life

So I Joined The PTA, But I'm Still Feminist As F*ck

On September 1st, at Back to School night,  I joined the PTA. I didn't plan on it. I didn't even realize that's where my life was headed until I found myself at a table full of brownies forking over $8 dues so I could eat as many as I wanted. Don't get me wrong, I'm an involved parent. I mean, between Room Mom and Who Gives a F--k, I fall comfortably in the middle when it comes to "being involved". I don't do field trips, classroom read-alouds, or volunteer to be the teacher's copy b*tch, but I DO go to Open House, parent teacher conferences, shell out money for the Fall Carnival and Spring Gala, buy wish list items, contribute funds to the end of the year Teacher Gift, and sign up to bring salad mixes or spaghetti sauces for the Admin Appreciation Luncheons. I'm aware and in the loop but not overly committed. 

In some ways I can't be because my life over the last three years has revolved around getting the boys the interventions & support services they need, and well, having another child. The way my stay at home mom life is set up, being available to be in the classroom or running Chess Club or being uber involved during the school day just hasn't been possible...and even if it was, I probably still wouldn't unless the need was significant. I like doing other, non kid related shit because motherhood is an identity I work really hard at not getting lost in. I like devoting myself to other personal interests & passions. I also just like being behind the scenes and contributing in ways that don't force me into awkward moments of small talk with other class parents. I've done it enough at pick up and classmates' birthday parties to know that I'm just not cut out for that life. Or at least I wasn't at Brennan's previous school in Austin where the privilege, affluence, and lack of diversity made socializing extremely uncomfortable at times. 

However, things are different this year, at Brennan's new school. We aren't the only Black or Brown faces, and the socioeconomics of the student population are drastically different. While I have a few issues with the availability of support services here, I'm comfortable. So is Brennan. So comfortable that after the Title 1 meeting on Back to School night, when Bren asked for $25 so he could buy a spirit hoodie, I happily agreed and followed him to the table in the courtyard to pay. That's when I saw the brownies. My stomach growled, I heard my toddler screaming at my husband a few feet away, a wave of hormones screamed CHOCOLATE THREE O CLOCK, and as Bren was getting his hoodie, I was stuffing a brownie (okay TWO brownies) in my mouth while filling out a PTA membership form. 

I...don't even know who I am anymore. 

A Minivan. The PTA. 3 kids. Weeks away from being 33. Stay at home mom. Married. 

How did I get here w/ these identifiers?

You think, plan, and work for your life to match this fantasy or ideal in your head, right? Then Life takes a look at what you've got and is like F---- YO PLANS! TAKE THIS ROAD BECAUSE ADULTHOOD AND DECISIONS AND STUFF.

And then before you know it, you're a 32 year old disabled veteran and mom of three w/ an associates degree in communications and a bachelors in forgotten aspirations of being a youth minister/journalist/therapist grabbing more brownies than is probably allowed and forking over $8 PTA dues while your youngest goes ape shit on their dad.

I didn't want any biological children. I took my birth control faithfully. Austin is an IUD baby for crying out loud. I didn't want to be one of those military brats who joined the service like their parents. I thought I'd be a Peace Corps member then an investigative journalist like Lisa Ling or a music critic with a steady gig at Rolling Stone who was actively involved in racial reconciliation work & youth ministry for FUN. At the very least, post kids and military, I thought I'd be a therapist. Through it all, my bottom line has always been my desire to serve and help and fight for others.

That's why at times, it's so strange to find myself here living a life well outside of what I had hoped and tried to plan for myself. It's not a bad life, don't get it twisted. It's just vastly different than what I lived out in my head. Hell, it's vastly different from the one I was living in 2011 when I was a single mom of two attending college full-time, consulting full-time, and living off of GI Bill benefits, Medicaid, and TANF. As much as I wrestle over this What The Actual F--k Am I Doing With My Life Now existential angst that seizes me when my toddler is adamant about sitting on my lap while I use the bathroom, I'm still trying to overcome the feels from THAT. 

I'm not complaining though. I'm simply ruminating because I'm tired as f--k and chugging a glass of sangria like it's the blood of Christ that will give me new life to face the tantrums and mayhem of parenting tomorrow. 

I'm also sleep deprived. (Aren't we all?)

Life is weird and beautiful...and sometimes it's a smug ass bastard laughing at the stops and detours it's taken you through because it needed you to grow and it needed to be entertained. 

I'm still feminist as f--k though. I wonder if that would fit on my membership card. 

 

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Always Gone Til November

I've been thinking a lot about the rhythms, patterns, and cycles that exist in my life lately, particularly those related to my mental health.  After years of living off and on with depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 in July 2011. Looking back 4 years later, the significance of the timing of such a critical diagnosis isn't lost on me. Since I was 19 years old, July has consistently been a month of conflict or strife either in my relationships with others or my relationship with myself. It is also THE month where definitive moments or events take place that transform my life on some level. 

Some examples include...

  • July 2002: I enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 19 while being estranged from my family. 
  • July 2006: Found out I'd be raising my first, Brennan, on my own without his father. 
  • July 2009: Conceived Alex, shortly after beginning to date my husband. 
  • July 2014: Read my piece "America's Not Here For Us" as a VOTY honoree at BlogHer 14
  • July 2015: Took part in my first art exhibit + Moved to California

I don't really know why Life decides to show up exactly in the middle of the year and begin rearranging everything I've spent the first half of the year building...or sometimes just getting through. I don't understand why it feels the need to test the bonds and boundaries of my relationships with others either. Seems like kind of an asshole thing to do in my opinion, growth and forward movement notwithstanding. What I do know is that once August arrives, I'm reeling from the impact, my mind and mood thrown off kilter. What adds to this particular rhythm of mayhem and fuckery is my annual onset of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. I'm not really sure why my SAD symptoms get triggered as early as mid-August. I think some of if it is due to stress from whatever was kicked into motion in my life the month before, and I think it's just my body & brain chemistry's natural response to Fall's impending arrival. Whatever the case, it descends and stays, triggering the rapid cycling aspect of my illness until the end of October. I also notice a similar pattern with milder symptoms when Winter starts to near its end, and Spring begins to awaken. 

While medication has helped stem the frequency, some days the cycling between hypomania and depression still occurs hourly once Fall kicks into high gear. Others it's daily, but usually I just find myself in what they call a "mixed" state: hypomanic and depressed. Only my hypomania doesn't manifest as boundless stores of energy that send me skyrocketing through the stratosphere, and rarely does the depression have me sink so low into its gravity well that I become enveloped in a darkness I can't see my way out of. For me, a mixed state usually just results in my living in a daily state of agitation and unreconcilable tension. The weight of it rests in spread eagle fashion across my shoulders. The pressure causes migraines. Bearing it means I'm exhausted but sometimes unable to turn off my brain enough to sleep before midnight. Thoughts buzz incessantly and noisily around. My focus and concentration fragment into abstract bits and pieces, leaving me to sweat from anxiety while I stand in the bread aisle in the grocery store and try to remember why I'm there and who these kids are calling me "Mom". My productivity goes down, way down, throttling my creative practice and output. I become withdrawn, selectively social, unable to tolerate the noise of social media, and the desire to disappear from it rages strong. I want to accomplish all the things and then abandon them for someone else and some other life where I'm only responsible for myself. It's this constant see-saw action that I am the first to admit renders me a less than pleasant person to live with...but I fight to contain it. I spend so much of my time working to keep its grubby paws off my relationships with my husband and children, I have little energy to keep it from impacting the one I have with myself, and that's what always winds up suffering the most. 

Then as quickly as it shows up, it leaves, dissipating until the next shift in season, until the following July. Literally overnight. I awake on November 1st and feel the fog that was clouding my brain lifting. My body suddenly feels lighter. Simple bodily movements like lifting my arms, extending my legs, and turning my face toward the day are easy again. My mind is busy but calm, quiet but ALIVE with ideas, focus and concentration locked in on exactly how I should structure my day, my mothering, our living. My desire to create roars voraciously. Words return to dance impatiently upon the tip of my tongue waiting to be brought to life, and my eyes turn back to viewing my world through paint and color. I become introspective and hyper-focused on dreams and life goals, asking intuition to guide me on where to head next. I go back to being the more congealed, fuller and more embodied version of myself. The one I like and recognize when I look in the mirror. 

I went to bed Saturday night with a flailing, disjointed brain chemistry, and woke up on Sunday morning with it having fallen back in step with a much steadier rhythm, working more fluidly in conjunction with other components of my treatment plan. I woke up feeling alive and released from Fall's vice like grip. It hasn't been the worst Fall I've experienced, but it has still forced me to accept it's the one time of the year I'm the most vulnerable and susceptible to my illness, and that is why when I woke up on Sunday, I took full advantage. I threw myself into the tasks that in weeks prior triggered overwhelm: cleaning the house, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work, preparing us for the week ahead, cleaning up my workspace in the garage. 

 It was a relief to feel the desire to thrive coursing through my veins, pumping in rhythm with the hope beating wildly in my heart again. Hello, November. I've missed you. 


#ThrowBackThursday: From Trainee to Airman

Age: 19

Year: 2002

Where: Photobooth inside the mall, San Antonio, Texas. 

Who I was then: Newly graduated from USAF Basic Training, courtesy of the 321st Squadron aka "Hotel Hell", Flight 106. Also: 4th Element Leader. Officially an "Airman", no longer "Trainee Dudley". 

 

I was taking this step into my new life & career (and this accomplishment) quite seriously.  

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Obviously. 

Mood: Above & Below (Current State of Heart & Mind)

Internally, it's been a hell of a week. Externally, I'm doing what I can to function as heart, mind, & body continue to process current events and change.  

Floating above Life's surface and sinking below it. Lately I've been experiencing both simultaneously. It's an odd, agitating state of existence.  

I'm not as graceful and composed about navigating this cyclical up and down movement between surviving and thriving as I'd like to be, but my gut urges me to keep pressing my way through irregardless of appearance and ability. I've learned from experience that forward movement helps me maintain resiliency and fight. It's a survival skill that undergirds me with hope and helps me employ self-care tools along the way when necessary. It keeps me striving to find the beauty in the mess, brokenness, and chaos that comes with living, motherhood, bipolar disorder, and being a person who loves words & imagery, sound & color. 

My goal as I do is to keep heart and mind intact, even when both are reeling and leaping between multiple thoughts and feelings. 

It's not always a pretty or fluid process, but I guess not much is in this life, right? 

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On Charleston: I Wish I Had Something Better To Say

It's been one week since domestic terrorism took nine Black lives during a bible study at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

I have tried and failed several times a day for the last seven days to come here and express my emotions and thoughts around it, to put what's broiling within me in response into coherent, meaningful language. I want to say something that will pierce your heart and obliterate your sense of what you think you know about living in this country the same way his bullets pierced their existence and cut off their breath mercilessly. I want to say something that will permanently knock the scales from your eyes like Paul's, and cause you to finally SEE us the way you see yourself: as human and of immeasurable worth. I want to say SOMETHING that will slice you at the knees and cause your face to desire a wall to press and wail into, like this latest attack against Blackness has done to me.

I want to say something harsh, raw and unfiltered, something that looks the lower nature of Whiteness dead in the eyes and tells it to go fuck itself. I want my words to teleport you into the Black experience in America. I want them to break your soul open and rip out its spine, leaving you paralyzed and unable to face anything else.  I want the pain of the Black experience to constrict your heart and break your ribs and fill your lungs so that all you feel, all you breathe is the legacy and daily satiating of unchecked and unfettered White violence. 

I want to say something nice and palatable, appeal to your higher nature-perhaps I'll get more bees buzzing into life-saving, racism eradicating action with honey. Maybe if I was less angry, less outspoken, less of your idea of what Black womanhood is...

I want to say nothing at all because I've honestly run out of words, out of appeals, out of the ability to make the truth plainer than I already have, but I don't. have. that. option. 

Options? None of my options involve disengaging, not responding, staying silent, checking out to preserve my mental health...I can't strip myself of Black skin and the social construct created by those who fear it and therefore have no other choice but to react. To respond. To engage. To scrape something from inside my soul together that I can present to you that says "See? SEE? DO. YOU. SEE?! WHY WON'T YOU SEE?! WHY WON'T YOU SPEAK?! WHY WON'T YOU RISK EVERYTHING YOU KNOW FOR WHAT'S RIGHT?! WHY WON'T YOU RISK SAYING BLACK LIVES MATTER-NOT ONCE, NOT TWICE, BUT DAY IN AND DAY OUT, IN WORD AND DEED UNTIL WHITE SUPREMACY HANGS FROM A NOOSE ON A TREE, ITS GUTS DISEMBOWELED AND ROTTING LIKE THE BLACK BODIES IT HAS RELENTLESSLY SATIATED ITS APPETITE ON?"

We risk everything, every day, risk our lives just to exist, breathe, walk to the store for candy, swim, worship, TO BE. The fact you risk so little is a betrayal that eats away at our marrow like terminal cancer. 

Last Wednesday night while Dylan Roof was taking innocent Black lives simply because they are Black, I was watching A Different World with Bertski. We were laughing deep belly laughs, fondly reminiscing about late 80's and 90's fashion, and marveling at the brilliance of Black creativity as we watched Denise & crew navigate college life. 

At 10:14pm, my marveling at Blackness turned into shock and mourning at the debasement and eradication it continues to experience in 2015. 

I have spent the last seven days searching for something to say that would be anything but rambling, incoherent rage or despairing hopelessness. I've been trying to keep it all in online, working to amplify the words of others, words that say what needs saying every day far better than anything I can scrape up. I know there is work to be done and I know I have to keep doing my part in it, in whatever ways I can. I know I need to keep speaking. I know I have an obligation to keep responding through written and visual art, because like Nina Simone once said, "You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times." She's right. I have no other choice because I feel the weight and signs of the times too deeply in my marrow. I hear them echoing in my soul chamber. 

But right now my face is turned to the wall and my lips are moving, vocalizing all that's broiling within me quietly or loudly as I let the anger out to keep from being consumed by it. Right now my hands are seeping into paint and letting fragmented thoughts and emotions communicate on canvas raw and uninhibited. Right now I'm having more hard talks with Brennan because he's the oldest, drilling into him and his brothers that they are loved, worthy, and deserving of being and living. 

Right now I'm just lost from it all. This is all I've got. 

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How I Get Through This Thing Called Our Life.

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"How do you manage everything on your plate and stay sane?" she asked somewhat laughingly but her eyes were completely serious. They earnestly searched mine as she grabbed his hand to take him to the back, imploring me to answer honestly.

The grappling, pulling, juggling, managing, navigating and maneuvering, keeping track and keeping pace, doing it sometimes alone, the grind, keeping it straight, holding it altogether, the staying afloat and standing upright even when your knees are buckling, the work. This work of parenting, living, surviving and grinding to thrive internally and externally. Life.  

How do any of us do it?  

"Medication," I answered with a smile. "And color. Always color. The bolder and richer the better, honey."

She nodded. "Then I guess I should tell you that Orange is definitely your power color. Every time I see you wearing it, you emanate strength. I'm going to miss seeing your colorful self and the boys here every week. I know the others here will too-we love your family."  

I swallowed back a rising flood of tears and let out a shaky breath as I smiled back. 

 "NOPE. We can't do this yet. We have three more visits left before we can get emotional about saying bye. I can't really admit it's happening because I'm still just not ready for this change to occur, you know? I know it's going to be fine, but I'm just not ready."

We hug and she takes Alex into the gym, joking with him as he skips next to her laughing. N comes and scoops up Austin, sing song-ing her hello in an effort to quell his anxiety during the transition from the waiting room to the gym. He cries like usual but I wave and smile reassuringly to let him know it's going to be fine. They disappear behind the door and I turn to Brennan. He's already engrossed himself into Creative Mode on Minecraft, and when I reach out to give his shoulder a squeeze, he looks up and smiles, scooting closer to me on the seat. 

I exhale and allow it to quiet my mind as I insert my headphones, shuffle through my library and press Play. 

This is how I do it. The living and grinding. The managing and standing upright when my knees are buckling as I do the work to thrive. 

Medication, honesty, color, reaching out for support, loving gestures in moments and in ways I didn't experience as a child. That's how I do this thing called our Life.  

 

Mood: Me Haces Falta

We're moving to California. It's something we had been quietly talking about off and on as an In The Future possibility for months, but back in April, opportunity arrived and made it our next step NOW. 

The last two months have been a whirlwind of preparation and shifting as more than just where we will call home rapidly changes. Be it professionally or personally our family of five is experiencing transition, uprooting, growth and evolution in nearly every aspect of our lives. From where I sit trying to take it all in, it's an exciting, liberating, empowering, and nerve wracking season for us. I'm thrilled and terrified, hopeful and nervous. 

Our experience here in Austin has been both beauty and pain in some unexpected, definitive ways so I'm apprehensive about erecting any expectations around what I hope, desire, or think Cali will be like. My main focus at this stage is fixed on just getting us there and building a new (behavioral health & education based) support network for the boys. It's a daunting task to try and wrap my mind around much else right now.

Everything has been happening at a neck breaking pace. Bertski's been gone for a month, already transitioned into his new role at work. We sign a new lease next week. Bren finished 2nd grade today and Alex graduates from preschool tomorrow. Two weeks of camp start on Monday, all three boys wrap up their care with our current team of therapists at the end of the month and then the boys and I fly to New Jersey for 3 weeks with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and Philly friends. There's also a road trip to Asheville, NC for an event I'm excited about and a train ride to NYC for BlogHer. Then we come back to Austin to tie up any remaining loose ends, say goodbye to friends, and hit the road to San Jose. 

My head spun a little just typing that out-even though I've written it and repeated it out loud and mentally almost daily since the middle of April. The Plan. We all know The Plan. Thankfully, despite as stressful as it can get living parts of it out day to day, it's working. Piece by piece, things are coming together. 

When it comes to the solo parenting aspect of this process, I hope I'm managing it as well as I want to be and not coming undone at the seams. Some moments it feels like I am, others I mentally yell "Snap out of it, get a GRIP, this is nothing, you got this" and soldier through the overwhelm. I don't know.  It's hard to tell some days how I'm navigating any of this because I'm simply too tired to think by the time dinner and bath time roll around every evening. Being too tired to think means that once the kids are in the bed, writing and paint are largely out of the question, but I read-I make sure I feed my creativity with words an images from others. I stay engaged on social media. It helps. Distraction always helps me decompress. It keeps me together and mentally sharp for the kids, and from missing Bertski too much. 

This will probably come out sounding more emotional than I intend it to, but the level at which I miss him has honestly been the hardest part. It's the part The Plan doesn't account for. His presence has a way of quietly steadying me that I miss when he's gone for more than 5-7 days. We call, text, Skype...but I miss him physically being here, his energy humming alongside mine. Granted I'm relieved I don't have to listen to angry Linda Perry songs in the morning while he showers, but the silly dances he does with me to help me fight my way through Lithium's fog? Miss those. Missed them the hardest today when I was greeted with the fog upon awaking and found myself just too damn tired to fight, to push forward with the grind, with working The Plan, with adjusting to and preparing for Change. I didn't realize him not being here to carry out his part of this ritual we've naturally developed and designed to carry us through our day would leave me feeling a little lonely. 

So this morning I grabbed my phone as I climbed out of bed (LATE) and pressed play on one of his (our) favorites. Back when we first moved here and had one car, we'd sing it at the top of our lungs while we flew down Mopac as we drove him to work. (The fact that neither of us can sing was and continues to be completely irrelevant.)  I pressed play, started singing, grabbed Brennan's hand, and we danced our way to the kitchen to grab ourselves and his brothers breakfast. 

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We're moving. Everything is changing. Quickly. I'm tired. Managing. It's been four weeks of stumbling and wrangling my way into the morning, throwing ourselves into clothes and eating and taking meds and packing lunches and arguing over whose turn it is to pick an episode of a favorite show and yell about brushing teeth and throwing on back packs and making a dash out the door. We're working The Plan and I'm trying to stay grounded as we each transition into the new spaces Life has for us. 

I just wish I didn't miss dancing with him in the morning so much. Me haces falta.