Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Enjoying the Family Holiday Get-Together

Whew. I not only made it through Thanksgiving, but I had an AWESOME time on Thanksgiving.

Let me explain.

My family can be a little awkward around each other. We only get together once a year. On Thanksgiving. Every two years for those who alternate with their in-laws.

This usually means some of us stroll in late and all of us take up our usual stations for the brief 3-4 hours we are together.

There is the kitchen crew. Sometimes folks in the other room wander into the kitchen crew area and grab pieces of turkey, then scurry out again.

There is the couch crew. These guys grab a seat and don’t move.

There is the “Grandpa asleep in the recliner” crew, er, individual.

There is the “you are my immediate family so I’ll talk to you in the corner all day since I see you every week and avoid eye contact with those who drive a few hours to get here” crew.

Then there is the “those are adults I don’t know very well so I’ll stay over here with my cousins” younger crew.

Regardless of the crew, my extended family tends to stay safely in one of those places. So when we arrive, none of us mingle very well. Then we eat. Then we leave. The entire process is fairly anti-climactic if you ask me.

Most years I end up feeling like Thanksgiving was a waste of time. If it involved spending the afternoon talking to my Grandfather I’d count it as a win but he’s partial to the recliner when the house is packed and noisy. And he can sleep, regardless of the sounds.

This year I decided it would be different. I decided I would be different. And it was one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember in a long time.

To begin with, I visited for five days instead of one. This meant time with my Grandfather, mom and two of my aunts. It also meant I didn’t have to entertain my kids and husband while trying to visit.

I helped prepare the 25 pound monstrosity of a turkey. Which meant I was able to laugh when a younger family member, in a sweet and noble attempt to remove it from the roaster, dropped the entire cooked carcass on the kitchen floor. It looked like blood splatter from a violent crime scene, only the liquid was all turkey juice and parts.

We picked up the battered fowl, cleaned the floor, and sliced her beautifully . And because my family is typically late, very few even know they ate a turkey from the floor (not that most of them would care; we like meat).

There was more drama later when my cousin’s teenage son thought it would be a good idea to pick up a baby mole who was blindly trying to find his/her way across the front sidewalk. Ignoring my “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, it will bite” offer of advice, he bent down only to find a small piece of skin tightly clenched in the mouth of said mole. The little sucker even held on for a brief second before being flung across the yard. A visit to the ER resulted in a good finger cleaning and a list of rabies symptoms to look for later.

The turkey and the mole were funny, but this isn’t why the holiday was such a good one.

THIS is why: I spoke to every single member of my family. You see, that never happens. For any of us.

How, you ask, was this amazing feat accomplished? It was simple: I told myself ahead of time that I was going to talk to every single member of my family. See how easy that was?

I learned a great deal running for office. Most of it wasn’t so great, but there was one thing I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. It involves how to work a room. When you work a room, you slowly maneuver through it, making eye contact, shaking hands, and sincerely looking at each person while listening to them. It’s amazing what can happen when we simply look at each other, listen, and say a few words.

The message isn’t so much what happens when we do this (although that can be good too)…for me it involved wanting to avoid the feelings and attitudes that result when we DON’T do this. Feeling like someone was snotty and ignored you. Feeling like someone didn’t care enough to say hello. Feeling like someone isn’t fun or interesting. Feeling abused because YOU were the one who drove all that way only to be ignored.

When you go out of your way to say hello to people you actually find that it feels good to connect. Here’s the thing. Maybe the other people are uncomfortable because they haven’t seen you in a year and they don’t know what to say. Maybe the other person is shy or not used to starting a conversation. Maybe you make the other person uncomfortable.

I don’t know the reasons. What I do know is this: I’m responsible for myself. I love my family. I want to enjoy the rare opportunities I have to see them. And I’m tired of ending up feeling that Thanksgiving was a waste of a day.

Once I had this little talk with myself it was easy to consciously reach out to every family member. I even think my Grandmother may have been happy with my actions… in spite of the dropped turkey.

Why am I sharing this now? Because another big family holiday is looming.

Before you hop in the car to join your families on Christmas Day (if you celebrate Christmas) take a few moments to say these things to yourself:

1. I’m going to work the room

2. I’m going to speak to every single person here

3. I’m going to have an awesome time

Do this and you might just find you fall in love with your family – either again or for the first time. Oh, and always be a duck, letting the bad roll off of you. Be it the negative family member who bemoans everything or a dropped turkey on the floor. What you take from the holiday is on your shoulders. Make the most of it

Friday, December 6, 2013

Humiliation, Sand & Volleyball (not necessarily in that order)

Two summers ago a friend asked me to join her on a coed sand volleyball team for one session. She admittedly had never played organized volleyball before but is extremely fit and athletic and figured it would be fun for us since it was just a recreational sand league.

I was running for office at the time and despite a busy schedule, decided that my mental health could use the activity. Besides, this was a way to meet voters, right?

It had been over a decade since I’d played volleyball and it was with a women’s indoor league. Frankly, I’d given up on the entire “coed sand volleyball” scene back in the nineties after becoming irritated with the level of competitiveness and ball hogging displayed by the male species. Women are simply more nurturing and more likely to share and play nice.

But hey, that was then and this was now and I thought it might be fun.

It wasn’t really.

For starters, this was actually a competitive league. And while I wasn’t nearly as in shape as my friend, I still retained some basic skills learned from having played all through high school. She didn’t have the benefit of previous coaching and was forced to learn on the job. After the first two games, which resulted in dirty looks and muttered comments from one of the male players, she’d had enough. This is one of the things I love about strong women.

You see, every time she made a mistake, there would be silence. Not a “hey, that’s okay, you’ll get it next time” or a “no worries, we know you haven’t played before and you are doing great” shout out to our fellow teammate. I'm pretty sure I wasn't nearly supportive enough, but in my defense I was trying to avoid bringing unwanted attention to any of the mistakes (which is how I would've preferred it) and I was taking guidance from her cues, which were perfectly strong and independent.

By the end of the second game, she simply said “I’m done”.

She taught me something in that moment: if something so simple, so unnecessary to the quality or your life or to someone else’s life is causing you discomfort then simply eliminate it. When we talked later she explained “I don’t HAVE to play, I didn’t HAVE to help them out, and I don’t HAVE to be treated like that.”

Amen sister!!!

Like an idiot, I kept playing since I’d paid for the session and still needed the exercise and the votes. You see, politics teaches you to meet as many people as you can and to impact as many people as you can, all within a very short window of time. I was certainly about to impact them.

Another friend named Kim, who had also played volleyball at her own high school, stepped in to finish out the session. She is a quiet, reserved player and never shows emotion. I could learn a thing or two from her.

The remaining games of that first session ended on a positive note. Kim and I had seemingly shown enough skill that they asked the two of us to play another session. I should’ve quit while I was ahead.

At some point in time during the early 2nd session games my serve started to get a little goofy. To be completely honest, I’ve always struggled with my overhand serve. There may have been moments of brilliance in high school, but they’ve faded into a long distant memory. I had spent the last several years working with my daughter’s young team using a volley-lite ball. This, combined with age and time away from the game, had left my overhand weak and ugly. As a result, not wanting to humiliate myself and/or hurt the team, I chose to use an underhand serve just to make sure it got over. This had served us well during the first session (no pun intended).

Then came THAT night; the one I’ll most likely never forget. In hindsight, it was kind of like the brakes going out on a car heading down a narrow mountain highway. Once the connection between my brain and my arm was severed, there was no way to pull out of it.

I couldn’t get a single underhand serve over. Some of them went to the side…others fell short of the net. I started to look like some odd version of Steve Urkel attempting to dance a slow jam. I can only assume it was extremely unattractive by the look on the face of one of our male teammates. That look became more irritated as the evening wore on.

Then he muttered. It was uncomfortable. Kim didn’t hold it against me. In fact, most of the folks on our team had missed serves. It was the ugly consistency of my misses that was so, well, remedial. I couldn’t even get an underhand serve over!!

The irritated male teammate wasn’t amused. I could feel his contempt and after the first set I made it a point to start in the middle back position, praying inwardly that our rotation wouldn’t make it all the way around to me.

The rest of my game was fine. It was the darn serve. There was simply no coordination, no logical reason, and no connection between my brain’s directives and my right arm. I tried not to say anything. Then I apologized. Then I cursed. Then, when there was nothing left to do, I laughed maniacally. I think that just scared everyone. Hell, I scared myself.

The rest of the team reacted coolly to me…there were a few quiet murmurs of “don’t worry about it”…but HE was pissed. Between the 2nd and final 3rd set of the night, he approached me and asked if I wanted some help. We’d never shared more than five sentences in the two sessions I’d been playing but in light of how he had treated my friend before and in light of the disdain I could clearly see he held for me, I snapped “Are you going to be nice about it?????”.

It was then I saw that he didn’t realize how his body language had been coming across. He appeared taken aback, and said “well, yes!”.

So I replied “then absolutely, I clearly need all the help I can get”.

By then it didn’t matter. My brain and arm were in full blown shutdown mode and refused to even participate in mediation.

I tried reverting to overhand, but it wasn’t happening. Not on this night. There was obvious pity on the faces of the opposing team, adding insult to injury. I could’ve handled all of that, but for some reason the frustration HE felt with me bothered me the most. I was tempted to scream “do you think I don’t freaking realize how dumb I look? Do you think I'm TRYING to miss these serves?” I was tempted, but kept my big mouth shut. What would have been the point? It was Just. One. Of. Those. Nights. End of story.

As I walked to the car with Kim, she chuckled quietly and said “don’t worry about it, my serves don’t all go over either.”

I love strong sisters.

The ugliness didn’t rear its head again in the same manner, which is to say there were no more “serving shutouts” for me the rest of the session. I found myself breathing a massive sigh of relief when my serves made it over (and could see the others doing the same) and then, sadly, praying we’d get a side out so that I could move out of the serving position. It was all very uneventful, but served as a reminder (again, no pun intended) that 1: I don’t like playing volleyball with boys and 2: no vote was worth that humiliation.

And just in case you were wondering, I wasn’t asked to play with them again. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Guilty: Potty Mouthed Parents

“I’m going to take wiener pills so that my wiener will grow like Pinocchio’s nose!”

Those words came out of my nine year old son’s mouth last night.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed; we all did.

You are wondering where it came from, I’m sure. Think about it. The writing should be on the wall for those of you with children.

Those words came from the television…and his parents.

In an age of Viagra and family laced commercials it was inevitable that Brian would comment…in front of the kids. He’s quite funny but has no filter when it comes to things like this.

The commercial was forgettable, like most of them. My one caveat to this: the man and woman sitting in claw foot bathtubs watching the sunset was pretty good. All I can think about when watching it is 1: what happens when the water gets cold (those better be some amazing pills), and 2: where are the bathtub blow up pillows to support their necks?

I digress.

Brian saw the commercial. We were all in the living room together. Before I realized he was getting ready to speak, he chirped “wiener pills”.

I said “seriously”?

Brody grinned, hopped off the couch, sauntered across the floor choking on his own laughter as he spouted “I’m going to take wiener pills so that my wiener will grow like Pinocchio’s nose”.

As far as I know he’s never seen Pinocchio. Or read it. Pinocchio wasn’t one of my favorite Disney movies. Wooden puppets freak me out.

I was instantly reminded of another occasion when one of our children commented on what they had heard. Only I was the culprit .

Once, while driving, Marah asked me if “Jesus Christ” was a bad word. I was humbled, embarrassed. Taking the road of responsibility, I responded “it depends honey….if you hear it in church, no….if it comes out of your mother’s mouth while she’s driving, yes”.

She simply nodded with an accusatory look; a wise sage in a little girl’s body. As I looked in the rearview mirror at her pursed lips I swear I could see Grandma Stone shaking her head at me. I was so ashamed that the first time I shared this story with my mother-in-law I switched the characters and said it was Brian who had committed the verbal offense. I know, I know…..add it to the list of sins I carry.

Today’s kids spend a great deal of time immersed in the world of technology. We worry that they might pick up inappropriate things or learn words we don’t want them to hear.

I’m sure some of you are appalled. It’s okay. I grew up in the home of a Marine. I’ve heard just about every combination of curse words that can be combined, in lengthy poems. My grandfather was partial to the words “son of a bitch” and it was exceedingly effective when repeated (think Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home” and replace it with “son of a bitch”, times three).

He never used the “f” word in front of me, though I’m not sure why that particular favorite didn’t make the “okay in front of children” list when so many others did. Maybe my Grandmother had something to do with it; she hated the “f” word. I didn't realize HOW much she hated it until I made the mistake of trying to watch the movie "Crash" with them. I thought they'd be moved by it. She was. Deeply moved. To shut off "that filthy language" ten minutes in. I think our generation is a little numb to profanity because I didn't even realize the language was questionable until she was sitting next to me and I started counting. It was awkward, to say the least.

Most of us moms have our red line, don’t we? My Grandmother's was the "f" word. My red line is directly related to hate and even Brian doesn’t cross that line.

He does, however, use the “f” word. I think it’s our unspoken treaty: he doesn’t use the “b” word because I’d put oil in the gas tanks of his dirt bikes if he did and I ignore the “f” bombs on those occasions when the word helps him explain how he feels.

When they were little he didn’t use the “f” word. New parents are ever-so vigilant. Over the years we’ve both gotten lax. I used it for the first time about six months ago. This may come as a surprise, but we were in the car.

Don’t judge me. Try spending 15 years in the probation industry. Many folks I worked with learned to love the word. It just fits sometimes.

I digress.

The first time I used this word in front of the kids was when someone pulled out in front of us. I saw our lives flash in front of my eyes and it came out before I realized it.

Marah started laughing, screaming “you used the “f” word mom!!! You’ve never used the “f” word before!!!”

This isn’t quite true. I have used the “f” word several, eh hum, times in my life. I just hadn’t used it in front of them before.

Here’s the thing.

The world didn’t end because I used that one four letter word in front of them.

In addition, I haven’t heard the kids use it.

I’m not na├»ve. Believe me, I eavesdrop. It’s one of my favorite things to do. When they are playing with friends, listening in on their conversations can provide deeply satisfying moments of laughter and joy.

It lets me know when they are arguing; let’s me hear them work through it. It also lets me hear them using the English language in a casual setting.

The dirtiest word I’ve ever heard my kids say during these covert mother spying operations is the same thing they enjoy doing on road trips with their parents: fart.

Cursing in front of our kids isn’t something I’m proud of. But like I tell them, those are just words. Our conversations regarding the English language focus on a few key points:

1. There are certain words that hurt people. If I ever hear them using those words they will be grounded until they can legally leave home.

2. There are words that simply aren’t acceptable to use in public because they are offensive to some people. We have to live in this world together and respect each other.

3. The English language is filled with amazing and wonderful words that we can freely use, unencumbered by social mores, most of them non R-rated. We play with words in our home and I try to teach them the excitement of hearing a new word roll off of their tongues.

4. Profanity leaves a bad impression, particularly when used by children.

I don’t get hung up on profanity. It’s a hard thing, being an adult and knowing the boundaries of “words” but also being imperfect and letting the bad ones slip in front of your kids. Habits are also hard to break, verbal ones in particular .

I think my kids get it. We talk about language. I yell at their father in front of them when he says naughty things. It’s the same song and dance routine done in millions of homes around the globe, I’m sure. I also apologize when I slip up. Our language violations started when they were old enough, I hope, to understand that adults do things kids aren’t allowed to do.

Like drive. Work. Operate power tools. Pay bills.

And curse.

I won’t lie, the Pinocchio reference is going in the “stories to tell at your wedding” journal. And part of me looks forward to the next time Brody says something funny. He has a knack…and his father provides fodder on a daily basis.

Keeping that fodder in mind, along with my own, I’m still pretty sure our kids are going to turn out just fine.

In spite of their potty mouthed parents.

Or maybe, just maybe, because of us.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Adventures of Paul Bikens

My son Brody, while visiting a buddy, wrote this short story. Enjoy!

Once there was a young lad named Paul Bikens. He was an orphan.

One day when he was scribbling on a book a family got him!

He grew up riding on the plains of his family’s farm on his bike. He could do no hands on his bike while he hit a massive bump!

He could play video games in the middle of a race!

Yes, he was a good bike rider. Until one day.

See, it was a good day. Paul was riding and a good look’in fella came by on his gold bike with a huge engine! He said “are you Paul Bikens?”

Paul answered bravely and kindly “Indeed I am!”

“I’m Mud Woodstepper and I challenge you to a race,” he said in a tough voice. Then some other bikers came around.

One said “Ain’t nobody ever gonna beat Paul and his bike!”

“Well,” Mud continued, “first one to that tree wins.”

“I accept your challenge!” said Paul.

So they raced a few minutes and then they were two miles from the finish line.

Mud threw something on the ground and tripped Paul!

He got back up and kept going. He hit a big bump, jumped over Mud, and won!

The End

By: Brody Shulda, age 9

Monday, October 28, 2013

Soldierstone and Whispers in the Rockies

There is a little known secret tucked away on the old Continental Divide. It isn’t an old ghost town nor is it a long-ago buried gold mine. It is invisible on printed maps.

Sure, there are thousands of secrets hiding in the Rocky Mountains. This, however, is a secret I found. This is a secret I have to share.

I wanted to be able to write about how to get there but it’s been impossible. The day we found this treasure I failed to write down the trails we explored. That is okay, really, because isn’t the search the most enticing part of any journey?

Brian and I started our quest at the Tomichi Trading Post just off of Highway 50, east of Gunnison Colorado. Our camper was at the Gunnison KOA and we had left the kids with Brian’s brother and his family. This type of post-children adventure was extremely rare for us. Because of this, I was out of riding practice and eager to spend some time on the Yamaha 125 Brian had given me for my 40th birthday.

Getting back on a dirt bike is a little harder than getting back on a bicycle and Brian clearly thought I’d have no problems. My trial would be by fire but I didn’t care. I wanted to find the treasure.

We started out on a dirt road heading south and as I moved into fourth gear, dust flying and the wind against me, I found myself wondering if a street bike might be something I could embrace. We exited after several miles, riding over a cattle guard and through a field, until we reached the trail head.

Brian had ridden this path a few days earlier with three buddies from Kansas City. They had stumbled across the treasure and once I heard the details I was hooked. He was fairly certain he could find it again.

My husband is an avid outdoorsman, confident and strong. I am a determined woman, often cautious but unwilling to show fear. These contrasting personality traits sometimes lead me into situations that aren’t exactly wise but build strong character. At least I like to think so.

He sped up the trail, leading the way, and as I rounded the first corner I realized this wasn’t going to be a smooth ride by any stretch of the imagination. The path was a washed out gulch with deep gashes formed by either running water or muddy tracks. Within moments, panicking at the high narrow sides which were the only way to avoid getting the front tire inside the jagged ruts, I had dropped my bike.

Brian returned to help me get started again but I was shaken. We had many hours ahead of us and if the entire trail was going to be like this I knew I wouldn’t make it. My upper body isn’t that strong and the early portion of this trail would later leave my muscles screaming. At the time, however, I simply wanted to hang on so we could get to the next stretch. I also found myself experiencing de ja vu….flashbacks of those early dating years when I launched myself into water skiing and trail mountain bike riding in order to impress the love of my life.

This old determination was rewarded, though, because we eventually reached a lengthy section of dirt and rocks that were easy to maneuver, leaving me an opportunity to check out the beauty of Gunnison Nation Forest.

We rode for over an hour and then the trail began to get steep and narrow. The rocks became larger as well. As we stopped to rest and hydrate, Brian explained that the next patch had been nicknamed “skulls” by one of his buddies. I found myself briefly imagining that this entire hill would look like a pile of sand to a giant because there were thousands of skull sized stones. Although crass, it was an apt description of the size of rocks we would be facing on the lower part of the quarter mile or so incline ahead of us. The left side of the trail rose sharply along the incline of the mountain, meaning riding along the side to avoid the piles of rocks wasn’t an option. The right side also presented a problem; there was a steep mountain drop off that would certainly result in a minimum of several broken bones if not worse if I were to crash.

Adding to the mix was the approximately 15-20% grade of the hill itself. Brian suggested I hug the left side and take my time but it became clear as soon as we began that I was in way over my head. His bike is a powerful Yamaha 250; he is strong and comfortable on it, able to handle the speed and dexterity required to make it to the top. My tires were smaller and the speed and skill required to tackle this monster of a hill was simply above my dirt bike pay grade.

After dropping the bike multiple times, struggling to get it back up on the uneven and mini-boulder filled trail, I decided to wait for Brian to realize I was no longer behind him. He eventually came back down and decided the best plan would be for him to ride his bike to the top and then walk down and ride mine up while I walked the grade.

By now, we had probably reached an altitude of 900 to 10,000 feet. I would have much rather ridden my bike up the hill but truth be told the physical and mental stress of trying to get the cycle up that steep trail had taken a toll and I used the hike to try and regroup by reminding myself of the “holy grail” we were seeking. I comforted myself in the knowledge that I had made it up more than half of the hill before admitting defeat.

Once we reached the top we ran into another issue. It had begun to rain and as it came down harder and harder I was struggling with goggles that kept fogging and with rain that impeded my vision. To make matters worse, Brian was second guessing our route, wondering if he had made a mistake somewhere along the way. In addition, one of the negative aspects of not riding often is that I don’t own riding gear like Brian. My boots were fine but my jeans were soaked to the skin. Brian had an extra rain jacket, which helped greatly.

As the skies eventually cleared and the sun reappeared, we stopped in an open clearing to rest and figure out where we were. Brian went on ahead to check out the route and to see if he recognized any landmarks from his ride two days earlier. I took this time to dry out and stretch my legs while drinking in the beauty of the mountains surrounding me.

The Rockies are stunningly and strikingly beautiful. I am simply mystified by the violence underneath the earth’s surface that created these jagged and awesome peaks millions of years ago and there is no greater way to witness nature’s power and majesty then to lay eyes upon this mountain range.

By the time Brian returned from his scouting expedition, I was ready to continue this journey and eager to reach the goal. After another lengthy ride along a wide and relaxing dirt path, we rounded a corner and there, on our left, was an old wooden board painted with the words “Sargent’s Pass”. I squeezed the throttle.

Eventually, a large clearing opened up, seemingly within the eye of a storm. Surrounded by trees and mountains I took note of the granite monument protected by a crude rock wall.

Silent and alone, under Heaven’s gaze and the view of fallen warriors, was the treasure we had ridden so hard to find. After an initial inspection, Brian decided to ride ahead. He had seen this a few days before and understood me enough to know that I would appreciate the opportunity to spend some time alone surrounded by the solitude of the mountains.

Inside three short walls of rock was a Vietnam War memorial, placed there by unknown men at an unknown time. Brian and his friends had simply stumbled upon it while riding. They had asked a few locals at the Tomichi Creek Trading Post where it had come from and were told that the Park Rangers don’t know who is responsible for it. They leave the site unmarked on any maps. Some people think it was an officer who served during Vietnam, maybe using a helicopter to bring the heavy stone up to The Divide.

That's it, all the information available from the locals. I’ve searched online and found only a few items mentioning the site and absolutely no information on where it came from, leaving me even more intrigued.

I walked around and lying nearly flush with the mountain surface, outside of the rock wall, were rectangular stones haphazardly placed. At first glance, they appeared to be tombstones. Upon closer inspection, they contained sayings in various languages and fonts.

The stones were in sort of a circle...but not. I found myself wondering if there was some form of unwritten symbolism, sacred to the benefactor.

The etched words, in the varying languages I mentioned, were also from various years. Words like Eardstapa, which is some form of a word for warrior and which, most likely, was taken from the poem “The Wanderer”.

Some lines are from words one can find in Arlington Cemetery, such as: “Like the fallen leaves of autumn in unregimented ranks ….if by weeping I could change the course of events”.

There is an actual Bible verse and reference to the appointed time.

I expected a monument to American Vietnam Veterans. What I found instead was a tribute to all of the men who have fought; a reminder that Laos, Cambodia, France, Vietnam and the United States all left sons on the fields of battle. A testament that in the quiet stillness of God’s faithful watch, surrounded by untainted and un-bloodied beauty, a fellow wounded warrior remembers those sons…..those brothers…..those sacrifices.

I touched the stones, closing my eyes. I imagined other visitors and their stories. Tributes had been left on the large obelisk in the middle; pennies from different states and live ammunition rounds tucked into the grooves separating the squares that made up the largest piece. I wondered why they had visited…whether or not they had simply stumbled upon this site, like Brian and his fellow riders, or whether they went searching, like I had.

It had been a long and challenging ride and we still had several hours to get back down. The journey back would be equally difficult, resulting in my own hidden tears and bruised legs upon "skulls", but I would never regret this journey and the trials I went through in order to pay my respects. The struggles, frankly, seemed an appropriate toll.

Brian gently told me it was time to leave, but I wanted one more moment to remember this quiet hidden tribute. I paused a moment before putting on my helmet.

I closed my eyes and listened to the wind and the trees. I breathed in the mountain air, holding in the smells, and in those moments I swore I heard the whisper “remember us”.

I promised I would.

p.s. the last line is a link to video I took of Sargent's Pass...enjoy!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

An Open Letter to KU Men's Basketball

Dear Key to My Heart & Love of My Life Kansas Jayhawks,

It has been a trying year in our relationship.

Although there is nothing you could do that would ever turn me against you, it is certainly possible for this fan to lose passion for watching you in person. That time could be on the horizon.

It’s no secret: I am one of your biggest fans. I talk about you to anyone who will listen. I write about you with exuberance. I spend more money on you than is practical for a family of our means. I’m a walking plethora of useless Jayhawk trivia and one of my most treasured heirlooms is the shaky autograph of a man who wore a Jayhawk uniform almost 100 years ago; a man almost no Jayhawk has ever even heard of and who passed away over a decade ago.

I know you’ve always been powerful and are a well known Blue Blood. Your games sell out and your fans travel across the country to watch and support you. I am one of those fans, but feel as if you have either been neglecting the signs or you have been receiving poor advice from those around you. This is deeply concerning and it is time for an intervention.

On Friday, my friend Cathy rescheduled a dentist appointment, took the day off of work, parked a hundred blocks away (okay, that's an exaggeration), and by 1:45 pm had secured a place in line in front of Allen Fieldhouse so that we could attend Late Night in the Phog.

I pulled my son and daughter out of school early, grabbed snacks, sharpies & Junior Jayhawk autograph books, and headed to Lawrence.

The parking lot was already full but along 18th Street car after car was parking, ignoring the “No Parking until 5:00" sign and the police officer who was sitting in his car watching the activity quietly without making a peep. After a short period of observation, I made the assumption that he would surely say something if he was planning on ticketing those people. Wouldn't any decent person at least issue a warning? Other cars kept showing up, parking, and happily heading towards the fieldhouse, so I did the same.

What is the old adage about making assumptions and what it makes of you and me? Remember that, My sweet Rock Chalk.

As Allen Fieldhouse came into view, we noticed multiple lines but found Cathy easily. Everyone around seemed happy and excited and as the 5:30 pm entrance time approached the crowd perked up. All at once people who weren’t in line or who were in the back of the line surged forward en masse towards the doors, climbing over gates and shoving people aside. As soon as it began it ended in what seemed to be a matter of minutes.

By now, we were just around the corner from the North doors adjacent to the parking garage but there were no longer any actual lines, just mass groupings around every single entrance. It was as if all of the lines had merged into large schools of people. We happily waited, assuming the groups would slowly move into the Fieldhouse.

Did I just use the word "assume" again, my little round ball king?

You see, the mass of people who jumped in front of all the people who had waited in line patiently and civilly for so many hours didn’t give a darn about anyone else, including the Uncle we were standing beside, his niece, or his sister. They had driven from Emporia and the eighteen year old niece, bound to a wheelchair due to what appeared to be cerebral palsy, kept asking in a sweet voice “what’s happening up there? Do you think we’ll get in? I passed up going to my high school Homecoming to be here.”

The uncle went to a side door to see if there was a handicapped entrance they could use to avoid the now potentially dangerous crowd. There had been no way they could compete with the mob when it moved forward, even though they had a good place in line. The usher physically ignored him but finally cracked the door and rudely told him to get back in line. This same scenario played out just a few minutes later to another person in a wheelchair who simply wanted to ask a question.

We waited patiently until after 7:00 pm, when a man in khakis and a head set walked by and yelled “If you don’t have a ticket you aren’t getting in! Now go home!”

Allen Fieldhouse had been filled to capacity the entire hour and a half after the doors “opened” and not a single staff member had come outside to let us all know. I assume, with a budget as large as that of the athletic program, they could’ve afforded a bullhorn?

I asked the man very pointedly when 16,000 people had entered the building while the rest of us stood there and watched. He paused, at a loss it appeared, and then muttered “it’s not 16,000….it’s only 13,000 because it’s standing room only; and there were 1,500 VIP’s and people with tickets.”

Fans began sharing stories at this point, like the woman who said that one usher had poked her head out and told them “We are only allowing in 100 at a time so you need to count off by 100’s among yourselves or no one is getting in.”

Many fans shared tales of driving or flying in from far away places and, after having secured spaces in line close to the front earlier in the morning, being shoved aside by the selfish mob. A much older female had been waiving a Late Night ticket from the 2nd story of the parking garage gleefully trying to antagonize the less fortunate fans under her. It evoked visions of a cake eating queen looking down from her lofty perch on hungry peasants below. An added insult was that none of us even knew there had been tickets to be had.

Students around us began receiving photo texts from other friends already inside the building who were saving open spaces, but many of these kids had been late getting in line because they had been in class. I read several times online that Greek organizations had held as many as 80 spaces in line at the beginning.

A female usher had been knocked down and barely avoided being trampled. A witness reported that a man in a wheelchair next to him found himself face down on the ground after the mob pushed the chair over. There were stories of a woman who collapsed and had to be moved inside the Fieldhouse so that medics could attend to her needs while the group outside shouted loudly (angry that she had "been allowed inside").

My foursome was hot, tired, frustrated, and aware of the oncoming thunderstorm, so we admitted defeat and headed to the car. The Lawrence Police Department had left me one final present: a $55 parking ticket.

The first thing I heard after turning on the radio to 610 for live coverage of Late Night was that there were 7,000 fans left standing outside Allen Fieldhouse.

Seven. Thousand.

This would’ve been frustrating by itself, my beloved KU, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve experienced other struggles with you over the past month as you apparently try to deal with the mass of fans now waking up to all you have to offer and wanting to get in on the game, so to speak.

I attended the North Dakota State football game on August 30 with my eight year old “Junior Jayhawk”. Junior Jayhawks had been specifically invited to the kid's Hawk Zone on this date for bounce houses, face painting, and basketball player autographs. It was over 90 degrees with no shade but Brody seemed to do fine running back and forth between the jump houses while my friend and I held his spot in line so that he could get his Junior Jayhawk autograph book signed.

The line moved slowly and I observed numerous adult couples walking away, each carrying their own signed basketballs and posters; most of them were childless.

At ten minutes before the scheduled end a staff member yelled “that’s it, no more autographs.” It looked as if it would've taken maybe another 20 minutes or so for the remaining fans left in line to get their autographs as well. The line was mostly red faced parents with sweat dripping down their backs and their sad offspring yelling “we waited for nothing?”

Ladies Night with Bill Self is a cancer fund raiser in its fourth year. You don’t advertise it very openly, which is fine, but we ladies are notified via an email that just randomly shows up some time in September when the tickets are on sale. It requires constant email monitoring because the seats cap out at 400, meaning it sells out quickly.

Let me just add that my old definition of "sells out quickly" has been altered forever after these past few months.

The day you emailed us, I contacted the ten ladies I know who desperately wanted to attend. They were surprised when they went to order tickets and the price had been increased by $50. Then there was a glitch in the system and they couldn’t order single tickets; they had to purchase two or more. We scrambled, trying to pair ladies up with each other but this meant some individuals had to front the cost of two or more tickets.

There's more, my waving wheat field beauty.

I received an email from the Williams Fund last week saying you would be releasing a limited number of individual seats to the New Mexico game at the Sprint Center in December. The email said we should click on the attached link at 9:00 am on October 5 to buy tickets. This is, by the way, the only KU game this season that they will be releasing tickets to because all other games are sold out to season ticket holders. Do you know, my darling KU, that the minimum season ticket is almost a thousand dollars? For ONE ticket?

At 9:00 am sharp I clicked the link and this was the result: “No Events/Items Available”. Just for fun, I continued refreshing the page throughout the day and into the evening but you apparently had given the tickets away ahead of time. A relationship requires trust to thrive and it hurts when you aren’t honest.

The final nightmare has been the Champions Classic in Chicago. As you know, my darling Rock Chalk, this is a marquee matchup between you and Duke (along with Kentucky vs Michigan State). You did come through for me via the Williams Fund, although the details haven’t always been clear. We had to pay for tickets up front but you couldn’t assure us that we would actually get them. Non-Williams Fund fans were simply out of luck because they had no option to purchase tickets through the university.

The State Farm Champions Classic itself didn’t announce the ticket release date until mid-September – for a November 12 game date. Tickets went on sale to the public on October 1st and at 10:00 am sharp, the appointed ticket release time, the entire event was already sold out (check out the comments under the Oct. 1 postings). Fans of all four teams around the country had purchased airfare and hotel rooms but have no way to purchase tickets unless they want to pay 400% above face value on scalping websites. I know this isn’t your fault, KU, but could you say something to the folks at State Farm and the Champions Classic?

The issues with Late Night are the most concerning to me. This single event is the only time the playing field is level for lower income fans to be able to actually see the Jayhawks inside Allen Fieldhouse during a game day type of atmosphere. Because it is free, these fans from all over the state simply have to sacrifice their time and patience but not their monthly bills (minus gas money). It has always been a wonderful gift, absent the required funds that many higher level donors can afford throughout the year while they attend any game they choose, regardless of price.

One or two glitches may be a coincidence, but what I see is a culture developing wherein only the privileged are going to be able to enjoy the amazing experience of watching you in person. This isn’t right. I love you with all my heart and want myself and other fans who also love you to be able to enjoy the experience.

Is this really what you want to become KU? A school who shuts out the common fan, tramples on the handicapped, and leaves young KU supporters sadly saying to their parents “but I waited patiently for so long like you told me to, why"?

I want our love affair to last, I really do. I want to love you in person because I’ve always heard that long distance relationships are difficult. I’ll keep putting in the work but you’ve got to meet me and the other fans halfway. If you love us as much as we love you, this shouldn't be too difficult.

With Deep Love and Respect, Me

Monday, September 30, 2013

My Scary Journey Off Antidepressants, Cold Turkey

I’ve written about so many things on this blog, both funny and serious. I’ve shared personal stories that some probably find inappropriate. Others appreciate me keeping it real.

This blog will be my most personal to date and it is painful and, from a personal standpoint, necessary. Maybe by releasing the details I can be of help to someone else. No, I won't be running for office again just in case folks are thinking "oh no, opponents can use this against you!" No, I'm not embarrassed. We need to talk about these things and there are millions of people in this country who suffer from varying forms of depression. With these disclaimers out of the way, here goes.

I began taking an anti-depressant during the fall of 2000. I was pregnant with our first child and was finding myself more and more unable to cope with day to day stress.

Let me be clear: I wasn’t just tired or anxious. Things had reached a point where I found myself sitting on the kitchen floor, rocking back and forth, grabbing my hair in both hands, while crying and yelling into the empty space “what the hell is WRONG with you?”

I’m married to an engineer, so talking to him about this wasn’t really an option.

My doctor seemed the logical choice. I love our doctor. She is wonderful. She asked me “do you need something to take the edge off?” I said yes, as long as it’s safe for the baby. Voila: Zoloft.

It helped, believe me. After Marah was born I stopped taking it. I mean really, I had only needed it while my hormones were out of whack, right?

I lasted less than a week. You see, coming off of an antidepressant cold turkey is a really, really bad idea. I just assumed I was having withdrawal symptoms because I needed the prescription.

Almost every woman on the maternal side of my family takes some form of anti-depressant. I’ve been told for several decades by relatives that depression runs in the family and I probably need to just accept the fact that I’ll need medication for the rest of my life.

In 2004, after the birth of our son, I quit taking the Zoloft again but lasted only a few days before the depression and anxiety went into overdrive. More evidence, in my mind, that I NEEDED the medication.

I went back to the doctor in tears, feeling as if the kids would end up in therapy later in life if their mother couldn’t get a handle on her emotions. I left with a prescription for Wellbutrin and a refill for Zoloft. In the interest of full discloser, I will admit that I’d heard about Wellbutrin being an aid in losing weight so it looked to be a win/win situation. No, I wasn’t above using a drug to lose weight. I hated how I looked and felt. I know many of you can relate. For the record, it didn't help me lose weight!

In 2010, during a yearly physical, my doctor ran some blood tests and determined I had a hypo thyroid issue. I’m not even sure if that is the correct “medical speak”. I do know that a third medication, Synthroid, was added to my daily regimen.

I travelled to San Diego in November of 2011 with my dear friend Kris-Ann to attend the Carrier Classic, to research the US Marine Corps Recruit Depot for material on a book, and to visit my half-sister in Los Angeles.

I forgot all three of my prescriptions.

While on vacation, I felt great and didn’t miss the meds at all (let’s be honest – who DOESN’T feel great when they are on vacation?). So….after a week, I decided to simply stay off of them and see what happened.

Bad, bad, BAD idea.

When your doctors tell you to never stop taking a certain medication cold turkey it is vitally important that you listen to them. There is a reason.

By the three week mark, having quit Zoloft and Wellbutrin cold turkey, the withdrawal symptoms were a nightmare.

I experienced constant dizziness and vertigo.

I was shaky, even without coffee.

The symptoms increased during the third week, resulting in diarrhea.

I would have freaky highs and then burst into tears. Some nights I felt agitated, hyper and fidgety.

My eyes hurt and felt funny behind them and I was seeing spots in my peripheral vision.

My brain felt foggy and I couldn't think straight.

I became nervous while driving because of the mild “migraine like” feeling in my brain that wouldn’t go away and because the sun hurt my eyes.

I couldn’t focus and would often forget what I was doing while doing it.

There were severe hot flashes and then bouts of shivers.

I had never felt this poorly and it just continued on. At one point, I couldn't wake up and felt like I had mono. I slept until 1:00 pm that particular day. A few days later I experienced spazzy bursts of energy (no, “spazzy” isn’t a real word, but it fits). I was never suicidal, but somehow it hovered in the back of my mind.

Despite having seen a chiropractor for several months, my body muscles hurt. At times, the tissue around my ribs was so sore that it hurt to breathe and I felt like something was inside my chest crushing my lungs. Often out of breathe, I felt like a 90 year old woman.

I was irritable at best, full of rage at worst, and then could feel overly emotional and loving at other times; all extreme and over the top.

Things peaked at the 3 week mark. I simply couldn’t quit crying; for the entire day.

At that point, I was ready to start taking the medication again. Instead, I started researching online and found forum after forum with testimony from others who had gone through this.

This was when it became apparent that all of this was most likely related to the medication. Going cold turkey is the most irresponsible and dangerous thing a person can do, but by that point I was three weeks in and determined to ride this thing out. From everything I read, it seemed as if the peak point was roughly 2-4 weeks. I figured I was almost through the worst parts.

Out of pages of posts, I found one person who finally had successfully quit cold turkey (the others all returned to their medication), but said it took 7-8 weeks. Unsure if I could make it another four to five weeks, I reached out to a few very close friends and asked for their support.

One of them was Kris-Ann (mentioned above), my best friend from college. She had moved across the country in 2000, so I wrote to her, explaining all of the things I was experiencing (everything I wrote above was documented in a journal during that time).

She called me immediately and through tears explained that for over a decade I had seemed distant and “disengaged”. She had worried, but felt that because she didn’t live close to me maybe she was just out of the loop.

So began a period of self-reflection, during which time I realized that I had, in fact, sort of disappeared over the years. I ignored birthdays, family members, and friends. I had quit attending social events and eventually the invitations quit coming. Things that should’ve seemed simple had just seemed like too much work, so I avoided them. People, events, and relationships required too much effort.

I had been disengaged. And distant. And numb. And medicated.

Roughly six months later, with no trace of anti-depressants left in my system, I was asked to run for public office. The new Marlys said yes, but to be honest, I was still joining the ranks of the “living” and it was a little bit of a struggle.

It was probably the best thing I could’ve done because it forced me to connect with new people and re-connect with the old.

Please pay attention to what I say next, because it is very important. First of all, know and accept that some of us desperately need to be on an anti-depressant. It can literally mean the difference between life and death, particularly if you suffer from severe and debilitating depression, the type that results in thoughts of suicide.

I am sharing MY experience and it is unique to me.

Second, and equally important, please do not ever stop taking an anti-depressant cold turkey. Talk to your doctor and work with them in partnership to reach your own personal and optimal health plan. My doctor is a firm believer in letting her patients be their own best advocate, but I can assure you she was extremely miffed at me when, at the six week “cold turkey” mark, I sheepishly walked into her office and explained what I had done.

Do I believe I suffer from depression? If I am honest, I have to say yes. Sometimes it is simply the ups and downs of life, emotions that all of us have to deal with. It is good for me to feel these ups and downs, though, without medication masking the feelings. Do I believe every person would suffer the same withdrawal symptoms that I did? Since I'm not a doctor, I have to assume every one of us is unique and could experience different levels of pain.

Sometimes I still have fairly sharp mood swings but they are manageable as long as I stay alert, remind myself of what is going on, and ride it out (writing helps!). I prefer this type of “management” to the pharmaceutical kind and it allows me to reconnect and reach out to friends and family who moved on without me while I was still in a medication-induced fog.

One additional positive outcome was that updated blood work (I’m serious, my doctor was so irritated with me!) showed no signs of hypothyroid disease. Were the depression medications and the hypothyroid levels connected? I have no idea. What I do know is that I’m completely free of any and all prescription medication and I’m going to do my best to keep it that way.

In the meantime, if you thought I seemed distant during the past decade, I must humbly ask forgiveness and can only offer this blog as explanation.

The most important message, though? If you want to know what it feels like to go through withdrawal, just stop taking your anti-depressant. But please talk to your doctor first……and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Letter to Stay-At-Home Parents

Dear Stay At Home Moms and Dads,

I joined your ranks in 2007 and continue to struggle with one undeniable problem. It’s called embarrassment and guilt.

I try to hide the fact that I don’t “work”.

When asked “what do you do” I always focus on what I used to do, what I’m planning to do, and anything in between, rather than talk about what I really do.

I can read between the lines but never stand up for myself. During those instances where someone might say to me “must be nice”, “but you don’t work”, “some of us have to work”, or “why don’t you get a job?” I simply bow my head in shame and mutter “I know, I’m really fortunate.” I AM fortunate, don’t get me wrong. I GET IT.

What I really want to scream is “But I had a thriving career and walked away because my husband travelled and made more money!”

I want to retaliate with “I cleaned rooms in a Holiday Inn, worked as a janitor, survived a night shift in a factory, was employed as a dispatcher with a heating and cooling company (enduring verbal abuse from clients so nasty that it would leave Chris Rock’s face crimson), and even had feces thrown at me while working in a group home, so don’t treat me like I don’t appreciate the value of hard work!”

I want to write a note to the Kansas City Star JoCo913 reporter who called me a “stay at home mom” when I ran for the Kansas House of Representatives last year. She failed to mention that I had a lengthy professional career full of accomplishments. I imagined her as some snot nosed recently graduated journalism student trying to make a point about a “middle class Johnson County soccer mom looking for something to do”.

How shallow of me. How self-pitying. How insulting towards other mothers and fathers who choose to stay at home.

I’ve done both and understand and respect the value inherent in each world. I didn’t quit working outside the home until our oldest was six and our youngest was three.

I remember rushing around in the morning, frantically yelling and trying to get ready while shoving a granola bar into our daughter's little hand as we drove to daycare.

I remember crying the rest of the way to work because I knew my anxiety probably fueled the tone for the rest of her day. I know many of my friends still go through this nightmarish ritual some mornings.

I remember speeding back to the daycare provider’s home because the pick-up time was close at hand and I didn’t want to be late (let’s face it, she’d been monitoring a houseful of little ones since before many folks even get up in the morning…talk about a hard job!). Then rushing home, hurrying both kids through dinner and bath, and trying to skip pages in the bed time story because I just wanted to go to bed.

And I remember doing the math, figuring out how much money we were spending on day care, my wardrobe and makeup, shoes, lunches, and fuel. Then subtracting all of that from my monthly salary to see how much I was really contributing to the family’s income. The final amount was staggeringly low.

If someone takes a jab at me for being a stay-at-home mom, it hurts me. And because I’m sensitive, I begin to wonder if I’m less valuable than “working” moms.

This is the real shame.

I don’t “stay” at home because I’m lazy. Our financial situation is no one’s business, but I can assure anyone curious enough to wonder that I would get a job, ANY job, in a heartbeat if we needed more money. I’m not too proud; picking up used condoms from under a hotel room bed should be ample proof of this. I’ve bought food at Aldi and clothes at consignment stores and still shop at places like these (I would even if we were wealthy, at least I’d like to think so).

I don’t “stay” at home because I can’t keep a job or because I’m “too good” to work. Neither of us was born with money nor did we inherit a trust. We both worked hard all through college, figuratively and literally, and I was well respected in my past career.

I stay home because of many of the same reasons you do. Initially, it was because my husband was travelling with his job Monday through Friday and my work hours were becoming incompatible with daycare hours. We didn’t have close family members to watch our children or anyone to even call if in a pinch.

I remember listening to co-workers complaining bitterly, and sometimes unkindly, about having their own parents watch their children…for free…as late or as early as they were needed. Having this option for daycare would’ve made a huge impact on our decision for me to walk away from my career.

I remember being subtly moved to the outside of the “inner circle” after I began working part-time. There was an underlying tenor that I had it easy and was no longer one of them. *(I still have some amazing friends from my old job, friends who never treated me differently pre or post employment)

I remember being discounted, even then.

The decision to stay at home is not an easy one for many of us, and for me personally, a woman who loved her career, it was terrifying because I knew that by leaving I would most likely never have the same opportunities again.

This was certainly one of the costs. I now have the feared “gap” in employment history, so if and when the time comes for me to re-enter the work force I will be at a severe disadvantage. There is an initial internal shame that you are the one who needs to quit your job because your earning power is so inferior to that of your spouse.

But it goes deeper than this for us stay-at-home parents. There is an abiding sense of servitude, a pervasive feeling that every household need is your responsibility and yours alone. Because it is your job, you feel you have no right to ask another family member to do anything related to household chores (and yes, we do still require the kids to have responsibilities so that they will learn life lessons).

You feel that because you don’t work, you have no right to buy yourself things or to go out. This is a guilt you carry with you on those occasions when you might really want to do something but your spouse would be needed to cover for the kids if you do it. You see, every grocery item bought or cooked, every item washed or put away, every need expressed by each child or extended family member, every particle of dust, every event to attend, and every moment your spouse isn’t at work is actually yours to take care of: because it’s your job and household needs are no longer divided or shared among family members.

The question “what did you do today?” takes on a whole new meaning and you find yourself trying to justify how you spent your “non-working” day.

Each need related to the family is yours alone, 100%...because you don’t contribute any money. That’s the real bottom line. If I ponder this issue too long or too deeply, it can leave me feeling torn because no one verbally states these things and it’s hard to determine what is justified and what are my own messages to myself, separate from the messages my spouse may or may not be sending. Does this make sense?

It is at those times, I remember two things.

First, many working women continue to carry the burden of handling all household needs. They simply have to do it while working at the same time because they are either single or have a partner who refuses to help (and yes, I’m sure there could be a handful of men dealing with this issue too).

The second thing that sustains me (and most likely all of those other stay-at-home parents) is that in spite of the above, staying home has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

I continue to stay home now because we've seen the benefits and because I still can. My kids are thriving and our family unit has far less stress because there is always one person available to handle anything needed, any time. That person is me, and I can be there without fear that I will be written up…without fear that I will be fired…without fear that I will use up all of my sick leave or vacation…without fear that I will never be able to get caught up on missed work…without fear that my co-workers will bitch about me behind me back if I’m gone. I am deeply grateful for this.

I’m writing about this today because it's been on my mind and because I've had some recent discussions with a few friends who have felt looked down upon or discounted because they don't work outside the home. People don’t typically SAY insulting things as a rule, but they can certainly think and infer them. So here goes a bullet list of how this stay-at-home mom views her situation:

1. I understand that I am fortunate and blessed to be able to stay at home and I am deeply grateful for this gift.

2. I understand that many folks out there don’t have this option or opportunity and that this should make me even more grateful. Believe it or not, it does.

3. I would work the dirtiest, nastiest, and most demeaning job in existence if I had to do so in order to feed my family. Don’t think for a minute I wouldn’t. Most of you would do the same.

4. I am grateful to my spouse because he is an amazing provider and a bright, driven, and loyal man. I also acknowledge what we have is a combination of sacrifice, commitment, hard work and good fortune. One serious medical issue, one bankrupt company, one act of nature and things could change. Each day is a gift, plain and simple.

5. I do everything in my power to be the rock and the sustenance within the home, not just as it relates to housekeeping. I'm the one who feeds the neighborhood kid, whose parents are divorced and who seems drawn to our home every moment he isn't in school, dinner many nights. I'm the one my daughter's friends can call if they need something and their mom is at work. When I told my kids I might need to start looking for a job because I was feeling inadequate they both replied in panicky voices "Why??? We don't WANT you to work. We need you home mom!" So am I worthwhile, even if my office is the kitchen and my attire shorts and a tee shirt? I want to think so; I have to think so.

Most of us stay at home moms and dads are quite informed, nuanced, and grateful. And our powers of perception are sharp. People who make subtle (and not-so-subtle) comments or look down on us may simply be unaware.

For the time being, we’ll keep doing what we're doing because it’s working for our family unit and because, through that same hard work and good fortune, I still can. The kids are flourishing and we are healthy and happy, at least for today and at least while life still affords us some control.

If someone can give me an easier term to define what I do, I’m all ears. Until then I’m going to try hard to stop feeling ashamed and to learn to say the words “I’m a stay at home mom” without offering up excuses and apologies. In fact, I'm going to try to learn how to say it with pride.

I encourage the rest of you to do the same. I know how valuable and worthwhile you are. We just have to remind each other sometimes, right?

Sincerely,

Stay-At-Home Mom

Today I baked banana bread!!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Confessions of a Housewife: What Really Happens in My Bathroom

Brian will sometimes ask “what did you do today” when he arrives home from work. I’m often at a loss for words, because I’m not really sure WHAT I did during the day. In order to answer that question, I paid close attention this morning to see how my day begins. It is somewhat disturbing, but in the interest of full discloser and self-awareness I have decided to share these deep secrets with you, my friends. Because I’m such a complicated person, I’m going to have to do these confessions a room at a time, starting with the most important place in the house: the bathroom.

It starts when I quickly go potty before getting into the shower (I still use the term “potty…so sue me). Yes, I know you are thinking to yourself “Good God, Marlys, TMI”! Seriously, though, this has been driving me crazy because I need to know if I’m the only one who thinks like this when going through a morning ritual. Hopefully some of you will feel blessedly reassured that you aren’t alone. Either that, or I’ll feel even weirder than I already do.

Getting back to the potty, if I have a little time and am not in a crazy rush, I will sometimes find myself looking at the baseboards. Not a good idea, as this results in panic. Gross, there is hair building up and some water stains. This will then result in me pulling off a wad of toilet paper and leaning down as far as I can in order to swipe up the hair. But then, sadly, I realize I need to do this along the ENTIRE baseboard. As my butt leaves the seat I accept the fact that my shower will have to wait a few minutes. One time I leaned so far forward that I fell. Off the pot. What a dumbass.

I’m typically naked, since I’m preparing to enter the shower. As the water runs, and I’m cleaning up the baseboards, I then notice the toilet. Sometimes I notice an empty bottle of shampoo on the floor behind the toilet. How in the HELL did that get there? Sometimes there are a few stains in the toilet that weren’t there the last time I went through this ritual, which causes me to stop, mid “baseboard sweep”, in order to get the toilet cleaner from under the cabinet. The problem with this, because I’m naked, means I catch a glance of myself in the mirror.

Most of the time this results in a brief scream of horror. Often, I will stop to critique this 44 year old body and find myself thinking a myriad of things. Damn, Marlys, you need to shave those arms. Then I think to myself how much easier it would’ve been to live three or four decades ago when we weren’t expected to shave. What a pain in the ass, seriously. We had women who were so strong they fought for our right to vote…only to have their ancestors enslave us to the razor. Weak, sisters, really weak.

Sometimes I think I look pretty darn good compared to the women of the 1950’s, who by their forties would be sporting short gray hair and dowdy house dresses. Of course, this is only if I haven’t recently seen Kelly Ripa in one of her teeny little tight dresses sitting all upright and stiff while sexily sucking down her coffee on her morning show. On THOSE occasions, it occurs to me I'd be considered morbidly obese in the world of Hollywood and should never leave the house unless I want to scare the public. Compared to her I’m Jabba the Hutt; of course, compared to her we are ALL Jabba the Hut. Jabba rules!

Turning from the mirror in shame, I might find that I forgot what I was doing at the counter in the first place so I’ll load up my toothbrush and hop in the shower. This is only after grabbing the nearest towel, hung to dry from last night’s shower rush. No, we DON’T wash our towels after every use. Ain’t nobody got time for dat. No, I don’t care if Marah used the towel last. She would’ve been clean, after all, and I’d just glad she hung it up instead of tossing it in a wet mess onto the floor of her room (walking you through a visit to her room would require an entire blog unto itself….it’s like entering the home of Leatherface, sans the dead bodies…at least as far as I know).

Back to the toothbrush. Yes, I brush my teeth in the shower. No, I’m not going to apologize. Some of you might think it’s gross but I like to think of it as extended tooth time. I find that I sometimes brush for ten minutes or more while pondering why I hate Sam Brownback and Kelly Ripa…or the gross hard water buildup on the tile.

This is why my showers can take so long. As I’m brushing my teeth, I look at the tile. Every chink in the grout leaves me thinking “damn, we need to replace this tile.” Then I realize that costs money. As I think about the tile, I notice how grungy the doors are getting. Sigh, this means a quick trip out of the shower to the counter cabinet in order to grab the foaming bubbles.

Gross. I noticed my naked self in the mirror again. Here we go…could you seriously be ANY older girl??? Sometimes I’ll turn to the side and suck in just so that I feel a little skinnier. But then I have to grab my boobs and lift them up. High. Wait, higher. Damn, I need a boob job. Then I notice the toothbrush in my mouth and realize I’m in the middle of a shower and the hot water is going to run out if I don’t hurry up. As I get back into the shower and pull the door shut I notice the water buildup. Crap. I need the foaming bubbles.

Sometimes, before I can get back out in order to retrieve the foaming bubbles, I’ll notice the bottles of shampoo on the floor and panic. My special shampoo needs to be placed up high on the edge of the doors so that Brody doesn’t use it. I don’t get my nails done, I don’t collect purses, & I’ve never had a bikini wax...but I do try to at least take care of my hair. And I don’t want to share my shampoo! Then I’ll notice half of the cheap bottles are empty.

Damn, family, can’t ANYONE remove an empty bottle from the shower and put it in the trash??? Rather than risk another meeting with the mirror, I just toss the bottles over the door and hope they don’t land behind the toilet. That would mean I’d have to clean the tile.

Oh, so THAT’S why that empty shampoo bottle was behind the toilet! See how this works? Full circle, ladies.

This type of scenario happens everywhere I go in my house. Sometimes it can take me an hour just to walk down the stairs. Or up the stairs. Or across the room.

The next time Brian asks me what I did today I’m going to show him this. It might result in a visit to the psychologist, but at least there will be documentation of my mental illness.

Next week: Confessions of a Housewife: What Really Happens in my Refrigerator. Gross.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Best Miley Cyrus Blog EVER!!!

After day two of the Miley Cyrus "incident” I am left with one screaming thought: everyone else’s blogs are going viral and it’s time to strike while the iron is hot!

I know many bloggers. We poor our hearts out; we agonize over how to share deep thoughts about events going on in our lives with the hope that someone else might learn some of our lessons or be inspired by our stories. We write because we need an outlet, a way to share the daily things in life that truly speak to us, that define us, and that connect us with our peers.

None of us has ever gone viral. I’ll share a secret, though. We do look at other successful blogs to see what entices their readers and what sets them apart from others.

This week, speaking only for myself, I’m rather perplexed at the posts making the Facebook and Twitter rounds. Those who are blogging about Miley are going viral. Seriously, who really knew that Miley Cyrus twerking on stage was the Golden Ticket needed by those of us in the blogosphere desiring to hit the jackpot?

I might be too late. The time to really hit it big would’ve been Sunday night. Nevertheless, I’m going to toss my hat in the ring because this, THIS, is what ‘Merica wants to read about.

So without further ado, I give you MY take on Miss Cyrus.

1. She is not a role model. If your child THINKS she is a role model, then you have failed miserably as a parent. She is an entertainer, an actress, a singer, and a very poor humper/dancer. Not to boast, but MY twelve year old simply laughed and stated “gross”.

2. She is on her own journey, one that she clearly wants to broadcast to the world. While it is (somewhat) fascinating to watch, it isn’t the first rock star journey we have witnessed and it won’t be the last. It is rather primitive, frankly, and I’d much rather dive back into “Life” by Keith Richards for true entertainment and cultural/historical lessons.

3. My generation gasped at Madonna in a wedding dress singing about losing her virginity. I didn’t think it was shocking at the time, but then again, I was in high school. My personal opinion is that Madonna paled in comparison to foam finger-humping, but maybe I’m old school and protective of my generation’s icons.

4. Yes, Mr. Thicke is a married father in his thirties. In today’s society, with our politicians tweeting their family jewels and young playboy models marrying geriatric patients, this is par for the course in Hollywood. Come on folks, that particular piece (no pun intended) of her act has been going on for decades.

5. I just read a deep and intellectual breakdown of why Miley’s treatment of the bears is deep seated racism towards black women. I won’t deny that this was her motive…I simply lack the mental capacity to fully understand the study. I also lack the required time to read up on the subject due to the necessary household chores piling up in the background while I shirk such duties in order to jump on the “Miley Cyrus OMG” blogging bandwagon.

6. Finally, with some discomfort, I cannot end without mentioning the “Miley Cyrus is immoral” statements. While most of what I’ve written is in fun, this issue does have me concerned. In referring back to #5 on this list, I will reiterate that I lack the intellectual ability (okay, that’ not true, I honestly lack the TIME) to explore these sexual issues on a deeper level. However, let me remind each and every individual who believes she is immoral that she is a performer. She was performing on a stage that, in fact, expects and begs behavior along these lines. Music is an art, performing is an art, and in the world of pop music just about anything goes. Yes, the boundaries are pushed with every generation but how an artist chooses to express herself/himself is not a direct indictment of their private morality. Frankly, until I can say with total and unabashed honesty that I am perfect, I will, blessedly, leave Miley’s judgement up to herself and/or whatever higher power she may believe in. Oh, and I will continue talking to my children daily about self respect towards themselves and others (I tossed that into the mix so readers won’t judge ME).

In summary, this too shall pass. We survived Janet Jackson’s nipple (okay, she SHOULD’VE gotten a pass because it was an unintentional wardrobe malfunction) and we survived Roseanne Barr’s horrifying attack on the National Anthem. The thing to remember, in this fickle and strange world of social media and celebrity shock & awe, is that Roseanne really didn’t survive her attack on the National Anthem. It crippled her career.

In the end, this is how these things truly work out. You are the consumer. If Miley really messed up, she’ll suffer. On the other hand, if America’s consumers respond to her in typical fashion, she’ll skyrocket to the top of the musical food chain and we bloggers will have ample fodder for the future.

Regardless, Miley will be bumped eventually by a more shocking GaGa/Madonna/Alice Cooper/Ozzie and go down in the annals of history as another child star who headed down a very rocky road while trying to find herself. (Side note: I’m extremely uncomfortable imagining what could be more shocking than stuffed animal dry humping or seeing the head of a bat being ripped off but it’s coming, people, it’s coming). I’ve always wondered why child stars and rock stars don’t read up on the history of their troubled past peers. Wouldn’t it seem so much easier to learn from other’s mistakes?

But THAT, my friends, is the true story. And a reminder that they are human, just like the rest of us.

Good luck to you Miley. May you find your way while the rest of us watch with bated breath…and while I head off to finish the laundry and pray that this blog goes viral with the rest of them.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Parent Vulnerability

“Behind the story I tell is the one I don't. Behind the story you hear is the one I wish I could make you hear…” ― Dorothy Allison, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

The one thing, that which can cause the most pain imaginable, has happened again.

The losses occur every second around the world. We don’t give it much thought until it happens to us or to someone we know. Then it sits, in the back of our minds, whispering a silent "thank you" to God for sparing our own or begging and pleading for answers.

Some things in life are certain, of this we know. Water is king, fire burns, humans are flawed, and death is inevitable. When it is the death of our own child, however, there is no comfort. There are no words that can make it better.

I’ve seen it. All of you have, whether you realize it or not. It is around you even if acquaintances don’t talk about it. After our miscarriage, a world was opened up to me, a world where women I knew compassionately shared the details of their own experiences. Many of our friends had been through this and were shaken by the impact. They simply had never talked openly about it.

A miscarriage is just a taste, though. A taste of what it feels like for a parent to bury their own offspring. When a child is lost whom you have smelled, kissed, touched, and locked eyes with, it is something that tears a hole through a person’s soul and forever alters them.

My small hometown is grieving, looking for answers and clinging to each other as they try to get through the loss of one of their own. I no longer live there and didn’t know the handsome young man who died earlier this week. I can relate to the shock, though, and remember several other unique and special friends from my own peer group whose lights were extinguished before they could fully catch fire. I remember the town reeling in pain. Generations before me were also forced to say goodbye to young men and women who left them far too early.

Friends and family will get through this and as the years pass, they will sometimes reflect back with a smile, laugh, or tear. They will be fine.

My thoughts are with two people who will not be fine. They will also move on and reflect with those same laughs and tears, but their core will never, ever, fully recover.

You most likely won’t see it outwardly. They will bravely continue their lives, going to work, paying their bills, laughing with friends, and loving their other children. But this is a loss from which one does not recover.

I’ve seen other mothers and fathers who have buried a child and they are never the same. Having never been through this personally, I don’t have the words to explain it and neither, most likely, do they. It is like a seismic shift in the earth, only it is within them and it cannot be measured by science or machines.

As I write this today, it is for this mother and father. They are wounded unalterably.

I can’t speak for every person, and I certainly don’t mean to offend those who do not have children, but I know as certainly as I feel these keys beneath my fingers that I could survive the loss of my deeply loved spouse as well as any other family member or friend. It would be devastating, but the cycle of life doesn’t spare any of us, ever. To lose one of my children, however, would break me in ways that I cannot even begin to fathom. I don’t want to fathom it; and yet, as I think of this mother and father, I cannot avoid it. As I type, my throat is tightening, eyes are watering, and I am having a hard time catching my breath.

There is only this simple message. Be gentle with parents who have suffered this horrifying pain and offer them every ounce of love and care you can muster. We are blessed to be with our children only as long as we get them and that has to be enough. Although being a parent leaves us vulnerable and open to the potential of this devastation, not one of us would trade one second with our kids to avoid it. Appreciate every single moment, every single word, every single look, expression, and movement of your amazing and unique children.

And never, ever, take them for granted.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Real Romeo and Juliet

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a (NIV)

They have been together for over 65 years.

Man and wife…partners…lovers…friends…teammates…parents…soul mates.

The first death was slow. It began with small things, little forgotten details of their life together. Where items were located, places they had known, people who were friends.

Then he forgot their children and grandchildren. There were moments when he would remember, times when she could ask him “Eddie, do you remember your boy Ray” and he would say “well, yes!” Now that their 65th wedding anniversary is approaching, even those brief glimpses have disappeared.

She misses watching basketball and football games on television with him. She misses sharing details of her Sunday School lessons. She misses her buddy.

Mary is a pragmatist, if nothing else. She looks at life through clear, wide, eyes. Enduring life’s deepest pain, she has still always managed to forge ahead. When they lost their daughter to an infection following a battle with cancer, she moved ahead, even though a part of her felt ripped out, shredded, never to fully heal. When her mother was old, helpless, she and Eddie moved her in with them and provided the care needed until she passed away.

Being an only child probably help mold her into an independent, free-spirited dynamo. The only time she struggles is when people underestimate her.

Dementia, Eddie's disease and Mary's burden, is a confusing, maddening, cruel enemy. There is no cure. There is no way to get back what has been lost. And when the person who knows every curve of your body, every nuance of your expressions, and every thought you have before you are able to speak the words is lost to dementia, it feels as if your other half has died. Only their body is still breathing.

She is scared of not being with him. Even though every memory is gone, his heart knows her. In the darkest hours of the night, he reaches for her. He smiles when he sees her face. His heart remembers and they are still connected. She sees and feels it every day. In their home, HIS home, he is the happiest and the safest .

This is why she wants him with her. Mary knows best and those who have the joy and privilege of being in her home during this time understand that she is in control. She knows her own limitations and every step of the journey she has asked for aid when needed.

She has the help of Hospice, home health services, and family members. She has been responsible with money over the years and can pay for some private help. Mary journals as an outlet, something most therapists would applaud (although she doesn't need a therapist's approval; somehow, she just knows that this is important) and has an impressive base of support through their lifelong church.

She has identified the specific times when she needs the most help and has found a way to plug in resources. They have neighbors who will come over with the simple ring of the phone.

Mary makes chocolate chip cookies every week as a gesture of gratitude towards Peter, her primary home health care worker, and this writer. I am her granddaughter; another caretaker who has been blessed with the privilege of seeing this woman's love and commitment in person each and every week since Eddie came home from the hospital following a broken hip last February. I joke with Peter, telling him to "stay out of my cookies". The joking, the love of her cookies, and the camaraderie between her helpers makes Mary smile. Eddie can be a great deal of fun as well. He may have dementia, but is far from catatonic. In fact, most days he chatters more than a women's quilting group, tossing in a large dose of unrecognizable German for good measure.

Soon, Peter's job will change, taking him away from Mary. She worries, but knows through her faith and wisdom, that answers will come if she keeps her eyes open. This could mean more pressure from others to place him in a facility.

Many people don't understand how she does it. But that would infer they are actually asking the question of themselves, i.e. "could I do it?". For most, the answer would be "no". But then again, most people aren't Mary...most couples don't share what Eddie and Mary share. They are the last of a generation, a generation where commitment and hardship had different meanings. Mary has no problem asking for physical help. She understands the need for someone to help her assist Eddie from the wheelchair to the bed on those particular nights when he seems to forget how to stand up. She fully understands the financial benefit of having Hospice and the VA involved so that she isn't paying out of pocket for Eddie's Depends and wipes. But make no mistake, just because you are reading this and thinking "Oh My God, I couldn't clean up someone" doesn't mean it bothers her one bit. You see, she loves him. These are simple human acts. Mary doesn't give it a single thought. She does it because he needs it done, because she can still physically do it, and because there isn't another human who exists who will do it with the care and devotion she will.

Sometimes I watch them together, silently across the room, trying to hide within myself because to witness their affection is almost overpowering, almost brings me to my knees in humility. She still holds his face in her hands, nuzzles nose to nose, and she kisses him while he smiles sweetly and adoringly up at her. These are acts that occur not just every once-in-awhile, but many times every day. I don't know who taught who to be so affectionate and openly loving, I only know that Eddie passes that same affection on to me, by holding my hand and saying things like "Oh, I love you....you are just so beautiful....oh thank you so much....you are the best, just the most wonderful boy". The gender confusion? Who cares. He's kind and gentle to everyone but saves the kisses for the beautiful bride his heart still remembers.

The first death for Mary has been the death of his memory. She knows a second, final death, is still to come. This is why she treasures their remaining time together, even if it is so different from their previous life.

Eddie's heart needs those deeply hidden life memories close to him, every day. He needs to feel safe and Mary needs to know he is safe. They have been together their entire lives, and the most cruel thing that could ever happen would be for them to be separated, particularly when there is no reason. I watch...I see...and I know. Mary can handle this.

Never, ever underestimate the power of human connection. Marriages that fail are missing this. Never, ever underestimate the power of human touch. Humans wither without it. Eddie is thriving, as much as this horrible disease will allow him. The reason is his connection...the reason is her touch...the reason is his partner.

If you want to see true love in all of it's beautiful and wondrous glory, see Eddie and Mary. Their love is absent all of the vanity, jealousy, selfishness, and immaturity that is so prevalent in relationships today. Look at yourself - look at your partner - and ask: could I do this?

Mary can. Because she loves him.