Family to the Rescue!

The day after New Year’s, our house came down with sickness. If you name the symptom, we had it. Someone was coughing, someone was barfing, someone could not stop singing Kidz Bop. Ok, that last one may not be related to sickness, but it’s definitely a symptom of some kind of ailment.

We had just started a stretch of the 5 day parenting schedule. My partner and I played a symptom game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I lost. (In case you’re wondering, Vomit trumps Cough.) I ended up doing most of the parenting for the next 2 days, balancing a fever and chest congestion. My partner vacillated between the bed and the toilet. It was not good.

By day 3 we were allowing way more screen time than ever, and my partner was able to get back to parenting (even if that meant laying on the couch in a heap while the kid watched her 4th episode of Winx). Some dear friends with kids offered to come by and get the kid for a playdate. They kept her through lunch and dinner, returning her at the relaxing hour of bedtime. Yesterday, another friend with a kid offered to have an extended playdate as well. He took the kid roller skating and out to lunch. At the house, we managed to clean our bodies and weep quietly for the love of our friends.

We don’t often think of friends as family. We’re taught as Americans (and for this house, white Americans), that we are a closed family unit; that problems must be solved by the family. That we can DO IT ALONE, NO THANKS TO ANYONE ELSE. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, GRRR. Well after 4 days of the flu, I am happy to report that my family extends beyond the borders of my house. I’ve got kin down the street and across the country.

Thank you to each and every one of you that watched the kid this weekend (and those who offered!) and did so without question, in complete selflessness. Parenting while being sick is so hard, and my partner and I feel so loved and supported by this great extended chosen family!

a Punch to the Gut

Holiday in California

I wish this post was full of tales from my great vacation last week to California with my partner and the kid. I wish it was some sort of heartwarming story about a family conflict that we resolved over snuggle time before bed. Life isn’t always like that, and truth can hurt without a soft landing or a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, my partner, the kid, and I were getting ready to leave the house. This can be a long process, sometimes ending in Yelling Parent who cannot possibly say “Put your shoes on” for the 6th time. I said something like ‘Is this kid ready to go?’, which the kid heard as ‘Is my kid ready to go?‘. To be clear: I do not refer to the kid as “my kid”. She is clearly not the child I ‘created’, and I think that referring to another person as your property sounds a little creepy. Probably exasperated with the nagging adults trying to get out of the house, she said “Anyways, it’s not like I’m even your kid.” Ouch, man. Yeah, you’re not. But yeah, you sort of are.

If the kid is in the house, I’m an active parent. I plan time with friends around the kid’s schedule, making sure I am contributing in some way to caring for her whether it is helping with dinner, bathtime, bedtime, or playtime. I grocery shop with her likes and dislikes in mind. I notice when fun things happen in town and see if she’d like to go. I listen to her fears, her nightmares, her weird thoughts and creepy imagination. I’m there for her sicknesses, her triumphs, her tears, and her fun projects.

No, I didn’t plan her birth. I’m not a primary parent. I don’t have a say in where she goes to school, what state she lives in, and changes in her routine. I don’t choose her doctors and I don’t choose her haircuts. I’m glad she has a concrete understanding about who her parents are, and that neither myself nor her other parent’s partner are clouding that at all. But dang, that was a real sting of a sentence. She wasn’t upset, and we weren’t fighting about anything; I don’t even think she said it with ill will. She was just correcting what she thought she heard me say.

It was a nice reminder of what her teenage years may be like. Sometimes I think it could go both ways; she could find me a refuge from her folks and seek me out as an ally or she could take the stand of “You’re not my parent” and create that distance that teenagers need from the adults in their lives. Time will tell.

Anxiety.

Picture from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. I have lived this feeling.

Last weekend, Jetpack wandered off in the grocery store. I had a basket with six apples, and three other things, and I unloaded it, and turned my head, and he was gone. He’d gone the length of the supermarket to look at the flowers, and he didn’t answer my calls. Luckily, some amazing person had seen him wandering and started looking for me. He was gone for about two minutes, and before I found him I was pretty convinced he had been kidnapped.

A week before that, I wrote all this:

I’m not good enough. I’ve yelled at Jetpack for really stupid reasons, like not listening or not letting me use the toilet without climbing all over me like a caffeinated capuchin. I’m always late on flea/tick drops for the dog, and someday she’s going to get lyme disease again because of it. My sister (I’m her primary caregiver) didn’t get a bath the other night, even though she should’ve, because I took Jetpack trick-or-treating. Sometimes she has dry cereal because we run out of soy milk in the fridge and I don’t notice until after she’s eaten breakfast. Sometimes we yell at each other because we don’t understand each other well. The other night the Mister was up very late because I forgot to clean something up, even though I promised, and it really needed to be done. The last two times I put away laundry, I did so because I needed to the basket, in order to wash all the newly dirtied stuff. I can’t fix everyone’s problems. I don’t think I can fix anyone’s problems. And my worries about something terrible happening to Jetpack are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I saw it first written, about me, in college. The student counsellor didn’t mention anything to me. She just wrote it on her notes, and I happened to see. It left me with a huge mistrust of her, and a diagnosis that I researched on my own. (Protip, mental health professionals: don’t act like we’re stupid, please).

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t spend some days at home, terrified of going in for absolutely no reason. I’ve never been bad at a job, but I’ve always had attendance issues, usually from days spent sitting at home, sobbing and shaking, afraid of going anywhere. Classes too. I’ve dropped plenty of classes because I was SO SCARED of going. I had a panic attack in spanish class once—not anxiety, a full-on panic episode. Completely lost it. I drove home and actually hid in my bed. (Protip #2: don’t drive directly after a panic attack. I made it home okay, but it was probably the most unsafe I’ve ever been on the road).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a pretty complicated childhood. I also know I don’t have a lot to complain about—my parents are very loving, I’m white and have never been homeless or without food.

But sometimes I’m still damn crazy.

A friend—who has been travelling her own bumpy mental health road—mentioned the fear of passing these problems on to our children. If you’re genetically related to your child, some of your mental health problems are probably passed on automatically (thanks, genes!). But nature and nurture being the murky waters that they are, who knows. And I know so many people who identify their own neurosis in their parents, and blame them.

I don’t want Jetpack to look back and see that.

Sometimes I wonder, who am I to have a kid? Shouldn’t I have thought about this before taking on that responsibility? (I did, but that’s not the point). I never want to see Jetpack even half as crazy as I feel sometimes. But no matter how much I struggle to shut it down, no matter how much therapy I attend or medication I put into myself, I can’t hide it all. That sad and twisted fucked up me is still in here. I can’t just cut it out. And it scares me that someday he’ll see that too, and he’ll resent me for it.

I don’t have any answers for that friend. I don’t have any hopeful closing paragraph for this litany of my own tragic faults. I can try my best, and I will probably fail.

Make up magic spells/ We wear them like protective shells

Image

Driving down the busy divided street that leads to our new house, past HyVee and to the highway, where the YMCA snuggles up against bridges and fast-moving cars. Traffic in my lane, the lane closest to the sidewalk, stops abruptly, and I change lanes in order to escape the snarl. And then I see a mama, about my age, dragging a dark blue stroller onto the sidewalk from the shoulderless street. Her older kid—Jetpack’s age, Jetpack’s proportions—stares, his expression unreadable, as his mom cradles the baby in the stroller. I can see her shaken, crouching, her face twisted with relief and horror and fear like I’ve never felt. Everyone’s okay. Traffic resumes, the baby is unharmed, everyone is okay.

But the scene has gnawed at my insides. If. If. What if.

I just can’t get that moment out of my head. I’ve seen car accidents, and put in my heartfelt wishes for the safety of everyone involved. I can remember what seems like a thousand international and horrors, waiting and hoping that the body counts were low.

This wasn’t a massive incident. This was a moment, an accident, a second when something terrible might’ve happened. If the driver hadn’t stopped. If she’d been on the phone or texting. If her brakes were bad. If the stroller had rolled further into traffic. If.

IF is a terrible place to live.

I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to Jetpack. Our brains reach the end of that road, and I think they just turn off. Nope. I don’t know what I’d do. I can’t know what I’d do.

I think that’s what that momma was thinking, that day, in front of the YMCA. Or maybe what she thought later.

Moments like those remind me why we grasp so hard at religious understanding. To blame sudden, painful changes on something—on the Fates, on Sin, on demons or deities—gives us some way to understand. Those aren’t understandings that I subscribe to, but I can see the draw.

And maybe this is even a religious thought, a prayer to toss into the aether. Wherever you are, I’m glad your baby was okay, YMCA mama, and I wish you all the best. You are in my heart.

———-

I wrote this weeks ago, and just haven’t had it in me to post it. Too depressing, I guess.

To add a kick in the gut, I’m going to go all topical. As Mark Twain said, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”

Politics aside, there are a lot of people who are going to be hurting due to this political game that Congress is playing. WIC isn’t funded, some smaller food access programs are closing down, and food programs for low income seniors will not be funded. People won’t be bringing in paychecks. If you’re not a federal employee, and/or if you aren’t hurting from this charade, now might be a good time to donate, to food banks (often, they prefer money, not “the canned goods from the back of your cupboard”). And keep an eye out for ways you can help, as the shit, as they say, continues to roll downhill.

Summers We Remember

Summer is winding down. I never do as much as I think I’ll do during the summer; I didn’t get out and paddleboard and I went swimming just a handful of times. I did hang out with the kid every Friday to cut down on the childcare costs. It seemed daunting at the beginning of the summer. Every SINGLE Friday?! I’ve spent plenty of evenings and random daytime hours watching the kid alone, if her mom has plans with a friend, or wants to catch a yoga class. I had not spent an uninterrupted 8 solid hours of being solely responsible for her. It turns out that it’s not a big deal. You just roll with the punches, find time when you can to be alone, and make sure there are enough snacks to keep everyone’s blood sugar level nice and even. I’m not saying every Friday was a perfect parenting dream. On the Fridays when we had her for the weekend, it made for a long stretch of kid time where my patience ebbed away. Overall, I really liked spending our Fridays together and I’m a little sad that they’ve ended. She started school (1st grade!!), and the routine was needed by everyone, in both houses!

One thing that stood out to me over the summer of Fridays is how strong she is in defining her family. We had adventures all over the city on our Fridays, and we ended up interacting with different stranger adults and kids that would assume things about our family. The kid was swinging with a kid she just met at the park who wanted to invite E back to her house to play.

If it’s ok with your dad.
I don’t have a dad.
(Kid gestures to me) I mean, if your dad says it’s fine.
Yeah but I don’t have a dad. I have two moms. That’s Ethan.

We went to storytime at the library and the librarian was identifying everyone’s relationship in the room (I really don’t know why they did that. The stories were not about families or relationships. Seemed strange and without context to me..), she got to us and said “Oh, and this must be your Papa!”. E clung to my arm, buried her forehead in my side, and said nothing. Body language cue heard loud and clear, kiddo. I smiled and said “I’m more like her stepdad.” The librarian stammered a bit and made a vague statement about families and referred to me as “Papa” again. “Stepdad.” She hastily picked up a book to get started.

We have a different family that other people may not be used to. But we know who we are and don’t need others to define us for us.

Without further ado, here’s a photographic glimpse into our summer:

Science Museum colors

Six years old!

Hanging out with Dylan‘s kid

BONES

End of summer vacation (and haircut!)

* I do not post photos of the kid’s face or other kid’s faces. The internet is a vast place. To read more, check out this Salon article.

Giving It Up For…You.

An aside I can’t figure out a way to put in this rambly and sub-par post: our very own Dylan got doored by a car on his bike last week. All good and healing thoughts his way!
I never did have the courage to drink that coffee.

I never did have the courage to drink that coffee.

I started this from the doctor’s office. I’ve just gotten done with my visual field test—my third—for a problem I have called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. It’s fun. Right now, I have to take a pill every day, and it keeps the fluid around my brain from pushing down on it and giving me headaches, vision problems, and hearing problems. After the visual field test–where you stick your head in a machine that looks like HAL’s rear end:

I'm sorry, Dave.

I’m sorry, Dave.

After that there’s the part where they shine bright lights in my eyes, in order to see every crack and crevice of my optic nerves. I gave up contacts, in part, because I just couldn’t stand things coming at my eyes, long before I had IIH. So I get to have these every couple of months. For funsies!

I’m here during Jetpack’s brief time at preschool. Lately, his time at preschool has been taken up with purchasing a house, seeing doctors for my upcoming abdominal surgery, and not on writing or catching up on important other things like that. I’m behind on my email, behind on my writing, behind on the (unpaid) work I do with some non-profits.

I can’t imagine doing this while I worked full time. Or as a single parent. On the poverty line. In a rural area, or a larger city. Between caring for my sister, taking care of other family needs, Jetpack, and then somewhere in there, myself…I just don’t know how I’d do it.

I don’t have much of a good blog post this week, is what I’m saying. I’m moving in the first week of September, and in between now and then, I have to get my house packed up, and then do work on the new place, and a dozen other little things.

Parenting is hard when this kind of stuff is going down. Not only, like, making sure dinner gets on the table (not gonna lie, tonight we had fast food. It’s been a long time, but I just could not pull my shit together enough to get something else out there). But being the kind of parent that has the energy to explain for the sixth time where lightening comes from, to not let him have freezy pops all day long, who smiles and laughs and asks how his day was.

My point, though, where did I…whoops, it’s over there. Excuse me, all I’ve had today is a can of pop. And I don’t usually drink pop, but it was there, and I had just gotten out of fat-shaming-neurologist, and…right, right, the point.

Artwork by John William Keedy.

Artwork by John William Keedy.

I can do this, because someday I’ll be done moving, and I can come home after the doctor’s to the Mr and cry on his shoulder if I need to, and Jetpack has preschool, and I have the spare cash to buy us fast food when dinner is just Too Damn Much.

So this is my massive nod, my bowing at your feet, my buying-you-a-beer-or-coffee, virtually.

To every parent out there who makes it, every goddamned day. Who gets shit done, clothes cleaned, homework enforced, dealing with or putting aside our own mental and physical and socio-economical blockages. We deserve so much respect and love for the good we manage to do.

Hugs!

So, y’all, go out and hug a parent. Ask first, though.

Huuugs

[Lit Crit] 3 Links, 3 Books

Some small links ahead, before your proper post:

  • Y’all should check out the new www.villageq.com site. I’m thinking there’s some familiar faces out there…

Now! Book post! We have one disappointing book, and two fabulous books. I’m not sure why the photos are so grainy, besides that the camera is new and I must have some settings off…also, Vanna Jetpack wasn’t real patient with this photo shoot 🙂

Anyway.

First book:

Who's in a Family cover

I flipped through this book and bought it, both for research, and because Jetpack liked it at the bookstore. I was excited. Scanning mindlessly, it looked like a fabulously perfect book.

Who’s In A Family was published in 1995. I’m a little surprised, actually, because I would’ve pegged it at a late ‘80s publication. The back gives a good summary: “Who’s in a family? The people who love you the most! Chances are, your family is like no one else’s–and that’s just fine.”

Good start, right? It doesn’t pidgeonhole (And Tango Makes Three is a great book but I want something a little queerer, too!). It shows different families (almost like small family stories on single or double pages) and also different types of animal-family configurations.

It starts to fall apart on page three.

Who's in a Family? Whitey.

The main text reads “Families are made up of people,” and then the next page says, “and animals have families too.” So…I’m not sure why the author and artist thought this page was necessary. In a book showcasing different types of families, this one starts with a definition of family–mighty white, heterosexual, and nuclear–which takes a dump all over that.

Who's in a Family moms Who's in a Family dads

Here’s our two main lesbian/gay appearing families. On the left, the text reads, “Laura and Kyle live with their two moms, Joyce and Emily, and a poodle named Daisy. It takes all four of them to give Daisy a bath.” On the right, the text reads, “Robin’s family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad’s partner, Henry, and Robin’s cat, Sassy. Clifford and Henry take turns making dinner for their family.”

Now, if Henry is the fellow with the porn star moustache, I guess I can understand some reticence in claiming him as dad (I jest). But there seems to be a huge disregard for the family unit on the right, versus the family unit on the left. There’s also a page which states “Lots of children live in families with their mothers.” But nothing similarly sweeping for father-led families.

Who's in a Family lions

Similarly, there are awesome showcases of animal families (Jetpack picked his favorite to show everyone). But not one is father-led (hello? Seahorse dads are badass. Or any of these animals, really). There’s no mention of adoption (at all). And step- or blended-families are glossed over.

In conclusion: if you run across Who’s in a Family, by Robert Skutch, just keep on going. There’s better books out there.

other books

These books, though. They’re not about families, but they’re really great books, and kind of subversive in a way that makes my writer-heart happy. And here, Vanna Jetpack was bored with holding books entirely, so please excuse the lack of inside pictures 🙂

Chester’s Way, by Kevin Henkes, is about two mouse best-friends, Chester and Wilson. Yeah, it’s two boys who are super close friends. I feel like this is a rare occurrence in kids lit, and I love how great the friendship between Chester and Wilson is. A new kid–Lily–moves into town, and Chester and Wilson learn about tolerance, and friendship, and it’s sweet and adorable. It doesn’t moralize, but it’s a very positive and has a lot of meaning.

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, is a story about a bull who doesn’t like fighting, but instead wants to hang out and smell the flowers. Seriously. Everyone wants him to fight and be hyper-masculine like the other bulls, but he wants to be peaceful. His mom worries that he’s unhappy, and when she discovers that he’s not, she just lets him do his thing. It’s a great book, the illustrations are absolutely beautiful, and it has another fabulous message. Plus, it was banned in fascist Spain and burned in Nazi Germany. Who can argue with that kind of a resume?