Friday, February 27, 2015

Happy Five Years, Good Day Regular People

This month is the 5th anniversary of Good Day Regular People.

What began as a place for me to write my stories has grown into one of the most amazing things I've ever done in my life. It's you and our interactions here on this blog, exchanging words, finding each other through differences and similarities, that have added a dimension to my life that I wouldn't have been able to predict.

I am deeply grateful that you are here. The pride that I have and the contentment from words published, all a possibility through blogging, shows me we are a fortunate generation indeed. When you are someone that has held a life long wish for your work, whatever that means to you, to be seen and shared with others, and then have it happen because of something that allows this just this like a computer, it's easy to see my astonishment.

Blogging here has been an entry way to friendships, contacts, a daily sharing in each others lives. We belong to a community. When I think of the opportunities that led to the people that I know count on daily as friends, all because of blogging, I wish it for everyone.

My life is surreal. I do things now I imagined as only possible for others. My life has become what I timidly held a wish for it to be -- to be someone whose words have meaning, impact, change perspective or remove a bit of loneliness in those minutes that someone reads.

None of the encouragement and belief that I needed to pursue more for myself would have happened without the words of support from you who read and are part of everything here. I am so fortunate. Hand to my heart, every day, I think about the pride and happiness I have in the inspiring community that is around me. 

I am grateful.

Five years ago, as I sat with my face toward a white screen, I never could have imagined how everything was about to change. Events were up ahead in my future that surely were meant for someone else. Writing my words here has made me stand taller, smile more, laugh every day, speak with conviction and value who I am. I am proud of who I am. I am a different person than I was before I started this blog. Because of this blog, I speak.

You accepted me, with the quirks, the screw ups, the "dork at the keyboard." Seeing how you came to love me was pivotal. Could it be OK to be real, no other way but authentic, and people would still like me? It was more than OK.

You changed everything. And that, changed everything.

I am a well of emotion today.
Five years.

From the bottom of my heart, I feel so lucky.

Happy Five Years to me. Today, I smile and tear up while I celebrate this blog. I marvel at all the good that has come my way because of it. And yes, I'm looking at you.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015


"A massive flight of sooty seagulls collided with shore side structures from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar during the night. Residents in the Santa Cruz area were awakened at 3 a.m. today by the rain of birds, slamming against their homes. Dead, and stunned seabirds littered the streets and roads in the foggy, early dawn. Startled by the invasion, residents rushed out on their lawns with flashlights, then rushed back inside, as the birds flew toward their lights."

The birds were a bad idea, I knew it, but vacation makes you desperate. I had three bored kids on my hands and I thought a trip to the pet store sounded like a cheap way to entertain my children for a few hours. But $65.00 and three happy boys later, we were driving home with a pair of blue bright-eyed cheeping finches who bobbed their heads like figures from It's a Small World. I said yes to the birds, going against the warning of my twitching left eye due to flying feathers and scattering bird debris. We brought them home. Two of them, because "Let's make them have babies, mama! We'll watch to make sure they do it!"

The kids had picked out the cage; a top of the line stainless steel penthouse beauty with a bonus loft, a state of the art water dispenser boss enough to have Tasmanian Rain running through it, and some wicked millet that would put the street price of Thai Stick to shame. Everyone on the ride home took a turn holding the birdcage with birds in it, on their lap. I took a pass when the silver palace was offered to me; I thought it best that I focus on not working myself up into a heart attack and passing out at the wheel because OMG birds in the car.

I just wanted to make the half mile back to our house before I found myself with a full blown case of Bird-Induced terror. Birds in nature are lovely; gaze-worthy, like beautiful flying bunches of flowers. But in close proximity, with their sudden movements, their head ducking, the pecking, all that fluttering and feather scattering, squawking and cheeping, they freak me the hell out.

No psychoanalysis is needed, no questions need to be asked – in full frontal nudity I'll give you the reason for the why: I never should have been allowed to watch birds peck out a man's eyes when I was a little girl because my family left me unsupervised to watch Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

The movie caused me lasting psychological damage, but the real nail in my mental coffin was when I read in college that Alfred Hitchcock had based his movie on a town's true nightmare. In 1961, the residents of a small California coastal town were attacked by hundreds of seagulls in the dark of the night. The birds slammed their bodies against their homes and when the people stepped outside to investigate the noise, the birds turned toward the flashlights. The people ran back inside, taking cover and awaiting daylight.   

And here I sit behind the steering wheel of a car that has My children are giddy. They can't believe it. They know my history with birds and they themselves are the ones who take me by the hand and walk me past a murder of crows when I'm unable to do it on my own. We drive along, me with my positive mantra of peacepeacepeace aloud but mentally screaming out of my minivan window "20 bucks for a Xanax! I've overheard you women in this town talk and I know you have it!” But I will do anything for my kids, so I pulled myself together and held it together enough to not drive off the road. We made it home and the garage never looked more beautiful. The six of us pulled in. We unloaded the cage, decided the backroom was the best place, and the kids spent the rest of the day jumping up and down and flapping their wings trying to communicate.

The birds chirped happily until the kids went out to play. Then it was me, hair standing up on the back of my neck while left alone with their feathered friends. They had named them Cheepy and Peepy. Cheepy and Peepy were like junk yard dogs, and they smelled fear. Though they were both the aggressive type, the hands down more Doberman than bird one zeroed in on me and locked eyes. I could feel it in the back of my head. He was hatching a plan and it involved poking my eyes out. I don't like envisioning the future, but I did. Have any of you ever heard of intrusive thoughts? They're called intrusive because they're not welcome – but that never stops them from coming.

At the first bird cage cleaning, this finch was going for it – first my hands, then my eyes. I had no doubt. One of us had to go, there would be no possibility of co-existence.

You're expecting to read right about now that I told the kids we had to return the birds, right? I didn't. The birds were going to do the work for me and I wasn't going to have to say a thing. Days passed, and the time came when we could no longer put off changing the paper at the bottom of the birdcage, so I put the cage, the birds, and the three boys in their small, small bathroom. I gave them instructions on scrubbing, soaping, paper changing, oh - and I told them, "But first! Let the birds fly loose and get some exercise in here! They'll like that!"

Then I left the bathroom, closing the door behind me, and waited on the other side. I heard the sound of metal knocking back and forth, then a heavy drop.

Three seconds. Three seconds is all it took before my children bolted out of the bathroom wild eyed with hands covering their heads. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Mama! They wanted our eyes, mama! They wanted our eyes!”

Hmmmmm. OK, kids. So what I hear you saying is that you want me to Take Them Back. Is that right? I want this to be your decision.

"Yes! Yes! Take them back!!"
Had Alfred had been there to see my children that day, he would have offered them starring roles in Birds II. And no need to audition.
* * *
photo credit: The Birds via photopin (license)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When Your Head Is So Heavy You Become a Bobblehead

This is Day 3 of me carrying around a cantaloupe at the top of my spine. I'm busy figuring out how to bend over without actually bending over because my head is full of fluid that my body has made in response to invading germs. I am a heavy headed weak necked sinus infection afflicted being. Let's make that into a catchy singsong.[sorry, maximum dosages of sudafed affect us all differently]

You know that thing I love to do so much and am so good at? That sleep that I have never had trouble with and look forward to at the end of my day ever since I was born? Can't do it. Every time I even try to sneak in a bit of horizontal positioning, it feels like my face is being pulled and pinned down by Lilliputians.

I'm up. I'm up in the middle of the night and I've been up since Sunday. Save for dozing off into some mac and cheese about five hours ago. So, this inability to sleep isn't so much about insomnia, because lord lord lord I could fall asleep with my head on the way to the pillow but once my skull gets there - I can't. My head weighs too much, the sensation of fluid feels like floooooooiiiidddddddd. Fluid is liquid, it weighs. And now we're back to the weak necked bobbly headed dilemma again where I just sit, awake [because you know, I can't be horizontal] and contemplate. Does my head feel like it's cement? A water balloon? Maybe more like wet papier mache?

As with all things that happen to us, we learn to live a few days in the life of another. For years I have heard my friends lament while they wave their fists at the sky Why?! Why?! Why you do this to me, insomnia!! but I've never understood just how strange it is to be awake while others slumber.

Nights feel much longer than days.

In days, when you're awake, you've got company. You've got people to look at and be with and roam around with. They keep you feeling part of something, even if you don't talk to them. Also, there is daylight, which helps to pass the time, which makes you feel less like the episode on Twilight Zone called "Where is Everybody."

Night is lonely in its all-circling darkness, and darkness slows time down. I mean, if I didn't have to sleep to stay alive, I'd for sure save my cleaning and working for night because the hours in the PM last forever.

You know what kind of things you do when you're up at night? You just think, like how you have a new awe for Vanna White and how she can walk while spinning letters with all that top head heaviness with a head that makes up half her body. You look up words like *forever.* Your interest is piqued and then you want to know more than just language of origin and synonyms. Parts of speech are interesting, for about two seconds, but then you're ready for something substantial to fill the time between 3:04 AM and whenever someone in your house wakes up for you to talk to.

Forever. noun. Define forever.
Without ever ending. Eternally. To last forever. Incessant. An extremely long time.

It seems like a very long time that we have been waiting to go to sleep.

This night seems like it is going to be without end.

Perhaps this night may be eternal.

These hours feel as if they could last forever.

I have a newfound empathy for my insomniac friends who have traveled these nights of forever before.

When people can't sleep, they can't sleep. Let's believe them and have the appropriate sympathy. This means keeping comments about how they look like they haven't had a decent night's sleep in like... um, I don't know, FOREVER, to ourselves. (talking to you, Miss Chirpy Grocery Store Cashier)

"British comedian David Baddiel asks why, when people hear he’s an insomniac, they say, “Really? ‘Cos I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.” He adds, “When I see someone in a wheelchair, I don’t say, “Really? ‘Cos I can do this…” and he hops around the stage on one leg. …"  NYTimes, Tara Parker-Pope "The Wretched Life of The Insomniac"

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Friday, February 20, 2015


This is a post for 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. On February 20th, 2015, over 1000 of us will raise our voices and our writing, and flood the internet (and our real worlds) with GOOD and COMPASSION.

It started with an understanding that even though we might get older, we still all need the metaphorical village around us, and the compassion of others in our lives. Then the sudden thought happened - what if 1000 of us wrote about compassion all at once? From there, the movement has taken on its own life; has burgeoned and grown and spread a whole lot of love and connection and 'villageyness'.

Read and share as many as you can using the hashtag #1000Speak on FB and on twitter.

Every voice matters - together we're stronger - let's BE the Village.


Sometimes I question if what I'm doing is the right thing. I watch my teen and young adult children in this world, and I see how hard it is for them to follow the standards that our family has set for them: for them to be kind, caring, compassionate. But, have I taught them at a cost? 

Since they were born, I have been whispering in their ears, "You were created, because our world demands your place in it." As they grew older, my whispers turned into words spoken out loud, “Be kind in this world. “

I want my children to believe that they are here because this world needs them. But I see how this ethic and this wish for the kind of humans I want my children to be, sets them apart from the way their peers work their way through the world. Have I made my children too compassionate? Are they paying the price for my conviction?

I see how they are out of step because of the voice of their conscience. The small voice I planted in their head so many years ago goes against the grain of everyone and everything else around them. I see them stumble, fall, repeat the words that their friends are saying and saying the things that they hear in school. Even though I want them to rise above all of this life in the digital age of their cyberworld, my heart clenches. Am I making them too different from the world that's around them, the one they long to be part of and accepted in.

I know the self control it takes to not lash out and tell me how I hold them back, how others say and do things and that's just the way it is. This is hard not just for them. When they're the ones who are the recipients of unkindness, ridicule, ostracizing, and belittling because they won't go with the flow of the culture, it's not just them that feels the stab of being out of step. When they are teased, and I receive their frustrated tangle of emotions, “See how you like it!” is shouted back to me. I tell them I am sorry. Sorry that this has happened to them, but not sorry for the message I will keep saying. Be kind.
I can't change the way the world is spinning for them and what is becoming standard for young people growing up today with everyone's lives available, there, for the crushing and the taking, online. It's fast, and words along with actions spread like fire. No longer do things get said one person at a time, as it was for me when I was their age. Now it's thousands at a time, with images as proof and their lives documented without their permission. Then it's multiplied by thousands more.

I can only tell my three boys that I understand, and that I wish it were different. That I wish there were no people to wound others with their words, no unfairness of gossip, no injustice of exclusion, no crimes done against each other.

The rule we live by will never change, I am holding fast to that. “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you." This is no easy task because it requires to think of the feelings of others and the power of your actions and words either for them, or against them. It means feeling the unfairness of those who are mighty and shouldn't be. How there can be coldness in the internet world they live in. It isn't fair, and I know it's damn hard to not do back when something has been done to you.

My children may think that I don't care about what they tell me. That I'm deaf to what they say and that I'm more hung up on having them do as I say than understanding their lives. I do care. It hurts me when I see what is happening to them and their friends online. Children, so young, unable and not equipped to find the way out of the dizzying speed of bullying and hate on the internet. But we have to always lead with kindness, begin with kindness, and end with kindness. We can't change the ugliness that is rearing its head on the internet unless we become the movement of saying no more.

Since they were old enough to understand words, the three that we've taught them to memorize are, "kindness, kindness, kindness." We would repeat these words to them until they came automatically in their conversations. When my son was three years old we had gone to the park, he had brought his favorite truck along. There was another little boy there who suddenly decided that he wanted the yellow and blue truck for his own and picked it up, running away with it. I watched my small boy pull himself up on his small legs and run after him calling out, "kineness! kineness! kineness!"

My heart sank to see my son expecting that little boy to know exactly what those words meant.  

Am I doing the right thing, to teach my three boys to be kind, no matter what comes our way?

Sometimes I cry, I don't know if what I taught my children leans too far in the direction that will keep them different, separate, alone. They are my beautiful boys, and they matter to me more than anything I've ever felt. I have to believe, they have to believe with me, that kindness is the ONLY thing that matters in the life we've been given.

Kindness is the way we will live in our world. We will meet life head on, weathering the weight of disappointment, and bearing the cost of not fitting in because we will not forget how others feel. We will stand together, my children and I, and I will not doubt what we can do. We can change the world by being the change against the tide of indifference. We are here to embody concern, support, care, human being to human being. Because the world we live in, needs us in it. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why Go For The Risk?

Why do we try new things? What's the purpose in pushing beyond what we think we're able to, even risking the uncomfortable squirm of sticking your neck out?

Because there's a new frontier on the other side of the shaky knees and trembling hands. Taking a leap that leads to more of YOU.

When I discovered Listen To Your Mother Shows in 2010, it changed my life. I now am a story teller and have the incredible opportunity of giving that same not so gentle nudge to a life bigger than I imagined for myself than Ann Imig gave to me in the LTYM Madison show five years ago.

I am now the co-producer of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee, along with Jennifer Gaskell and Rochelle Fritsch. I am so lucky, to be able to offer the podium, the microphone, the lights, for others to take a breath and dive into their story.

Whether you land steady or panting and wobbly legged, a leap of faith is a jump into a new land.

I love talking about the possibility of in our lives, and I had the opportunity to do so this week. I hope listening here inspires you to get to know yourself beyond what you think you can do.

(Thank you, Ann Imig, for Listen To Your Mother)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Am Parent, Hear Me Erp

Many parents write about how children have changed our lives. The little beings that turn everything we once knew inside out in the best way possible. In the process, a new strength within us is revealed. One that was there all along, but that we never had to call upon before since we had thus far lived without ever having to use the word projectile as an adjective. 

I could write about the lovely things of parenthood, too. It's all true. My children have indeed brought a level of experience to my life that I never envisioned.

But not even when hell freezes over, would I imagine the life I have as a parent.

I have performed unimaginable acts that necessitate me uttering lice comb, suppository, nasal passage, and use my sleeve. My once crisp clean existence couldn't handle what I do now. If, when I was a beautiful single young working woman in my 20s, I had been made to sit and watch a reel of something akin to Clockwork Orange, and then be told, “Does this bother you? Give you a funny feeling at the back of your throat? Oh, well, guess what? It's going to be your life!” and then found out that the scenes I had just seen were only the highlights of that which was to be, I'd breathe into a paper bag, and squeak, “WOW. I must really love those kids.”

We do. And we do anything, for the sake of our kids.
The acts I'm talking about here are not the basic amateur boot camp of parenting stuff. Like vomit clean up off your hair from vomit that's not your own. Or a missile-guided urine facial from your one-week-old. I don't even mean the diaper blow outs that crawl up the back of your baby's Sunday best sending you into a Target parking spot slash emergency diaper change detour when you're already late for church. No, I mean the things that make you roll your neck and crack your knuckles before saying, “YEAH, I did it. What of it.”

You did not come here to read horrifyingly gross things, so the details don't matter and besides, you all have imaginations. But just let me say this. These acts... the kind that can only be done by you as parent because anyone else would be grossed out, or an EMT because they're required by law to tend to those in need, still scream my name in the night. My children are in high school and junior high, but I still cry out in my sleep, pee, poop, carpet cleaner, hazmat suit. And boogers. (so many boogers) (that they put everywhere)

If you don't know what I'm talking about, be patient. Your day of glory will come. It's not until you're elbow deep in parenting that you'll feel the power of the undiscovered beast in you. How else could we know that ferocity of let me at it even existed in us, if we weren't cornered with no other choice than to perform what we have to perform, because duty calls and our babies need us.

We are the proud.
The badass.
The parents.

Hear us gag, retch, dry heave, and roar.

And we do it all, without latex gloves.
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentine's Day Story (It's the weekend, totally counts as made it)

Here's a little story, of what makes for the sweet moments in life.

It involves food, of course.

You can read it on Purple Clover.

*Happy Valentine's Day weekend, everyone*

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

This, Is What I Want for Valentine's Day

Someone to exercise for me and then transfer their results to my body.

Cheap bras that hoist and lift like expensive bras.

11 vanilla bean cupcakes delivered to my door by 6 a.m.

Uninterrupted time to listen to This American Life.

A seductive mastery of the French language. Voulez-vous I'm so sexxee

Spanx that absorbs the fat and doesn't just take it and squish it up and out of my armpits.

No gas passing events during Child Pose in yoga class.

Miraculous healing of that wayward cock-eyed knee cap that won't face the same direction as the other one.

Children that find soccer uniforms on their own.

Soccer games that are canceled after just one rain drop.

Children who lose their taste buds and eat only to fill up empty stomachs and give up the pursuit of the tasty.

The eyebrows I tweezed away in high school to grow back.

Instant Facelift in a Jar products that really are instant facelift in a jar.
$15,000 Visa card along with a list of board-certified plastic surgeons and 4 days off, no questions asked.

That my hairdresser never, ever, but never, moves away.

Able to drop a highbrow reference to Shakespeare without people choking and sputtering.

Just one day of being able to dance like Missy Elliott.

People to never talk with glottal fry again.

My weight to go up like a feather but down like an arrow.
My therapist finally telling me, “Well, my work here is done.”
But, I'd happily accept my true heart's desire: a take-out bag of cheeseburgers from Jim's Grill with a concrete malt from Dairy Queen, and a hand-made card from my kids, telling me 1.) I'm the best 2.) There's no one like me 3.) How did they ever get so lucky.
Happy Valentine's Day to you all. Treat yourself to something special from your number one fan, you -- because who else knows more than you about what you really want.  
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Monday, February 9, 2015

You Miss Me, Goodwill, I Miss You, Too

Dear Goodwill,

The first time you sent me an email telling me that you missed me, I deleted it.

That was a year ago.

But now, 12 months later, your emails still come. I know I have to explain.

You miss me. I miss you, too. The reason I haven't been to your store is because my mother passed away.

She was the reason I was at Goodwill every Sunday. My mother and I would move along together, she using the shopping cart to push herself forward and give her freedom without the walker that she hated having to rely on. She stopped and examined everything, and with her leaning against the cart, I felt safe enough to give her time on her own, while I shopped the next aisle over. All the while, I'd be checking in, calling out to her across the sweaters and belts, “Did you find something you like yet, mama? Oh, here let me bring this skirt over for you to see.”

“I am fine, m'ija (my daughter) I see so many things for the children. But I do like red jackets. If you see one, let me see it. I love a red jacket with everything.”

“We'll keep looking, mama, but I haven't seen one yet. We have the whole afternoon free.”

Confident in the shopping cart's sturdiness, she would shuffle her feet along. I would hear nothing but her soft Spanish murmurings, “Ah, look at this one. This is something I remember having.”

Our trips here were a reason to be out without needing one. Goodwill was the only place where my mother could be nostalgic, feel the familiarity in the days gone before, and be able to find something to take home to my three children. She would always find a sweater for herself, and would tell me to treat myself to a purse or a scarf. She would pick up a vest for my husband, "He is a good man, I want to bring him something." A gift meant love to my mother. Love was not an easy word for her to say, but Goodwill, you did it for her.

Your store made her feel like a millionaire. She was able to buy anything there, a bag full of purchases, with a senior discount, was never more than she could afford. She would call my name, and I would come to her side, listening to her stories about the item she had found and how she had that very same red plaid thermos when she first came to America.

Not all of our time was spent reminiscing. A fair amount of our conversations were me talking her out of the same set of miniature owls made of seashells.
"These little owls, there are perfect for your bathroom. Look, there are three, one for each of your children!"
"No, mama, I have enough stuff. I don't want any more stuff in my house."
"But, look, they are so cute. I want to buy them for you."
And so it would go. She would hold the small seashell owls in her hand. I would tell her no. And she would place them carefully back on the wire shelf, until the next week when she would again look at them. 

For 18 months of Sunday afternoons, my mother and I worked the aisles of Goodwill. In every kind of weather. It was a ritual that persisted until the week before she passed away, after being in hospice only 21 days.

On our last Sunday there together, how could I have not known to celebrate it? I should have felt something.

If only there had been a whispering, a nod from somewhere, to let me know, this was the final time of walking side by side, talking to her across the aisles.

I would have lingered longer. And I would have nodded yes to the little owls made of seashells.
* * * 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

#DayofLight 3 Days Late

What is #DayOfLight?

The first Day of Light was on February 5th, 2014 and was created to shine a light on depression and share resources for those who are struggling. Bloggers from all over the country are collaborating again on Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 to flood social media with personal stories about living with depression, and accurate information on managing and living with the mental illness. Depression is often an illness of isolation.

How Can You Participate? Write a blog post sharing your personal experience of depression and/or share resources to help others. Add the #DayOfLight hashtag in your post title.

You are not alone.


When I was five, I was playing alone in my room upstairs when I heard the Beatles' song “Yesterday” on the radio. Before Paul McCartney finished the last pull on yesterday, I felt something stronger than myself, come over me.

I couldn't explain it, other than I wanted to run out of the room and not be alone anymore. Minutes earlier, I had been busy and content, sitting among my dolls and miniature tea set, when this outwardly force bulldozed into the room and began sucking up the oxygen around me.

It was as if a 500 pound sack had been thrown on my chest.

Running downstairs, wide-eyed and panting, I sought my grandmother. She was in the kitchen, humming as she pinched the ends off of our dinner's string beans. When I saw her, I slapped my small arms around her waist and squeezed my eyes shut, as if eliminating my vision would stop the darkness that being alone felt like. With one arm she reached for me, calming me in Spanish. She asked no questions, and I stayed with her, frightened.

As I grew older, I learned that some music scared me. Melodies and lyrics took hold of me and switched out my emotions for the more powerful ones of the words' intent. Thoughts filled my mind and they made my heart race. More than anything, lyrics and a somber melody reminded me how alone we are.

Hard to believe, that someone as young as 5 years old, is able to think like this, and fear loneliness. When I grew up I spoke to a therapist about these early memories. She told me that depression is often felt as isolation. What I was telling her, was indicative of early onset childhood depression. I think of what I would have thought back then, had I known that my lifetime to be, would have been one living with the fight of never fitting in, of always being on the periphery, of the classic feelings of isolation that depression brings.

I also wonder, without this part of me already being in my DNA, what my life would have been like.

I imagine DNA as the wizard behind the curtain of this depression. Pulling the levers, drowning out reality until it becomes an altered one. The presence of this wizard shows no favorites, our entire household was made up of six siblings, every one of us with a control panel of our own, steering us toward isolation and private worlds. Our home was quiet – without shouting or fighting or the sibling altercations that are common with six children living together. Our own wizards drowning out any reaching out or interaction with each other.

If it's hard to imagine a house with six children, being as still and quiet as one at midnight, then you'll know just how unheard of that is. We didn't fight, we didn't bicker. When I entered a school friend's house, and walked into voices and life abounding, I stood back, culture shock. This was unfamiliar. Was this Family? Did they like each other? Were they talking? How does anyone venture out over the voice in their head consuming all mental energy?

We didn't talk in my house.

I accepted it then, as a child accepts anything he grows up with. But I understand it now. There is no time or space when the thoughts you are busy answering are your battlefront. Your mind can't wander outside of itself  when it's beating down the wolf at the door that's keeping you in.

Life with depression is exhausting, isolating, and physical. Your arms ache from pushing against depression itself. Your jaw tenses with enough force to crack a tooth, temples pound making you see the blue of your veins behind closed eyes. Your fingers crackle with the opening and closing of exercises your therapist gave you to release the pent up tension that depression brings as a bonus.

Is this a sad way to live?

It sounds like it would be, but learning why people like me, the ones who have depression imprinted in them as physical as a set of fingerprints, brings an ethereal respect to our hope and commitment. Life is a beautiful struggle. Life with depression is a challenge, and acknowledging our determination to work through it, has filled me with a tenderness for myself and that tiny girl so easily moved by music and who she grew up to be.
A tireless warrior who never gave up, and finds compassion for herself daily. 
* * *

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When Dee Cheeken Looks So GOOOOD

My mother was a fancy lady, that means she didn't cook, clean, keep up a home, or sew our costumes for school plays. She liked it that way and never felt guilty about her lack of domestic interest. Her childhood had been spent in South America, and she came from a time where there were only people who had “servants” and people who did the serving. Servants is the word my mother used, I would hear her speak of her formative years, about the help that her family employed, and it made me cringe a little.

Beyond the fact that her mother, my grandmother, had help with her eight children, was the boggling number of people they had in their employ. There was a specificity to each worker and their duties, one woman for laundering the sheets and making the beds, one woman who saw to it that each of the rooms in the house was swept daily, one woman who worked strictly in the kitchen, and one woman in charge of the daily shopping in the town's market. Obviously, there were nannies. Yes, I understand there were no modern day appliances, but even then, there sure were a lot of reasons to explain the end result: my mother the fancy lady.

Oh, I almost forgot about the person charged with the care of tending to my older sister’s pet howler monkey.

Without a doubt, this is the reason for the clear cut dichotomy with the family life my older sisters knew when they grew up in South America, and the abrupt shift with life in America as immigrants, the only one I know of. My life story is the tale of Cinderella, starring me, in charge of three siblings, and all the rooms in the house.

When my mother moved to the United States, the privileged lifestyle that she and my older two sisters had taken to be status quo, stopped. There were no "servants" here. But at least there were appliances. Still, the shock of do-it-yourself life along with the unwilling attitude on her part to have to learn how to do for herself, birthed a lot of meal time horror stories. My mother could not cook worth a lick.

They were six of us, hungry as children get, and we all weighed in the 20th percentile. Sure, there was food a plenty in the house, but every week, it played out the same way. My mother would buy bags of produce, put their fresh contents in the refrigerator, then at the end of the week, she would take out those same bags of produce, and throw their slimy contents in the garbage. We really needed our refrigerator door to be more of a revolving door for the food that went in, then came back out.

On our annual well-child physical exams, my mother always asked our family physician. Dr. Ottenstein, the same question. “Why my cheeldren so skeeny?” Hmmmm, let’s see, mother, let's see if we can figure this out. You don’t cook, so.... kids don’t eat. Any light bulbs?

Since there had been a “servant” to shop the market in Colombia for my mother’s family, she had no idea what needed to be kept in a house for groceries. She knew to buy fruits and vegetables and some steaks, but if you couple that handy bit of information in with the fact that she knew only bare essential English and therefore GUESSED at what the ingredients were in the containers at the grocery store, and it was pot luck for dinner every night.

On a particularly memorable trip back from the supermarket, my mother came home with a large royal blue white lidded container that had a label wrapped around its tin body depicting a succulent golden roasted chicken. She removed the white lid of the large can, and using a can opener, began to work her way around the top of the big barrel. As the metal lid popped off, I remember her screams from the kitchen. “Que??” What? Inside the can, was what looked to us like solid white wax. “Dey rob you here! Dees ees supposed tooo beee a CHEEEKEN!”

My mother had expected a civilized fully cooked chicken inside the can, just as the label had promised. The crime that had been committed against her was that Crisco had filled their tub with not a chicken, but shortening instead. How was she supposed to know that? You'd have to a.) take an interest in cooking to look further and b.) read the label to find out. Too much bother for a fancy lady.

That’s how my mother navigated the United States: grab and go based on what the picture showed.

Aside from the hassle that reading and cooking was, and the distraction of that which interfered with a balanced grocery shopping trip, my mother was also easily influenced by her legendary sweet tooth. We thought nothing -- as did she -- of sitting down with a Smucker's jar of raspberry jam and a teaspoon. What? No one else counted that as Saturday morning breakfast? She loved candy, she loved sugar, she loved cookies. Cookies were her favorite.

One evening, after we had finished a concoction of open canned meals featuring Dinty Moore beef stew atop bowls of Minute Rice dumped together with a can of boiled potatoes (a yummy combination of which resulted in at least a pound or two in weight loss), my mother stood up, grinning. Her eyes popped wide, and she said, sounding as if she was surprising herself, “OH! I have cookies!" And she ran off to the kitchen.

There was hope! At least, the cookies would be good! Maybe our stomachs would stop rumbling yet. My mother returned, with a platter filled with tiny golden flowers.

Oooooohhhhh. We were so excited! The cookies were so miniature, so cute, so for a baby! Baby cookies! The six of us pounced on the platter and jammed the tiny cut-outs into our mouths by the fistfuls. We had to hurry, because six kids, six sets of hungry paws, get them while you can there is no sense of fairness when it comes to hunger.

All is fair in love and cookies, so our mouths were crammed full without even tasting what we were shoveling in. Five seconds later, we were spitting out partially chewed cookies.

What were we eating?
What is this?
We dared to peer at the discards in our napkins (of course, cloth not paper). Oily stains were quickly spreading against the grain of the napkin's fabric. "Cooookeeees!,” my mother said through gritted teeth. "Dese are NOT cookies!" With her mouth set firm, she waved the box at us, jamming the cardboard with her finger, "Again! De box shows one thing it is not! Coookeees!"
True to her functional dysfunctional style, my mother had grabbed a box off the shelf at the store that was not what its wrapping promised: small plated golden flower shaped buds. She had come home once again with something else all together. Had she read the words across the top of the "Dairy State's Best!" box, my mother would have known that she was serving us 50 tiny golden butter medallions, in the shape of delicate rosettes.
I will save you the story of how it came to pass that same week, that our school lunches were packed in the prettiest, slimmest, blue bags. Anyone remember the big pink box of Confidets in your mother's private closet? Think hard, the box also came with its own disposable bags.
 * * *


Sunday, February 1, 2015

School of Ugly Ducklings For The Win!

I was not an especially good looking pre-adolescent. When I was five, six, oh you could stretch it to, say seven, I was curly headed and large-eyed adorable. But when my eighth birthday party rolled around, had there been a Models-R-Us talent scout in attendance, they would have seen no reason to hang around for more than two pictures. Maybe they'd drop their card on the table on the way out but probably not.

My arms were long, my fingertips almost grazing my knees. My legs looked like matchsticks with marbles midway down. As true today as it was back then, my feet were too big for my height. Do some predictive foot  length calculations back then, and the charts read a potential adult height of 6' 2. My appearance, along with the square-toed black orthopedic lace-up oxfords my Doctor told my mother I had to wear to fix my pronated gait, made me look like a capital L.

I was skinny, knobby, with eternally startled eyes that took up half my face. The cherry thrown on top was that I was also hairy. Hair on my arms, my legs, my knees, my knuckles, my forehead. My eyebrows extended to my temples, and my hairline begged for a Ronco at-home electrolysis kit. Had you shown me a picture of Chewbacca back then, I may have secretly wondered, Daddy?

My mother was oblivious to all this hair and bones gone wild on her child. Too tall for my height, she would dress me in much too young for me swirly sailor dresses that barely ended at the top of my legs. She then had the nerve to have me top it all off with lace anklets The portrait would not be complete without a velvet bow the size of a Rain Forest butterfly slapped to the side of my head. Since my hair was too thick and curly to keep long, she kept it cut in short, tight ringlets that made me look like Oscar from The Office.

All this was as bad as it seems, for awhile. Back then I fretted daily about not sailing out of heaven on the boat called Good Looks. But, looking back from the safe and grateful distance of no longer being the long lost daughter of Chewbacca, I can see how the hand dealt me played out well.

There were many advantages to not being one of the prettiest girl in second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth...) grade.

I buried myself in books. I read everything. Books became my alternate world where I was the lead character and heroine. Had I been receiving invitations to go share a cherry coke with Tommy Boyer (oh, the daydreams of that blue eyed boy) at Rexall’s drugstore, I don’t think I’d have the time to go through 180 reading hours a week.

I studied hard. From all the reading I was doing, I was turning into a walking encyclopedia. I got the rep for being smart, and my expectations for myself formed - I was a smart kid. One who got As. I wouldn’t be the one asked to walk home with Brian Cahill, (I was always a sucker for a boy with long hair) but he sure looked for me at Social Studies project time.

Kids turned to me with their deepest, darkest secrets. With the every-woman-for-herself world of the beautiful and popular, who could these poor beauties turn to? I was the trusted one. I never would have imagined the pressure of not being able to ever be less than perfect until they confided in me. To hear their woes and angst of making sure they stayed the prettiest – I don’t think anything else made me more appreciative of being able to pass through the hallways unnoticed. Messy hair and all.

My best friends were boys. I got to know them as friends before they were to be boyfriends. They liked me. I was someone they could talk to without feeling nervous or having to be full of bravado. We could laugh together and they could ask me how to get Mary Morrisey to sit next to them on the bus for the class field trip (she chose me). I made them laugh; that right there, at a very young age, is when I realized it was pretty dang awesome to be funny.

I became funny. Best confident booster in the world.

There was no curse of being the ugly duckling growing up. It was kind of made for me, in retrospect. It suited me and made me what I am today; a pensive, intuitive, woman who writes humor. These spectacular benefits of growing up less than visually pleasing have not been forgotten by me.

It’s the very reason I made sure my children's first pair of shoes, were these:


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