Week Thirty-Three

A terrible poem in place of a blog this week. (Because of all the things.)

I Am Not A Poet

Writing.
Distracted. Look, over there!
Chores, paperwork, chores, more chores.
(Squirrel!)
(Or, in this case, kittens!)
Writing.
(Gotta get the kids ready to start school next week, gotta pack for the wedding this weekend, gotta run some errands, gotta do ALL THE THINGS.)
Coherence is not in the cards.
(Squirrel!)
Writing.
Deleting.
Crap.
I’m gonna bake sugar cookies instead.
(Not squirrel cookies. No squirrels will be harmed in the making of the cookies, I swear.)
It is inevitable.
I will think of all the things to write while making cookies.
And will write them in the dough before baking.
People can eat my words.
Sweet.

Week Thirty-Two (I never liked Thirty-One anyway)

I’ve had a hard time writing these last couple of weeks.

It’s difficult to tell what the cause is, precisely. At first I was just chalking it up to general malaise. It’s been a trying year. But then, when is it not?

Okay, granted, the challenges this year include a country that appears to be self-destructing and a far too realistic cartoon villain in the White House… But the other, more typical, struggles remain. (You know, stuff like keeping food on the table, bills paid, household running with some semblance of order, and clothing on children’s backs. Oh yeah, and that whole clinging to sanity thing. And if I can toss a little time into dismantling the patriarchy and challenging people’s preconceived notions about society and humanity, then all the better. Lots to do, you might say.)

Where was I?

Right, malaise and self-destruction.

And then the news today included the dethroning of one of my favorite creators: Joss Whedon.

Because it wasn’t enough that my plumbing required several hundred dollars’ worth of urgent help this week, that I lost a day of work because of a (totally awesome) solar/lunar event on Monday, that my stove (much like my brain) is experiencing issues which require professional help, that I had to have an appliance repair guy out to fix my washer last week (another big check to write), a garage that needs cleaning out, a back yard that’s beyond overgrown, or that I have two children starting at two different schools in a couple of weeks (and a brother getting married in another state just a few days before THAT happens).

(I’m out of breath typing that. Funny. And seriously, what is up with all of the appliances crapping out at the same time?!? Is there a curse I don’t know about? Did I piss off some cosmic Appliance God?)

But no, in addition to ALL OF THAT, Mr. Whedon, someone whose writing I have greatly appreciated in the past, got outed as a cheating rat bastard sonofabitch and then proceeded to toss some not-so-subtle gaslighting in the direction of his now ex-wife. Because if you’re going to be outed as an asshole, you may as well go all the way and cement the impression.

Goddammit all to hell.

(Yeah, I know. Don’t have heroes. We are all flawed. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.)

But see, now my problem becomes one of focus. Because this stupid news story has me flashing back to my own marriage, and the emotionally draining, awful bullshit that ensues when one is married to a liar.

(This is why I hate lying. To the depths of my soul. Despise. Abhor. Vehemently dislike. No, really. If you want to piss me right off, lie to my face. It’s one of my favorite things. And by “favorite” I mean it makes me feel all warm and stabby.)

And now I can’t focus on either of the blog post topics I was working on. Which irritates me.

No, really. What is it, people? What is so damn difficult about ending one relationship before starting another? Is there a thrill in the secrecy that makes it addictive? Is it abject stupidity? Do people get off on deceiving the people who love them the most? All of the above?

Yeah. All of the above. And then some.

Weirdly enough, this news comes at a psychologically opportune moment for me. Because I am working through a mental disaster area of my own creation, after ignoring the emotional ramifications of my own divorce for a few years. (Because ignoring pain always makes it SO MUCH better. No really, I’ve tried it. Lots. It’s totally effective. If you want to tank your brain chemistry. Which is something I excel at.)

So, seeing as the news is triggering all these nasty memories and has started some fabulous tape-loops in my brain, I may as well throw myself into it and ruminate on my past. It’s not like I have a choice, anyway.

Together with my therapist I am going through and unearthing the awfulness that is my emotional state when I think at all about the end of my marriage. Because it sucked. The whole thing. (Not the whole marriage. There were good days mixed in with the godawful. And the kids are well worth the whole shebang.) But the end of the marriage sucked. Beyond the beyonds. (And it took two years to disintegrate after I found out about his extracurricular activities. Longest two years of my life.)

My former spouse put a lot of energy into lying to me.

It was only later, when I put together the timeline of actual reality (two years of his affair-having when lined up with two years of incredibly stressful marriage yielded some illuminating moments), that I realized how much lying had occurred. How much of my reality was fiction.

Because that’s what happens when someone is cheating on you. They lie. To preserve their life. To preserve the status quo. To be able to come home and have the unwavering goddamn support of their oblivious, trusting spouse. The same spouse who held them when they were brokenhearted after the deaths of their parents. The same spouse who carried and birthed their two children, thinking we were somehow together in our goal of raising an intact family. The same spouse who moved states so he could follow his career. That spouse.

(The same spouse who apparently still has some repressed anger she’s working through…)

I became the spouse who called and pretended to be someone else so I could get the Other Woman on the phone and judge her character for myself. (Enlightening conversation. I was not what she expected. His lies were equal opportunity. She thought he was leaving me for her. She was rudely awakened.)

I became the spouse who had to do the math to figure out if his (married) girlfriend’s toddler might be his. (Not his. Thankfully. But I will forever have the memory of doing that fucking math.)

I became the spouse who didn’t throw him and all of his things out of the house that very first night because I didn’t want our children to know what had happened.

I became the spouse who tried desperately to make things last with therapy and raw conversations that felt achingly one-sided.

I became the ex-spouse. Because I couldn’t raise my children to think that it was okay to treat the people you loved like they were possessions, to be controlled. Because it’s more important to me that my kids grow up knowing that they don’t have to take crap from anyone. No matter who that person may be.

And then I became someone who faced her fear of handling things alone (though I have family and friends who continue to keep me from drowning, and I am never truly alone – thankfully), and started rebuilding my life. With my kids. Trying to raise them to know their worth. Trying to raise them to know their strength.

And I did all of this because I still believe in love. The stuff of legends. The kind that swallows you whole and cracks your world open.

I was not wrong to love my ex-husband with my entire heart. I was not wrong to trust him. He was wrong to betray that trust and love. His choice, not mine. I’m not settling for some half-assed love that takes me for granted, ever again. I’m worth a hell of a lot more than that.

That bears repeating.

I am worth a HELL of a lot more than that.

It has taken me a long time to regain my power.

And I still have off-days.

But I AM WORTH A HELL OF A LOT MORE THAN THAT.

And I hope the former Mrs. Whedon remembers that she is, too.

Week Thirty

I have absolutely no idea what to write about this week. (But I bet simply by writing that sentence I’ll come up with SOMETHING to prove myself wrong… and behold! There appear to be more words below this. Almost like magic.)

I dislike reliving my worst childhood nightmares. The news this week has me reliving them. Vividly. Which is making it difficult to sleep. And difficult to write. And most certainly difficult to focus in any kind of productive manner on the more mundane daily stressors.

The threat of nuclear war is one of my old nightmares. As it is, I’m sure, a nightmare for most humans with any kind of a decent grasp on reality.

When I was an elementary school student, we would have bomb drills. (Because “duck and cover” would TOTALLY save your life in a nuclear attack.) Later they were played off as earthquake drills. Now kids have “active shooter drills.”

As a parent I have a hard time with this. My children were in elementary school when that started to be a thing. A thing that they would spend time practicing. In school. Where they were supposed to be learning basic skills. Like math, reading, and now, apparently, how to avoid bullets.

Nope. I don’t have anything good to say about that.

The fact that this is something real and the fact that we, as a society, have seemingly decided this is an acceptable way to live…

Nope. Nothing good to say. That way madness lies.

I’ve spent a lot of time living with fear.

When I was a tiny little kid, in addition to worrying about nuclear holocaust, I would worry about the house burning down. I had dreams where I would have a set amount of time before the fire would consume the house, and I could only save the few things most important to me. (That dream carried on until I went away to college, actually. I’m sure there’s a deep, psychological reason for that. Whatever. I’m just grateful I don’t dream about all-consuming fires any more. I also used to dream I could fly. Those dreams I miss.)

I also worried (and had epic nightmares in accompaniment) that Godzilla (or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or King Kong) would come crashing through the woods behind our house and reach in my window and skewer me with enormous claws. (I even moved my bed into a corner against the outside wall so it would be easier for me to hide. Logically, the monster wouldn’t be able to see me if I was against the wall by the window. It was a terribly sensible strategy. And, you’ll notice, I never did get eaten by Godzilla. Solid survival skill.)

(And then there was that panther living under my bed that would eat me if I didn’t jump from the door to the bed. But thankfully that was just a particularly memorable one-off nightmare.)

I also accidentally watched two horror movies at a party when I was young and impressionable. It was a slumber party. There was peer pressure. I was nine.

(I never would have gone out of my way to watch them on my own. I hate horror movies. Severely dislike with extreme prejudice. Loathe. I could go on… I once allowed my then-fiancé-later-husband-now-ex to make me watch the first Scream movie in a theater. Telling me it was supposed to be funny. Which it was NOT. And if that’s your idea of funny you can just go watch it by your own damn self. While I go watch something a little less stabby and more Pixar-esque.)

One of the more popular fourth grade girls had a slumber party and I got invited. (This was before they realized how very uncool I was, which wouldn’t be until the next year when I started crocheting in class.) Her best friend’s parents owned a local video store, which gave them access to ANY movie they wanted. So they chose Nosferatu and Poltergeist. Poltergeist was a little bit gross and freaky, but for some reason Nosferatu was the one that scared me beyond all reason. I ended up sleeping with my head in the bottom of my sleeping bag that night, utterly upside down and very warm. But at least no vampire could get me there. (Unless the terminally undead have a thing for toes. This was not a thought that occurred to my fourth-grade self, thankfully.)

After this evil movie extravaganza, I became extremely worried that vampires would get me while I was sleeping, so I spent numerous years sleeping with the covers wrapped up and over my head with just a small space for my face to peek out. (I’m not kidding. YEARS spent sleeping like that. I still get a little wigged out if things get near my neck in any kind of an abrupt fashion. Yet I refuse to wear turtlenecks. Because they’re secretly trying to strangle me. Honest.)

Wait… where was I?

Oh yeah. Fear.

None of these fears are really based in logic or reality. There are no vampires. Godzilla doesn’t live in the woods of Maple Hills. And, while there may be a million cats living in my house who will happily consume my remains should I drop dead unexpectedly, none of them are living under my bed and actively trying to kill me. (That I know of. Thank goodness they lack opposable thumbs.)

However, right now humanity seems to think annihilating itself is a good thing. And I’m one of the humans on this rock. So I find this disconcerting. And I am full of fear. And I am not sleeping.

Maybe I should watch a horror movie.

I would much rather be afraid of vampires.

Week Twenty-Nine

Road trips with my kids are one of my favorite things. All sorts of interesting conversations take place when you’re trapped in a car with people for hours on end…

We drove up to Whidbey Island recently for my dad’s birthday. The long drive gave my teenaged daughter a much-needed opportunity to catch up on some of the sleep she had missed by staying up all night to paint designs on the bookshelves in her room. (It looks fabulous. She didn’t ask first. But it’s her room, and like I said, it looks fabulous. More power to her. Express away, my youngling.)

After a short nap, my adolescent son decided this was the perfect opportunity for him to have an Important Discussion with me. Usually these discussions involve random questions thrown out right as he’s going to bed. Last week’s gems were, “Who invented the calendar?” and “Who is smartest, you or dad?” (I did my level best to be as diplomatic as humanly possible on the latter. The former, I said I would Google later since it was almost midnight and I hadn’t the brain power to discuss the history of the various calendars all over the planet.)

Unfortunately, this discussion wasn’t nearly as simple to field as the other ones had been. It was far more entertaining, though.

My twelve year old son informed me, quite seriously, during this car ride north, that it was time for me to get off my ass and go on a date. (I caught the bouquet at my brother’s wedding a couple of years ago and my son has been holding that over my head ever since. I had no idea a bundle of flowers could be considered a binding contract.)

His words were (and I quote to the absolute best of my memory), “Mom, it’s time to ‘man up.’ You need to ask someone out! Don’t you know any single guys in our town?”

After I finished laughing my ass off (while still somehow managing to stay on the road), I answered, “No, all the people I know in our town are either married or your father. And I’ve already dated him.”

Thus followed several minutes of my son brainstorming the different males of eligible age he could think of in a ten mile radius. Which, seeing as he is only just going into the seventh grade, is an exceedingly limited pool.

When he gave up on that line of thinking, he started to formulate a more concrete set of parameters. (Suddenly there were dating rules. Coming from my adolescent. Who still needs to be reminded to brush his teeth on a regular basis.)

He suggested I try online dating, which led to a whole different discussion as I recounted the three dates I had been on as a result of online dating in the last five years. (If nothing else, I figured those stories might be helpful for educating my son in how NOT to behave on a date. I live in hope that he will be a good partner to someone someday. And that he will always brush his teeth before a first date.)

These stories, however, did not dissuade him.

He informed me that I would have until Halloween to get a date on my own. If I have not gone out on a date by then, he told me he would take it upon himself to create an online dating profile for me.

My response to this was, of course, “Oh HELL no.” But I have a sneaking suspicion he is just internet savvy enough to follow through on his threat. This makes me decidedly uneasy.

Now, setting aside the potential comedy in allowing my adolescent son to write a dating profile for me (because you KNOW that is going to be an enormous source of entertainment, and possibly a little bit horrifying), I am absolutely not in favor of dipping my toes back into the online dating pool. I’m just…not in the mood. I’ve done it. It’s tiring. And I’m not feeling energetic enough to deal with that level of human interaction.

Being a female on most dating sites is like throwing yourself into a pool of piranhas and hoping there’ll be a goldfish swimming in amongst them. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’m getting cynical in my old age. I met my ex-husband online. He met his extramarital girlfriend online. I’m biased. Sue me.)

But I suppose I’d best get my ass in gear and find some poor, hapless soul to go out with me. Which means leaving my house. And socializing in a date-like fashion. At least once, before Halloween. (Anyone have any single friends who preferably aren’t homicidal maniacs wanting to have coffee or see a movie sometime?)

Seriously. Otherwise my kid will take charge of my dating life. And I’m pretty sure that’s not going to end well.

It might make for some good stories, though…

Week Twenty-Eight (Twenty-seven skipped town)

I have a lot on my mind.

I had a friend message me the other day about something I had posted on Facebook a while ago, wanting a discussion about some heavy stuff that I was not capable of discussing at the present moment. Not because I don’t like discussing heavy stuff, but because I am just flat-out OVERWHELMED right now. (I hadn’t realized exactly HOW overwhelmed I was until this friend messaged me. But that was, apparently, my breaking point. Sorry lady. You had no idea what you were getting yourself into. The perils of being my friend, I guess…)

In an effort to convey exactly why I was incapable of discussing the intricacies of the differences between “tone-policing” and “gaslighting” (Yes, there are differences. No, I am not going to write an essay about them tonight. Go spend some quality time on Google, people. Or take a class or something. I don’t know. Just don’t ask me right now. Later. Maybe.) I sent her a list of some of the things that are percolating and stirring in my brain right now. And it was incomplete. I stopped around seven. Simply because to go any further would be too exhausting.

This is why I am having a hard time blogging lately. This is why my sanity is hanging on by a very thin thread. (And sure, I seem reasonably functional to the general public. Because that is WHAT I DO. I work my ass off to seem functional. Some days require a much larger effort than others. If I break in front of you then I have failed. And I hate to fail.)

Things I am worried about that are causing my shoulders to be tense, my neck to hurt, my stomach to twist, my blood pressure to rise, my head to ache, and gravity to drag me to the ground:

1. The state of our country

(Huge despair there. Enormously disappointed. And so very, very tired of watching us step on our own air hose. We suck. It makes me sad and angry. And ashamed. And angry again.)

2. Student loans

(I have to reapply for that whole financial hardship deferment or whatever it’s called. And it’s depressing. For many reasons. And I’ve been putting it off. Along with a million other life-management things that I really shouldn’t be putting off. But I’m in the middle of a nasty depressive episode here and self-care items such as that gets pushed way down on the list. All the better to give me something to beat myself up about. You know, because I like to have REASONS why I can think I’m a failure at everything. Because my stupid brain wants me to fuck it all up so it can justify the self-loathing. It’s very clever in self-sabotage. Years of me trying to work around it has made it get creative.)

3. Yard that is rapidly becoming jungle

(I’m too tired to even think about that right now. Because it requires goats, at this point. Or a small meteor.)

4. Garage that hasn’t been cleaned out since I moved into this house around seven years ago

(It is full of stuff in boxes from when we moved in. And since my marriage imploded a few months after we moved in, a lot of stuff just never got unpacked. So, when I go through the garage it will be an enormous undertaking that also involves dealing with a lot of emotional crap that will need to be unpacked as well. There are reasons it’s been festering for this long. I have been a tiny bit too busy raising my kids and surviving to take the time I’ll need to go through all of that stuff and deal with the emotional ramifications therein. This is why I have therapy. Because I can’t clean out my garage. Functional people can clean out their garages. If I were functional, this shit would have been done a long time ago. But I close the door and pretend that room doesn’t exist. Because I like to avoid emotional black holes wherever possible. Nevermind that the avoidance of said black hole only serves to create another one, into which I currently find myself dipping my toes. This is why it’s important to DEAL WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WHEN THEY ARE HAPPENING. I know this intellectually. I do not practice it very well in reality. Which is why I have Depression. It’s self-feeding. How convenient.)

5. Dysfunctional uterus that apparently is not quite dysfunctional enough for my health insurance to cover any kind of solution, but just enough to make my life extremely painful in new and interesting ways

(You do not want to know. Believe me. I don’t want to know either, but I have to live in this body so I have no choice. This feeds a whole different level of anger on the state of our healthcare system. Because if I had money this would not be an issue. But I don’t. So my pain is insignificant according to the insurance company. Fuck them so very much. And fuck the government for even DEBATING taking away my healthcare. I am very angry right now. I don’t like anger. It leads to the Dark Side.)

6. Teenager who is starting high school in the fall and also getting to an age where interpersonal relationships get a hell of a lot more complicated

(This is a big deal. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. High school is fraught with drama, and my child is a Queen of the Dramatic. It’s going to be a fun ride. Thank goodness she’s an awesome kid. I swear I hit the jackpot there. Even with the drama. She’s fantastic. I am ridiculously lucky. But she’s still a teenager. So… yeah.)

7. An adolescent son who is needing a ton of guidance to navigate and cope with middle school

(I have never been a teenaged boy. Despite having a haircut called a “boy’s regular” when I was his age and occasionally being mistaken for one…  I watched my brothers evolve through those years, but as a sister and from a distance. So I still have no clue. And now I have this fabulous kid and no idea what the hell I’m doing. I hope I don’t screw this up. And I worry about the role model he has. Because I used to live with that role model. I divorced that role model on purpose. But that’s his dad. And you follow the examples set before you. I worry. All the time. I’m a mom. I can’t help it.)

8. Family stuff

(My baby brother is getting married in a few weeks. The wedding is taking place at my parents’ house. My mother is relinquishing control of her kitchen to caterers. She is a dear, sweet human being. But if you fuck with her kitchen she will cut you. So this has been interesting to watch unfold, from afar. I think weddings are crazy-making no matter who you are or how you go about it. And this is going to be a fabulous one because the people involved are completely awesome. But the crazy-level has been holding pretty steady here in the run up to the wedding, and I’m fairly certain it’s not going to dissipate until it’s all done and dusted. But hey, there will be cake. And cake is always good.)

9. Ex-husbanderial unit stuff

(So that whole “gaslighting” vs. “tone-policing” message stemmed from a post I made on Facebook about gaslighting. It involves a long story about my ex-husband and the events of the last few weeks that culminated in me standing in my driveway last week confronting him for various reasons. [And seriously, dude, if I have to take you out of the house and into the driveway to tell you off, you know you’ve gone too far.] I did not tell the story on Facebook, and I’m not telling it here. Suffice to say I had to explain the concept of gaslighting to my teenaged daughter. I am still angry. All I have to say about that right now is NEVER let anyone else tell you what you hear with your own ears and what you see with your own eyes is WRONG. Fuck that. Do not let other people dictate your perception of reality. Period. No matter who they are. I lived with that shit for YEARS. No more, goddammit.)

10. So many other things… that I have to stop now. Because I’m tired. And I’ve had a migraine for two days now. Which has made it even more difficult to get this written. Computer screens are not friendly for migraines. Migraines are my body’s way of telling me I need to shut the world off for a while. And because I am me, I have been ignoring this message. Which is why the migraine will not go away. It’s going to make me listen to my body whether I like it or not. Dammit.

But I needed to vent. Not venting leads to bigger migraines.

And yes, this list is significantly different from the list I sent my friend. Because she’s my friend and she gets me unedited, to a certain extent. There are things I do not blog about. If you want to know what they are, you’ll have to get to know me better. And that way madness lies.

May the Force be with you.

Week Twenty-Six

It’s the Fourth of July. I am supposed to feel extra patriotic today. And I do. But it’s a painful patriotism at this particular moment in history. I am worried about this country I reside in. We are in trouble. Lots and lots of trouble. (Don’t pretend we’re not. There is no point in faking it. Too much window-dressing in our reality these days, anyway. May as well call it what it is.)

I am watching my country fall apart in new and interesting ways. (As opposed to the old, worn-out ways… Look at us being all innovative in our destruction. I always knew we had it in us. We are nothing if not creative.) My country, that I love so very much, is in dire straits.

Yet still, I do love it. Our America. I think we can be more than we are. I think we have potential.

Despite our faults. Despite our blindness. Despite our resistance to positive change. Despite our inability to look critically at ourselves, at our actions in the world around us, at the way we represent our United States of America everywhere and in everything we do. (Self-reflection can be a very good thing. We really ought to consider practicing it a bit more.)

Through the veneer of flags and fireworks, of parades (heavily policed, even in my small town), barbecue, and beer, we are not as shiny as we want to believe we are. We have a lot of work to do. We need to grow up.

Right now our America represents fear, regression, and the last flailing throes of some dinosaurs who are about to realize their God of Money is ultimately worthless. A pretend God. A God that will not buy them clean air, drinkable water, or respect. Big change is coming, and those dinosaurs are scared to death. Fear infuses everything they do. And they try so hard, and effectively, to infect everyone else with that fear.

I wonder, quite sincerely, if we – as a country – will be able to survive this coming struggle. We have a choice, here. I’d like to think we are capable of greater things. That we can rise above this cesspit we’ve fallen into and become the America we could be. That we should be. But I have been infected by fear, too. And I suffer from grave doubts.

That still doesn’t stop me from dreaming.

In my ideal America, we acknowledge and learn from our faults. We are not infallible. But we also try not to actively cause harm. In my ideal America we take care of our fellow humans to the best of our abilities. (And yes, that means accepting refugees, ensuring a living wage, and giving everyone health insurance.) Because we are not assholes and we should know that lifting up the people around us lifts us all up as a whole.

(Notice, I did specify very clearly that this was MY ideal America. I’m sure there are a lot of other people out there in this country who have very different ideas as to what America means to them. And they are welcome to go write a blog about it. Because it’s America, and currently it is still okay to do that. But this is my ideal. And in my ideal country, people behave like compassionate human beings. And they don’t bloody well live in fear all the damn time.)

Humans have a lot of potential.  Americans have a lot of potential. Unrealized potential. I would very much like to see us become better than what we are. Because we can.

(Lately, the scene from A Bug’s Life, where the ants realize they outnumber the grasshoppers in vast numbers, keeps playing in my head. Do with that what you will.)

In the meantime, my neighborhood smells of sulfur. Booms continue to echo at random intervals, sometimes with an accompanying crackle.

We are celebrating America, as it is, in all its flawed glory.

(None of my cats are happy right now. This noisy nonsense does not amuse them in the slightest.)

My family has lived in this town for ten years now. The celebration has grown a bit since we first started attending. But it’s still a small-town American parade. With the Shriners zipping and honking in their little cars, sporting fezzes. Local businesses tossing candy and coupons into the crowds (which get bigger every year). And the local high school band, doing their high school band thing, in among the random clubs, horses, and ancient (but shiny) cars.

When we first started attending the festivities, ten years ago, the kids were toddlers and the ex was still husband. (It’s weird living three blocks away from my former husband in a tiny town. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. I mean… Nope. It’s just weird.)

We would spend time getting the kids all dressed up in patriotic garb and put them in the little red wagon, replete with bags of tossable candy for the kiddie parade (the precursor to the main parade). A few blocks through the hot sun with toddlers and we were usually paraded out. Thus followed a low key afternoon, ending with the fireworks extravaganza in the riverfront park in the next town over during the evening. It’s become a tradition.

Even post-divorce, we all go to the parade and fireworks together. Some years it’s more strained and awkward than others. But this year, five years post-divorce, we seem to have a pretty decent routine down. (Two major holidays a year – Christmas and Independence Day – that we share for the sake of convenience. Christmas is harder. Independence Day is a cake walk.)

This year the strain and awkwardness stemmed from the fact that my teenaged daughter has started bringing companions to the fireworks. And by “companion” I mean teenaged boy who seems to be attempting to cultivate a mustache and is just as excited about YouTube personalities as my daughter currently is. Entertaining to watch. Horrifying to contemplate.

This follows a recent trip to California where there were older teenaged boys in the hotel pool who were openly flirting with my child. (Risking their lives, too, with me sitting right there watching. Because I know for damn sure I’m a better swimmer. And she is only fourteen. I don’t want to have to use my swimming skills for evil, but if properly motivated…) She was, of course, oblivious. (Sometimes she is SO my child.) Her friend and I pointed out the flirty behavior when we were walking back up to the room. My daughter was aghast at the thought.

My kid is right on the edge of high school. It is not going to get less awkward.

This everyday stuff is what is happening even as I despair at the state of our republic. My kids are growing up. They’re just now starting to see that there is a world out there around them. And that maybe the things happening in that world can affect them on a more personal level.

They look around and see a different world than I do. They look at our country with greater cynicism and a more critical eye than I ever remember having when I was a teenager. [I’m really proud, actually, of how clearly they see the world around them, even at this ridiculously young age. (Shut up. They were toddlers yesterday.)]

These kids, their world will be very different. Maybe even better. If we can just stop feeding the dinosaurs and let clearer heads prevail.

I have hope.

Remember, humans, we are all travelers on the same rock hurtling through space and it would behoove us to work toward the betterment and survival of our species. Otherwise this fantastically livable rock will kick our pestilent little asses off like the vermin we are, and some other species will fill the void we leave behind.

Let’s not be vermin. Let’s be something better.

Week Twenty-Five

First I was going to write about the rest of my Minnesota trip. Because that’s where I left off.

But then I was interrupted by a trip to California. And there are multiple layers to that one which could be explored. (Have I ever mentioned I’m a champ when it comes to emotional compartmentalization? I am a fucking Olympian. Medals, that’s what I earn.)

And then my inability to cope in the face of multiple Depression triggers overcame all other topics. Grief, flashbacks to betrayal, anger… (The universe has it in for me lately. I’m starting to take it personally. But that’s because I’m Depressed.)

Which is where I am at now.

So you get rambling this time. I have too many things in my brain and too many directions I’m veering all at the same time. And when my mind goes down this particular rabbit hole/maze there’s really no telling where I’ll end up.

Rather than giving up this week and just saying, “Fuck it. I’m not writing. I can’t even think in coherent sentences let alone put a whole theme together and follow it,” you get stream-of-Depressive-consciousness. Lucky you.

My ex-husband gave me, my teenaged daughter, and the friend of her choice a trip to VidCon (which was last weekend) and a day in Disneyland as a Christmas gift last year. That’s how I ended up going to California. (There is no possible way I could afford a trip like that in my current financial situation.)

“How nice!”

“What a kind gesture!”

“You’re so lucky to get to go on a trip like that with your teenager and her friend!”

“Look at the nice ex-husband you have!”

Yes. I get it. A trip to California is a very nice thing. And I really appreciate the opportunity to go on a vacation with my kid and her friend. I can barely afford to take my kids to the ocean for a weekend day-trip. I have a mortgage, and bills, and car maintenance, and food, and medical bills, and cats to feed, and a teenager who thinks money is magical, and an adolescent who is growing at a horrifying rate… and… and… too many other practical things to spend what little money I have on.

I was not asked ahead of time if I could afford to take the time off work. (I can’t.) I was not asked if I had any other plans that particular week. (My 20th college reunion was in the same month, and I had started planning and budgeting for that a year ago. It was sheer luck that it didn’t fall on the same weekend.)

The first I heard of this plan was when I opened the tickets on Christmas morning with my daughter. (We share Christmas, I’ve mentioned this before. In the interest of peace on Earth and goodwill toward familial harmony and all that happy stuff.)

My daughter was overjoyed.

My emotions regarding this trip were (and continue to be) extremely complicated. And they involve control issues and a heap of baggage from my marriage that I really don’t want to dwell on right now.

Or rather, I AM dwelling. A lot. In my own damn head. And my particular emotional duffle bags (because I can’t even fathom having matching luggage, even of the ephemeral kind) are complicated and angry and emotional and full of THINGS. I don’t want to write about them right now. For those reasons.

(Those things are why I have a therapist. And why my therapist earns every damn penny.)

My compartmentalization skills are no joke.

Emotional minefield aside (and there was absolutely a minefield, and I stepped on a few, and was rewarded with some really awful flashbacks), I had a fantastic time in California with my daughter and her friend. It absolutely was the trip of a lifetime. I have never gone to VidCon before, and I probably never will again. But it was an incredibly entertaining experience. I have an all new appreciation for what goes into those YouTube videos my children love so much, and a newfound affection for some of the personalities behind them.

(Kids these days, and their newfangled media. Why, back in my day we had to get up off the couch to change the channel! And it was uphill both ways!)

To have a day in Disneyland at the end of it was most decidedly the icing on the cake.

I love Disneyland. This was my fourth trip. My first was with my family when I was around my daughter’s age. And it was a magical, fabulous, happy place. The attention to detail in the rides, and the environment as a whole, was a beautiful thing to me. It still is.

Second trip was with my high school orchestra. We performed in Disneyland (which was incredibly fun) and got to go into one of their studios where they recorded the music to go with the animated films. We had an opportunity to perform part of “Little April Shower” from Bambi and try to match it to the animation. That trip was a blast. We all got to roam Disneyland together. My orchestra was a friendly, close-knit group. Getting to play in Disneyland with a bunch of my friends was phenomenal.

I love everything about that place. The fantasy of it all. It’s a full-on, non-stop performance in a controlled environment. My theater-geek heart loves the choreography of every moment. The staged scenes, the costumes, the constant state of revelry.

Even as a semi-responsible adult of almost-grown children I have no problem whatsoever in suspending my disbelief for one day, letting go of the world’s grimness, and just being happy in that place.

My third trip was after I got married but before we had children. We had gotten an unexpected windfall in the form of a settlement from the local garbage/recycling dump which had been required to pay off everyone within a certain radius of their aroma. (When the wind was just right your eyes would water.) There had been a suit. It wasn’t a ton of money, but it was enough to fund a Disney vacation. My parents, myself, and then-husband all went to Disneyland and had a wonderful time. (My ex and I had some good memories. Those ones hurt the most. The crappy ones are way easier to bear.)

It had been at least seventeen years since that trip.

Disneyland is just as magical as I remember it being. I dragged my mostly-willing (except for the hottest part of the day, they were almost as enthusiastic as I was) teenaged companions all over that park from opening until closing.

The rides! The costumed characters! All the Star Wars stuff! Sleeping Beauty’s castle!

We started with the Jungle Cruise and had a second turn on the Indiana Jones ride as our last hurrah, and with a scant half an hour left before closing, called it a night and headed for the bus. I’m guessing we put in at least twelve miles that day. I could spend days in that place and still find new things to see. Between the fanciful environment and the people-watching opportunities, there is no end to the sights.

So yes, a fabulous trip. Emotionally and physically exhausting. But fabulous.

I am exhausted.

I have had non-stop PEOPLE (with an exception of 12 hours all alone last Tuesday night, when I was packing for California) for two weeks now.

I am an introvert.

I do not do well if I have to go this long between nights of NO PEOPLE.

I love my children dearly. And I would go to the ends of the Earth for them. But dear goddesses and little fishes do I need a night off. (A week would be better, but I’m making do with what I’ve got.)

If I do not get time to be alone, to recharge, to not talk to human beings or deal with other people’s emotional needs… Well, then I am more susceptible to that spiral leading into the current Depression I am experiencing.

And I was already skating on the edge. (Oh hell, who am I kidding? I’ve been spinning in the Vortex of Doom here for a while now…)

Oh yeah, and I had to undergo a frigging Mental Health Intake Evaluation (I’m jumping through some hoops in hopes my insurance will cover my therapy) this week. This is the mental equivalent of a Range of Motion test. You know, where the doctor has you twist your arm (or whatever appendage is having issues) into uncomfortable and sometimes painful positions in order to best assess the damage. Invariably you end up hurting MORE after one of those things.

It’s the same thing when your mental health is getting examined.

Because that’s essentially what happens.

You spend an hour or so rehashing every Depressive episode in your lifetime (and in my case that starts in childhood, so it’s a long hour). Covering family history to map the prevalence of genetics in the equation. (My gene pool… Let’s just say my Depression is not a big shocker.) Listing all of the triggers you can think of. Skimming over the surface of some particularly nasty cesspools. Dipping just enough of a toe in to send ripples out and bring barbed tentacles of bad memories to the surface.

Answering the same questions I’ve been answering for a million years.

No, I am not a danger to myself or others. Yes, my mood is affecting my ability to enjoy life. No, I do not hear voices. No, I do not self-harm. Yes, my mood is affecting my appetite. Yes, my mood is affecting my ability to sleep. Yes, I am experiencing anxiety. Yes, this anxiety is affecting my ability to complete everyday tasks. Yes, I have feelings of worthlessness and despair. (Logic has no place here, so don’t even bother telling me I’m wrong to feel that way. It’s Depression. Your reason does not belong in this place.)

Yes, my depressed mood is affecting my ability to complete daily tasks. Yes, I am experiencing physical pain in addition to mental anguish. No, I don’t want the doctor to call me about it. (It’s arthritis and old back pain that is all-too familiar and there’s no point in dwelling on that shit.) Yes, I really do need my insurance to cover my therapy because I know my brain chemistry and I know when I need to get help. I would like my insurance to cover that help.

Because my mental health affects my physical health, which affects my ability to live a productive life and parent my children in the manner in which they deserve. And I will handle this shit before it gets to be scary. Because my kids need me. And I like being on this side of the lawn.

Therefore, I sat in front of that intake nurse and ripped all of the band-aids off one by one. Systematically.

That was yesterday.

And between the last two weeks of non-stop travel and social-interactions, and the mental repercussions of opening up every old wound I’ve ever experienced, I am all done.

(Oh, and I won’t even begin to get started on what’s happening to my country right now. Because that is NOT helping my anxiety issues in the slightest. Like battling my own brain chemistry isn’t enough, the world has to be burning down around my ears in reality, too? Humanity has a LOT of growing up to do. I hope we live long enough to do it.)

So, as much as I would love to trip down memory lane and write about my adventures in minor crime and tap-dancing in Minnesota, that will have to wait until I have recharged.

I have to go turn off the ringer on the phone and binge-watch Disney movies.

Now.

I need my happy place.

Week Twenty-Four-ish (Not Completely Part Two, But Something)

I really should be packing. My summer vacation has started with a bang, with back to back trips all over the damn place. I’m not used to all this traveling.

I have to leave for the airport tomorrow morning, at 3:30 a.m. And if I were a sensible adult I would be asleep right now, trying to get any rest I can before escorting two teenaged girls to California for the next five days.

But I’m not packed yet.

And I have a kitchen full of dishes that need doing, because no one wants to come home to a dirty kitchen after being on vacation. Sadly, I lack dish fairies, therefore I must get my ass in gear and get it done. (My minions are at their dad’s. He is driving us to the airport. This trip and the circumstances surrounding it are a whole OTHER blog post. We are just gonna gloss over the fact that I’m taking a vacation with no vacation time… But I do get a day in Disneyland. Life’s full of little trade-offs.)

And I haven’t had any time to work on my blog post this week. At all. It’s been a whirlwind of one thing after another, after another, and another. And maybe one more, just because.

So, I can’t write about everything that happened over my reunion weekend tonight. (Because I have to pack.)

But I will give you this:

I now worship at the Church of the Reuben, which congregates at Cecil’s Deli in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It is my church. Fellow worshipers are welcome to make their own pilgrimages, whereupon they will see the wisdom of my ways and properly revere the food that graces their once bereft palates.

I believe the Reuben at Cecil’s has been touched by the most divine of sauerkraut recipes, and the sliced corned beef (or hot pastrami, should one be compelled by thine own most intelligent taste to partake of the Russian Reuben) is such a thing of beauty that I saw the Gods and Goddesses of Food look down upon it all, and express their everlasting delight at their creation.

(As well they should, because that stuff is fucking delicious.)

May I also recommend you take a moment and worship at the Altar of the Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie on your way out of church. Because it’s not often one can hold a morsel of Heaven in one’s mouth… but those cookies made me cry. And I know cookies.

On that note, now I am hungry for a sandwich that is roughly 1,800 miles away from my mouth. This seems unfair and wrong.

I’ll just have to vet the sandwiches in California and see how they compare.

To pack, I go…

Week Twenty-Three (Or, you know, whatever. I’m time-traveling.)

I spent last weekend in Minnesota having flashbacks.

It has been twenty years since I graduated from college. (My daughter is starting high school in September, too, which means I’m way older than I thought I was. I swear she was a toddler last week.)

I went to the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University), a small Catholic women’s college in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Sight-unseen, I traipsed off to the unknown wilds of Minnesota when I was eighteen. My parents drove me across the country, with stops at some beautiful places along the way.

(Seriously, people, if you have not visited the Badlands you need to take the time. And Yellowstone. And the Grand Tetons. I love Midwestern road trips. Our country is a fantastically beautiful place. I may be an uppity liberal smartass, and I may take a critical eye to our government and behavior as a whole in the world, but I love our United States of America with a deep passion. This is my home, these are my people. I believe we have enormous unrealized potential. But that’s another post entirely…)

My grandmother was Very Catholic. Much church attendance and a picture of the pope up on the wall in the hallway. She died before I went to college, and I think part of me wanted to go to this Catholic college in her honor. I knew she would have appreciated my choice. And I wanted an adventure. Staying in state was not enough of a change for me. I needed to go someplace entirely different.

Minnesota certainly qualifies in that respect.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into with the winters there. No. Idea. (I cannot talk about Minnesota without spending at least a little time talking about the weather. It takes a very particular kind of hardy Midwestern human to thrive in that climate. My hat goes off to you, Minnesotans. May the Force be with you. And may you have plenty of itch-free long underwear.)

I grew up in Western Washington. Land of rain. Lots of rain. Beautiful summers, occasionally snowy winters. Temperate climate.

I was ridiculously spoiled.

Over the course of this last weekend, revisiting my college stomping grounds, I was informed that the four years I attended school there we had unusually cold and bitter winters. That may very well be true. I’m not going to come and visit again during the winter to compare and contrast, though. Much as I love the place (I truly do. I have some fantastic memories from my time there.), I also have enough memories of having the breath freeze in my lungs when I stepped outdoors, and wishing I could layer three more sweaters under my coat, that I think I’ll stick to visiting during warmer months.

And that won’t be a problem, because Minnesota goes from freezing tundra to steamy sauna in a heartbeat.

My twenty year reunion took place during the steamy sauna season.

Right now Saint Paul is lush, green, and achingly beautiful. It is also 96 degrees and 99.9% humidity. (We were treated to a Wicked Witch of the West level storm Sunday morning, too. Ahh… Midwestern weather.)

Campus is, thankfully, covered in enormous old trees that lend the property some much-needed shade and cool respite from the relentless summer sun. (Over the course of the reunion weekend I came to really appreciate those trees.)

I had no idea how pretty the campus was before I showed up as a freshman. The many trees instantly made me feel right at home, after growing up out in the boonies surrounded by woods. I was utterly relieved to be surrounded with so much greenery. Coming back to this place I had been so familiar with, it made my heart happy to see it again, after all these years, still covered in trees and aging brick.

I flew in on a red-eye from Portland, getting in at 5:45 in the morning. It was already warm, but I had dressed accordingly. I’d managed to pack everything I needed into one small carry-on. I was traveling light and hoping for a reasonably hassle-free trip.

Of course, it being me, there had to be at least a little hassle.

I foolishly attempted to take a cab from the airport to the hotel over by the Mall of America, where I was going to hang out with a friend while we waited for our local friend to let us know where to meet her. Yes, there was a free shuttle. No, I did not care. I was exhausted. I just wanted to get the heck out of the airport and to the hotel so I could collapse. I’d only gotten two hours of sleep and I was punchy.

The cab driver was irritated with me when I said where I was going. Despite the fact that I was still a paying fare, and he was still getting the “airport fee” that was automatically tacked on. Unfortunately he wasn’t overtly cranky about it until we were in the cab driving away. “Bad luck for me,” he said, “That’s only right over there! Too close.”

And then, when I told him I needed to go to the Comfort Inn near the Mall of America, he drove me to the front door of the closed Mall, said, “Here you go,” and drove off. (I assumed it was close to where I was supposed to be. I was wrong. Yes, I did pay my fare. No, I did not give him a tip.)

I was too tired to really think about the fact that I wasn’t being dropped off at the destination I had been aiming for. It was early, I didn’t have a lot of luggage, and the sun was low enough that the heat hadn’t really taken over yet. After a three hour flight, a walk didn’t sound like the worst thing, so I asked for directions, called my friend to tell her what had happened, and got on my way.

The hotel was a mile and a half away from where I had been dropped off.

And even a small carry-on bag can start to wear on you after about a mile.

(I resisted the urge to stop by the taxi queue at the airport when I left on Sunday to see if I could find the offending cabbie and tell him off for his abysmal customer service. Mainly because I was in a ridiculously good mood after spending the weekend with some of my favorite people, in one of my favorite places, and I wasn’t going to let him ruin that for me.)

Finally I made it to the hotel, sweaty and more than a little bit desperate for breakfast, a shower, and a nap. I was willing to substitute large quantities of coffee, for the nap, though, if needed. (And believe me, it was needed.)

My friend Rebecca (who had flown in from Washington) and I spent a little time catching up, and then started to get ready for the coming reunion festivities. Breakfasted, showered, and feeling reasonably refreshed and prepared for the oncoming socialization, we caught a cab to our friend Jen 1’s workplace (a school), where we would pick up her car that she was letting us borrow for the day while she worked. (I include the number because of the handful of people I knew from my graduating class who would be attending the reunion, three of them are named Jen. Numbers are vital. Normally I call two of them by their last names, but in the interest of relative privacy I’m not going to do that here.)

We spent a few fun minutes checking out the school and being treated to free egg rolls being provided by a food cart (apparently one of the teachers had won a contest). The kids were adorable (because elementary school kids just are), asking questions about where Rebecca and I had come from and what we were doing there. It was completely cool to see where Jen 1 was working, and how she was obviously a beloved person to the children attending school there.

Then we were on our way.

We dropped our things off at St. Kate’s first. In a dorm that smelled like new paint and had fabulously comfortable looking lounges and suites. (Kids these days, they get all the cool stuff.) It was definitely not the cinderblock utilitarian architecture of OUR freshman dorm (which had come replete with a nun on every floor). It was weird to be on campus as a middle-aged adult. Things were familiar, but changed. I hadn’t cried yet, but I knew it would happen at some point. (My money was on the Rare Book talk with one of the nuns who had taught some of my favorite courses.)

My breakfast coffee was rapidly leaving my system, and jet-lag and sleep-deprivation were beginning to take their toll, so our next stop was at the local Caribou Coffee for refueling.

Coffee has definitely evolved in Minnesota. I had grown up a coffee snob, living near Seattle, and when I had gone to college the coffee was NOT up to my standards by any stretch of the imagination. Now, though, Minnesota has figured out coffee. Thank goodness. Because I was a desperate character.

Minnesotans being who they are, the smiling, chipper human behind the counter gave me a free coffee off of her own points (some form of system that I did not question) when she heard we were tourists. And she gave Rebecca her employee discount. So we were sustained not only through the caffeine, but through the kindness of this random human who had simply decided it was our day to be lucky.

I love Minnesota.

After caffeinating, our first real tourist stop was Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.

Just driving there was a trip down memory lane. Being back on streets that were almost familiar, and then feeling like I had always been there, the roads unspooling in my mind. I had not had a car when I was in college, so it was surreal to be driving through town. Back in college I would sometimes catch a ride from one of my friends who had cars (most of them didn’t), but  I tended to rely more on public transportation.

(I did drive an enormous white van to and from St. Thomas to pick up instrumentalists for orchestra, but that was a very short, set route. I didn’t go joyriding in the St. Kate’s van. Except for that one time when I slid through an icy intersection. But that wasn’t particularly joyous…)

We found a rare parking spot (because every Minnesotan with a lick of sense was at the park enjoying the ridiculously gorgeous weather) and walked down to an observation point by the falls to take some pictures. It was starting to get pretty warm out, but like so many parts of the area, we were surrounded by enormous shady trees. There were squirrels running through the park, and humans out on bicycles and on foot. Everyone was basking in the warmth after what, I was sure, had been a typical Minnesota winter.

After the park, I wanted to spend a little bit of time at the Mall of America, now that it was actually open. I had souvenirs to acquire for my children, and I was feeling nostalgic for all the hours I had spent wandering the halls and entertaining myself at the amusement park in the center of the mall. (There are rides and roller coasters, and enormous LEGO sculptures. Back in the day there was a movie theater and a floor with all bars and clubs, too. It’s amazing. And a necessary distraction when you’re trapped indoors during the interminable winter.)

So, touristy things covered, we ate some tasty Italian food in one of the many food courts. (We may or may not have also spent some quality time ogling a particularly attractive, suited man who was also indulging in some Italian food several tables away. Malls are excellent venues for people-watching…)

Then we headed off for the festivities at St. Kate’s.

And I will continue this story in my next installment, as there is simply too much to tell. (My eyes are starting to cross from exhaustion, because that’s what I get for not writing this during daylight hours.)

It starts to get even more interesting as the reunion weekend progresses. Trust me.

(I may have committed a small crime… Or two. But they really were very tiny. Hardly worth mentioning at all. Honest.)

(Oh yeah, and I also may have also started a new religion…)

(And there may have been sparkly penis confetti. And really bad pie. And tap-dancing.)

(Oh yeah, and then there was the “not in Kansas any more” level storm… But I’ll get to that later.)

No really, I swear I will.

Next time.

Week Twenty-Two

A bird flew into my windshield yesterday when I was driving to deliver a birthday cake.

And that was it. That was the point where I had to turn off the music I was pumping through my car and into my tired eardrums, trying to force my heart to keep beating against what my brain seemed to be telling it.

That was the point where I screamed, out loud, in my car, at the universe.

Because it’s bloody well been ENOUGH already.

I had left work, gotten into my car, after a reasonably average Monday workday. All good. Stuff got done. Most everything was normal. Aside from the sleep deficit and the fact that I was looking forward to spending my afternoon dealing with parents of an apparent bully/hooligan who caused harm to my child the other night. (Should I start the story Sunday night? Because I could totally do that… I mean, there’s a lot that’s happened in the last few days.)

Rewind to Sunday night.

My kid came home from playing basketball with his buddies and I knew immediately something was amiss. He got in the door and, cheeks flushed and, holding his left arm like a broken wing, he said something indignantly about a kid who had thrown the basketball deliberately at his back and knocked the air out of him. And now he couldn’t use his arm and it HURT. Mom-mode kicked in. I got him settled into a chair with an ice pack and talked to him about what had happened. Apparently this kid had not only thrown the basketball into my son’s back, hard, and on purpose, he had also thrown the basketball in my son’s friend’s face, deliberately, with intent to harm. It sounded like it had been quite the afternoon.

I figured the ice would take care of it all, and we settled into our evening. But then my child tried moving and started crying, and said that it was hard to breathe. And that was it. We went to the ER. Bruises are manageable at home. Trouble with lungs is a whole different ballgame and we do not fuck around with our oxygen supplies.

Off to the local ER we went, at around 10 p.m. Because that’s when all ER visits seem to happen.

He was checked out. He had a bone bruise on his scapula and had strained his shoulder. His lungs were fine. The doctor said to follow up with his regular physician. The nurse suggested we get the authorities involved to emphasize the point when talking to the parents of the child who had been causing this mayhem. We went to the nearest 24-hour supermarket and picked up some chewable ibuprofen, and then headed home. Way the hell past bedtime.

The next day, Monday, I let the boy sleep while I took his big sister to school. She’s gearing up to start high school in the fall, and she’s full of excitement about being THIS CLOSE to being out of middle school. She’s having a lot of fun with school, and it’s a joy to watch sometimes. Especially as she gets ready to hit The Show, as it were.

Then came the semi-normal, if sleep-deprived day.

Work was pretty routine. I had decided to go talk to the parents of the boy who had landed my kid in the ER. My mind was focused on dealing with adults later that day who may or may not be reasonable human beings (leaning towards wariness because if the kid was actively seeking out physical altercations then odds of there being weirdness at home increased exponentially). So not a fun prospect.

I went and picked my daughter up from school.

She had texted me during the afternoon, which was unusual. But she’d specified that it was allowed (it’s the end of the school year, anything goes). She wanted to ask me for a favor, but was not specific about what the favor was. I figured it was a typical teenager move, and waited for the inevitable story.

One of her friends was with her when I picked her up, and she seemed to not want to discuss the “favor” in front of him, so I waited until we dropped him off before asking for the story.

She said, “Well, there’s good news and bad news. Which do you want first?”

I asked for the bad news first, because I like to get that kind of stuff over with. But she said no, that she wanted to tell me the good news first. Then followed something about grades and end of school awards and some other things I don’t really remember. Because the bad news that followed was such that everything else was utterly overshadowed.

(Mind you, I was driving for most of this exchange.)

Pulling into the bank parking lot, on my way to the drive-thru bank teller, my daughter says, “Mom, can you do me a favor while we are on our trip later this month?”

(We are going to California to attend VidCon, my daughter, her friend – whose name I am changing to Ella for privacy purposes, and I.)

“What do you need?” I ask.

“Can you help me look after Ella while we are in California?”

“Well, sure, kid. I mean, I’m the adult going on the trip, so I kind of PLANNED on looking out for you both anyway, so this won’t be a stretch…”

My kid, she looked out the car window and said, “Because she tried to kill herself on Sunday night and I’m worried about her.”

I veered out of the drive-thru line and pulled into a parking spot.

Right there my heart broke for my kid. In that parking lot. Because she is 14 years old and dealing with things this hard at 14 is… heartbreaking.

“Oh honey…”

Tears. Both of us. In tears, in the bank parking lot.

My poor, sweet baby. Her poor, sweet friend. Her dear friend who I knew had struggled with some difficult battles in the last couple of years, who had been, it seemed, in a better place than she had been when my child first became her friend.

And her poor mother.

Looking at my beautiful, breathing, living girl sitting in the seat next to me, my heart broke again thinking of Ella’s mother. Her absolute terror. The feeling of powerlessness. The desire to hold your child close and safe from all the dangers in the world, when sometimes the danger was right there inside their own head. Knowing that there is no control, even when you need it more than anything in the world. Knowing you cannot save everyone, no matter how much you want to. Wanting to grab this invisible killer by the throat and rip it away from your child.

My daughter has Depression, too. (Our gene pool is problematic. We do what we can to manage it.) She has therapy. She is learning coping skills so that she has a fighting chance in this life. I know, though, that no matter how hard as parents we fight against these demons, sometimes the fucking demons win. And that right there is the stuff of absolute nightmares.

I know people who have lost this battle.

And if my baby is this close to danger, if her friend is despairing so much that she sees death as a solution… This is too close. Close enough to touch.

All plans to deal with basketball-hooligan’s parents went out the window. Nothing else mattered at that moment more than holding onto my daughter.

We talked. She cried. I cried.

Her friend was “okay.” As okay as a human can be when they’re hurting that much. She was alive. That was the important thing. She was with her mom, she was getting support from her family and friends, and this scream for help was being answered to the best of people’s abilities. Including my daughter, asking me to help her look after her friend.

(No, I don’t know if she is still going on the trip with us. This is an irrelevant concern at the moment.)

This was one of the most difficult conversations I have ever had to have with my daughter. Right up there with the whole, “Your dad and I are getting divorced” speech.

And the fear. So much fear.

I have not slept well since then.

But, on that Monday, we talked. And I drove us home. And finished frosting the birthday cake I had promised to deliver that evening.

Which led to the driving, and hitting the bird, and screaming in the car.

So, I didn’t confront the parents of the kid who hurt my son. Because other things took precedence.

I also may have given my son and his friends permission to handle the local bully on their own. No, I did not condone violence. But I did recommend that, should it come to that, they only hit back in self-defense. Because there are rules. (And I may have shown my son how to box a little bit… just like my grandpa taught me – in case of emergency.)

This approach actually seems to have worked out well. He has good friends, and they used a classic “call out the bully and shame him” technique that seems to have curtailed the behavior for now. Much better than having Mom step in and kick ass. (Because Mom is pretty worn out right this minute, and the ass-kicking could push her right over the proverbial edge.)

I am exhausted.

I want to save my children from all the harm and horribleness this world has to offer. But I know there is no control. I cannot force the world to bend to my will, and keep my children safe from these dangers, even though every cell in my body wishes I could.

I can only listen. And talk. And listen and talk some more. And hold on to them for as long as I can, knowing full well there will be things that cause them pain and hurt, and I cannot control any of it. I can only be there. Wishing I could carry their pain for them, knowing I can’t.

Holding onto them while letting them go. Loving them. With my entire heart and soul.

That’s all I can do.

And I will never stop.