Where Were You When…?

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The Girl has always worn her heart on her sleeve.

September 11, 2001 – The Girl was 8 months old & laying on her playmat in the living room. I was never a big TV watcher so I had the radio on. The Husband called which he never did in the morning. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said. “Turn on the TV.” As the daughter of an Air Traffic Controller, I assumed someone at the New York center was about to lose their job. 

I’m still on the phone with The Husband at 9:03 am. We’re both watching the news – me from home, him at work. I watch as a plane banks & heads directly for the South Tower. I’m yelling that they need to pull up or move right, unable to comprehend what I’m watching. The Husband is calmly trying to explain the reality of the moment to my completely naive mind. “It’s a terror attack,” he says simply. We stay on the phone for a few more minutes as people start to jump out of the North Tower. I’m yelling again, “Why are they jumping?! Just go the roof! Help is coming!” The naivete is strong in this one. I – along with the rest of the nation – am completely unaware that within a matter of hours 343 firefighters, 60 police officers & 8 paramedics will be gone along with 2,606 civilians.

The Girl was an oblivious 8 months old. But a friend was visiting that day with her 3 year old.  “Turn off the TV,” she said. “We’ll have to turn on the radio. I don’t want him watching this.”

The Girl doesn’t remember it first hand. My friend’s son probably doesn’t, either. It’s a history lesson to them. In the days following 9/11 this country was unified like it’s never been before. We were all about ending this faceless enemy who was out to destroy the ideals of America. And we know we’ll never forget, much like our parents will never forget where they were when JFK was shot. We lament that the next generation doesn’t appreciate the horror of that day.

Because the next generation is facing their own horror. We worried about a faceless, nameless enemy. My kids worry about the intimacy of one of their classmates opening fire while looking them in the eye. And instead of uniting the country like it did after 9/11, we are now getting torn apart by the debate about gun control & access to mental health.

I am not trying to discount the evil & horror we all faced on 9/11. Hell, a dear friend was working across the street from the World Trade Center at the time & had to walk miles home to his apartment in New Jersey. He emailed me late that night to say that he was ok & that he didn’t want to talk about it. And while he didn’t die within those first few hours, he was nevertheless a victim of 9/11 when he died 13 years later – never recovering from the horror he witnessed on that day he didn’t want to talk about.

Our evil was remote in a way. “It’s over there.” It’s the unseen enemy. We have military who will deal with that. Our kids’ enemy sits behind him in math or in front of him at the concert, or next to him at his after-school job.

It’s personal for them. This is the age they grew up in. They don’t remember planes crashing into buildings. They don’t remember the days & weeks that followed searching for any possible survivors. What they do remember is a high school like theirs in Parkland, Florida. A club they would go to with their friends like Pulse in Orlando. The Wal-Mart they shop or work at like the one in El Paso, Texas. There is no searching for survivors. The kind of massacre they are used to is intimate & immediate.

We will never forget. I will never forget the dreams I had in the weeks that followed 9/11 of having to escape some danger I couldn’t define with my baby girl. I will never forget my nephew panicking during the ride into Boston to see the circus because he was so afraid a plane would hit it. 

But we can’t begrudge a generation their form of terror. Just like we can’t know what it was like when JFK was shot, our kids can’t comprehend the terror we watched unfold 18 years ago. 

My kids don’t entirely understand when their teacher or their mom gets emotional talking about today. I can only pray that their kids – my grandkids – won’t understand the horror of a mass shooting. I can only pray that they won’t have something worse to face. 

The End of an Era

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Last week it all ended. High school is a thing of the past for The Girl. In a mercifully concise 1 hour & 26 minute ceremony, she & 315 of her closest friends walked across a stage set up on the school football field & accepted their proverbial “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

The week leading up to that day was a flurry of prom, visitors & enough family togetherness to last me until The Boy’s graduation in three years.

And then it was over. And all was quiet.

The Boy still has a couple of weeks to finish up his freshman year & I will admit it’s strange to get him out the door on his own although it was just a year ago that they were in separate schools with different start times. But memory fades & it seems like they have always made that 7 am walk to the bus together.

It was bittersweet for The Girl. While she was happy to have made it, tears were shed on the way home. “I’ll miss everyone,” she said simply.

And now she’s on to new things. She’ll still be at home. She’s not entirely sure what path she’s heading down, so she’s opted to attend the local community college (my bank account thanks her). She also signed up for a summer EMT course which surprised (and impressed!) all of us.

Meanwhile, I follow a page on Facebook catering to the parents of teenagers – particularly those who are moving on to new ventures. I have read post after post about the sadness that comes when your kids start moving on with their lives & away from yours.

Only I’m not sad.

Isn’t this what we’ve worked for? Wasn’t this our goal? To raise our kids so that they could stand on their own. For their entire lives, The Kids have heard me say that my job is to make sure they are able to live on their own. And while their laundry & cooking skills could still use some honing, they’re getting there. More & more they are independent of me. As The Girl works on getting her drivers license at the same time she’s getting her EMT license, The Boy spends time out with friends. Which leaves me time to do the things I want.

We still connect during the week. There are still dinners & game nights & movie nights & honestly, I’m still surprised every time I suggest doing something & they say yes. But do I expect them to always be available to hang out with me? Absolutely not.

This was my goal. This is what my parenting was about. To get them to a point where they can be their own person.

I remember a parent/teacher conference with The Girl’s History teacher in her freshman year. As we waited in line to see this particular teacher, there was a form we were supposed to fill out about our child. The first question was “Do you check your child’s homework every night?” I wrote, “No” (probably in Burt’s Bees “Hibiscus” colored lip balm because I can never find a pen). When it was our turn to talk to the teacher, she noted my answer.

“So you don’t check her homework?” she asked, one eyebrow raised askance.

“I do not. She is 15 years old. She’s perfectly capable of knowing what her assignments are & getting them done,” was my reply, slightly appalled that this was even a question at the high school level. When she’s 30, am I supposed to call & ask if she did the work her boss gave her? Am I supposed to ask if she’s paid her bills or fed her pets or put gas in her car?

I love my kids. I want the best for them. But I also want the best for my life. And I have plans for my future as well. Does that make me a bad mom? Maybe. Do I care? Not in the least.

When I had them, it was with the understanding that I would do everything in my power to keep them safe. And it was with the understanding that I would love them unconditionally.

But it was also with the understanding that they would someday be their own person. That they would be on their own & lead their own lives & not be present in my life every day.

“Oh, they’ll always need their moms,” say some.

Maybe. But it’s okay if they don’t.

It means I’ve done my job.

Lou Graduates

You Down with MDD?

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You Down with MDD?

Yeah, you know me!

It’s like walking through high tide toward the shore. Everything drags. Nothing moves quickly or gracefully. Wind rushes through your ears. Only it’s not wind. It’s the perpetual thoughts running through your brain that never stop. Sometimes it’s song lyrics. Sometimes it’s a constant to do list. Often it’s a list of ways that I’ve failed.

It’s depression. Technically Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD.

Not a bad day. Not “the blues.” Not just “feeling down.” Full blown, crippling, clinical depression. When the bootstraps you’ve been pulling yourself up by finally snap.

But no one talks about it. It’s uncomfortable & awkward. “Why can’t they just cheer up or think happy thoughts?” (My goodness, why didn’t I think of that!?)

When the chemicals in my left breast decided to gang up on me & form a cancerous tumor, I wrote about it. Friends & family rallied & sent cards & casseroles. They helped clean my yard & took my kids places so I could rest during treatment.

Now the chemicals in my brain have decided to rage against my machine & I hesitate to tell anyone. Why? Is it not the same thing? Why can I tell people about cancerous chemicals in my boob & have them support me & help me heal but if it’s chemicals in my brain that aren’t working correctly, well, clutch my pearls, we don’t talk about that.

It’s a chemical imbalance. Just like cancer. Something in my body isn’t working right. I need medication & treatment to fix it. Whether it’s my left boob or my frontal cortex should make no difference.

Listen, people, we’ve all heard the discussions about mental health in this country. How many mass shootings have had in their wake a conversation about access to mental health care. “Everyone knew the shooter was unstable. Maybe he should have gotten some help.”

But how do you ask for help when No. One. Talks. About. It.

So I’m trying to talk about it. Because maybe if everyone starts talking about their struggles with depression, anxiety & mental illness – whether theirs or a loved ones, it will stop being such a taboo subject.

I don’t know what reaction I’ll get from friends, family & colleagues by writing this. There are those around me who will wonder why I never mentioned it to them. Honestly, it’s just recently that I’ve realized there’s a problem. Two teenagers – one of them graduating high school in 8 weeks; a large old home that is amazing but way too big with way too many things that need fixing; a job in an industry that someone recently described as “relentless” & well… “I’m not depressed,” I tell myself. “I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed.”

But then everything started folding around me. I can see the piles of laundry. I just can’t move to do them. I can see the dirty bathroom sink. I just can’t seem to do anything about it – except yell at The Kids to stop spitting their toothpaste directly onto the mirror. (Seriously, how does that even happen?) I crawl into bed at 9 pm hoping that a good night’s sleep will help.

And it does. A little.

Until it doesn’t.

Until the day I wake up & wish I hadn’t.

That morning, I somehow got The Kids out the door & got into the shower. There was a litany of crap screaming in my brain. Non stop, exhausting crap that I couldn’t shut off, couldn’t quiet. And I couldn’t stop crying.

That’s when I knew I needed help. The past few months have been up & down but I always thought it was the normal up & down of a something-aged woman with two teenagers, a boyfriend, a large house & a demanding job. But it wasn’t just that. I’m grateful that I had the presence of mind to call my doctor & felt the panic rise when I was told she wasn’t in. Thankfully another physician at her office was able to see me. And the little doctor with the polka dot glasses was a life saver.

I’ve been down this road before. I was successfully treated for depression in the past. Looking back I seem to have a 7-8 year cycle of depression & not depression so I’m no stranger to this. But I’m surprised every time at how long it takes me to realize what’s happening. And if it takes me this long after having dealt with it before, how much scarier is it for someone who knows something isn’t right but doesn’t know where to start to fix it.

Let’s talk about this people. I know I’m not the only one.

Signs & symptoms of depression include:

  • Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness
  • Sleep: early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
  • Whole body: excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, or restlessness
  • Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, or social isolation
  • Cognitive: lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicide
  • Weight: weight gain or weight loss
  • Also common: poor appetite or repeatedly going over thoughts

If you or a loved one show signs of depression or any mental health issue & you don’t know where to turn, start with your doctor. If there is an imminent emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Other resources include:

  • National Helpline for treatment options: 800-662-HELP
  • Suicide Hotline: 800-273-TALK

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Evil Creeps Closer

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The phone rang with the number of The Kids’ school. At the same time, texts start coming in from The Girl. She left for school that morning feeling less that 100% so I assumed it was a call from the nurse & rejected the school phone call while finishing up a phone call with a client.

When I finally looked at my phone I felt the color drain from my face.

“We’re in a shelter in place” read The Girl’s text.

Cursing myself for not answering the call from the school, I fought the urge to drive there knowing that whatever was happening, the last thing the school staff needed was a group of anxious parents getting in the way.

I’m sure every parent from Parkland or Columbine… every loved one from The Pulse in Orlando or The Borderline in Thousand Oaks, CA… thought it couldn’t possibly happen in their world. We all think that. We all desperately want to believe that. Whenever there was a lag in The Girl’s texts, I wondered. Just like all of those other families.

Just 6 days ago, last Wednesday, a threat to The Kids’ school was found in a bathroom. It was deemed “not credible” & extra police were on hand for the last two days of the week. The Kids were with their dad that night & we discussed via text whether or not he should keep them home like they wanted. We decided, as The Ex so eloquently put it, that “we would not be emotionally manipulated by some mouth breather with a crayon.”

Heading back into school on this Monday morning, it seemed like a lifetime ago & we didn’t give it a second thought.

The Girl tells of being in math & having the teacher suddenly go to the door & pull a couple of kids in from the hall, shutting off the lights & locking the door as they rushed into the room. At least she had her phone with her. The Boy was in gym with his Medical Assisting shop which is 99% female. As the girls were ushered into the women’s locker room, he was pushed into the men’s locker room with a group of seniors that had been working out nearby. No phone, no way to communicate, not knowing anyone. He puts on a brave face but when we went to the store tonight, he stuck by my side instead of his usual routine of going off to see what was new for PS4 or XBox games.

My kids are growing up with evil getting closer.

Someone pointed out tonight that it was a good thing they practiced active shooter drills because at least they knew what to do. “It’s like the fire drills & evacuations we used to do in school.”

Only it’s not.

A fire can happen any time, true. But a fire – with rare exception – is not an intentional act of violence. Staring down a fire & trying to get away from it can’t come close to the terror of facing down evil with a gun. In your school. These kids are growing up with a heightened sense of fear for exactly this reason. We wonder why anxiety is rampant among teenagers. We blame mounting academic pressures, the 24/7 culture of social media & the violence of video games. Have we ever considered that it’s because this generation – born during & after 9/11 – have been raised on high alert. They have been raised to know that they are not safe, even in their own schools.

I remember the first time The Boy came home from his new elementary school in 3rd grade & told me about the drill they had. The teacher locked the door & turned off the light & they all crawled into a vent at the back of the classroom & had to sit really still. That same year, their first in public school, The Girl came home & told us about a lock down drill they did in middle school that day. One of the kids said something during the drill & the teacher looked at that kid & said, “Thanks. You just killed us all.”

This is how they have to live now. This is how we all have to live. With evil creeping closer.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even really know what questions to ask to get to the right answers to end this. I trust my kids’ school. I trust the systems & protections they have put into place. I trust my kids to be smart & alert & to do what they need to. No, I don’t want to be emotionally manipulated by some mouth breather with a crayon. I also don’t want to see evil in my kids’ school or any school. And I feel helpless watching it creep closer.

The evil didn’t get to them today. The school was evacuated & the kids were sent home. The school was swept by bomb squads & dogs & deemed safe so they will be going back tomorrow.

But “safety” is kind of relative now, isn’t it?

It’s Been a Minute

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It’s been a minute & I officially now have two high school students. In less than three months, The Girl will graduate high school. Soon after that, The Boy will finish his freshman year.

A few years ago I ruminated on The Girl ending her middle school career (To My Daughter as She Finishes Middle School).

Middle school was very different for The Boy. Other than one “spawn of Satan” as The Boy refers to him (I’m looking at you Jack Toohey), my kids had very different middle school experiences. The Girl struggled through it while The Boy seemed to sail – other than his math grades. Case in point: Their texts from their 8th grade class trip to Washington, DC…

The Girl’s: “Can you come get me?”

The Boy’s: “This place is pretty cool. And some girl broke her knee on the Potomac River cruise so we’re all waiting for the ambulance.”

My cocky, sassy, full of spunk (I hate spunk) boy has turned into this amazing young man who is now cast as Narcissus in a new musical written by one of his music teachers. He’s learned to play drums & piano & has a group of friends who are straight up amazing kids. They all congregate at the library for old school Dungeons & Dragons. And when they have to be at their own homes, they’re usually on line together playing TF2 or Fortnite (or as I unfortunately called it, “Frontline.” I may be turning into my mother).

And they’re TEENAGERS. With a capital TEENAGERS. They have opinions & they’re finding their own voice.

And it’s the best.

A coworker is struggling with her two year old… or twouchebag as I recently heard it referred to. And I remember those days. This particular coworker has one just like The Boy who pushed buttons that I didn’t know existed. I just keep nodding & telling her that it gets better. But much like when the doctors used to get annoyed with me worrying about potty training (“No kid has ever gone to college in diapers!” Bitch, please…. I’m trying to get through preschool!) I’m sure she can’t even see that place right now.

But I can.

And my first born is almost grown & flown.

The Girl isn’t sure what she wants to do when she graduates. Maybe biology. Maybe marine biology. Maybe forensics. Maybe chemistry.

So she’s charted a course for community college to help her figure it out. In my panic, I watched other parents post on Facebook about their kids’ college applications. I made her apply in November only to receive a post card in the mail from the local community college that may as well have said, “Slow your roll. We’re working on the January term. We’ll get back to you about next fall.” And here I was all prepared with my FAFSA.

It’s not the road I thought she would choose. Her focus at the technical high school was graphics. But according to her, she loves art & doesn’t want to do it for a living or she would hate it (sort of how I felt about working at Target). That’s pretty mature. I also expected her to choose a small, private, four year college. We toured a couple… okay, one… and I thought it would be a good fit for her. But she is my level-headed one. She knows enough to know that she doesn’t really know what she wants. You know?

I guess my point is that every kid finds their way eventually. I watch my friends post about their kids’ college acceptance letters & cheer them on. And I know that they’re cheering on The Girl as she embarks on her path to figure out what she wants.

The Boy recently had to choose his shop at the same tech high school that The Girl is graduating from. He chose Medical Assisting. And much like his sister, it’s not the road I thought he would choose. But he’s got three more years to figure it out before graduation.

And at the risk of sounding cliche’, it’s not the destination. It’s the journey.

And this is a great journey.

Stay tuned. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

 

Four Great Years

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“This morning I had two boobs & a boyfriend,” I lamented to KK, my sister extraordinaire. “Tonight… not so much.”

It was October 25, 2012. I woke up with an appointment scheduled to get biopsy results on a lump in my left breast (Head’s up…. it wasn’t good). I also woke up to an email from someone I had been dating for several months telling me that he thought it best if we didn’t see each other anymore. And frankly, once I got the biopsy results, I was glad he said it first because I couldn’t see trying to build a new relationship with someone I had barely gotten to know while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. So I would have broken up with him anyway. (That’s my story & I’m sticking to it.)

“You should come to the Firefighter’s Ball with us!” exclaimed KK. Her husband was an on-call firefighter for their town & while avoiding the obvious jokes about firefighters having balls, I declined, thinking that she wanted me to come on my own & troll for firefighters. Turns out KK’s firefighter husband had a friend who wanted to go to the ball but didn’t have a date. “You can go with him. Worst case, it’s a night out at a winery with music & dancing with me!”

Fine, I figured. Why not?

So there I was… November 9, 2012 – exactly 6 years ago. On a blind date. I still had sutures in my left boob & gauze bandages covering what would become a lovely scar on “Lefty” as this boob that tried to kill me is known.

I worked that morning. It was a Friday & as a manager at Target staring down Black Friday, I was pretty much working every day. I got home at about 5 pm. Threw on a dress & heels & tried to make something out of my newly died red hair. I was supposed to be at KK’s at 6 pm. I was so nervous & so late that I ran a red light. Not just slightly red. Not like the yellow & just barely turned red kind of orange red light. Full on red. As the police officer who pulled me over said, “What was that? You weren’t even close.” I explained that I was on my way to a blind date & was really nervous. He laughed & let me go. (Thanks again, Officer Morgan!)

I forgot lip gloss & really had to pee. I pulled into KK’s driveway at the same time as Him. “F**k!” was my only thought. (Well… not my only thought. I did notice that he had really nice shoes. That’s always a plus for me.) I really wanted to get in the door, pee & borrow lip gloss before this. Instead we literally met in the driveway of my sister’s house. (Years later he would tell me that he introduced himself, shook my hand & immediately thought I was out of his league. How freaking cute is that?!)

The night went on & my new date was super quiet. I couldn’t tell if he wasn’t into me or was just nervous. But frankly, the only food was a mac & cheese & mashed potato bar (News to all of us… we kept waiting for a dinner that never came) & with the wine going strong… well… cue the dancing!

HE DANCED WITH ME!!!!

That’s pretty huge in my book. Having been married to someone who “didn’t dance,” this was new to me. The clincher that night? Everyone started leaving the dance floor as Usher’s “Yeah” came on. “Oh, C’mon!!!” I yelled.

He turned… “This your jam?” he asked.

And we headed back out to the dance floor.

And even though I saw the horror in his eyes as I recited every word of Ludacris’ rap break (“In the club lookin’ so conspicuous!“) he asked me to go out with him again as we stood back in KK’s driveway at the end of the night.

And even though I was in the middle of Black Friday planning & fell asleep at the movie on our first date after the ball….

And even though I think I may have talked to the waiter more than to him at dinner that night….

And even though I ran away… And even though he ran away… we’re figuring it out. And we’re still here. Through cancer. Through radiation. Through new jobs. Through our anchors moving to Arizona. Through parents & kids & sadness & happiness. We’re still here.

Since 2012….

Today he sent me flowers. Because it’s been 6 years. As people saw the flowers on my desk today & asked what they were for I told them, “Four great years!”

“Wow… you’ve been together four years?

“No. Six. Two of them just kind of sucked.”

Happy Anniversary, babes.

We still go to the ball every year!