Twelve is Lovely

Posted on September 16, 2016

I’ve always liked the number 12. I remember arriving at 12 on the multiplication table and feeling like a superhero. I was enchanted with the idea of a baker’s dozen and 12 + 1. It’s a nice round number, relates to the calendar, lunchtime and the magic of staying up until midnight.

Last night into this morning 12 was about Briar. Today is her 12th birthday. I have not consistently written birthday posts or made huge deals out of age milestones, but today is sweet. I am reminded of how keenly September’s spirit imprinted on me as I waited for her arrival and then welcomed her. The taste of the air, the quality of the light, and the smattering of early-turning leaves always return me to the origin of my motherhood.

This birthday feels like a deepening. She is who she is, already well into her life’s trajectory. She will continue to explore things, from people and places to self expression and how she defines herself. I don’t mean to hurry or downplay any of it. I sense these years we’ve lived with her are a wildflower pressed between pages, the solid chapter of her childhood to be revisited and remembered in different ways by all of us. It’s been rich with laughter and discovery, questing and retreating. I am proud of all of it, even my very real foibles as a mom.

I cherish what we’ve done, how we’ve loved, and who we have become for and because of each other. I watched her at the mirror yesterday, her feet tilted beneath spindly legs with surprisingly muscular calves, her sweater had heart on the front, the patterns of the sleeves an unpredictable choose to pair with wildly flowered pants. She smirked and moved her hair with small nod and tilts of her head. I can still see her three year old shadow doing the same thing with her toddler ringlets.

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She keeps secrets and spends hours quiet, happily. She also offers unflinching access to her fears and hopes. I reach for words that can adequately illustrate how I feel and then sputter, “I love you. Do I say that too much? I can’t help it.” She laughs, leans into me and says, “It’s perfect. You’re perfect. I love you.” We laugh and joke that no one is perfect.

Today is her birthday, she is 12. It’s a day like any other day, it’s just that no day has ever been the same since she was born.

I love her so much. If you are reading this Briar, I hope you are making a crooked smile. Thank you for always making the rest of us feel so loved.


Can I Talk to You?

Posted on September 12, 2016

We try hard to not mess up as parents, setting out with the best of intentions. The thing is we didn’t plan for the transitions and the way it all changes, as it should, after the switch from crawling to walking, preschool to backpacks and homework. The matrix gets simpler and infinitely more complicated at once.

It’s easy to miss an invitation to talk or a cry for help, like blink and you miss it easy. I’m not sure I’m getting any better at being ready for the quiet, “Mom, can we talk” questions. Between the very real effect of stress on my body and the equally real threat that they’ll stop turning to me, I have to figure out a way.

I found a quote early one morning as I searched for something for a client.

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.” Shannon L. Alder

I loved it, mostly because I can remember private messages, unexpected cards in the mail, and gentle smiles that found their way to me exactly when I needed them. It also seems that as we move through the election cycle the divisiveness creates a feeling of being alone, at least for me. I tucked the quote a way in my head to help me do more.

CarChat

Briar and I were sitting in Sean’s truck after a whirlwind trip to the mall to find a last-minute replacement for Briar’s costume. Finley and Avery had already dashed upstairs ready to go from errands to playtime, and maybe to escape my post-mall frazzledness. I was gathering my wallet and phone and unbuckling my seatbelt when Briar said, “Mom, later on can I ask you about something?”

My throat caught. I try not to suffocate the girls with my propensity for leaping to the worst case scenario in my mind. “Sure, babe, in fact why not just ask me now? Your sisters aren’t here.” I set my things down and leaned back in the seat.

She took a breath. “It’s just that people kill people, and they hate, like really hate each other all over the world.” She stared ahead for a minute and then turned to me, “How can I help?”

My face flushed and I felt what has now become a familiar sensation of pride and heartache swirling together. Parenting has taught me about honesty and cushion, primarily that a lie will never offer an enduring buffer from pain, no matter how much I may want it to.

“Well, honey, this isn’t going to be a perfect answer, but in some ways I think just by asking me that you are helping. Your willingness to consider what is happening to other people and wanting to find a way to help when the situation doesn’t directly impact you is a sign of compassion and empathy.”

“Yes, but mom, it’s not fair. How can I be ok living and not helping?”

Another quote came to mind:

“The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” Susan Sontag

I pressed my lips together and trusted myself in spite of feeling like I am ill equipped to answer questions that I have myself. She watched me, her face still so much like it was when she was four, but her hair and posture reflecting the teenager she’ll soon be.

“It’s true we can only do so much, but we can do it every day with our whole heart. We have to start by being brave enough to say out loud what we believe, like the time you told the kids on the bus to stop teasing the girl about how much she weighed. That doesn’t seem like saving a life, but in that moment, on that bus, you were showing people that it wasn’t ok. You might have felt like they didn’t listen, but I bet your words stuck with them and with the kids who weren’t even teasing. When we show we aren’t afraid, others get a little bit more courage. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, thanks mom. Can I go up now?” I smiled and tousled her hair, “Go for it.” She had started the conversation and will probably come back to me for more at some point, but she was ready to be done.

I stayed in the car thinking about the opportunities that I have in life, with my kids and in the community. It can be scary to speak up and terrifying to think about all that is happening to people at the hands of other people. The conversation strengthened my resolve to do better and to care more.

We can all do that, can’t we?

 

 

Results Are In: Benign Myxoma

Posted on August 31, 2016

My friend Heather came to visit Monday. She used to live in Albany and we’d get together periodically to catch up—sometimes to rant about things, other times to say things like, “My store is closing” or “Like, I don’t have a f*cking job.” I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to have people you don’t have to shine for, you can be scared and angry, they don’t care. In the case of Heather, she left Albany to go to Philadelphia to work for the DNC, so the stories were excellent.

 

Heather came because I was scared and she has without fail, reached out to me in times when I’ve been low and texted, “You want me to come up?” When she arrived I was pretty bleak, I was tired, anxious, and didn’t even pretend to try and be a cheerful hostess. I hugged her and thanked her for coming, told her she looked gorgeous, which elicited a riotous and characteristic guffaw and “Yeah right” from her.

 

We laughed and shot the shit. After about a half an hour my cell phone rang. I answered and broke into an enormous grin as my surgeon called to let me know that the pathology results were back and that my tumor had been, as he had initially guessed, a benign myxoma.

“A woman in my office shared your post. I read it. It was, I should say, a great call to get checked. So thank you, didn’t want to make you wait. It’s benign.”

My mom cried. Heather laughed. The girls said, “So you don’t have cancer?” Heather snapped a picture.
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That was it. And yet it wasn’t, because I felt for about a month that the mass, Sean had come to call my “sidecar”, was a foreigner inside of me, proof of my own indifference and failure to act. It wasn’t cancer, but boy was I still in the wrong. Even now, after promising Kelly Wickham Hurst that I’d get a pap smear, I am two years out with hollow excuses about my doctor dying and life being busy.

 

Uh-uh. It’s a phone call, some scheduling, and 30 minutes of awkward, then you’re one. That’s it. I am so grateful for friends and benign results and the chance to do better. I hope you’ll try to hold on to the sobering effects of these lessons, at least long enough to look out for yourself.

 

You Know Best, But Do You?

Posted on August 26, 2016

A couple of years ago I noticed a bump on my hip. The shallow secret is that when I first saw it, I thought it was that I had lost weight and it was a bone that could be seen. The hollow-eyed, calorie-counting, laxative-popping, over-exercising girl that I was for a few years in college got excited. The addiction to weight-loss and control whispered in my ear, “You’re doing it, keep going.” I pushed that thought aside because I knew it wasn’t safe. I can’t diet like some people, when I begin to eliminate certain foods or to count calories I am right back on the high wire which takes perspective away putting me at risk.

I was in a health center getting checked for something and I said to the nurse practitioner, “What do you think this lump on my hip is?” She pressed her hands along my hip and said, “That’s just a part of your body.” I kept asking people, from my family, to other medical practitioners and fitness professionals. No one knew and their response was always more curious than alarmed.

Over the past year I have begun to establish myself with a Nurse Practitioner, named Jackie, for my primary care. I trust her and as a result of that I am managing my stress better and really considering the value of my own health as it pertains to my family and my work. My cheeks flush that I needed someone else to make me a priority, but it did.

“Can you take a look at my hip?” I asked her. It was about 3 months ago. She called another doctor in, who like everyone else kind of raised his eyebrows. She ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound person said, “There is definitely something in there that doesn’t belong. I am going to recommend an MRI.”

They put me in the MRI chamber (I don’t know if that’s the right term, all I know is that the 45 minutes I spent in it pressed every claustrophobic button I had).The next day I got a call that I needed to go for a biopsy. My hip lump had everyone puzzled. I rubbed the egg-sized protrusion through my skirt as I was given directions to the surgical center. An hour later I got a call from Jackie.

“I shared your films with a friend of mine who is an oncologist at the hospital.” Cue all the terror. I was standing in the middle of the office and I felt dizzy. “He thinks you should forgo the biopsy and go straight to an orthopedic oncologist in Albany.” I was quiet. “Are you ok?” she asked. I wasn’t. I was legitimately terrified into a mute state.

The next hour was a whirlwind of phone calls and scheduling. The specialist was leaving for a two week vacation so they shoehorned me in the next day. I had to reschedule a meeting and postpone something I had promised the girls. That night Sean had a stomach bug that was so violent he burst vessels in his eyes and could barely move from the fetal position. The girls were needy, I felt guilty for leaving. Sean insisted on getting dressed in slacks and a tie and accompanying me and my mom on the 45 minute drive to the appointment. He moaned in the back seat.

I have been incredibly lucky to have very little need to see specialists or spend time in hospitals, which is to say that I was pretty terrified being in such a place. It reminded me of being in a plane and realizing how very tiny I am and how little beyond my own emotions is within my control.

More than 2 years, I thought.

Two years I let whatever this thing is fester inside of me.

Everyone had said that the slow growth was a good sign, but I felt pummeled by the message I’d been sending over the years, which was “My health is secondary to everything else.”

“Have you seen the screens?” the doctor asked me. I shook my head. “Come on, let me show you.” We walked around a corner, the people in the hallway moved out of his way. I walked toward the illuminated rectangle and stared. He traced the oval shape and explained that it seemed straight forward, then he rotated the image and the oval shape split and snaked around something else. “It’s almost like a tail woven in your gluteal muscles.”

I didn’t know what to say. I think Sean asked a question, then we walked back to the exam room. I appreciated that the doctor got right to the point, “We can biopsy it, that will either tell us it’s benign or malignant, the only difference in approach would be with the latter we might radiate you before surgery. No matter what you are going to want it out, right?” I nodded. “I say we put you on the schedule to have it removed at Albany Med, rather than here in my practice. That way it can go straight to pathology, but I am 90% certain we’re talking about a benign growth.”

I had to wait three weeks, three weeks and two years really, because I didn’t even let myself rate as far as prioritization of need. I can get two daughters to orthodontist appointments, all three girls to the eye doctor, they take voice lessons and go to camp. I match socks and rinse the recycling bin with more focus and dedication than I give my own health. I clucked my tongue and committed to not spiraling into a storm of what ifs.

Driving down for surgery the fear finally came. Tears leapt from the corners of my eyes and I tried to take deep breaths. I only allowed it for about two minutes, then I shifted into a positive place and decided to keep that approach straight through to being discharged. I joked with the nurses, let Sean crack me up about how I looked in the surgical hat, said yes to heated blankets and imagined I was a self-satisfied house cat. Sean sat with me and as the anesthesiologists walked toward me I understood how very fragile every minute really is—how fragile we are and how the decisions we make, and even the decisions we don’t, actively steer us toward one thing or another. They had me remove my wedding ring and say goodbye to Sean.

Anesth

 

The tumor was removed Tuesday. My mom and FAB have been incredible caretakers, along with my mother-in-law and our cats. Sean tries to hide it, but I catch him looking at me with the vastness of what the worst case scenario could hold. The most generous thing I can do for him, for the rest of my family, and for myself is to slow the eff down. I take the pain pills and drink the water, I stay prone in bed, I don’t dive into work emails or fixing the world.

Dressing

I have about a 5inch long wound. We’ll find out at my follow up appointment a week from today if it is benign or some form of sarcoma. I’m still believing in the best, but I will say that as my world has been peppered with words like mass and malignancy, growth and excision, I see how my indifference to my own health has been a threat in and of itself.

I need to pay attention. I need to care. I have to treat my life with some degree of pacing that doesn’t criminalize taking time for myself.

I am grateful for this chance to reevaluate the choices I am making and what they all mean. I’m also grateful for the people who have written and asked me if I’m ok. It was not my intent to turn this into something big, but if you are out there trucking along like I was, handling everything but yourself stop.

Make the appointment. Ask the question. Do the things you would do for the people you love, you are every bit as deserving of care as they are. You might be surprised by just how much your family wants to and is able to do for you.

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High School Girls & Mentors—Using my Voice

Posted on August 10, 2016

March 1st wasn’t a remarkable day, it was a Tuesday, not that I remember. I had to go back to check, because while some details of what happened that morning have faded, the feeling I had as I read the email has not. My heart skipped a beat and I felt my shoulders drop and my chest rise.

We are the Co-Chairs of the Girls Take Charge Club at Shaker High School, in Latham, NY. In this student-founded and student-run program, high school girls go to our adjacent Junior High School to mentor the younger girls in subjects focusing on overcoming adversity that women and girls face while striving for leadership.

Each year we host a “Women in Leadership” event featuring prominent women leaders in our community. We will be creating a panel of women in leadership roles from our community to share their experiences and give advice to our members. This program is a great opportunity for both our high school and junior high girls to meet with and learn from women like yourself who are so well respected within the community.

I remember looking around the room wanting to shout, but not too loud. I felt imposterish and wondered how on earth they came to write to me. I wrote back and said there was nothing I’d be more delighted to do.

A month later they sent a list of questions to use in a bio they would read to introduce me, as well as another set of questions I could expect to be asked.

  1. What does a typical day in your life look like? What kinds of responsibilities does your job entail?
  2. What were your aspirations as a middle school or high school student? Were your dreams realized or did they change?
  3. What other jobs or experiences have you had that lead you to where you are today, and what techniques did you learn while in your position, or while getting to your position?
  4. What has been the most challenging obstacle you’ve overcome on your way to becoming a leader? For example, have you ever been discriminated against in the workplace? How did you overcome these obstacles and what actions did you take that you found were effective?
  5. What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?

 

I remember fretting over what to wear, wanting to send a message of individuality, but not without the reality that how we dress influences what many people think of us. I hoped to sound polished, but not so heavily rehearsed that I didn’t sound real. My goal was for all of us in that room to feel like we are worthy. To have it make a difference for girls who still get treated as property. I wanted to unlock a future with less apologies. Mostly, I wanted to be worth their time.

I decided to follow my gut. I’m better off script. I still trembled a bit as I waited in the library for the students to come in after the bell. One by one the other panelists began arriving, Noël McLaren the weekend anchor from News10, Ashley Miller a sports photographer, reporter, and producer from WNYT and a graduate of Shaker High, Nina Marshall founder of the LYP Project, and Rachel Cassidy  a VP in patent licensing related to new technologies for GE. Eventually we made it to the table and listened as different high school students introduces us.

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I imagined other libraries across the country, places with Spanish speaking students and bilingual presenters, audiences hearing from panelists in wheelchairs that mirrored their own, or other formulas that make students feel represented. I hope that it is happening and that where it isn’t there are people stepping up to create opportunities.

We need people like my friend Elan Morgan and the work that she is doing to make sure there are women on speaker lists, and Kelly Wickam Hurst who is out there trying to make sure that race is addressed in the school system.

The opportunities we have to be role models or to pull back the curtain on something for young people is incredibly important. I remember a woman I followed in my early blogging years saying that she had no intention of raising her kids to believe that only good things happen. It wasn’t, she said, her job to send them out into the world without a scratch or hurt feeling, it was to send them out ready for the world they’d meet. I carry that with me and try to balance being honest with being optimistic about what we can do to improve the world and carve out the space we want for ourselves in it without apology.

I am sharing a portion of the event here, filmed and edited with genuine respect and care by Kelli Lovdahl, a woman who works at Trampoline. We went off record, pulled no punches, and, I dare say, enjoyed ourselves. The thing I am learning about myself is that when I give of myself, I get something back, maybe it’s insight, maybe it’s confidence.

I am so grateful to have been a part of this event, but more than that, I am grateful for the way it reminded me that we all have something to give and to learn.

 

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