not have been a fervent “Oh My God” placed in front of it. Unfortunately, this committed me to driving her to her dad’s house to pick up some overnight gear, then driving them both to the friend’s house IN FRIDAY RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC.

Some seventy-five minutes later I staggered in the door, groaned at Jim, and made a dive for the bed. I resurfaced sometime after eight. Jim was fast asleep next to me; he’d been up fretting about work the better part of the previous night. So I put on my bathrobe and tiptoed downstairs to play Word Hero on my phone.

Oh yeah. Such is the fast and exciting life of the late-thirties suburban mom.

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New York Causes Brain Damage

Sometimes life is a ride that you’re on and there’s not much to do but throw up your hands (without throwing up on your fellow riders) and try to enjoy the terror until they unlatch the metal bar and let you stagger away to regain your bearings. The last few weeks has been kind of like that.

I finally realized last week that the reason I keep getting so depressed is that New York fucks my shit up. I go, I have a nice time, I come home, and my nerves and adrenal system are all like, “we’re SO out of here, you monster!” and I’m left to lie in bed in the dark and play endless rounds of sudoku on my phone and/or stare blankly out the window for about 10 days.

Unfortunately, last Sunday was Corinne’s 16th birthday AND the beginning of her spring break. Jim was scheduled for yet another business trip to NYC, and I had promised Corinne weeks ago that we’d tag along. As departure day approached, I felt more and more dread for shaking myself up again when I was still rebounding from my birthday trip. But as my therapist often reminds me, parenting is a sacrificial love and I wasn’t about to bail on my promise.

That did not, however, stop me from whining about it to my friend Susie. She knew exactly what I was talking about with the hiding in the dark and not wanting to talk to people after being overstimulated, and promptly handed me a book called The Highly Sensitive Person, which basically explains that we’re not crazy just neurologically more prone to over-stimulation, and lists some ways to cope with it.

We really did have a lovely time. Corinne is an awesome traveling companion and there were some utterly bizarre people on the subways this time, much to our amusement. It was without question worth the hangover.

I’m still entirely trashed, though, and don’t want to talk to people and I still feel like there’s a giant opaque sheet of plastic between myself and the rest of the world, but at least I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me this time. I don’t worry that maybe I need to up my meds, I know it’s just a sort of neurological head cold. Rest, take some brain-boosting supplements, and wait it out. I’m not crazy (well, not for this), just depleted.

I probably won’t be visiting NYC again anytime soon, though. Oh. Except that for Christmas I got the promise of tickets to see Book of Mormon. That would probably be worth it, too. whee!