Proof of Life

We’re all still here.

Here is a picture, even, to prove that I’m still alive:

I have actually FORGOTTEN how many ice storms we've had in the last two weeks. This pic was me, snowshoeing, directly after one of them . . .

I have actually FORGOTTEN how many ice storms we’ve had in the last two weeks. This pic was me, snowshoeing, directly after one of them . . .

The dogs and I are all sunk into the couch in front of the fire. Matt is prepping supper and Colby is upstairs claiming the last of his vacation time.

This is mostly how we’ve been since October. There have been big stories and little stories and mediocre stories that I have so wanted to share, but part of me is keeping these few months close. I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me this would happen, but life has shifted since the wedding. And it’s hard work aligning priorities and personalities and expectations and all that stuff that comes with sharing your very imperfect self with another very imperfect person.

The dogs have new bones and have been remarkably mischief free because they spend all of their time either looking for or gnawing on the bones. I’ve been running and am surprised at both how much I missed it and how easily I was able to come back. I signed up for a 1/2 in hopes of fitting back into my (not skinny, not fat, but AVERAGE) jeans. Matt has been busy fixing our cars and keeping the ice on our roof under control.

In all of this, we are growing and learning and loving. And I’m feeling a little possessive of these experiences. I think what we have going on is some post-wedding nesting. I only remember the word in terms of antepartum mysteria, but the ethos is the same. It is not just a fear of germs or dirt, but a narrowing of focus, a preparation.

xoxo

I’m Getting There: University Edition

Leave it to G to be the universal conduit to tell me what needs dealing with.

And leave it to my dogs to know that mama needs some love while writing this.

I just read my dear (virtual) friend Glennon’s post about her college ‘experience’, and what happened when she had to confront it.  I’m not a soft touch, but her story said “Hey Heather – Guess what? YOU’VE GOT SOME WORK TO DO. Lucky for you, you’re not alone”. So here’s another story to add to hers, because I did think I was alone. Maybe mine will reach someone else, and they’ll be brave enough to tell their story, and then we can just all stop feeling badly about missing out on this mythic college ‘experience’.

I spent the summer after high school graduation untethered. I stayed with whomever would have me. At first this was exciting. All the drinking and new drugs and friends and people and YOU DON’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT ANYTHING because no one else is thinking either. It got old, and by the end of it, I felt old. The summer ended, it turned out that everyone else DID have plans, and well, I didn’t.

This is when the bad place started advancing, like a storm front of unprecedented size.

With the help of good friends, good doctors and better pharmaceuticals, I now know that I struggled with depression and anxiety and general self-esteem of -1,000 for my entire life. It is why I always thought I was dying (and wished, fervently, that it would hurry up and come). It was why I always felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, so uncomfortable that I would cut and scrape it off, patches at a time. It was why I felt such SWEET FUCKING RELIEF from a bottle of vodka, a joint or any man who would pay attention. And it was why I shattered over and over again when none of those options worked.

I moved into my dorm at the end of August, and by December I had summarily flunked EVERYTHING. Eng 101, Psy 101, life. My father and baby brother arrived to pick me up for Christmas break and found me, forty pounds heavier, surrounded by empty vodka bottles, cigarette smoke, and trash.

While my attempt to keep my summer social life going initially worked, eventually everyone had to go to class. I stayed behind. I drank alone, I chain smoked, I slept, I watched endless hours of television. I had a work study job that I loved, but I couldn’t will myself to go for fear that someone would see me. I just couldn’t have people seeing me. I remember friends banging on my door (because to completely self-destruct you must request a single); begging me to come out. I stayed on my extra-long single bed, breathing slowly and quietly, willing for them to go away. I was miserable and exhausted and flummoxed by the series of small heart attacks I thought I was having. I walked all the way across campus to the health center and described the pain to the doctor there. He said I had a cold. We went through the suicide prevention screening, and I answered the questions deftly and correctly while I prayed “please let him see please please please help because I don’t know how to tell you that I am DYING”. By December, I barely saw anyone.

Things got worse far before they began to improve.

There were interludes in the misery. I had friends, both new and old, who tried, but I was TOO FAR GONE for another eighteen-year-old to fix. So when I read G’s story today, I was so relieved to see her ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask:

New England, self-sufficient me. All along I’ve been too afraid to articulate this. Afraid because we’re supposed to take care of ourselves, dammit. It’s supposed to be about choices and bootstraps and self-sufficiency and how dare I blame someone else for my problems? . . . Of course we know that is a lie, however it is a lie many believe is the only truth. Seriously, where the fuck were the healthy people? And why DIDN’T they notice me? Why, for all of our screenings and purported interest, don’t we notice the people who need help? I’m still angry, but I’m getting a little less angry every day.
In the year following that semester, I learned what it was like to not have a home and how cold it actually gets when you sleep in your car in Maine. I learned that sometimes the people who will take you in aren’t actually good people. I learned to hope that something better was possible.
I finally went back to school in the Spring of 2001, just months before Colby was born. I remember dressing so carefully for my re-entrance interview: I had to make my case to the dean of admissions. I wore clean, black maternity yoga pants, my one good t-shirt, and an Orange Nike half-zip that I found at Goodwill. I had a nice, new pair of sneakers that my parents gave me for Christmas. It was the best I had looked in a long, long time. Years later, when I finally had an advisor and had my relative shit together, I saw a note in my file from that re-entrance interview: Heather is obviously pregnant but did not mention the pregnancy. I do not know her plans. He added something to the effect of “keep an eye on this one”. I didn’t know it until years later, but Someone. Finally. Noticed.
That second time around, everything was easier. I had a home, a little apartment just off campus with other University students and employees. Nearly everyone had families, and Colby and I fit into that place like it was made for us. The landmarks that used to make me sick to my stomach (that fraternity house, that dining hall, the gym, that classroom) had less significance as I rallied, and MY PEOPLE RALLIED AROUND ME. Instead of events past, I remember my (2nd time around) ENG 101 instructor giving me breastfeeding advice while she marked up an essay. I remember what those great big football players looked like holding tiny infant Colby during class. I remember the year Colby had so many ear infections he could never go to daycare. My professor brought toys, and while we discussed British war poetry he played with plastic toy soldiers.
I stuck around to finally finish my undergraduate degree. My feelings were always moderately hurt when someone would remark “wow. you’ve got a checkered academic history here”. Because really people, like I don’t understand what it means to see ‘F’s interspersed with ‘A’s. Really. When I finally graduated I had to re-evaluate. The place that was once so dangerous to me had also created my safety net, and I didn’t know what to do without it. So I went back. Then I graduated again, and had to make the same decision. 
These days, I’m less reliant on my people there than I am grateful that they have somehow existed and helped. They inspire me to be patient and creative, empathetic with people and firm in my academic expectations.

 In spite of myself, I have become an actual functioning member of society. I’m not perfect, but I do good things every day (even when I don’t do the laundry, well, especially then). For years I thought this was an impossible feat. From time to time that thought creeps back in, and the storm edges in, but I have people now. I have the support of my family, distant and immediate; I have friends who know what it means when I don’t call for a week; I have colleagues who are friends; I have a fantastic therapist.

I’m not going to live happily ever after, but I am going to live, friends.

xoxo

Meany Pants

There’s this saying, something about teachers being the worst students, and I’m so feelin’ it right now.

For my teacher training over at Om Land Yoga, we spent October focusing on the yogic principle of Ahimsa. Ahimsa translates into “nonviolence”, or as I like to think of it “loving kindness”. It’s what drives many yogis to become vegetarians, but the principle goes beyond that. Above all, it means to NOT do damage to yourself or others – physically or spiritually.

What do vegetarians like? ;)
What do vegetarians like? 😉

I am a quick learner, and usually do well with short, directive mantras. My favorite is Momastery’s “We can do hard things”. So I tried to keep the principle of ahimsa as simple as that. “Loving kindness”, I’ve thought. “You are a beloved child of God”, I’ve reminded myself, practicing loving kindness even when looking at that weird space where my ass meets my thigh and wondering just how it got SO damn close to the ground. I’ve looked at my child and husband and thought “He is a beloved child of God”. ‘Cause God doesn’t care if his beloved children load the fucking dishwasher, right? I keep trying to hold onto the thought, and it keeps slipping from my brain like that cornstarch goop seeps through a small child’s fingers. It’s there, then it’s not. I cannot find my kindness. Also, I kind of want to throw things.

I read one story about a monk and a snake and a village. The monk tells the snake to be kind and not harm others. The monk goes away, but returns some time later to find the snake all bruised and hungry and just NOT in great shape. He queries the snake, and the snake says that because he was no longer scary, the village children began throwing stones at him. Because of this, the snake no longer dared to leave to hunt. The monk responds, “I did advise you against violence, but I never told you not to hiss”.

My hiss needs work. Shouldn’t the hiss be preventative maintenance? That adult thing that communicates boundaries and expectations?

I’m all bite and no hiss, at home at least. Unless you count my refusal to let C purchase Call of Duty: Ghosts. I’m pretty sure that’s setting up some boundaries.

I manage, like many of us, to use up the best version of myself at work. I smile. I’m patient and diligent and thorough. I remember that my students are other people’s children, and that colors every interaction I have throughout the day. I’m having difficulty drumming up this same patience at home, and these are MY people!  I am the absolute worst version of myself here. I throw words like irretrievable darts. I wait for a reaction.

I’m not sure this, my sharp tongue and impatient heart, is the result of my inability to hiss, to set expectations and boundaries, or frustration that the hiss isn’t heard. But it surely is NOT the embodiment of ahimsa.

But we are all works in progress.

And while I tell everyone, always, to be kind – I’m trying to narrow my kindness focus this week.

xoxo

 

Heather

vote.vote.vote.

chard pizza for supper - but what for dessert?
chard pizza for supper – but what for dessert?

Click that badge to your right, friends. VOTE FOR ME! I’ll talk later, for longer, about the theoretical importance of blogging and voice, etc. For now though, just trust me. Vote. This is important.

It’s Wednesday. My bearded friends are back in Boston tonight, which means I’ll be on the couch (with my bearded husband) promptly at 8:07. So far this Series, we’ve eaten two pumpkin pies, a bag of chips with a jar of queso, and a bag of trans-fat and corn syrup coated cookies from Target. Whatever shall we eat for Game 6? (Also – no friggin wonder I had to buy bigger pants yesterday. *smacks forehead)

In Media Res

This happened:

One thousand words.
One thousand words.

I looked over during the 8th inning, and found this guy. I don’t know when he fell asleep. One minute he was explaining a play to me, and the next he was silent. How exactly he ended up with his hand in my shoe, I’m not quite sure.

Around here, late October + Red Sox = late nights. I was sick last week and Colby was forced to yell play by play at my while I laid in bed surrounded by dirty tissues.

Sammy is not impressed with her sister.
Sammy is not impressed with her sister.

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I loved this. Crackling fire, a good game, and my whole family staying up late together on a school night. Parents of teens and tweens – this struggle to get your kids in the same room as you – isn’t it exhausting? I palpably remember the days where my life was the exact opposite – when it seemed that my body was anything but my own, and I find myself wishing I had remembered just one moment of the overwhelming physicality that parenting young children brings. Just one snuggle.

In other words, I was pretty damn happy last night, hanging out on the couch with my kiddo.

I made it through the entire game, picking off chores during boring (or painful) innings and commercials. I folded laundry, set up my online courses, graded a few sets of assignments. Washed my face, brushed my teeth, packed my bag for the morning. I went to bed late, yes, but with more completed than on any normal evening.

A few other things caught my attention while I bumbled about my day:

Listen to this podcast – In #67, Back to the Start of Women’s Running, Another Mother Runner hosts Dimity and Sarah talk with and about some of the women responsible for OUR right to run. It’s crazy good, and will make you crazy thankful. Even if you’re not a runner, or a woman, you’ll appreciate just how much can be accomplished in such a relatively short period of time.

Also, read this opinion piece about the worth of writing and speaking.I found this excerpt particularly apt:

This is partly a side effect of our information economy, in which “paying for things” is a quaint, discredited old 20th-century custom, like calling people after having sex with them. The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.

Also, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s observations on costumes this Halloween season here.

Happy Monday, friends.

xoxo

Begin With Intention, End With Thanks

During my favorite yoga classes, the instructor asks us to set an intention for our practice. At the end we pause to be thankful for things like the time, money, and ability to be there.

It seems to me that this is the best way to begin and end anything. It could be as small as a dreary Monday, or as all-encompassing as parenthood.

 

I have yoga teacher training one full weekend of every month. This was my weekend. I’m sore from my intercostals to my gluteus minimus.

 

Preparing to do my "homework" - yoga on the patio with a classmate
Preparing to do my “homework” – yoga on the patio with a classmate

My house is dirtier than usual, and my parents took Colby to a soccer tournament (one which I really wanted to see). My intention, though, for this training is to learn and grow; breathe and think. I shrugged off the guilt of neglected domestic duty. I enjoyed my time, I explored the range of my ability, I learned a lot, and I spent time with good, like-minded people.

I also met this little lady:

I think her name is Sunny. All I know is that she made my morning 897% better. And she's soft.
I think her name is Sunny. All I know is that she made my morning 897% better. And she’s soft.

And a few of her doggy friends.

I came home to see one of my own puppies walking around with a beet she fished out of the vegetable crate:

 

Someone likes her veggies.
Someone likes her veggies.

I let her keep it just because she was having so much fun and, well, because she’s cute. Eventually it looked like a mass homicide occurred and I had to take it away. Parts of her muzzle and paws are still pink.

I had a rowdy pizza date with my husband, friends, and their kids.

I came home tonight famished and exhausted, but I had been thinking about supper for approximately two hours prior to arriving. I wanted chard gratin, sweet potatoes, and deviled eggs. It took about an hour to get together, but it was worth the wait.
Here’s the tweaked swiss chard gratin recipe. It’s simpler and much, much better!

A pic of the old recipe, but you get the idea.
A pic of the old recipe, but you get the idea.

If you have a large dutch oven or oven-proof pot you can do this in one pan. Otherwise get out a large pot  and grease a 9×12 pan. All instructions here are for an oven-proof dutch oven.

Ingredients

One to two pounds of swiss chard, cleaned and stalks removed. You can chop it or not. I just throw it all in the pan.

Grated Parmesan

Milk or cream

Salt & Pepper

one tablespoon butter

Flour

whole grain mustard

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a bit of olive oil in the pan or dutch oven. Saute chard until wilted and fragrant. While chard is cooking whisk mustard into milk. Take off heat and swirl a pat or two of butter through the greens. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour over the greens and add milk or cream. I use about one cup of milk to two pounds of chard. It depends on how saucy you want your gratin. Salt, pepper, and stir. Add a bunch of grated parmesan (1/2-1 cup) and stir.

If using an oven-proof dutch oven or pot, place the entire thing in the oven. If not, pour mixture into a greased baking dish. Place in oven for 30-40 minutes. It’s done when it’s bubbly, brown and crisp on the top. At best, this gratin has a crunchy top, deeply roasted flavor, and tender texture. It’s comfort food for grown ups.

 

So I’m ending my practice for today with thanks. Thanks for the opportunity and support to take part in the training, thanks for a still-rockin’ garden to create supper with, and thanks for a day off tomorrow.

 

xoxo

 

 

The Polls are Open!

Holy shit!

 

I’ve been nominated for one of the Top 25 Family Blogs over at Circle of Moms!

Aw, shucks me hates to be bossy – but . . . Head on over and vote for us!

Disclaimer: I haven’t won anything since the 5th grade D.A.R.E. essay contest. We all know how well I internalized drug avoidance behaviors, but hey – at least I learned I liked to write. 
Voting ends October 31st. Vote early and often!

xoxo

Heather

Glass Houses

I’m thinking about empathy today, friends.

And about how we pretend like we know what others are living through, and how we can fix it.

Most of us don’t know how it feels to be an addict.

We don’t know what it’s like to feel un-loved.

Most of us have never been truly starving.

Or homeless.

Or utterly alone.

This makes it impossible for us to opine, with any authority, about the origins or solutions to any of the above problems. Scholarship be damned – if we haven’t felt it, we don’t know it.

I judge and hypothesize as much as, if not more than, the general population. Today, I’m remembering why that’s not okay. Every court news story, every mug shot, every obituary belongs to a person. A person with a story. The person may be someone’s son, a favorite student, the kid next door.

A person is more than the sum of their bad decisions.

The First Two Miles

One needs to know me for about five minutes before they know without a doubt that I am not a morning person.

the elusive morning run
the rare and coveted morning run

Just a couple of days ago, Matt tried to wake me up in, let’s say, a very unsatisfactory and much too creative way. It didn’t go well. I did end up fully awake by the end of the encounter, which extended beyond thirty minutes, but I also maybe told him any of the following: “I JUST DON’T WANT TO SEE YOUR FACE RIGHT NOW!!! ARGH! I DON’T WANT TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM AS YOU. I WANT TO BE ON A DIFFERENT PLANET! YOU FUCKING SUCK SO SO SO MUCH!” I picked up my head to sneer and then flopped it dramatically on my pillow. I tried to punch him in the penis, which was not where it, ahem, should have been in the first place. I pulled the covers over my head and rolled around until I was wrapped up like the tightest little burrito in the freezer bag. I was, we could venture to say, not ready to wake up yet.

I’ve learned plenty about myself over the last few years. I like to think that I was pretty self-aware before I met Matt, but the truth is that you don’t know a lot about yourself until you are living with another person. Matt, most days, wakes up and begins his day immediately. I, on the other hand, need Time. The alarm clock blares thirty minutes before I need to get out of bed. I don’t talk (or think or eat or do anything) until I’ve finished my first cup of coffee, and sometimes even the second. If it’s a weekend, I read in bed for a bit. On a work day I tend to review my schedule and skim a few news sites for interesting info to incorporate into lessons.

I’m slow to warm up.

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this is what you see at 6:30 a.m. in July
this is what you see at 6:30 a.m. in July

For me, this goes beyond mornings. It means knowing what is coming far in advance. It means accepting homesickness a full year after a move. It means the first two miles of any run will always be the hardest.

We’ve adapted at home to try to negotiate this. I keep a color-coded Google calendar and I’ve only totally messed it up once in three years. Matt does an admirable job keeping me updated (why, God, won’t he just use the Google calendar?!) on any changes in his plans. We meet during Sunday night dinner and The Simpsons to talk about the upcoming week and review our meal plan. Colby accepts gracefully when he asks a question that I answer with “I’ll get back to you on that, okay?”.

It also means that I need to learn some new skills, as in, How to Deal When Something Comes Up and You Want to Totally Lose Your Shit.

Because life happens whether I’ve put it in the schedule or not. Games get canceled, plans change, kids come home sick and boy, there is nothing like a last-minute assembly and/or fire drill and/or lock down at work.

When I begin my runs, I start slow. I walk for a bit, jog for a bit, and hit my pace when I’m ready. If I’m training I reign those times in, but the setup stays the same. By the time my first two miles are over I feel like going another two. This is why the 13.1 is my favorite distance.

Two things have come from this realization:

1. I’ve been consistently running two milers. I figured if those were the hardest miles, those were the miles I needed to work on.

2. I’ve translated some warm-up activities into my life that help me deal with the unexpected.

  • I plan out my whole school year before it begins. I mark all scheduled holidays, teacher in-service days and the estimated weeks/months where testing shows up. I still won’t know a lot (field trips, sports games, flu season, pep rallies), but I’ve accounted for everything I can. I know what units come when with ?# assignments per unit. Two miles.
  • If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I begin and complete one short task: clear dishwasher, sweep, fold laundry, etc. Voila! I’ve accomplished something. Two miles.
it was hot - but LOOK at THAT sky - I would trade in 5 full January's for a morning like that
it was hot – but LOOK at THAT sky – I would trade in 5 full Januarys for a morning like that

I’m working on those two miles, friends. I enjoy the warm-up, whether it is the first two miles of a run or the first two hours of a Tuesday, but it would be so nice to enter fully into everything just a little bit sooner.

xoxo