WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

Musings from the Grocery Store August 13, 2021

Photo by Hobi industri on Pexels.com

This isn’t going to end well. I tried to talk myself out of it as I pulled into the parking lot. The engine was still running so the AC would continue to work against the sweltering August heat outside, my mind not yet made up. The list I’d penned earlier was shoved into my purse between my wallet and checkbook. You don’t have the bags. Gah! I’ve gotten really good at remembering to bring them. In the beginning, I’d forget them all the time and then, in what always felt like a parsimonious choice, I’d buy new reusable ones to avoid the bag tax.* Every. Single. Time. So now I’ve got PLENTY of bags. At home. Not with me. Go home, come back when you’re better prepared.

* The bag tax is not a thread of fiction woven in for flair. It’s a real life thing. Connecticut, for a time, was charging a $0.10 tax for every disposable plastic bag used. That cost to businesses was, of course, passed on to their customers. Now, those bags are banned entirely, statewide, and instead stores are charging customers $0.10 per paper bag. Because they can. And for the record, KAREN, just in case there’s one of you reading this, I’ve been using reusable bags since before they were trendy. Certainly long before they were required. But only when I remember to bring them. Alas, debating disposable versus reusable and/or the merits of taxes is not why we’re here today.

I turned off the music and reasoned with myself. I have a list. That IS ‘prepared.’ They’re a retail establishment. Surely they’re equipped to handle customers who forgot their bags at home. I can do this. I cut the engine, donned my facemask**, shouldered my list-bearing purse, and marched toward the grocery store entrance.

** Also a real life thing. One that everyone in 2020 / 2021 knows well. But, just in case I’m rereading this in my golden years, COVID a thing in the distant past, I’ll not wonder if I was about to rob the grocery store. But I digress….

Lingering near the door for a moment, I unloaded my purse into the basket at the front of the cart meant to keep squirmy toddlers contained so they can’t lick random stuff. Shit! Without bags, I can’t take a scanner. The scanner, for anyone whose grocery store doesn’t offer such luxuries, is THE way to go. You scan your card at the machine, the machine spits out a price scanner, and you can scan-and-bag items as you shop so that when you’re done, all you have to do is hand the scanner and your payment to a cashier. Granted, while shopping, you’ve already spent so much time bagging and rebagging and shuffling items around enough times to have checked out the old fashioned way three times over. Still, it gives shoppers an illusion of efficiency and probably cuts down on payroll for the grocery store. But what good would a cart full of unbagged, scanned groceries do me? I teetered for a moment there, right on the edge of caving in and buying yet another handful of reusable ones. Then, No. I’ll just do it oldschool today. Shop for the stuff and check out with a cashier at the end. No biggie.

I wandered into the store at the produce department where my freedom from the scanner was immediately apparent to me. Sweet baby Jesus, I don’t need to print any stickers! See, you’ve got to scan everything before you bag it when using the scanner. Even the stuff that doesn’t have a barcode to be scanned. Which explains the scales throughout the produce department that spit out barcode stickers for the fruits and vegetables you’re weighing. Very handy to scan but sometimes a pain in the buns to have to look up all the produce items to print the correct barcodes. I bought produce with reckless abandon, tossing cukes into the cart without even twisty-tying the (non-banned, totally legal, yet still very plastic and disposable) produce bag. Bananas. Broccoli. A pineapple? No worries. The cashier will look them all up for me.

There was no real option other than walking aisle by aisle because my store recently remodeled. I call it “mine” because it’s the same grocery store I’ve shopped at for over two decades. But in truth, it’s never really mine, is it? Because they keep rearranging the aisles to keep me befuddled, wandering by the same endcaps repeatedly while trying to find where they moved the goddamn spices THIS time. (Pro tip: Do NOT spend any time looking for books or anything to read other than the rags offered at the checkouts. I tried last week, en route to visit someone at the hospital, and came up empty. No crosswords. No word seeks. Not even a Sudoku. The aisle is GONE, I tell you!) So by the time I’d made it to the midway part of the store, my list was midway crossed off and my cart was midway full. I’m not used to that. I’m used to seeing three or four “in-progress” bags of groceries in my cart. The random heap of items that was staring up at me almost made me uneasy. It looked too messy. Too unorganized. Don’t be silly. Groceries have been piled into shopping carts since the dawn of time, or something. It’ll be fiiiiine.

Near the last few aisles, I began to come to terms with the fact that I’d soon have to endure checking out. With an actual cashier. True, I could’ve gone to a self-checkout lane. But no. I’ll zip through there quickly if I could’ve otherwise gone through the ’12 items or fewer’ cash register but not with a full cart. It would only end with me doing something wrong (like resting my purse on the scale, which the register does NOT appreciate), the machine shutting off and blinking the overhead light to alert staff that I need unsolicited assistance, and/or me feeling flustered. I eyed my FULL cart of groceries and recalled the laminated signs the store used to post in the bagging area to remind employees to “strive for five.” Five items per single use bag. The presumed intention behind the policy was so little Granny can lift the bags from her trunk and into her house without straining, I guess. But the actual consequence of the policy was WAY more disposable plastic shopping bags being used than was necessary. Come to think of it, perhaps we should blame the “strive for five” policy for single-handedly creating a need to ban single-use plastic bags. Fuck. Was my store’s “strive for five” policy nothing more than a thinly veiled, venal plan to charge for paper bags?! And how many paper bags will I need for….all this?! Maybe I SHOULD just but more reusable ones.

I lucked out in terms of no lines at the checkout area. As it turns out, shopping on a random Thursday evening immediately following a microburst that left parts of town without power isn’t a popular choice. Which worked in my favor. I unloaded my groceries onto the belt, thankful that I remembered how, and greeted my cashier, each of us smiling, I’m confident, under our facemasks. You can tell by the crinkle at the corners of the eyes. Hers were old enough to be crinkly, like mine. Anyway. My luck didn’t run out there. Not only did I find a cashier without a line…but also she had a bagger stationed at her checkout! The bagger’s eyes were not old enough to be crinkly but he was unmasked and I can report with authority that he didn’t smile once. God, am I really that old? That this kid looks like, well, a kid?

Baggers are elusive beings in our store. (It’s “ours” at this point because I’ve had the whole shopping trip to get peeved about them “striving for five” and constantly rearranging aisles. Like, it’s still my store. But also, I’m not willing to take full and complete ownership of it, either.) The bagger drought is what caused me to try the scanner method for the first time, in fact. Because I would routinely find myself trying to unload my cart onto the belt while also bagging my stuff at the other end and trying to expedite payment to avoid that long, awkward stare from the cashier when you don’t manage to finish payment before they’re done scanning your order. Because they always seem to stare awkwardly rather than bag your items for you. Because that’s your job when there’s no bagger. Even if you’ve picked a checkout with a bagger who happens to wander away before it’s your turn. All I have to do is work this debit machine? Good golly, what’ll I do with all the free time I’m going to have?!

“Will you be needing any bags today?” the cashier asked. I hesitated. She could taste the hints of a reusable bag sale, I’m sure of it. “Paper will be fine, thank you,” I replied. I couldn’t see her mouth but I imagine she snarled a bit. Hey! Cut me some slack! I’m at this store every week, sometimes more than once. I ALWAYS have my bags. She scanned items. The bagger bagged items. And I stared awkwardly for a change. I’m queen of the world! When the cashier finished scanning, she began to help the bagger with bagging. “I’m going to put the eggs in this bag. With the bread on top,” she said, making direct eye contact with me, speaking slowly. Got it. It’s been a while, but I think I remember how this bagging process works. “Do you want this in a bag?” the boy asked, lifting up a quart-sized container of drain cleaner. Of course I did. But the way he asked it led me to know that the correct answer was, “Uhm. No? I guess not.” I took it from him and set it in the basket beside my purse. “How about this?” she asked, holding up a container of spring mix. Are they serious right now? I fake-smiled, thankful for the still-crinkly eye corners and the facemask, and took the lettuce from her. I tossed it on top of the bread which, if memory serves, was on top of the eggs. And then? The bagger lifted the watermelon half, wrapped in its slightly moist, very thin layer of plastic wrap, and shrugged. Actually shrugged. We stared awkwardly at each other until finally I tossed my purse over my shoulder to clear space in the basket for the unbagged piece of fruit.

That was the last of it, thankfully. I pushed my cart out of the store, took off my mask, and grumbled to myself about how much I hate that store. (It’s not even “ours” anymore. You can HAVE it!) As I loaded my four overfull paper bags (and six or seven random unbagged items) into my trunk, I reminisced about simpler times when a shopper could stop and shop at a stored called, aptly enough, Stop & Shop without a care in the world. And I dreamed for a brighter future in which I remember my damn bags, can take a scanner, and limit the peopling required of me.

 

Pieces of Me August 8, 2021

Photo by Ismael Sanchez on Pexels.com

Something I’ve begun to learn fairly recently is that opening up, showing vulnerability, admitting my limitations, being authentically me….it helps. It helps to talk about the not-so-shiny feelings I struggle with. But it helps even more when friends, acquaintances, even strangers reach out to me in response to some of the topics I’ve shared about here and elsewhere on social media. Raw stuff. Stuff that I had previously swept under the rug and tried to ignore or deny. But the more I share, the more I realize that I’m not alone. My insecurities, my fears, my anxieties; they’re not unique to me.

About a week ago, I was scrolling Facebook and came across a post from a new podcaster. I’m not familiar with the creator or the podcast so this isn’t a plug, necessarily. But the post I saw resonated with me so I shared it. If you’ve got a minute (literally, one minute) and you’d like to check it out, it’s available here. But if you don’t, here’s a recap: The video shows a man speaking directly to the camera about his experience in therapy. He recounts telling his therapist that he feels he needs help to be great; he’s only good on his own. A good employee, a good father, a good husband, a good friend. His therapist says, “Employee is someone you are for your job. Husband is someone you are for your wife. Father is someone you are for your son. Friend is someone you are for your friends. Who are you for yourself? Who are you outside of those roles?” He then admits to the camera, “I’m not sure there’s much of a person at the end of all that.”

BAM! Mic drop. That one minute anecdote succinctly sums up what I’ve been trying to find the words to say for damn near four years now.

Within the past year, my husband and I concluded a conversation we’d mooted since our daughter was first born. The big “should we have another child?” conversation. We’ve opened the dialog periodically over the years, in good times when parenting feels like a breeze and in bad times when I’m certain we’re failing. The end result has always been a decision to table it for the future. I’ve found various excuses. “When she’s out of diapers. Once she’s out of daycare. When we’re in a bigger house. After I’m settled into a new career.” There’s always been a reason why the time wasn’t right. Until sometime mid-pandemic when I tearfully and honestly admitted to my husband, “I don’t want any more children. I’ve lost too much of myself in motherhood and can’t emotionally do it, starting over from scratch with a new baby.”

I felt like a terrible mom for having even thought it, let alone breathed life into it and actually said it. I felt that it implied my daughter has somehow taken something from me or that I don’t love her or appreciate the family my husband and I have created together. Let me be clear: Motherhood has been the most terrifying endeavor of my life but also my most rewarding. Watching her grow into the 8-year old she is today—from learning the basics like talking and walking to developing her own personality and opinions—I’m incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat for all of it. The prospect of ushering her into adolescence and eventually adulthood looms ahead of me, an insurmountable task. But I have faith that it’ll become slightly more tractable with time and experience.

But it’s true. I’ve lost a piece of myself when I became her mom. Just as I lost a piece of myself when I became his wife. And their friend. We—because I’m confident I’m not alone in the way I was brought up—are taught from a young age that you’re supposed to hop on this sort of life escalator as soon as possible. Finish school. Find a job. Nail down a spouse. Buy a house with a picket fence. Pop out 2.5 children. Work until you die. Anything outside of that isn’t normal. It isn’t right. You’re doing it wrong unless you do it this way. And I’ve bought into every last bit of it, happily cleaving off parts of Sierra and bestowing them upon others.

I’ve recognized for a while now that my identity is too wrapped up in others. That I’m long overdue to disentangle myself, to a degree, from the roles I fill for others. To reclaim some pieces of me, patch them back together and mod podge them into place if I have to. Part of me proffers that these weird existential ramblings going on in my brain are related to the pandemic; surely COVID has caused many of us to take a step back and examine what’s important in life and what we’d like to improve upon. Another part of me wonders if it’s my age; maybe all 30-somethings go through this, no matter what’s going on in the world at large.

Regardless of why I’m feeling the things I’m feeling, I’m feeling them. And I’ve taken some steps towards reclaiming myself. But I realized this weekend that my work is far from over. I was at a party at my cousin’s house, celebrating a couple of birthdays. “You two have met, right?” my cousin asked simultaneously of me and a woman across the campfire from me. We both replied at the same time, but gave different answers. Mine was, “I’m sure we have. I know I’ve seen her at parties here before.” Hers was, “No, I don’t think so.” After a brief explanation from my cousin, the woman remembered me. Turns out, she hadn’t recognized me because I’d walked into the party with two kids (my daughter and my nephew), neither of whom were seated with me at the time, and no partner; hubby wasn’t feeling well so he had opted to stay home. Without being flanked by my daughter and my husband, I was unrecognizable as an individual. Which proves my point.

So. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers, this is a topic I’d love to hear from you about. How have you maintained (or reclaimed) your individual identity while still fulfilling the roles you’ve taken on in life? I’m humbly asking for guidance.

 

The Lowlight July 26, 2021

Sunrise at Wildwood, NJ

Mondays can be tough. This Monday, though, is made tougher by the fact that it’s my first full day back home after a week at the beach. My brain is still in a vacation fog fueled by funnel cake, lack of sleep, and a harrowing drive home that spanned over 5 hours and included a GPS-guided detour off the highway and through New York City for reasons still unknown to me. But I digress.

While away, I did what we all do on vacation. I enjoyed my time with family and tried my best to capture a few images each day that represented the memories we’d made. I’m often bad at that. Remembering to take pictures, that is. I’m even worse at remembering to be IN some of the pictures, too, but that’s a story for another day. This time, I did okay at both. The end result was a nightly post to social media sharing the handful of images from that day. If we’re connected there, you probably saw my posts. Maybe even ‘liked’ or commented on a picture or two. The pictures show happiness. Family. Laughter. Relaxation. Fun. All the highlights of a memorable vacation.

But let’s drop the pretense for a minute here and level with each other. Vacation isn’t all just highlights, is it? There are the moments when no one can pick what they want for dinner or the kids are crying for no good reason. Maybe you’re sunburned. Chafed. Overtired. Perhaps the shoes you packed weren’t the best for walking, after all. Maybe the excursion you wanted was booked or you just ran out of time to do it all. Certainly, there are lowlights of vacation, too, but we never really talk about them. Until right now.

My favorite picture from vacation wasn’t taken by me. It was taken by my husband. Here it is:

Fireworks at the beach

My daughter and I were watching a fireworks display on the beach. It was the end of a long day of fun that included a morning bike ride for her and sleeping in for me. We’d gone on a speedboat dolphin tour with a group of family and friends, spent some time poolside, done some souvenir shopping on the boardwalk, and were about to head back to our hotel with a variety of fried sweets to share before bed. When I look at this picture, I take the overly critical stance that I always do. I see that my hair is messy and windblown. I see the flab at the back of my arm and my hunched posture. I wish I looked more motherly, maybe angled toward my daughter rather than away from her. Maybe with an arm around her. But you know what else I see here? Strength.

Since this isn’t social media and I don’t have to stick to just the highlights of my vacation, I’ll admit that had this picture been taken from the front, you’d see that I had a tear-stained face. Because when you’re like me and struggle with bouts of anxiety, you try hard to leave it at home but it finds its way into your suitcase every time. And mine followed me onto the boardwalk that night.

About 90 minutes before this picture was taken, I was browsing shops for trinkets to bring home to loved ones. The three of us—my husband, my daughter, and me—were happily walking together, chatting about what we hoped to buy. We were excited about the fireworks display that would be happening soon and were plotting what we’d grab for a sweet treat before heading back to our hotel for the night. As we shopped, the crowds thickened in proportion to my patience thinning. I grew uncomfortable. Cranky. Anxious. I told my husband that I was going to walk along the shore to have some quiet time and that I’d meet up with them for fireworks a little later. I encouraged him to continue on shopping with our girl and skipped down the wooden steps to the sand.

About 60 minutes before this picture was taken, I slipped off my flip flops and marched, barefoot, across the beach to the water. The sun was already down. It was a full moon, hovering large and pink on the horizon. I walked toward it until I felt the water at my toes. And then, I began walking along the shore, feet sinking slightly into the packed sand, waves lapping up the footprints in my wake. I breathed, deeply. I listened to the water. I watched in semi-darkness as birds alighted at the very edge of the water to drink before flying off. I cried.

About 45 minutes before this picture was taken, I paused my walk to face the ocean and the moon. I sat in silence for a few minutes and let the tears flow. I thought about life and love, childhood and aging, hopes and insecurities. I thought about my relationships. I thought about the work I’ve put into myself, my mental health, over the past year and a half. I talked to my mom, needing so badly to feel her spirit just then.

About 30 minutes before this picture was taken, I had made my way from the shore back to the boardwalk and found a bench overlooking the beach. I texted my husband to let him know where he could find me. I struggled with negative thoughts; I had let my anxiety win by pulling me away and ruining family time. I cried some more. I texted a couple of friends who I turn to in moments like these. I breathed and trained my eyes on that moon, trying to rein in my emotions. Trying to fight the urge to escape to the safety of my hotel room waiting just one block away.

About 15 minutes before this picture was taken, my husband and daughter hopped off the tram car beside me. He kissed the top of my head and whispered, “We’ll always have your back.” I didn’t try to hide my tears from my daughter, who stood between my knees and asked me why I was crying. Instead, I answered as honestly as I could. I told her I wasn’t sure. I asked her for a hug so she wrapped her arms around my neck and let me rock her. “You know that nervous feeling you sometimes get in your belly?” I asked, knowing that she understands anxiety. She nodded. “I’m feeling that. And it’s making me feel really sad for some reason. I’m just really glad you’re here.” She rubbed my back and held me and eventually sat down behind me.

Moments before this picture was taken, the fireworks display began. The fireworks display that I almost missed out on. She and I sat there, with Chris beside us, and oohed and ahhed as colors exploded in the air. I felt her back against mine. I heard the care and concern in her voice. I felt the safety in having my husband there.

I’m so thankful that my husband thought to snap a picture just then. Had he asked, I’d have declined. I’d have waved him off because I was crying and looked a hot mess. But he didn’t ask. He saw a moment he wanted to remember and he acted. I’d like to pause here to urge you: Take the picture. Even if you’re not looking or feeling your best. Take the picture, too, of your partner. Especially if your kids are with them. Even if it’s not social media worthy and no one ever sees the picture but you and them. Honest moments like these should be celebrated just as much as the posed, happy ones.

The greatest souvenir I could’ve ever taken home from my vacation? A reminder that it’s okay to not be okay.

The moon looked so much bigger and more vibrant in person

 

The Learning Curve: An Erratum July 16, 2021

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Roughly eight years ago, I published a post called The Learning Curve. It was a list of 10 things I’d learned about parenting in my 28 day tenure as a mom. <insert eye roll here> To be fair, at one point in the post, I acknowledged that my future self would mock my naiveté. (This older and wiser version of me prefers that spelling—naiveté—to the spelling I used in 2013—naivety.) And before I go any further, I’d like to pause here to acknowledge the same; that the future, more-experienced-mom me is going to roll her eyes, too, and have much sager words to offer. For now, though, I’ll submit to you my current “top 10” list of stuff I’ve learned about parenting over the past eight years. Which honestly feels much longer, perhaps because I’m looking at it from the back end of a global pandemic.

Silly faces make EVERY picture better.
  1. You’re going to eat your words. – All of them. Every last “I’ll never let my kid…” and “I always… / I’d never…” you’ve ever even thought with your pre-parenting brain. Open wide because here comes the airplane. At some point, even if it’s just a one off, you’re going to let them… and you sometimes… / you might….
  2. You only think you’re the one in charge. – Sure, you’re the parent. You make the rules. But time and money are both controlled largely by the kid. That weekly date night that was non-negotiable before kids suddenly relies on finding a sitter. That weekend excursion with your girlfriends now has to be planned around dance competitions. That glass of wine you used to indulge in after work now has to wait because you’ve got to drive the kid to and from soccer practice.
  3. Your house is always going to be messy. – There are going to be toys. And books. And craft supplies. And sports equipment. And Legos and Barbie shoes and endless little bits of cut up pieces of paper and random pieces of board games you didn’t even know you owned. NONE of it will be where it belongs. It’s going to need to be picked up before you can clean. Unless you try to clean around it. Which, let me be clear: You will try. On the days that you do put things away and clean, it’ll be short-lived. So short-lived, in fact, that the desire to do it again will be tarnished by the disappointment in how long it lasts. The stretches of messiness will get longer and longer, spurts of clean becoming more and more rare, until eventually you just embrace the chaos.
  4. Get used to repeating yourself. – Kids have selective hearing. That’s a fact. Whether or not they hear you is determined mostly by whether or not there’s a screen on in their proximity and whether or not they want to hear what you’re saying. You’ve opened a fun size KitKat from your secret stash (also known as last year’s Halloween haul)? They’ll hear the crinkle of that wrapper from the neighbor’s house. But it’s time to brush teeth and get ready for bed? They might be seated next to you on the couch and still won’t hear you. And the things they do hear will eventually become things that they “forgot” or “didn’t know.” So you’ll have to tell them again and hope they hear you. Rinse and repeat for all of eternity.
  5. Screens aren’t really all that bad, in moderation. – No, I’m not advocating parking your kid in front of a screen all day, every day. I’m merely suggesting that they’ll survive a little screen time, even as a toddler. There’s lots to be learned from lots of children’s programming nowadays. The app store has tons of games that help with fine motor skills, vocabulary, logic…you name it. Without a screen, kids in 2020/2021 would have missed out on over a year’s worth of schooling. Technology is here to stay and we have a responsibility to our kids to teach them how to use it all properly.
  6. Making friends is going to get weird. – The friends you used to have pre-kids may still be there. But they’ll be off doing whatever their kid wants to do every weekends because they, too, only think they’re in charge. So you’ll have to consider making some new ones. The likely choice here will be the parents of the kids that your kid hangs out with. You may have nothing at all in common with them other than having kids who like to hang out. Or you may have tons in common and get along great…until your kids have a falling out or are no longer on the same team and suddenly your friendship suffers for it.
  7. You’re not doing it wrong. – You’re going to feel like you are. Often. But you’re not. When you need parenting advice, turn to those whose advice resonates with you. And find people who can remind you that you’re doing a good job even when you’re sure you’re not.
  8. Don’t expect appreciation but know it exists. – You know that scene in Frozen II where Olaf opines about “this will all make sense when I am older?” Of course you do, because you have kids. Well, I trust that the same is true with kids and appreciation. Right now, you may be stress eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and stewing over the fact that your kid not-so-kindly reminded you that you forgot to buy more tape at the store—seriously, where the eff does all the tape go?!?!—but didn’t so much as thank you for going to the PTO meeting, doing three loads of laundry, and schlepping them to their sports practice. (Okay, I’ll admit, that sounds oddly specific. I digress.) But someday, they’re going to look back their childhood and appreciate your involvement in the things you did. Not an empty tape dispenser.
  9. You’re going to miss this. – Whatever “this” is, it’s not going to be that way forever and when it’s not there, you’ll miss it. So when you’re dog-tired and feel like you have nothing left to give, take a breath and remind yourself of that.
  10. Motherhood is amazing. – This is the one hold-out from the 2013 post because it’s still true. I know because she and I laugh together in a way that neither of us laughs with anyone else. And we have secret kisses akin to secret handshakes; including not only the standards (regular kiss, butterfly kiss, “bunny” kiss, etc) but also some of our own creation like the slow-motion kiss and the whisper kiss. I know because when she’s hurt, it’s me she looks for. And at the end of a long day her rough behavior melts into a teary hug while we talk about what’s bothering her. I know because she drives me BONKERS but is also my favorite person in the universe.

To learn more about the inspiration for this post…

 

Clearing Closet Space June 28, 2021

This post has been sitting idly in my drafts folder since March 14. I wrote it as a gift to myself, intending to publish it the following day, my 38th birthday. I passed it along to a small handful of beta readers who each offered feedback. I reread it. I slept on it. And the next morning, the day I had intended to post it, I balked. Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking (and a little editing). And I feel proud with the end result. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to rewind time about three and a half months…


It’s that time of year. Connecticut is on the cusp of spring. The days are getting warmer, sunsets are getting later. Now is when those of us with small closets and temperate climates pack away the sweaters and long sleeves to clear closet space for the tank tops and sun dresses that have been lying in wait in under-bed storage since fall. And that’s got me doing some thinking about all the things we wear and what they say about us, the image that we project out into the world.

The Ides of March, 1983. That’s the beginning of my story. I imagine that my first ever item of clothing was one of those hospital-issued pink and blue striped hats. I can picture a nurse tying a pink ribbon around its top. Girl. I can picture my parents dressing me to leave the hospital and go home. Maybe a onesie. Maybe pajamas. Booties, for sure. Probably white and trimmed in itchy lace. The left foot, daughter, and the right, sister. I can picture, too, all the outfits that streamed in and out of our house throughout childhood. The hand-me-downs, cousin. The gifts, niece. The frilly dresses bought special for holidays or events, granddaughter. Each article, a new piece of the image that was me.

On the first day of Kindergarten, I wore a dark blue dress with a tiny floral pattern on it. Its front was graced with a wide, white collar and an oversized bow, the likes of which would stir envy in JoJo Siwa herself. Mary Janes. Bobby socks. Backpack. Student. Then came the leotards and tights. Dancer. The headbands that would hold my hair back as I curved over my spiralbound notebook and penned all the stories dancing in my childlike imagination. Writer. The sparkly, plastic, adjustable chain friendship bracelets that were all the rage amongst grade-schoolers in the 80s; mine was purple. Friend. Gosh, we’d trade and collect and gift those plastic clip-on charms like crazy.

Most of our clothes are chosen for us when we’re kids. But as we age into the pre-teen and teen years, we start to have a bit more say, don’t we? And that’s when our personalities, rather than our parents’ preferences, start to poke through. Bathing suits. Confident. Flip-flops. Low maintenance. Comfy t-shirts. Shy. Leggings. Nerd. I was about eleven years old when I tried on that belt that became a conversation starter for years after. Vegetarian. The apron that was part of my uniform for my very first job. Employee. Those platform velvet heels; wow, did I love those uncomfortable monstrosities. Stubborn. And let’s not forget the make-up; eyeliner and eyeshadow and mascara, oh my. Girlfriend. Baggy jeans. Anxious. Prom dresses. Mature. Khakis. Sensible. The overpriced “class ring” that we’re all duped into buying in high school only to lose somehow within a year–either lost on the bottom of a jewelry box or gifted to the one we thought we’d be with forever but haven’t seen since Thanksgiving Eve the fall after graduation. People-pleaser.

As we age into adulthood, our wardrobe is entirely in our control. We box up the items we don’t wear anymore, the pieces that no longer hang on us right. And in their place, new pieces. Maybe something in a fresh new color or trendier style. Maybe something a little bigger or a tad more form-fitting. Maybe something just different, new, fresh. Hoodies, pea coats, and scarves. Intern. Thigh highs and crew socks. Graduate. Bras, undies, and camisoles. Fiancee. Lingerie and bathrobes. Wife. Sweaters, spaghetti straps, and skirts. Mother. A rainbow of colors. A myriad of styles. All chosen by us for comfort, function, and image.

Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, I wear a lot more pajamas and yoga pants than ever before; with nowhere to go, why not be comfy, right? And with nothing to do, I’ve had lots of time to think. At the forefront of my mind? Jewelry. Shiny little baubles, uniquely my own style, to pull my look together. I’ve scoured my jewelry box, trying on all sorts of accessories, and have finally settled on some statement pieces that feel really great to me. The earrings that I think feel best on me may not be your style but they’re mine. The left, sapiosexual, and the right, demisexual, are equally sparkly. And they look pretty amazing with the necklace that feels best, too. Pansexual. All of which goes nicely, by the way, with my wedding ring. Blessed beyond words. Wearing these, I look in the mirror and feel complete. And let me be clear. I’ve done arguably more than my fair share of online shopping during this pandemic. But these jewels are ones I’ve always owned. Nothing new. Just something I’ve never worn out of the house until now.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

To those who may not want to follow the links provided, or who maybe DID but are still confused, let me tell you what those earrings and that necklace mean to me. I like brains. Not in the zombie kinda way but in the “talk nerdy to me” kinda way. And I like emotional connections. And these two proclivities trump anything else about a person, including gender. So together, I hope my jewelry is projecting a “hearts not parts” image.

Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com

If I had to name the adult equivalent to the clunky, purple plastic bracelet of my youth, it would be my Pandora bracelet. So let’s pretend for a moment that there’s a charm on it for every single bond I’ve made in life. Family, friends, acquaintances, members of the community around me, you. Everyone. Each bead, each dangly, adding up to the sum total of respect, love, support, and acceptance surrounding me. Each bauble making my life all that much more beautiful. The weight of that charm bracelet on my wrist brings comfort and I think it’s perfect as it is. That said, anyone and everyone is entitled to take their charm back. I’ll give it freely. With a heavy heart, sure, but still freely. Because I’ve let too much time pass not allowing these gems to glimmer in the sunshine and the only people I have room for in my circle are the ones who accept that I love the jewelry I’ve chosen for me.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Welcome back to the now. June 2021. Pride month. I didn’t want to let it pass without pulling out this post. Dusting it off. Giving it a final pass of editing. And finally sharing it. Anyone who knows me knows that I tout acceptance for all. And this post is really nothing more than me extending that same grace, that same acceptance to myself.

I’m prepared for some people to not care; “Why is she telling us this? What does it matter?” But it does matter, to me. It’s a part of me that I’ve only acknowledged to a handful of people, ever. Having never assigned myself a label and having entered into a heteronormative marriage has made it easy for me to blend in. To not be seen as “other.” But by not saying it, it feels like I’m hiding it. And I think that sends a message that I believe that being “other” is something to be ashamed of, that queerness is best swept under the rug and ignored. And THAT couldn’t be further from what I believe.

I’m prepared for some people to care a lot. Maybe even to walk away. I’d like to think there aren’t many people in my life who would do that. But maybe a few. Perhaps even some who’ll surprise me. I realize that probably not everyone is going to be an ally. Still, I’m prepared.

Mostly, though, I’m prepared for people to care just the right amount. To realize that I’m the same me I was before I wrote this, the same me I’ve always been. To maybe offer a hug or covid-approved fist-bump and say something like, “Hey, thanks for sharing a piece of you.”

 

Things I Learned at the Playground April 18, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 5:35 pm
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Photo by Robin McPherson on Pexels.com

“It’s school vacation for Rylin next week,” I’d said while talking with a friend last weekend.

“Oh, nice!” she’d said. Then, “What do you two have planned?” It was a logical question. No school means we should take the opportunity to do something fun. A year ago, we were the type of family that was almost never home on weekends and most weeknights, too. But now? I’ve grown accustomed to staying home. Comfortable NOT doing stuff. Too comfortable maybe. So I gave my friend all the same excuses I’ve used for a year now. “Nothing planned. Don’t forget I’m not vaccinated yet. And things aren’t normal here still. We still have to socially distance and wear masks.” My friend offered a simple, “Mmm” in response, which I could’ve taken as a sign of agreement, that I’d made the right choice by not planning anything. But come Monday, day one of school vacation, I was still thinking about that friend’s “Mmm.” And the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a gentle nudge. A kind reminder that life didn’t end when the pandemic started. And she was right.

“Let’s go to the library playground,” I suggested to my exuberant seven year old on Tuesday morning. It felt to me like a good compromise; something she’d be excited to do outside of our home or yard yet, still very low risk. When I said the words, Rylin’s eyes and spirit perked up. The library playground is THE place to play in town for the ages 3 to 12 crowd. And we hadn’t been in over a year, thanks to the pandemic. “Yesssss!” she whooped.

I reminded her that sandals aren’t the best for running so she put on socks and sneakers. I suggested we put her hair up so it’s out of her face when she’s playing. She asked to bring one of her babies, pretending she was a teacher and this was a field trip. And soon enough, we were loaded into the car, water bottles in tow, ready for a fun time.

We stopped for lunch on the way so our first order of business at the library was a little picnic under the pavilion. As we ate our sandwiches, I watched her glance around. She commented at how long it had been since we’d been there, how many kids were there playing, and how a couple people didn’t have on masks. And then lunch was over. I put my mask back on, disposed of our trash, and told her I’d be right there at our table, reading, while she plays. “Okay, mom!” And she was off, leaving me to chaperone MaryEllen, her one student on our field trip.

Within a few minutes, though, Rylin was back at the table beside me. She was unpacking MaryEllen’s backpack, which was full of hair accessories. As she spritzed her doll’s hair with its spray bottle and began brushing it, she admitted, “I’m feeling a little lonely.” I pointed out all the kids around her age and suggested she say hello to one of them. She lowered her gaze and said, “Everyone already has a friend to play with except for me.” I again suggested that she says hello to someone and asks them to play. I even offered to help her talk to someone. She shook her head, told me she could do it on her own, and ventured out again.

Her second attempt lasted about as long as her first. Only this time, I watched her rather than read. I saw her retreat to the least populated area of the playground, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the other kids. When she shuffled back to our table, I pointed out to her that talking to a new friend would be easier if she played in the same area as the other kids. She sat beside me, brushing MaryEllen’s hair again, and eked, “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

It was as if I was listening to myself. I understood completely but asked her to say more anyway. “What’s making you feel overwhelmed?” She hesitated a moment, thinking. It wasn’t that some people weren’t wearing masks. It wasn’t even that there were too many people. It was that they were strangers. And in that moment, my year’s worth of gushing about how incredibly resilient she’d been throughout the pandemic came crumbling down. I realized that the pandemic HAD changed her. A year ago, she loved meeting new people. She’d say hello or just start playing with new friends without thinking twice. But since March 2020, she hasn’t even seen a stranger. And now, in April 2021, she doesn’t know how to meet someone new, even when they’re right in front of her.

I helped her brush and braid her doll’s hair, all the while reminding her of the kid she was a year ago. We talked about how the pandemic had changed the things we do, how we do them, and how we feel about all of it. We also talked about how life is slowly starting to get back to normal, and how we have to, too.

She made a short-lived third attempt at playing with the other kids but came back crying moments later, complaining about a twisted ankle following a jump down from the monkey bars. “Let’s head home,” I suggested for not my first time since we’d arrive. “Okay,” she finally agreed. She sounded defeated, and not just because of her ankle. On the car ride home, we talked more about feeling a little nervous to do some of the things that once came naturally to us. “It’s not that you CAN’T talk to new friends. You’re just out of practice,” I pointed out.

On Wednesday, Rylin was very eager to accompany me to my first vaccine appointment. As we got ready to leave, I pointed out what a beautiful day it was and asked if she might want to try visiting the playground again. To my surprise, she said yes. But our second day at the library went much like the first; me encouraging her to say hello to someone, her shying away from everyone, and the two of us styling her baby’s hair until it was time to go.

As we drove home that afternoon, she mused that she didn’t understand why she feels so overwhelmed about talking to new people. And I leveled with her. “Life has been very strange this past year and some of the things that used to be easy for us just feel different right now. But we have to keep trying.” Then I admitted to her that lots of normal things make me feel nervous now, too. I suggested to her that we both keep working on the things that make us feel overwhelmed.

We spent a rainy Thursday at home relaxing. Babying ourselves. Me, with a sore arm from my vaccine. Her, with a bruised ego from two trips to the playground without peer interaction. I took some time to reflect on how wrong I was to believe we’d made it through the pandemic unscathed. I silently acknowledged that many of my own anxieties about life returning to semi-normalcy are beginning to encroach on unhealthy. I also admitted to myself that she was drinking it all in. My emotions. How I respond to the world around us. I was poisoning her.

“Let’s go on a date,” I proposed on Friday morning. It was raining. We’d had two failed attempts at the playground already and really needed an emotional victory, a morale boost. “How about bowling?” I asked. On our way to the alley, I talked candidly about how I’ve been nervous about being around other people. “Ever notice that for the past year, Daddy has done most of our shopping and stuff outside the house?” I asked. She nodded. “I’ve been scared. But just because I haven’t gone out much doesn’t mean I CAN’T. So today we’re going to do it!”

We bowled two games, just the two of us, masks and all. And when we were done, we treated ourselves to ice cream. I worked hard, actively, to not let any of it bother me. Not the having to wear a mask, not the interacting with the bowling alley staff, not the ordering or paying for ice cream. I made a choice to not poison her with my anxiety. Instead, I fed her a steady diet of positivity and lightheartedness. And it worked. “That was a lot of fun and I wasn’t even that nervous. Thanks for being my date,” I smiled at her in the rear view mirror as we pulled back into our driveway. “You’re welcome,” she smiled back.

As life continues to inch closer to normalcy, my goal is to be more mindful of what I feed her soul, to remember that she’s drinking it all in and learning from me. I owe it to her to show her how to be responsible and cautious, sure. But also how to be happy, confident, comfortable in her skin. How to know her worth, take no shit, and not settle for less than she deserves. How to be brave. Fearless, even. How to not let anything stop her from accomplishing everything she wants in life.

It’s a tall order we have, us parents, navigating our kids back on track post-pandemic. But it’s time. And someday when she’s older, I’ll tell her the story of how it was her who taught me how to reenter normal life.

 

Humor Me March 20, 2021

Day 28: Post five things that make you laugh-out-loud.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.” – LINDA ELLERBEE

We’re a year into a global pandemic. And I can’t tell you how many times since its start that I had an if-I-don’t-laugh-I’ll-cry moment. When I need a good laugh, these are the things that are surefire ways to get the job done.

STAND-UP COMEDY
The first thing my mind goes to when I think of laughter is, of course, comedy. My relationship with stand-up has always been tepid, though. I don’t have a list of favorite comics. I can’t reenact my favorite bits. I’ve been known to turn off the TV during a comedy special if I don’t laugh within the first few minutes and maybe because of that, nights at the comedy club were something I’d only agree to infrequently, pre-pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, though? I can’t wait to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers while trying to enjoy some pretzel bites and two drinks, minimum. But I digress. The comedy I do enjoy isn’t mean to anyone, like picking on the guy in the front row for the shirt he’s wearing, for example. It can be adult but shouldn’t be crass or mysogynistic. It should not be accompanied with any over-the-top facial or body movements. In fact, bonus points if it’s delivered with a deadpan nonchalance. One of my favorites is Michael McIntyre. If you’ve not seen any of his stuff, do yourself a favorite and check him out on YouTube.

FUNNY ANIMAL VIDEOS
For me personally, funny animal videos are….meh. Sure, they’re entertaining. But they’re not the first thing I run to when I need a laugh. The reason why these make the list is because my daughter loves them. And her seven year old gleeful laughter is enough to brighten up any bad day. So when she asks for one, I almost always oblige. Sometimes there are other pets mixed in—dogs, birds, bunnies. Sometimes they include farm animals. Once, we saw one of panda bears sliding down a slide. She especially loves ones that narrate, either in subtitles or with voice-over, what the animal is thinking or saying. Those that don’t have narration often get narrated by us as we watch. That is, IF we can catch our breath between bursts of laughter.

SCHITT’S CREEK
I may be a bit biased here because Dan Levy is one of my most favorite humans that I’ve never actually met. But this show is phenomenal. The casting. The writing. The wardrobe. Everything. It’s just spectacular. If you’ve not become acquainted with the Roses, hop on over to Netflix and get watching. There wasn’t a single episode in its six-season run that didn’t make me laugh out loud.

THE WAY MY DAD GOOGLES STUFF
About 9 months into the pandemic, I hit a point where I just couldn’t deal with the isolation anymore. And around January 2021, my sister hit that point, too. Throughout it all, we’d visit each other infrequently but January was when she and I decided to make those visits more regular. So we began meeting for Family Dinner once per week. After the first few weeks, we invited our dad into our makeshift Pod. When we gather, there’s dinner, sure. But also a few games and lots of conversation. And it never fails. My father who, bless his heart, carries around a brand new iPhone that, to him, is little more than a way to make a phone call, will find the need to google something. And when he does, he speaks in full sentences. Sometimes, paragraphs. It’s never something simple like, “Hey Siri, what was Jodie Foster’s first role?” It’s always something wordier. “Hey Siri, would you please tell me what role was the on-screen debut breakout performance by Academy Award winning actress and director Jodie Foster?” The minute he googles one thing, we can’t help but chuckle and mimic his language. I’m pretty sure he does it on purpose at this point.

GROWN FOLKS FIGHTING ON THE INTERNET
Seriously. It’s not a good look. No one in the history of the internet has ever changed someone’s mind by arguing like an idiot online. Not about silly stuff like the best pizza joint in the area. And certainly not about the big stuff like politics or abortion or racism. That’s not to say discussions can’t happen. They can. And they should. Especially about the big stuff. But when a post resorts to flinging names and misinformation, spouting opinions as facts, and general bullying…just, no. But also, know that if you DO do it, I’m going to read every last comment about the argument that doesn’t involve me. And silently judge and laugh.

 

Surthrival and Socks March 8, 2021

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 4:56 pm
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Day 27: Write about something that’s kicking ass right now.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
― Leon C. Megginson

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

One year ago, I was packing up a few necessities from my desk at work; performance reports, letterhead, a flash drive with some commonly used forms, log-in information for my remote connections, shipping supplies, vehicle titles for on-lot assets. I was attending the last PTO meeting held in person at my daughter’s school; the dozen or so of us huddled around the library table, trying to plan for the unknown of what “two weeks” of remote learning would look like for our school community. I was trying to source face masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper while also shopping for enough staple grocery items to get us through the quarantine. I was trying, and failing, at managing my anxieties over our “new normal” which felt like anything but.

So here we are. A full year later. I’ve learned lots of new words and concepts, thanks to the pandemic. Social distancing. Cohorts. Pods. Contract tracing. PPE. I thought I’d learned all the new vocabulary that COVID was going to teach me but then I saw the word “surthrive.” It’s one of those words that feels self-explanatory to me, calling to mind lots of vibrant, powerful images. Pinterest moms converting play rooms into color coded “distance learning” centers. Artists channeling their feelings—fear, grief, hope—into something beautiful. People finding new and inventive ways to socialize in a world where it’s not recommended, even frowned upon. But what about me? Have I surthrived? Well, if a house that’s more disorganized thane ever or laundry baskets that lean heavily toward pajamas are signs of surthrival then my answer is a resoundingly emphatic YES.

All kidding aside, our one year Coronaversary seems like a good time to reflect on the good that’s come out of this wild time. And maybe ‘good’ is a bit of a lofty description. Perhaps ‘goodish’ is better. Positive little silver linings to an otherwise dumpster fire of a year. Ways that the pandemic has forced change for the better. Here are some of the worthwhile lessons that I’ve learned in 2020/2021:

  • Family is everything. This includes my chosen “framily,” too. They’re the people I rely on to pull me out when my brain is playing tricks on me, telling me that it’s going to rain forever. The ones I can reach out to in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep because too many thoughts are racing through my mind. The ones I choose to share my Thanksgiving table with when the local government restricts gatherings to ten people or fewer. The ones I avoid getting together with, despite missing them like crazy, purposely to protect them. The people whose laughter and tears and sometimes stern words have carried me through one of the toughest yet most transformative years of my life. Being separated physically by my family has been difficult emotionally. But that emotional discomfort has really been eye opening. They’re my crew. And no matter what, near or far, we need each other.
  • Just go with the flow. I never set out to be a stay at home mom, yet here we are. A big part of my identity has always been wrapped up in work and, before that, school. Success, the value of me, was measured by grades or commissions. Now? A productive day is one where I’ve managed to keep the house from being ripped apart and successfully overseen my daughter’s remote learning without completely losing my shit. And lemme tell you, they’re not all productive days. There have been several times this year when her school had to close unexpectedly due to too many teachers quarantining to open the building. There was even a week that her daycare closed for the same reason. Pre-covid, those unexpected speedbumps would’ve derailed me. I’d feel flustered as I scramble to make arrangements for someone else to care for my daughter so I could still go to work. But this year has taught me that my professional life is just one facet of who I am. And it’s not even in the top ten of most important things about me because it’s changeable. And even when it changes, I’m still me. And the me I am today, knowing this now, is a more relaxed me. I’m truly embracing the concept that some things are just out of our control. And worrying about those things is futile.
  • Don’t take life too seriously. I read early in the “two week” shutdown, which has spanned the past year, that kids need some extra slack to help them through these uncertain times. The recommendation was to loosen up on rules. Maybe not pay so much attention to screen time limits, especially since their iPads are their classrooms. Be fun and spontaneous. Show them a bit of whimsy. Make home feel relaxed and magical. Somedays that means an impromptu dance party in the living room. Other days, it’s a family movie night complete with copious amounts of junk food. It’s laughing a little louder at jokes that aren’t really that funny and slowing down enough to really enjoy snuggle time before bed. But you know what else it is? Fun socks. A year ago, I exclusively wore black socks with dress pants and white socks with jeans. And that’s only when I’m not wearing flip flops, which, let’s be real, is what’s on my feet about nine months out of every year. But this past winter, I opened my sock drawer and pushed aside the bland, predictable choices opting instead for the fun ones. Toe socks. Grippy socks. Fuzzy socks. The more wild or comfy, the better. Last night’s were crocheted from blue yarn and had Snoopy wearing santa hats dangling from a bow at the ankles. Right now, they’re leopard print and soft as clouds. Gosh, if there’s one thing from this pandemic that “sticks” moving forward in my life, I hope it’s the socks.
  • Life is hectic even when there’s nothing to do. I remember being in college, long long ago. I remember taking 18 credits, holding down two on-campus jobs, and rushing off to an unpaid internship while also maintaining a long distance relationship with my (now) husband, forging friendships with new friends, and taking the three hour drive home as often as I could. And throughout those years, I remember thinking how easy life would be when I “only” had to work. Transitioning into adult life after college felt just as hectic, though. Work, home ownership, marriage, parenting…it all started to pile up. And I remember musing that things would be so much easier if I just had time to do X, Y, and Z. Then BAM. Covid closed down the world and suddenly there was nothing but time. Now my multitasking includes all the same household stuff it always has but it’s amplified by the fact that we. never. leave. home. There are meals and endless snacks to prepare, laundry and dishes that seem to never dwindle, plus letting the dog out and in and out and in a dozen times an hour. There are also the same parenting stuff to do, again, amplified by ALWAYS being home. There’s “home schooling” and advocating for my daughter, reminding her to do basic things that no one should need to be reminded to do, reminding her to clean up after herself, diffusing the meltdowns that pop up almost daily, and finding ways to keep her emotionally happy. There’s still school-related obligations, including PTO meetings (on Zoom) and helping to moderate the school’s Facebook page by answering the same dozen or so parent-posed questions, ad infinitum. And then there’s my dad to think about. Does he have groceries? Has the snow been shoveled from his walkway? Can I get him registered for his vaccine? (Spoiler alert: Nope. No available appointments for my 71 year old father with comorbidities yet the state keeps opening eligibility to more and more age brackets.) And finally, there’s checking in with other family and friends. Being a support person for my support people. So many hours and yet I’m still breathless at the end of the day, wondering where they all went.
  • Self care is mandatory. I didn’t mention myself in that to-do list, did I? But this past year has helped me see that taking care of my own mental health is vital to me being able to care for the ones I love. For me, that includes locking myself in my bedroom sometimes for an hour of quiet time. Reading more. Writing more. Binging more trashy reality TV. Discovering new music. Journaling. Hopping in the car to take a drive. Allowing myself space to cry if I need to. Learning something new. It also means trying to recognize and give myself credit for the good I bring to my family, our household, and cutting myself some slack on the days that I’m not my best. I’ve let too many years of my life slip by feeling guilty for ever putting myself first. That chapter is done. Simple as that.

LOTS has changed in the past year. And, all things considered, we’ve managed reasonably well. Vaccines are here. Transmission rates are down. Capacity limits and other restrictions are starting to loosen up. And optimism is poking through the holes, shining light onto a bright future of actual normalcy. It’s closer than ever before and I’m ready for it. I’m not the person I was at this time last year but you know what? I’m so thankful for that.

 

Shrouded in Mom Guilt February 23, 2021

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 5:41 pm
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Day 26: Write about an area in your life that you’d like to improve.

Photo by Andrew Beatson on Pexels.com

There is a dark cloud that has followed me around since I found out I was pregnant with my now 7-year old. Sometimes I can brush it away or at the very least ignore it. But other times it swirls all around me, gusts of wind and pelting rain. An unrelenting storm. Mom Guilt.

I felt the cloud almost immediately after reading the positive pregnancy test and began calculating her conception date. Real nice. On Labor Day weekend, you were drinking. And pregnant, apparently. Some mother you are…. A talk with my nurse midwife at my first appointment allayed my fears, though, and allowed me to ignore the cloud. I kept going to Zumba and counting counting calories, business as usual with fitness and nutrition. And then my midwife said, “You need to eat more calories. You’re growing a human!” So I kept going to Zumba but stopped counting calories. And then my midwife told me I was gaining too fast. So I started skipped meals. And then my midwife told me to make sure I’m eating. And that was the first time I heard the wind whistling in my ears. How are you going to take care of a baby when you can’t even get pregnancy right?

But for the most part, I was able to control that niggling little cloud in the beginning. Shrug things off. Feel confident in my actions, my choices along the way. The first real storm didn’t come until sometime in the middle of my pregnancy while choosing furniture for the nursery. “We don’t need the matching dresser. Any regular white dresser from a furniture store would be fine,” my husband suggested, trying to talk me out of the overpriced piece that matched the style and finish of the crib we’d selected. The wind started to pick up then. And then the raindrops. And there I was, big belly, swollen feet, emotions all off kilter, crying in the furniture department at Babies R Us about how my little girl NEEDS the matching dresser. If she doesn’t deserve the matching set then you don’t deserve to raise her. Needless to say, I got the dresser.

Winds continued swirling after that, always there, always ready. Choosing a daycare provider; Really? You’re going to let a stranger raise your child for you? Creating a birth plan; Oh, an epidural? Sure, if you want to give birth to a drugged up baby. Planning for after her arrival; Unless you choose cloth diapers, you may as well just kill the planet now. And those were just the battles with my own mind. There were also guilt trips from family, friends, even perfect strangers. You’re going to deprive her of all sorts of health benefits unless you breast feed. And are you SURE you want to vaccinate?

She was born at 10:30 on a clear, sunny Tuesday morning. But the cloud was still there, and had grown in size. I laid in bed, exhausted from labor, and wept to my husband. I was too tired, too sore, too…spent. I watched as he changed her diapers and swaddled her. He was blossoming into the best dad before my very eyes. And then there was me. Physically and emotionally just used up, unable to help. I let the nurses wheel her bassinet out of the room so I could sleep at night, something we had said we didn’t want to rely on. I smiled and chatted with family and friends who came to visit as they held her, fed her. You’re not enough, the wind whispered to me. You don’t know how to take care of her.

That pesky dark cloud has continued to loom over me, sometimes huge and menacing, other times a bit less calamitous looking, but always threatening rain. All seasons. Each decision made, large or small. During the good times; milestones hit, new skills learned. You could be doing better as her mom, you know. During the not so good times; a minor injury, a temper tantrum. You’re failing her. Every time I raise my voice or lose my patience with her. This is damaging her psyche. Dropping her off at daycare. You’re missing out on so much. Good moms stay home and raise their own babies. Needing a break. What kind of mom ARE you?

In a blink of an eye, she was ready to start Kindergarten. This marked the start of a new era. Bigger, darker clouds. She’s bored at school. She needs more of a challenge. If you don’t do something, she’s going to hate school. A good mom would recognize that public school isn’t the place for her. She needs homeschooling. And then in March of her first grade year, COVID-19 hit. School went remote “for two weeks” which stretched into the rest of her academic year and beyond. Dance class switched to zoom meetings. Spring soccer didn’t happen. I was powerless to it all. But those clouds convinced me otherwise. She needs socialization. She’s had so much taken away from her. How will she ever bounce back from this? But, this was my chance! Unprecedented time to bond! Homeschooling (sort of)! And yet, I managed to fail at that, too. Tsk, tsk. Where’s your patience? Do you want her to fall behind? Get this right or she’s going to suffer.

Then, today happened. Thanks to a hybrid learning schedule that includes zoom classes three days per week, I was witness to a lockdown drill. “Don’t worry. It’s just a drill,” my second grader told me as she waited at her iPad for the teacher to return to the screen. I asked her what drills like that involve. She explained, “We all have to huddle together in one area away from the windows. And the teacher locks the doors. And we have to stay real quiet to convince anyone trying to break in that no one’s there. But the lights are still on, see? That’s how I know it’s a drill.” What if she weren’t remote today? What if she were there? What if the lights were off?

People who know me may read this and jump to my rescue by pointing out the things I’m doing well when it comes to raising our girl. This post isn’t for that, though. I see lots of good in the choices I’ve made for her. The places we’ve taken her. The things we’ve taught her. So much good. But even the really great things give me pause, make me second guess myself. I stumble through parenting, daily, with an overwhelming sense that everything I do or say to or about her is somehow fucking her up forever. I picture twenty year old her, lying on some therapist’s couch, pining over the horrible childhood she had. Realistic? I hope not. Logical? Not a chance, and I know that….but I don’t always believe it.

What I need is to be kinder to myself. Find a way to push those clouds away for good. Or at least find a way to shelter myself from the storm when the skies open up. So here are a few things I’ll remind myself when my hair is whipped around and matted to my face with fat raindrops coming at me sideways…. She was born healthy despite calories and epidurals and Labor Day weekend. She remains healthy despite baby formula and vaccines. Her dresser hasn’t matched anything in her room since the crib was dismantled around age 2. She’s thriving socially and academically–thanks largely to all she learned in daycare and preschool–despite covid and lockdown drills. So tonight, when I inevitably have to resort to a raised voice (after lots of calm talking) to get her to get to bed, I’m going to remind myself that tomorrow morning, she’s still going to wake up with a smile on her face and look forward to spending time with me.

 

Drowning December 25, 2020

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 12:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

Day 25: Think of any word. Search it on google images. Write something inspired by the 11th image.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.co

Fifteen years ago, I was holding Momma’s hand for the last time. She’d been moved from the ICU to a “step-down” unit sometime between Christmas and New Year, giving me a sense of false hope. She was getting better then, right? Her head was propped on a tiny handmade pillow, a gift from hospital volunteers whose purpose it was to make families feel a little cheerier as they watched their loved one fade away before their eyes. My dad had left for work, that much I remember. I don’t recall if it was me or my sister sitting vigil at the time but whichever one of us was there had called the other. “I think you should come.” At some point, her best friend showed. And it was the three of us, huddled around her bedside. She was sleeping, I think. Or at least not lucid. I remember watching her breathing, holding my own breath for long pauses until she drew in her next. I remember panicking and calling for a nurse when I saw the flashes of blue in her face, across her lips. I remember medical staff rushing in as we stepped back to make room. I remember someone—a head nurse maybe—shout a reminder to her staff. “She has a DNR.” I remember watching all the monitors she was hooked up to, searching for proof that she was breathing. That her heart was still beating. I remember feeling helpless and lost. I remember someone, maybe me, calling my dad at work, telling him to hurry. I remember a panic attack and repeating over and over, “I need Chris.” I remember someone rubbing my back as I called him, begging him to come. No one had come out and said it, but it was understood. This was it.

I remember them pushing morphine through her IV and the way her eyelids fluttered as she opened her eyes to look around the room one last time. I remember holding her left hand between both of mine, crouched by her bed, murmuring to her, “It’s okay, Momma. We’re gonna be okay.” I remember holding it, still, after the staff had turned off the machines and told us to take all the time we need. I remember still holding it when my father appeared in the doorway, breathless. I remember the way his body crumpled when he realized he was too late, that she was gone. I remember feeling guilty that we’d been there and he hadn’t.

I don’t remember how long the five of us—me, my sister, our dad, Momma’s best friend, and my fiance—sat in her room after she was gone. She looked so peaceful that she could’ve just been sleeping, a thin white sheet covering her body. There were no more beeping monitors. No more labored breathing. No more blue skin. Just peace. I don’t remember what anyone said because, what can you say really? But eventually we found the strength to leave that room. To leave her. To try to learn how to go on living without her.

Every year on January 2, my sister and I still have dinner with Momma’s best friend to mark the day that the three of us clutched onto her as she left this world. But this year, the pandemic has made that annual dinner impossible. This past year has brought so many changes in routines, in traditions. But this one cuts the deepest yet, I think. This isn’t a shared experience that many people are missing all at once, like Thanksgiving dinner or the chance to have a birthday party. This is a very quiet, personal occasion that the pandemic is stripping from me. And I’m left angry. Sad. Alone.

I’m drowning. So much has changed or been canceled or taken away since March 2020 and it’s all felt overwhelming. I don’t recognize myself. I don’t recognize the world around me. Some days, I feel like the best thing to do would be to stop paddling, succumb to the waters. But it’s a new year. And vaccines are coming; several of my friends in the medical field have already received their first dose. For the first time in months, I feel a sense of hope. Hope that my second grader will be able to return to school five days per week. Hope that there might be concerts and plays to attend. Hope that a trip to the grocery store won’t cause anxiety forever. Hope that maybe we’ll be able to host a party again. So I’m going to stay home alone for dinner tonight, rather than spending it with the two ladies I really want to be spending it with. And tonight at bedtime, I’ll do what I do on the especially hard days—put some of Momma’s perfume on that tiny handmade pillow from her deathbed and cuddle it to sleep. I survived losing her. And I survived 2020. And I’m going to keep thrashing to keep my head afloat until I reach the shore.

See related: https://sks-whatevs.com/2012/11/14/a-moment-of-levity/