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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


This is the second day in a week when all four kids have been asleep at nap time in our own home. Glory, glory Hallelujah! There is nothing better than this. I can't go anywhere because the kids are asleep (actually I technically could go somewhere because my friend Phyllis is still here I think). I'm not driving around, getting the kids to sleep but getting no rest or break for myself. Even better, I am in Lily and Cyrus' room and told them I'm stay here the whole time. Hysterical with freedom! And when I turned around and saw my laptop sitting on the dresser it felt like someone snuck in a left me a present. The laptop is in here because we got some nightlights to replace the flashlight we'd been turning on for the Bigs these past few weeks at night and the new nightlights, though already loved, require either batteries or a USB cord that only plugs into a computer. Why is this a design? Do many children have computers in their rooms for such a thing? Or do many adults have the adapter thingies that plug into the wall and into the USB cord? Or do other adults read the fine print about the weird way things are made? I do not know.

So I'm trapped and my kids are angelic and I get to write and read through the dozens of articles I have saved on Facebook and my life is great right now. Naps! I just can't tell you in enough descriptive words how wonderful four napping children in their own beds is for a mama. I need to cover myself in exclamation points and caps and do a twirly dance and drink a martini and then take my own nap and eat some cake and get a massage and a pedicure and collapse smiling into a pile of down comforters and chinchillas.

As usual there is way more in my mind than I can ever get down on fake paper. This is what there is today.

Here is something I read today. I share it because I want to keep talking about racism in our country and what we can do to fix it. Eradicate it. And because I am learning and thinking about it all the time. Do you have something you think I should read? Please share.

Talk MLKs name out your mouth: An open letter to Clemson football coach Dabo Sweeney

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Black lives need to matter too

I started this in July 2016, after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Then I got self-conscious and scared and put it away. Unbearably, here is another opportunity in the aftermath of the murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed 40-year-old black man who was killed in Tulsa yesterday. Video in Tulsa police shooting shows black man was unarmed with hands up

The flea infestation in our house has not been cleared, We have bombed, sprayed, had the exterminator out twice, washed almost everything in hot water more than once. The dog died. The fleas still live. The last time the exterminator came he looked at me standing with four toddlers at my feet and said in all seriousness that it would work better if we took everything out of the house and washed it at a laundry mat. I stared back at him blankly. Ummmm. And we will do that how?

I sat in a chair for three hours this week, getting a $13,000 drug pumped into my veins through an IV chemo-like. This drug has silenced but probably not healed my ulcerative colitis. Insurance pays for 70% of it and I get it every two months. And I am so damn grateful to feel so much better that I don't even want to think about another way I could treat my illness right now. I'm going to enjoy the absence of pain for a while.

My marriage is buffeted by the normal winds of raising young children, of sharing space and responsibility and limited free time with another adult and trying to figure out how to even come close to thriving every now and then.

All of this and I do not fear for my life.

I started that list because it sums up my day-to-day life, the stressors that make it hard to be me. But I am not special in having personal shit to deal with. I am special in that when a black man my age gets shot and killed by police, I don't feel it in my gut and think "That could have been me." Never once have I thought or felt that. In my last post about race I used some stories my friends had shared about experiencing racism for the first time, when they were children. This is an exchange I had with one friend:

Me: Hi Friend, May I put the story you shared yesterday on Antoine's page in a blog post?

Friend: Absolutely! How are you and those beautiful babies?

Me: Oh thanks! We are good. I mean, they make me feel like a crazy person 98% of the time and I'm not sure my marriage will survive parenting this litter but aside from that good And you?

Friend:Four babies... you and your husband are rock stars! I have two and I sometimes wonder if my marriage will survive them. Keep going...one foot in front of the other!

That friend looks like Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and the many other black men who have been murdered in the past two years, except he looks absolutely nothing like them other than the fact that they are all black. So when he says that's all we can do, put one foot in front of the other, he is acknowledging that as spouses and parents and professionals we are working hard every day. He has a list similar to mine above, although probably without the fleas. A list that looks like daily life. But he also has to add worry and fear and despair what might happen if he ever has a run in with the police. Oh, there's the fear and sickness in my own gut. Even writing those words about someone I know and love made it real. The point is that none of us has time or energy to try to fix the systemic racism and oppression that is killing black and brown people every day, in myriad ways, in our country that we love. But some of us can turn away from it and some cannot. For those of us who have white skin, please let us join the conversation. Please let us find something, somewhere, to do.

My last post On Parenting and Privilege included an article that talked about PTSD experienced by people of color as a result of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. A friend shared the post and someone she knew commented, taking some issue with the reference to PTSD. He said PTSD is a legitimate medical diagnosis and should not be taken lightly. That's the point.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Mayo Clinic
What will it take for us to see that black lives do not matter as much as white lives in this country, in this time? That if any of us (myself included) do not viscerally feel the trauma of these men being shot and killed by police, we are living a different life than our fellow citizens?

What will it take for us to see that there are different countries within this country? That black and brown-skinned citizens watch people who look like them being killed on TV, by people paid to serve and protect, and nothing happens to the people who killed them. One of the most powerful things I read in the weeks following Alton Sterling and Philando Castile's murders was a personal essay written by 31-year-old Brian Crooks in which he wrote: 
"That is why Black people are in such pain right now. The deaths are bad enough. But having the feeling that nobody will ever actually be held accountable for the deaths is so much worse. And then watching as the police union, the media, and conservative politicians team up to imagine scenarios where the officer did nothing wrong, and then tell those of us who are in pain that our pain is wrong, unjustified, and all in our heads just serves to twist the knife."
I feel afraid when I even consider writing the word "murder" in my posts or my essays. I keep having to check myself--why am I afraid? Why don't I want to do it? This is what I've come up with, ranging from being generous with myself to hard/honest with myself:
-I don't think I've ever written the word murder before. It's not a word in my vocabulary, it scares me and I try not to do anything that brings me into the realm of using the word.
-It feels like a legal definition and by using it I'm stepping outside my sphere of knowledge. I feel okay about "killed" because I can see and read for myself that it happened. But murder? Am I sure?
-It feels so divisive, like I am taking a side. If I write "murder" people will think that I am anti-police and I am not anti-police so wouldn't it be better to use a safer word? 
I'm afraid to hurt people or make people mad by what I write here, in this sacred space that I have finally created, where I put myself into words where other people can see them. I feel like I should start with a bulleted list that says I do honor the fallen police offers in Dallas and I'm also honoring the people killed in Nice and. . .do I need to say all that? Can we give each other the benefit of the doubt that it is not either/or?It is not either/or.
My chest is full of uncried tears for all the death, all the fear, all the anger, all the pain. The familiar desire to just yell what's the point anyway? It's too hard! What difference does anything I do make anyway?
Some tears came last night as I lay on the floor in the kids' room, having literally thrown my daughter into her bed after an hour and a half of trying to get them to go to sleep. I was so done and felt so powerless and I reacted by scaring this precious, innocent person who means the world to me because I was just so done and I didn't know what else to do. I lay in the dark, covered in shame, listening to her quietly talk herself to sleep, wanting to climb up and apologize to her, to make amends, but not wanting to mess with the quiet that was finally arriving. It was a day full of good, of effort, of togetherness. And I wiped it all out, at least within myself, with the final moments of the day.
I feel so tired. Every parent I know feels so tired. It is so hard and it is so tempting to turn everything off and fold into a private corner of my own space where I and mine feel safe. Even if it is an illusion. Because I can tell you--there is no safe. Living is not safe.
After my last essay about the racial divide in this country my friend wrote: 
It makes me so angry that I will have to teach my son "Don't do this.. Don't say that.. Stand still if... ". I could scream and then I want to cry. Because it's so wrong, so very very wrong. This is not the life I dreamed for my children.
That is not the liberal media. I hope it doesn't even need to be any kind of "us" vs. "them". It is a real mom talking about trying to raise her brown son in this country we all want to be part of and proud of. I don't teach my children that lesson. Do you? If not, why not?
I'm going to keep writing about this. I hope you'll keep reading. I hope you'll reach out to me to ask questions or open conversation. I don't know how to write about parenting and my experience as a parent when parents right next to me can't turn away from this discussion just because they're tired. We can't stop talking. We can't stop trying. And for those of us who don't feel traumatized by what is happening, we have to ask ourselves why not?

Friday, September 16, 2016

A look back

Sometimes I think if I actually wrote about how hard it is to raise four kids under the age of two-and-a-half people would just start showing up at my house trying to save me. Or save us. I just started a sentence describing this past week, with a handful of sick kids and a sick mama and I got bored in the middle of it. Who really cares? Everyone has sick kids, every parent gets sick, everyone tries to keep their house clean, their bills paid, their dog's nails clipped. It's nothing new or special--it's just in bulk and it is relentless. But I think all parenthood is relentless.

I love these bright, beautiful children so much. I could stare at them for hours. It's the spilling, gate-smashing, screeching, bottle-spilling, whining, needing, door-to-the-bathroom-opening everything  that makes it so hard. The projectile vomit just when I was already at a breaking point, making me burst into hopeless tears in the kitchen before taking the blue Ikea highchair out to the courtyard to spray it off.

Complaining feels at best lame, at worst risky. Like tempting the gods of fate to even think it's too hard.

A year has passed since I wrote the words above. Not exactly a year because a year ago today I was in the hospital for a colitis flare that wouldn't end and I wasn't doing any writing in the hospital. I was resting and ordering meals from food services. I broke, physically in a way that got me hospitalized, but I know that physical break was caused by the mental and emotional breaking that had been going on for months. That and the stupid colitis that I wasn't ignoring so much as was just gritting my teeth and bearing it because I didn't think there was anything I could do to make it better. Except for maybe entirely change my diet to eat only whole foods and no dairy and no gluten and no sugar and. . . no. On some level I want to try that because I know it would be good for me, even if it didn't entirely heal the colitis. On the other levels the only way it could happen would be if someone would shop for me and cook for me and pack lunches for me and then provide me therapy when all of the emotions that get cuddled up in all the food I eat come raging out to devastate the earth around me.

What is really possible? I don't mean in the sense of "Anything is possible if you try" though I guess I do mean it in that way. The truest of true ways which for me comes down to what will you give up or change in order to do the thing you need to do? If you can even figure out what the thing you need to do is.

Months ago I picked up a Brene Brown's book Rising Strong for the third time. It hadn't been meeting me where I was up to that point, though I'd loved her earlier books. I picked it up because it was in front of me on the table and I brought it with me on BART on my way to see a play at the Berkeley Rep. The chapter grabbed me, because it started with a personal story and because it ended with her therapist asking her "What if everyone is just doing the best they can?"

This question sent the author into a rage and she fought it, the idea, for weeks. She asked everyone she came into contact with, coming up with her own qualitative data about what it means if you believe that is true about people and what it means if you don't.

I usually don't. And I haven't believed it about myself for most of my life.

I put the book in my bag as the train pulled into my stop and walked up the stairs into downtown Berkeley. As always, the energy of a city, of people walking quickly around me, dressed in different styles, talking about different things, pulled my heart up and out into the world. It's one of my best mes, the city me. Also the alone me. My god do I love to be alone. The best alone is alone in a sea of people. My favorite. I walked to the theater and met up with my younger brother. Better and better.

The play was Aubergine. It was exquisite. It was about grief, which I wasn't expecting, but was welcome and timely as I had just started my new role at work where I'm learning to specialize in grief. The characters were quirky and bold. And at one point one of the people in the show asked "What if people are just doing the best they can?"

Zing! Okay, god and the universe. I am listening. This message is meant for me today.

So I've been carrying that idea around with me for months, holding it up as a lens when I need it to see others in a different light. It helps. More than that, I've been wrapping it around myself as a cozy blanket when I need it. Maybe I'm just doing the best I can.

Right now, with what I have. With the energy I have possess, with the mental toughness available to me in the moment, with the truth surrounding me, the what is actually happening surrounding me. I've started to understand the concept in a different way. That it's not exhorting me to do the best I could if everything else cleared away and I could just focus on doing my best at this one thing. Because let's be real, I can do lots of things really really well and I expect that of myself. Expect it to the point that if someone says I did great and lists ten things I did well, I shrug as if to say but yeah that's what was expected. But if someone says one thing I could have done better, I wear that like a mantle until I can force myself to stop thinking about it. Because all this time I've been interpreting Do your Best to mean--imagine the most wonderful way in which this thing can be done and then get as close to that image as possible, whipping yourself for missing the mark which will almost always happen.

Sheesh. It hurts me to write it out. So very hard on myself and often on others. People have said that to me about myself for years and it has pissed me off more than anything. What does that mean? Or I know! But I didn't really know. I knew because enough people said it that I thought it must be true even though I couldn't feel it to be true. I didn't know how to shut it off.

What I learned last year in the hospital was that I could not trust my own self-assessment when it came to my physical health. I would simultaneously feel like I needed to do better/work harder even as my body was breaking down to the point where two doctors would look at me eyebrows raised and said This is going to take months to get better because your body is so messed up right now. I have become an expert at living, even impressing others, while in the pit of desperation. In crisis mode all the time. And my body paid. My heart and my mind have paid too but I'm still unpacking that damage.

Three weeks ago I took my four kids and my dad to a hospital where I was going to meet with my financial advisor. My kids looked cute and as though I'd scooped them out of the gutter where they'd been hanging out with PigPen in their pajamas, brushing each others' hair with Brillo pads. We shuffled our way into the lobby and past the security guard, a black woman a few years 5-10 years younger than I am. She said Are those all your kids?

Yeah, I said.

How did you get your body back?? she asked with admiration.

I didn't know how to respond. It felt good to hear, as much as it surprised me. Mostly I wanted to say, and would have if I'd come up with the words sooner, I'm getting myself back. It shows on the outside.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Little blurb

Sometimes my kids look so relieved to get to Stephanie, our babysitter's house, that it's impossible to miss the change in them. Sometimes I wonder what that means but today I just accept it and feel grateful for it. Relief in any form must be good.

It won't go on any resume but today I ordered four new-cubby photos to be printed at Costco, took all four kids there, got groceries, wipes for the Bigs' new school, five hot dogs and five drinks and walked out with five happy, fed, entertained people enjoying each other and I felt like a damn super hero.

Related to that, we got two of my favorite comments today. The check-out guy remarked upon how well-behaved the kids were as they sat in the cart having food loaded around them. A woman we passed said, without looking shocked or aghast, "You have four small children? Bless your heart."
If I had a choice that would be the only thing anyone ever said when they see us.

We got two new kittens, Posey and Cow also known as Cowie. I named one, Lily named the other. It is a relief to have cats.

Last week I worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then had the kids Thursday and Friday. On Thursday we went to the San Francisco Zoo where we met up with our beloved Phyllis. On Friday we went to Aquatic Park in Berkeley where we met up with our beloved Nana. By 3pm on Friday I was a burnt-out husk of a person. The exhaustion and ill-feeling throughout my entire body and my mind were total. Complete. There was nothing left in me. I was a wash cloth with every drop forcefully, mercilessly, wrung out. It made me feel better, actually, to experience that feeling and remember feeling like every single day back when my main job was taking care of my kids. It made me feel sad that I'd gone on like that for so long, a wisp of myself trudging through days as though I was doing anyone any good. Sometime soon I will get down on my knees and thank every heavenly being I believe in for helping me survive that period of my life.

I wish I could write in more detail about my work, about the families I meet and the stories I hear. You would be better for knowing about it, about them. People all around us are somehow getting through the day with broken hearts and they don't wear signs so it's hard to pick them out in a crowd.

I will be forty next year. I used to wonder what people, especially women, meant when they told my younger self how much they loved their 40's. I don't wonder anymore. I am opening up, putting down burdens, understanding that not only can't I be everything to everyone but I don't want to be. I want to be me. I like me.

I miss this blog when I don't write and I have so many half-written essays, so many half-discovered ideas that never make it onto a page, that I sometimes feel sad and frustrated at all that I'm not able to write down for you to read.

The gladness I feel when someone tells me that something I've written touched them in some way is gladder than almost anything I've felt before.

I've got a cat purring next to me on the couch, a house cleaned by other people who are good at it, kids sleeping at someone else's house and a new book that I can't wait to dig into. My heart needs all of that right now, just as it needed to sit for a minute and write to you.

September, somehow still the start of a new year so long after I stopped being a student. Now I'm the mom to little students. I love the freshness, the breezes, the promise of this time of year. I hope you have some or all of those things in your pocket or around the corner.