It’s time for triage

May. The end of the school year. The sun is finally shining, the flowers are blooming, and daydreams are plentiful.

In other words, for your average high school teacher, hell has been unleashed. 

I like to make war analogies whenever appropriate, and this is no exception. Students are in danger of academic flat-lining, and we’re facing yet another mass casualty situation.

This is when the panicked questions begin.

“Is there any extra credit?” 

“What do you mean that project was due?”

“I was on vacation all last week. What did I miss?” 

“I had strep all last week. Did we do anything?”

“If I get an A on the exam, I’ll pass, right?”

“How can I be failing? I got an A on the last assignment!”

My answers:

No, complete the regular credit.

Yes, the project we’ve been working on for three weeks. The one that I emailed home. The one we have been finalizing for the last two days in the lab.

Everything.

Yes.

Do I look like a calculator?

The last assignment was a participation only assignment worth 10 points. It’s like expecting to quench your thirst with a drop of water.

And then there are the seniors.

They’ve been checked out since… oh… Christmas. Some can still manage to do well and show up and care. Others have gone AWOL.

So, it’s triage time.

My classroom has a huge Red Cross on it and now everyone is flooding in to be stitched up in time to finish the year and graduate. Emails flood in from parents and counselors and students asking what they can do to pass. Most of these parents are complete strangers who have never come to open house or conferences or called or emailed the entire year. Most of these students have over 20 absences and haven’t even completed half of the work.

So the divisions starts.

Those who have a solid D and above are off my radar. I call them the walking wounded. They could likely use some help, but they’re going to make it. If I have time, or an an opportunity presents itself, I’ll give them some input and help them out.

Those who are in the high E to low D- range are my target group. I can help most of these kids in the time that I have to help them pass. As long as they don’t pull out the IVs I put in place, they have the best chance of making it. Some will fight me and yank themselves off the ventilator I provide by suddenly not showing up for 5 days, but still, these ones have the best chance.

Then there are the train wrecks. Their grades are so messed up that even if I called for a transfusion, it would take too many resources and too much time. They have wounded themselves over time, refused treatment, checked themselves out against my medical advice, and are now wanting a pill to swallow to make it all better.

It’s an impossible task.

So, when I see those teachers on the news who have duck taped students to chairs, or written “Test Tomorrow” in marker on a student’s forehead, or given an award for Least Likely to Pay Attention, I am horrified and cringe.

Because those stories could easily be mine. I’m just lucky that I haven’t completely lost my sanity. Yet.

The lounge this time of year has a macabre, twisted and dark quality. Things that we never would laugh at in September are daily routines. It’s the only way to survive.

It’s similar to combat humor.

I’m not proud, but this is how intense it is at the end of the year. We have paper chains counting down the days the seniors have and how many for the underclassmen. We half seriously joke about spiking our water bottles. We wonder what happens to the confiscated drugs and wonder if there’s any Valium available. 

And at the end of it all, there will be survivors and casualties. There will be sorrow, regret and triumph. I’ll watch kids cross the stage and know that I helped them get there, and I’ll mourn the ones that I just couldn’t reach. And I’ll spend a lifetime wondering what happens to them after high school.

But right now it’s the height of the battle. There are known and unknown enemies, and some kids still insist on detonating land mines. And we’ll all work and reach out and try to save as many as we can.

But they can’t all be saved. Some insist on sabotaging themselves. Others are in denial. And for some, it’s just too damn late.

And when the war of 2016-2017 is over, we’ll clean up the mess, the blood and chaos, and take that last trip back home trying to make sense of it all.

Until the next tour of duty in September.

Fumbling in the dark

There’s a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where the guardians are in total darkness and can’t find their way. Suddenly, Groot releases a flock of tiny embers, and they are able to see the path they need to take.

I’ve spent the last few months in relative darkness. It’s always this way. Starting in March and ending sometime in late spring or summer. 

Every year I try to ignite different lights to guide me. I’ve taken solitary weekend trips to sleep, clear my head and regenerate. 

That worked. For a few years.

I’ve tried exercise and yoga to practice mindfulness and encourage endorphins. 

That worked. Once.

Last year, there were so few embers to guide me that I added new meds to my regimen and they were able to ignite enough light for me to see the path.

The thing is, there is no magical formula to light my way. When I have a purely good day, where I feel emotionally and physically healthy, it stands out. Like really stands out. 

And then I think that night– what did I do? Not do? How did this balance of mental health occur? How can I recreate this feeling? How can I hold onto that contentment and satisfaction and energy?

And it’s so fucking frustrating because there IS no formula. There IS no list I can check off to be mentally healthy every day. And of course, that means I have no control over my brain. No control over its influence. 

As a sufferer of anxiety, that’s the most vexing thing of all. No. Control.

And when I succeed at lighting an ember, it eventually gets extinguished. Or several will be lit, but they die too quickly– succumbing to an avalanche of nightmares, weather, personal slights, stress, work.

This year, I held on to spring break like a life preserver. We headed to Florida and for the first three days I slept more than I thought possible. I laid on the beach. Took walks. Loved my family. Relaxed. I came back with a pretty solid ray of light guiding my way.

And within two weeks it was just about gone. 

Work, busyness, dreams, physical pain, fatigue, weather, stress, everything that everyone deals with on a daily basis just mixed and blended and slowly extinguished almost every light.

And I was back in the dark.

And so I’ve been quiet. Unmotivated to write, unmotivated to care much about anything. All of my energy has been spent on my kids’ happiness and staying somewhat competent at work.

But recently, the light has been coming from other places.

A thoughtful gift just because. An invitation. A letter of appreciation. A message of positivity.

And these have shone brightly enough that I’m beginning to find my way. 

So I’m enclosing them in hurricane glass and feeding them with oxygen to burn brightly, for as long as I can. 

To light my path and find my way.

And I feel like I’m almost clear.

Part 2– How to survive a power outage

During and after the wind storm of wind storms (see previous post Here), our power was out.

For six days.

The power has been back on now for almost a week, and now that I have actually slept, done laundry, vacuumed and built a shrine to both Edison AND Tesla, I can reflect on the stages one must go through in order to survive such a long time without power with two children who would volunteer to have wifi hotspots wired into their brains.

STAGE 1– Cool Headedness

The power goes out and you are a rational human. You check with neighbors to see if you’re the only one. You contact your electric company and report the problem. You text your husband to share the news. He replies, “Fuck” and you think, What’s the big deal?

You read the neighborhood Facebook page and find that several trees have fallen. You venture outside, chat with neighbors, offer your manual sump pump and start thinking that this might last a while.

You’re still not panicked, but now you’re silently cursing the fact that the generator is sitting useless in the garage because it didn’t start during the last power outage.

You get a little freaked out, but again, cool headedness prevails. You call a small engine repair shop and luck out with the owner who says he will not only rent you a generator and bring it to your door, but will also pick up the non-running one and fix it.

And he does, and he fixes it and brings it back before nightfall and he even hooks everything up for you because you’ve never paid attention to that crap.

The fridge and sump and wifi are running, and all is right with the world.

Stage 2– It’s an Adventure! (The shortest stage)

With no heat, you pull out sleeping bags and blankets and light the gas fire and cook eggs and sausage on the gas stove.

The house is chilly, but it’s like camping, kids! Look at all the stars we can see! Snuggle under the covers! Maybe we’ll roast marshmallows!

 Stage 3– It’s a Naked and Afraid-type Adevnture where someone might not get out alive

Ok, shit’s starting to get real. The weather forecast looks bad with temps in the 20s. You haven’t slept, so you haven’t cooked and your body is starting to reject all of the fast food and pizza you’ve eaten.

At first, it was cute that all the animals snuggled against you for warmth at night, but now you have dreams that you’re in shop class but you’re the one in the vise and your pets are laughing at they turn the crank.

You start to get a little obsessed with the electric company’s app and the neighborhood Facebook page is filled with comments like, “Says a crew is scheduled!” And you scoff and know it’s a lie. A LIE!!!! You secretly start to think that they are just fucking with you and telling everyone that a crew is scheduled, but you know there’s no crew and the electric company people are all laughing their asses off while they sip REAL COFFEE in their HEATED offices. Motherfuckers.

Stage 4– Going Savage (aka Giving No Fucks)

Every conversation is about heat, electricity, laundry, and food. And all of those conversations contain a healthy dose of expletives. 

You might do irrational things like… put a gymnastics bar up in your sitting room and buy chalk and watch your daughter and friends try things that could end in certain death but you don’t care because they’re occupied and you have your half and half vodka drink and who cares because you’ll probably die anyway and the electricity will come on just in time to keep your bodies from preserving and your cats will eat you to stay alive and….

Let’s just say it’s a very dark (figuratively speaking, not just literally) place and what happens when you get there is no one else’s business. And not to be spoken of again because who are you? No judgment here. We’re all (kinda) human.

Stage 5– Acceptance

We’re never going to have power again, you think. This is my life now, with extension cords, the fridge pulled out and pet hair collecting into tumble weeds. The kids will just have to shower early from now on so they have some light. Maybe we’ll churn some butter later and paint sillouhettes by candlelight. Perhaps a game of jacks, or we’ll tell stories by the fire. It will be like Little House on the Prairie with fewer bonnets and more swearing.

Oh, fuck it. You’re not kidding anyone. THIS SUCKS.

Stage 6– Total Despair and Insomnia

Snow??? WHAT. THE. FUCK. Snow = no generator = freezing house = no sump pump = flooded basement = completely, totally, undeniably FUCKED.

Oh, but the electric company says we now qualify for a credit. Of $25. *biggest eye roll ever*

So you stay up all night checking the app and looking at the weather radar and trying to connect with your inner Bob Vila to figure out how to keep the generator dry and protected when the snow hits. And then you get on FB and post about your insomnia and three other neighbors respond and tell you they are in the same boat traveling to the land of Up All Night. And you finally get out of bed and haul saw horses and a table out of the garage and make a doghouse type thing for your generator that you then feed with more gas that you bought with the kids’ 529 money.

And you drive into work already silent raging and running scenarios through your head knpwing you could quite possibly snap at a student and end up on the news, but you think, “Jail has electricity, right?” And you think it might not be so bad, but then there’s the strip search and gross fingerprint ink and you decide you’d better be extra aware and warn your administrators that you might be filling out more discipline slips than you’ve ever filled out before.

Stage 7– Ahhh, Sweet Electricity!

You don’t believe what the app says anymore. For one person it says power restored by 9:30pm. For another it says 11:30pm the next day. You don’t want to hope to believe positive posts by neighbors that say there’s a truck in your neighborhood and you might get power back that night. You just sit in your chair that now has a permanent ass groove and settle in for another round of Candy Crush trying not to focus on the fact that you’re so tired you can’t even drink.

And then,

out of nowhere,

A light flickers on!

You don’t believe it! You test other lights! You wait for 30 minutes to make sure they’re not fucking with you! You dance, you cry, you turn the generator OFF!!!!

And you go to bed.

And when you’re tossing and turning wondering why the hell you can’t go to sleep, it hits you. 

No generator noise.

Awww, I guess I kinda got used to that little guy lulling me to sleep, you think.

And then you roll over and enjoy the sweet silence.

What I did on National Women’s Day (part 1)

Last Wednesday was National Women’s Day, and while my sisters were marching and speaking and changing lives, I was making my own statement. 

I covered myself in dog shit and howled at the moon. 

Let me clarify. This was not some midnight ritual meant to make me feel empowered as a woman. There were no animal sacrifices or burning bras. It was a desperate yell-scream-groan at the sky while wrestling with a trampoline during 60mph wind gusts. 

The moon just happened to be visible. 

Let me back up a bit. 

On that day I happened to be home when the wind storm of all wind storms barreled through Michigan. I heard a “FOOMP” and looked outside to see the trampoline flipped upside down teetering on the fence between us and our poor next door neighbor who always has to deal with our shit. 

So I did what any independent woman would do in this situation.

I texted Bill. 

I’m actually pretty impressed that I used such fluid alliteration, but alas, Bill was at work and the trampoline was still unstable. 
So I did what any independent woman without a choice would do. I heaved on my good winter coat and grabbed a step ladder and walked into the neighbor’s backyard. 

Of course I didn’t bring gloves. And I didn’t change out of my good boots. Big mistake. 

Because the neighbors have the most adorable dogs ever. Who like to poop as dogs do. All. Over. The. Yard. 

Undeterred, I hoisted the step ladder up, turned to the trampoline and heard a crash. The step ladder had blown over. 

Plan two. 

If I gauged the gusts just right, I realized I could jump, grab the frame and flip it over the fence so it could lie upside down on the grass. I waited for my moment, hoping I wouldn’t get crushed in the process.

And while I waited, I envisioned the officers who would have to report my dead body. 

Cause of death: idiocy. 

During a lull, I jumped, ok, barely got off the ground, grabbed the frame and yanked that motherfucker down like Captain America snagging a helicopter. 

But the frame was bent, and it needed to be taken apart to be truly safe. 

With a screwdriver in one pocket and hardware going into another, I separated all of the parts from the frame, pausing at times to lay across the trampoline to keep it from flying. I was completely focused until I got some mud on my hand. 

But it wasn’t mud. 

It was dog shit. And then I looked down at myself. 

I had dog shit on my coat, I had dog shit on my hands. 

I had dog shit on my face, I had dog shit on my pants. 

I had some dog shit everywhere, just not in my underwear. 

(Credit: Dr. Seuss. It’s also reading month, so read something worthwhile after reading this trash)

That’s when I yell-scream-groaned. 

After getting almost blown over several times that would have even made Jim Cantore proud, the trampoline was finally apart. 

I dragged the frame to the back corner of the yard just in case and dragged myself back home. 

I felt like I had been beaten with a club while running a race. And I was  gross. Grosser than gross. I carefully peeled off my much loved winter coat and threw it in the washer. 

And then the power went out. 

Stay tuned for Part 2! The stages of surviving a power outage

Update– roots of these feelings run deep

This is me and my son. My boy. My buddy.

I’ve thought a lot since my last post. Why my response was so charged. So visceral. So violently protective.

And after looking inward, the anger turned to sorrow, as it usually does. Anger results from fear, and fear comes from a lack of control, and a lack of control makes me into Annie Anxiety and reduces me to a sobbing mess.

So here’s the real deal.

When Derek was born, I slept on the couch while he tried to sleep in his car seat on the floor next to me. It was just the two of us every night dozing and feeding and watching House Hunters all night long.

And he was safe. 

When he was ready for his crib, he had trouble. His breathing would rasp. He would hold his breath and then let it out. All. Night. Long. I half-slept on the floor of his room and spent nights listening to the monitor. Every time he went down on his back, the same thing. 

After a visit to a specialist, we found he had tracheomalacia– where the trachea isn’t rigid enough to stay open, and can be exacerbated by back sleeping.

So I held him as he slept on my chest, upright, on his belly. 

And he was safe.

Advance a couple of years to his toddler preschool class. One night while singing the last song, he broke out in an excruciating scream. He didn’t fall, get hit, or bump anything. I took him home, helped him out of the van, and he was suddenly fine. We went to the doctor anyway and we found out that his elbow joint was loose and could easily dislocate.

She showed me how to put it back into place.

Several days later, I helped him out of the van, and took his arm. Instant screaming and pain. Bill couldn’t stand to try it, so I forced Derek’s arm down in front of him, held the elbow still and flipped his hand to his shoulder to pop it back in. The screaming instantly stopped.

And he was safe.

Like most moms, I have wiped tears, laughed at antics, and walked myself upstairs to stay calm during tantrums. 

He went through a horrible stage when he was four where he was completely defiant. He could make me so mad I would be in tears, and if he felt completely backed into a corner, there was no easy way out for anyone. My patience was tested again, and again, and again, but I knew it would all be worth it eventually. He would learn what battles to fight, and how to fight them.

And he was safe.

Through it all, he has been my boy. My buddy.

But that time is limited.

One day, I have always known, he will cease to be my boy. He will tromp off with his dad, his friends, and wave bye as he goes.

Without me.

And I also know in my rational brain that this is supposed to happen. That it is good for him. That gaining confidence and independence makes a healthy, functioning, fully adaptive adult.

And I want that for him.

But not yet.

I’m just not ready.

I’m not ready for an empty space next to me in the chair where he now squishes to fit.

I’m not ready for the lack of late I love yous when he’s supposed to be in bed.

I’m not ready for lonely walks around the block with the dog without making him laugh until he cries.

So I’m grieving. 

Ahead of time, yes, but grieving all the same.

My anxiety-idiot brain says he won’t need me. And won’t want me. I’ll be tossed aside like once beloved stuffed animal.

He won’t want my hug. My goodnight kiss. My hand ruffling his sweaty hair after an intense game of Horse.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned and re-learned again and again, it’s that despite all of my planning, I can’t control outcomes. Therapy and medication have tried to beat that into my brain despite years of neural pathways coaxing me that it can be done. 

And in all honesty, for his sake, I can’t want him to stay my boy forever.

Just a little while longer.

Because I’m just not ready.

I love my kind hearted boy and will beat the ass of anyone who makes fun of him for it

Boys will be boys.

Boys need to be tough. Man up. Get a set.

At eight years old, my son is three years and nine months younger than my daughter. We are open with I love yous, hugs and snuggles. My daughter has always been loving and nurturing with him, so he has always only known love, kindness and affection.

Not that he hasn’t been yelled at, scolded and corrected. He has.

But my son is the kind of boy who tells me constantly how much he loves me– as big as everything in the universe.

When I get leg cramps, he drops what he’s doing and concentrates his hands on my leg to make it feel better. And then he asks for the next two days if it’s still feeling ok.

When I’m carrying a pizza out to the car, he points out the ice in the parking lot so I don’t slip.

He’s a goofball who makes Lego vehicles of every sort, tries to make time machines and recycling factories, quarterbacks his football team, makes half the points for his basketball team, and races around the soccer field like a crazed maniac.

And when he gets upset, or scared, or frustrated, he cries.

Some see him and call him soft. A wimp. A pussy. 

They say, He’s got to get over it. He’s going to be bullied. Kids are going to make fun of him.

I say, Fuck you.

Am I embarrassed sometimes? Sure. Do I enjoy having to wipe his tears when he doesn’t understand why a friend would push him down? No. Do I wish sometimes he’d haul off and deck a kid? Yes. 

It’s what I did when I was younger.

But when I see your kid laughing and tormenting my kid because he’s an easy target, I’ll take my kid.

When I see your kid calling my kid a baby because he cries when he gets tackled to the cement for no reason, I’ll take my kid.

When I see your kid throwing a bat in anger or punching a wall in frustration, I’ll definitely take my kid.

This ongoing stereotype of what it means to be a boy or a man gets tiring. It becomes a cycle of rationalization for parents and society. My kid can be an ass because he’s a boy? I applaud my daughter making fun of someone because that means she’s not a girly-girl?

When did being kind and empathetic become being a pussy? 

I was an ass kicking kind of kid. I grew up in a house with an older brother and dad who constantly teased me and made me cry. And when I cried, they made fun of me. They called me a baby, which made me cry harder. 

So I got harder.

And I treated others the same way. I couldn’t win at home, so I made sure to win on the playground. I fought anyone who challenged me. When a kid picked on my best friend Lou, I came home, put on my snowsuit, went back up to school and kicked that kid’s ass. When fighting stopped being the answer, my tongue could shut anyone up in seconds. 

No one fucked with me.

And at 44 I’m still trying to undo the damage. Still trying to be kind rather than critical. Still trying to be someone I’d like to be friends with. Still trying to create a different experience and childhood for my own kids. 

I don’t want either of my kids to repeat my history. I don’t want them to look at themselves with confusion and regret as I often have. To burn bridges and friendships and significant others just because they could.

So, you can think what you want about my son.

I love his sweet soul. His caring nature, his creativity, his questioning mind, his athleticism and his heart that loves me as big as everything in the universe.

But say anything to my face and I’ll punch your fucking teeth out. 

You know, just for old time’s sake.

Goodbye again, sweet Grandma

This is my grandma. But it isn’t.

Early Saturday morning, Wanda Jean Welling’s heart stopped beating when her body finally wore out.

But for me, she died years ago.

My Grandma was a woman who was known to be as proper as one should be in the small town of Perryopolis, Pennsylvania. 

When she set the table for lunch, bread was pulled from the bag and placed into a basket lined with a napkin. Deli meat was fanned out onto a platter. Applesauce was poured from the jar into a dish. Even mayonnaise was spooned out and into an amber glass.

Why?

In case someone came to the door during lunch, she didn’t want anyone to see jars on the table. Apparently jars were the epitome of low class.

If this is the standard, then I am very low class.

But that wasn’t her only idiosyncrasy.

She would wax the hot water tank so it stayed looking shiny and new.

She would iron my dad and grandpa’s undershirts in case they were called to a fire in the middle of the night (they were volunteer firemen).

But behind closed doors, she was her completely goofy self. 

She had fart contests with me. She always won.

When we watched a ballet on TV, she admired how much “culture” Baryshnikov had. Between the legs of his leotard.

If she heard something vulgar, she would claim, “I’m from Missouri,” like she was too innocent to get it. She wasn’t.

If we heard a motorcycle or loud car, she’d murmur, “Hot damn,” and raise her eyebrows suggestively.

She was absolutely a product of her generation. She watched her husband go to World War II and kept a world map to mark his different locations while she worked at Westinghouse. She raised one son and buried her second before he was six months old. She played bridge, was a Worthy Matron in the Eastern Star, and had weekly beauty appointments.
But she was also a contradiction of her generation.

She worked part time in a hardware store and knew how to fix a toilet. She took Calculus in high school and always said that she would have been a train engineer…  if she had been a boy. She broke up with my grandpa once in high school because he got too jealous of her male lead in the school play. 

Every single memory of my grandma is filled with love, joy, and sometimes exasperation. Like the time I visited her in my mid-20s. Her words of solace in my singledom? “Why, in my day, you’d be a spinster!” Thanks, Grandma.

However, memories can be fickle, and they can evaporate.

When she was finally diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, no one was surprised. She had been forgetting things for a long time. Like the time I went to pick her up at her apartment and the stove burner was red hot with an empty pot on it. She had forgotten how to use the microwave, so she decided to boil water to make coffee. She then forgot about the water and it boiled away.

She forgot dates, numbers, plans. She would call me in a panic because I never showed to take her out to a lunch that was planned for the following day. Timelines became confused and she would ask if I remembered when Faith taught us in high school. She once insisted that her mother had died in child birth with her. Even though she had a younger brother.

And then she forgot people.

At first, she just needed a gentle reminder. Visits changed from her exclaiming, “Andi!” to me asking, “Do you know who I am?”

More often than not, she would nod yes, but was unable to answer the follow up question, “Who am I?”

I slowly got used to being introduced as her niece, cousin or nurse. In the picture above, I was introduced as all three.
Eventually, she barely spoke. She was always happy to see me, but I was just someone giving her undivided attention. She became extremely affectionate and just wanted to touch my face, or kiss my cheek, or stroke my hand.

For the last year, she was a shell of her former self. Just a body going through the motions of living. Sleeping, being fed and dressed and showered and pushed. Her beloved Bible stayed shut, the people in the pictures were strangers, and the TV ran on a continuous loop.

She had not been living, but merely existing.

I am deeply mourning the physical end of her life. But I understand that my real Grandma died a long time ago. The woman who spooned mayonnaise into that amber glass so that potential visitors wouldn’t think she was low class would have been mortified to know she would live out her days with every bodily function facilitated by strangers. She would have been appalled to think she would forget her husband, her family and her church. 

So while I am sad for her passing, I am relieved that she is at peace. I loved her in all of her stages of life, and will continue to do so for all of the life I have left. But my grandma and the woman in the photo were two different people. Same face, but different personalities.

Goodbye again, sweet Grandma. I have missed you for years, and always will.

#Nomakeup


Fully done

It started as an experiment. 

At first it was easy– I don’t usually wear makeup in the summer because it’s hot and I work outside a lot and I drip sweat like a melting polar ice cap so I don’t bother with it. But my makeup bag stayed closed even on nights out with the girls and date nights and on trips to places where my picture might get taken.

It felt freeing, but I also kind of felt like a fraud. I needed a real test.

So I went back to work in September makeup free.

Now I get that there are a lot of women who don’t wear makeup. Many of my friends and teaching colleagues don’t. And I never wore a ton of it– your basic foundation, eye shadow, eye liner and mascara.

But I’d been wearing it since 5th grade.

And now that I’m in my 40s, the lines are deeper, the skin pigmentations are stronger, the dark circles are darker.

So why quit now? 

Because about a year ago Kathleen asked me why I wore makeup.

Several answers ran through my head– I look prettier, it hides my flaws, it highlights my strong points, I look more professional…

But all of those answers made me cringe. I HAD no real answer.

So I said fuck it and stopped.

My six month old experiment is over with now, but it has led to a permanent change. I was going to give myself until school pictures. I figured I might possibly be so grossed out by my photo that I would go running back to Cover Girl. 

It wasn’t SO bad. But I was still unsure.

There’s a set of memes going around on Twitter that look like this:

Like saying ,”We women just can’t win! We’re never able to please everyone!”

And I have a problem with that message. 

The thing is, I AM tired. I AM old. I AM often stressed and overworked. And I resemble the picture on the right with alarming accuracy…

But who gives a fuck? Aren’t we all? And isn’t that what the whole movement to understand mental illness is about? That I shouldn’t have to hide and pretend and cover up the outside to hide what’s going on inside? 

And isn’t being honest the mantra we teach our daughters? That beauty comes from within? That she doesn’t have to change herself to be attractive? That people will like her for who she is and not what she looks like?

So fuck it. 

I’m done with makeup. I’m done with doing things because the omnipresent “society” says I should so I can stay valuable as a human being. I’ll do things because I want to and no other reason. I’ll work out because it makes my body and mind feel better and I’ll eat a donut (or three) for the same reason.

Society only sends you messages if you’re listening for them. (It just got all deep up in here, yo)


Au natural 

I have a permanently red nose. NOT FROM BEING DRUNK. Mostly.

I have sun spots across my nose, cheeks and jawline from too many sunburns.

I have bags under my eyes that could fit a week’s worth of vacation clothes.

I have so many lines that I imagine little flea geologists study me like their human counterparts study the Grand Canyon.

And I found that this decision doesn’t just benefit Kathleen (I hope). My kids and husband still love me. My students still listen and laugh at me. My friends still hang out with me. 

My face is just a face. Flawed, scarred and aged. Just like me.

Why I never go to the fucking mall

Well, a real mall. Not a place where people… you know… Fuck. Let me start over.

Five days before Christmas I was desperate. It was too late for Prime, yet not late enough for Dollar General. I did what all productive workers do and took a day off to get ready for Christmas… and to take Derek to the dermatologist in case my bosses are among the 8 people reading this. 

But I digress.

So I headed to the mall of malls in the area– 12 Oaks. Two full floors of materialistic wonderment with Santa’s workshop and a Starbucks right in the middle. Accidental? I think not.

It’s a Tuesday, I thought. How busy could it possibly be? I slid into a parking spot easily (a little too easily) and thought I was prepared.

Not even close.

American Girl

Goal: gift card and play set for my niece. 

The cult-like atmosphere enveloped me as soon as I crossed the threshold. I was a newbie, and they smelled it. The noise from the mall was sucked away and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the boxes and boxes of perfect little hands and faces. It was like walking into the human embryo lab of Brave New World and seeing a hundred Alpha girls ready to be decanted.

I tried to look like I knew what I was doing, but it was useless. I circled around, but I could feel all eyes upon me– dolls’ eyes. They followed me wherever I went.

With tiny boxes in my hand, I approached the counter to pay. In line before me were two exhausted looking parents who appeared to be engaged in some sort of contest to see who had the brattiest kids.

“Well, I’ve got two girls and they don’t share! They’ll fight each other for outfits and accessories.”

“Two?? Try THREE all one year apart! If I don’t get three of the same thing, it’s not a pretty sight!”

I imagined girls dressed in tandem with their dolls yanking each other’s hair out while throwing plastic tea cups. Meanwhile, the dolls sit off to the side placing bets.

Shudder….

But I survived and made my purchase while refusing to give my name– what the hell is THAT all about? You want my last name? No thanks! And so I was off to…

Lululemon

Goal: gift for Kathleen from Derek

Did you know that the store doesn’t even put their name on the front? It’s just that Omega symbol. I barely know the name of the store, just that it’s “elite athletic wear” and I’ve seen scores of pre-teen girls carrying the red and black bags like mini Carrie Bradshaws.

I was ashamed to ask, so I went out of my way and looked at a directory and sure enough I was in the right place. My first thought walking in?

What the fuck????

The line was 20 people deep. Some had numerous hangers draped over their arms and I naively thought there must be a great sale. 

Oh no.

I looked at a tag on a random pair of leggings. $125. For leggings

My workout leggings come from Kohls because when I go to hot yoga I sweat so much that I can barely stand my own stench on the ride home. All of my gear goes right into the washer with a splash of bleach. Even when I run, I’m hard on my clothes. 

I have a feeling these are not clothes to sweat in, or those in which to be an “elite athlete.”

And I’m also guessing that these clothes are not meant for women because the sizes stop at 12. Yes, 12. Do they not have enough shelves? Hanger space? 

So like any bargain shopper, I wound my way past the clearance rack (Originally $150, now $100) and found myself at the wall of shame– the headbands.

I actually felt guilty for taking up the time of the life-sized version of an American Girl doll by having her ring up my puny purchase. 

“Just this?”

Yes, just this.

I know there are a lot of places where I will never be able to work. An engineering office. A recording studio. But it was pretty humbling to know I could never work retail because I would be the fat ugly one. And old. Too old.

And so it went.

Pink, where things went well, except that I sold my daughter’s soul to become a brand loyalist and started her sexualization by others off on the worst foot. 

Vera Bradley, again not too bad considering the choking perfume and the feeling that I would suddenly see my grandmother in the corner (must have been the hallucinations brought on by the patterns).

But after a while, I was drained. I ceased to think and just moved blindly along. It began getting more and more crowded and my anxiety was creeping to the surface. Suddenly, I knew where I needed to go.

Petland.

Yes, there is a pet store in the mall that sells puppies. And yes, I know that pet stores are supposed to be bad. Well, if that offends you, I’m truly sorry. And you should stop reading now because I’m about to promote the SHIT out of them.

I looked at all of those four legged beauties– playing, sleeping, watching– and after asking, discovered a balm for my frazzled brain.

THEY WILL LET YOU SNUGGLE PUPPIES!

I felt like I was in the best bar in the world. I took a seat, said, “bring me the house special” and enjoyed glorious puppy bites and snuggles for almost 15 minutes. 

He was wiggly!

He was snuggly!


I felt like the Pigeon… Awww!!! Puppies!!!!

After that, I had enough energy to shop until my credit card maxed and all was right with the world.

Not really, but I forced myself to two more stores, dragged ass to the car, drove home and slept for two hours.

I decided it would be a cold day in hell before I ever went to the mall again.

And then the kids got gift cards…

I’m fucked.

Things I learned last week

Last week was a long fucking week. Some good, some bad, and some just numbing. It’s the burned out zone for everyone. The Crush of Christmas and the daylight that lasts minutes. After reading 39 essays this weekend (not done), it’s time to take note of all that occurred. 

1. Dogs will puke in the middle of the night. With no warning. And they are especially gifted at spreading it over the side of the bed and onto the floor.

2. Some mothers love their sons unconditionally. You know, except if their sons are gay. If that’s the case, they are told not to discuss it and instead focus on academics. 

3. My skin sloughs off in flakes when the temperature falls below 30 degrees. Even with moisturizer. 

4. Just when I think my bladder has a lifetime record for expansion, it proves me wrong. It might be using steroids. 

5. Some girls have older brothers who molested them. And they need to write about it. And they still come to school and work hard. 

6. Panic attacks can strike anytime and anywhere. And there are some super compassionate people who will help out. 

7. Boys from Kentucky will take a stand against other boys who disrespect women– even if it means getting suspended.

8. One drink is enough to relax. Two drinks causes instant fatigue and a restless night’s sleep. 

9. Try the snowblower more than two days before the first major snow storm. 

10. Students can discuss non-binary gender identities intelligently in class. 

11. Getting only four hours of sleep causes me to swear in class by sixth hour. Nothing horrible. The minor swears. 

12. “Take it Easy” by The Eagles is more than a song– it’s a life goal

13. Some people are quietly fabulous at what they do and deserve a fucking medal for the above and beyond work they do. Especially behind the scenes. 

14. Depression about one thing can be stuffed away when a crisis pops up. But it will simmer and emerge again. 

15. I can survive a hot flash during a Friday evaluation. My shirt, however, cannot. So glad I had a cardigan over it. 

16. I have some fucking awesome kids. They light my path on a regular basis. 

17. I reward myself way too often with chocolate. For things that aren’t reward-worthy. Like finishing a day at work. Completing a level in Candy Crush. Making it to 8pm. 

18. I’m starting to believe I can make it until Christmas break. The snow day helps. A lot. 

19. Sometimes the weather forecasters are right. 

20. Insomnia runs in phases. If anyone’s up between 12 and 2, I’m your gal.