Saturday, December 15, 2012

I understand/ I don't understand....

I understand:

Bravery, selflessness, goodness, love.

These are all things we saw yesterday in the midst of madness and heartbreak.

Someone, in a brave, final act turned on the PA system at school to alert other teachers that something horrible and unthinkable was in their midst.

Teachers, with families of their own at home, instinctively went into action to protect the children.  To keep them safe.  First and foremost.  They acted with courage and love.  Teachers.  Not soldiers.  Not firefighters.  Not policemen.  Teachers, who may have gone into the profession because they thought it might be fun to be around kids all day.  Teachers, who day after day correct spelling tests and do lesson plans and worry over family situations of "their kids" that they have no control over.

First responders, many just volunteer citizens, went in to harms way, not knowing what they'd find, or if they'd come out alive.  But they went in anyway, and did everything they could.

The community, from all reports, tight-knit, close, loving, has gathered to support those who have lost:  innocence, laughter, a future of memories that will never be made.  It's an impossible task, but the community, and the rest of us, surrounded them with love and tears.  It's all we could do in those terrible moments immediately after.

I hope, and I pray with my clumsy heathen prayers that we will all do the same for a young man who lost his mother to violence, and a brother to mental illness.  He will surely need love and compassion to deal with the aftermath of this senseless tragedy as well.

I don't understand:
Why anyone with a love of our country, and good morals and a belief in a loving God, or just plain decency, would defend the fact that it's easier to get a gun than it is to get help with a mentally ill family member.

Because it is.  It's easier to get a gun than a driver's license.  That's a fact.

I don't understand why anyone who likes to use guns recreationally or for sport would feel offended that those of us who do not would like to see this rectified.

I do not wish to take away your right to own or carry a gun.  I assume that you are of sound mind, and you enjoy hunting, or you live in a terrible neighborhood and wish to protect your family or possessions.

But I don't understand why you feel the need to defend how incredibly, UNBEARABLY easy it is for the wrong person to get their hands on a gun.

I don't understand why it is nearly impossible for a person with a history of mental illness, who has exhausted their resources, and their family and community, must be deemed a danger to themselves or others before they are able to get the help they need.  Because THAT, as we've seen in the last DAYS, happens much, much, much too late.  Mental illness is not like any other illness.  Many people with mental illness do not believe there is anything wrong with them.  They refuse help.  And so their families are left to worry about them, about their safety and the safety of anyone in their path.  And there is the stigma as well - "he's CRAZY", "he's NUTS" equation of mental illness with evil.  Most mentally ill people are not violent.  But those who are?  Wouldn't it be humane to have the ability to diagnose and treat them before we find out the difference?  To at least attempt to help them return to sanity, or at the very least, safety?

Because bottom line?
It is not "us vs. them".
It is "us".
Just us.
All of us together, with our differences and our passions, living together on this planet.
We're going to need to figure it out.
Hopefully sooner than later.

Wishing you peace and kindness.  Do you understand?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Science facts

"Hey, mom - did you know that most birth defects are caused by something the mom ate or did during pregnancy?"

I am helping him get his compression stocking on, something we do every day.  It's too tight for him to be able to do it himself, even though this week he will be twelve years old, and he is nearly as tall as I am, and weighs almost as much, too.  I have just pulled it up past his knee, and I'm looking at him as he is talking, smiling.  But I was caught off guard, and for the split second it took for me to register what he'd said, he saw my secret, the thing I've battled every day since he was born and we discovered that he had Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome.  The fear that it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, even though I've had specialists tell me it's just something that happens sometimes, just a quirk of nature brought about by a wrong turn on a strand of genetic material.

I recover as quickly as it registers, but I'm caught and he...he is mortified, horrified that he has hurt me.

"But I'm not blaming you, I just have K-T, and I was born that way and I wouldn't want to be any different!  I love you and I know you didn't do anything wrong, and I only think it's sometimes that it happens, maybe most of the time, but it doesn't MATTER because I LOVE who I am and I love YOU, and if I didn't have K-T I wouldn't be me..."  He is in danger of running out of air, and I stop him.

"Sweetheart - it's okay.  I know you were just telling me something interesting that you learned, and it's just science.  Sometimes even in science there are variables.  I know you aren't blaming me.  I love you just as you are, and I know you love me too.  Please don't worry, I'm okay."

We have a ritual after his stocking is on - we have a big hug.  Today's hug is tighter than normal, and lasts twice as long.

"Thanks for helping me with my stocking, mom.  I love you."

"You bet.  I love you too."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hey, Look!

We've talked before here about JH's syndrome, always in a very matter of fact way.  It's part of our life.  I never wish he didn't have it, although I do sometimes wish he didn't have pain.  But it is an integral part of him.  I don't know if K-T has made him wiser, or more confident, or more patient, or a better friend, or if he would be that way without it.  All I can say is that he is all of those things, and I can't imagine him any other way.

Years ago, when Joe-Henry was three, Charley got his first utilikilt.  He wore it to the K-T conference in Rochester, MN, and I remember that for the first time, people were staring at Charley and not JH.  They were (and still are) fairly audacious and open about their staring.  Some, me included, might call it "gawking".  He has turned heads in Paris, in Los Angeles, and certainly here in our small town where we moved in 2006.  He even turned heads in Scotland, which I thought was sort of odd.  Everywhere we go, my hubby turns heads.  But he wears it well, with confidence, and starts conversations with strangers.  Women love it, and people think nothing about asking if he is wearing anything under it.  The usual response is that he wears it the traditional way.  Or, if they have a sense of humor, "nothing but the breeze and my wife's good graces".

He is friendlier about the attention than I am.  I was raised a Lutheran, and although I went into the arts, and spent a good portion of my adult life on stage, I do NOT like being stared at.  What I don't like even more?  Is having the people I love stared at, or whispered about.  I have been known to take pictures of people staring at his kilt, or JH's feet.  Asking them to smile for the camera.  I try to be more open about it.  I do.  It is getting easier.  I don't notice as much anymore.  I love that he feels comfortable and confident and I think he's sexy as hell no matter what he wears, but more than anything, he has given Joe-Henry an amazing example of how to swim against the current with grace.

Joe-Henry has always had an amazing amount of confidence.  Not OVER confidence, just a real solid awareness of who he is and what he is capable of.  He doesn't feel limited by his K-T, and he doesn't think twice about wearing his stocking.  It's not a fashion statement.  It's something that helps him get through the day with less pain, and not wearing it because other people might stare?  The mere thought makes him make this face like he has a question mark directly above his head.  Why on earth would he let what other people think have any precedence over his comfort and well being?  In the last couple years, he's developed quite a fashion sense, and has taken to wearing a really funky sock on his other foot.  You can't help but notice it, and I love that he has completely made it his own.

I wondered if that quality would change as he entered Middle School.  He was really nervous about going to a new school where he didn't know any teachers and there were more kids.  I could tell the first few days, he was trying to fit in.  But, it was really hot today, so he wore shorts (bright green), with bright yellow smiley face socks on BOTH feet.  I asked if anyone gave him any compliments on his socks today, and he said "no, but I did see a few people staring at my stocking."  My heart sank, but I stayed chipper and asked "How was that?  Did you say anything?"  

"Nah.  Mom, there is no such thing as bad attention."

These men of mine.  One of these days this attitude just might rub off on me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This sums it up.  Every year I write this post.  We start school again.  How does it go so fast?  But seriously -

My son will start Middle School today.  When your kids are little, people always say things like "Oh, they'll LOVE preschool!" and "he's so ready for kindergarten!".  No one EVER says "Middle School is the BEST".  Mention Middle School to anyone, and they all look like they're having flashbacks to their days in 'Nam.  When I think about Middle School, I think of K.F. and L. A. telling me I couldn't go out that door, I'd have to go around, or they were going to beat me up.  Or the time someone filled the sleeves of my only jacket with wet paper mache, threw it to the top of some cupboards, then when I climbed up to get it, they took the chair away, and I got in trouble when the teacher came in.

Twitch.  Twitchtwitch.

I'm doing my best to stay positive - I was truly impressed with the presentation they gave at the school, I think he'll be educationally challenged.  I just, damn, I can't keep him safe forever.  He's going to be dealing with his own bullies, making his own way.  How can I let him go?

How can I not?

In three years he'll be in highschool.  In four, he'll have his driver's permit.  In seven he'll be old enough to vote.  And I know that the world needs him.  He's going to be a truly amazing man.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a girl on my lawn.  She and her sister were visiting their grandparents next door.  They hadn't seen each other in two years.  The oldest is JH's age.  She's a darling, daring, fiercely smart and loving girl.  When we saw her last, she was handling a snake they found in my garden.  As she and her little sister caught up with JH, I noticed her twirling her long brown hair in her fingers, lowering her lashes and laughing at his every word.  It wasn't put on, it wasn't as though she were trying on behaviors to see what worked, it was as natural as air.  It was.... sweet.

I think it went a long way toward giving him the boost he needed to get over his jitters about going to a new school.  A big new school with lots more kids and no adults who knows him.

I think maybe that's what I'm not ready for.  Not being the center of his universe.  Oh, I know he still listens to his Dad and I, I know he still takes our words to heart.  But a sweet girl, laughing and talking with you or a good friend agreeing to meet you at your bus stop is better than anything your mom can say.  As long as his friends are kind and smart, I'll take it. 

I started writing this blog when he was six years old.  In kindergarten.  Looking back at those first posts, they too, were about how fast it all seemed to be going.  I had no idea.  

But we still have years left.  They aren't years spent changing diapers or soothing scraped knees, they are far trickier.  You have to still be that parent, but the cooing and cuddling is replaced with admonitions to "clean your room", "lights out", "be home by 9".  With looks and words and "mom, stop touching my head!  I just put stuff in my hair."

I'll do my best, which right now, today, is just hanging on to the rails and trying not to cry.  

This ride is crazy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

On Turning Thirteen

A dear friend of mine recently wrote a group of friends and asked if we could contribute to a book she was putting together for her daughter, who was turning thirteen. This is what I sent, minus the name. It just so happens that this beautiful young woman was born the day before another dear friends' daughter, and, well, since I can remember my own boy rolling around on the rug with these girls when they were all babies, it seems fitting to post it here, as well. I am focusing mighty hard on these young people in the coming months, holding them in my minds eye during election season. Because as exasperated as I get with rhetoric, I happen to know for a fact, that these fine young people will see us through to the other side.

Dear S,

You won't remember me, but I feel as though I know you. I met you when you were first born in Los Angeles (technically, I met you before that when your mom and dad first found out they were pregnant), I babysat for you a few times and have followed your life as your mom has posted wonderful things about you on Facebook. I haven't seen you since you were about 4 or 5, and I can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that you are going to be a teenager!

As a mother myself, of a boy almost two years younger than you, I have to tell you how hopeful I am for the future of our country, and our world. Your generation has so many advantages that previous generations have not. I am not just speaking of technology, I am also speaking of bravery, of truth, of knowledge and new ways of looking at the world. I truly believe that, just as we humans have evolved to lose our tails and stand erect, future generations, beginning with this one, are developing a very finely honed bullshit meter. It might not be an easy thing, but more than ever before, you have more information at your fingertips, to sort through, to disseminate fact from fiction. You are exposed to more of everything, and at a lightening pace. If you can always find and listen to that still small voice inside you, the one that says "yes" or "that's a load of hooey", you will be better than okay. You will be YOU, and that is what the world is so in need of right now.

I remember being your age and walking with my dad. He was the age I am now, and I couldn't get over how SLOW he was. This was way before personal computers and cell phones. This was just out WALKING, for heaven's sake. And now I see the same exasperation in my son's eyes when I can't keep up in some way - sharp mental acuity is the province of the young.

Something to take into account, though, before you all roll your eyes at your doddering parents. Our hesitance, our "slowness", if you will, is merely the gift of time that we have been given. It's like we are watching a giant clock that began to run the moment you were born, and our measured pace is merely the desire to have more time with you. Not necessarily to stop you from growing up, we know this to be inevitable and feel certain the world will be lucky to get such amazing young adults; but to hold on for a bit longer to the idea that you belong to us, the notion that we can protect you and guide you to make the right decisions, before it's time for you to do those things on your own. Just to hold on to you a bit longer. To marvel at you, to enjoy you, and to make sure you know how to wash your dishes and fold a t-shirt. That is our small contribution to your amazing selves. Well, that, and to see you safely through puberty, which is like teething was for you as a baby, with less drool. The next few years are sure to provide you with moments of uncertainty, but don't be fooled by those crazy hormones. Get still, if you can, get quiet, and listen hard to hear your truth, and remember that feelings are not facts. They are fleeting, and while they are of great worth to shape your experiences in life, they are only part of the equation. When you feel overwhelmed by them, that's a good time to take a nap, or eat an apple. Or sit next to your mom on the couch, and lean your head on her shoulder and just be you.

Magnificent teenager.

Lots of love and Happy Birthday,

Annie McQ

Friday, August 17, 2012

Get Back, (Dark) Temptation

Do you know what happens when your boy child hits about 11 1/2?  He starts to SMELL.  Kids going through puberty are little body odor FACTORIES.  They can be squeaky clean, but their armpits?


I was in the car with him this week, and caught a whiff and remembered the most important thing on my to-do list:  let him pick out some deodorant.  So, today, we went on a little deodorant-buying expedition.

Back when I was a kid and lived with my dad and my brothers, there was only ONE deodorant in our house.  Right Guard.  Spray.  I honestly didn't need to know anything about the ozone to know that this stuff was killing SOMETHING.

Since then, I hadn't looked at men's deodorant.  Ever.  Charley buys his own, so it's not something I have ever considered.  Until today.  And I have to congratulate you, you manly men, because you are sort of eclipsing us girls in the sheer number of deodorant selections on the market.  There were so many, it took us quite a while to choose.  So we did what we do when we go hat shopping for JH, and here I shall helpfully give you the guidelines of shopping for your pre-teen/teen.  This should work equally well for girls.
You're welcome.

Rules for shopping for deodorant (or whatEVer) with your preteen:

1) try as many as possible in the first ten minutes.
2) narrow it down to three
3) add two more (or trade two out, it's your decision, really)
4) be completely unable to choose between two, and you'll run out of time and have to choose two anyway.

This should only take between 1 -3 hours.

As I said, I was impressed by the sheer number of choices, and the creativity in naming men's deodorant/anti-perspirant.

We tried:  Swagger, Sport, Pure Sport, Clean, Extra Clean, Fresh, Extra Fresh, Playmaker, Game Day, Smooth Blast, Phoenix, Danger Zone, After Hours, Fiji, Danali, Matterhorn, Excite, Anarchy, Twist, Kilo, Clix, Essence....The list is long and (hat tip to the marketing department) mighty creative.

We finally settled for Degree Sport and Axe Essence.  Not TOO manly, but it works to tackle those crazy hormonal preteen armpits.

I refused to consider Dark Temptation.  He's 11, and he's my baby, and dammit, I'm paying for it, so I still have a say.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Young Man

I had a wild hair this summer and decided that I wanted to read some plays.  After making my living as an actor for nearly fifteen years, then taking a break for the last twelve, some part of me was waking up and wanting to stretch.

On a whim, I sent out letters to a couple commercial agencies in town, and got called in for an audition last week.  I had to do a monologue, which to me as an actor when I was doing them all the time was the most nerve wracking, un-natural thing on earth; but now I'm a menopausal wreck who can barely remember my own name on a good day how was I going to memorize a monologue?

As it turns out, there is a lot of muscle memory to this stuff.  I worked and worked and muttered to myself for over a week.  I did my monologue for Charley, I rehearsed it while walking the dog, I did it while doing dishes.  I had the audition, it went okay, but my nerves!!! Oh my gosh.  Even though I feel a thousand times more comfortable in my skin than I did when I was working, I could still feel my heart racing, but I managed to get a callback.

It would be two days later, and with an additional two people in the (very tiny) room.  In the meantime - we had friends in town, we had doctors appointments, I could no longer just focus on "the work".  Still, I treated it like an experiment.  Just flexing old muscles, more for myself than anyone else.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning and muttering, JH asked why I was talking to myself.  When I explained what I was doing, he asked if he could hear my monologue.  I chose this monologue because the woman is crazy, and funny, and I thought it would be a chance to show them something close to myself.  Although I have never been institutionalized, menopause has given me new insight into irrational thinking!

Here is where the whole perspective shift happened for me.  My boy, my amazing kid, gave me his full attention.  He paid me compliments.  He gave me real and valuable feedback.  He was sort of wowed by my (rusty) ability to become someone else.  He helped to ground me, he helped me run lines, he helped calm my nerves on the way to the audition.  We had an appointment right after, so I brought him with me, and he waited in the lobby and played with the agent's 16 month old son.  He made me so, so proud.

I was a wreck.  I don't think I did very well.  I couldn't stop my heart from racing.  I had difficulty staying on track, but I finished the monologue well, I think.  The scene I read with one of the people in the room went better, though, but still, I doubt I'll be going back there any time soon.  But it didn't matter.  When I came down from the audition, saw my sweet young man sitting on the floor playing with the wee one, and later in the car, when he just reached out and touched my leg and said "I'm so proud of you, Mom.  I know you were nervous, but you did your best.  I'm so proud..."  I felt like nothing else mattered.  There was no beating myself up, no self-defeating talk, which had been my constant companion back in the day.

Now, there was only this:  No matter what external forces bring, whether failure or triumph, I am the mother to an amazing human being.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rough Day Ahead?

So, today should be fun.  C is getting his first colonoscopy tomorrow, which for the uninitiated (those of you under 50), means today he is not allowed to eat anything but jello and popsicles, which is a perfect diet if you're 5, but not so great if you are a grown man; and he has to drink an entire bottle of Miralax over the course of three hours and spend the rest of the day in his bathroom.  He asked his doctor if he could work today, and his doctor said "Do you work on a toilet?  Because unless you work on a toilet, then no, you can't go to work."  So there's that.

If that weren't enough fun for one day, I dished out a consequence for the boy yesterday that entails no xbox and no cell phone today.  Seriously, I'm thinking of locking myself in the bathroom with C.  Or running away to join a chain gang.  At least they sing.

What happened was this - He had a friend over, and they were going to ride scooters to a neighborhood park, and I had to run to the vet to get Emma the wonderdog her special dogfood, and was only going to be gone for fifteen minutes.  He had instructions to be home in an hour.  And he had his phone with him in case of an emergency.  As I'm driving to the vet, I pass the park and see two guys from our 'hood playing basketball.  These guys are in their twenties and they are sketchy.  Like, drugdealing, thieving, but no one has caught them yet sketchy.  As I pull over to call JH, Charley texts me to ask me to pick up prescriptions at the drugstore, which I know will add a bit of time to my run, but no problem, I'll just call the boy and tell him to wait to go to the park until I get home.  I also knew that the other boys mom was home and close by, so I wasn't freaked out.  Yet.

I dialed and got the machine and I leave a message.  He's probably just on his scooter and didn't hear the phone.  I get to the vet, I pick up Em's food, and call again.  No answer.  I head to the drugstore, which is just a few blocks away.  I text.  Nothing.  By this time, I'm standing in line to get the prescription, but my hands are starting to sweat, and I'm envisioning the boys tied to a basketball hoop, robbed of their possessions and crying for their moms.  Or he's lost his phone.  Or left it in the backyard.  I call three more times.  Shoot.  It's in the backyard, and the hoodlums heard the phone and stole it AFTER they tied the boys to the basketball hoop.  The pharmacist hands me the prescriptions and I pay and race out the door, my heart in my throat.

As I pull up the hill, I see the boys walking up the hill with scooters, laughing.

"Where's your phone?!!!"

"Hey mom!  Why'd you call me so much?"

He heard the phone.  He saw my text.  He just didn't bother to listen to my messages OR pick up the phone.

Really, he got off light.  My first instinct was no phone for a week.  But realizing that the phone alone wouldn't do it, I had to take the xbox hostage too.  And after I calmed down and we talked about WHY it's important for him to answer his phone, that I'm not just calling to say "hi"- five phone calls in a row MIGHT be important, I knew he got it, he was remorseful AND wouldn't do it again, I still had to give some sort of consequence.  But a week without xbox is going to be a bigger punishment for me than him.  One day.  Plus he gets to do some work for me today.

I do believe there will be wine for Mom tonight.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Like Old Friends....

I stopped blogging.  I felt like too much of myself was somewhere else, instead of home, like some crazy creature from Harry Potter, my thoughts were characters, floating in the ether, instead of in my head helping me to find whatever it is JH needed me to find, or come up with an idea for dinner, or remember to make appointments with specialists for JH... or one of a thousand other things that I could NO LONGER REMEMBER TO DO WITHOUT WRITING IT DOWN.

But last night, C showed me this this book review about this book and it got me to thinking:  while using my limited menopausal brainpower to find JH's underwear/socks/asthmainhaler/phone/sunglasses/librarybook in his room, I realized that I was a) not doing my son any favors, and b) I missed writing.  I missed recording the stories.  So - new rule.  If it's in your room and you can't find it, that's tough luck.  Keep track.  Put it away.  You're on your own.  That decision freed up 2 mb of brainspace, and I oughta be able to blog a little, right?!

Much has happened since I was last here.  JH played in Little League for the first time; he graduated from elementary school and will be going to a different school in the fall; he didn't get in to the Arts School, which was a devastating head smacker, but we are all moving on to the best of our ability (I now only cry myself to sleep three nights out of the week instead of all 7); JH's leg is getting harder to lug around, he gets tired easily, he's growing like a weed; and to top it all off, he's going through puberty, which if you think it's easier for boys than girls, you have a nuther think comin' (as my dear departed daddy used to say!)  JH has been using wheels more and more - he has two skateboards now, he rides his bike, and he used a wheelchair for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago, which he thought was the best thing ever because he could actually enjoy the art instead of trying not to make a fuss about his leg hurting.  Recently we were in the car and he was absent-mindedly rubbing his leg, and I asked if it was hurting, and without any attitude at all he said "it always hurts".  I knew that it might feel heavy.  I knew that it bothered him sometimes.  I knew it made him run a bit slower than the rest.  But it killed me that, as his mom, I was not aware that it hurt all the time.  Always.

I missed having a place to put these things down in writing.  And while I don't feel a need to shape the story, I do feel a need to share it, again.  And like old friends, even though life has moved me down the river a bit, it seems like no time has passed since last we met.