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Choices

24 Nov

I was sitting on the kitchen floor, trying to muffle my crying, when my husband found me that Christmas Day about ten year ago.

“Oh my God, what’s wrong?” he asked, his voice full of concern.

My response was a babble of how the kitchen was a mess, how I had spent hours cleaning it for two days so I could have it clean for Christmas, but because my husband and kids decided to make a big breakfast Christmas morning, the kitchen was now a mess again – flour on the counters, dirty pans on the stove, and I was faced with more cleaning before having to prepare Christmas dinner  – which then I’d have to clean up after.

All of this between sobs and whining noises that only the dog could hear.

It was an epic, and well-earned, meltdown on my part. That past year, we’d been coming to terms with the fact that our youngest wasn’t just developmentally delayed, she was disabled. She was disabled to the point that she would probably always need to live with us. Just a couple of weeks before Christmas, she’d been diagnosed with epilepsy. I’d fighting depression and anxiety all year and trying to dig my way out of the messy house that came with it. Having the house clean for Christmas had been important to me. A clean house meant that I had my stuff together, that I was getting control of things, that I was a better mom than what I thought I was. A clean house meant a whole lot of things that it didn’t really mean, but it was important at the time. If my house was clean, then it wouldn’t bother me, and I could relax and enjoy the holiday.

I really wanted to enjoy the day.

Instead, I was sitting on the floor in desperate need of a tissue, hyperventilating.

My husband, who was now also sitting on the floor, apologized for messing up my clean kitchen, and offered to take care of things. I hiccupped about how I still had to cook dinner, and things needed to be started asap or else they wouldn’t be done in time, and maybe how everything was impossible because at that point, everything seemed impossible.

“How about we just order Chinese food?” he suggested.

I blinked at him.

“The kids don’t care about the food, and it’s just us anyway. It would be easier.”

A week later, as I told this story to my therapist, I got to this point, and she leaned in. “And what was your answer?” she asked eagerly.

“I told him to see if the Chinese restaurant was open.” I said.

“Yes! That was the right response!” she cheered.

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And it was. It was exactly the right response. I was there, crushed to the floor with the burden of making a perfect holiday, and was given an escape route. I could have forced myself to reject the easier path, to pull myself together and make the damn Christmas dinner.

Instead, I chose the easier route, and in doing so, I chose to enjoy my day.

I can’t remember if the kitchen ever got cleaned or if we decided to just ignore the mess. I do know that the Chinese restaurant was open, and the kids thought it was great to get Chinese for Christmas dinner. Afterwards, I sat on the couch laughing with our youngest while the older three and my husband had an epic Nerf gun battle through the house. For months afterwards, we found orange darts in odd places.

I had given up my idea of what it should be, and embraced what the day could be.

The kids remember it as one of the best Christmases ever.

Go figure, so do I.

Life is funny – you grow up thinking if you just go to school, find the right job, marry the right person, have babies at the right time, that things will go well for you, and there you are on Christmas Day, with the perfect turkey cooked perfectly, the centerpiece of your perfectly laid out table.

But that’s not how it works for most of us, and you’ll find yourself faced with choices. Complicated, messy choices that are hard. There is no getting around those. Some choices are made for you and you have to go along with them.

And sometimes, you are faced with a choice that is almost ridiculously simple, and yet can change everything. They are the choices that end up as the memories we cherish most.

So as we head into this holiday season, I hope you all are able to make a choice that’s easy and that brings joy. 

 

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

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The scars life leaves…

27 Oct

 

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Seventh grade me, posing by the front door, ready for my confirmation (hence the stole)

 

 

I think it was November. I remember it was some time in the middle of the week. A Wednesday or Thursday perhaps, but one of those days where there’d been a day or two of normalcy, and then a day or two of the new reality.

It was seventh grade in the Catholic school I’d gone to for all but kindergarten. It was my hothouse of growth, the second-biggest part of my life outside of home. It was where I spent half my day at, with people I’d spent seven years of my life with.

I thought I was liked. I thought I had friends. Looking back, I can see the great divide between school and home life. We were at the edges of the school boundary line, so I didn’t really have school friends in my neighborhood. I had my friend Laura*, who lived on the same block as me – but Laura went to the public school. My school friends stayed at school, except for the occasional birthday party or sleepover.

By seventh grade, my world had already been shaken. My dad had left when I was in fifth grade, something we didn’t make public knowledge for the first year because there was I guess hopes of reconciliation. By seventh grade, it was generally acknowledged that he was gone.  We were adjusting to the new normal of a one-parent household and Sunday visitations and Dad having an apartment in the city.

And so one day, I sat with my friends at lunch, and everything seemed normal to me. The next day, I walked up to the table and before I could sit down, one girl looked up at me and told me I couldn’t sit there, they didn’t like me anymore. “Go sit at the loser table.”

Because of course there was a loser table, even at my nice Catholic school, with sixty-odd kids in the seventh grade class, all of whom had known each other for years.

I remember some of the other girls didn’t look at me. I remember the spokesgirl smirking. I remember going over to said loser table and asking if I could sit with the two girls there. I don’t know if they asked what had happened, but it didn’t matter, because I had no answer for them.

Adults at the time gave me theories. It was because I was too popular and as the one popular girl moved away, the position of queen bee was open, and the other girl really wanted to be queen bee. It was because my parents had split up and that was “catching”, so I was ostracized for that.

But as an adult myself, I think it was more basic than that. I was an awkward girl with a speech problem, a skin condition, and a bad haircut. I was a dork. I was the opposite of cool. It was seventh grade, and let’s be honest, 12 year old girls are kinda scary and mean. In a way, I was ousted for totally normal reasons.

My status as a social pariah became well-established overnight.

Not only did just about every girl in the seventh grade class stop speaking to me, but the boys did as well. Well, except when those boys were teasing me. And by teasing, I mean taunting my height or my speech problem – which had become my normal and I had been told to just ignore. No teacher seemed to notice my sudden change in status, or the cold shoulders I was given by my peers. There was too much going on in the school administration to notice one girl.

It wasn’t all horrible because I became friends with the other two girls at the outcast table. We hung out after school hours. I introduced them to my friend Laura, and we all became a group of friends.

It wasn’t all horrible. Until it was.

For some reason, the two girls who had befriended me in my time of need decided to also cast me off, taking Laura with them.

And there I was, in late spring of 1985, completely friendless.

I begged my mom to let me change schools, to go from the Catholic school to the public junior high. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending one more year in an environment where I was friendless and ignored. Catholic school was getting too costly for my mom anyway, in her new single-mom status, so she allowed it. I went to a new school the following fall, which was a new school for everyone in the district. I made some friends, my friend Laura and I patched things up, and I moved on.

Sort of.

Because come high school, many of my Catholic schoolmates were once again my classmates. A couple of them and I became friends again. Some just pretended they never knew me – including the head mean girl who told me I no one liked me anymore. We had a couple of classes together where we just kept our distance from one another. And then, after four years, I left the state to go to college and never quite looked back.

And yet…

What happened to me in seventh grade had such an influence on the person I became. It is something that entwined itself into my psyche probably because it came at a time of great upheaval in my home life. Imagine having a year where no matter where you went, you were being rejected and everything you knew changed. Friends turned their backs on you, parents left, taking financial stability with them. Things you enjoyed doing had to be given up. In the space of two years, everything changed – including me.

I was taught, in hard harsh lessons, that I couldn’t trust people, that people would walk away from me, that people would stab me in the back and then ask for the knife back as if I stole it from them. I’d make friends and then wait for the moment they realized they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, certain that at some point, they’d realize I was a loser and leave.

It is something I’ve had to continually overcome all of my life. Which all sounds a bit ridiculous and overdramatic. But if it’d been a physical injury, it would be one that healed, but left scar tissue and a limited range of mobility. And considering it that way doesn’t seem overdramatic at all.

The amazing part to me is that those girls involved in the great unfriending of seventh grade probably have never thought of that Wednesday or Thursday in November. It wasn’t a pivotal moment in their life. It changed my world, not theirs.

Why does this matter now?

Because October is Bullying Prevention Month, or so social media keeps reminding me. And looking back, so much of my formative years were doused in some form of bullying, and it affected me. It affected how I developed and how I viewed relationships with people. It wasn’t something to just get over, because it wasn’t one thing, or one time. I didn’t have a bad day, I had a bad year. I had two bad years. Honestly, I had a few bad years.

Somehow, I came out of it all with only some baggage. Other teens don’t come out of it at all.

In a way, I’m a survivor. Feck that – I *am* a survivor. I’m scrappy as hell, and manage to overcome a lot despite what people have done to me. And I’m here to say to teens, if you’re going through the crappiest year of your life – it gets better. I promise you, it gets better. You will leave all that teen shit behind and step out into the bigger world and it will be better. I would never ever not for a million dollars relive high school. I made lifelong friends in college. I met a guy who likes me for the weirdo I am. Oddly enough, I’ve friended some of my old classmates on Facebook and like them for the adults they became.

And I’ve gone on to live a great life – something oddly enough, may not have happened if I had stayed in my comfortable little bubble of a world. My desire to get the hell out of town put me on a path to my current life, where I’ve done far more than I ever dreamed.

Will you get over what’s been done to you? I don’t know. I do know that wounds will heal and time will give you perspective. It may change you, but you can work with those changes and keep them from becoming negatives. The pain will lessen, and it will stop hounding your waking moments. You can learn how to thrive, and make your own path, find your own way. You can tattoo over that scar and make it something beautiful.

I promise – it can get better.

 

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Adult me, with my mermaid hair, sitting in a bar in Dublin, Ireland having a fabulous time (friend not seen because she was photographing me) 

 

*names changed for privacy  

Closer to Fine

31 Mar

The other day, as I ran errands, the song “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls came on the radio.

I of course, sang along, doing the higher harmony part.

But my mind wandered back to a time in the early 90’s at my small Catholic college, where one of the campus bands decided, for moral reasons, not to play their songs anymore. Because they were lesbians, and playing their music would be seen as condoning their lifestyle choices.

I remember being disappointed by the campus band’s choice, because I liked those songs, liked singing along with those songs. But my college was all about making “statements” and this was their statement to make. So my friends and I went back to singing along with “Closer to Fine” playing on cassette tapes in common rooms.

As I thought about that moment in the car, “Closer to Fine” playing in the background, I realized this was the only group that one campus band refused to play because of “moral reasons”. They were okay with playing Crosby, Stills, and Nash (a group comprised of men whose lifestyles included drugs and divorce), Bob Dylan (who had multiple relationships with women), Eric Clapton (who had a hit with the song “Cocaine”), and other such musicians whose “lifestyle choices” did not mesh with the Catholic Church.

But their songs, they could be sung.

Was it because they were all male? Was it because, while the multiple relationships were a bit frowned upon, were at least heterosexual? Was it because they were so established in society it was okay, but the Indigo Girls, they were new, and so had to be made an example of?

Who knows what their logic was for what they chose was morally okay and what was not. It was a strange place, my college campus, a place where I made lifelong friends and my husband, yet a place where I was also judged and shamed by people who didn’t get to know me for everything from musical choices to clothing choices (which I ignored – peer pressure has the opposite wanted affect on me – instead of bending to wills of others, I dug in my heels, and stayed true to me.)

Ironically, when I got home that day, thinking about these, a college friend published a story of judgment and shame she endured by roommates over a dress that was deemed immoral.

Have a seat.” One roommate called the meeting to order. “I found this in your closet.”

That’s when I noticed it. My dress. Laid across the table. Did they think I had stolen it? I had never stolen anything in my life, save a duck eraser from the prize box in fifth grade, but clearly that had riddled me with enough guilt that I was never one to foray into shoplifting. Between my guilt and the fear of getting caught, I had long since marked theft off of my list of must-tries.

“We know now. You were obviously sleeping with him.”

My heart started beating really fast. The room appeared to be spinning, and I saw spots. From what I could piece together, my concerned roommates had decided that my new, immodest dress was proof positive that I had been having sex with my now-ex-boyfriend. (I hadn’t been.) They had previously suspected as much because I had been so emotionally invested, but now this was their tangible proof that I was no longer a virgin. –  The Dress That Ended My Modesty Obsession, by Jenn Morson

I had no idea she had written this, and yet, the timing of it coinciding with my wondering why music by lesbians was banished, but music by men who had several marriages and did drugs was okay, well, it was a bit of a coincidence, was it not? Is it because now, we’re so far away from those days back at our conservative college, now that we’re raising children of our own, that we can look back and see what was maybe not the healthiest of atmospheres for a very young woman?

Because her incident with being confronted with her scandalous clothing choices wasn’t a singular tale. I vividly recall the day I wore a mini skirt (over leggings) and listened to a trail of “Wow, look at her skirt!” all day until a “friend” stopped me to say snidely “Isn’t your skirt a bit short?”

“Yeah, well so am I.” I snapped back, carting my tray of crappy cafeteria food to my table of friends.

Because flipping people the middle finger in the middle of the cafeteria was possibly frowned upon more than music by lesbians.

Ironically, if I want to flash back to my freshman year of college, it’s not one of the Christian artists that tips me off – frankly because I rarely if ever listened to them.

No, it’s “Closer to Fine” that puts me back there, with friends who are still friends of mine today, laughing, being too loud, too secular, and our own selves.

I spent five* years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper, and I was free…


*yes, I know, the original lyric is “four years” not five – but it took me five years to get that paper, and that’s how I sing it

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