On Monday, we put our cat Sol to sleep (he was Very Sick) and my sister moved into my basement. Both Very Big Things.
My sister got a job here in town – she’s leaving her husband, being evicted from her home there, and bringing her two high school-aged kids to live with us next week while we wait for her apartment lease to begin (which, to everyone’s horror, doesn’t have an exact date yet.)
RR hates her new camp. It’s loud and busy and all she wants to do sit in the corner by herself and draw, sing, or play make-believe with some stuffed animals… or some rocks. She does NOT want to do your Obligated and Scheduled Fun, thankyouverymuch. She DOES want you to leave her the fuck alone. She’s on week two (out of three) of being off from That Particular Camp That All Children But Mine Love, will head to a half-day camp next week, and then back to TPCTACBML for five consecutive weeks, before starting her New Expensive School That I Hope She Loves on 8/29.
For the past two weeks, though, we’ve been two peas in a sometimes cranky and sassy pod. It’s been a combination of her coming to work with me, staying with Granny (overnight, no less!!), and some days, we sneak into our bathing suit, head to the pool, and she shows me how much progress she’s made in Not Drowning.
We had a memorial for Sol last night, complete with tequila and chicken thighs. He was loved. He will be so missed. I, however, already do not miss wondering if he’s dead on the back deck in the sun, or just laying still and shallow breathing. 13 years is a long time to have a cat, and nine years is a long time to have the same three animals in your house. Talk about family. They are our family. His urn will go next to my mother’s. True story.
I’m feeling better despite all this, thanks to the medication finally working its way into my brain. Music is going amazingly well – I’m writing more and more. I’m playing with my bandmates, who are so generous, lovely, kind, talented, and I’m often at my happiest surrounded by them. I’m making time for friends. I’m knocking through my work with efficiency. I need to eat better and exercise more, but don’t we all? Except you – you look fabulous and don’t need to change a thing.
I am sad. For my cat. For my wife’s busy schedule. for the delicate balance of my household which is totally being shaken up. For my iPad battery, from which this blog post should be sponsored because it’s my last resort of keeping RR entertained at work. We’ve done a lot of work today – the real work, the lunch work, some Montessori math work, and now the screen time work.
I am happy to see RR dance in ballet class. To snuggle with my Alive Animals. For friends and plans and music. For my wife to have some days off and some down time. To watch RR swim and to think back to memories of us at the beach.
Mid-July is hot and humid in Virginia, and it is not disappointing. Here we are, chugging along despite the stifling feelings everywhere we turn.
I think instead of writing here, I’ve been processing so much through songwriting. Which sounds fucking pretentious, but is true. Songs about depression/mental illness, gay marriage, growing up poor, hell, the damn bird who nested on our house.
I did write one song I released to the world, but everything else is waiting its turn for the next time I go into the studio.
I was up early this morning, scrolling around the internet, and found myself looking at the word “anhedonia,” which appeared in an article I was reading.
lack of pleasure or of the capacity to experience it.
Well shit. There’s a name for this crippling and suffocating experience that happens every so often to me. It’s not all the time. It’s not every day. But it’s prompted me to fuck around (with Bob and my doctor) my brain medicine because I hate that feeling so much. Imagine you’re Mr. Finger Guns, without your fingers!
It’s the one, lingering, relentless symptom of my brand of mental illness. It emerged sometime about six months ago. I tweaked my old medicine a bit, and it got better. It went away. I was laughing and high-fiving. I was also shouting at my kid a lot. The other times during the day, I was always threadbare with my patience. It wasn’t working. It wasn’t balanced.
I’m in week two of the new pills, and for fuck’s sake, tweaking with your brain chemistry is so tricky. Some days are good. Some days are really bad. I’m going through the motions. I’m at the bar, singing songs. I’m in the woods on a hike. I’m making pancakes and drinking coffee. I’m trying to be in the now, in the moment, but that’s proving hard when the moment feels like it is so awful, despite no actual awfulness, or cause to the effect.
Next week, we’re going to the beach. I can’t breathe when I think about feeling like this on my week off of work, where I plan on sitting in the sand in the sun all day, on my favorite place on earth.
Today, I’m making my packing list. My vacation grocery list. Prepping my brain for a good time. Hoping for stability and balance. Hoping the sand and sun and waves can help recalibrate my inner self.
“Well, how far did you get in the planning process?” said Bob, over the phone.
I’m sitting in the recliner in my living room. I’m coughing and heaving in between sobs.
“Oh, not very far, really.” I finally said, regaining my composure, and sort of laughing maniacally.
He seemed surprised. I don’t know about which part, though. The fact that it was the first real time I had contemplated taking my own life, or the fact that as much of a logistical planner I am, I hadn’t started a Google Excel Spreadsheet to track and share the process.
I mean, really. Growing up gay (and really, a little trans) in the Southside Bible Belt of Virginia, a daughter of divorced parents, one who died when I was 11, with an alcoholic (and suicidal) sister who started her own shenanigans when I was eight… Call me a late depression bloomer, I guess.
I do tend, though, to walk through life more than a little Pollyannaish. I pray. I am always thinking of the best case scenario. When things go awry, there is a Greater Good. A Reason. Even with a Cold Dark Heart, I can talk myself out of the depths. I can look around and be grateful for my wife. Our daughter. My job, the roof over my head, the hot coffee in my cup.
My particular thought, though, had nothing to do with sadness. Or being ungrateful or oh-woe-is-me or hopeless. It was about control.
I could rationalize suicide because it was, that morning, the one thing I could control. My life. My breath, my steps, my words, my hands. Done with being on the other end of the “bad news” phone calls and emails, it made sense. It sounded nice. It sounded freeing. It sounded less like a bad idea, and more like a good one.
In a series of months, years… I have been walking through life waiting for the bad news. It always comes. It’s never late or apologetic. It comes when I’m having a great day or when I’m having a shitty day. It doesn’t care.
It seemed like a good idea.
Put an end to the bad news. To the cancer. To the strokes and broken hearts and disappointments. To the emails, voicemails, phone calls, obligations, demands. To the noise.
Nothing snapped me out of it. It came in like a wave and washed over me and left me just as I was before, but covered in a bit of sand and a little dizzy. It hasn’t happened since, and after looking it in the face and talking about it, I’ve scared it off.
I’m taking more anti-depressants. They’re helping, but sometimes make me feel a little bit flat. Like the sober person among the drunkards. Like watching the jolly conversations, and participating, but still feeling a little empty. Like my mouth is a phantom limb.
And bad news is coming, though. It’s always coming. When I see Moses limp when he hops off of the couch. Or Steve’s scar when I hug him.
For me, depression is not sadness. It’s anger, maybe, but not sadness. I’m not throwing a pity party for one. It’s a catalyst to find my resilience again. My emotional endurance. My patience. It is all certainly a work in progress, that’s for sure.
So it’s been a while. Sorry about that.
If you’ve been reading my wife’s blog, then you’re probably up to speed on most things. If you haven’t, then SHAME ON YOU. She’s amazing and hilarious, so stop patting me on the back for writing again and go there now.
What have you missed in 1 year, 4 months, and 1 day? Not much. And everything.
RR is 5 and almost 1/2. She draws a lot – her amazon.com wishlist has 100 packages of Crayola markers on it, and that’s all.
I’m playing music again. And performing it, even. To the public. I’m recording a full-length album with some amazing local musicians. Starting this past March or so, I’ve been staying out at least two nights a week until 11pm, playing music and making friends. Rewarding AND exhausting and amazing and mostly exhausting.
My father-in-law has terminal brain cancer.
I’ve gained some weight. The part I’m the least happy about is the fact that I have to buy some new clothes. I’m not all that unhappy about my appearance, just unhappy to spend money on pants. PANTS! #beer #cancer #stress
I cut my hair short last August.
I got promoted at work, which means I work a LOT (and blog a lot LESS) and one day they will maybe pay me more for doing it, too!
Our animals are getting OLD! Two cats, aged 14 and 12. Moses the dog is turning 9 in March and has had two major surgeries since we’ve last talked: an ACL replacement and some cancer removed from his…. uhh, butt.
Everything and nothing. I’m not only back on anti-depressants, but on a higher dose than when my mom died. *sad trombone*
I’m coping with the endless waves of potential change and grief and coming to terms that this is just fucking life. Right? It’s just life. Love, loss, repeat. Bob (he says “hi!”) explains about the numb feet forward walking. Just keep moving.
I read an article last night about a cyclist who received some advice once about “not needing to ride fast, just needing to not stop” in regards to long-distance cycling. I had my first suicidal thought a few months ago, told my wife, got some help, and this could be my new mantra. This (life) is not a race, in which I am eager to get to the finish line (death).
I’m making time for friends. Learning how to stay out late on a weeknight (and live to work efficiently the next day!). Singing, writing, sharing every chance I get. Saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” Gazing at my wife. Laughing with RR. Listening and watching. Being so grateful… for said wife, RR, friends.
I’m here, with my numb feet. Shuffle shuffle. Sorry for the radio silence. I’ll include y’all from here on out – promise.
Sometime here over the last few weeks, RR has embraced a new morning routine where she comes out of her room, stands by my side of the bed while I’m sleeping, and pokes me over and over and over until I wake up. (Previously to this new routine, she would wake up and play quietly in her room, and then knock on her door and wait for one of us to tell her she could come out. For real.)
I then, sleepily, drag her under the covers where we spoon and cuddle for MAYBE five more minutes (woah is me, with my delicious morning cuddles). If I’m lucky. Usually, she lies there quietly, but one morning she counted, in a whisper, up to the number 39, and then sang “Let It Go” to herself. And, subsequently, me.
Sometimes, she takes her fingers and pries one of my eyes open, asking me to wake-up. She then asks me to “Check your cwock, mama” to see what time it is.
Our household takes an hour, start-to-finish, to get out of the house. This includes showering, dressing, eating breakfast, packing lunches, feeding the dog, stepping OVER the dog, chasing the cats inside from the back yard, gathering and assembling RR’s camp bag, our gym bag to take to work (Mondays), my meditation clothes bag (Tuesdays), and finding a pair of RR’s shoes that don’t reek of urine (a consequence of improper wiping).
During the summer months, we can get away with walking out of the house at 8:30am. During the school year, this is more like 8:15am, if we’re damn lucky.
We are spoiled, yes. The crazy benefit of living where we live. We can’t get married, y’all, but hell yes for free time and not having to routinely wake up at 5am, a la Washington, DC. (Not to mention, we’re the Happiest City in America). We’re also fortunate that RR has never been obsessed with early wake-ups. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.
ANYWAY! This is all to say that, hey, when she wakes up and crawls in the bed at 6:15am… well, that’s a lot of time to kill.
Enter… DUN DUN DUNNNN, the television. Our brief social experiment with morning television (on week days especially) turns RR into a raging, uncooperative, crankass. Ten minutes or an hour. Frozen (AGAIN) or Curious George or this Wild Kratt show (I know more about wild animals now than I ever needed to), it doesn’t matter. CRANKASS!
This morning, I dashed her television-watching dreams in exchange for playing Anna and Elsa with her (I got to be Anna… usually I’m Kristoff). It resulted in a few disappointed tears, but nothing insurmountable. And in exchange, we got this polite and fucking delightful four year old, who helped make breakfast (she cracked the eggs and stirred them in the pan), directed what she wanted for lunch (I had to sacrifice one PBJ triangle to the cause), and sat politely at the breakfast table, saying please and thank you.
I told my wife that she hadn’t watched TV this morning. Her response, “Oh! That’s why she’s being so nice and cooperative!!”
I don’t know the moral of the story other than I should go to bed earlier so that I can be a less lazy parent in the morning? I mean, really. Sometimes Mama just wants to sit quietly with her coffee, am I right?
We’re also considering getting her one of those clocks that tells her when she can wake-up and start her day? Anyone have one of those?
As inconvenient as she is with her wake-ups, I can’t really complain when I get to cuddle her every morning. At least she’s not throwing water on me or something.
Does morning television turn anyone else’s kid into a raging crazy-pants?
Four is happening tomorrow. We are waking up, having pancakes (shhh, don’t tell), buying RR a teddy bear (what she asked for…. besides cake), and heading to the amusement park to have dinner with Elmo (as ya do).
I cannot believe that we created such a beautiful human. She is sensitive, smart, empathetic, talented, creative, and extraordinarily silly. Every night, when I pet her head and sing her a song before she goes to sleep, I’m in utter disbelief that my wife and I are so lucky to be raising this wonderful child.
For the past year (and then some) people have been assuring us that RR “would not go to college wearing diapers.” I don’t think we believed them. I’m sure we didn’t. In fact, we started making a list of possible acceptable careers that wouldn’t mind if she wore diapers. At the top of that list? Long-distance trucking and hauling.
Over Memorial Day weekend, we broke her poor little spirit. That’s what it took. Saturday morning, we were expecting friends to visit over the long weekend (with their twin five-year-old boys) and we enlisted them (unbeknownst to them) to help us, help RR, start to use the toilet.
We brought Henry out to the living room. We bought a bag of dum-dum lollipops. A bag of gummy bears. Withdrew one million dollars in cash, and a shipped in a selection of magical real-life rainbow unicorns. OK, kidding on that last one. We set the timer, and when it went off, she sat on the potty. After the first ten or so times, she stopped angrily protesting.
Saturday afternoon, we convinced her to go WITHOUT underpants in the back yard. J, one of the visiting twins (who loves to be naked), joined in solidarity. And there they were – sitting on the brick garden wall, pants-less. RR looked up at me at some point with the saddest and most defeated face. “Why are you doing this to me, Mama?” it said.
For the entire weekend, aside from nap-time, she was shadowed by someone. One of us, one of the other two parents, and J (who was really invested in helping RR learn how to use the potty). R, the other twin, was stoked to be left alone.
RR, who LOVES her independent play… loves disappearing into her room, into the back yard, in the sandbox alone, in a corner, behind a door… having constant company nearly 60 hours straight BROKE. HER. DOWN.
Sunday morning, we all went on a lovely hike, where RR soiled her panties four times in, oh, maybe two hours. Not once did she say anything, or even stop her stride, to pee. Just dry one second, wet the next. But we had 24 hours under our belt. We weren’t stopping. Heck, we were actually OUT of diapers. It wasn’t even a lie!
We carried on like this until mid-morning on Monday, Memorial Day. I ran out to the store to get breakfast, and when I came home found everyone having lollipops. The boys and RR were all celebrating her three drops of pee in the potty. Everyone was so excited. To quote RR, “I knew I could do it!”
The celebration was short, though, and “Team Potty” (us, visiting parents, twins) disbanded and the other half of our team headed homeward. About an hour later, during one of the timed sitting sessions, lo and behold, the kid filled up the whole potty with pee. We just about went ballistic with happiness. After all, this was the first time she peed any significant quantity since August? July? Of 2013.
We sent her to school on Tuesday in panties, and by 3pm, she had soiled very many pairs. 4? 5? My wife picked her up at 3pm and they went home to continue practicing.
By this time, we had won the power struggle, and it was becoming more of teaching her to learn her body and it’s cues and feelings, and less about trying to pin her flailing, crying, angry self on the toilet. From 3pm until 8am FRIDAY morning, we practiced. Well, RR practiced. And my wife gained some grey hairs. I love that woman. She took all day Wednesday and Thursday off of work, armed with lollipops, the movie “Frozen,” a timer that made an elephant sound when it went off, and RR started uttering sentences like, “Oh! I have to pee!” AND THEN SHE WOULD PEE IN THE POTTY!
One night that week when WE COULD SMELL SUCCESS, I drove to Wal-Mart and bought so many underpants.
That Friday, we sent her back to school. Fingers crossed. Around lunchtime, we received an email stating that she had peed in the school toilet TWICE and was in the same underpants from that morning. RR’s practice. My wife’s blood, sweat, and tears. It had all paid off.
Gradually, we moved Henry into the bathroom (he was in the living room). Then we removed him all-together and replaced him with a potty seat cover and a stool.
So now it’s been two weeks, and we’re going on about one accident per day, which is phenomenal. It usually happens when she’s distracted, or doesn’t wanna give up her spot on the school swing (her favorite activity ever). But she sits whenever we ask her to (before leaving, when we get home, etc.) and takes initiative to go when she is at school.
Poop, apparently, is, like, a whole different thing. She’s successfully managed it at school once, but all other times (at school, at home, at Granny’s) we’ve had serious underpants clean-up duty. One pair of panties outright got thrown away. The other pair made it into the wash, but only after we hosed them down (AND HER, TOO) outside with the garden hose. True story.
As it turns out, she would rather use the toilet than have her independent time taken away. It seems like she turned the corner in toileting just so that we would leave her the fuck alone. Whatever works, kid.
And now the albatross is gone. The lingering sensation of being a failure parent. Of having the only kid in diapers at school. OF EVER BUYING DIAPERS AGAIN. (Aside from those pesky nighttime ones…) The shame of her diaper sticking out from under her summer dresses. All gone.
RR and my wife deserve the credit, really. They were amazing rock star toileting superhumans. Hallelujah for them both.
Let’s talk about boobs! Again!
So last night, I had the extraordinary pleasure of experiencing my first, but probably not my last, breast MRI. Oh the fun!
Blah blah, risk of cancer, blah. No, nothing’s “wrong,” unless you count having some rather shifty genes “wrong.” Anyhow – I had my first mammogram back in November, and then in January, upon further reflection by Dr. Judgey Gyno (who, yes is judgey, but she is a good doctor), put in all of my family cancer history, along with whatever else, and lo and behold, I qualify for being high risk for el breast cancer.
So, in addition to mammograms and breast exams (by her, not just me) four times a year, I won the Breast MRI prize. I also, depending on insurance and the cost, might pony up for the breast cancer gene screening. First things first.
I tell ya, there ain’t nothing much more fun that laying on an MRI bed having someone adjust your boobs that are… well, hanging freely underneath of you. Now give that whole experience a southern accent and you’re practically there with me.
I had to have contrast (hence the injector thing that the cartoon lady has), so eventually I got all dangled properly, tucked in the hole, and then injected by the machine (!!), not even the lady, when it came time. After the contrast finished being cold (running up my arm), it made my whole body very warm (disconcerting), and then the whole creepy sensation went away.
A very long experience (I arrived at 7:20pm, left around 9:45pm), but done at least. Long, but not scary.
I think this is the part of parenting that I didn’t realize would happen. The intense self-care in an effort to stay alive as long as possible when it comes to uncomfortable procedures like laying DEAD STILL on hard table in a LOUD room for 45 minutes while your boobs hang under you.
(TLDR? The dog failed dog training. Has prescriptions for his anxiety. Has moved into the house with M’s parents as of last night.)
Oh, right. I totally forgot to tell you how Duncan got kicked out of the Feisty Fido class. KICKED OUT.
He and I went last week to class together. Although he was kind of stressed out in the car (not unusual), when we got there he was BATSHIT CRAZY. Panting, pulling, lunging, barking, tornado-on-a-string. Me? To quote Death Cab for Cutie, I held “a smile like someone would hold a crying child.”
OK – a diagram, to help picture the scene. Deal?
So we start the class off in Yellow Starred little room. The other three dogs (and their owners) are quietly hanging out in their own little rooms. While class is kind of starting, the trainer is in the big room talking to us all in our little rooms with our bad dogs and I’m slowly peeking out of my door because Duncan is jumping up and shouting and barking his brain off at anyone’s voice or even a jingle of another dog collar.
Reenactment picture below.
Then, they ask me to close the top part of my half door – a) in the hopes that he would calm down, and b) to make it so that everyone else could hear. Two minutes later, we get moved to the Shun Room (aka the waiting area). Then moved to the tiny gated room WITHIN the Shun Room in the hopes that he would Shut Up.
Eventually, I got my own trainer lady to myself. Duncan stopped barking, but by then was so keyed up and panting, he was too far gone to do anything.
Long story short (too late), I took his crazy ass home, he stopped panting frantically around 10pm (we left class at 8:30pm), and M’s mom took their advice which was to take him to a special vet in town who specializes in especially asshole dogs. Pharmaceuticals. Something. Anything was needed to get his brain to stop freaking out before we could address the feisty part. FUN!
How Duncan Came To Now Live In His New Home was a suggestion by Awesome Behavior Vet, who discouraged us from taking him anywhere but his new permanent location, training classes included. Get him settled, give him drugs, and some simple home training. So last night, we ALL got home from the vet appt, had some fried chicken, and packed up the little yellow man and sent him on his way to the farmhouse. (Isn’t that what you tell children when a dog is put down? They moved to a farmhouse? That’s terrible.)
This morning, the house was back to how it was before this shenanigans started in December. Five months of upheaval.
Would it surprise you that it also coincided with successfully bribing RR with pieces of chocolate to get her to put on panties and sit on the potty two times before 8am? TWO FUCKING TIMES. That’s two times more success than we’ve had since… oh, January? Crazy talk.
First off, I’m so excited to read that some of you have asshole dogs. I mean, I wouldn’t wish an asshole dog upon anyone, but if you have one, well, we can all sleep well at night knowing that our asshole dogs are most certainly not a reflection on their owners or caretakers. I guess some of them just get the asshole gene! Come to think of it, I know some asshole people, too…
Anyway! Step one in the Dog Training Class is having Duncan associate a clicker noise with a treat. Unlike obedience training, this asshole doesn’t have to do anything to get the treat. Just hear the clicker, I guess. So for the last week, I’ve been LITERALLY sticking my fingers in… uh, processed meats, freeze-dried chicken liver, and most recently, wet cat food, in an effort to keep his asshole attention when I click the clicker. OF COURSE the wet cat food is his favorite. I should have just started with that shit…
I tried little tiny treats, but a) he’s not interested after, like, three of them, and b) he tries to eat my damn fingers (and he has sharp teeth). So I did this thing where I caked something delicious into a Kong opening, but then he all assholed out and kept trying to take it. Then I caked something on the edge of a teaspoon (SHARP TEETH), but then he kept trapping the spoon part in his sharp mouth. The winning method (ta da!) was using the handle end of the teaspoon and dipping it in cat food for him to lick off. Click > lick. Click > lick.
This is only week one, so I assume I’m laying some kind of positive Pavlov reinforcement. Hopefully.
So that was your dog training update this week. I go to class tomorrow night with him, where he gets to be in the same building (but separate rooms, THANK GOD) from three other asshole dogs.
In other TOTALLY UNRELATED news, I made a Facebook group (Invite only? Closed?) for parents of small children (like, under 12 or so) who have lost one/both of their parents. I think we’re up to 13 members? I’m hopeful that we’ll develop a kind of small, nurturing, supportive community where people can have discussions, ask for advice, or just openly grieve.
I know that sometimes I feel like the Grief Window is closed. And that if I am seen grieving that I am assumed to be weak, or “not over it” (never will be), or wallowing in my sorrow, or doing whatever in a way that is hampering my ability to “move on” and “remember the good times.” Or some shit. When sometimes, you just wanna fucking grieve.
If you’re interested in joining (the only qualifier being that you have a small child, and you yourself have lost a parent), send me your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email you an invitation.