Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Letter To Me, Before:


Take a look around you. See that little baby, just learning to sit up on her own? She loves you, simply and with her whole heart. Soak it in. Do not be afraid of her love.

You think this is so hard, impossibly hard, this parenting thing. The long hours, the boredom, the constant needs. You don't feel up to the task, do you? You are doing fine. More than fine. You just can't see it.

That anxiety you feel? That deep fear? Embrace it. It's a gift, because it means you love fiercely. You want to hide from that love, because it's deeper and more powerful than anything you have ever felt before. It's mother-love, and it scares you. You don't know if you can bear it, the sheer weight of it on your shoulders.

Be gentle to yourself. You don't have to do everything perfectly - there is no such thing. Trust your heart, it knows what it's doing. Don't over think. Your mind can't get a grip on matters best left to the heart. Put down the parenting books, the magazine articles. Stop the constant comparisons, your endless quest for ways you don't measure up.

See that glass in your hand? The deep red swirl of wine? You think it makes the fear, the insecurity, the weariness all better, don't you? You feel it masks the anxiety, the self-doubt, the boredom. Know this: it masks the love, the joy and the laughter, too. You are trying to erase yourself from the picture, a little at a time, because you don't believe you're good enough.

You can't picture letting go of your fear. You think it is keeping you safe. It is keeping you stuck and alone. You can't imagine a life without the need to hide from yourself.

You don't really hear the giggles of your baby as you rub her belly, or notice how her face lights up at the sight of you. You don't really notice how strong her chubby fingers are when she clutches your thumb, or how she likes to rub her feet against you as she falls asleep. You don't see these things because you are scared to love that much. You are hiding within yourself, afraid.

Know that this fear isn't born out of despair, it is born out of love. A beautiful, all encompassing, love.

Have faith that it is going to be okay. Things will work out the way they are supposed to, and all the worry and anxiety you feel won't change that. So let go. Get up each day with a grateful heart. Or at least try to. Be present. Be present for all of it.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It isn't overly commercialized, no presents - just a time to gather with family and friends, have a good meal, watch some football, and relax.

This year, though, I'm thinking a lot about what I'm thankful for. Really thinking about it, not just a passing nod before I tuck into a heaping plate of food.

It is far to easy to think about all the things I don't have, especially when my mind is absorbed with the loss of Coalie. Yesterday I entered the Anger phase of grieving. I was angry that some careless driver robbed us of our loving pet. Angry that it happened at all. I was playing an endless game of what-if: what-if we hadn't let him out that day? what-if that driver had left their house five minutes later? what-if he hadn't run into the road? It wasn't a pleasant state of mind, and it left me feeling empty and sadder than ever.

My kids are processing their grief by talking about him a lot, acknowledging what a loving addition he was to our family. They are thinking about his life more than his loss. I learn so much from my kids.

I am terrific at feeling sorry for myself. I can put so much energy into sadness, anger or resentment, and it doesn't get me anywhere. I do feel it is important to acknowledge emotions; I spent years stuffing bad feelings, putting them Someplace Else, and that doesn't work either. So what is the answer?


The funny thing about gratitude, at least for me, is that it is difficult to conjure it up out of thin air. Usually I experience gratitude after I have been through a bad patch, and I'm grateful that it is over. It isn't hard to be grateful for the absence of pain, fear or sadness. It takes more work for me to be grateful for an ordinary day. I forget that an ordinary day is a blessing.

It is the small moments that should carry the most meaning in the fabric of my life. The sound of my kids giggling in the next room. The way Finn sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating. Greta coming up with an idea for a book where the girl gets to save the day. The song the two of them made up together, when they thought I couldn't hear them. Greta's big toothless smile. The way Finn spins in place until he falls down laughing. The sound of them whispering to each other at night when they're supposed to be asleep.

I don't want to live in fear. I don't want to feel gratitude simply because something bad didn't occur. Coalie's gift to me is that he reminded me to see the simple beauty in life as it's happening.

I asked Greta this morning what she is grateful for. She gave me a puzzled look, so I said, "when you get up in the morning, what are you thankful for?"

She looked at me as though the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. "That I woke up," she said simply.

That's a good place to start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Coalie Holey

Last week I did a blog about our pets. Yesterday our kitty Coalie was killed - hit by a car in the middle of clear Sunday afternoon. He was a big part of our little family, and we miss him terribly.

I have had lots of pets in my lifetime, and it is always hard when they die. Coalie had a special place in my heart, though - I had never met a cat like him. He was a very loving little creature, and he had a soft spot for me. Virtually every time I sat down, anywhere, he would come scampering across the room to sit in my lap, purring madly. Every night as I settled into bed to read, he would leap up on the bed and settle in next to me (or, if he had his preference, smack dab on the middle of my chest between my face and my book). I always sleep on my side, and each night he'd plop down, perched on my arm, and purr like crazy until he fell asleep.

It's jarring - losing him so unexpectedly. Everywhere I look I think I see him, and it is crushing to realize that isn't him curled on the chair, but only Finn's sweatshirt. Climbing into bed last night it seemed surreal that he was gone - I kept expecting to hear the little thump of his paws running up the stairs.

Greta and Finn are sad, of course, but kids have a very pure way of processing death. Finn understands that Coalie is gone and he isn't coming back, but he hasn't cried about him. He's talking about him a lot, though. Greta and I cried together for a while yesterday afternoon, remembering all the things we loved about him. As her tears dried, she looked up and said "You know what, Mom? Maybe there was a little girl in Heaven who needed a kitty. Now she has Coalie."

We had a little burial out in the woods, said a few prayers for him, and put down a little headstone. As we solemnly walked back to the house, I was thinking about the innocence of animals. How all they really want from you is love. Coalie's affection could drag me out of the worst mood. I'd be sitting in a funk feeling sorry for myself, and he'd crawl into my lap, purring and nudging me for attention. Petting him brought me a measure of peace, and reduced my anxiety.

Seeing Greta sad over the loss of Coalie gave me twinges of guilt. Steve and I knew this might happen, we did the best we could to keep him safe, but we live off a busy road and we always understood this was a danger we faced. The kids became so attached to him, only to have him wrenched away too soon. Was that fair to do to them? Should we have avoided getting a cat because of this danger? The fact is, though, that he brought a lot of love into this house. And it was worth it. I don't want to miss out on that kind of love, just out of a fear of loss.

We kept his food down in the basement, and so the dog wouldn't get it we cut a little circle opening in the base of the door, just big enough for Coalie to fit through. We called it the "Coalie Holey". Now I have a Coalie Holey in my heart, but I am so grateful to have known this loving little spirit. We're hugging each other a little tighter today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Four Feet of Furious

I had heard the stories, the cautionary tales, from other Moms.

"It's not the terrible twos with boys," one friend told me three years ago. "It's the F-ing Fours."

I nodded politely at this news, gazing fondly at my adorable one year old son. Not if I can help it, I thought smugly.

Finn turned four on November 9th, and it is like someone flipped a switch. I am eating humble pie at my belief that somehow my child would be different and escape this stage.

Greta went through a rough patch when she was almost three. It lasted a week. Suddenly, she was testing boundaries and throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way. After three difficult episodes of being sent to her room and Sternly Lectured, she stopped.

Finn is proving to be a bit more difficult to discipline. Part of the problem is that I'm not used to it - he has always been a roll-with-it kind of kid. He has an innately sweet disposition, and although he is active and challenging to keep entertained, for the most part he is easy going. Until now.

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend I haven't spoken to in months. Finn marched up to me, put his mouth right next to my ear and yelled, "Get me a hamburger!!!"

"Don't speak to me that way, Finn. It's rude."

"GAAAAAH!!! HAMBURGER! NOW!!!" he screams, and throws himself on the floor. I walk away, desperate to finish a couple of sentences with my friend.

He follows me, screaming and having a complete meltdown. I get off the phone, and send him to his room, where he proceeds to throw himself against the door over and over.

After five minutes he calms down and is let out of his room. He comes up and gives me a hug. "Sorry, Momma," he says.

I open my mouth to talk to him about his behavior, and he interrupts me.

"You made tears come out of my eyes," he continues. "Now you hafta say you're sorry to me."

"No, I don't. You were rude to me and you got in trouble. The way you acted wasn't okay," I begin.

"But MOMMA! You made me cry! Dat's WONG! Say sorry to me, and say it nicely!!!"

Back in his room he goes, and the cycle continues. From the other side of the door, through hysterical sobs, he says, "it's not FAIR! You are mean and stupid and I hate you!"

"That hurts my feelings," I say to him through the door, as calmly as I can muster. I set the timer and tell him I'll let him out in five minutes. Then I walk away - what he wants is my attention. Even mad attention is still attention, and I remove myself.

Things go smoothly for the next half an hour. He is sitting in the playroom watching a show, and he yells out, "Come change the channel! Now!" And we begin again.

When five minutes is up he comes out of his room again, looking contrite.

"I won't be mean anymore, Momma. I was just mad but now I'm not," he says.

"Every time you're rude, or mean, you will go to your room for five minutes, Finn," I explain. "Next time you feel like you're going to get mad, just use your words. And remember to say 'please' and 'thank you', it's important."

He nods. "Okay, Momma. Now it's your turn. You say sorry to me, really nicely, like this: 'I'm sorry sweetie'". He says this in falsetto - a nearly perfect imitation of my voice.

I have to admire his tenacity. We have been doing this dance for three weeks now. The other day he threw a temper tantrum, sobbing hysterically and screaming "Put the tears back in my eyes! Put the tears back in my eyes!"

I know he needs me to be consistent, but I am so damn tired. It's hard not to feel like I'm doing everything wrong. I'm trying to find ways to focus on the positive, too - give him praise when he does something well. The other day he politely asked for a snack and said 'please' and 'thank you'.

"Good job asking nicely," I said.

He looked up at me impassively. "You're actually a good Momma, usually," he says. "You don't need to get mad all the time, though. Just use your words and it will all be okay."


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Courage to Change

I read a statistic recently that said that up to 42% of American adults have been directly effected by alcoholism. Nearly half. I think about this number sometimes, when I'm sitting in a crowd of people. I look around and think: nearly 1 out of every 2 of these people have been hurt somehow by this disease.

It is true that most people suffering from active alcoholism need help to stop. It is also true, I believe, that nobody can make someone stay sober - it is an inside job, and to achieve any sort of longer term sobriety the person has to want it for themselves. So what to do?

For me, the critical moment was when my husband and family intervened. My husband arranged for my parents and sister to come to our house, surprise me, and sit me down to talk about my drinking. It was a moment I had feared would come for a long time. As my drinking got worse, my primary motivation for trying to hide it was that I knew if it got bad enough my family would try to make me stop - something I didn't want to do at all. The baffling thing, though, is that as my drinking spiraled out of control I also thought to myself: God, I wish someone would stop me.

On some level I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I had tried everything - I would tell myself I would only drink on weekends, only have two, only drink wine or beer, only drink after 5pm. The sad reality was that once I had one drink I was no longer in control of how much I drank. And I wanted, so badly, to be able to have just one. Every time I picked up a drink I would tell myself: this time it will be different. It never was.

So my family had an intervention. They called me on it - told me that I was destroying myself and my family. That my children weren't safe with me anymore. That I had to get help. I told them I would. I remember thinking to myself: I don't think it is going to work but I'll give it a try if it will make everyone happy. At this point I didn't care enough about myself to get sober for me.

It didn't work, not right away. I went to a ten day outpatient clinic, and drank the day after it ended. I was sent to a ten day inpatient program. I sat in the front row of every group, I took notes, I told myself: I never want to come back here, this has got to work. I drank within three hours of coming home. I thought to myself, as I left to go buy alcohol, that I had learned so much, had been sober for ten whole days, that I had to be able to have just one, that I wasn't as bad as the other patients at the rehab. I was wrong.

So what changed? My husband, when he came home that day and knew I had been drinking, had finally had it. He drove me back to the treatment center for a 30 day stay, and as he dropped me off he told me he was done. That if I wanted to destroy myself, that was my choice, but that I wasn't going to take the rest of our family down with me. If I didn't get sober and stay that way he was leaving and taking the kids. He meant it. I was on my own. I finally, finally, got good and scared. I had no self-esteem, no sense of self-worth, so it wasn't possible for me to get sober for me. His ultimatum, though, gave me another reason to try: I didn't want to lose my family. Up until this point, I didn't truly believe that I would lose my family - I always assumed in some vague way that we would always be together, no matter what. Wrong again.

After the 30 day stay, I still wanted to drink, badly, but I knew what would happen if I did. If I didn't want to lose my family, I had to give recovery a try. Looking back on it now, I feel this way about everything: my husband's ultimatum got me to stop, and now I keep myself stopped. It was months before I began to want sobriety for myself. I slowly regained a sense of self-worth. I surrendered to my disease; I finally believed that I could no longer have one drink in safety. But in the early days, it was the knowledge that I would lose my family that kept me from drinking.

I love the show Intervention (A&E, Monday at 9PM EST). What is powerful about the show, I think, is that the addicts and alcoholics featured know they have a problem. They have agreed to be in a show about addiction; they don't know their family will be staging an intervention. They are in the end game: they aren't in denial about their problem, but they still can't stop. I watch each show, fascinated, listening to how the interventionist advises the family members. It is acknowledged that nobody has any control over the addict's behavior. Nobody can force the addict to get help. The focus is on what each family member does control: their own actions. The root question is this: what are you willing to do, what consequences can you put into play in the addict's life? Whatever you decide to do you have to follow through no matter what.

There is no guaranteed happy ending. Not all the addicts featured on the show make it, although many of them do. There is no way to determine, at the outset of the show, who will make it and who won't based simply on the addict's story, or how far down their disease has taken them. What matters most, I think, is whether or not the consequences are meaningful enough, and whether or not the family members follow through on them. Even when they do follow through, there are no guarantees that the addict will get sober. Watching the show, though, it is clear that when family members put up boundaries and stick to them, the chances the addict will seek help improve.

I don't mean to put the responsibility for someone's recovery on other people - as I said, it's an inside job, and the addict has to want recovery for it to work. Loved ones of alcoholics feel powerless in so many ways, and for good reason. Nobody can make someone stop or control someone else's actions. But we can control our own actions. Sometimes what feels like the harshest action is actually the most loving. It may just give an addict a reason to try recovery. What happens after is up to them.

You can view episodes of Intervention at A&E's website here. One story in particular, Leslie's story, touched me deeply. I had the honor of meeting her and her family last month, and they are incredibly honest, brave people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Right Thing

Greta, who is 7, is learning about money. She gets an allowance every week for doing her chores, but she's always looking to score a little extra cash by doing jobs around the house. She saves up her money to buy Webkinz at Target, where they cost $10.

Yesterday afternoon she asked what she can do to earn $5 - more than we usually give her for chores around the house - so I had to think up something good.

"You can clean up the playroom AND your bedroom," I said. "And really clean them, don't just shove stuff in closets."

Ordinarily this sort of request is met with whining and complaining, but yesterday she just nodded and set about cleaning both rooms for over an hour. They were a complete mess, and she put away every toy.

After she finished she brought me my wallet and I gave her $5.

Half an hour later, she came up to me with $10 in her hand - all of her savings. It had taken her about a month to get this much, and I expected her to ask to take a trip to Target to buy a Webkinz.

"Here you go, Mom, " she said, and handed me the money.

"What's this for?" I asked.

"I want to give this money to the women you're helping in Boston," she said. "I want to help them have Christmas presents this year."

My jaw dropped. I serve on an advisory board for a rehabilitative house in Boston that helps women struggling with addiction. There they get sober, have a safe place to live, find jobs and get their lives back. Every year they have a little Christmas party, and they give each woman a gift card to Walmart. After Christmas, the counselors and their clients take a road trip to the nearest Walmart so they can use the gift cards to get new clothes, or buy some much needed supplies. I had been talking to Steve about all this yesterday, and I didn't realize Greta was listening.

"Can we go to Walmart, buy a gift card and mail it to them today?" she asked.

"It is really nice of you to help them," I said. "It takes you a long time to earn $10, and to give it to someone in need is really special."

"It's okay," she said. "I can always earn more money, and I want them to have a good Christmas, too."

My heart swelled. I'd love to take all the credit for her generosity, her big heart, but this one is all her.

"We'll go tomorrow, I promise."

"Will they know it is from me?" she asked.

"I'll make sure they do, honey. I'm sure they will be very grateful."

She smiled. "I can't wait to tell my friends I helped someone," she said softly. "Do you think they will be proud of me?"

"I'm sure they will," I replied. "But you should feel really proud of yourself, too. Do you?"

"I guess so," she said. "It just feels like the right thing to do."

"It is, honey," I said. "It is."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pepperoni Love

My kids love animals. Any living creature, actually. Perhaps this is how we ended up with four chickens, a dog, a cat and a hamster. This doesn't count our dearly departed 2 chickens, Taily-Tail the gecko, and a rapid succession of 7 or 8 Betta fish with unusually short life expectancies.

Casper, the dog, predated our kids. She was our "we-need-to-learn-to-be-responsible-before-we-have-kids" acquisition. She is a Cuvac (pronounced "chew-vatch") - a huge white longish-haired dog bred to work in conjunction with sheep dogs, and guard the perimeter of a property - her job is to bark and alert sheep dogs to to the presence of predators. This particular skill would be invaluable in, say, the highlands of the Alps, but is misplaced in the relative security of suburbia. Any motion along our own perimeter - a jogger, cyclist, neighbor, UPS man, visiting friend - is subject to a torrent of barking that shakes the walls. Now she is a bit hard of hearing, and so she barks all the time just for good measure - certain there is a perimeter breech somewhere that needs to be addressed.

Our cat, Coalie, joined our family last year - a gift to our daughter for her 6th birthday. My husband isn't a big cat person, so he was skeptical, but Coalie has no idea he is a cat. He is the most loving creature I've ever seen. He is particularly attached to me, and he isn't content to just perch in my lap. He wraps himself around my neck, places both paws on my shoulders and presses his face into mine. I swear he would french kiss if I'd let him. He's completely insane. He fits right in.

Rhino the hamster came about because we were just too damn tired to say no. Greta's friend Abi got a hamster last year, and the kids asked to get one every other minute for a week straight before we broke down. Coalie spends hours gazing hungrily into Rhino's cage while he putters about, oblivious. Occasionally Rhino will get out of his cage - to this day I don't know how - and we'll spend a few terrified minutes chasing the cat, who is chasing Rhino, only to pluck Rhino from the claws of death with seconds to spare. This usually happens at 2am, which is fun.

Getting chickens was an obsession my husband nurtured for years. One day he came home from work and told the kids he had a surprise for them in the car. They went squealing outside, and I followed with a sense of mild dread. I didn't know he had gotten chickens, but feared the worst. Inside a shoe box were six tiny little fluffy chicks - the kids were smitten immediately. It took me a little longer, as I was concerned with little details like "where the hell are they going to live, HONEY?" Turns out they lived in a big box in the basement until my husband could build them what I refer to as the "Chicken Condo" - a beautifully crafted A frame structure that is nicer than my living room. Chickens are actually fairly easy to care for, and we get two or three eggs a day, which is nice. We have the occasional Chicken Revolt - they all get out somehow and wander into the neighbor's yard, which prompts a visit from the Chicken Police (yes, they exist) - but otherwise they are quite low maintenance.

We've had ant farms, butterfly farms, and countless injured insects and moths found in the backyard and brought inside to be nurtured back to health. The ant farm kept itself going for a couple of months, and one by one the ants died until what we essentially had was a mausoleum of dead ants.

My kids will bring any manner of creature inside to nurture as a pet. We've had "Sluggy Slug", who munched happily on leaves for two days before perishing. Several moths - who I think live for like ten seconds on a good day - were nevertheless given a little home in a jar to live out their brief lifespan. One baby toad with an injured leg actually made it for two days before I convinced the kids to let him hobble away.

I guess one of the advantages of all this wildlife is that it has taught my kids at an early age about the Circle of Life. When we lost their favorite chicken - Yellowy -to natural causes, we dug him a grave in the woods and the kids put colored rocks down for a headstone. This was over a year ago, and I still get questions about how Yellowy is doing in Heaven. Taily-tail was the beloved Leopard Gecko who somehow escaped in the night and disappeared. I spent several weeks expecting to find his mummified corpse in a shoe, or in a closet somewhere. His fate is unknown; I have convinced the kids he went home to find his family. So far, so good.

Greta is, thankfully, mostly done with her Vegetarian Experiment. Although she is a carnivore again, I have to assure her that each and every animal she consumes was treated humanely before becoming dinner.

"Mom, promise me! Was this animal treated really nicely before it died?"

"That's a pepperoni, Greta."

"I know! Was the pepperoni treated fairly, allowed to roam free?"

And because I'm getting old, I'm tired and I just can't be bothered... "Yes, it was," I reply.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Items!

Congratulations to K-Dart and Nina, who were the winners of the last giveaway!! They both selected the Vintage Style Flower Ring!

Thank you to all who entered! Because we're coming up on the Holiday Season, the next giveaway will be for a $25 gift certificate good toward any item(s) in my shop!

To enter, please reply in the comment section saying you would like to enter, and please leave your email. If you are more comfortable contacting me directly, please do so at

The winner will be chosen at random (my daughter picks a name from a hat) on November 30th!! International entries are always welcome - I ship anywhere in the world.

Here is a small sampling of ideas:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zen and the Art of Squirrel Containment

I have been trying to meditate. I say 'trying', because I am really not very good at it. Not at all. Once I even bought a guided meditation DVD entitled "Meditation: Find Inner Peace in Ten Minutes or Less". That should have been a sign that my kind of over-active mind needs a little more help than most. But I did listen to the DVD. Once. In the car. For five whole minutes.

I have always been a short-cut taker, and not just with activities, projects or work. I like emotional shortcuts, too. When I have unpleasant emotions, my mind automatically seeks the quickest possible escape route. I am not particularly fond of being alone in my head, with so many thoughts pinging around all disorganized and unresolved. My brain is like a hyperactive, hungry, immature squirrel - always flitting about, digging things up, making snarly little nests here and there and then scooting off to the next thing.

My idea of relaxing involves listening to the radio, playing on the computer and talking on the phone at the same time. The only time I seem to have any kind of focus is when I'm reading a book - and even then I often have to re-read sentences or entire paragraphs because my mental squirrel has gone running off somewhere without my permission.

My first experience with meditation was last year. I participated in a women's discussion group, and before every group meeting we would meditate. Sometimes with the aid of a guided meditation CD, but often with nothing at all - just silence. We would set a timer for ten minutes, sit in a circle, dim the lights, settle comfortably in our chairs, and meditate. Or, perhaps more accurately, the rest of them would meditate. My mind would go into overdrive, and I would spend the entire ten minutes chasing the squirrel around my brain. My internal dialogue would usually go something like this:

Okay, am I comfortable? No - my feet feel wrong. How are they supposed to be? Flat on the floor, right. Now they're on the floor. But I never sit like this. Shouldn't it be important to feel like myself if I'm meditating? Am I allowed to cross my ankles? I'm just going to peek - really quickly - see if everyone else has their feet on the floor.... damn. They do. Okay, feet on the floor. What's next... oh yes! Breathing. I can totally do this. Deep breath In...... and exhale. In...... and exhale. Wow, that's going well! In... and exhale. Oh shit I have to cough. Must. Suppress. Cough. Damn! Too late. Now everyone's probably looking at me. Where was I? Oh - breathing .... in..... exhale. In..... exhale. Crap, I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking "in" and "exhale" in my head when I do this.. I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking anything. How do you not think at all? Do I just think "ohm?" Okay... ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhmmmm. Ohm. Ohm-diddly-ohm. OHM. That sounds like "oh, I'm". As in "oh I'm so bored". Ohimsobored. Ohimsobored. Ooohhhhiimmmmsooooobooooorrrrredddd.

It goes on this way until the little 'ding' of the timer. Everyone else appears to surface from some inner pool of mental calmness. By the time it's over I'm close to panic that I haven't quieted my brain - not for one second - so I study their faces and try to imitate their look of zen-like satisfaction.

I keep practicing, though, because every now and then there are a few moments of - well, of silence. And peace. And they're nice.

What I need, really, is a Zen Squirrel Trap. Like a Have-A-Heart Trap for the mind. I don't want to kill the squirrel, not really. Just contain him for a while. Quietly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trigger: Not Just Roy Rogers' Horse

In recovery, we spend a lot of time talking about triggers - events, feelings or situations that can prompt a craving, or a feeling of wanting to drink. In early sobriety, for me, they were everywhere. As I left my final treatment, the counselors gave me this advice: "the only thing you have to change is everything."

If you've ever tried to quit or cut back on something you love that is bad for you - like overeating, or cigarettes - you know how routine can trigger a craving. If you smoke cigarettes on your daily commute, your desire to smoke when you're in your car is elevated. If you like to eat while you watch your nightly television, settling in to watch a show will prompt the desire to snack.

For me it was the same with alcohol; I was a creature of habit. There was a consistency to what triggered me. In the early days of drinking, it was the end of the day - or perhaps more accurately, five o'clock. Despite the fact that I would start thinking about my first drink around 3pm, I felt that "normal" people drank at five o'clock, so that is what I did, too. As my disease progressed, triggers became more frequent. Confrontation or any negative emotion made me want to drink. I couldn't imagine attending any social situation without the help of alcohol, my liquid courage. If I was bored, or stressed - I felt like a drink would make me feel better. But, of course, as time went on there was no such thing as one drink.

As I slipped into physical addiction to alcohol - without, incredibly, even knowing it - a drink became the only way to quell the near constant anxiety I felt. I lived in fear that my dirty secret would be discovered, I felt physically awful most of the time, and drinking made these feelings stop, if only temporarily. Kind of like putting a band-aid over a bullet hole, but it was my only coping mechanism.

In early recovery, I was advised to stay away from situations and places that made me want to drink. No small task, because by the time I stopped just about everything made me want to drink. I was a secret drinker, so reminders of alcohol were all over my house. I had to drive by liquor stores I used to frequent all the time. And I was still full of anxiety and fear: my biggest triggers.

So I changed everything. I drove long, circuitous routes around town to pick up my kids from school, so I wouldn't have to drive by a liquor store. I started going in a different front door of my house. I mucked out closets and cabinets, rearranged furniture. When five o'clock came, I would talk to another recovering alcoholic or go to a meeting. Little by little, I found my new normal. The anxiety eased, I physically felt better, and I was slowly filling up the hole alcoholism had left in my life with new friends, a network of people in recovery, and a sense of hope.

And now? The triggers are still there, and I don't always know what they will be. It usually isn't something most people would expect would be a trigger, like a party, or the sight of alcohol. It is sneakier than that. For instance, I discovered that the time change triggered me. I used to love it when it got darker earlier, because drinking after the sun went down felt more 'normal' somehow. Being sick is a big trigger. It was my old cure for any physical ailment - headache? have a drink. Body aches? have a drink. I enjoy going to parties now, and being around other people who are drinking doesn't bother me. As an evening progresses, though, and there is that subtle shift in the atmosphere of the room, as people loosen up and get a little tipsy - I make my exit.

I no longer resent the fact that the cravings come. For a long while, I would get frustrated, thinking: shouldn't I be past this by now? Now I understand it is part of the disease; I can't expect that the cravings will stop. I am more forgiving of myself when this happens. I recognize when my disease is talking to me. That little voice that says: go ahead, take the edge off. One won't hurt. This is why recovery is a day-at-a-time deal. I never know when these thoughts will come. The trick is to keep my other voice, my Recovery Voice, stronger. "Yes, it will hurt," that Voice says. "It will hurt you, and everyone who loves you." I think through the drink, as I hear over and over in recovery. I try to stay grateful for everything I have now.

And best of all? I don't do this alone. I couldn't do it alone. I have amazing, strong, funny, smart, loving people all around me. I have more than I ever could have imagined. So even when it is tough, even when things aren't going well, I lean on my support system to see me through. And they always do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It's here - the swine flu. It hit our house last week. Finn got it first - at the time we didn't realize it was the flu - he got a fever and slept for almost two straight days. Because he is a healthy 4 year old, his symptoms were manageable with Motrin and fluids, and he bounced back quickly. Greta got it next. She woke up weeping one morning, saying she felt "wrong". I asked her where it hurt, and she said "everywhere". On Motrin, she seemed perfectly fine, but the minute it wore off she would start crying and her fever would spike up. She stayed home from school for a few days, slept a lot, and also got over it fairly quickly. I got it on Sunday. One minute I felt fine, and then quite suddenly I felt awful. Within half an hour, I had a high fever, splitting headache and my entire body hurt. I'm on day three and feeling a little better, but weak.

I called the pediatrician, who said "anyone with a fever probably has swine flu; it is too early for seasonal flu. If their fever doesn't go below 104 degrees on Motrin, or they can't breathe, go to the hospital. Otherwise, treat the symptoms and stay home - we can't do anything to help you and we don't want to help it spread by having infected people coming here."

It all had the feeling of the inevitable about it. It started about a week and a half ago - suddenly every Mom I knew had at least one sick child, and absentee rates at school skyrocketed. We did everything we could to avoid it - obsessive hand-washing, staying away from visibly sick kids, getting a lot of rest. It swept through our town like wildfire. After all the media hype, it was hard not to feel like if we got it, we were doomed.

We can't live our lives in fear, but as a parent it is hard to know exactly what to do. The temptation to keep the kids home, to avoid playdates and soccer games, is huge. Greta had heard enough about H1N1 at school to be afraid - when she first got sick she panicked. "Oh NO! I have it, don't I?" she cried. "Am I going to die?"

The only weapon I felt like I had - the vaccine - wasn't available anywhere. So we just braced ourselves, and hoped for the best. Don't get me started on the whole vaccine situation .. I tend to go into a rant about it. We're lucky - our kids are healthy - we aren't in a high risk group. But my heart goes out to those who are - it is inexcusable that the vaccine is in such scare supply, even for those who really need it. I'm still of two minds about the vaccine, anyway. There is so much that is unknown about it - whether or not it really helps, what the side effects are. What it came down to for me was this: if my kid got sick, and I hadn't done everything in my power to help, I would feel terribly. Knowing a vaccine exists out there - somewhere - and not being able to get my hands on it was very frustrating.

I think we live in an era of too much information. When I was a kid we didn't have months and months of media hype warning us of impending sickness. We didn't have flu vaccines. If we have the capability of figuring out viruses, how to de-code them (or whatever it is they do), how they are spread, their origins - if we're going to know that much, we should be able to help people do something about it. Just my two cents.

So we're muddling through. I am very grateful that it isn't worse.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Just Love You

My baby is turning 4 in few days. I am officially one of those middle aged people who wanders around muttering where did the time go?

Even as an infant, Finn was one laid-back kid. He loves to laugh, and has a smile peeking out nearly constantly. His favorite thing to say to me is "It's gonna be okay, Momma. I pwomise." He is a snuggler; he'll climb into my lap, saying "You da best Momma in da wohld." He got his impish humor from his Dad; he has appreciated a good practical joke since he was two.

I love his fierce convictions; he likes to ask question after question, listen intently to the answer and say, "No, that's wong." When he is upset, which isn't often, he furrows his brow and says, calmly, "See? Now you hurt my feewings."

The other day he was pushing limits and I finally sent him to his room. He planted his feet, put his hands on his hips and said matter-of-factly, "I gonna go cry now. I tell you when I done."

I remember the sense of excitement and anxiousness I felt before he was born. Greta was a colicky baby, cried a lot for the first four or five months, and had trouble sleeping. Add to this mix the fact that I was a brand-new mother, finding my way little by little, and her early months were tough.

I feared the worst, wondering how I would handle another colicky baby with a 3 year old in tow. His delivery was frightening, an emergency c-section after the monitor showed his heartbeat had nearly stopped; it turned out the umbilical cord had wrapped twice around his body, and then once around his neck. After his delivery, there were a few terrifying moments of silence, and then a loud, gusty cry and a huge sigh of relief.

I learn a lot from my littlest: how to roll with the punches, laugh just for the heck of it, how to put things in perspective and live for the moment. He barrels headlong through life, setting things in motion just to see what happens. He is like a mad scientist performing experiments: mixing things together, taking things apart. No matter what the outcome is of his little adventures, he invariably says, "well, that was un-spected!"

Best of all, Finn loves to love. He'll remark on the beauty of the world; two days ago we had a gorgeous sunset. He stood in the backyard with his head tipped back, saying, "Wow, the sky is so bootiful. I love da sky." He is gentle with our pets, hates to see any creature suffer. Zooming through the house, he'll run by his sister and say, "Hey Sissy! Love you!"

Finn looked at me yesterday and said, "Momma? I don't want to be four."
"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I always want to live with you and Dadda. I don't want to grow up and get ahmpit hair."

His little face was dead serious, so I stifled a laugh. "You can live with us for as long as you want, it's okay," I said.

"But do I hafta get ahmpit hair?" he sniffed.

"Not if you don't want to," I lied, hoping he'll forget this conversation by the time he's older.

"I just love you, Momma," he said.

"I just love you too, Finn."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Middle Game

I was standing a the local field last Saturday, watching a bunch of 7 year old girls play soccer on a beautiful, crisp fall morning. Finn was running wild along the edge of the forest surrounding the field, chasing a friend. I look at Greta - she is playing near her team's goal, and the action is at the other end of the field. She is spinning in place, arms spread wide, looking up at the sky. I hear Finn giggling behind me, "you can't catch me!" he squeals to his friend.

It is just a simple moment in time, but it strikes me. These are some good times, I think. Life can change in the blink of an eye, and it is so easy for me to forget to wallow in the ordinary.

It has been an unusual week. People from various stages in my life have been in touch, because they saw us on Oprah and tracked me down. People from high school, from a place I worked over 15 years ago, from the last job I had before having Greta. It's odd thinking about the version of me they knew, and it has me thinking about how things change, but also how they stay the same.

At each stage in my life, I thought things would always be the way they were then. It's human nature, I think, to believe this. At least it's my nature. The free wheeling days of high school, long lazy summers at the beach with friends, a first love. My roaring twenties, as I like to think of them, when life revolved around the weekend - parties, getting together with friends, moving from one adventure to the next. My early thirties, feeling like I was on top of the world, giving presentations to boards of directors, flying all over the globe wearing a business suit and carrying a laptop.

"We had so much fun then, didn't we?" said a friend from my first real job.

"You were so buttoned up and quiet!" said another from my last professional job.

"Those were some really good times," said an old flame from high school.

The other day a good friend of mine said, "we're in the middle game, now." My mind took a snapshot of life today: school aged kids, 40 years old, life full of carpools, soccer games, birthday parties and homework. Then I thought to myself: I've never liked the middle. Soaring highs and sinking lows? No problem - at least it keeps things interesting. For years there was always the Next Big Thing to look forward to: getting married, buying our first house, having a baby. It's a pattern with me; I'm always thinking what's next?

"We're living in tomorrow's yesterday," I heard someone say recently. It struck me, because that it what I do far too often - look back, or look ahead, instead of looking at right now. Somehow, it is easier for me to appreciate my life today when I think of myself as an elderly woman in a rocking chair flipping through a photo album full of pictures of me as I am today.

So I'm trying to embrace the middle game. If I get to play out these years, uneventfully but happily, I will be a lucky woman indeed. I'm trying to grasp moments that will pass too quickly: Finn climbing into my lap, cradling his blanket and settling in for a snuggle, Greta rolling in a pile of leaves, laughing, an affectionate glance from my husband over the dinner table.

All the beauty in life as it is right........Now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wanted: One Holy Locksmith

Finn was extra squirmy at church yesterday. During a hymn my husband leans over and whispers: "You know, I think he only had candy for breakfast."

Oh, the prices I pay for grabbing that extra hour of sleep in the morning.

We forgot to bring a book or little (quiet) toy for him, his usual distractions during the service. So he is entertaining himself by looking around at the statues of Jesus and Mary placed in prominent positions at the front of the church.

"Mom," he whispers, "what is Jesus looking at?"

I glance up. "He's looking at us," I whisper back.

"Why?" he asks.

"Because He loves us. Now Shhhhhh!"

Twenty minutes later, during a completely silent moment, he points to the crucifix and says, loudly, "Dat's Jesus! And He died, right?"

I try to make myself small in the pew, and when the next hymn starts up I take advantage of the distraction and shuffle him downstairs to the coffee area. It is a pretty, well lit room with little round stained glass windows all around. I feed his sugar habit with a donut and a glass of juice. He munches happily, and looks thoughtfully at the windows.

He points to one, a picture of Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper. "Dat's Jesus with his family, right? Before He went to heaven?"

"Yes," I reply.

"And dat one, dat's what heaven looks like?" he asks, pointing to a pretty window bursting with color and light.

"Well, sure," I reply. "It could be. Heaven is beautiful like that. It is the most beautiful place you can imagine."

"Jesus is in heaven now, right?" he asks.


"Is He the one that lets you in and then locks the door behind you?"

Think, Mom, think.... how to answer this one? "Why do you ask that?" I say, to buy some time.

He points to two windows right next to each other. One is a picture of Jesus kneeling, looking up into the sky and into a beam of bright yellow light. To the right of it is a picture of two old fashioned looking keys, criss crossed over each other, presumably symbolizing entry in the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Well, because dose pictures tell me dat Jesus lost his keys, and I want to be sure he finds dem before I get dere."