Disposable Holidays

My mom made this Minnie dress for me. I wore it until it was in tatters.

My mom made this Minnie Mouse dress for me. I wore it until it was in tatters.

Holidays: I love them. LOVE them. I love Halloween…dressing up and getting to be a different archetype or part of my personality is SO MUCH FUN! As a kid my parents were conservative fundamentalist Christians, but they still allowed us to participate in Halloween activities providing that we didn’t dress up as anything “evil.” There were several years I went as a princess or a fairy or once as a very non PC Indian (from India) girl (though I rationalize it now as an adult because our neighbors were from India and gave me the salwar kameez set and I’ve lived in India and freaking love and respect the culture so much that I really think I was Indian in a former life. At any rate, not very PC, I know). One year I was a mime with my best friend and another year (um, possibly senior year of HS) I was a mermaid. I wore scuba flippers covered in sequins. It was rad.

Today is Halloween. And then there will be Thanksgiving (which is like Christmas without the drama of presents) and then my birthday/Potamus birthday/our anniversary/Christmas/New Years. It’s like this totally magical season upon us and I will love it hardcore. But I find myself in this strange dilemma…decorating our house.

If I go with the Halloween theme it’s over quite quickly and on to Thanksgiving. Do I go with a Fall theme that then drags on from October all the way through November? (seems too long?) and then Christmas is right around the corner…it’s exhausting. Also, I don’t like junk. I really love it when people decorate (especially for Christmas), but the act of breaking out all the Christmas decorations as a kid and putting them all over the house was exhausting. And then there was putting them away, which was a letdown and boring and overall more of a chore (also, sad to see a holiday end, ya know?).

Now, as an adult, with my own home, I’ve run into an entirely new dilemma: storing holiday junk. Our non-functioning garage has turned into a pile of boxes of plenty other remnants of our former life (books from when Boof was a pastor, notebooks from when I was in grad school, clothes from when Potamus was a newborn…you get the idea). What has prevented me from decking my house for any holiday is the overwhelming feeling that everything turns into junk the day after the holiday. I mean, I’ve had the advent gingerbread house and snowman cookie jar sitting around on my counter since last Christmas when my biological family gave it to me. But it’s felt like clutter since last Christmas.

Last year I went to the dollar store and got some window clings that looked like blood and a ghostly face. It was fun. And I threw it all away the day after Halloween because I couldn’t bear to pack it around for a full year. But I feel guilty for that waste…not only wasting money, but also throwing that stuff into the garbage. It wasn’t donation worthy, though, and so I didn’t feel like I had many options. This year I feel the same way…I got a few inflatable Halloween decorations that could be stored easily or donated, but it’s not nearly the decorating theme I’d normally gravitate toward and seems like I’m caught in this weird place…and it’s only Halloween. Now that Potamus is getting older shouldn’t I want to do the Christmas tree and ornaments and garlands like I loved growing up? But the thought of all the money I’d spend on buying that and then having to store it or give it away…I dunno, I just feel…torn by it all.

So tell me…how do you handle decorating for holidays? Do you invest in things you’ll pack away for the year? Do you buy new stuff each year? Do you keep your house bare and only decorate inside your heart? Tell me!

Bearing Witness to Student’s Lived Experience

In the past few weeks I have realized something: my job as an instructor/adviser is just as hard as it was as a crisis counselor. Though the schedule is much easier, the fact that I am simply in a position to bear witness to lives, rather than be the person to actively help seek the resources and see immediate change, is where the exhaustion is coming in. I know that I was built for this work, but lately there are several students who have been heavy on my heart. So heavy that I downloaded Anne Lamott’s new book Stitches and am flipping through it, because she talks about the utter fuckedupness of the world and how we stand and face all the cruelty in situations that often don’t have any ‘meaning’ (she cites the Newton shooting, for example.) Her words give me comfort.

So I’m nestled in my pajamas, at 4:30 pm on a Wednesday, drinking red wine and watching Jake & The Neverland Pirates with Potamus and musing about the fate of my students. And I’m sad, and angry (at parents and schools that have failed my students) and excited and proud, but also this feeling that is deeper than all of that, something about awe and heartache mixed with immense fear and hope. It’s hard to express adequately, ya know?

This week I had a student tell me that in their photography class they were instructed to take “street shots” and so they were in a piss-filled alley taking photos of graffiti. And they struck up a conversation with a homeless man, who spilled his life story, and after an hour the photographer moved on to a different location…getting two blocks away before they heard screams. And when they turned back into the alley, the homeless man had been stabbed to death by someone on drugs. A man who had previously lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and had chosen the homeless lifestyle, donating all of his posessions to charity, in order to “start over.” If heaven exists then maybe he’s met by his daughter and wife, but only minutes before my 17 year old student had been chatting with him, taking his photo. And then he was dead, just like that. And my student witnessed it.

How do you make sense of that? How do I hold the space for that story, for the emotions that go with it, without trying to solve it or make it all magically better?

What about the student who told me they missed class last week because they were arrested and with 1 week until their 18th birthday are most likely going to be charged as an adult and sent to prison? This student who I found on the news was selling close to 300 “molly” and crystal meth pills at a local rave. My student fessed up to their actions, but still? And school is the best option for them right now, but my heart is heavy because prison is the real deal and all the hard work to get on the right track were blown in a night.

How do I hold that?

And the students who have been writing about their drug addictions and the process of getting clean. Or their experience being in lockdown psych wards for psychotic breaks. Or the 11 concussions and expulsion from high school because they didn’t pass their class but no teacher gave any accommodations for the sports related injuries. My students are struggling with SO MANY things. And they come every day, and write about SMART goals, and learn study habits, and sometimes they do it when they haven’t eaten for a day or two, or don’t know where they’re going to live.

I admire their tenacity. Their ability to rise above the challenges that no kid should have to face…homelessness, drug addictions, abuse, mental illness, physical illness, natural disasters, etc. I bear witness and have to sit with their stories and know that maybe that is enough. When I can’t do anything but smile at them, and tell them hello, and hear their lives in a way that many educators haven’t done in the past. Is it enough? I have no idea. But I hope that it makes some small difference…

How yoga is improving my life

This week is midterm break for my students, and so my schedule is much more relaxed. We meet with each student individually, but these meetings only take 15 minutes or so, which means I’m done by 2:00 pm at the latest…and am off on Thursday. This relaxed schedule is freeing up time to practice yoga earlier, and so when I dropped Potamus off at grandma’s house, I decided to amble on down to their bathroom to weigh myself. While I rarely jump on the scale, seeing the numbers are merely one portion of overall health, I was SHOCKED to find that I am now at 214 lbs, which is only 5 lbs away from my postpartum weight (okay, really it’s only 2lbs away from my postpartum weight, since I LIED to my midwife about weighing less at the start than I really did. For shame…)

Somehow I have managed, in the past 2.5 months, to lose close to 15 lbs. I really think that the 3-4.5 hours of yoga in a sweaty hot room has really contributed to this overall weight loss. But beyond numbers on the scale (of which I am excited, not going to lie), I have also noticed other things. Like how shitty I felt after eating Jack N the Box for lunch today. And not shitty because I was beating myself up about it, but shitty because let’s be honest, Jack N the Box tastes like garbage.

Additionally, I cried on the way to work today. Not full on ugly cry, but I definitely felt emotion and it expressed through tears. I can’t solely contribute that to yoga, because it’s something I’m working on in therapy, but having all those hours a week where I have to focus on the mind/body connection is certainly helping me tap into the emotions and express them…and express them in a non judgy way.

You know how I bragged the other night about making dinner? Um, yeah, I did it again. Same recipe…ish…which means I’m sorta getting the hang of it, and feeling confident. It was lemon pepper papardelle noodles, and some chicken, and mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic and shallots all boiled together in the veggie stock and water. Topped with grated parmesan chese. While it won’t ever take the place of my love for marinara, it was pretty darn delicious and felt amazing that I stepped AGAIN outside my comfort zone and cooked, rather than simply heated things up. Also, I wasn’t too worried about the outcome, and that relaxed approach is much more mindful and like how I approach the difficult yoga poses that I do each week.

My weight has dropped, but I overall feel stronger and more flexible. I’ve been throwing Potamus around during our wrestling sessions in the living room. My clothes fit different and my mama belly pooch is firmer, though sweetly still dappled with the stretch marks. Overall I feel confident, like I can face a lot of things. And maybe that’s the antidepressants talking, but I’m gonna attribute a lot of that to my new yoga practice.

Have you started any new healthy way of life lately? How has it rippled into other areas of your life?

Maybe I have what it takes?

I don’t call meals in our house by their names, I call them “snacks,” because I tend to eat like a 5 year old. More nights of the week I have string cheese for “dinner” that I can’t in good faith really call it “dinner,” and I very rarely cook. I mean, I cook for my kid, if you count making tortellini from a box from Costco and throwing it in some marinara sauce.

When I was newly married, Boof came home to find me eating Tostitos chips with cheese melted on (let’s call them “nachos” shall we?) and a Klondike bar…for dinner. I’m basically a frat boy or bachelor in my eating choices. And while I can make an amazing lasagna, tacos, and a dish called “smothered chicken,” I very rarely cook. It overwhelms me to say the least.

So, the other day, when I was perusing Offbeat Home, I came across this “one pot pasta” recipe that looked…um…amazing. And so I went out to the story and bought the ingredients. I even got wild and bought a bag of fresh crimini mushrooms. The recipe called for shallots (whatever the hell those are), but overall it looked like a super simple recipe and so yesterday I got to cracking. I even got fancy and fried up the mushrooms and garlic and shallots in oil before I dumped them in the pot with the rest of the ingredients. I even got crazy and added sausage chunks (which didn’t need to be added) and the result: delish.

It’s recipes like this that make me think that maybe I have what it takes to be a good cook. I actually really enjoyed the process, and the result was better than any boxed meal I could have made. But I was prepared, and preparing stresses me out most days. And trying to get everything done in a short amount of time, with a crazy toddler, stresses me out even more. Also, when I’m overly hungry my brain reverts to only remembering things I like to eat…which means I reach for goldfish crackers or string cheese or cookies. I’m surprised I’m not 400lbs with the kind of snacking I live off.

So if you want the recipe, here it is:

Ingredients

  • One box (or 12 ounces) spinach linguine
  • ½ Cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (omit or lessen to your tastes)
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups water
  • 1½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, extra basil, and pepper to garnish

Instructions

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a large pan. The pan should be large enough for the linguine to lay flat without being broken.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil on high heat, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente and the liquid is nearly evaporated (10-12 minutes).

Garnish with Parmesan cheese, pretty basil ribbons, and a little more pepper.

Again, I added sausage and Crimini mushrooms (fresh) from Trader Joes. And I didn’t have quite 12oz of pasta, but it still worked ok. I’ll have to play with the liquids in the future, they were a little soggy, but still overall delish.

 

Any quick and easy (but delicious) recipes you have to share for this stressed out snacking mama?

They call them mood swings for a reason…

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Yesterday was amazing. My best mom-friend came and spoke to my classes about her job and how she got into the tech field. Not only was it amazing to spend from 8-4 hanging out with a friend, it was also really nice to have her get to spend time in my world. She got to meet all of the students that I complain brag about daily. And it was so lovely to have her speak to the students and to see  (and read) their reactions to her story. We wanted to inspire and inform them, and it happened exactly how we wanted!

And then, since we carpooled, she got to see our daycare routine and I got to see hers. It was this brilliant exchange of life-experience that made me really happy. Despite my introvertedness, I came home feeling chipper and full of love for my son and my job and life. It was one of those feelings where you think “YES, I got my life together!” and delude your mind into believing that this kind of awesomeness will continue.

But then I woke up today, at 5 am (after only 5ish hours of sleep) and tried DESPERATELY to get Potamus back to sleep. Which means I have very sore not-yet-fully-weaned-but-not-used-to-nursing-for-an-hour-straight nipples. Yeah. I tried for a good hour (off and on). And then we tried watching Handy Manny on our smartphone. And then I tried nursing him some more. Nada. At 7:30 ish we just got up for the day. At which point the dog went insane, chewed up 5 toys, kept barking like a maniac, peed on the floor. And kiddo? All he wanted to eat was cookies. And mandarine oranges. His poor little bum is so raw from his diet of only-oranges. I guess last night all he would eat was french fries and oranges with daddy, and he ate virtually nothing at daycare, so I don’t know if this is just a picky phase or what?

Then my phone did this weird black-screen-of-death thing and I had to go wait at the Sprint store for 45 minutes. And then he nursed for another hour to take a nap. Finally, exhausted, at 1:00 pm we were BOTH asleep in bed together and I did at least get a nap (which doesn’t negate that I got 5 hours of sleep the night before). He tended to be better once he got a nap, but he’s in this phase where he’s really testing boundaries. And I hate enforcing my stern “no hitting the tv table with your hotwheels cars” threat, because then there is tears and hitting me and tantrums. But I’m doing it and trying not to lose my shit.

And thankfully he ate some protein tonight.

So I noticed this morning, that my mood was really surly. I was tired and hungry and hungover from all the awesome of the day before. I wish that I could have hung on to the peaceful post-yoga calm from last night, and the friendship glow from yesterday afternoon. But I didn’t. I was crabby (at least internally) and I was even more annoyed with myself than the annoying things that kept happening around me. Also, my farts smelled really really bad. And that’s never fun.

How quickly my emotions can change. It feels like being on a roller coaster sometimes. And I wish I could just go with it, rather than trying to fight against it, but I rarely do.

Tell me: how do you cope with wildly changing emotions?

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as nurses, psychologists, and first responders. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.[1][dead link]

Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with often decontextualized images and stories of tragedy and suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering.[2]

When I worked as a crisis counselor, I had this amazing ability to be really present with families and clients, while somehow maintaining a strong boundary emotinally. I was compassionate in the moment, and when the students were no longer on my caseload (betwen 3-6 weeks) I was done with them, emotionally. I saw my position as a part of the greater whole, a watering hole for the thirsty, but didn’t consider myself necessary to their overall lifetime of happiness. I was an in-the-moment bandaid and often saw immediate results, though I couldn’t take away years of chronic stress or drug use or neglect. I provided concrete skills in the immediate, much like a life preserver. I didn’t stick around to see if they became Olympic swimmers.

My job, now, though, is much harder than I expected. I see students for 1 quarter as a teacher and then they get funneled to me for advising in the rest of their time in our program. A student spent an hour crying in my office last week and I noticed that I cared quite deeply about their life story and realized that I was still holding a presence in their life since last year. And that’s when I realized that I’m pretty exhausted by my work. Because short term caring is easy for me. Long term caring is hard. And it gets harder every day, though I think my awareness of my caring is the first step. Because as a crisis counselor I didn’t think I was saving people, I was merely giving them a drink on a hot summer day. But with these students, sometimes I feel like I’m plunging into the murky waters to try and rescue them, repeatedly, and it’s both rewarding and exhausting. It’s hard staring into the face of a hungry teenager and tell them abou the wonders of study skills when I know that they aren’t getting fed, and most likely are sleeping on their friend’s couch and bumming cigarettes to take away the gnawing pains in their stomachs. I want to DO, because just being with the pain of their life is hard.

I don’t have compassion fatigue, but I see how I very well could develop it. I’m tired, certainly, but aren’t we all? Just this afternoon I see that yet another school gunman killed a teacher, and if I let it, my mind will go a thousand directions with that type of news. I am an educator working with students with records and access to guns and histories of mental illness. And I am a mom, with a son, who could be bullied or be a bully, who could have mental illness (like his mom) or a host of issues, or could be in class with a kid who brings a gun. If I start thinking I start panicking and in turn I just shut everything off. Because feeling the fear of losing my baby, because feeling the fear of leaving my baby motherless in this cruel world, is too much for my poor heart to begin to comprehend.

I’m trying to focus on self-care…therapy and yoga and talking with friends. But sometimes I feel like I need self-care from my self-care, does that make sense? Like the burden of weekly therapy and yoga and phone dates come stacking up and it’s one more thing I have to be present and aware and compassionate in, and I just don’t know if I have the resources. Because it’s exhausting being for others, my students and my child, what I can’t often be for myself (though I’m trying). Giving to others what I don’t feel like I have received, or am receiving, is taking a toll on my mind and my heart.

Have you experienced burnout or compassion fatigue? What did you do to get through that?

The Power of Words

A few weeks ago Boof and I looked at each other and both proclaimed that we were worried. I think it was sparked by a BabyCenter email that said “your toddler at X months” and basically said that our kid was behind in language development. Which of course freaked us out. We’ve been mostly mellow parents thus far, but certain things hit my vulnerable spots (like gaining enough wait in the first 2 weeks). So we decided that if Potamus wasn’t talking by 2 we’d get him evaluated.

And yet, our speech language pathologist friend says that Potamus is really advanced in understanding complex instructions, and that she’s not worried about him. And clearly we shouldn’t be, either, since I realized that his “idont’reallyknow” noise he makes to say no is him repeating ME when I say “eh, I don’t really know” when I’m trying to say “No,” to Boof, but I don’t want to come outright and say No. And in the past two weeks he’s been saying ‘uh oh,’ “baa (for ball)’ and waa (water) and, shrugging his shoulders and making a noise like “wherediditgo?”

My kid is talking. Granted, he’s clearly not hearing the breaks between my words, since I do tend to speak fast and slur things together. He’s repeating my exact intonation, with phrases coming out like one big word. I’m no longer worried that he’s going to not be talking. In fact, I think he’ll probably be so chatty that I might need to wear earplugs. I swear he also said our dog’s name yesterday.

But Uh Oh is my favorite thing he says. It’s so sweet, especially when he drops something and looks at me with those big eyes. Precious. His language has been slow in coming, that I don’t even think I’ll be able to pinpoint it in his baby book.

In other news, he’s now developed a sweetly sick habit of kissing me…on the mouth…with his snotty nose dripping all over. He loves kissing me, the dog, his stuffed toys, his dolly. It’s so sweet, but also really really germy…..

 

What adorable things are your kids up to right now?

Photo hoarding. Memory hoarding.

\\When we upgraded our cell phone, I picked my new one based on the camera feature. Silly? Maybe. But for me, someone who loves photography, it made sense. A 13 mp camera with the feature to shoot video and take stills at the same time? Love it. I’ve had it for 8 months and I’ve taken THOUSANDS of photos. Yes you read that right, thousands.

But the internal memory card cannot be removed and, at 32 GB, was getting dangerously close to being full after only 8 months of phone usage. I had over 18 GB of pictures on my phone. Yesterday was my day off, and so, I backed up all of my photos to an external hard drive AND our home desktop computer. Despite them being in two secure places my heart pounded as I pushed “select all” and “delete” on my phone. Gone are the pictures from Cannon Beach summer fun, and the video of him learning to walk, and the endless spaghetti face pictures from summer dinners.

I know it’s an anxiety thing, but having those pictures on my phone, in my hand, is something that makes me feel connected to the past. I love pictures because it helps me remember. I sometimes think that I might cease to exist, cease to remember things, if pictures did not exist. Of course that’s not really the case, but it was fun to look back through all those photos and remember those sweet little moments.

Parenting goes by so fast. In 8 months he’s started walking, and this week, talking, and I love having those little memories imprinted in digital files scattered around my house to go back and meditate on. To remember the sweet smell of his hair, and how his chubby little feet felt kicking me as he nursed endlessly. I think taking pictures helps me be more present now, though I can understand how it also helps me separate myself from the here and now moment, too.

At any rate, my phone is running faster after getting rid of 2500 photos, and it’s fun to think about the new ones that I will get to take, especially as we head into the Halloween and Christmas seasons!

 

 

They combed his hair

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The daycare teacher combed my sons hair. It looked so adorable and grown up when I picked him up.

Then I started thinking that I’m a terrible mother. I don’t even own a comb, or if I do I haven’t used it in six months. Should I be combing my son’s hair regularly?

At any rate, I tried to not second guess myself and just snapped this cute pic…

How do you keep yourself from doubting your parenting skills?

Is Being Adopted Shaping my Career?

My psychologist is kicking my butt. She basically accused me of thinking too much and not letting myself feel (totally true. totally nailed it in session #4 people!), but I don’t really know HOW to feel. I do know how to think, how to over-think, and how to think some more. I also know how to catastrophize like nobody’s business.

At any rate, in an attempt to avoid feeling all the feelings about that early trauma of separation from my safe place (mom) and being raised by genetic strangers, I decided to think about my job. And it made me wonder…I am working with 16-20 year old “at-risk youth” in a community college setting. I am teaching them skills to succeed at school. And my biological mother was 16 when she got pregnant, and my biological dad was 20 when I was born. My biological mom did not finish high school, but did complete her GED, and my dad completed HS but had a 3.9 GPA and NOBODY suggested he go to college. And, my maternal half siblings did not finish high school (and my half bro got his GED…I think). I guess my question is….am I trying to work with my biological family?

Am I throwing myself into a situation, a passion, in some sort of karmic attempt at rescuing my parents? Do I see these vulnerable young ones and want to spark a fire for education in their life, to empower them toward greatness, so they don’t end up in a situation where they have to give their firstborn away as atonement for their “sins”? Am I somehow trying to connect with my family in this choice of career?

Or (or maybe an) am I trying to distance myself from my family? Do I like sitting on the other side of the desk, seeing that I have “made it,” that I am “not like them,” as if my life is somehow a proof that my biological parents made the right decision in letting me be raised by strangers. Because, see, I am not like them anymore. I am educated. I am in the middle-class. I am…fill in the blank.

Or, do I do it to prove something to my adoptive family? To protect myself from further abandonment by both excelling in education and also working in a compassion field to show my humility?

Could all of those reasons be true? Or not true? And does it matter? Does the motivations, or the impetus, or the reason that I end up in a job really matter? Or is what matters that I feel like I fit here, that I belong, that I was actually made for this type of work? Does me trying to work out my own identity or story take away from the “goodness” of doing this type work?

And how can I just let myself feel, instead of always just thinking about things?