Check it off

This year, when we went to my parents’ house for Christmas Eve (we basically see them every week anyway), my mom talked about how she’d felt a bit like Christmas was another thing on her to-do list sometimes. That with everything to check off–the decorating, the buying, the wrapping, the cleaning, the cooking, the baking–it can feel like it’s just another Thing. And Christmas is absolutely my second busiest time of the year, no doubt. The March-through-July stretch is still a LOT crazier because every event every month in that stretch is a Big One, not an optional one, and none of them are my birthday.

But still. 

So yeah, Christmas is a crazy time of year, but it’s usually also a rewarding time of the year. Sure, I’m pulling my hair out somewhat when we try to finish up on Christmas morning so that we can get to my uncle and aunt’s house before everyone settles in for dinner, but then there’s the catching up with everyone and the laughing and meeting new babies and new boyfriends and sometimes, my uncle makes this amazing saffron cream pasta that makes you understand why people pay so much for saffron…

Which isn’t to say that this year wasn’t rewarding. It was, just. You know. Different.

Like all of 2020.

We’re still combing through everything the kids got. My parents and Kyle’s parents spoiled them, of course, because that’s what grandparents do, and our playroom is currently overflowing with both (a) boxes, and (b) toys. We’ve been bringing things out one at a time, all while trying to sort through what’s in the living room and find places for that.

Sam got a pair of robots and some video games for Christmas, along with a few Lego sets, because he’s frustratingly easy to shop for. He’s one of those kids whose interests are narrow and specific, so on the one hand, you know exactly what themes to hunt down in toy sections; but on the other hand, you’re just like… I really want to get you something different, but all you want are these things. But he’s seemed pretty happy with what he got, and I feel like his gifts have much more staying power than the twins’.

Isaac was the one I thought would be least impressed with his gifts, but to my absolute surprise, he’s the kid who took to everything the fastest and has been playing with his gifts most consistently. Santa gave him a singing Mickey Mouse train, Kyle gave him a weird musical toy called a “Rocktopus,” and my parents gave him a little red Playmobil minivan. The train and the Rocktopus are never NOT singing, and the minivan, despite being hard as a rock and full of breakable things, has become his first ever “must have it in bed with me” lovey.

And Carrie, who is every little girl ever, received pretty much the best gifts for every little girl ever: an Ariel doll, a makeup table (for pretend makeup, of course), a dollhouse, and a dress up gown with accessories. She’s been frolicking about the house in a whirl of joy, and when she’s done being whirly and joyful, she falls into my arms, sighing happily and saying, “Oh Mom. I you so much!” (which is her way of saying that she loves me so much)

So it’s been good. And Kyle and I spoiled each other, too (I gave him Whataburger sauces and a fancypants sleep mask; he gave me jewelry and my very own fountain pen), and we spent Christmas Day doing nothing but watching movies on TV while eating popcorn and pretending that it was a normal Christmas and we were totally at our local theater and not scrunched up on the couch and saying things like “SAMUEL MATTHEW, STOP RUNNING RIGHT NOW.”

We saw Soul first, and it was honestly one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to explain it because the plot is kind of loose? And the message is kind of loose? But it also was a film that wasn’t escapism, that didn’t want to be escapism, that wanted you to leave the theater-slash-living room and go live life, not just exist. And it was heavy material, but it was handled in a strangely effervescent way, so that even though it was a lot of DEEP questions that required a lot of heavy pondering, you didn’t feel bogged down by them. 

And it was gorgeous and made me more determined than ever to take the kids to New York when this craziness is over.

Wonder Woman 1984 was… eeeeeh. Kyle and I watched it after the kids went to bed, having our first “date” since the pandemic kicked in, and… eeeeeh. There was a scene at the very end that had us both sobbing, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig did great jobs for the most part (the CGI got in Kristen Wiig’s way towards the end, which was a shame), and there were some fun moments, but… eeeeeh. It was disappointing. I didn’t go in with super high expectations, and even my lower expectations weren’t quite met, so that’s a shame. Still one of the better DC movies but… eeeeeh.

And thus the year is finally, finally drawing to a close. I know that the world in general won’t turn a magical corner on January 1 that has everything back to what we want it to be (though wouldn’t that be a trip), but at least we have the vaccine and a new presidency to shake things up a bit, and hopefully, by this time next year, I won’t be digging for scraps of things that made this year good. 

It’s funny. Back last December, I bought a memory jar for us to keep this year, figuring we’d have a lot of cool memories to read about on December 31 as we counted down to midnight. It didn’t last long, mostly because mindfulness, while awesome, is one of those things it’s harder to do when you’re in the trenches of motherhood. You know what I mean? Those days, those weeks, those years where you give all of yourself and then some, and you take a shitton of pictures, not to show off your awesome mommy skills or embarrass the kids in the future but because you can’t be in the moment. You’re clinging by a thread, and you want to remember the good, but you can’t focus on it because the bad keeps showing up.

It’s not been the worst year for me; by comparison, we had it pretty easy. Despite Kyle losing his job in the spring, he got a MUCH better job in the fall, one that pays more, even if the benefits need some work. Sam being homeschooled has meant I can really focus on him for hours at a time, despite the twins, and he’s been able to get a more individualized learning plan (read: my six-year-old is doing multiplication and division without even thinking about it, and it’s weird). He and I have had more than a few outdoor adventures, including a really fun hike back in October (sigh, that was roughly the last time I felt healthy enough to get out and go) and a visit to a nearby pond. 

Sam and Isaac both started therapy (in December and March, respectively) to help deal with everything. Isaac’s ABA has been better than I expected and not the nightmare I’d feared; Sam’s therapy has just started, but I can already see how he’s much calmer on therapy days than on days when his therapists don’t come. They’re both doing really well, and wildly enough, they’ll both be starting school again next year… in March and September, respectively. 

I was hospitalized for my mental health, and I’ll be real, it’s a miracle more people haven’t done that this year. I’m lucky: my husband noted that I was doing really badly (I legitimately do not remember this summer, that’s how bad it was) and MADE ME get help. I learned the difference between wanting to die and being overwhelmed by life (there is a difference), and I learned actual real coping skills. I’m starting maintenance therapy next week so that I can focus on keeping my brainmeats healthy instead of letting them slip and slide and become a mess again. 

I have a path forward for my physical health: my doctor has finally referred me to an orthopedic specialist for my back, and with any luck, I’ll have a specific way to get to a point where I can actually get out again (like I feel like I could now, but it’s cold and I’m also terrified). I survived the worst physical pain I’ve ever felt this year, somehow (wild thing about sciatica being that you’re in the worst pain of your life, pain so bad it gives you PTSD, but you are nowhere near dying, and when the pain ebbs, people mostly just tell you to walk and lose weight, like they do whenever you have a problem while fat). I had surgery and ruled out a major potential cause of my overall life issues. 

So it hasn’t been an all bad year for me. But I’m still eager for it to be over. 

I don’t necessarily think 2021 is going to be better overall, at least to start, just that we’ll all mostly be used to the chaos, so it won’t hit as hard. And slowly, slowly, things will get better. Plenty of people will still be idiots, of course, because that’s the world we live in, but idiocy can be mitigated by good people doing good things and stopping bad things. It’s going to be rough going. None of the positive things are quick fixes; they will take time, and they will need a lot of pressure, and just because things are no longer at an immediate boiling point does not mean things are better. Creating a better world is a true effort. 

With that in mind, I decided that no, 2021 is not my year. It is my bitch. I am transforming myself into a screaming banshee of rage and forcing things to get better. I will scream and I will fight and by this time next year, I will be able to say, “you know something, that wasn’t a half bad year after all.”

I hope you’ll fight with me. Until then…

A Full Plate

It’s finally mid-December, which means we’re ~20 days away from this hell year being over. The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine with shots beginning ASAP (I think someone in the Massachusetts government was saying that the first shots would be going out on Thursday), so there’s a light at the end of the Covid tunnel; and a new president will be inaugurated on January 20 (although he’s not as progressive as I’d like, it’ll be nice to wake up without that sinking sensation of pure dread for a little while). 

In my house, things are busy and have been, to the point where my body is 100% telling me to slow tf down, but it’s like… I can’t, because if I do, everything falls to pieces. I’m not saying this because I’m being overdramatic; sometimes SAHMing feels like being the manager for an entire company. 

But I digress.

I said last time that I’d been planning to write about sciatica, and boy do I have a story. Towards the end of my partial hospitalization program, where I was feeling mentally healthy and ready to get there physically as well, I woke one day with excruciating back pain. Nothing touched it–not NSAIDs, not Tylenol, not warmies, not stretches. When I went to the doctor for it, the x-rays showed that I basically have (a) mild scoliosis; (b) bone degeneration; and (c) bone spurs in my spine, which explains why I’ve been prone to throwing my back out since I was in college. 

(it was November of my junior year, I had just turned 20, and I had a lot on my plate: finishing out the semester, providing stage manager/dramaturgy stuff for our chamber choir’s Madrigal Feast, violin lessons, pulling my act together for a semester studying abroad at Oxford University, plus all the typical late-teens/early-20s drama that comes with being a college student. Oh, and that’s when I first got diagnosed with asthma and what’s probably chronic bronchitis, so yeah. A little on my plate)

My doctor had me go to physical therapy, and I was slowly getting better, but I’d also have days where I’d get worse. The pain seemed to be doing weird things, sometimes being very calm and manageable and other times being too bad for me to get out of bed. Eventually, by about mid-November, I found that I couldn’t sit up for long periods of time. I had to lounge on the couch or in bed with my legs and back in a specific position or else the pain would become unbearable. I started using a TENS unit regularly, trying to confuse the nerves in my back and leg, where the pain had now spread, and while the massage was pleasant, it didn’t do much long term. 

This all came to a head in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Even without the usual hubbub (read: 20 something people at my uncle’s house and baked brie and so many desserts and family for days), I had plans to bake cinnamon rolls and cookies and green bean casserole for our more subdued holiday (my parents, whom we see pretty much every week anyway, were hosting and making the pies). The Tuesday before, I had physical therapy first thing in the morning and felt GREAT, but that afternoon, we did pictures with the kids…

…which, don’t get me wrong, turned out AMAZING, but once we were done, I was in too much pain to do anything but go collapse in bed. I wanted to be at my best on Thanksgiving, so I decided to spend Wednesday in bed, recovering.

Well, silly me, because that’s the opposite of what you should do with sciatica, especially if it’s caused by a herniated disc (which I suspect mine is). Being horizontal spreads the disc material out and makes it bulge out more when you eventually, inevitably stand up (because I am not going to get a fucking bed pan for sciatica). So Wednesday wasn’t too bad at first–I spent the day lying on my stomach, doing press-ups as instructed by my therapist, and listening to hypnotherapy and guided meditation on YouTube to get my mind off the pain. 

BUT sometime Wednesday night, all the things I had been doing just… failed. And Thursday morning, I woke up in blinding agony.

I have pain rankings, and this was only the second thing in my life to hit a 10. The first was gallstones, and those rank lower if only because they’re temporary. Once the gallstone breaks up or passes, the pain fades, and you go back to your life until it happens again. With sciatica, though, sitting and standing and walking and doing anything hurt like hell, and if you don’t figure out how to take care of it well, you eventually get to the point where there is nothing BUT pain. Pain is your existence, and you can’t remember a time without pain, and you can’t imagine a future time without pain, because that’s all there is. 

Eventually, I was screaming. Just mindlessly screaming because it hurt so much. My primary care doctor had suggested that if my pain got this bad, maybe I should go to the ER, but I’d been avoiding an ER visit because our new health insurance has terrible copays for everything, to the tune of “an ER visit before you’ve met your annual out of pocket maximum will cost you at least $3500, and if you HAVE met your out of pocket maximum, you’ll have a $1000 copay.” 

(MAN I am so glad that we pay 20% of Kyle’s paycheck to get THIS insurance instead of however the fuck much we would pay to get universal healthcare, like WOO this is so much better than living in Denmark and getting taken care of for the low low price of FREE)

But we called the ER and said I was on my way, and then I couldn’t even sit up at all, so we called an ambulance. I had to wait for the ambulance in the living room while screaming and crying and shaking from pain, and Sam had to see me like that, which I hate. I don’t remember anything about what I said or thought beyond “I hate that Sam is seeing me like this”–allegedly, I was telling the EMTs that I hoped they were going to get to have turkey, and I was really worried about making sure they’d have their turkey, but I don’t remember any of it. 

They were great, as I recall–they gave me a nasal shot of fentanyl to take the pain from an impossible place to a place where I could be transported, and they were really funny. The pain did not go away completely from the fentanyl, but I stopped screaming for the ride and managed to get to a point where I was just lying there, quietly hurting, with nobody helping me. 

That was probably the second worst part (the worst part was Sam seeing me like that)–being in the ER and nobody being there to even check in with me. They looked me over once I was there and gave me like… whatever generic painkillers they had available and eventually did prescribe me a nerve blocker called gabapentin, which has done WONDERS. BUT it also reminded me why I hate going to the ER for anything ever, because unless you’re dying or possibly dying, they sort of don’t pay attention to you at all. 

And that’s understandable–there are a lot of people coming in and out of the ER, sometimes just to get painkillers, sometimes just to get an ultrasound of their baby, sometimes just because they’re like. Itchy. It’s especially bad now with Covid and people having to go to the ER because they might have it (on my way out, I saw three rooms designated as Covid-only). And I didn’t WANT to go to the ER, but my pain just got to an impossible point. 

My therapist helped me with it this week. She told me that one of the hallmarks of chronic pain is that eventually, your body is too tired to try and fight it off, and the more you have on your plate, the harder it is for your body to work through the pain. Which was like, wow, I didn’t come here to be attacked like this, but that makes way too much sense.

There’s not much of a choice in the matter, of course. Kyle’s job doesn’t necessarily demand too much of him (he’s able to come out and help when I really need it, especially since after the ER), but he’s still working full time, and I’m full time with the kids. Especially during the holiday season, that means that my daytime hours basically evaporate, because there’s so much that I need to organize and do and make sure of, all while I’ve got three kids asking things of me at all times.

I’m not complaining. I love being a stay-at-home mom. But I think I might be reaching a pandemic breaking point, because said pandemic has unquestionably made things MUCH harder. There’s no chunk of afternoon time where the twins are napping and Sam is at school where I can just focus on getting household stuff done, whether it’s cleaning or setting up appointments or paying bills or whatever. There’s no time when I’m awake and not exhausted where I can just be

I think I’d be able to bear it much more if I weren’t prone to chronic pain, but when you add all that work to the work of bearing chronic pain, the pain gets severe that much faster. You’re already exhausted from the everything–the kids jumping on the couches and knocking each other over and batting at Christmas ornaments because they want to be kittens, the homeschool battle because even on good days it’s a battle, the trying to keep up with everyone’s therapies like ABA and speech and coordination and whatever the fuck, the socializing that starts to feel like work because you’ve been overwhelmed with people being literally ON you all day, the weekends where it used to be getting more done but are now just gasping air before being pulled under again–and then the pain creeps in. 

And pain is so exhausting. I remember when I was younger and used to get excruciating menstrual cramps (I found out while trying to have Sam that I had a tilted uterus, which has fortunately fixed itself since having kids, but let me tell you, it’s a for-sure recipe for very bad periods), I’d reach the end of the day and just fall asleep for 18 hours straight. There are a lot of ways to think about pain that involve accepting it and trying to help your body cope with it better, but sometimes, it really is just a battle that you end up losing.

So here we are in December. I can tell that if I weren’t on the meds I’m on, I’d be in a lot more pain, but the gabapentin is doing the excellent work of keeping the pain manageable, as long as I don’t push myself too hard and keep mobile. Sciatica is a weird thing where the more you’re able to stay mobile and keep exercising, the better it gets; but at the same time, when it’s at its peak, the pain defies belief, and all you want is for someone to just knock you out so you don’t have to deal with it anymore. BUT the meds I’m on make it possible for me to stay mobile, and I have a timer set on my phone that reminds me to get up and loosen up every two hours or so (I call it my dance break, and the twins participate, and none of us are very good dancers). 

I keep doing Everything because I have to, which is something I keep thinking whenever someone remarks on us having two-year-old twins (and also three four-month-old kittens, more on that in a second) and asks, “how do you do it?” The only answer is that we do it because we have to. We had these kids, and we’re going to make sure they thrive. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel–as I’m writing this, the FDA is an hour past approving the Covid vaccine for emergency use. By the time the twins turn three in March, we should be well on our way to getting our jabs, and in any case, the twins start preschool March 15 (assuming all things run smoothly). That will make things easier. 

But in the meantime, I’m sitting here, feeling my leg be numb because it can’t hurt, and knowing that I can’t stop juggling all these balls or else everything falls apart.

And in the midst of all this, we adopted three kittens!

Honestly, they don’t add a lot to the load. We’ve been on waiting lists since Tinkerbell passed because I cannot go a long time without a cat, and the shelters we applied to wanted to make sure they paired us with kittens that could thrive in a house with three kids. I got the call Monday about a litter of five cats that had been raised with kids about Sam’s age and the caveat that I had to bring all three kids to meet them and the kids had to behave or else the kittens wouldn’t come home with us.

We went in wanting just two, but of the litter of five, two had already been adopted, and these three were the only ones left. And we couldn’t just LEAVE them, so. 

Well. 

They also kind of adopted us. Each one snuggled up to us and purred and rubbed against our legs and force pet us (you know, when cats bump their heads against your hand like “LOVE ME” and you’re like “I already do?” and they’re like “NO LOVE ME” so you do), and… well, they’re necessary. Not because we have any sort of mouse problem, not because I need more on my plate, but because they spark joy. A whole lot of joy.

Biggest brother is Duke Orlando Stinkybutt Catrissian, so named because he farts like an unholy terror. He’s a little fighty, but only with me or Kyle; with the kids, he keeps a respectful distance unless they’re petting him. He’s the most adventurous of the trio, most prone to getting into trouble and the murderer of at least one tree ornament. 

Then we have Duchess Oreo Zoomies the Experience, who has established herself as Sam’s Cat. He named her–he saw the pictures of the kittens and decided that her name should be Oreo because she’s black and white like an Oreo. She ADORES Sam–hunts him down wherever he is and snuggles up with him. And she’s been so good for his anxiety, too, helping him to calm down and feel safe enough to sleep, even when he’s worried about something. She’s almost as much of an explorer as Orlando and is highly prone to Zoomies at all times.

Last, but certainly not least, is Duchess Orla With the Chanel Boots…

…who is Mine. She established herself as Mine when we were meeting them and she only came out to socialize with me and Carrie. She’s the shyest of the three, only really coming out for cuddles when the kids are safely in bed and Kyle and I are in a quiet place. Once she’s out, though, she’s a party animal but very ladylike about it. She’ll mince around the covers and attack our feet with the same attitude as Miranda Priestly going after an incompetent staffer. She’s adamant about being held but will also fight me forever about the cat pouch hoodie I bought (yes, I am being That Kind of Cat Mom). 

And, well. It may have been biting off a lot, but I feel like the joy and stress relief they give with their cuddles make up for the buying food for three cats and scooping a litter box again and “what are you chewing on???” and “GET OUT OF THE TREE” and “Isaac, it is REALLY ADORABLE that you’ve decided to pretend you’re a kitten, but if you try to climb the Christmas tree, nobody will end up happy” and the “yes, Carrie, the kitty is sharp, have we learned a lesson?”

They’re necessary. They don’t feel like more on my plate. They feel like they’re individually taking the stress of having so much on my plate and dissolving it, and that’s a nice feeling.

Unmasked

I was born in 1983 and grew up in an age when girls weren’t really diagnosed with autism unless the symptoms they presented severely interfered with their daily life. A girl like me, quiet and awkward, a little weird, a little too obsessed with the Thing Du Jour (American Girl dolls, Mandie books, My Little Pony, Barbies, spooky stuff, etc.), mostly gets good grades but really struggles with homework in subjects she doesn’t like… I flew under the radar. I didn’t stim or do anything that would make me seem weird. I didn’t freak out when the sounds in the cafetorium/cafeteria were too much for me to handle, I just got really quiet and didn’t participate in the lunchtime conversation. I excelled in certain subjects and flailed in others. I was flawless when it came to standardized testing, but then got an 8/100 on a math test the same week I soared into the 93rd percentile for the NMSQT. 

I could talk, and I took care of myself physically, enough that I didn’t usually warrant a second glance. Oh, I got bullied and made fun of in junior high–brutally at some points–but I flew under everyone’s radar for the most part. I don’t think anyone ever clocked me as weird enough to maybe be autistic, because back then, in the 1990s and early 2000s, autism wasn’t as well understood as it is today, so my cocktail of manifestations didn’t alarm anyone.

That and I masked

Masking is pretty common in our world. We all wear masks sometimes to hide certain aspects of our personalities depending on the situation; for example, if you’re at an important job interview, you’re not exactly going to be showing off the part of your personality that likes to do keg stands or the part of your personality that likes to lounge around in the nude on weekends. There’s nothing wrong with either those traits or the masking of those traits. It’s just something that you do to survive socially, because your new boss does not need to know that you like a gentle breeze ‘round your privates on Sunday afternoons.

Where autism is concerned, masking is a lot more… consuming, let’s say. Autism isn’t a personality trait that shows up in certain situations (like even if I do like to run around naked on weekends, I don’t do that in the office); it’s the way your brain is wired. Not wrong, just different. The trouble is that different can be socially damning. 

I remember when I was younger, there was a kid on my school bus whose autism manifested much more noticeably than mine. While I would sit quietly and stare out the window, focusing on the cool sensation of the glass against my forehead, he would talk and flail and laugh, and the kids from the back of the bus bullied him mercilessly, sometimes going so far as to sexually harass him. He stood out too much; it was social suicide. 

And, well, I learned from that and from other small situations as I grew up that letting those weird parts of you show is too dangerous. That it’ll get you made fun of and torn to shreds. That you’ll be alone. I saw the girl who came from a lower income family, whose clothes and hair were always dirty, who always sat alone. She was too different; she was alone. I saw the kids who I now regret not befriending, who went on and on for days about D&D and all of those fantasy stories, and I saw how people avoided and laughed at them, and I learned a lesson. They were too different; they were mocked. 

You hide things, you know? Don’t talk obsessively about Disney World, that’s weird. Are you excited about that thing? Don’t flap your hands or bounce or do a little dance; that’s weird. Are you too tired to think? Don’t play with your hair; that’s unhygienic (Mrs. Dube, if you ever read this, I hope you feel like shit for what you did to all of us in your class). Everyone is having fun at this party, and even though it’s too much for you, smile anyway. People think it’s weird when you talk to them without meeting their eyes; make eye contact, even though it hurts. 

In a way, I sometimes felt like an alien, trying to learn the way that the world was supposed to work. It’s part of why I loved being onstage–it was like an evaluation of my ability to act like a human being. “SEE?” I could say, as I got into one of my character parts (I had so much fun with those). “LOOK AT HOW GOOD AT HUMANING I AM!” And I wasn’t weird or different, I’d unlocked the secret to being human like everyone else. 

And then the lights went out, I got offstage, and I was right back to being bad at being a person again.

(this all sounds very sad, but I promise, there’s good coming)

But one thing nobody talks about, when they talk about masking and autism and all of that, is the beautiful freedom of unmasking: of finding someone or several someones who catch a glimpse beneath your mask, show how much they love you anyway or even because of what they see, and help you feel comfortable enough to remove your mask completely, to say, “fuck it, I am who I am.”

My most obvious example of this is Kyle. Over the early years of our relationship, he peeled back layers of my mask bit by bit, knowing what was underneath but letting me take my time to show him. And now, my god, how comfortable I am around him! We were watching The Mandalorian a little while ago, the episode where Moff Gideon reveals that he has the darksaber, and I shrieked and started flapping my hands, which I never do because I know it’s a weird thing, that even if I have the instinct to do it, people don’t like it when you do it, but with Kyle, it just hit me that maybe it’s okay, that maybe he loves that about me, and he does, and he smiled at me and just said that he knew I’d love that, and that was that.

GOSH I love him. 

And I’ve been thinking about it, and I realized that my first intentional unmasking came when I did my semester at Oxford back in 2004. Away from people who knew the masked me, away from anyone who knew the big long plans I had for my life and the narrative strand I wanted my life to take, I felt free to just… be. Not to the extent of flapping my hands excitedly about things, but I went in exhausted, torn down from a shitty relationship right before I left, and basically stripped down to my essentials to a point where I just… couldn’t be bothered. After all, it was only 100 days, and if my housemates thought I was too weird, we’d all be going to different corners of the world after that anyway.

But they didn’t think I was too weird. Pretty weird, I’m sure (I am pretty weird, after all), but they liked me, the me with only the barest of masks on, and the best part about that was how it allowed me to solidify who I am, not just which mask I’m wearing. And since that point, I’ve been a lot less interested in hiding any part of me: autistic, neurotypical, pleasant, unpleasant. I am who I am, warts and all. 

I also look back and think about the handful of “ones that got away,” you know, the people with whom you know you could have had something special, that even when you’re perfectly happy in the life you’ve got now, you regret the way things ended. And I realized that the ones that got away, the ones I wish I had actually connected with for longer than a millisecond, they all peeked beneath that mask and tried to let me be myself… and I got scared and ran, because even with that reassurance that hey, I love you for who you actually are, it’s hard to trust. 

Because you know, you get people who want to remake the mask into something more to their liking or you get people who trust the mask is reality, but when someone genuinely wants to see what’s beneath the mask before you’re ready, even if they like what they see, you get scared. 

Anyway.

Isaac, so far, has no mask. He looks to his brother and sister for information on how he should behave as a person–it’s fascinating to watch in real time–but he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is. And he is an absolute delight of a child. He’s creative and funny and an absolute little shit in the best way possible. 

(parents know that when you’re calling your kid a little shit, it’s not because you don’t love them; it’s because they figured out how to do something they weren’t supposed to do in a way that you can’t help feeling a little bit proud of. Like, no, you’re not supposed to have eaten 32 cookies before dinner, but the Rube Goldberg device you built to access the Oreos is technically amazing and I’m sending in your application for Mensa while also sending you to your room)

We call him our little rogue, because we are a D&D family, after all. Sam, with his strong sense of personal rules and tendency to charge headfirst into everything (walls included) is our paladin. Carrie, always performing and able to reduce you to giggles or tears with a single look, is our bard. But Isaac, climbing and sneaking and figuring out every possible puzzle, is our little rogue. 

He likes to build and set things up in particular ways. He uses the books in his bedroom to make smaller rooms–setting them up at the foot of the bed or against the wall to make into a room with a door that opens and closes. And sure, he tears the pages out and tosses them around like confetti (we are down to about 3 books that he hasn’t destroyed, save for the older ones that come into the room for bedtime and leave afterwards), but the amazing creativity and cleverness he exhibits to build his own little rooms like that just astounds me. 

And then his cars. He’s doing the stereotypical lining up cars thing, but he does it in such a way that the cars all face out of the window through which he watches cars coming up and down our street. And I just flail because what a guy! What a clever little dude! What an amazing mind at work! 

We never discourage him from stimming; instead, we stim with him, the whole family gets involved. We turn on his favorite music, and the five of us just rock with him, and he has this HUGE smile on his face because he’s not alone. His family gets him. We’re not going to stop him from being who he is. 

I think the fact of him eventually masking is inevitable; even in a more enlightened world, 30 years after I was a weird kid combing her hair with a fork in the first grade, you can only deviate from the norm so much before people start giving you a wide berth. He’ll have a teacher scold him at some point for rocking too much during a test or he’ll get teased for talking too much about cars with another person. He’ll learn to hide those aspects of himself for a while, around people who don’t know him well enough to love him for who he is. And I hate it.

But.

I hope that Isaac understands this: that he doesn’t need to mask around us. That we’ve seen the way he’s made from the very beginning. We know why he does what he does, and we love it about him. Isaac, unmasked, is the person we love and always will. 

November

This month has been here for roughly two weeks, and it’s already established itself as wild, even by 2020 standards, and as a month that nobody understands why it’s here already, as if the rest of 2020 hadn’t lasted for 70 years. But here we are, November 12, and I’m overwhelmed with all of the things I’ve accumulated in my mind this month.

(the arrows are the things I’ve accumulated in my mind this month, for reference)

We’ll start with the end of last month.

On October 26, I went in for laparoscopic surgery to see if I had endometriosis and, if I did, remove as much of it as possible. The surgery didn’t make me nervous in the least; when you’ve been through as many cycles of IVF as I have, things like anesthesia or the usual surgery worries kind of roll off you like water off a duck’s back. I was actually kind of looking forward to all of it, because it meant a day where I wouldn’t have to juggle the kids and everything about the house but could just rest and heal.

The surgery itself went about as well as I could hope, though my doctor didn’t find any endometriosis. He did find a non-zero number of adhesions in my abdomen—basically scar tissue glueing my organs together—from a previous surgery, probably my C-section, and he removed those. And honestly, that seems to have done the trick? My only pain right now is from sciatica, which is a BITCH, but the abdominal pain seems to have utterly vanished, and I’m LOVING it. It’s a good step on the road towards eventually yeeting my uterus and ovaries into the sun, because those bitches have been nothing but trouble for me. Couldn’t even manage their biological function without scientific intervention, stab and crush me on a monthly basis for the past 25 years… fuck them utterly.

Even though my adhesions likely came about as a result of my C-section, I’m still glad I had said surgery, and I still look back on it with a lot of fondness. It was a really good experience, genuinely—from it being 100% my choice to the way I was cared for before, during, and after the procedure, I wouldn’t change a thing. But that’s a rant for another day. 

So I’ve been recovering from that surgery for about two weeks now. I’m at about 85-90% functional most of the time, though I still get tired way more easily than I did before the surgery. I also have had to get creative with twin parenting, since I wasn’t supposed to pick up anything heavier than 10 lbs for the first two weeks after the surgery, and the twins are much more than 10 lbs. And they’re two, which means they’re getting into EVERYTHING and living life on the edge. Isaac’s latest game has been getting as close to the television as possible, despite the playpen fence we have around it, and my only tactic for dealing with that is to pathetically holler for Kyle until he’s able to come and rescue our son from trying to pick Donald Duck up from the TV screen.

Carrie, meanwhile, doesn’t need to be picked up because she merrily plops herself right in my lap at all times, sometimes to disastrous effect. The other day, I was sitting on the couch, minding my own business, and Carrie pranced up to me and proceeded to throw herself—elbow first—right on top of the incision at my belly button, popping it right open. Fortunately, it’s since closed back up (laparoscopic incisions heal pretty quickly, and I got on it with a bandaid right after), but oy. Recovering from literally anything with one toddler is difficult; recovering with twins is basically impossible, and it’s a miracle that I haven’t been eviscerated.

In the midst of all this, an election happened. 

Fortunately, Kyle and I had requested absentee ballots when our state offered them to everyone in light of the pandemic. We voted sometime in mid October, with me telling Sam how important it was to choose political leaders with good character (because we were studying good character in social studies and still are—citizens with good character are respectful, responsible, kind, and honest, per his curriculum). And then the surgery happened, and wouldn’t you know it, I was sound asleep at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday when the election was called for Joe Biden. 

Thank God. Like I am not religious, but thank God.

It’s hard to emphasize how difficult it’s been the last four years to raise kids to be proud Americans, to be citizens of character when the leadership in this country was so desperately lacking in it. I imagine it was similarly hard when Bill Clinton was off being a sleaze bag in the 90s (before anyone gets on me for “tribal thinking” or what the fuck ever). You want to tell your kids that character matters, that it’s important to be respectful and responsible and kind and honest, but then you look at the leadership in your country, and the people in the highest offices are the opposite of those things and, what’s more, so many, so VERY many people who voted them in have merrily embraced hatred and spite to the point where they’d rather see their fellow citizens die than listen to them. How can you teach your kid not to be a bully when the bullies seem to have all the power? How can you teach your kid the power and value of respect and responsibility and kindness and honesty when the world seems to reward the opposite?

Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice of candidate, but it’s refreshing to see someone who’s treating their colleagues and fellow citizens with respect, regardless of political belief, who’s responsibly planning his transition into the presidency despite all of the obstacles being thrown in his way, who goes above and beyond to treat individuals with kindness, and who, while not 100% honest, is at least not telling me that my eyes and ears are the ones lying. It feels good to be able to envision telling Sam about the president next year and not biting my tongue. 

But I don’t want to dive into it too much, mostly because I just don’t want to deal with the people bitching about this whole thing. They can all go hang out on Pander or Parlor or whatever-the-fuck, and I’ll be over here, sleeping a little bit easier these nights.

And there’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel! I was already feeling better because of the election news, and then boom, the Pfizer vaccine is over 90% effective. I’ve been reading up on it, and this translates to only needing about 60% of the population vaccinated for herd immunity—how awesome is that? My biggest fear with any vaccine was the sheer number of people who wouldn’t take it—not from justified concerns but because it might give them 5G or something (ha! I wish! I could use a personal hotspot!)—negating its benefits. But here’s another area in which I’m breathing so much easier.

I’ve been thinking so much about what I want to do once things have cleared up, and I think one big thing will be taking the kids down for a three or four day weekend in Philadelphia. It’s educational, what with the Liberty Bell and all; it’s close to Sesame Place, with its autism friendly atmosphere; and I 100% need to find and hug Gritty, avatar of chaos that he is.

And then, I think, a road trip down to Texas again, with stops in Philly and Atlanta. Let the kids see their grandparents again, finally, see more of the country again—GOD, how I’ve missed being outside this little bubble. 

The twins are past due for their first trip to Boston, so that’s on the docket. We’ll take them with their stroller, probably down by Quincy Market and the Harbor, and we’ll ride trains to get there. Sam wasn’t old enough to appreciate being on a train the last time we took one into the city, but he definitely is now, and I can’t wait to take him. 

We’ll go to the mall again, eat in the food court, get truffles from Godiva, and browse the shops slowly and without worrying how crowded they are. The kids can go to the indoor playground and run around to their hearts’ content; they can go to the new outdoor playground down the street and do the same, no masks or worries. 

Kyle and I will have a long overdue anniversary date at the Melting Pot, and maybe another date at Chili’s, not because it’s exactly fine dining but because those are our places.

In September, the kids will all go back to school, Sammy to second grade and the twins to preschool. I’ll have precious quiet hours in the house to write more, to clean up more, to feel my own skin again. I’ll run errands without wondering if I’ve got enough masks or enough clean masks. We’ll go to the movies and eat popcorn and not care if the theater is packed. 

(…well. We’ll care a little)

We’ll see our extended family, my aunties and uncles and cousins that we’ve missed since last Christmas. I’ll see my cousins’ new little babies, and we’ll celebrate being together again with Feasts. 

(I feel like all of our third generation kids need “cousin crew” shirts for that inevitable meeting)

Sam wants to go to the beach, and of course we will, and build sandcastles and not mind that it’s crowded on a summer day. Maybe I’ll even wear a bathing suit this time. Like, it’s not LIKELY, but it’s possible. 

In other words, November has done to me what I never expected any month in 2020 to do: it’s made me back into an optimist, someone who’s looking forward to 2021, not just because it’s no longer 2020 but because it seems like it may bring something good after all. 

…but we’ll see. Until next time!

Teach me how to say good-bye

I don’t think it hit me at home until last night, at around 1:30. 

Kyle had already rolled over and fallen asleep, and I’d just finished reading an article about baby elephants (because the lack of motor control in their trunks is the cutest thing ever) and was rolling over to follow suit. And for some reason, that rolling over made everything hit me. 

For months before now, my cat Tinkerbell was too frail and old to climb up onto our bed, and even when we lifted her onto the bed, she wouldn’t stay long, and her departure always made us panic that she’d managed to break something, because to the last, she was not smart enough to realize that maybe she shouldn’t jump off of things that are so high. But last night, for some reason, my arms felt really empty without the possibility of her being there. The nights when she would be on the bed, I would cuddle with her until she got fed up with me, and all I wanted last night was just one more cuddle, just one more hug. 

It was pretty bad. I eventually got up (it was now encroaching on 2 a.m.) and got my old teddy bear from the bookcase where he’s been sitting for a while. He’s an ancient thing, a stuffed animal I got right around my first birthday, and he’s caught more tears and been through more hugs than almost anything I own. As toys in their 30s go, he’s not in the best shape, but he’s almost Real in the Velveteen Rabbit sense. Missing an eye, all his stuffing in the wrong places, a few awkward tears, burns on his back from one time when my mom tried to dry him in their fancy dryer and it was set too high for a nearly 40 year old bear.

But anyway, I haven’t held him while I was sleeping in a really long time; after all, I have a husband now. And last night, Kyle was there, snoring away, but I needed something smaller and more… I guess primal to hold onto. So I got my bear, Patchwork Bear. And I cried.

We don’t know what made Tinkerbell so sick lately. She’s been going downhill for upwards of a year, maybe 18 months, but we’d agreed at some point around the last time we spent $1500 because she was constipated that diagnostic tests were just too expensive for a cat that wasn’t likely to live much longer anyway. Any sort of treatments we’d give her would just stress her out and would ultimately be for us, so that we could put off saying good-bye and feeling like this. 

And throughout the last ~18 months or so, she’d been somewhat normal. Lost a lot of weight, became more and more reclusive, but still wandered out and screamed at us to feed her first thing in the morning and last thing at night, still puked to show her displeasure, still loved getting pet behind the ears and under the chin and on the neck. 

It was really just this week that she leaned into that decline. All of a sudden, she stopped eating completely. She stopped drinking more than kitty sips of water. She started to be incontinent. She was wandering places that she didn’t usually like to be–the front door, her old room, the dining room–and meowing for no reason. 

We called the vet, and the vet confirmed what I already knew: it was time. 

We’ve been talking about her death for a long time, because she was an OLD cat. Not record-breaking (she’d never have given us that satisfaction), but old enough that she’d stopped looking alive about two years ago. She’d had kitty incontinence for a while, which resulted in us closing off a whole room of our house solely for her use until she was in too much pain from arthritis and too tired to climb up and down the stairs (said room is, by the way, getting refloored as soon as I can get a decent estimate and get someone out here to do it). We talked a lot about the next cat we would get (“not until we’ve fixed the cat room!” Kyle continues to insist as I scroll through pictures of black cats and ginger cats and Maine Coons that look like Ron Perlman and Oriental shorthairs with ears too big for their heads), and it always came with the joke that she’d live forever just out of spite.

Spite fueled her a lot–after all, her first introduction to domestic life involved our dog excitedly deciding she was a new chew toy and putting her entire head inside of his mouth–but she was also very lovey once she decided you were Hers. She’d butt her head against your legs, roll around on the floor while giving you big cute eyes so you’d forgive her for puking her dinner up and asking for more. She communicated with a lot of squeaking and “brrt?” noises, and especially towards the end of her life, she’d give these purry, gurgly meows whenever we were petting her, as if to say, “Yes, that is delightful, do not stop.”

She was the runt of her litter, so she always ate her food way too fast, especially when there were other cats in the house; after all, if she DIDN’T eat the food fast enough, there might not be any left. And then, like the absolute genius she was, she would horf it all back up and beg for more. And just when I’d be SO. ANNOYED. with her for doing that, she’d delicately (or indelicately, when she was young and weighing in at 15 lbs) curl up right over my heart and fall asleep there, purring all the while as I inhaled her fur and had many coughing fits because of it. 

Kyle and I took Tinkerbell to the vet for the last time on Friday night. Despite Covid, the vet’s office let us be in the room with them and her to say good-bye; otherwise, we’d have had to wait outside. They had a little electric candle that they lit at the front desk to let other families know to please be quiet because we were saying good-bye to her. 

Very little of it was surprising or unexpected to me, because I’d spent the days leading up to her death reading about what would happen. I knew they’d put in a catheter, and I knew she’d fall asleep quickly. I knew it would be painless for her. I knew she’d let out a little sigh as the last air left her lungs. I knew her eyes would be open once she died, because closing your eyes requires muscle tension, and she had none once she was gone. 

The only two unexpected bits were exactly how sick she was and how above and beyond our vet and vet tech went to make her happy and comfortable. Because as it turned out, she’d lost so much weight that she was down to less than 2.5 lbs. It took them a long time to find a vein for the catheter, but they assured us that was normal for a cat of her age (adding, too, that she was the second oldest cat they’d seen there lately; the oldest being 21). And then, when it was time to let go, the vet tech suddenly asked, “Does she like cheese?” and I managed to say that she did, in between sobs (those enormous ones, coming from a pain so deep inside of you that it’s part of your very making). The tech gave her one ENORMOUS squirt of squeezy cheese, you know the fake stuff from the can, and she devoured that so fast that he managed to give her two more before the vet was ready to administer the final injections.

And then, it was over, so fast that it didn’t seem real. I cried and I cried, but I didn’t hold her body or cuddle her or stay for a long time afterwards because… well, that wasn’t her anymore. She’s gone, moved onto her next kitty life (from her idiocy, I assume that she was pretty early on in the nine lives cycle; maybe her third or fourth life, tops).

I know you can’t really look at death and say that anything happens afterwards with real certainty. Despite not knowing, I take a lot of comfort in the fact that no matter what, if anything, happens to any extra-physical part of me–a soul or spirit or the me of me–the atoms that make up my physical body will return to the cosmos that birthed them and become parts of stars and flowers and cockroaches and raindrops and soil and everything else in the universe at some point. And maybe, by chance, my atoms and the atoms of the people I love will meet up and make a spiderweb or a comet or a cloud together. And the atoms from Tinkerbell’s ashes (since we’re having her cremated, rather than deal with figuring out whether we can bury her in the backyard and risk attracting the foxes and bears and bobcats that have been running around our town lately) might be part of that, too, and that’s comforting enough on its own.

But I still like to think (even though I couldn’t prove it and wouldn’t expect anyone to agree with me) that maybe, on Friday evening, a mama cat was having a litter and maybe, she had one girl kitten who was born with a taste for squeezy cheese, and maybe in 6-8 weeks, when the floor in Tinkerbell’s old room is all fixed and we’re able to adopt another cat, I’ll see her picture on a website; and when I go to meet her, she’ll start purring like mad–too quiet to hear but easy enough to feel–because she found me again.

Breathe Again

2020 is still garbage, but at least the garbage is starting to look like nice garbage instead of a complete dumpster fire on a personal level. 

(globally, the dumpster fire still rages and leaves us with a LOT of work to do once the flames die down in the hopefully near future)

My time in the PHP has drawn to a close, but it ended on a pretty positive note. I actually stayed a week longer than anyone had planned because I started back on my birth control to try and calm some of the really wretched pelvic pain I’ve been dealing with for years now (still no idea when I’ll be having the laparoscopy to look at that, by the way, which is annoying). Back in April/May, we wondered if my birth control had contributed to my depressive downswing, so the psychiatric RN for the program wanted me to stick around another week in case she needed to make immediate changes to my antidepressant in response to my altered hormones. 

BUT so far so good where that’s concerned, so my last day in the program was on Friday the 18th, and I’m now readjusting to the world. One of the biggest ways the program helped, I found, was that it kept me from getting super overwhelmed by the sheer volume of STUFF on any given day with twin two-year-olds and a six-year-old, because the program is over and I’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed again. Not like I’m drowning but just like parenting three kids, two of whom are two years old, one of whom is autistic, another of whom has a tentative diagnosis of ADHD, plus homeschooling the oldest, and all of that during a pandemic… is a little much. 

Nothing has become less since I finished the program; if anything, it’s become MORE because the twins have to get used to me running ABA again and have been super clingy since I finished the program because MOMMY DON’T GO BACK INTO THE OFFICE AGAIN AAAA. The biggest difference has been that I recognize what’s going on and am able to stop it in its tracks with a bunch of techniques I’ve learned. It’s all dumb stuff that mostly relies on me recognizing that I am feeling overwhelmed and that I have a right to feel overwhelmed (and that, in fact, most people would also feel overwhelmed in my shoes), and that’s the hardest part. Depression is a sneaky monster, and it uses whatever looks even slightly like it to gain a foothold, and that’s the danger with it. 

BUT BUT BUT

I’ve also got a lot of things in my corner now. Like a better dosage of my medication (same meds, just more of it, which has slowly but steadily been helping me get to a better place), and like tools to help me recognize when I’m feeling garbage (all written down in the now very FAT notebook), and with all of that working for me, a weirdly genuine optimism. 

It’s weird to have optimism in 2020, but I do. The world is a garbage place right now, but there are still stars, and there are still Octobers and Novembers. Despite it all, people as individuals are good. The pandemic isn’t forever; even if things go horribly in November and incompetence persists past the point of overwhelming sense, pandemics eventually end. An overwhelming majority of the world agrees that climate change is an emergency that needs immediate tending. People care about each other. Vaccines are coming. And time passes so fast these days, which is how aging works, so by the time I’ve blinked twice, it’ll all be over and hopefully better for it.

I wonder if some of the optimism isn’t also because Kyle got a job.

Finally.

No details here, because details there are still being ironed out, BUT the long and short is that it’s a FANTASTIC position that will not only help our family financially (our primary criteria) but will also look AMAZING on his resume, and I’m really proud of him for getting the position and persisting through these last ~5 months where it all seemed really hopeless. 

The only downside is that the job is just north of Boston, an hour commute without traffic (lol no traffic going into Boston, bless). We’re going to drive the route as a family sometime in the next week, just to see how it looks and how stressful it is to get there and back again, like unto a Hobbit. The higher ups are pretty okay with Kyle working from home (since it means fewer days with hours lost to an exhausting commute), but it’s still a schlepp. 

But. We’re going to make it work. 

And with him working again, I feel like I can breathe again. 

*

In other news (in bullet list format because I take my antidepressant at night now, so I find myself being completely useless well before I want to be): 

  • I’m seeing a physical therapist for my everything. I went to the doctor about two weeks ago to see if I could do anything about my back pain that was coming along with the pelvic pain, and my doctor referred me to a physical therapist after taking an X-ray and seeing that my spine has a slight left curve and some minor bone degeneration (which is wild because I’m 36 and that’s not supposed to happen yet?). I’ve been doing those exercises for about five days and (a) ow, but (b) I’m already feeling an improvement. Essentially, the therapist found that my core muscles are a disaster area (no surprises here), so most of my exercises are focused on getting those working again so that the other muscles related to making me upright don’t dissolve from overuse.
  • Homeschooling Sam has been mostly good. He does better on days when we vary up how we study–read a story, get up and run around, watch a video, do some math. There are still more than a few days where he’s not interested in doing ANYTHING, but those days are becoming fewer and farther between. This week will be weird, since he’s having to wait to start until Wednesday (he had a doctor visit today and has a dentist visit tomorrow), but mostly, he’s blowing us away with how clever he is and how even things like third grade math are a breeze for him. 
  • The twins are talking up a storm–parroting (Isaac) and making up the most hilarious sentences (Carrie), and it’s a delight. 
  • And Isaac kept us up until 4 a.m. last night, so I’m going to cut this off here before my writing ceases to make sense. 

Until next time…

Hysteria

I have no idea how long this is going to end up being, but I wanted to get it down on “paper” just in case someone else is going through something similar and wants to know if anyone can relate (because yes, I can). 

About 18 months ago, I started having vague pain in my lower left abdomen, just a faint, bruise-like pain as I was trying to fall asleep. I could mostly ignore it except that last October, it got so bad that I couldn’t function, and I spent a morning in the ER over it, only for them to do a CT scan, observe that I hadn’t yet pooped that day, and diagnose me with a case of constipation that I should follow up with my gynecologist about (a.k.a., they had no fucking idea). 

And I did. I’ve mentioned here before that my gynecologist is awesome. He’s one of those doctors who believes you when you say that you’re suffering, and offers you whatever avenues could possibly exist to alleviate that difficulty. When I was pregnant with the twins and started getting the really bad itching that led to an ICP diagnosis with Sam (albeit, at the very tail end of the pregnancy when I was ready to deliver anyway, and my body just said, “listen, get the kid out of me or I am going to turn myself inside out”), he believed that it was a real problem, even if the lab results didn’t reflect that, and referred me to whomever he could in order to get me treatment that worked.

(in the end, it didn’t matter a lot because not long after the itching started, Isaac decided that he was done with being stuck under his sister and I delivered them)

So his initial steps were (a) to get me a consult with an endocrinologist because my ovaries showed signs of being polycystic; (b) to get me a birth control prescription to try and regulate my menstrual cycle some; and (c) to get me a breast cancer risk assessment as an added bonus. And, admittedly, with the birth control, I wasn’t having as severe pain. It was still there, but it didn’t have the highs and the lows it had without the birth control. The problem was that I got super SUPER depressed (remember that?) and didn’t know if the birth control was to blame, and anyway, I was having so much breakthrough bleeding that the whole thing just seemed silly. I thought he’d said that I should stop the birth control when I saw him back in May/June for the depression, and he thought that the endocrinologist said that I should stop the birth control, but ultimately, the birth control stopped.

SO.

Now we’re getting into July/August. Early August, I suddenly had agonizing pelvic/abdominal pain, like the kind of pain where you feel like you can’t see or think or breathe when it’s happening. It lasted for three days, also around the time that I got depressed enough to need the partial hospitalization program. Well, tl;dr – I got my period on day three. A nasty period. One of those ones that’s just… 

Yeah. 

The pain was bad enough that I could’ve probably gone to the ER for it, but here’s the thing: when you’ve been dismissed in an ER for pain you’re dealing with, you don’t trust them anymore. What were they going to do–give me another CT scan, tell me I was constipated again, tell me to go see my gynecologist? That would be $250 that we didn’t and still don’t have thrown towards an exercise in futility, so I just… skipped the middle man. I called my gynecologist again and said, in essence

I went to see him last week and had an extensive ultrasound, both transvaginal and abdominal. He found nothing on ultrasound but did notice that every time the probe or someone’s hand pressed on a specific spot on my left side, I would writhe in pain. Even if it wasn’t showing up on the ultrasound, something was clearly going on, and he decided that it would be a good idea to do laparoscopic surgery to investigate.

I haven’t had the surgery yet; it’s not for at least another three weeks, maybe more, since his calendar for the month is booked solid. BUT basically, it’s an exploratory surgery to see if I’ve got any endometriosis hanging out. 

Endometriosis is a condition where bits of your uterine lining (called the endometrium) somehow end up other places in your pelvis and abdomen. They don’t die there, though, and instead grow and shrink with your cycle like the rest of your endometrium. And it’s extraordinarily painful. If you’ve gone through childbirth, think about the pain of transition, and that’s about where I am right now. If you haven’t, imagine a giant bull has driven its horns into your lower abdomen and is using them to pin you to a wall. Every time you start to get used to having giant bull horns in your abdomen, he wiggles a little bit, just to make sure you know that yes, you have been stabbed by a bull. 

Or at least that’s what I’m feeling. The other fun thing about endometriosis is that you can’t really diagnose it without getting elbow deep in someone’s abdomen or giving them an MRI, and the surgery is kind of the more helpful step because if the doctor sees endometrial cells while poking around, they can just remove them right then and there and give some temporary remission of pain. 

(they can do this either with a knife or with fire, but a knife is the preferred method because fire can make your organs stick together, apparently, which sounds roughly as unpleasant as what I’m going through now)

So THAT is going on, and I’ve been having this specific bout of pain for five days now–my usual pain relievers haven’t been cutting it at all, so it’s this frustrating mess of misery, where I’m feeling mentally in a place where I want to get out and walk, I want to walk for 30 minutes, I want to hop in the shower and get clean, but I can barely stay upright for more than 2-3 hours at a time. I’m frustrated because this is depression behavior and would/will make it so easy to slide back to a bad place, but I’m just physically having such a hard time right now. 

And THEN, since I’m on day five of being stabbed in the abdomen by a large bull, I went to see my primary doctor today, and she pointed out that while she definitely agrees that it seems like endometriosis (we purposefully didn’t bring that up to see what she’d say, and she said it, so I felt validated), she also thinks I’ve got some sort of wonky thing going on with my hips/spine, because when she pressed on my spine to see how it was doing, it made me scream and writhe and also because I couldn’t lift my left leg very far without it shaking because it hurt so much. 

SO.

Now I have Xrays being processed, a prescription for horse tranquilizer levels of ibuprofen, a physical therapy consult, a laparoscopy to be scheduled, a partial hospitalization program, and a partridge in a pear tree.

AND I’m homeschooling Sam. 

Honestly, occupying a physical form is so dumb and pointless, and I would be much happier, I think, as a being of pure light and energy (that could still eat, because let’s be real, brownies almost make the horrifying ordeal of being mortal worth it). 

I’ll hopefully have updates on all of this hot mess soon. Right now, I’m feeling just barely well enough to sit up and spew words on a page because the huge ibuprofen hasn’t worn off yet, but it will fairly soon, and then it’ll be back to wondering if my uterus really is wandering my body while possessed by the devil. In the meantime, please enjoy Sam’s back-to-school pictures and the knowledge that, despite everything, he’s done really REALLY well with the first two days of homeschool. 

Caterpillar Deconstruction

I was an adult before I learned what happens to a caterpillar when it’s in a chrysalis, mostly because between the age of about seven until adulthood, the metamorphosis of a butterfly just wasn’t at the top of my priority list of “things to know about.” I knew that butterflies had four steps to their lives: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. I knew that I got really excited whenever I saw a butterfly. But I never really cared to find out what the process of changing from a caterpillar into a butterfly looks like. 

(the process of changing from an egg to a caterpillar is basically the same as egg to chick or egg to leopard gecko or egg to spider baby: you get out and you are the thing)

I suppose, even into adulthood, that I’d always assumed it involved the caterpillar just sleeping for a couple of weeks and growing wings while asleep, despite that butterfly bodies and caterpillar bodies look so very different. Maybe when I was smaller, I’d thought that it involved more thought on the caterpillar’s part, like they spent two weeks in front of a closet full of wings trying to decide what color to wear. Had I been a child with access to Sailor Moon (which I was not), I’d probably have imagined a teeny tiny magical girl transformation within the chrysalis. As far as I knew, those things were magic.

Well, as it turns out, the magic of turning from a caterpillar to a chrysalis to a butterfly is kind of messy. Essentially, the caterpillar’s body digests itself from the inside out. Everything it used to use in order to process the leaves it ate instead turns and just… eats its body. All but a few tissues of the old caterpillar are broken down and destroyed as the biological processes that create a butterfly take place. 

(moths do essentially the same thing, except they have cocoons, which are silky, instead of chrysalises, which are hard)

Imagine if that’s how puberty worked. Your kid suddenly starts eating like a bottomless pit then finds a place to hang upside down by their ankles and wrap themselves in a random suit of armor. If you open the suit of armor anywhere within about two weeks, you’ll find nothing but goo because your kid’s stomach acid just devoured them, and then when they come out two weeks later, their legs and mouth are the same, but the rest of them is completely different. 

Bugs are weird.

*

So anyway, week one of partial hospitalization!

Every day starts at 9:00. About fifteen of us assemble on a Zoom call, which functions pretty similarly to most non-work Zoom calls. Some people are in their living room, some people are in their bedroom, some are in their office, some are on their phone and we get to see the entirety of their house over the course of the day. One of our team of five therapists (we also have two psychiatric RNs) comes on, and we do our check-in. 

Check-in is a little bit like checking in for a doctor’s appointment except that nobody sees your weight or tells you to take off your clothes afterwards. We’re asked a series of specific questions about the last 24 hours (or weekend, if it’s a Monday): what did you do last night, did you have any challenges, what sorts of coping skills did you use, things like that. The two big questions end up being “how are you” and “what do you want to accomplish during today’s session?” The first question seems pretty straightforward, but when you’re in a partial hospitalization group for mental illness, it’s anything but. We’re also not allowed to use any noncommittal answers: no “good” or “okay” or “bad.” Every day, we receive a list of potential mood descriptors that we can use. Instead of “good,” maybe you’re “content” or “reassured.” Instead of “okay” you’re “nonchalant” or “preoccupied.” Instead of “bad” or “sad” you’re “pessimistic” or “lonely” or “restless.” The idea there is to get us to really narrow down our feelings so that we can identify where they’re coming from and what, if anything, will help us cope with them. 

The other question is pretty straightforward, sort of, but we have to give a concrete answer. Something like, for example, “I want to listen” or “I don’t know,” doesn’t work. Things like “I want to gain one new coping skill” or “I want to participate in the discussion once for each group” are much better. It gives us a metric to reach or not reach so that, at the end of the day, we can talk about whether or not we managed it and, if not, what we can do to change that in the future.

We have a ten minute break. I usually run out and use the bathroom and give the kids each a hug and a kiss (and Kyle, if I can reach him above all the kids). 

The next two groups are also divided by a ten-minute break, but they’re more teaching groups, helping us to learn skills that will ease the burden of our mood disorders or addictions or whatever else we have going on when we’re not in group. These are a lot harder to break down into a simple paragraph of description because they run the gamut, everything from watching an Instagram model talk about stream of consciousness writing and putting it into practice to finding five sensory objects that we can focus on when our minds begin to spiral out of control to practical advice on when and how to talk about our mental illnesses with other people, including employers.

Oh, and Brene Brown. SO MUCH Brene Brown. 

(if PHPs and IOPs were boiled down to one gif, it would just be an army of Brene Browns running at you full force telling you that you’re worthy)

I like those groups a lot, especially the ones that offer practical advice and coping skills. It’s one thing to gain those theories of “vulnerability is courage and leads to fulfillment” and “shame is neutralized by the words ‘me too,’” and not that internalizing those messages (which it’s hard not to do when you’re being bombarded by them) isn’t helpful and useful, but having practical advice gives me something I can incorporate into my days and either cope MUCH better with the issues I have or else prevent them from getting as bad in the first place.

For example, one that we talk about SO MUCH is called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, which I’d heard about before, but it comes up basically every other session at least twice. It’s a grounding technique you can use when you’re having a panic attack or dissociating or feel yourself spiraling out of control. You find and identify (by saying out loud) five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This gets you out of the panicky mindspace and helps to calm your body down by focusing your mind on concrete things rather than abstracts. I’ve learned to start keeping focusing objects around my desk for those inevitable times when I’ll start panicking or getting too in my head (Kyle is, for his part, not complaining that he’s smelling my perfume more often). 

Another ten minute break (and time for me to take some of my meds), and then it’s our last group, check-out. The questions at check-out follow a similar pattern to those at check-in: did you accomplish what you set out to do today, what is one thing you learned today, what are your plans for tonight, etc. And each check-out ends with the question: are you safe at home? If you seem like you aren’t doing so great, the therapists offer to have someone call and check in with you at some point, and they make sure that everyone who wanted to speak with the psychiatric RNs or with their case manager has done so. 

It doesn’t sound like it would be terribly helpful, but it is. It’s all so simple, but it’s what I–and, I think, all the people in the program–need. It breaks things down for us, gives us very simple and practical ways of looking at our mental health and caring for ourselves so that we don’t feel overwhelmed by the task.

That doesn’t mean we all do really well all of the time. I haven’t walked since Wednesday (in my defense, Thursday and today were rainy, but I have no excuse for Friday), and I had a really bad night last night (more on that in a minute). Mental health is more of a squiggly up and down line than a straight incline–your rough days and good days are going to be all over the place. But hopefully, soonish, the trend for me will be more up days than down ones.

*

Like I said earlier, part of the program is having a psychiatric RN available to help you adjust your medications as needed, and that’s where my bad night yesterday began. 

It was so dumb, really. Yesterday was SUCH a nice day, and I was feeling really good going into the weekend. We didn’t have any concrete plans beyond D&D tonight (I’m skipping because I am just worn thin), but I thought it would be fun to try and get the kids out to a park somewhere tomorrow because it’s going to be really nice. Before doing that, though, I talked with my psychiatric RN about how increasing the dosage of my antidepressant was difficult because the first few days following that increase are always marked by me being really sleepy (or, as they call it in the medical world, “somnolence”). 

“Why don’t you try taking your meds at night instead?” my RN suggested, and I was like

Obviously! If the meds make you sleepy, take them before you’re about to go and sleep! Problem solved! You’ll start getting really sleepy just in time to go to bed, and everything will be happy funtimes!

Ha.

So here’s the thing about my antidepressant: it has a REALLY short half life, about 3-7 hours depending on your dosage and body and whatever. Miss your dose by too long and you’re in for a rough time because my antidepressant, an SNRI, has really bad discontinuation symptoms. We’re talking everything from the jitters to nausea to panic attacks to psychosis. 

I’d experienced a lot of it before, once. I was on half the dosage I’m on now, and I’d forgotten to take my pill with breakfast (this was well before I started using a days of the week pillbox, an accessory that makes me feel like I need to subscribe to AARP magazine but also basically saves my life because depression destroys your memory). I didn’t realize that I’d forgotten for most of the day, and as the day came to a close, I developed a terrible headache, jitters, general agitation, and a very bad mood. I went to bed early, figuring that I could just sleep off whatever this was.

But no, that’s when things got WAY worse. Effexor, my antidepressant, already causes vivid dreams, which has been a lot of fun over the last ~6 years I’ve been on it (I can still tell you most of the details in the yellow house dream or the numerous “we’re going to Disney World but something is going terribly awry” dreams). When the drug isn’t in your body anymore, though, you start having really vivid night terrors. 

When I say “night terrors,” I don’t mean dreams that were logically frightening–those, at least, I could have accepted as waking me up all night long. No, these dreams weren’t even that scary. They were otherwise completely normal dreams that just left me absolutely terrified and certain I was going to die in dreamland. It was around the third bad dream that I woke up in a cold sweat, put two and two together and realized, “Oh, shit. I forgot my meds yesterday.” The next night terror took this information into account and focused on me trying to get to the hospital to get my medication but constantly missing the subway stop, which, in this bizarre dreamworld, was the scariest thing imaginable. 

SO. 

When my RN told me to start taking my meds at night, I knew I’d be in for something of a rough time beforehand, but I figured that it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as the time before because I wouldn’t have to deal with it while sleeping. No night terrors, maybe a headache or some jitters, but I wasn’t missing a dose. I was just taking it later.

I mean, about eight hours later than I’d taken it the day before, but it would be fine, right?

Around the time Kyle and I put the kids to bed, it started. I felt so irritable. Furious scoldings of my children were in the back of my throat, but the withdrawal hadn’t completely kicked in, so I held them in with some deep breathing and visualization. I came downstairs, and the jitters began. I wasn’t shaking outside of my own control, but my arms and legs felt like they needed me to shake and flap them (“why, brain?” I wailed internally. “You gotta,” my brain, the asshole, replied). I tried to ignore it while eating ice cream, but as I took the last bite, a sense of absolute dread descended on me.

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know what this is like, but I think everyone has had that kind of fear at some point in their lives, even just as a kid. It’s beyond the usual fear of “haha that was a really scary movie, good thing zombies aren’t real, but I’m going to sleep with this baseball bat under my bed just in case.” It’s that sense that if something doesn’t change IMMEDIATELY, you are going to die, with all of your primal instincts to preserve your life kicking in. And that’s super cool and helpful if you’re a caveman and there’s a sabretooth tiger stalking you, but when you’re a 21st century mom who just wants to get to the kitchen to put away her ice cream bowl, it’s a little inconvenient.

I put the bowl back. I grabbed a bottle of water. I sat down. It was half an hour early, but I took my antidepressant anyway because I couldn’t stand it anymore. And I wish I could say that the relief was immediate, but medication that goes through your bloodstream has to actually get there first, so I had about an hour, maybe more, to wait until the medication kicked in. 

By now, I was shaking like a leaf and couldn’t stop. I took my phone and my iPad out to the living room and flipped on the Weather Channel, not to pay attention (it was something about trucks and snow, I think?) but to have consistent noise. I tried to focus on every exercise I’ve learned to get through a panic attack, and they’d work for a couple of minutes before the panic set back in, because it was physiological not psychological. My brain wasn’t panicking because it was afraid; it was panicking because the medication that makes sure it gets enough serotonin and norepinephrine had vanished from my system, and the only fix for that was to get that medication back.

(psychiatric medications are a trip, let me tell you; this is why you have to taper off them instead of quitting cold turkey, and I 100% understand why it’s so hard to stop using illicit drugs)

Kyle eventually came out to the living room and sat with me and let me talk and talk until I could stop panicking, which was about an hour and a half after I took the meds. Even that was scary at first, because I couldn’t keep my train of thought, and half the time, I wasn’t 100% sure that I was saying words in a way that could be understood either. But the meds did kick in, slowly, and I came down from my panic, slowly. It still wasn’t a great night afterwards, and I felt exhausted this morning, but at least my lizard brain isn’t currently telling me that DOOM IS COMING anymore.

The exhaustion that carried over to today translated into me taking a nap this afternoon, since today was just. Gross. Super humid outside, rain all day (but not the pleasant kind, the kind that gives me a migraine), everything feeling like it was dragging through sludge. And then I was supposed to do D&D tonight, but five minutes in, I started panicking and cut out as quick as I could because I didn’t want to have another attack. 

It’s like. Days where I have the PHP, I’m tired but okay. Days where I don’t, everything goes upside down and sideways. But on the plus side, I’ve been coloring a bunch of downloadable pages and that’s been fun. And it’s still just the end of week one, so who knows. Maybe at the end of next week, I’ll be. Saner? We’ll see.

Two weeks in a chrysalis

The kids have this book they adore called “The Very Impatient Caterpillar.” As the title suggests, the book is about a caterpillar who has a difficult time coping with the fact that metamorphosis takes two weeks. He tries to rush the process, cries that he can’t last the entire two weeks, but in the end, he makes it and transforms into a butterfly… only to learn, to his dismay, that migration will take a long time, too. 

It’s this book, it’s absolutely hilarious, and I love it.

It’s genuinely hilarious, and it gives us a good lesson to point to when any of the kids need to be a little more patient (after all, we do have to wait for things in this life, even if instant gratification takes too long). Carrie, in particular, has fallen in love with the voices I do for all of the characters and can recite the book without blinking, despite stumbling over a few of the larger words (“metamorphosize” is, after all, quite a mouthful for a girl of only two). 

*

I’m writing this nervously because I know how easy it would be to take the wrong way and be used against me. I file it with other things that could be taken the wrong way and used against me: that time I didn’t teach any Friday classes when I was supposed to, my struggle with getting to the office on time, my list of “incomplete” graduate school classes, my constant panicked running after my student loans, my obnoxiously blossoming weight. 

But.

Today, I learned a thing or two about shame, about how it serves as the critic on your shoulder saying that you’re not good enough, and then saying who do you think you are? And, as it turns out, that critic is just your mind messing with you. That when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you’re opening yourself up to failure, but you’re also throwing your voice out there to others who are going through the same struggle; your “me too” is the enemy of their shame and allows them to be vulnerable as well, to step into the light and see that the stupid critic on your shoulder is a liar. 

So here’s where I am. 

About a week, maybe two weeks ago, I found myself in a dark place again. I don’t know what precipitated it, except maybe the weight of everything I’ve been doing, from coordinating the kids’ therapy to trying to make the burden on Kyle as small as possible to my own health issues (more on that in a minute) just crashing down on me at once. I’ve been seeing a therapist once a week since May/June, but that Friday, I didn’t want to see her. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to go upstairs to my big, comfortable bed, with the AC blasting on me, and just disappear. 

(naturally, only while the twins were napping–after all, doing otherwise would leave Kyle with too much to do, and I don’t want to do that)

Some part of my brain, the part that’s still rational, pointed out that all of this meant I probably needed to talk to my therapist, so I did, and she pointed out that with me still in this dark place, still going back to it so easily, we needed to do something more–the recent increase in my medication and the recent therapy weren’t quite cutting it. 

At her suggestion, I met with a psychiatric RN a few days later, and she took a look at my medications, but more importantly, she talked to Kyle. We don’t always notice when we’re drowning, and Kyle pointed out that I mask so much, even to myself, that it’s sometimes hard to tell; but he’d noticed that I wasn’t doing well. I was struggling to force myself to do things like take a shower. I was sleeping upwards of 14 hours a day and wanted to sleep more. I couldn’t engage with things that used to make me happy. Little problems seemed overwhelming. 

My RN listened to all of this and suggested to me, and to my therapist, that it might be a good idea if I looked into an intensive outpatient program, also called a partial hospitalization program. 

It sounds scary, right? Partial hospitalization. A step more and you’re hospitalized because you’re mentally ill, and that’s a scary thing. That’s something that only happens to people who’ve got it really bad or people who Los Angeles police in the 1930s need to silence or Kennedy daughters whose birth injuries cause them to be a little too scandalous for daddy’s liking or housewives who are more trouble to their husbands than they’re worth. It’s a black mark, a stain, something that can and will be used against you by people who’d rather you not live your best life. It’s a trump card that can be pulled whenever: “Well, I might not be able to tell you the five socioeconomic factors that led to the French Revolution, but at least I’ve never been partially hospitalized.” 

And it’s really stupid that society and our own biases make us think that way, particularly about mental health issues. Someone who has to do 40 hours of chemotherapy isn’t looked down upon or seen as being a hot mess because they’re doing something to heal themselves. Someone who goes to physical therapy every day for two weeks doesn’t have that therapy used against them by assholes (well. Depends on the asshole). Someone who needs a team of doctors to help them solve a physical problem isn’t seen as being weak or having a black mark against them. Why should mental illness be any different?

The prejudices against mental illness and mentally ill people are really stupid when you think about it. I take medication to help my body become less insulin resistant and to make sure that my brain is getting enough serotonin to function correctly. The last time I had bronchitis, I was too sick to get out of bed for a week; this last depressive downswing, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed at all if the kids didn’t need me. Yet my metformin and resting for my bronchitis are seen as necessary steps for my health, while my Effexor and resting for my depression are seen as weakness and laziness, respectively. 

Which, really, is why I’ve been reluctant to write about this. I’m afraid that somewhere, down the road, someone will find this blog post and use it against me. But that said, I think odds are greater that someone, somewhere, is going through this just like I am, and they think that they’re alone, and they feel ashamed for letting it get this bad and ashamed for having this black mark on their record. 

So, to you, whomever you are: you’re not alone. I signed up for the partial hospitalization program. 

It looks very different, I think, from how anyone would expect. I’ve been calling it a “class” to people who don’t need details (like my kids’ therapists; their ABA therapist had the misfortune of overhearing my entire first meeting on Friday because my computer fritzed out right before I joined the Zoom call). About 15 people, all ages, all walks of life, get together every day on Zoom for four hours with 10 minute breaks between sessions. We talk about our struggles and coping mechanisms, and we have psychologists who work with us to learn better coping skills, to rewire our brains so that the world isn’t as heavy, to hopefully move towards wellness. We have a psychiatric RN who monitors our medications and checks in with us to see how the side effects are. We’ve watched several TED talks. We take notes. We compare situations. We work with and for each other. 

It’s not a perfect situation, and today was only my second day in the program. Most of what I’ve been learning has been telling me where my issues originate, not how to fix those issues. 

Which, like. It’s the second day. 

And I’m journaling. I have a really cute journal that I decorated with stickers because it made me happy to do so. 

I took a walk today, only for about 7 minutes because my ankles were screaming at me, but I did it. I took a shower this weekend, and my hair is clean. I ate an apple for breakfast. 

I’m trying to make myself feel obligated to do these things so that I keep doing them, because I know they’re good for me. I know that they’re helping me, even if it’s not an overnight change. And I’m content being in this two week partial hospitalization program, because it’s like the impatient caterpillar’s chrysalis: it’s a safe place where I can deconstruct what’s brought me to this point and hopefully rearrange it into something more beautiful. 

And then maybe I’ll migrate.

*

Physical health wise, things are… interesting. I’ve been having lower left pelvic pain for ages now, more than a year, and I don’t know what’s causing it (ER reports that it was constipation are strongly off the mark). I’m supposed to see my gynecologist next week to try and figure out what’s going on, and that might require some surgery (nothing major, just putting a camera inside of me to look around, because as it turns out, this level of pain isn’t normal). I’m not even sure that it’s a gynecological issue. It could be my gastrointestinal tract finally deciding that it’s through with cheese (please no). It could be my hips suffering after bearing the weight of twins for 34 weeks. 

BUT the fact that it flares up most frequently around when I ovulate and around my period makes me think that no, it’s something gynecological, and I’m hoping something easily fixed. The last thing I need right now is to find out that I’ve got like. Cancer of the everything or something. 

Anyway. That appointment is on September 1. After that, health-depending, it’ll be time to start Sam’s school year and push on until the insanity of 2020 finally goes away. 

Which it will. We just have to be, well. Patient. 

Something I never thought I’d say…

Little known fact about me: I was homeschooled for a year.

If I’m remembering correctly, the reasoning went something like this. My grades had been slipping for two years at that point, due to what I now recognize as my first ever bout with depression (because no, eleven-year-old me, wishing that you’d get hit by a car is not normal). I remember a lot of talk about me not knowing how to study, which is fair enough I suppose, and a lot of blame being cast at the decision of the school district to put me in a fourth grade class that was, charitably speaking, a disaster. 

(the same fourth grade class in which a boy gave me an index card with pee on it, in which I was so bored by the material that I took to drawing on my desk for hours at a time, in which I was a permanent member of the “100+ club” because I’d learned two years before that 0x0=0)

(if I’m casting blame for my depression, it falls at the feet of puberty hormones, a pair of abysmal school years in a row, and plenty of bullying)

So I was homeschooled for eighth grade. My sister was homeschooled the same year, because the district was thoroughly messing up the accommodations for her learning disability (at one point, someone caught her closing herself in her locker during a break in classes because she didn’t want to do her assignment). My brother was homeschooled the same year because it wouldn’t be fair to leave him out. 

It was a weird year. I know that, at the start, I was… reluctant, to put it gently, and by “reluctant,” I mean that I remember having some screaming afternoons for no reason beyond that things were weird; but I eventually got the hang of learning at home, especially after we got into a routine that largely consisted of schoolwork ending by 12:30 every day and plenty of free time afterwards.

My parents used mostly religious curricula; I don’t think it was all A Beka, which was the In Thing at the time, but I feel like I used A Beka for math. My science book talked a lot about how evolution wasn’t a real thing and came with some supplementary materials on that subject, including a book I loved called “Dinosaurs by Design,” which had lots of informational pages on dinosaurs sandwiched between illustrations of, for example, Adam and Eve hanging out with a parasaurolophus. 

(I had to look up how to spell that, don’t judge me, when I was in my dinosaur phase, everything got its name from The Land Before Time)

The history text wasn’t terribly memorable. The English/language arts stuff was great, but then again, I’ve always been an E/LA person. I had to memorize a bunch of poems, and while I don’t remember how any of them went, I remember the act of memorization. For math, I did Algebra I, and I cheated so very much. Whenever my mom would leave me alone to take a test, I’d grab her answer key and input everything, which she must have known about, but it happened anyway. And then in June, as I was preparing to head back to public school (having apparently learned how to study), I had to take the Algebra I final at the high school and panicked because I’d been cheating all year and now my inability to math would be public knowledge and my parents would be furious and it was the end of the world…

…and then I got a 93?

Oh, and then every week or so, we hoofed it up to the nearest Christian school for my sister’s in-school therapy (I think? I don’t remember much because I spent the entire time reading Baby-Sitter’s Club books and longing after the smell of pizza in the other room), and most of what I remember about that was sitting in the front seat of our van singing off-key along with my Sound of Music CD.

Even 20 years later, I can’t decide if it was a good or a bad experience; honestly, I mostly settle on neutral. I don’t know if I actually learned to study or if my depression just ebbed somewhat. I was in honors and AP classes throughout high school, so something went right somewhere. And I remember, my first day back at high school, being beyond surprised when the friends I’d last seen in June two years prior not only remembered me but were incredibly happy to see me. 

(hahaha, thirteen-year-old me was such a miserable child, someone please go back in time and help her and also please de-frizz her hair)

*

Meanwhile, in the world of today, we’ve decided to homeschool Sam for the school year. 

I’m excited for it and simultaneously terrified and worried, because I don’t want to pull him out of school this year, but it honestly seems like the best option. Even in Massachusetts, where a lot of people have been doing really well social distancing and wearing masks, we’ve started seeing Covid-19 cases creep back up, which bodes incredibly ill for the school year. Had we kept up with the low numbers of the summer, I’d have been happy to send Sam back for at least a few weeks so that he could’ve had access to the school’s counselling services and learned to use the distance learning tools they’d set up for the students. 

But the numbers started to creep up.

And ultimately, Sam is… not the best at being self-guided. If we set him up on my computer or on a laptop and said “you need to do your schoolwork,” it wouldn’t take very long for him to end up on YouTube watching Markiplier play a game in which he’s a piece of bread (this is a thing, apparently). I don’t blame him for that, because he’s six. I barely know any adults who, when presented with doing work versus watching videos on YouTube, will easily choose the former. 

It’s the rock and the hard place I’ve been talking about. School isn’t safe. Distance learning won’t work for him. What are we supposed to do?

Well, it turns out that the answer is homeschooling. 

Just for a year, mind. I still think that Sam really needs that social aspect to his education, and that if Covid can get under control by next September (please please PLEASE), I want him to be back in a classroom for that reason alone. He needs kids his age. He needs socialization. He hasn’t had that in ages. 

But for now, homeschooling.

A friend of mine in the next town over posted a link to the curriculum we’re using; it’s called “Moving Beyond the Page,” and it’s largely literature-based and customizable. Sam’s a pretty smart kid overall, but he’s definitely far more advanced in math than he is in reading/writing, so we’re doing a first grade curriculum for reading and writing and a third grade (!) curriculum for math (because he can multiply and divide, and I listen to him do it and think how are you doing this, I couldn’t do that in my head until I was an adult). 

In my fantasy dream world, I’d want to grab one or two of his friends and their families and just do a small group working on the same curriculum, but that almost feels too risky and seems impossible. I wish there were a way to make sure he keeps in touch with his friends, but they’re all so young that the Messenger Kids app ends up being a “sometimes I remember to message my friends but mostly, I play games” thing. And I know that, if he’s anything like me, he’ll spend a lot of the first couple of months in screaming tears over our new normal. 

But. If he’s anything like me, he’ll adjust and come away better for it, having a good and fun (albeit very weird) year and blowing his future second grade teacher’s mind by asking them, “So when do we start square roots?” as everyone else is just getting into their times tables.