About Me

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Baby days

One of my college friends just had her first baby at age 40. We are the kind of friends who aren't close/close but we love and respect one another and have laughed a lot together over the years. I don't know her journey to motherhood; I tell myself I can guess at some of the details. And I'm pretty sure she's someone who has wanted to have children for a long time, as opposed to being someone who wasn't sure or was pretty sure she didn't until she finally did.

Her baby girl was born a couple weeks ago and I've been thinking of her so much--been thinking of her so much for the past several months as her pregnancy progressed across the country from me. I rarely reached out. It's hard to find the words to say "I feel my own pregnancy when I think of you. I feel how hard it was, how surprising, how long and short, how uncomfortable, how special, how unlike anything else."

Hard to find the words to say "Oh my god my life is so changed since these babies came. Blown to bits and reconstructed. Devastating to who I was. A more expansive understanding of who I am and who I want to be."

Words cease to matter because you know that she can't hear them until she's crossed over. And yet she wants to hear them, sometimes, maybe, depending on the day and who they're coming from. Or maybe never.

Now this little, tiny baby girl is outside her body, a member of the population on this Earth, a future woman. And I think about my friend, wondering how she's doing. Finding it hard to really ask the question to show that I really want to know.

It occurred to me tonight that one of the reasons it's so lonely to be a new mother is that many other mothers might be avoiding saying the wrong thing, not wanting to jinx you or scare you or take you to a place you haven't gotten to or might not ever get to. I don't want to say "Wow I'm really thinking about you. That time was so exhausting and confusing and ego-smashing and hormonal." if she's nowhere near there. Yuck. Get that sad, scary shit away from me!

But what if that is where she is and she doesn't hear from anyone else that we were there too? That I felt like a failure so often. That my husband had to tell me to put Lily down and go for a walk outside because the rage in me directed at my screaming baby girl who only wanted me but wouldn't stop crying was going to damage.

It's so confusing to be given these tiny people to take home when none of us know what we're doing. So confusing to realize our own parents had no idea what they were doing.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

25 more things about me

Back in the archives of late 2015 I wrote one of this lists. I was also on a lot of prednisone then. I don't remember what was on that list and I'm not going back to check. Maybe there will be repeats? Let's see.

1) My outsides very often do not match my insides. This means that if I look calm and graceful and unworried that doesn't mean I feel that way. I thought everyone was like this and I think to some extent that's true. More and more I'm realizing this is majorly true for me. I will probably write more about it sometime. If you're wondering how to integrate this information in your actual real-life relationship with me you can ask me "But how are you really doing?" It's possible that I won't have even asked myself that question until you ask me.

2) I have major money anxiety. Some of this comes from my major math anxiety in which I feel like I barely know how to add. (I do but not easily).

3) It's very rare for me to look people in the eye. I almost never do it. If you have noticed this about me know that it's not personal to you.

4) I have lost not one but both pairs of my glasses in the last week. My prescription sunglasses are only misplaced I think/hope. I had them two days ago. My real glasses are nowhere to be found. They may be in a random bag or under a couch or in a toy box. Or I may have thrown them in the garbage by mistake. The new ones will be arriving in the mail soon and every day I anxiously check because I look forward to being able to see clearly again.

5) I take a lot of things personally. I'm slowly learning that most of these things are not personal at all.

6) For most of my life I have really, really, really cared about what others think of me. Way too much.

7) I am charming, graceful, socially adept and flirtatious. (I guess this is four things but I'm putting them together). Some of these are learned behaviors and some of them are in my blood, innate, inherited from my family.

8) I am extremely curious.

9) I believe strongly in the need for solid, quality public education in our country. This is a social justice issue and a success plan for our country and it's necessary to take care of our children who need all of us grown-ups to take care of them.

10) I am pretty sure I now believe in the need for single-payer health insurance. I do not truly understand how it would work and how it would change people's daily lives. Healthcare is a human right, it is also part of our country's success plan and it pisses me off that people don't believe that everyone deserves to get taken good care of.

11) Dismantling racism (in myself and systemically) and sexism are the most important issues for me. I am paying a lot of attention to how these show up day-to-day (and I know I'm still missing a lot).

12) I do not enjoy doing things that I am not good at. This has been a life-long thing.. I lose patience with myself quickly and decide "Nope! Not for me". I think this will ease up with time now though.

13) I hate being made fun of, even as a joke. I do not have a good sense of humor about myself.

14) Swimming makes me anxious. I can do it but I don't love it.

15) I like my toast well done but not burnt.

16) I find music distracting but I love when the right song comes on and touches me unexpectedly and necessarily.

17) I played the piano when I was 5, the flute in 4th and 5th grade and the cello from 6th through 8th grade. I never really learned to read music. I mean, I knew what note went to what finger arrangement but if you told me "That B was flat" I would not have been able to hear it and would not know how to fix it"

18) I would love to be able to sing, really belt it out, and hit the notes while not hurting my throat.

19) I am mesmerized by my children these days. The things they say, the things they do, what they look like. I love hanging out with them.

20) I love the beach. Cold days or warm days.

21) Being near water and listening to it soothes me. I don't necessarily want to be in the water, though sometimes I do for a bit.

22) I am very aware of other peoples' emotions. I used to think this meant I knew how they were feeling and what they needed. Now I see that I am tuned in when people feel uncomfortable or needy but I don't necessarily know what specifically is making them uncomfortable or what they need. I'm also slowly learning that it's not my job to fix it for them.

23) When I close my eyes and picture my true self, I see my 9-year-old self. Seeing her and focusing on her makes me cry almost every time. I want to hold her in my arms, look her in the eye and tell her  "I'm sorry I forget about you sometimes. I am here now. I will take care of you. You are safe and loved. Just keep being you." My 9-year-old self wears a very stripey sweater.

24) I often over-promise and under-deliver. This will be changing.

25) I love and am loved by a truly astonishing group of bad ass, powerful, amazing, open-hearted, skilled, funny, challenging, flawed, remarkable women. I want to introduce you to all of them and want to write about them here and I'm scared to try because I don't want to leave anyone out or hurt peoples' feelings by what I say or don't say. I also don't know if they want to be written about. This will remain a pending item as I ponder it. The writing about them, not the knowing them, loving them and being loved by them.

I'm pretty sure there are no repeats on this list.

Friday, June 30, 2017

On the pred

4 am and the Prednisone has me up again. Mostly because I'm so hungry I could eat a wheel of Cowgirl Creamery triple creme cheese with bread or half a fruit and custard tart and those are just examples except no that's pretty much what I've eaten yesterday and today. In addition to a lot of incredible homemade Indian food a friend made for me and handfuls of cashews and pistachios and a chef salad and protein shakes and protein bars and not a lot of vegetables I see, partly because going grocery shopping has been beyond my abilities and partly because sometimes vegetables are beyond me. I have been drinking Arbonne Greens Balance to make up for that.

I like what I write here to be relatable and when I go into medical stuff it's probably not too relatable for most. I've spent the last almost 30 years of my life denying or trying to deny how much my medical conditions affect my daily life, how they don't make me different. But no. That's wrong.
Different than whom? Who knows. The normal. The measurement, made up in our own minds that represents what we all should be, based on comparing our insides to other peoples' outsides and coming up with something that isn't real.

Prednisone. I'm flying high on it again. Not for the first time and probably not for the last, I have this super power surging through my body and my mind like a blow torch. It's intense. I feel like I could do anything, solve any problem. I see connections in my mind's eye, between people or ideas or situations. It takes everything to the nth degree. Makes it hard to sleep. Makes me want to write buckets about twelve different ideas at a time except it's even harder than usual to get butt in seat and ask the words to come out. It feels like anxiety. Jitters. Being on speed, though I've never been on speed. I have to take my own hand and lead myself to a quiet spot to say, shhhh. Rest. This is not real. Your body needs a nap, a break, glasses of cool water. Try to go back to sleep.

The other confusing thing about the pred is that for the most part it feels like how I should feel. Like how normal people feel, if there are normal people. I have energy. I can do things like clean the kitchen without sapping all other available energy reserves. I am a better parent. I have good ideas and follow-through. So then I have a hard time trusting what is real. How I'm supposed to feel. What is my baseline?

I've been very open with the people in my life that I'm taking a lot of steroids right now, mostly because it is so front and center in how I feel. I became aware that I'm talking faster than usual or zipping around the room, or that I've said something with greater intensity than necessary (although that may just be my style) I'm roided out. That's what's happening. So I tell people, give them a warning or an explanation. Like calling Stephanie yesterday and telling her "I have five or six different things to talk to you about that are of varying degrees of importance and some are intense. We don't need to talk now but I want you to know they're on my mind." Phew.

A few people have said to me "You make it sound kinda good!" and I get that. I mean, it is kinda good. I feel super. Literally. I feel positive about things, I'm getting a lot done, I'm writing. I've held some yoga poses that I usually can't do. The clarity is my favorite part. That's the part I want to keep forever, even though I know I can't. It will go away too.

Here is a funny, weird, sad story. When I turned 40 this past March I went out to dinner with my family of origin--my mom, dad, sister and brother. This was a rare thing--the last time we did it was several years ago right before my brother went to Ghana for the Peace Corps. My parents are divorced and though they're far beyond civil with one another and we are regularly together for larger family events with the grand kids, we haven't been a five-person unit for decades. But when I hit this milestone birthday and thought about what my heart truly wanted, what it wanted was to sit around a table and share food with the people who made me. We had a wonderful dinner, complete with funny and frustrating patterns that have been in place since Martha, Ira and I were kids. We had deep discussions, which is one of the things we love to do.

At one point I mentioned that I'd thrown the last of my Prednisone away, flushed it down the toilet actually. I know, that's bad. And that's part of the point. The four of them were equally aghast when I said that. "No! You can't do that! That's terrible! So bad for the water and the fish and. . . "

I was embarrassed but got over it. And I promise I won't flush meds again. I wasn't thinking about the water when I did it, I was thinking I didn't want my kids to find the pill bottle and somehow get into it and take the remaining ten pills. It was note-worthy to me that I'd finally gotten to toss them because I'd been taking from a lot to a little of the steroid daily for four years for my colitis. The last time I was on a ton was after being hospitalized in September 2015 (you can scroll back and find that I was writing a lot at that time too). I finally weaned off sometime in 2016 but I held on to the bottle, just in case. Just in case I flared and I need immediate relief. Just in case. So it felt good, even a bit momentous, to toss it.

A couple days after our dinner I realized something. My family was truly horrified that I'd put those pills into the sewer system, into the waters of the world. But my own body is just full of this stuff. So many meds. Handfuls for years. Taken without much thought, without much noticeable side effect. It made me feel kinda sad.

This essay is rough but I"m posting it anyway. It makes me feel twitchy to write too much about health stuff so this will be the last of it for a while. Going to try to go back to sleep for another hour or two.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Medically fragile

"I worry about you, because you're medically fragile," my friend said to me three weeks ago.

And for some reason, after more than thirty years of qualifying for this designation, I heard it. It might be too strongly put to say that I embraced it but not by much. I took it in and allowed it to become part of my identity, even though the choice was really only to recognize it since it was definitely already there.

I am medically fragile. My body, in all its strong, wonderful, amazing glory, is more fragile than most. Oh.

For years people have told me that I'm hard on myself and I've hated to hear it. It was one of the most common observations made to me and I shrugged it off with exasperation each time.

For years people have told me that I'm strong. They look at me in wonder, in admiration, when they hear about the transplant, about the twins. They wonder if they could do it and I say "Well, what choice do I have?" and move on.

Those attributes come from the same place--the sheer force of my will that I will exert to make the world, my life, be what I need it to be. Except that's not how it works in my body. I've just been ignoring it, I haven't been changing it. I can't change it.

Nikole is a doctor. A surgeon. She is also the Chief Medical Officer at the organ procurement organization where I work. She is my friend and my colleague and we were pregnant with twins in neighboring offices at the same time--people joked that they didn't want to come to that side of the office for fear it was catching. We talk about all sorts of things--systems at work, marriage, food, boxing, life. We share meals, with or without our children in the background. Her wife Annie is also a doctor and also my friend. She opens her arms to me with a smile every time she sees me and the two of them make me feel so loved, so accepted, so taken care of, so valued. My gratitude is huge.

Why could I hear her when she named me? I don't know. She's certainly not the first person to say she worries about me, about my health. She's not even the first doctor friend to say so. But somehow because of who she is to me and how she said it and who she is in the world and also probably because she wasn't saying "And you must do this about it!" the words worked their way in and settled into my knowing of myself.

Medically fragile.

On June 11th Nikole and Annie hosted a birthday party for our four kids at their house. It was a team effort (I showed up, that was my role on the team) and it was completely wonderful and over-the-top. The night before the kids spent the night at Stephanie's and she and her family got them dressed up in new outfits, hair done, before taking them to the party.

I woke up and limped around the house because for some reason my left ankle and my right shoulder were aching. Quite a bit, actually. It felt like the day after a soccer tournament when the muscle aches and bruises coalesce and remind you of all the little body parts inside you that make motion possible. I'd taken my regular yoga class three nights before so maybe that was it? I took a bath with Epsom salts, drank some apple cider vinegar and a turmeric-almond milk latte to introduce inflammation my friend Maria had told me about. I lay on the couch reading and resting. I knew the best thing for me would be to miss the party and I also knew there was no way I was going to do that. I took some heavy-duty Ibuprofen and off I went.

The pain slowly increased as the day went on--I couldn't really lift anything or even raise my arms above my head. My knees were stiff. I slowly walked around, thinking and hoping that movement would loosen up my joints. I did a lot of sitting. It was a sweet, lovely day full of friends and happy kids and four of the most incredible birthday cakes I've ever seen.

Later that night after putting the kids to bed I laid down and took stock again. Everything was the same, my body still hurt a lot. And now my jaw hurt on the right side, to the point where I could only partially open my mouth. I got really scared.

"My jaw hurts now, " I texted Nikole. "Do I have meningitis?"

"No, but you need to see a doctor tomorrow," she wrote back.

Fuck.

Fast forward to the next morning and the series of phone calls and texts that I sent out to my care team, including my hepatologist Jennifer who is the main driver of the bus when it comes to my body these days and Bob the surgeon who transplanted me sixteen years ago who watches over me like a super-powerful guardian angel boss man.

Something is wrong. I don't know what. I feel terrible. What should I do and where should I go?

I recounted what had been going on with me lately, medically and personally. Jennifer took charge, trying to put the pieces together. A lab draw was the first step, to get the lay of the land. Everything in me told me that I needed to be in the hospital, based on fear and pain level and past experience. So even though she didn't say that, Stephanie drove me into San Francisco during rush hour traffic so I could start the process at CPMC, my safe place. My transplant center. The hub. She dropped me off and my sister took the baton, sitting with me in the same lab waiting room that I sat in every morning for a month and many times after that in the early post-transplant days. The pain was bad. The gastrointestinal symptoms were starting. I started a fever. As I waited to be called I texted Jennifer these latest updates. She was communicating with my GI doctor Nikhil. My sister was feeding me water.

Based on my verbal history and symptoms the light bulb had turned on and they were guessing that I was having an allergic reaction to the Remicaid infusion I'd gotten ten days before. It's a biologic--a medication made from antibodies grown in a lab that are infused into my body every two months to reduce inflammation and get my colitis into remission. It costs $13,000 every time and insurance partially covers it. Due to an insurance gap, some financial concerns and a few months of focusing primarily on my liver labs and what was going on there I had skipped a few treatments. When you do that and then re-introduce the medication into your body you can sometimes have a lupus-like reaction as your body says "Hey what's this crazy shit? We don't like this anymore". All my joints were inflamed because my super crazy powerful immune system was on attack. Which is what it does, especially under stress.

So even though the labs wouldn't be back for several hours, they felt pretty confident that was the problem. When the fever joined the fray Jennifer asked me to come up and see her after my blood draw.

Side note: I got my blood drawn and officially decided to end my unofficial social experiment when it comes to getting my blood drawn. I will no longer be gently suggesting that phlebotomists and nurses draw from the veins in my hands rather than the veins in my arms. No one listens. I will now be saying "You may not draw from my arms." We'll see how that goes. It happens the same every time--I tell them the veins in my arms don't draw, I watch them check out the veins and see the same thoughts pass behind their eyes--I can do it, they're right there, I'm going to try. And then they not only stick a needle in they then move it around inside my arm a couple times in an attempt to get into the scarred vein that's so close they can almost taste it. And then no blood comes out. Hello everyone. Welcome to my care team in which I am a vital part of the process and the owner of these arms. You do not get to decide anymore.

Blood finally drawn. Limped up to see Jennifer, rockstar mother of three young children, liver doctor and friend who always looks like a million bucks. She took one look at me and said "Oh."

She'd been initially concerned about my liver, because that's her main job and because I'd recently had a stent placed to drain a a stone out of my bile duct. She checked me out, confirmed no pain in my abdomen and asked what I wanted to do next. She could admit me so I could rest and not worry about the kids or anything else. Or she could send me home on a bunch of prednisone and pain killers, with the option of coming back to be admitted if I decided that was necessary. I chose Option B.

My sister loaded me up into her fast little car, after filling my prescriptions as I sat curled up in a chair in the lobby. The pain was very, very bad. She turned the seat heater on and the warmth, plus the first dose of pain meds, slowly sank in and gave me some relief.

As I write all this down I have to smirk in sad disbelief at how long it has taken me to truly see how fragile I am. I'm just so used to it. There's often even a strange comfort that comes when I'm in a medical crisis, because I know how to do it. I know how to be a patient.

My immune system is a super nova. When I am under threat, from the inside or the outside, it blasts everything in site--even my own self. It does this even though daily I take two medications to suppress my immune system. This is the cost of my force of will.

I have shown, over and over, that I can do almost anything. Survive fulminant liver failure when everyone around me thought I was going to die. Get pregnant when the doctors first told me I couldn't and then told me there was a less than 5% chance the IVF would work. Carry two sets of twins, post liver transplant and knee-deep in a three year colitis-flare. Work full time in a job it turns out I hated, even when I regularly had to walk quickly to the bathroom with diarrhea and regularly had to gentle rub my belly as the cramps surged through. Take care of four kids by myself some days and even occasionally make a good dinner while doing so.

I have refused to let my medical conditions determine my life. Straight refusal. Rolled my eyes when my mom asked me, over and over, to take it easy and be gentle on myself. Shrugged with modesty and a "whatever" whenever someone reacted with wide eyes to any one of my tales. It just is. What can I do about it? Just keep living.

But I think I will work on giving my tired, hard-working, traumatized body a break now. I will open my hands and let go of the false control that I've believed myself to be exerting over the world and relationships and circumstances around me. I will gently take my body's hand and lead her out of the forge where she has been working too much overtime for too long. I will not rely on the pills and my mind to hide the truth of what is happening in my cells.

I'm Megan and I'm medically fragile. I need special care. All help welcome.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pink sparkle boot



Many months ago, before the rains started so whenever that, I for some reason had only Lily and Cyrus with me and I took them to Nordstrom Rack. I don't know if we had a specific shopping goal in mind, I assume we did because otherwise I can think of no reason I would have taken them there. In our time shopping we came upon a selection of rain boots. They were stoked and I let them each pick a pair, feeling very ahead of the game since we already had boots that would fit the Littles. Cyrus got some grey ones with red and yellow monster trucks. Lily picked these pink glitter numbers.

The monster truck boots are still a favorite but the pink sparkles? Never worn because somehow only one pink sparkle boot ever made it to our house. Where is it's mate? In the store? The parking lot? A street somewhere? I weep.

This lone pink sparkle boot has meandered its way through various spots in the house, sometimes out of the way because I couldn't stand to look at it. Sometimes front and center to remind me to call Nordstrom Rack to see if perhaps they had the other one. Or if perhaps they would be willing to break up another pair and sell me or preferably give me its made-up match?

Months passed. I never called. The rains came. Lily never had boots that fit her. The pink sparkle boot, momentarily a symbol of my having my shit together and thereafter a symbol of all that is wrong with me and with motherhood and with kids' shoes and with consumerism and landfills and clutter.

I think it's a size 9 if anyone wants it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bloom

Mercy, my well-named friend, sent me the link to a yoga studio. They have prenatal yoga, the text or email said. All details of the last four years are still and will probably remain extremely fuzzy. I don't remember when the link came, only that we were still living in Martinez, Lily and Cyrus were already out of my belly and both she and I must have been aware I was pregnant again hence the prenatal.

I'd gone to prenatal yoga once when I was very early in my first pregnancy. So early the teacher asked me if I was pregnant. I went on a women's retreat towards the end of that pregnant, although I didn't know how close to the early end I was. Belly huge and beautiful, body itchy, the women embraced me. I took tiny baby Lily to a mom and baby yoga class while Cyrus was still in the NICU. I just remembered that this instant. They had helpers there to hold the babies while you yoga-ed. I don't remember much about how my body felt but it was within two months of a c-section, I'd already gotten my period back and I was trying to breastfeed and pump.

Mercy took me to a mom and baby yoga class in Berkeley when Lily and Cyrus were a couple months old--I don't think I knew I was pregnant again yet. We went upstairs into a beautiful Victorian house, welcoming, smelling good, pillows and women everywhere. I was settled into the back room, tried to work out a good set-up in our stretch of blankets and pillows with both babies, stripped one of them naked in response to the instructions, and Cyrus started screaming his soul out. He did that all the time those days, for months. It sent me into a buzzed out, blind-staring, shut down panic. There was no key or pattern to get him to stop. I immediately felt trapped and like I needed to get the fuck out of there as soon as I could. But I couldn't figure out how.

I don't remember the details other than I must have left Lily in that room for a while so I could take Cyrus to the outer room, having to skulk through the middle room full of blissful-seeming moms and infants in their zones. After probably twenty minutes, though it could have been five or ten or one million of sweaty, miserable, shriek-filled huddled agony with my son the yoga teacher asked us to leave. We got kicked out of mom and baby yoga.

Fast forward to whatever day or month it was and Mercy sent me the information. They have prenatal yoga. It was a studio in Walnut Creek. I looked it up and saw that they also had daycare and a playroom with some open-play hours where you could bring your kids to hang out. One afternoon I packed us up to go sit in that playroom to see if it was a place Cyrus could get used to.

Bloom Retreat.

I have many words to write about it and they probably won't all come out for this essay. That first day I carried my two babies into the well-lit, colorful, full-of-options, welcoming yoga room that sometimes served as the playroom. I could try to describe what it was like walking into the beautiful place from the front door--the sweet, calm haven whose details I so admire now--but I doubt I noticed any of that then. Lily, Cyrus and I lay on the floor in the kid room and they took to it like water, especially once they realized I wasn't leaving them. They crawled around and checked things out. I rested.

I don't remember Michelle coming in but I'm sure she wasn't in the room with us when we first got there. I remember she was blond and pretty, artsy-looking. Serene-seeming. I don't remember if she asked me questions or if I just started talking. I do know that when she heard my cliff notes version, twins and more twins coming, she looked right at me and said

"You need to be here."

Michelle created Bloom Retreat as a way to give women space to learn how to take care of ourselves. The mission is clear in every aspect of the place--in the brick-and-mortar shell that houses the spirit. In the words written on the walls. In the check-ins before every class, each woman saying something about how she's doing in that moment or lately and everyone else nodding along in recognition at least once.

From Bloom I have been finding my way to myself for the past three and a half years. Back to my body in all it's injured, wounded, traumatized, tired holy glory. To the power inside me that I have almost never stepped into, out of fear or shyness. To the reminder of how necessary circles of women are to my pure survival, not to mention to my joy. To the comfort and relief of being surrounded by people who are curious about themselves and about their own healing, their own growth, their own hearts.

My body has been growing strong and I've felt the yoga move in me, change me. My muscles are stronger and even more than that my body is talking to me more and more because she knows I'm listening. I have so many teachers there--therapist, acupuncturist, yoga teachers, friends, classmates, nutritionist. I'm taking a class called Sacred Flow these days and I call it yoga church. Nicole, my teacher, is luminous and wise and the text we're studying before we move show me that all of this that I'm feeling and struggling with has always been here, 2000 years ago. Looked at. Wondered about. Learned. I am so seen there. So appreciated. Admired. Taken care of. Pushed. Loved. Celebrated.

Bloom. It has changed so much since my first visit. No more kid room, no more childcare. A revolutionary new way of doing and teaching yoga called The Practice that is part of changing the world. An Ultimate Women's Self-Care Retreat that was six months plus of hilarity and tears and community with eleven other women most of whom I hardly ever see but whom I love very much. A couple of whom are my deep soul sisters who will be with me for life.

Last week was one hell of a shitty, terrible, painful, scary week the details of which I will not be writing about here. One one of the days I saw Melissa, the worlds most perfect therapist for me, who works there. When I walked into the studio Michelle, the founder, was sitting behind the front desk with Elsa and someone else who works there, can't remember who at the moment. I hadn't seen Michelle in a long time, which is good because she used to be there all the time and now she's not which is an important switch for her. I mean, she's probably still there a lot. I don't live there so I can't say what her schedule is. I digress.

On my way to my car after my session we crossed paths again in the parking lot. I don't know who said what to whom but I started crying, in pain and in rage. She hugged me. She loved me. We talked about women and the power that is moving in so many of us right now. We smiled.

I called Bloom yesterday to find out what services were available to treat my sore, inflamed, stressed-out, super-power-not-always-with-gentle results immune-system situation. I didn't go into any details about what was going on with me. I'm having a really hard time, I said. Akiko at the front desk said:

You are held.

You are not alone.

You are one awesome, awesome woman. I've always been impressed by how you carry things.

I'm so glad you're calling.


Thank you for my life, Bloom. Thank you for this core of strength in me that runs like a river now and will only get stronger. Thank you to my partners there, all you women doing battle and dancing and holding on tight or letting go or all of the above.

If you're at all local, go there if you can. Find the money, make the time. You deserve it and you're worth it. Bloom Retreat

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stephanie

Standing in line at the Walgreens near San Francisco General Hospital, pushing the double stroller filled with chubby five-month-old twins, I shyly pushed the pregnancy test down the conveyor belt. I didn't want anyone to notice; I was embarrassed. Please tell me that twin mama isn't pregnant again! I imagined people thinking.

I was desperate for the results, having already seen what looked like a positive result on an old test taken in our bathroom the night before. The signal was so faint that I thought it might not be real, even though it appeared immediately and was the first pregnancy test I'd ever taken to have done that. Where to find a bathroom in the city with two infants who would need to be carried with me? I parked the van not on a main street and in the back, holding a cup to catch my urine.

Positive.

Dazed.

A week or two later, laying back on the familiar hospital bed, the warm gel being smoothed over my still soft belly rounded from carrying two babies for almost thirty two weeks, I watched as the alien familiar internal moonscape spread out across the screen. My not-quite-medical eyes focused and counted. One. Two.

Twins again.

Shock is not enough. I haven't learned the word yet. The looks on people's faces when we tell them now. Yes, two sets of twins a year and two weeks apart. Dropped jaws. Gasps. Wide eyes. Terror. That is not an exaggeration. When you see people imaging what it would be like. Yes times a thousand. Together Neil and I fell separately into different versions of an unknown, inescapable place.

When we started telling people, everyone went quickly to the same questions. How will you do this? What kind of stroller? Who will help you? Everyone, without exception, said You Need Help. It took some months to even begin to be able to process let alone answer most of the questions. Blank stares. Numbness. Panic masked by blank faces. Oh yeah, and the two small babies who were with us all the time still needed looking after.

I knew we would need regular help but I couldn't even begin to imagine what that would look like. An au pair? Where would she live? How would we deal with someone else in our space all the time? A Nanny? 24/7? How would we know which hours of the day were going to be the hardest? How much would it cost? Could we afford it with me not working?

By the time I was into my fifth month of my second twin pregnancy in two years I was spending a lot of time laying on my side on the carpet of Lily and Cyrus' room, letting them crawl and roll and play around me as I tried to find some energy somewhere.

After trying one babysitter for a few hours and having her call me a couple hours into it asking me to come home because Cyrus wouldn't stop screaming, I went to Care.com and posted an ad. I don't have the exact wording anymore but it said something like:

I am pregnant with my second set of twins and I need help. My first two are nine months old, these next two are due in August. I think I'm looking for a mother's helper because I will be staying home with them as well. I don't know how many hours or days of the week I need. I live in Concord.

I got many replies, a surprising number. Here is the little that I knew--I didn't want someone older, grandparent age, because I didn't want someone telling me how I should be doing things. I didn't want someone younger, twenty-two or something, because I would be in the house with this person for many hours a day and I wanted someone I could relate to. There were a few responses that looked ok and many that got weeded out like an online dating experience--the misspellings, grammatical errors and text abbreviations were a no. Then there was one that said essentially:

I would love to help you! I know two families who have two sets of twins and they are amazing. . .

She knew people who had done this before? They were surviving? I don't remember anything else about what she said of her own experience. I asked her to come for an interview.

Stephanie.

She came and sat with me in the backyard next to the crumbling swimming pool. My in-laws were visiting. Neil was working on the pool. I have no idea where Lily and Cyrus were. I'd gotten recommendations of questions to ask from friends who had recently interviewed caregivers but I didn't ask any of them. I don't remember what we talked about. I liked her and we made a plan for her to come watch the kids sometime soon.

Cyrus at that time was in a screaming phase. Bone-shattering, heart-clutching, brain-freezing screaming. Not all the time but a lot of the time, triggered by a variety of things. Going into a new house. Being outside. Having too many people around. Life? It was unclear. I thought he might have some type of sensory-processing disorder. Often he would only be soothed by me. I told Stephanie all of this and told her I would stay with her the first few times so he could get used to her. Okay, she said.

She came the first day and the four of us sat on the floor in the babies' room for a while. Ten minutes. Then she looked at me and said "You can go. We'll be ok. I'll call you if I need to."

Oh. Well. Um. Ok.

So I left. Not sure what I did. I know he screamed and I know they were all fine. It took several days for him to stop screaming with her but not long. We had found our person.

More than a year ago I wrote a little profile of Stephanie when I was trying to write a description of someone or something every day for 100 days. It described what she looked like. It said nothing about who she is to us. What she is to us. I've thought often over the three years she's been in our lives about how I would describe this woman and the care and love and security she has brought into the utter chaos that is our lives. Here I am many paragraphs into an essay and I've hardly begun.

I called her after dark last week and she answered after two rings.

I need you, I said.

I'm on my way, she said.

I never, ever, ever worry about my kids when they are with her. I know they are the solid, confident little people they are now in large part because of how she loves them. How she loves us and how she holds us. She says what she thinks. She is fierce. My kids always know where they stand with her and they thrive because of that.

She arrives into chaos and cleans it up. Welcomes our children, unbathed, unshod, hair in tangles, underpants nowhere to be found. She tells us calmly and with certainty, go take some time to yourself. You need to be ok. That's the most important thing for you to do right now. I've got them.

She more than anyone else knows what these past three years have been for us. The days and weeks and months in the shock. Trying to recover. Blinking our eyes in confusion and disbelief as we look around at the lives that somehow have become ours. She's watched as we've fallen apart, fought through and tried to survive the misery and despair that bracket the incredible love we feel for these huge personalities we created and live with. She is our family and I will never stop being grateful for and to her.

Three years in, the reactions from people are the same. You have your hands full! I don't know how you do it!

Stephanie. That's how we do it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Birthdays

A guest post written by my mother--professional storyteller, empath and one of the greatest letter-writers of all time. Written on June 1, 2017--the day before her 67th birthday.

Dear Megan.
   A slight change in the word " birthday" to "birthingday" is playing my mind this morning sort of like a game of pool.
That first hit when the triangle of billiard balls go every which way. A scattering with some dropping right into a corner.
   I have always felt the birthing day of each of you three as the date arrives. This time, I am seeing/feeling you at this time four years ago and, another ball, my mother in hospital being told she had a tape worm when I was born.
   I wonder if you are remembering itching all over and not being able to find any position for very long that was okay by you? I wonder if you remember those two babies on the floor in the bathroom while you took a shower?
  Then there is my mother waiting for you to be born, for Martha to be born, while she was 3000 miles away. How in the hell did she do that? She was here for Ira's birth and left the memory for you and Martha of the nutmeg on toast day.
   I recall a few things from that time. She and I walked together on the path of the Great Highway and she was panting to keep up. I was huge. Off your father and I went to hospital leaving her here in the dark of night only to return in the morning from false labor. At that time Irina (our upstairs neighbor's daughter) had already been born and was still in the NICU. Tom and my mother talked through the kitchen window through those waiting days for Ira. He was due July 21.
   Aunt Bobby was still alive and my mother told me after all was accomplished that Ira's birthing day was the most frightening of her WHOLE LIFE. She called her sister for support. That still stuns me. And then she flew to DC. How did she do that?  What her heart bore for this distant mothering?  Maybe it was always acceptance, except for that line above about "most frightening". Me too. I get it. 
  Like me, leaving you in Martinez with Lily and Cyrus with this mixture of confidence in you and Neil and a deep desire to make it easier. Always that.
 When I had my first adult storytelling performance at Sunset, maybe 1986 or 87, a woman in the audience said. "Mental health is knowing what story you are in."  That made me laugh at the time, but as I write with memory of being born, of birthing, and of waiting for a birthing, I wonder if reality is sometimes actually impossible to absorb. Time and distance bring up emotions that were too much at the time. Just doing it. Just getting through was all that could be managed.  I don't know.
  
I look at Cyrus and Lily for who they are now, but sometimes, due to a photo on FB or my computer I look again at the beginning days. And that is what I am in now. You pregnant and huge and so uncomfortable. Before we met them. 

I get it when people constantly call you a hero. How exhausting that must be to hear. I get that too. But I don't know the words for the scope of what has happened in you, for you, to you, in only four years. Nor, actually, for my life as witness and mother and grandmother. Which, I suppose, may be why I feel so much in my body on the eve of my birthday and nearly the eve of your first birthing day.
    
Lots of silence in my house these last few days. Me deep inside myself with all of these billiard balls shooting around the pool table of my mind and heart. Can that be a metaphor for loving my mother, my first born daughter and my grandchildren and how so many of these connections are felt at the same time?
 
And last. You and my mother share birthing twins. I actually never ever felt that truth until today.

I love you.  I am so grateful for the gift of life and the courage it takes to give birth.
    
Mama

Olive Hackett-Shaughnessy, Storyteller
http://www.olivestoryteller.com/

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A look inside

Despite the quiet here it has not been quiet in my mind. I wonder if it will ever will be quiet in my mind?

I miss this place when I'm not writing and, truth be told, I don't have a writing practice elsewhere. That is one of the things I've been turning over in my head and my heart--how do I write enough every day that I can improve my art? Because in truth this blog can sometimes be like I'm taking off the top of my head, scooping out my brain and dumping it onto the page. Little to no editing. And when people respond to it, especially when they say "Me too" I want to keep doing it. But. A couple things.

I process how I feel by talking, or by writing. Writing felt like a step away from spilling my guts to friends and family members because it is a slower process and it takes having some quiet time to get the words out. But I am on this journey to find out who I am and how I feel and one of the things that I am very susceptible to is other peoples' opinions. It's so lonely to not have someone say "me too". So lonely to be asked "If you went and asked 10 people what they would have done in that situation I bet all or most of them would have done the opposite of what you did."

I've spent a lot of time worrying that there is something wrong with me and I don't want to do that anymore. It goes so deep, it's so entrenched in my way of being in the world, that it can feel impossible to root it out. To stand in my truth. Even writing that sounds cheesy. But what else are we here for? Maybe standing in our truth doesn't mean singing it from the rooftops and putting it in everyone's faces. I do think it means knowing what it is and being prepared to build your life around it.

It's taken me forty years to start saying I do have things I want. I do have things I need. It's always felt easier, more comfortable, less scary, to check in with everyone else to see what they want, what they need and then work with that. As though I did not have a solid self, a defined self. I was there to adjust myself, give myself up, hide myself, shrug myself off, in favor of noticing and providing for the needs and wants of others. This felt to me like being mellow, easy-going. I'm down for whatever, Whatever's easiest. Doesn't matter to me. Letting myself trickle away, letting myself off the hook of doing the hard work of listening inside to see what was there. What if what I want isn't good? What if it will make you mad? What if I don't know? For most of my life one of the scariest things I could imagine was to really want something and decide to try my hardest to achieve it. Scarier than the possibility of failure was the possibility that I'd get it and decide I didn't even want it.

I'm a 2 on the Enneagram. A people pleaser. I watch and listen to determine the needs of others, walking right past my own. Sometimes I do this by reading the expressions on their faces, which as you can imagine is not a very reliable way to communicate. Most of the time I forget I have a face that other people can see. One face that exists in the world rather than a blank, receiving space to take in what others are putting out. Who knows what outsiders think my expressions are communicating to them?

I love my life. That doesn't mean I love the actual day to day moments of it all the time. Or even often these days. But I love the chance that I have to live this life. To be the only Megan Doherty Shaughnessy Bondy there ever was or will be. I remember the moment that sunk in for the first time for me, it was like being released from a cage I hadn't known I was in. Ohhhh! I realized. No one can tell me how to be me because no one has ever been me. They don't know. Only I know. What power. What freedom. How scary.

A lot of my daily experience lately is deeply uncomfortable emotionally. And the primordial feeling that jumps right up is Run! This does not feel good! Change something immediately! And I have so many voices in my own head, even before I talk to a friend. I am on a spiritual path and I don't say that aloud very often. It involves yoga. Friendships. Reading. Reconnecting to my body. Trying to learn how to feed myself. Trying to learn how to lighten up on myself. Trying to say my anger out loud. Trying to take up space. Trying to stand still in the face of other peoples' anger and hurt and fear when it's in reaction to my truth. Meditation and mindfulness teeter on the periphary, waving at me gently because they wouldn't get frantic. Prayer. Exploring my feminine self, my womanhood, and what that has meant compared to what it really is. Trying to understand my sexual self. Learning to see what Whiteness has given me and learning what to do with all of that. Learning to truly and truthfully apologize without feeling like I am giving something away. Learning to let go of shame. Trying to be vulnerable. Opening my eyes to the fact that I have values that exist. That matter. Learning to speak up for them.

I have always been a questioner. A student. I am curious and that is one of the things I love about myself. The journey has sped up and gotten fuller, richer, deeper, harder in the past 7 years.  It's become more intentional. It's involved therapy. It's a lot.

So that's why I haven't been writing much. But writing is part of the journey so it's time to come back.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Preschool

My mother used to pull us to nursery school in a red wagon, a rope tied to the handle to give her more leverage. Our school was three flat blocks away. Sunset Co-Operative Nursery School, it was and is a play-based school with a huge amount of parent involvement and regular parent education meetings to help teach the adults how to be parents.

There was and is a tall red tower in the backyard--I don't think we could see the beach from the very top. I don't actually remember climbing it as a kid, though I know I did. I remember having to climb up a couple times during the months I worked there in my early 20s. Sometimes a little one would have a hard time getting back down and would bellow from on high until I came to talk them through it. What I remember from my own childhood is lying on my belly in the net hammocks, swinging and swinging and swinging and swinging, around and around and around. Both ends of the hammocks were tied up to a hook on the ceiling, creating a little pocket you could snuggle into. The two hammocks hung down from the ceiling above the middle of the rug where circle time would be held and according to my mom it was the first thing I did every day when I arrived.

I remember being called by a parent to the pay phone hanging on the wall in the room where we ate at little round tables a snack prepared by a parent. My little sister stood next to me and the voice on the other end of the phone was my dad telling me our baby brother Ira had been born. I was five, my sister three. I remember feeling important and far away and safe and forever changed.

I remember there were animals that sometimes ran around in the backyard where the tower and the sand and the climbing tree were. Bunnies and guinea pigs I think.

It's hard to separate my own childhood memories from the memories of visiting. My mom has told stories there for decades and I can't count the number of times I've unlatched the back fence to walk inside. It was and is a magical place. My nephews go there now and I am so glad for them even as I feel sad that my own kids aren't there.

How many people remember preschool? Credit it for who they turned out to be? Sunset has been part of my family's lexicon for more than thirty years--my dad was the president for a while, my mom still goes as a professional storyteller two or three times a week and teaches a parent ed class every year. My younger brother worked there for a while, so did I. We still know some kids, now parents themselves, from when we were students there. It's part of us.

It shows up in us in other ways too. Like the way I won't lift any of my children up to a place they can't climb themselves--we learned that there. If a kid can't climb up to that branch in the tree, she isn't ready to be there yet and is more likely to fall off and get hurt if you put her there. Or the way I think of my teacher Dorothy Ingram telling my mom that kids feel all their emotions at once, rather than adults who have learned how to focus on one and put the others away for a time. So when I was getting ready to fly to Maryland alone at age 5 to visit my grandparents and my mom worried that I didn't want to go because I was alternately freaked out and excited, Dorothy told her I was both of those things. I tell myself that as an adult--you can feel more than one thing at a time, Megan. That doesn't make you crazy or uncertain, it makes you a person.

My sister, brother and I are not all the same. We have as many differences as we do similarities. Maybe. Though now that I write that I'm not even sure how to quantify that. We are definitely not unalike. One of the biggest things we all share is a certain ease in the world. I credit a large part of that to being allowed to be full out, fully appreciated kids. We were surrounded by adults who were committed to learning how to respectfully care for and raise children. People were interested in how we were learning. We were allowed to choose our own adventures at school--not all the time and not without guidelines but we were very free. It was a co-cop and we were a community, growing together. I'm so grateful that I got to go there.

As a parent I have a lot of beliefs about how things should or shouldn't be done. Not too much TV, not too much sugar, sharing meals as a family seated together at the table, rules and boundaries are important. Not too many toys, not too many presents, not staying up too late, being respectful to others. A co-op preschool. Being raised in a multi-cultural city. . .
Here is where I feel obliged to share that my kids watch more TV than I'd like, eat way more sugar and junk food than I'd like. . .and well, most of these are guidelines that I aim for and often miss. It's humbling. It's also been an exercise in exploring why I feel attached to certain ideas. Often I face that it's because that's how I was raised so I'm attached to it as "they way" but it doesn't necessary need to stay the way. Still more often I have to face that with four children so close in age, some things I/we do in an effort to stay somewhat sane. Probably most parents do.

Our children all attend a co-op, though they're not in the same one right now. They each attend school two mornings a week for two to two and a half hours at a time. The Bigs go to one school, the Littles go to another. I have Tuesdays and Thursdays off work and I am always working at one of the schools, doing my co-op shift. There's a per kid requirement and we have a lot of kids. It's hectic and neither school matches my memory of what Sunset was, which makes me sad. But.

I like them more than the other schools I've visited.
They are more affordable than some of the schools I've chosen not to visit.
There are so many adults who care about my kids and care about me because of these schools.
Three of our four children are always excited to go to school. The other one is always not excited but almost always very smiley at pick up.
They are strong. They are capable. They do art. They climb and run and play dress up and eat healthy snacks and ride bikes and build. They sing songs and know their colors and use scissors.

Looking ahead to next year gets tricky and for this reason we haven't settled on a plan for how and where and when they will attend school. If they all attend the co-op (either of them) it would mean school five mornings a week, but not for all the kid on all the days. Our childcare situation doesn't lend itself to having someone else drive and pick up regularly. My work schedule doesn't lend itself so much co-oping. And so. . .we are in figure-it-out mode. Combined with ignore-it-mode, hoping that it will resolve itself.

This is not a terrible problem to have and we will find a resolution. I find myself often weighing values in my head--consistency vs. community vs. parent involvement vs. kindergarten readiness (emotional and developmental). It's a lot. We will get it figured out and the kids will be alright. But/and it's an opportunity to really sit with what matters. What we're hoping for and what we're willing to do or change to make it happen.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Miss Cleo

My kids are growing so fast, right before my eyes. Everyone says that happens and therefore we had to on some level accept that it must be true even as we felt none of it. Yet here we are. Their limbs are stretching, their sentences becoming more complex. I sit by and watch the expressions on their faces as they navigate the world, grateful to have a moment and the wisdom to sit and watch and notice. So often it feels like hurricanes swirling all around me.

We made so many people smile last week, Cleo and I. My little peanut. She was the one the doctors worried most about during the en utero periods. At first it was hard for them to find a heartbeat on ultrasound, which is why we did the genetic testing we opted not to do in the first pregnancy. The results came in a long voicemail a couple weeks later, which I didn't listen to for a couple days. When I did, I almost shut it off after hearing everything was fine but kept listening to the very end when the genetic counselor said something like "XX, times two. Two girls."

The doctors monitored this nameless girl child closely, wondering and worrying about the fact that she was so much smaller than her non-identical twin. My husband and I decided on two names we liked, glad to know this time around what kinds of babies would be joining us. Ha. What kinds of babies. As though there is any way of knowing that. Cleo was the first name we chose--I love it. Then we searched to find another name, a fourth name, that would complement the three other short, pretty, interesting names we had found. Daphne.

While they were in my tummy we didn't decide which girl which would have which name. Not officially. But in my mind the Lil Peanut would be Cleo and the Big Little Sister would be Daphne. Big Little Sister because she was Baby B, the one further away from the cervix so slotted to be born second, or in our case, fourth. She would be the youngest of our brood and she was the biggest. The doctors monitored Baby A, Lil Peanut, because she was just so much smaller. Why? they wondered. Would she need to come out early because of her small size? When I held the palm of my hand against the roundness of my belly, communicating with these determined little girls who had been so committed to being born that they inexplicably slipped the eggs holding them into my womb when no one was watching, I would tell her, the littlest one, to do what she needed to do to be ok. Whatever ok meant to her. I sang her Inch by Inch, The Garden Song

During the final ultrasound the worried doctor checked again and ultimately declared "Maybe she's just the runt!" Maybe her sister is big for their age and she is small for her age but they will both ok anyway. And they were.

Cleo hangs from monkey bars and ropes, body still as her powerful little arms hold her up with their power. She lies down in the middle of a path, refusing to go one step further, no matter how much I urge. I knelt in the dirt on the way to a wedding held in the middle of a field, watching as the other well-dressed guests streamed by us, waiting out my small, determined daughter who refused to walk anymore. I gave in because she would not.

She changes her clothes many times a day. Either because her pants get a little wet or her shirt gets a little dirty or she doesn't like the color combo. Discarded clothing dots the floors, marking her trail. She is committed to babies and always has been, since she was a baby herself. The only one of our four to love dolls immediately. She asks that I wrap one up and then criticizes my technique. Not like that!

She insists on buckling her own car seat as I stand in the rain watching her struggle to push a buckle closed with her small hands. She can do it every time on her own.

She is watchful and always has been. She drinks everything in, wide eyes open. She has been known to dismiss adults with a shift of her eyes, a movement in her eyebrows. Strangers remark on it.

We went on a date last week, my little girl and I. She changed her clothes four times and at one point I wondered if we would even leave the house. We drove to Orinda and hopped on Bart, she feeding the ticket into the machine and boarding the escalator without assistance. I had to tell her five times to stay behind the yellow line as we waited for the train; she was not down to obey the command and I finally had to physically pull her back. We got out at Embarcadero and walked the few blocks to Yank Sing for dim sum. Her first time but she tried everything, even figuring out how to make the chopsticks work for her. She kept asking when we would get on Bart so rather than attempt the museum I had suggested we headed back, taking a different route. When it came time to cross Embarcadero to the water side she refused, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk because she was mad that I wouldn't let her cross the street without holding my hand. Rather than drag her or get mad I backed off, letting her sit and wait it out until she was ready. Adults walked around her. I took deep breaths and looked across at the Bay, reminding myself that this was what we were here for. Eventually she stood up. We crossed the street to the left instead and she held my hand. When we let go she stopped and climbed up on a cement planter and there we stayed as she walked around and around and around the perimeter of that box. I watched as people in their cards looked out at her as they waited at the light. Smiling. Fondness and appreciation and love of life, of innocence, in their eyes. That used to be the way I looked at mothers and their children, fathers and their children, marveling at the wonder of being able to share moments with such little people as they met the world time and time again.

It is so rare that I feel the way I thought I would feel, being the mama. It takes a lot of getting used to.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Day Without A Woman

Today is International Women's Day--a day I don't think I've recognized in any real way before now and a day whose history I know little about. I will add it to my list of things to look up and read about--the list is growing longer every day.

The Day Without A Woman strike was organized by the national group who put on the Women's March Womens March (this link is to the national group) which I did not participate in for a variety of not-very-great reasons and which received a lot of fervent accolades and fierce criticism. Many of my friends (almost all female) participated in the marches on January 21 and most of the accounts from those I knew who were there in person were uplifted, inspired, empowered. The criticism and commentary I followed most closely was shared by women of color. It focused on the ways in which feminism is not intersectional. It called out the ways in which a bunch of privileged white women marching a day after the inauguration of a president who received an embarrassing and unacceptable number of votes from white women did nothing for them. I had a lot of personal, emotional reactions which can be summarized as sad and angry that I hadn't made it a priority to be there and triggered, defensive and sad at some of the criticism. I didn't write about any of those feelings because I was busy listening and paying attention and because my personal life was a mess. Anyone looking at a calendar while referencing some recent blog posts might notice that my pit of depression spent binge-watching Scandal began not long after this event.

When I thought about whether or not I would strike today I asked myself how I could participate and be most in line with my values. Which are:

-Women working and standing together is essential, to me and to the world
-Feminism is not separate from racism and we white women need to do better
-An imperfect event can still be necessary and valuable
-Showing up in person is a big deal

One of my friends posted this article, about how the march was mostly going to be a march for privileged women. Privilege

I am very privileged. On International Women's Day I am employed and my family and I do not need my job to survive. (My mental health is more stable as a result of being employed). I am a full-time, benefited employee so I have the option of taking a sick day. My kids were taken care of by a caring, reliable woman and friend. My house was cleaned today by three women who immigrated to this country with their families.

On Monday I thought about how or if I would take the day off. I'm not sure why I didn't think about it more seriously before Monday but probably because I'm not much of a planner and at most I have a sense of what's happening a day or two in advance. My husband and I sat in the kitchen and talked about it. I work an hourly job and am scheduled many weeks ahead of time. To email my boss on Monday saying I planned to not work on Wednesday would put many people in a tricky position. I would not be granted PTO that late in the game--two days notice is not enough time to cover the schedule and I would have been expected to ask sooner. I had the option of trying to get someone else from my team to cover my shift but that didn't seem useful to anyone. I also wasn't sure what the response would be if I were honest. If I said I was not going to come to work as part of a strike, would I be fired? Would it be desertion of duty? I wasn't totally sure and I was scared to find out.

The other option, and the one most people probably use when something comes up that they didn't anticipate, was to call in sick the day of. I didn't want that to be the way I got out of work for the strike--it would be sending no message and it would be putting more work on my team and would potentially be disadvantaging the families we serve. I wanted to attend the speeches at City Hall in San Francisco SF Event but I decided to take my chances and hope I didn't get called out to a case. I appreciated this article which gave ideas of how to participate for people not able or not willing to take the day off and was prepared to participate one way or another. How to Spend the Day Without Women If You Can't Take The Day Off

It worked out in my favor and I got to stand in front of the steps of beautiful City Hall and watch my sister, the public relations lead for the SF Women's March group, coordinate the ten or so female speakers who showed up to speak to the crowd. I stood in the sun with my mom, a lifelong activist, both of us wearing red. I watched and felt as more and more people, mostly women, gathered. There were signs. There was red lipstick, red boots, red dresses, red t-shirts. Babies in red. There was a tiny speaker which didn't turn on until exactly 11. The woman who opened the event was a young Ohlone who began with a tribal yip and told us she was there to honor the land of the indigenous people we were all standing on. People shouted at her to use the mike and my sister strode out and held up her hands, her fingers. She told us we had four more minutes until the mike would be turned on and asked us to cheer or chant or wait patiently until then. We did. I didn't record the whole thing because it occurred to me too late but here is a bit of her song.

video

The other speakers were City Supervisors, the President of the Board of Supervisors, the city Controller (I think that's her title but not sure)  a union organizer (and mother to my best friend from elementary school), the fire chief in uniform and another high ranking fire fighter (I think she is the Assistant Chief), an Iraqi immigrant artist with her sleeping, infant daughter strapped to her chest, a Spanish-speaking janitor of 20+ years who immigrated illegally.

All women. A mix of ethnicities. A mix of native languages and countries. A mix of ages. Some mothers, some not. Some in vibrant red dresses, some in sweatshirts.

I cried several times. I didn't shout very loudly during the few chants because I am still learning to use my voice in a yell. There were many shouts of "Louder!" from the crowd because the speakers were not powerful enough and because even when many of the speakers felt like they were yelling, and maybe were yelling, they weren't loud enough.

I was so glad to be there.

There is more to write but not tonight.

One more valuable perspective. Why I'm Not Participating in A Day Without A Woman

We have much to do. Much to read. Much to think about. And showing up is good.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bills

As is often the case, there are several things I want to write about. Three of the main topics right now are:

Thoughts on the ceremonies around turning 40

Thoughts on choosing a school for our kids

Thoughts on fairness in parenting

Before I sit down and try to put any of those into good words I will share this teensy summary of the medical bills thus far in 2017. Note, it is the 6th day of March so there have only been 65 days this year. Including today.

We are covered under an employer-provided High Deductible PPO. For our family of six, we have an annual deductible of $9,000 and an out-of-pocket co-pay maximum of $13,000. These numbers are for if we go to in-network providers--they're higher if we go outside the network. ($18,000 and $20,000 respectively)

I wrote earlier about the various doctors appointments we have attended so far this year which include, among general check-ups and basic "I have a cold" visits, my annual colonoscopy prescribed as part of the maintenance of my chronic ulcerative colitis, hearing and speech evals for one child and a set of ear tubes for said child.

The following is a breakdown of what the provider billed our insurance and what ended up being our patient responsibility (after hospital write-offs which are part of how this bonkers system works). I am also including the patient's perspective of what was actually done.

January 6--$885 billed, $504.45 left as patient responsibility ($380.55 knocked off by insurance/hospital relationship aka "Network Savings")
This was a toddler hearing assessment that lasted about 30 minutes. It was well-executed and required fancy equipment. Performed by techs. Good experience at a private facility (with an extremely long waiting list that made the entire hearing/speech assessment take nine months.) No report provided to me nor offered as an option. I found out about the report because in order to get the prescribed speech therapy set up through the school district (because the waiting list at the private facility was too long) it was suggested that the report would help things move along. To get the report I had to fill out a form and go drop it off in person, during business hours. It would be difficult to quantify the cost of this to a parent with a regular job or no car considering he/she would have to take off work to go fill out the form at the office. Also, our report wasn't ready. Also, they will not mail it to me so I will have to go back in person again. Also, report still not ready.

All in all, aside from the bullshit of the report, I don't find the amount billed for this service to be completely excessive. Expensive but still in the realm of acceptabl

January 6--$1200 billed, $234.64 patient responsibility.
                  $4808.10 billed, $2272 patient responsibility
                  $2662 billed, patient responsibility still being determined
Total billed for my annual colonscopy=$8,670.10. What in the ever loving eff? 
There are three separate charges as this reflects the lab fee, the surgical services and the meds. The entire process (not including the fasting and colon clean out I did at home--good times, get excited for your 50s when normal people start getting these) lasted about two hours. The two hours consisted of--a nurse putting in an IV, someone pushing some enjoyable drugs into said IV, a twenty minute peek by a doctor into my large intestine with a long, flexible camera tube, an hour or so to wake up from the meds. This apparently costs almost nine grand. For a maintenance procedure that is mostly done to keep an eye out for colon cancer since I'm more susceptible to it (based on the colitis alone with an added risk because of the immunosuppresants). As in, I wasn't having any pain or problems. One can imagine that someone without a lot of money would choose to forgo such an annual procedure due to cost. Except its more complicated than that of course because the costs and insurance and the payments are all determined somewhat differently based on how much money someone has and what type of insurance he/she has. I mean, the costs are the same. Sort of. I don't think it cost anyone almost 9k to look into my colon. But that hospital (which is lovely and one of my favorites and with which/whom I have a long-standing, trusting relationship) has determined the cost if $8,670.10. We get a break because the hospital/insurance relationship knocks some money off. But we've still paid $2506.64 so far, with more to come once the breakdown for the meds is determined.

Outrageous.

I will close out with the following pending charge:

2/13/2017--$18,821.50 for tubes in a toddler's ears (officially called a myringotomy)
That's how much the hospital billed our insurance. We have yet to see what our portion will be or what the detail between hospital/insurance will be. This is a lovely, amazing hospital that serves many very sick children and their families. The actual procedure took 20 minutes (including induction of general anesthesia, performed by a pediatric anesthesiologist and the surgery itself, performed by a pediatric ENT. Both of whom were women of color, btw. Which rocks because I love for my kids to see badass women doctors, especially women of color). We were well loved and supported by nurses and a Child Life Specialist. I don't think either of us were traumatized too much (I mean, watching your kid fight going under general anesthesia is an experience I wish on no one). If I had millions of dollars and assigned value to medical services before paying for them, I would pay this much and more if it meant my kid were going to get this level of top-notch care. And yet. Dang. That is a shit load of money that no one can really afford. I mean, almost no one. People with millions of dollars could, though they probably wouldn't want to if they had a choice. And they probably never will, because with private insurance the actual cost to the parents of the patient (us included) will be much less than this.

In summary, in the first 65 days of 2017 we have spent $8771.47 of our $9,000 annual deductible and $10,771.47 of $13,000 of our annual co-pay maximum. Almost twenty grand. With two expensive bills still outstanding so we've probably met both limits. This means for the rest of the year we will go completely hog wild and seek out all the expensive, free procedures we can find!

Um, no. It means. . .

That health care is complicated and the way it gets paid for has been made almost inscrutable, especially when it comes to business side of things If you haven't already, watch this old interview from The Daily Show about an article written by Steven Brill for Time magazine A Bitter Pill. I don't know if the writer would get royalties if we all went and paid to read it via Time magazine  but I'm thinking of buying it anyway so I can read the whole thing. He's writing a book about it too. It's important stuff. And this isn't even my issue! I mean, it's my issue in that it has a big impact on me and it matters to me and I want it to be better but it's not even the one I choose to think about/worry about/focus on the most. 

This post is already much longer than I meant it to be and I haven't even gotten into all the layers worth discussing. So in signing off I will say I believe access to quality health care is a human right. And it shouldn't bankrupt people, which is currently does. (Not us so far, because we're lucky and have good jobs and my husband is good at budgeting) And our government should not be fighting to take insurance away from people--we should be figuring out how to address the fact that a colonscopy costs more than eight thousand pretend dollars.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

35 of 40

The thing I'm most proud of from last year is that I made friends with a woman whose writing and style and heart I had been admiring from afar, through her words, for a couple years. Nici Cline. She writes Dig This Chick. I found her via Enjoying the Small Things, written by Kelle Hampton. I found Kelle through Momastery, written by Glennon. I can't remember how I found Glennon. Or how I found Dooce. Straight up and Dirty by Stephanie Klein was the first blog I got really into, unless you include Rockstar Mommy, written on a now forgotten platform and since disappeared, at least under that name. There are a few others included on my daily check out list, but none of them stuck with me. I appreciated the voices and learned some things and they passed the time.

Nici lives in Montana, homesteading with her love and her two soft, fierce, open daughters. She is a gardener, a cook, a maker, an artist. She finds ways to make her life rich--in color, with dirt, in fullness. Her written word moves me, every time. Every time she write an essay it changes me in some small, nudges a little spot open in my heart, makes me want to be better. I read her for over a year before commenting--I was never much of a commenter on blogs. I emailed her once for some reason that I now forget. She responded after a couple weeks and it was a nice response. I felt shy and awkward, like I didn't even know what I was asking for. That feeling you get when you listen to and watch a musician make magic and fall into imagining what a conversation with that person would be like, certain that if you could just take a moment to connect you would both realize how much was there to mine together. Is that love? It was something. I had her in a separate place, a place for artists and movers and people with voices. I wanted to communicate to her how much not just her writing but her way of seeing the world and her way of being in the world, of loving. of parenting mattered to me.

Last year she and one of her two college best friends put together a women's gathering in Petaluma called the Artful Homestead. In the days before announcing this news she posted a handful of images, a few sentences, breadcrumbs dropped leading us to the middle of the forest where the story would unfold. One photo show a pair of dirty, pale, child's feet next to a basket partially filled with frondy veggies in their god-assigned colors. It was spiritual. Bright. Hopeful. It beckoned.

When the announcement came that the event would focus on ritual and creating beauty and finding ways to connect to your artist, to cultivate the space to intentionally make what you needed to make, it was thrilling. Even more so, it would take place in Petaluma--not much more than an hour away from where I live.

Booked.

We would gather at a farm in Petaluma the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and spend the day together. There was a group of 15 of us or so, all women. When I woke up early to start driving I got nervous, as I always do when I'm off to put myself amidst a group of strangers. I didn't almost cancel but I was in that mild dread that makes it so easy to change your mind at the last minute. I drove on, through the dry, golden fields, rolling hills, long fences, different world roads found so close to my own home.I pulled into a gravel drive, past a llama or two, parking next to a wooden outhouse with a moon carved above the door. Quiet voices fluttered over the wall from the courtyard and I walked in, full of anticipation. I did the thing I know to do now before walking into a group of women.Found myself in my own heart, centered,opened up for the many beauties and styles and plate offerings I was bound to find.Reminded myself how easy it would be to feel cowed, less, not pretty enough, not artistic enough, not stylish enough. I shook it off, my eyes long open to the truth that I bring those feelings up in other women too. That with intention and curiousity I can shift the energy, be open and not threatened, and enter into one of my favorite pockets of humanity I've ever found--a circle of women where we are listening and embracing, consoling, crying. I think it may be why people have believed in witches for so long. It's because we're real.

Nici and Paige created so much beauty. The land and the farm were rough and pretty. The food was how food should be--so full of juice and flavor and the essence of being fed and of feeding. Plates, silver, vases, tableclothes. Beauty everywhere you turned. During one free moment I wandered around the buildings, through gates into backyards, under trees and tall grass. Getting lost but having nowhere else to be. I walked by a corner with stacked farm tools, cobwebs, ceramic pots, some broken. I didn't notice it the first time I pass it. The second time I saw it, saw the dirt. But what I really saw is how our eyes make things beautiful. When I walk by piled up corners in my own house I cringe under the weight of things to do, of "Why doesn't all of that have a place to go?" Here, it was part of the welcoming heart that was sheltering me and it was beautiful to me.

We sat in a circle and talked. We journaled. We sat in pairs, interviewing one another and taking photos of one another. We walked the perimeter,. We sat on quilts under trees surrounded by lambs. We ate lunch on a long wooden table in a field and every single bite I took was exquisite. Then we went swimming in the black bottom pool. Icy water surrounded by hot flat rock. Different bodies, different suits, different approaches to the water. We told each other stories and swam or dipped feet. Nici was there and I was intimidated by her, because I felt like I knew her through her blog and because she designed the event and because she was gorgeous and plunging into the cold water in glee. It would have been easy to stay a few paces away, to observe like I like to do. To soak up the atmosphere. But I swam up and somehow made conversation. I felt shy the whole time. But I felt so clearly sure that I did not want to miss the opportunity to actually get to know this woman I'd been admiring for so long.

There were so many wonderful connections on that day. So many vibrant, powerful women. It was like drinking gallons of a life-giving draught that would last me for years. We talked about everything. At the end of the evening we ate another other-worldly meal in a field, the wreathes we'd wound of branches and flowers sitting at our feet. When the meal ended, one woman sang opera, her voice pulling up from the base of her feet and spilling into the darkening sky. It was a gift of a day.

Nici and I wrote back and forth a couple times after that and now we are friends. And it is so exciting for me to write that! Because I love her and I love getting to know her and also because I love me and I am proud of myself for not turning away, for not hiding and waiting to be asked, for stepping into the power I know I have but get scared of so often because I have feared being embarrassed or rejected or wrong. That is the gift I am giving to myself on this 40th birthday of mine--I'm going to wrap up those fears and put them somewhere for a while just in case I need them again. Fear of embarassment? We are all learning. We all make mistakes. What is there to be embarrassed about?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

34 of 40

Written summer 2016

I'm on call today but didn't get called out to work. At first it was good. I got most of our bedroom cleaned. . .or at least what we would consider cleaned in that there are no longer piles of my clothes on the floor in front of the closet and I've gone through the Goodwill bags to make it easier for us to someday get them out of the house. Even though some of them are filled with kid clothes that they probably don't take but I don't know where else to take them.

Now it's 5pm and I miss my kids. Miss them being with me. Hate them being away from me for so long. Even though I know they are probably having fun. And yesterday afternoon when they were with me I was just so done. So tired and not getting anything done, no energy to get anything done. Parenthood is a mental illness. I want to be with them all the time, I feel not quite right without them, but then I'm with them and it's so hard I want to crawl under the covers and watch old Gilmore Girls episodes. Not hard as in challenging, though at times it is. Hard as in the surface of a rock rubbed against your skin. Painful, a dull pain. Boring. With moments of such sweetness.

My friend Maia just spent a week in Nicaragua. There's a picture of her surfing and looking at it made me feel. . .like that is ten worlds away from me. Not just the surfing part, because I've tried it a couple times and gotten pummeled and scared and never made it to my feet. But the solo trip away from my kids for a week. I'm thrilled for her that she did it. I want to do it. And it feels. . .impossible. Which is crazy because it's not like I love my kids more than she loves hers. What is it then?

I fold tiny clothes that aren't even tiny any more, just too small. And I miss their tiny baby selves even though I'm so glad that part is over. But over for good? I just. . .it's hard to take it all in. I don't expect to enjoy every minute but how do I constantly feel like I might be missing it, even when I'm sitting right there?

33 of 40

Written sometime in 2016

I'm like a spy. Sitting in a staff lounge and a young doctor comes to give report to a slightly older doctor. He starts venting about a difficult patient, how she doesn't want to do anything they say and keeps saying she wants to leave. How many times he's had to visit her bedside. He sounds so frustrating and I really do get it. It's important to be able to vent, especially to a hopefully safe person who can take it in and help you process it. Or just help you by listening.

And I also want to ask him "Have you ever been a patient?"

My guess is he will say no, but who knows? We contain multitudes.

In the conversation I am having with him in my head he says 'no' and I say "se nota" because I am thinking in Spanish right now, trying to get my Spanish back where it needs to be. And because some words and phrases feel gentler and at the same time more encompassing. It's not me saying "I can tell" or "That's obvious" It's me saying, Yes that can be noted. At least that's how I translate it for myself.

I want to say, "Being a patient is scary. And hard. And painful. And with all that, you don't stop being yourself. Or at least if you're lucky you try like hell and sometimes succeed in staying yourself, even with all the assaults on your body and mind and self-awareness. You don't just hop on board and become compliant because that's the best thing. That's what will make you better. That's what they're telling you to do. If you're ornery outside of a hospital bed, you will likely be ornery in the hospital bed. Possibly more so. Or the experience might turn you into a meek little kitten. Who knows? The thing is, it is the patient going through a transformative experience here. There is no steady ground to stand on. You are afraid, out of power, out of control. It is hard to know what is what.

So be frustrated, young doctor. Let it out where you can. And then take a deep breath and remember or acknowledge that it feels a lot different to be in the bed than it does to stand next to it.

32 of 40

Written April 2016

Playing golf is a good activity for parents of young children because it there are so many similarities. Fun, frustrating and makes your arms sore. Riding ATVs in sand dunes is like raising toddlers in that you are barely in control, sometimes exhilarated and acutely aware that if something happens to you it will be bad news for a lot of small people.

We took a vacation. Turns out, that was a very great idea. It's not quite 8am and I'm awake, because I'm not much of a sleeper-inner. The beauty of not quite eight o'clock is that I am alone. No one is touching me or demanding breakfast. I have time to slowly wake to the day, which never happens at home.

We've exhausted ourselves--no laying by the pool or reflexology. No walks on the beach, except the short one down to the water's edge in Pismo where we awaited the shuttle to come pick us up and drive us down the sand to Steve's ATVs. No novel reading, though I did read through most of a bizarre local newspaper full of murder plots and corrupt politicians. We watched two movies. Went out to eat. Walked down the hill into the small town of Avila Beach. Hit the Farmer's Market where we bought tacos from a stand, meat piled so high on top of those corn disks it was impossible to hold. Best food we've had all trip.

Turns out the best way to appreciate your own young children is to go to a Farmer's Market without them. There you can admire the beautiful, lively, flirtatatious babies and toddlers that don't belong to you. So many babies made eyes at me and it was probably because I was smilingly looking at them, like I used to before I was a mom. When I longed for a baby and imagined myself strolling through the tents with my cuddly baby strapped to my chest. Last night we could hear the sounds, questions and tantrums, of other peoples' children, miss and admire ours from afar because they weren't there, and fully acknowledge that if they were there we would have our eyes to ground-level, chasing and grabbing and coralling. There would be no flirting with other babies because I wouldn't have the energy or attention-span to look at other peoples' babies.

I don't know why it never occurred to me before I had children that some of the childless people and couples I was seeing did have children but had left them elsewhere.I thought I would be forever changed as a mother, that people would see it on my skin whether the kids were with me or not. And I am forever changed, but it's not always apparent from the outside.

This trip has been full of noticing how much and what the kids would love. The playgrounds, one in the sand and one just across the street. The dogs running in the sand. The lizard doing push-ups in the sun. The golf cart. The sweets. They would have so much fun here. We will hopefully bring them someday and see how different it is to be with them. How it is no longer easy to stroll down the hill to the beach--crossing the big road with the four of them would be tricky and a short walk becomes a long walk with all those little legs.

My body feels good and strong with muscle aches from being well-used. We push each other to do more--without him here I would have spent the whole trip lounging. Without me, he wouldn't have sought out the adventures I found. We have fun together. We'd forgotten what it felt like.

Next year I will be 40. This translates into not being able to tell how old people are. We stood in line for nachos and then in the same line again for a watermelon agua fresca. The four young women ahead of us started out in their 20s but the longer we stood behind them, the younger they got. Perhaps high school? How is it that so many people inhabit the ages we have already lived through? How can I simultaneously remember exactly what it felt like to be sixteen while looking at sixteen year olds in wonder and confusion, trying to imagine what it feels like to be them?

There are so many different lives to be lived. So many places to go. So many ways to step outside your own life for a moment, to see it through new, rested eyes. To remember what it felt like before. To imagine what it might feel like someday. Vacation. I highly recommend it.