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    Friday, August 31, 2012


    People often tell me I’m funny. I like being funny. I love laughing. I love people with a good sense of humor. And most of all, I love having the freedom to admit that I am totally clueless most of the time. I think it’s healthy to laugh at myself.

    But sometimes life just isn’t funny. During hard weeks I struggle to come up with a blog post because I’m afraid I’ll be letting folks down if it doesn’t include a little humor. Sometimes there is humor amidst the difficulty, little flashes of grace lighting the dark closets where we hide with our struggles. But sometimes, even though the grace remains, the light is dim.

    This morning my husband and I huddled with our oldest son in a darkened workroom at the elementary school. I wondered if we'd always be imprisoned. The three of us, trapped by the monster in Monkey’s head, trying to beat it back or sneak around it to escape.

    Monkey suffers from anxiety. And I don’t mean he worries. I mean anxiety attacks incapacitate him. It’s still hard for me to grasp. I get stressed. Really, really stressed. But never have I felt like my own mind was trying to kill me.

    Even now, after the hours I’ve logged sitting outside the bathroom door while the fight or flight response empties my son of everything including rational thought, I still don’t know exactly what he goes through. I don’t know what it’s like to be inside his head when, as he puts it, his anxiety gets him.

    Sometimes dealing with this feels like us, our family, against the world. In reality, we have a team that includes our family doctor and some truly dedicated people at Monkey’s school. Although this morning, none of them were around when the crisis hit.

    I finally found one of the school counselors, and as we walked down the hall to attempt to rescue my son from himself, she said, “This is unusual for a fifth grader.” I wanted to get my snark on and say, “Oh, really? And there aren’t any adults who can’t go to work because of anxiety attacks?”

    We did get him into the classroom. I wanted to announce his accomplishment over the PA, give him an award for bravery. He deserves a hero’s welcome for conquering that monster, knowing the evil thing will be back. But, of course, the whole process has to be as low key as possible to avoid even more stress for him. So I didn’t cheer. Or run up and kiss the other fifth grader who greeted my son with such sweetness and enthusiasm when Monkey finally emerged from the project room.

    And the school hasn’t called, which is a good sign. But I want to go check on him. I wish I could let him stay home every time his anxiety gets him. And that is the hardest part. Cuddling my son and offering reassurance is easy. Finding the tools to help him overcome this and function in the world is hard. It's a long journey.

    So that’s my post for this week. That is my messy life. Believe me, I prefer to share the funny stuff. But I know all parents face monsters of one kind or another with their kids. And sometimes it can help to throw a little light on those beasties. If you're battling something right now, know that I'm cheering for you and your kiddo, especially if that precious child isn't the type who gets ribbons on field day or his or her name on the honor roll. Don't worry about those paltry prizes. You slay dragons every day.

    *photo by firehawk77

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    The Life and Loves of Chunky

    Just over a year ago, my youngest son fell hopelessly in love with a girl he met at science camp. The two exchanged phone numbers but Chunky, being 7 at the time, did not manage to hang on to that precious piece of paper. And Catherine, heartless, blonde 8-year-old that she was, never called him. Never.

    For over a year, Chunky has been exhausting his family with scenarios of finding her. He’s imagined out loud, ad nauseam, walking into McDonalds where Catherine happens to be having lunch, or stopping at a red light and looking over to see Catherine in the car next to us. He knows what area of the city she lives in and tried to convince me to drive up and down the streets while he called her name.

    I was actually considering starting a "Find Catherine" Facebook campaign. He was that desperate. And we were that tired of hearing about her.

    But last week we began to see some encouraging signs. We have hope. Finally, after the long Year of Catherine, a change is in the air. My husband and I are holding our breath, exchanging looks, and crossing our fingers.

    On the second day of school, Chunky came home and said, “I made a new friend.”

    Not at all surprised, I responded with my usual, “Good for you, honey.”

    But my interest grew as he continued. “It’s the new girl who sits next to me. She asked if I wanted to be friends, but I was already thinking about asking her. She’s from San Antonio and she has an accent.” He said the last like “She has a space ship!”

    The next day he came home with her phone number.

    Now for the most part, Chunky is just a friendly kid who happens to enjoy playing with girls. But he is becoming aware of his own charm. Awhile ago I heard him tell his brother that he’d have lots of girls calling him in high school. Bewildered and horrified, his brother asked, “Why?” Chunky responded with, “Have you seen this face?”

    Yes, despite the great and throbbing ache of Catherine’s rejection, his confidence remains intact. Yesterday, my oldest was chanting some song lyric about being sexy.

    I told Monkey he didn’t need to be saying that. As I expected, my 10-year-old had no idea what the expression meant. When I explained that “sexy” means you are attractive to the opposite sex, he quickly retracted. “Oh, then I’m not sexy.” He proceeded to dance through the living room, singing, “I’m not sexy.” (I do this too, but only in the complete privacy of my bathroom.)

    Flustered and slightly amused, I started to correct Monkey again, but Chunky’s response drew me up short. In a quiet, assured voice he said, “I am.”

    Who could argue with that?

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Heights, Trains, and Water Goblets

    I’ve decided that you really get to know a person when you’re on vacation. Since we don’t go on vacation in our family, we’re all practically strangers. A couple weeks ago we had a mini holiday. Kory took a record TWO days off from work, and on Thursday we drove to the Royal Gorge with the kids.

    I admit to being afraid of heights but my cowardice blossomed when it was time to cross the bridge. We'd already ridden over it once on the trolley, which wasn't so bad. The trouble came when it was time to go back and the trolley didn’t arrive at the designated waiting area.

    And didn’t arrive. And didn’t arrive.

    We decided to walk, stepping out onto the boards and heading for the other side. I walked along confidently for a bit, and then my eyes darted to the side as the boys ran up to the railing to look over the edge. I figured out quickly that looking over the edge was not an option for me. I glanced behind me, debated going back to wait for the trolley. I decided against it and started walking faster. Then I made the mistake of looking down at the boards beneath my feet. There are gaps. They aren’t huge gaps, but a sliver of space is all you need to see the deathly drop below. Indiana Jones clips played in my head. I walked faster.

    I’d established that I couldn’t look to the side, I couldn’t look down, and looking back didn't help, so I kept my focus in front. Oh my gosh, is that bridge long! I walked faster. In fact, I was now doing that ridiculous wiggle walk you often see paired with unwise spandex use. I wanted to run but held on to a smidgeon of my remaining dignity.

    Meanwhile, Kory and the boys were falling farther and farther behind. Not that I looked back. But I occasionally heard a faint “Mom?” coming from behind. I got to the other side, dizzy and out-of-breath, and as I recovered I realized something about myself. When it comes to heights, I will leave my husband and children to the rickety boards and inevitable crocodiles and save myself. I’m not proud, but at least this is useful information to know should we ever find ourselves on another ludicrously high bridge.

    The next highlight of our little trip was a train ride on the scenic Rio Grande railway. We spent Thursday night in the town of Alamosa in the San Luis Valley. I’m a little familiar with the valley because I lived in the area from around age 11 to 13 when I threatened to start my own business fermenting potato alcohol if we didn’t move someplace with a mall.

    Anyway, we were all excited to ride the train. We stood in the open-air observation car as the train clickety-clacked over the valley toward the mountains. There’s not a whole lot to see on that first stretch of the trip, but Kory and the boys pointed out small, skittering animals, cars broken down in the middle of nowhere and strange dwellings that seemed part trailer, part barn, mostly dust.

    But my husband caught me completely off-guard when he sighed and said, “Why can’t I have a junk yard?”

    Astounded, I blathered the first thing that came to my mind. “Because you have a wife!”

    “I know, I know,” he said, “And I like our nice house. But I want a junk yard, too. A place where I could build cool stuff.”

    I had no idea my husband was so keen on scrap metal. The weird thing is, he’s anti lawn art. I mean REALLY anti lawn art. Not that junk is lawn art. But sometimes—a lot of the time—lawn art is junk. I digress.

    Perhaps the most startling realization came in the dining car on the train. We hadn’t intended to eat on board, but our original plans fell through and we found ourselves on a restored New York dining car. Monkey, being 10 and male, has never been to a fancy restaurant. I bit my lip as he made his way down the narrow aisle between elegant but cramped tables. Monkey, being 10 and male, has had so many growth spurts in the last year that he literally can’t keep track of his own appendages. We settled in at a vacant table. Kory and I cringed at the overpriced, underwhelming menu, and Chunky complained of a stomach ache. But Monkey grinned and pointed to the intricately folded napkins and elaborate place settings. When the waitress filled our water goblets he picked his up, stuck his pinky out and said, “You’re supposed to drink it like this, right Mom?”

    I muttered an incoherent response. Have I mentioned that Monkey is 10 and male? I’m not sure what possessed him to behave like such a gentleman at the table. I can assure you it’s not a regular occurrence despite my constant nagging. Maybe we need to eat gourmet dinners in moving vehicles more often.

    So there you have it. I am a gutless coward. My husband is a closet redneck. And my ten-year-old is capable of table manners! Who knew?

    So what did you discover this summer?

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    A Solution for Back to School Shopping

    A week or so ago I was asked to blog about a Facebook post I made about crashing a block party. I want you to know I tried really hard to think of a way to talk about our annual visit to The Cool Street that sounded funny not sad. But any which way you look at it, the truth is just pathetic. Every summer, our friends invite us to their block party because on our street nobody talks to us. I don’t think this has anything to do with my husband building coffins in the garage, but I can’t be sure.

    So we head a few streets over with a dish to share and kinda lay low, easing into conversations and pretending we belong. But inevitably someone wrinkles their forehead and says, “Now which house do you live in again?” Yes, it’s a bit awkward, but not so awkward that we’d consider not attending.

    And there you have it. See, not very funny.

    But while we were there, the topic of the kids returning to school surfaced. Collective groans sounded over back to school shopping. You all know I hate buying school supplies. I’ve blogged about this before. While I think teachers truly are saints most of the time, they must experience brief moments of demon-possession when making their school supplies lists. In fact, if one approached a teacher, list in hand, and demanded to know how it was possible to buy a ten pack of washable markers when washable markers only come eight packs, I’m sure the teacher would be genuinely shocked and confused by his or her own unreasonable request.

    Nevertheless, school supply shopping usually brings me to tears. So this year, my friend Andrea and I came up with a solution. We plan to have our husbands drive us to Wal-Mart late one night. We’ll sit in the car and drink a margarita and then go in to shop for school supplies. No more stress. No more tears. Just relaxed, mellow, late-night shopping in less-crowded aisles. And when we come out of the store with one eight pack of washable markers and one ten pack of regular markers, and college-ruled notebooks instead of wide-ruled notebooks, and two red folders and three green folders and one blue folder instead of three blue folders, two green folders, and one red folder, our sober husbands will be waiting to drive their carefree wives home. And the teachers won't even notice that our children don't have everything on the list because after all it was Memnoc the Horrible who made the list. Not them.

    Everybody wins, right? And best of all Crayola won’t sue me for slander because I started a hate campaign about their marker packaging and quantities.

    But, seriously, is back to school shopping as stressful for you as it is for me? Do you have any coping mechanisms? Do you reward yourself with chocolate or a frappucino when it’s done? Have you ever been tempted to shop drunk?