Fly Your Freak Flag

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When my son was 6 years old, I liked to call him my noncomformist. He danced to a different tune and wasn’t afraid to show it. I was proud of him for that. We all know how difficult it can be to just be yourself and not worry about what others think you should be.

Now that my boy is 9, I see that in most ways, he’s still that independent free thinker. And I’m still proud of him…yet now I’ve been trying to make him conform.

I know. Shitty, right?

 

Let me lay it out for you. See these boots?  My boy loves these things. He’s finally found footwear that doesn’t hurt him and is completely comfortable. So he wore them all winter and spring. Now that’s it’s near summer, he still wants to wear them. One day last week, he wore shorts and put his boots on. I told him, “No way!” He looked like a clam digger, an old man with his muck boots on. I could just picture him getting teased by kids on the playground and the damn school bus.  I was protecting him….or so I thought.

This week, my son once again wore shorts and as we were leaving, he put his boots on. When I started to tell him “No” he burst into tears. And I mean burst. This kid goes from zero to sobbing in 2 seconds. His face scrunched up and his mouth was making horrible sobbing noises and tears were leaking from his eyes.

I stopped what I was doing and sat down with my boy in front of me. I explained my reasoning, that I didn’t want people to make fun of him. He said he didn’t care if people teased him about his boots, but told me that no one had made fun of him. “Not for that, Mom!” We recently discovered that some older boys were picking on him on the bus (surrounding him, actually) because he’s taller than they are and they don’t like that. So he’s getting pushed around for something he has no control over. And I think that’s why I wanted him to dress differently, to have some kind of control over what the kids do tease him about. Don’t give them more fuel for their fire, you know?

But my little guy sees things differently. Right now, he doesn’t care that he’s not good at sports. He doesn’t care that he’s bigger than everyone else his age. He doesn’t care if he looks weird or odd or silly. And since he doesn’t care, why should I?

I just read a review of the book, The Awakened Family: A revolution in parenting by Shefali Tsabary, with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on this topic. “Only when we can separate our fantasies concerning who our children should be from who they actually are can we do justice to their original essence and craft our parenting to allow for this to flourish.”

In other words, let your son be who he wants to be, Holly. He will never be in any kind of fashion magazine. He will never be an award-winning athlete. Just let him be the boot-wearing, cat-loving, video game player and reader extraordinaire that he is. Let him be the amazing, sensitive, funny, sweet boy that you’re proud of.

Shut up about the boots and just love your boy and makes sure he knows it.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

 

 

Run it out

Five years ago today, I ran my very first race. It was a 5K fundraiser for an animal shelter about 45 minutes from my house. I wanted my first race to be far enough from my home that no one who knew me would be running in it or watching it. I just wanted to try this racing thing and not be completely embarrassed. Like many other slow runners, “just don’t finish last” was my mantra. (Although a few years later, I did finish last in a 5K I ran/walked with my family, and it was freakin’ awesome.) So I ran my race, felt pretty wonderful about it, called my family, texted a friend, then went home. It felt a bit anti-climactic after being so nervous for months, but it was alright.

I wore my first racing t-shirt on my run this morning.

On this anniversary of my first race, I wore my first racing t-shirt on my run this morning. This is me after the run, very sweaty and smiley.

I’ve run a handful of races since then, but racing makes me feel anxious. There’s the cost of the race, then there’s getting there on time and finding a parking space and where do I go and all that shit that I don’t want or need.  After several running injuries, a bad back and now hip pain, the reason I still run after 5 1/2 years is because it makes me feel good.

That doesn’t sound quite right, does it?

Not all of my physical ailments are due to running. I’ve always had a bad back and the MRI image of the herniated disc is my proof. All of the other issues (pulled muscles, feet aches, hip pain) may be from running, but most of that has been manageable. It’s the emotional and mental release that running allows me is why I keep tying those laces time after time.

Running helps rid me of anxiety and worry and sometimes sadness or anger. Although I often do math in my head while running or think about sex or sing the lyrics to whatever tune I’m listening to, all of those things just flow through my mind and I don’t really *feel* any emotions. I just work my body until it’s tired and often sore and when I think I might need to walk the next hill, I try to push through until the next song on my playlist and if I can keep on running through the next one and the next one, then I do.

I think running washes the limbic system in my brain. It clears out the gunk built up in there by my emotional reactions to nearly everything in my life. I’m hoping it will help my memory in the future, too, but only time will tell.

When I run, I love that I can leave everything behind, even for just 30 minutes. I don’t think about mom’s dementia or if I’m scarring my child for life with my parenting skills or what debt needs to be paid. I don’t worry about what I look like. Since I live in a rural area, typically I don’t even have to worry about saying “hello” to other people on the road. I don’t have to be nice to anyone or smile or watch my words. I get to just move my body to the best of my ability, while music I have chosen blasts through my ears and into my limbs and brain and I only think of putting one foot in front of the other. I feel nothing. I’m not angry or sad or happy even. I am just my body and the music. Nothing else.

Not every run is like this, unfortunately. Some runs hurt too much to not feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes my brain is just too filled with emotional baggage to shut down. But most of the time, even for just part of a run, my brain goes on vacation while my body does the work. It’s glorious. It really is. Maybe if someone had told me this before, I would have tried to shed those 85 pounds earlier and got my ass out on the road 20 years ago.

If you’re not a runner and you’re still reading this, I’m not telling you to get out there and run a 5K. I don’t believe running is for everyone. But I think there’s something out there for you that can help you “escape reality” for just a bit, something that can allow you to let off some steam and release whatever pressures you’re feeling. Maybe it’s creating art of some kind, writing, playing tennis, or baking bread. Whatever brings you joy of some sort and makes you breathe easier once you’ve done it. Whatever that thing is, go do it.

I know you’re busy. We all are. But if we don’t find something to release stress and anger and sadness and frustration, then you may find yourself eating that stress away, or drinking it away, or yelling at your loved ones over nothing. You’ll find yourself with high blood pressure or diabetes or some other physical ailment that you might have been able to prevent.

So go.

Find that thing you do.

Climb a mountain. Paint a picture. Make a tasty tomato sauce. Or just go for a run.

You’ll feel better afterwards. I promise.

 

 

Answers

For months now, I’ve been waiting for a doctor to say the word, “dementia.” My siblings and I have known that is what is causing our mom to forget so many things and causing her to repeat herself time and time again. We knew dementia was the only explanation for why there were so many incidents with Mom over the past few years. But no one could or would confirm our beliefs.

Until yesterday.

But have you ever expected an answer to a question, and when you received that expected answer it gave you no relief? It just confirmed your nightmare?

Yeah. That’s how this feels, too.

When the doctor used the words “vascular dementia,” it was a bit of a relief, only because we finally had a diagnosis and it confirmed that my siblings and I were not insane (well…not for this reason, anyway). It’s also a slight comfort to be able to say to someone, “Look, my mom has dementia so she might not remember you after today.” It gives us a word to use to explain our mom’s behavior, a word we can use with certainty.

But today, after using the word a few times and having it flit around in my brain, it just makes me so fucking sad. This diagnosis means that my mother will never, ever get better. She will never, ever remember more than she does at this moment.  If you were to meet her today and again tomorrow and again next month, she would be meeting you for the first time.

Every.single.time.

Our only hope is that between medication and exercising the hell out of her brain, she will slow down the progression of this disease. But it’s all up to her now. This medication is not a magic pill by any means. If Mom doesn’t work her brain by doing jigsaw puzzles and reading and word jumbles, then even that pill can’t slow things down much. But there are physical issues, too. If she stopped smoking, she could slow the disease down. If she can control her diabetes better through nutrition, she can slow this down. If she can keep her blood pressure and cholesterol at good levels, she can maintain her memory as it is now. It’s completely doable….but must feel daunting.

And then the neurologist used the word “Alzheimer’s.” The only way to truly know if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, is to place a slice of their brain under a microscope. Obviously that isn’t going to happen, but with Mom’s family history of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the doctor felt fairly confident that her memory loss was also a part of Alzheimer’s disease.

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You know, that word felt like a slap in the face. I don’t think I fully expected to hear the word, and although it didn’t change the diagnosis at all, it still stung. My mother’s initial reaction was, “Well…at least I have life insurance.” I reassured her that this wasn’t a death sentence (yet), but now after thinking about it for a day, I completely understand her reaction. It *does* feel like a death sentence. We watched one of my grandmothers die from Alzheimer’s and it was absolutely horrific. She could no longer talk by the end and was literally a shell of the woman she once was. And maybe that was what Mom was thinking about.

But the doctor said to my mother, “Don’t just give up on life because what I told you.” The doctor often sees patients just shrug and say, “Well, that’s that. I’m doomed,” which is basically what Mom’s initial reaction said, too. The doctor said that if she works hard and kicks and screams, she can at least maintain her cognitive health as it is now.

Mom’s posture changed when the doctor said this last bit to her. Mom said that she could do this. She’ll work hard. And if there is one thing just about anyone who knows my mother will tell you, is that she is a damn hard worker. But…usually that hard work has been for other people. I can only hope that through our efforts to encourage her by playing card games and doing puzzles with her, Mom will step up and fight for the memories she has left.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have much hope. I know my mother and I know she won’t quit smoking. I think she’ll take her medication and I think she will try to do some mental exercising, but I think part of her has given up.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Mom’s mind stays on an even keel for a while and I get to have her for a while longer. I hope she works her brain so much she kicks my butt at UNO. She’s been known to surprise all of us a time or two, particularly when it comes to her health. And now I’m hoping for at least one more surprise from her.

Here’s to hoping.

And hard work.

And a cure.

ASSUME or ASS U ME?

Yesterday, my family and I went to the Bangor Comic Con. It’s the second year of its existence and like last year, we have a good time gawking at some of the famous people (Nichelle Nichols!), but even more fun “ooo-ing and ahh-ing” over the folks in cosplay.  Deadpool, Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Pikachu and other creatures that I couldn’t identify were there and I loved them all.

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I’m the one on the right. The woman. Not the dude with big ears.

I’m one of those attendees the comic con probably hates, because I don’t typically buy anything. Except for comic books. Some of the vendors have sales on comic books so I like to buy a dozen or so of random titles for myself, my husband and my boy. As I was looking at the boxes of comics with  my head down and my hair hanging down so it covered part of my face, a thirty-something man stood beside me and leaned over in front of me to sort through one of the boxes. “Excuse me, man,” he said.

*sigh”

Man. “Excuse me, MAN.”

Look. I get it. I’m over 6 feet tall and I was wearing clothes that were not really gender specific–jeans, t-shirt, dark jacket. But….couldn’t you just say “excuse me” without adding any kind of noun after it? Were you really THAT sure I was a guy? Was it just my height or was it also my non-existent ass in those jeans? Was it because my hair wasn’t particularly tidy and I looked too unkempt to be a woman?

But I know. It was the height. Men, women, boys and girls have assumed I was a man countless times over the years (although men are more likely to do this than anyone else), and each time it happens it wounds me just a bit. It’s not horribly painful, but it always makes me pause and worry. Is something wrong with me? It makes me wonder why people can’t see who I really am. I often want to press my breasts in the person’s face and say, “SEE?!? I am no man, honey, nor do I ever want to be one. So get your eyes checked, jackass!”

I won’t go so far as to say that I know what any transgender person feels or thinks, but this weekend really got me wondering. Is this what it feels like when someone looks at you and they see a man, say, wearing a dress and heels, but you know in fact that you’re a woman wearing that same dress? Does it make you feel invisible or misunderstood? Or both? Does it anger you or just make you feel sad?

Whenever I have one of these encounters, I stop and really look at myself. Try and see what others see. I am not particularly feminine, or rather society’s definition of feminine. I rarely wear dresses or heels (ok, I NEVER wear heels) and I love jeans, t-shirts and running shoes. I have longish hair, but so does my brother-in-law. Although I doubt he’s ever been called a woman. (His mustache may have something to do with it.) But I do have breasts. They’re pretty awesome, too. I used to think that if you looked at me face on, you could never mistake me for anything but a woman. This theory went out the window last year when a kid in the grocery store line asked her father what that man was buying. The father glanced at me and said, “It doesn’t matter what he’s buying.” Really?!? These people were looking directly at me! I actually laughed out loud because the situation seemed so surreal. I didn’t think anyone could misinterpret these C cups, but I was wrong.

Back at the Comic Con, the thirty-something man did redeem himself. Sort of. After he said, “Excuse me, man” I looked up at him without saying a word. He looked at my face…and chest…and smiled, “OH! Really excuse me! I’m sorry.” I tried to smile (probably looked like a grimace) and nodded. He leaned close to me and said, “You know, I should know better. My wife is six feet tall.”  I looked at him with wide eyes and loudly exclaimed, ” You SHOULD know better!” He laughed and smiled while I bought my comic books and got out of there.

At the Comic Con we were surrounded by people in costumes and drag and very often you had no idea if the person was a woman or a man. And did it matter? NO! It was awesome! Yet a man who was used to being around a tall woman, still assumed that a person with long hair who was just slightly taller than his wife, was a man. Un-fucking-believable.

So…how about leaving out any kind of gender specific nouns and pronouns in that setting…or even everywhere? Look, I’m not going to get all politically correct on you because I know how batshit crazy that can make people. And I don’t hate this man who thought I was a guy. He apologized and that was fantastic. But the fact that he made such an assumption with his experiences made me step back and think, “What is wrong with this picture?”

Maybe we all just need to put some of our assumptions, beliefs and expectations on the back burner for a second. It’s ok to not understand something or someone. It’s ok to be wrong in some of our assumptions. But we need to be willing to accept we’re wrong and apologize if need be. Maybe if we all replaced our assumptions with just acceptance, I wouldn’t have the urge to press my breasts in people’s faces when they call me a dude.

Seriously. This is going to get me in trouble one of these days.

 

BLOG UPDATE:

Remember last time when I told you how much my son was dreading getting glasses? Well, two days later, that all changed. “I’m excited now, Mom. I can’t wait!” Huh.

He still doesn’t wear glasses all day, but when I made him wear them while watching a subtitled anime episode, he exclaimed, “WOW! The words seem bigger with glasses. And I can see their faces better!” Imagine that.:)

Isn’t he just handsome?!?

 

Seeing is believing

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”–Henry David Thoreau

We received a note from the school nurse last week, letting us know our boy was having trouble seeing in the classroom. Both my husband and I were waiting for this to happen. I was 6 years old when I got my first pair of glasses, whereas my husband was in high school. Nearly every adult family member has glasses or had eye surgery, yet apparently our boy was still hoping he was immune.

When I made the appointment to see his optometrist, I warned my son that he would probably have to start wearing glasses. I wanted him to prepare himself if that was indeed the outcome. The kid flat out refused to even think about it. He told me to “Stop saying that!” in a freaked out and “oh my god the world is ending” kind of tone. So I didn’t mention it again.

I picked him up today for his appointment and he was in a great mood. It’s always nice to be picked up early from school, even if it is for a doctor’s appointment. We got to the doctor’s office, waited for less than two minutes and then the various testing began. My boy was polite, funny, and just all around wonderful. I was with him when the doc had him read some of the eye chart, and since he could only read the 2nd line without help, I knew what was coming.

The doctor told my boy that yes, he needed glasses. His vision was not horrible by any means, but with glasses, everything would be that much clearer. He let my son know that he didn’t have to wear glasses when playing sports, but at some point he might find that it could improve his performance. We thanked the doctor, but as soon as he left the room, my boy’s face fell. He was absolutely devastated. He quickly became angry and I just hugged him to me and told him it was ok.

He disagreed. Vehemently.

We walked to a different part of the building to pick up some paperwork and I hugged my boy again. He was fuming but let me hug him. “Honey, this doesn’t change anything. You’re fine. You’re still you.” But between tight lips he spat, “This. Changes. Everything.”

I sighed, but didn’t argue. For just a second I put myself in his place and tried to remember what it was like to put on glasses for the first time. To know that this would be part of my life forever, and everyone would be able to see the change. It wasn’t something you could hide from. “You’re right, Bri. You’re right. This does change things, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing and it’s not a big deal. Honest.”

He didn’t talk to me again until we got into the car. He always sits just behind me and as I started the car, I looked in my review mirror. His head was down so I couldn’t see his face. As I started to turn around in my seat, I could hear my boy gasping for breath as he sobbed. I rubbed his leg and started to cry, too. I asked him if I could get out and give him a hug and he agreed. I got out, opened his car door, and crushed him to me as he cried and cried into my shoulder. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him that I loved him.

After we left the optometrist’s office, I stopped to get gas while my boy ran across the street to get a donut. (I don’t care what anyone says. Anytime we have a doctor’s appointment, we treat ourselves afterwards. Not always to food, but sometimes that’s the easiest and cheapest thing to do. It seemed appropriate today.) As I was pumping gas, I had an “A-ha” moment. Although getting glasses is a little scary and new, my son’s reaction still surprised me. He was really, really upset. And had been since the first mention of glasses last week. It’s not like he doesn’t know anyone who has glasses, but he knows very few kids that do. There are a few, though, including a girl in his class who he’s friends with. BUT, my “a-ha” moment was when I really put myself in my boy’s shoes. My kid–who has tics, who is over five feet tall at the age of eight, who wears shoes bigger than some adults–will now have one more thing to make him different, one more thing to make him stand out in a crowd, one more target on his back for the asshole on the bus to shoot at. THAT was why my kid was crying in the back seat of my car, and I don’t blame him.

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This was taken two years ago when he liked wearing fake glasses.

Being a kid is so damned hard. Do you remember? You want to grow up so fast so you can feel like you have control, feel like you have some power in your life. Of course, once you get there you realize that you really don’t have as much control or power as you thought you would, but we don’t want to hear about that part. I want my boy to feel good about being different, about being unique, and that it’s ok, damn it! I don’t want him to feel like the “special snowflake,” as in feeling entitled. That shit just pisses me off. But I want him to feel good about being who he is. Or what he is. Currently he’s a Star Wars-loving giant who blows on his hands when he’s anxious, is a video game-playing rock star, and will soon be wearing glasses.

I know in another year or two (hopefully sooner), my boy won’t think twice about putting on his glasses. It’ll be just another part of him. It really won’t be a big deal. Until then, I’m hoping he’ll find his way to acceptance without too much anxiety. I want to guide him on this journey by showing him how awesome I know he is and how being exceptional can be wonderful. But I don’t want to beat him over the head with it, you know? I need to be patient and just let him find his way. I know he’ll be ok. I just need to sit back and watch it happen.

And that’s the hardest thing to do.

 

 

The Road to Hell is Paved with Hashtags

I think it’s time I came clean. I’ve tried to be ok with this. I tried to assimilate. But damn it, the Borg can’t have me. So let me be clear…

I hate hashtags.

I do. I hate them. They irritate me to no end.

First, # was not always called a hashtag. You do realize it’s the number symbol or the pound sign, right? And technically, # is not a hashtag. You need both the symbol and a word after it to be a hashtag.

So what would you call this creature?

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Apparently we can name things whatever the hell we want, so I’m calling him the Easter bunny, damn it.

Look, if you’re using Twitter, then I get it. Fine. Hashtags, as the world now calls them, have been used on Twitter for nearly 9 years now as a way to show groups, or to be used as a kind of unifying tool like #forthepeople or #imwithher.  Great. Fantastic.

But then hashtags started showing up EVERYWHERE. Not just other social media like Facebook, but in advertising, news reports, and my particular pet peeve–in conversations. Really?!? Why must you say, “hashtag idiot,” if you’re talking about someone and what to call them an idiot? JUST SAY “IDIOT!”  Or say “fucking idiot” if you want to add some real emphasis.

I realize people are trying to be clever in many of their hashtags or cutesy like #soinlove or #awesomesauce, and every blue moon a hashtag does make me chuckle. But mostly? Mostly they irritate me and give me an urge to hit people.

Admittedly,  many of my friends are hashtag happy. I still love them and think they’re amazing, but my urge to slap them has not waned.

I’m hoping that the hashtag fetish will dissipate in the next 10 years and I can find something else to irritate me. But until then, this is all I have to say, hashtag users.

#SuckIt

Pierre wasn’t completely wrong

During the past month, I’ve found myself saying “I don’t care” quite a lot. Whether it’s to my husbanPierresyrupd when he tells me he doesn’t want to eat chicken for dinner or to my friend who complains about how much her husband spends on booze, the words “I don’t care” have started to flow freely from my mouth and I rather enjoy it.

I’m sure every single one of you have thought the same words in response to a variety of your family’s or friends’ dilemmas. Maybe it’s a lost toy your child is pining for (and you know it’s buried in their closet) or your co-worker is griping about being back to work after a long vacation, and all you want to do is yell, “I DON’T CARE!” But you don’t. Because you shouldn’t or because the time and effort it would take to smooth things over after a big blowout would be massive and you’d never be able to get that time back. So instead you bite your tongue and either give a bit of advice, “Sweetie, maybe try cleaning out your room,” or you nod and pretend empathy and say, “I know how you feel.”

But it’s those times when your loved ones tell you all that is going well for them, and you want so desperately to be happy for them, and yet all you feel is irritation and anger and envy. You want to scream, “I DON’T CARE!” You want to say, “Fuck your sex life, your love life, your vacations, your time off with your kid, your youth, and you. Just FUCK YOU!”

That’s when you take a deep breath and you don’t say any of those things. That’s when you don’t pretend to be happy for them, but you find real joy somewhere deep inside that part of you that really does want happiness for your beautiful friends and family. You dig that little bit of yourself out and shine it up and show those people how much you love them and are happy they’re not as miserable as you are. Misery may love company, but Misery is a real party pooper when Happiness is trying to have a good time. So you suck it up, put a genuine smile on your face, clap your hands (it always helps me be a little more cheerful) and hug your loved one. If you get a little teary, it’s ok. They won’t know if those tears are of joy or sadness, so it won’t matter.

The odd thing is that it’s very easy for me to feel happy for people I’ve never met. Those folks that win the lottery? Although I would have loved to win it myself, I am typically overjoyed for those that do win it. Think about it. How freakin’ extraordinary for something like that to happen! Or hell, when people win prizes on game shows I get excited for them, too. Maybe it’s because these things are like little happy endings only found in fiction, and since they’re strangers they seem more like characters in a book. I don’t know what happens to any of these people after the spotlight fades, nor do I want to know. They’d probably kill the image of the happy ending and I’d have to hate them for it.

But maybe it’s just when I’m feeling shitty about my own life that others’ lives look so great and I can’t help but whine and think, “Why can’t that be me?” Yet I know the grass is not necessarily greener. I know that sometimes that grass is really astroturf and although those Facebook photos make it look great, it’s really a bunch of chemicals that will probably give everyone in the neighborhood cancer.

I don’t want to be like this and I’m really not *always* this bitchy. But I am human. And sometimes it’s tough being a good person, especially when going through a difficult time. I do try to be happy for others and feel empathy for those that need it.  So if you tell me something wonderful or even something horrible that’s happened to you, I may give you a look that could be interpreted as my best Grumpy Cat imgrumpycatpression. Just give me a minute to find that little nugget of joy or compassion I know I have for you.

Unless I tell you that I don’t care.

Then I really don’t.