Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It's called co-dependency

Yesterday was a good day. I read my new Jenny Lawson book in bed and chuckled out loud, I went to yoga. I watched reruns with my daughter. I took pleasure in organizing piles of paper into more -- though smaller -- piles of paper. Pictures my children had drawn for me. Pictures other people's kids had drawn for me when I babysat them 25 years ago. One of these kids, Mairead Case, is now a Ph.D candidate in English and Creative Writing with her own first novel, See You in the Morning. I am very impressed and hopeful that maybe in some small way I contributed to this genius (or not). Either way, I now have her brilliant signed novel and original childhood art and writing to match. Maybe when she wins the National Book Award some day it will be worth something on Sotheby's.

Speaking of art, I recently resolved to try more new things and take chances in 2016. I've been in slow motion most of the past year, doing yoga and reading books about co-dependency at the advice of my therapist. You see I am a pleaser and worrier. I care more about how others are doing and how I might be able to "fix things" for them than letting the universe just unfold and taking better care of myself. Not that compassion and caring for others is bad, but I can let my entire day be ruined if I think someone is mad at me or they are sad. The result is I've retreated, had more quiet time and started writing more. Lately though -- and maybe it's because I just saw the new Star Wars movie -- I've been thinking I need to have more adventure. If Yoda was real and my Jedi I think he would say, "Think less, do more." My real therapist would probably disagree and watching her and Yoda duke it out with light sabers or mind control would be a trip but alas, don't think that's gonna happen.

Bottomline, I am a codependent, with a history of alcoholism in my family and sexual abuse as a child. I've spent much of my life trying to make up for what I perceived was false inadequacy by being an "intense overachiever," "pleaser," and self-described "anxious mess." I can never stop caring about the ones I love, but I've resolved to start taking more chances, trying new things that may or may not make me happy, and in the words of Tim McGraw, "live like you were dying." Me, not you. At least I hope you are not dying. Is there anything I can do? Did I make you mad?...ugh. This is gonna take some time. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

And then there were three....

It started with an email.
We were all minding our own business watching some TV and having chill family time while multitasking on our phones (of course) and I saw an email from my daughter's tennis coach (paraphrase privilege here):

WANTED: Host family for a Muslim female student from Kazakhstan. Her original  host family didn't work out as they have six cats and this student has a cat phobia. 
She plays tennis and will attend our high school next year. Arrives next week! 

We went on to read her sweet bio about how much she has always dreamed of coming to America and has a brother and sister and loves hanging out with her friends...and we were hooked. Convincing my husband was another matter. 

You see I have this habit of wanting something very badly, wearing him down until I get it, then flitting off to the next thing. I admit this freely but this time I knew I had to carry my part of the bargain. For three days we negotiated. It wasn't that he didn't want her or like the idea of a foreign exchange student. Far from it! We have traveled around the world with our kids since they were young and thought this would always be something we would do but the timing was never right. It still wasn't but that didn't stop me from trying: 

HIM: You have to commit to getting her places and not calling me last minute that you have some work meeting.
ME: OK! (this was gonna be hard but I committed) 
HIM: Where is she gonna sleep (we have two bedrooms and an office and two teens of our own until child A goes off to college in a month).
ME: Oh I'll figure it out. 
HIM: No, you will have it worked out before she comes.
ME: Hmmmmm....

Meanwhile the clock was ticking. I convinced the kids to switch rooms, promised I would be more available, husband agreed, and we started Operation Diana (her name). The next few days were a whirlwind of emails with the agency, a home visit (we passed) and making room for this stranger. We need not have worried. When she got out of the van in our driveway she shyly smiled and without hesitation gave me the first hug. 

So far it's been a smooth transition. Sure we ask her a million questions a day about her home country.  She complies patiently. I tell her things she already knows (her English is amazing). Really, she is just like any other teenager in that she has an iPhone (6.0 my own daughter pointed out right away) and likes talking to her friends back home. She sleeps in and has quirky eating habits like my teens. She loves our dog who jumps and licks. The main difference so far is that she is a killer cleaner, a great cook, and helps with chores and even vacuumed my couch! 

As Joy our foreign exchange liaison reminds us: "Treat her like family, not a guest."

No problem. She's in! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cisgender privilege: Whatcha gonna do about it?

I've noticed the last few blogs I've written have been about someone very special...ME! As in, my struggles, my victories, my sadness, my loss, my love as a working Mom of two who lost her own identity somewhere along the way (but am trying to get it back).   

Today though, I'm getting out of my little "me box" and talk about gender identity. I've been a member of PFLAG for several years since my son came out as a transgender man. In short, we raised him until 14 as a girl, when he really identified with being a guy. Once we realized this -- and it was not an easy road -- and helped him transition, he is much happier. But he's not out of the woods in terms of living like every other man. 

I want to share a few things I learned from transgender folks and what is known as Cisgender Privilege. "What is cisgender" you might ask?  In simplest terms it is identifying with the gender you were "assigned" at birth. This assignment is given by doctors and/or parents based on a baby's sex. That said, we must remember that gender identity and sexual orientation are different entirely -- one is based on who you are, and the other one who you love. At least that's the version I like best! Like cisgender folks, transgender people can be homosexual or heterosexual or pansexual, which essentially means they love who they love regardless of sexuality or gender identity. 

So what does cisgender privilege mean exactly? Well here are a few examples from itspronouncedmetrosexual;

  • using public facilities without stares, fear or anxiety
  • not being asked what your genitals look like 
  • not having to validate your gender based on if you took hormones or had surgery
  • not having your gender identity impeded you in getting a job, medical care, an apartment or loan 

Until I had a transgender son I took these things for granted. I laughed or smirked at jokes in the media or arts about drag queens or men wearing dresses. I never thought twice about using the bathroom.

That's different now. 

I could go on and tell you about my beautiful friend Anais, or Pride organizer Luke or former police officer Erika, but instead I encourage you -- no beg is more like it -- to take a moment to be grateful for your privilege. To understand a little better what it means to be transgender, whether you are a homeless teen on the street or Caitlyn Jenner. It ain't easy. And we need to not just celebrate these amazing people as being "brave" but support them in their struggle to demand equal rights. Human rights. 

As John Oliver, a brilliant comedian, said recently on a segment about transgender rights: "This is a civil rights issue...we've been through this before. We know how this thing ends. If you take the anti-civil rights side and deny people to access something they are entitled to, history is not going to be kind to you." 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Feelings...nothing more than Feelings!"

Recently my therapist advised me to get in touch with and honor my feelings. I sort of knew what she meant because my most popular feelings as a working mother are guilt, guilt...and guilt. Lately sadness has been popping up too with early menopause. If worrying about others was a feeling that would be my most popular feeling but it's not, it's a verb.

Anyway, I vowed this weekend to follow her advice and what better, more mature, introspective way to do that than going to see a Pixar movie with my teenage daughter. Before I reveal which movie and the outcome, let me reveal that my kids -- and most people for that matter -- do not really relish seeing movies with me because, well, I like to chat. I like to openly (but quietly) share my thoughts and questions about the film and just assume my seatmate does too. "Who is that guy and what historical relationship did he have with her and what did she just say?"Is a common movie question for yours truly. You get the point.

So the movie is about feelings. It's called, appropriately Inside Out and was actually suggested by my counselor and received stellar critical reviews. No matter that the characters are colorful animated feelings who live inside an 11-year-old girl's head and battle her confused state and each other after she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and is, in short, miserable.

Big names and comedic actors including including Amy Poehler ("Joy"), Mindy Kahling ("Disgust") and some SNL actor I had never heard of named Bill Hader ("Fear") make the movie a comedy for all ages, except for this surreal "abstract thought" scene I'm sure would confuse even the most gifted 5-year-old. The show-stealer ironically is "Sadness" played by The Office alumnae Phyllis Smith. She is blue (of course) and hilariously mopey as a modern-day Eeyore. She truly wants to help but every thing she touches turns blue (=sad) so Joy wants her to just read manuals and try to stay out of the way. That's it on the spoilers.

It was about three-quarters through the movie in between laughter and tears I was wiping on my sweater (because gosh Dang-it I'd left my tiny Kleenex packet in the car!) when I finally GOT what my therapist was talking about. It's okay to be sad! Now some of you emotionally intelligent dim-wits may be saying, "Duh, we all have feelings...sad, happy...get over it!" But the thing is for many of us whatever gender, we are encouraged to suppress our feelings and act happy. Be satisfied with your lot and all that. Smile when your heart is breaking. All that crap.

Well, thanks to a little blue darling I'm gonna embrace my own little feelings. Jealousy? Bring it. Anger? I am woman! Of course, I'm hoping my feelings choose to cooperate most of the time because I can't always SHARE what I'm feeling or I might get fired, murdered, divorced or shunned. But I can feel my feelings. Honor them with a little salute, give them an inner hug, then let them mush around for awhile until it's time for me to eat, sleep or act like I am the professional, mature woman I am most often not.

This is gonna be fun....

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Gig is UP!

Tomorrow is a big day in our family. My youngest is getting her driver's license! Granted she turned 16 a month ago but got caught in a little lie which led to this unfortunate delay. She and her friends literally texted me, "Don't call the house because my grandma is sleeping!" What was worse is when I tracked them down at the pizza place and busted them for planning to sneak off to a bonfire I dramatically raised my finger and pointed at them like a witch and cried gleefully, "The gig is up!" Sadly this will haunt my daughter for the rest of her high school career.

The last year has not been easy for me or my babies. I call them that with all due respect but it has been hard. I remember when they reached for me to pick them up, when I nursed them to sleep singing and they didn't roll their eyes, or when they wanted me to play games with them (God I wish I could get those times back!). Those were the days. 

Now they think they know everything, but can't return library books in time, pick up their clothes or put down their GD phones! In retaliation, I continue to treat them like they are far younger than their "wise" 16 and 18 year old selves. I nag, they push back. I pry, they shut down. It's not to say there aren't moments  of love and a hug here and there but I would not define us as "buddies" and what I've come to realize in the last few weeks is....that's OK! 

The job of a Mama lion or bear or bird is to push her kids away. Find their own pride or gang. To learn how to succeed or fail on their own and hope and pray we have taught or demonstrated the skills to survive. I hate the idea of predators, Or freak accidents. Or broken hearts. But it's not my job anymore to put them in a bubble. 

This is a hard lesson for me. I'm trying...really I am. I follow them stealthily on Twitter but don't know their Tumblr blogs. I get the most results when I'm not asking questions but lying on the couch reading or driving with them in the car. 

For now, I am lonely for a little hand. A squeal. Bathtime. In fact, I think I'll go text my youngest now or look up where she is on Find My Phone. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Just do it!

As I embark on a new push for self-care and healthy living, I am struck by the fact that I am capable of follow through but often don't. What's that about? Why is it so hard to stick to a routine? Why can't we pick up our clothes (daughter not me), put away coffee cup or write daily on my book like I committed to doing two months ago? I dunno. What I do know is that success and results do not come naturally or through laziness.

For awhile now I've been using stress as an excuse. Yes I work a high pressure job -- so do millions of other people. Yes we recently had a family health emergency. Dealt with it. Yes my teenage children think I'm a dork and we often test each other's patience. Welcome to parenting. Yes a couple drinks (or more) a night can relax you and make you seemingly fun, but it also plays havoc on emotions, liver and health.

My boss who is 67 recently ran a half marathon with his doctor son. Reportedly it was a little easier for dear old Dad. I have another friend who seemingly runs a marathon every month (good luck with those knees dear amazing one). I admire these people not so much for their running but their determination to accomplish a goal. Whatever that goal may be.

Over the past five years with several family transitions and crisis I have learned that "everybody has their stuff (nicer way of saying something else)." I respect that. I have compassion for that and need to more for myself. But I can also do something about it.

So here goes nothing....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Baby steps are scary

About five years ago (or maybe more) I wrote a children's book about a little girl named Pearl who was a picky eater. She goes to visit her grandma on a farm and eventually overcomes her limiting habit, returning home to a surprised but grateful mother.

Truth: I was very proud of this book.
Fact: I shared it with a few people including published authors but did not send to a publisher or agent.
Truth: It's a pretty good book.
Fact: I was afraid of rejection.

Recently I've been going through therapy which has been both terrifying and empowering. The reasons I started are not the reasons I keep going. But because I kept going and listened to some people I admire and care about, I recently took the bold step to pull out the book and register for a regional writer's conference in April. I am both thrilled and frightened.

What if they think my book is silly and tell me to rewrite it a million different ways. What if I just wasted a bunch of money by hanging my hopes on meeting the right person who will love my book at first sight and cry, "Courtney where have you been all my life? You are the next Judy Blume AND Beverly Cleary!" What if...what if...what if?

That is not something I want to think about in 2, 5 or 20 years. I've been given this day to make a difference and live my dreams. Through journalism and telling other people's stories I have made an impact of good for many people. It's funny...we tell our youth to do that every day but somehow as most of us get older and have kids and get mortgages we forget how to live and take risks. It's just easier not to do that.

Well, I just did. And whatever happens I'm going to keep on writing. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Choosing fun and love

I recently had the fortunate opportunity to accompany my corporate sister on a trip she won to Beaver Creek, CO. The funny part is she is not a skiier. So while she was off doing photo shoots in the snow with other winners for this contest, I was off zipping down the slopes after a five year hiatus from skiing.

This is not a blog about skiing, however. It's about my rediscovery of how to have fun. The last few years have been personally challenging for myself and my family, both mentally and physically. I'm not sure if I forgot how to have fun or just denied myself the pleasure or made other things a priority. Whatever the case, during those two days on the mountain in the crisp air surrounded by mountains and snowcapped trees and brightly-garbed children getting their ski legs, I found fun.

It wasn't like a hammer on the head or a burst of light...it just happened. I made a decision to "have more fun." This was what a little angel I read about, Jesse Lewis (see photo), told his brother J.T. in a note discovered after he died in the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy. This little boy who had a short time on earth is changing more lives through a foundation his mother Scarlett started called the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation (http://www.jesselewischooselove.org/). The idea is given the choice to have an angry thought or a loving thought choose love. The foundation is developing curriculum and programs to help prevent violence in schools and hopefully the world.

I will never be as brave as Jesse was that day he stood up to the shooter and saved the lives of 9 of his classmates by telling them to "run" when Adam Lanza stopped to adjust his gun. I will not have the chance to undo hateful or petty things I may have done to hurt others even if unintentionally. But I do have the chance this moment and any time I have left on earth to have fun and choose love. It may not be the easier run, but it's the one I want to be on while I still have the chance.