On 55 Hours of Freedom, Springily

My 55 hours of freedom began with a dinner party. To add to the slight stress of meeting new people, there was also the panic of the location – an upscale eatery. Confident in my knowledge of which silverware to choose (learned watching Titanic – just work your way in), I selected my favorite sweater dress. It’s navy and red, short and tight enough to be alluring, and high-necked enough to be modest. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a necklace, since you’re covered. That plus tights and boots and a little bit of eyeshadow turned me into a very compelling dinner companion. I remembered to grab my sense of humor on the way out the door, and had a lovely evening. Also, I ate everything. All of the meats. It was spectacular. If all I need to do to go have entertaining conversation and delicious food is put myself together, I will happily do that any day.

When we got home, we decided that we were going to sleep in the igloo we made last week during the epic spring blizzard. (I got sent home due to a power outage at work on Wednesday, and so we spent 6+ hours building this amazing 6’ tall snow fort – the man encapsulated it on Thursday, and thus, we are now in brief possession of an immense front yard igloo.) We hauled out blankets and pillows and snacks and fell asleep in our snow cave. It was not a night of great sleep. I was cold and sore, my hips protesting about the ice below them, my body protesting about the lack of heat and the cold everywhere. At one point, I decided I’d be generous and give the man my hat (bad decision for me), and I think we woke up at least 7 times that night. Lots of pulling and rearranging.

However, on the plus side, I now know that I do not want to pursue snow-camping as a hobby, and I’m glad I didn’t have to drive to the mountains to figure that out. But it was fun. Our friends stopped by very late in the night (after we’d gone to sleep), so it was fun to wake up to a yell of, “They’re in there!” and have a late night igloo meeting.

Saturday brought cat-snuggling. Carlos has been missing me, because I’ve been a terrible cat mother lately, and so I went home Saturday morning to snuggle him. And in theory, to finish cleaning (ha, guess how that turned out?). Then there was a yoga party – we built a two-story tall snowman and had the most delicious sangria before coming home and napping hard. After the nap, we broke for Easter preparations and then made dinner (the leftovers from the steakhouse were amazing).

Easter Sunday – as usual, it was too cold to wear my Easter dress, so I selected a pink lacy shirt and jeans. I’m trying to get into softer, more lady-like colors, but I’m still not convinced. If it’s not black, I don’t know about it. Adulting is proving to be harder than I thought, at least sartorially.

We had first breakfast. I was excited to meet new family, and there were jelly beans involved (which is never a bad thing). Then we had brunch with my dad’s family, and stopped off to see my grandpa at the nursing home before we headed back home to wait for AAA to pick up my brother’s car, which had stopped working. Ha, trying to push an SUV into our busy street was quite the adventure. It got stuck in the hole next to our driveway, and so it had to hang out half in the street and half in the driveway until the tow truck driver could get there.

I brought my 9-year old to my mom’s family’s Easter dinner. She’s my favorite person – a small blonde bundle of energy. She had flowers and a card for my grandma, as well as a chocolate bunny, and she made bunny cake! (Everyone knows how to make bunny cake and I feel like it’s something I’m going to have to learn how to do – I’m into the idea of being able to garnish a cake with all sorts of additional sources of sugar, and when we were at my grandma’s house, I ate all of the Easter-flavored twizzlers off the cake while we were cutting it.) She’s so talkative! (Maybe I was that talkative at that age?) She’s headed off for Spring Break, and she goes to the same elementary school that we all went to, so we had a lot to talk about.

I wanted to show her some acro yoga, because I imagined that she’d enjoy it since she does gymnastics. As it turns out, she loved. Poor boyfriend could not catch a break. She had him going through pose after pose after pose, determined to learn more. At one, she was demanding that we do something really cool. It made me laugh to see how excited she was about it, and how determined. He told her that once she learns how to do a handstand, she can do a lot more. She was super eager, and he was a really good sport about letting her leap all over him. When we dropped her back off at her house, she made him do it all over again to show her parents. It was really sweet.

I was exhausted. 55 hours isn’t quite long enough, is it? I feel like this week is going to bring a lot of necessary errand-completion and tasks to be checked off, so I’m feeling productive and excited to leap into it.

On the Weekend, Always Belatedly

Ah, the weekends. The 9-5 grind is exactly that, a grind, and by the end of the day, I’m generally exhausted. But the weekend provides me with roughly 55 hours of usable free time – 5pm Friday to midnight Sunday – and I try to make it a point to use as much of that time as possible.

Last weekend was no exception.

My mom had asked me if I’d like to bring the guy that I’m seeing to family dinner on Friday night – my favorite meal of the year, corned beef and cabbage – and I’d immediately declined the invitation. But then I thought about it, after telling him that I’d declined his invitation without even asking him. I realized that it probably wouldn’t be too bad if he met my people, so I re-invited him, nervously.

I’m known for bringing guys home to meet the family very early on – maybe it’s the sadist in me that likes to see them sweat, or maybe it’s that I want to see how they can manage themselves. My family is quite lovely, so it’s not like it’s difficult, but I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he interacts with your family in that sort of environment. Is he polite? Does he speak up? Is he patient? I’m impatient, usually polite, and always talking, so I need someone who can be patient, polite, and match my level of enthusiasm for the conversation. I love my family, and I want them to know the people I spend my time with, and for those people to know my family. Also, free food. Plus, my grandmothers are pretty fantastic people.

To my surprise, he said yes in the very best way. A long text message string of rap lyrics. I laughed out loud when I read it, and then immediately sent a few panicky emails to my grandmother, mom, and aunt, so that there’d be another place at the table and to make sure there was enough food. (I promised to eat less, if need be.)

And so that happened. I picked him up, ten minutes late (surprise, surprise), and we made our way the four blocks to my grandmother’s house (convenient). The evening was wonderful. He talked – he may have talked more than I did! (Ehhh, probably not.) He deftly handled the faux-argument we have over the men’s side of the table (they always mess up the passing order to make sure that their buddies get the best food first – and the women always tease them about it), falling in line with the “rules” of the passing and the back-passing. He definitely got in on the good end of the back-passing – he had meat, potatoes, and cabbage before I’d even gotten the bread.

We lingered for four hours. He got to see the reenactment of the guys and my mom dropping me off at college – my uncle’s impression of me sobbing and begging them to take me back to Denver includes, “I’ll go to DU, I swear!” and is fantastically hilarious – as well as my mom’s excellent impression of the “purse carrier,” which is exactly what I’m not allowed to marry. It was a really wonderful dinner, and I felt so happy to be surrounded by such lovely people, and to come from such a loving and kind family.

On Saturday, I went to see an old co-worker, who’s now my mentor/friend. She has the most adorable two-year old son, so I was happy to play with him while we caught up. It’s so easy to lose touch with people once you don’t see them every day, so I’ve been trying to make an effort to stay in contact and not lose people just because they’ve slid out of the periphery. Also, she’s very good about getting in touch with me, so that definitely helps. I always laugh and thank her for being a part of my village (village people, I think that’s what I’m going to call my wonderful network of humans), because I’ve been to her kid’s birthday parties, her family events, and I was the first person to ever babysit for her son.

Babies are the sweetest things. He’s talking up a storm now, and he has the biggest eyes and the happiest smile. I chased him and tickled him, and his peals of laughter brought me so much joy. I love how determined they get, or how frustrated, or how giggly. There is so much pure energy and pure emotion, and as I left, he stood by the door and waved to me, over-ready for his nap. My friend texted me after I left and told me that he was out 60 seconds after she put him down.

For some reason, I was in cleaning mode on Saturday. I have been struggling to get my house under control for a while now (again, no surprise here), and I wanted to go home and do some good work. And so I did. I got my room rearranged, opened up the box that contained my new mattress and got it unfurled, foam puffing up immediately. I got more things folded and hung up and stuffed into drawers (I mean, folded, definitely neatly). I threw away trash and cleaned out the fridge. I scrubbed the sink and unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher. It was nice progress, and it felt good. My friend Gina will help me with the rest of it tonight.

Saturday night, we went to my old favorite Thai place. I’ve only ever ordered one thing there (five years is a long time to not stray on a menu, and I intend to keep up the streak) – pineapple curry, medium. Sometimes with shrimp, sometimes just extra pineapple, sometimes veggies. Always delicious. That is the food I crave on Sundays (when they’re closed), when I’m sad, or sick, or happy, or ….any time.

After that, we stopped into the PS Lounge – if you haven’t done that, you need to. Your life will get so much better. We had a few drinks there, and sat talking, oblivious to the bar around us. (Not entirely, but it makes it sound so much more romantic if I put it that way, doesn’t it?) Regardless, the conversations are so fantastic. I really like that I’ve met someone who knows stuff about stuff I don’t know. And who’s willing to tolerate the things that I love. He told me the other night that he loves that I always have something to add – actually add, a different perspective or input – to conversations. I laughed, what else am I going to do? We haven’t really disagreed about anything yet, and I keep trying to find something where we have drastically differing viewpoints…thus far, no luck.

My friend Jacob was playing at a bar down the road, so tipsy adventure me decided that we needed to at least pop in. So we did, briefly. I danced a little less than I would have liked, nervous energy coursing through my body. Bringing someone into your comfort zone is so hard. I like people. But it’s funny, because as much as I am uneasy in new places or doing new things, I’m equally uncomfortable when I’m bringing someone into my spaces, my people, my things.

Sunday morning, we woke up and went for a bike ride. He was so sweet a few weeks ago and put my bike back together for me (to be fair, he’s the one who took it apart in the first place….but I had a tangled chain somehow?), so I’ve been able to ride around with him. I’m terrified of city biking – too many people in Chicago get smashed by buses on bikes – but I’m getting better! We did 20 miles on Sunday, looping through the park on our way downtown, made a pit stop for ice cream, and then to REI (obviously), and then back around to the water treatment plant, and then back. By the end, I’d lost all of my energy, and the last few miles were me playing the mental fortitude game in my head. But I made it! There’s an uphill part right at the end, which is miserable. It’s the last big push before relaxation, and when I made it, I was overjoyed and that feeling of accomplishment (or at least, not failure) washed over me.  And on the way I ran into a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year, which was wonderful!

Ha, to make things way sexier, I wore bike shorts. And since I left my car at the Thai restaurant the night before, I had no shoes to wear other than my cheap little black flats. So between the bright orange bike shirt and short combo and the completely not bike shoes, I made a very official-looking exerciser. You know, I make fun of the bike shorts/shirt people (and will continue to do so…), but, there’s something to it. My sit bones were not even sore as a result of the padding in the shorts.

Then I went to Verizon and got a new phone. I’ve had my mom’s old iPhone for over a year now, and she had it for two years before that, and the thing was just starting to lose everything. No battery life, no storage, the whole deal. It was time. Verizon can definitely thank Lil’ Wayne for pushing me over the edge; I’d been vacillating between the iPhone 6s (or trying to wait until the 7 came out?) and an Android, and Samsung came out with the Galaxy S7, which is water-resistant (seriously, you could put it in a fish tank and it would still work – I’m so curious but not $700 worth of curious, so I’ll leave that to the professionals and try to keep my phone on dry land), and that’s what did it. I’m a bath-taker and also incredibly accident-prone, so this seems like the right choice. Also, I had an S4 once, and I loved it. Apparently, the S6 was a miserable piece of equipment, and they’ve corrected that (righted their wrongs and put things back) in the newest version, so I’m in.

We shall see. It’s been a funny adjustment, because I had forgotten everything. But alas, it’s like riding a bike. Your fingers and brain relearn the moves, and it’s been not even 48 hours and I’m back in the groove.

Then I had dinner with my mom. First dinner, to be more accurate. We ate salad and caught up for an hour or so. It was so nice. I really love my mom. Then I had second dinner with my friend Emily. Man, I really love sushi and sake. I also love having friends that you’ve known forever. It’s so wonderful to love someone who really knows you. Emily has known me since high school, and I am really happy that we haven’t let our friendship slip. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, and all of the things I love. We had a nice time, except for the fact that my dark circles threatened to swallow me whole. I had that blank, empty stare of exhaustion by the time we were done.

Finally, finally, came the sleep. My exhausted body was so pleased to find bed and pillows and blankets, and I was gone, weekend concluded. Not too bad for 55 hours, right? Errands, accomplishments, exercise, family, friends, dancing, date night, alcohol, ice cream, adventure, new technology, and babies! All of the best things. Nailed it.

On Kids’ Movies, Tearfully

It’s no secret that I’m a cryer.

I have cried at Google commercials, movies, cute internet pictures, news articles….you name it. Sometimes it’s just a misty-eyed moment, and other times, it’s a full-on sob session. I can’t help it; I’m very empathetic and my weakness is adorable things.

A few weeks ago, I was babysitting my favorite 6-year old and we watched Brave. I had never seen it. It’s a lot of things, but it’s definitely a mother/daughter movie and I had reached near-Notebook levels of tears by the end. My 6-year old was very confused as to why I was sniffling on her couch watching the mom-turned-bear trying to become a human again but also survive and not lose herself to animal instincts while still being a mother.

“Why are you crying,” she asked.

Through my tears, I tried to summarize adolescence and especially parent stress, and how no matter what you do, even if you do something really stupid, they’ll still love you. I am pretty sure she thought I was completely crazy. She won’t remember that conversation, but she’ll grow up and be a teenager and it’ll all make sense.

Kids’ movies get to me. I cried at some ridiculous dolphin movie, and The Boxtrolls, and..I should just make a list, or better yet, maybe maybe a list of kids’ movies that I don’t cry while watching…that’d be so much easier.

Anyway – not the point – tonight we watched Despicable Me 2, which is such a fantastically wonderful movie. As we got to the end, and the main character (a lovely, reformed grump who adopted 3 adorable daughters and has a giant yellow entourage of incoherent helpers) is getting married to a woman with whom he’d worked on some spy work, I see my 6-year old’s head slide into my view from where she’d been behind me, brushing my hair.

She’d come to check to see if I was crying. “Not even a little bit!” I told her, slightly too proudly. She checked my face to make sure, and then giggled and went back to brushing my hair.

Wow. You know it’s bad when even the kids think that you’re probably crying.

🙂

On the Tendon, Securely

When I was in the ER a couple of weeks ago, I kept insisting that I couldn’t move my big toe. They assured me I was fine, that the movement would return. As the wound began to heal, I realized that I could not lift my big toe. I could point it, ballet style, and fold my toes under, but I could not bring my big toe up. It was a sad attempt – the other toes would come up nicely, and there would be the sad big toe, not even halfway as high as it should have been.

I babysit for a couple of doctors, so I asked one of them to look at it. As soon as he pointed it out, I kicked myself for not realizing it before. The tendon on my left foot drew a clear, elevated line over the top of my foot when I lifted my toe. There was no such line on my right foot, a clear indication of a severed tendon. No tension, no tendon at work.

He informed me that there are two tendons that cause your toes to come up. I had torn the EHL (extensor hallucis longus) tendon. For non-active older adults, he wouldn’t recommend fixing it, but for someone young and active like myself, there is no need to spent a lifetime without that movement. (I thanked my lucky stars at that moment – I hadn’t been able to put on shoes without having to guide my sad, limp toe into them because it just wouldn’t move.) He made a few calls and surgery was scheduled.

With 6 weeks left of health insurance, and the clock ticking, I went in on Monday. They did a preliminary examination, taking some X-rays and feeling around. I already had a surgery time set aside, so all that was left was the surgery prep. Everyone was fabulous – they all commented on how cold my toes were, which made me laugh. I had a choice between a spinal block or full anesthesia, and since they told me I couldn’t watch the surgery, I chose the full anesthesia. The countdown was quick. The anesthesiologist asked me where I wanted to go, I replied “South Africa,” and was out.

I’m in a giant black boot – they told me to treat it like a cast. I can’t remove it for two weeks. It’s heavy, but I feel secure in it. I’m not to move my big toe yet. After the first follow-up appointment, I’ll be able to manually move my big toe back and forth – with my hands, so as not to engage any of the muscles to prevent any accidental tendon snapping.

Boyfriend took this fantastic picture of me sleeping on the couch my first night home. I’m to keep my foot elevated, so I’ve managed to create a sleeping position that’s semi-comfortable. I assume I have blanket over my face because the light was on and I couldn’t get up to turn it off. Note the hospital socks. Two socks on that foot.

I’m on pain meds. I have my foot elevated most of the time. I was supposed to go back to work today (in the office), but I’m still exhausted. I’m laying on the couch right now, working from home. Getting up to do a few things zaps my energy and increases my discomfort. I can’t drive for a while, so that’s annoying.

Yesterday, I slept most of the day. I had two furry helpers who napped with me. Acorn hung out by my feet, Carlos took advantage of my stomach and chest. I love that they’re starting to tolerate each other a little bit better. They’ll never be best friends, but I love it when they both snuggle with me.

I’ll try to go back to work tomorrow – we’ll see how long I last. Getting up is uncomfortable, so I’ve been avoiding too much movement. I’m ready to have my feet again, but I’m so grateful that it could be fixed.

On Boyfriend and Baseball, Happily

The boyfriend and I have very different love languages. I’m all about expression and adorable things. He would never be caught dead using the phrase “love language” since it involves both emotions and communication, neither of which do much for him. 

Last weekend, I had to take the twins that I babysit to a birthday party. (They’re my absolute favorite family to sit for — the kids are amazing.) I asked boyfriend if I could borrow his car because it’s cleaner than mine, but also because it’s a bit bigger and I feel safer hauling children around in it. To my surprise, he came with me to pick up the kids. I’ve known him for over a year, but I’ve never had the chance to see him interact with children. I think that you can tell a lot about a guy based on how he handles children. 

He stayed in the car at first, hesitant. These kids aren’t shy at all, so upon realizing that my car wasn’t there, they got curious and wanted to head out immediately. They put their booster seats in his car, and I introduced them to the boyfriend. The questions began immediately. 

“Do you live together?” “Are you married?” “What’s your name?” “Do you have a dog?” “Can we open that thing?” (The sunroof.) “How old are you?” 

We had time to kill before the party started, so I decided I wanted to run to Costco to grab a hot dog before I dropped them off. (I had forgotten what Costco is like on a Sunday afternoon, so naturally, we did not have time to actually complete the mission.)

We were in the parking lot and I called for everyone to hold hands as we walked in. The little boy, who’s six, grabbed boyfriend’s hand. It was the sweetest thing. Boyfriend didn’t even flinch. 

We got inside, and immediately, they saw some Batman toys. We stood and looked at those for a bit before trying to get in line for food. I checked the time and realized that we didn’t have time for the line and to get to the birthday party on time, so I herded everyone back to the car, after much discussion about what they wanted to eat. 

On the way back to the car, the hand-holding resumed. The little boy was holding my hand, but he decided that he wanted to hold boyfriend’s hand, so he switched. I gave boyfriend a look that said, “What am I, chopped liver?” The little girl was not as impressed with boyfriend as her brother was, so she was quite content to hold my hand. 

The chatter was constant and hilarious. There were a few times when I had to avoid boyfriend’s eyes so I wouldn’t laugh. 

We dropped the kids off and ran errands, including a stop at my mom’s house to help her with her computer, and then we went back to grab the kids. The little boy had gotten a toy owl at the party, and when I asked him what he was going to name the owl, he said, “What’s the name of the guy in the car?” and when I told him boyfriend’s name, he said that’s what he was going to name the owl, although I think that half an hour later, the owl had a new name. 

I think I fell in love with him after we got the kids back to their house, and were playing with them in the backyard. The little boy wanted to play baseball. He’s obsessed with baseball, and even though I’m not the best at the game, I did play t-ball and coach pitch, so I feel like our skills are about equal. I was pitching and the little boy was hitting, and then he declared that it was boyfriend’s turn. 

Turns out, boyfriend is horrible at baseball. Horrible. I’ve always been under the impression that he’s great at all things sport, so finding out that he can’t hit a ball made me ridiculously happy. (Not that we compete at all…)

At one point, the little boy strode over to the boyfriend, who was at bat but had struck out several times in a row, and very seriously explained that he shouldn’t swing if the ball was too high or too far out because that was a ball. Boyfriend gave me a bewildered look, and I had to turn around because I was laughing at the little boy’s air diagram of the strike zone. The little boy trotted back to first base and boyfriend hit a home run. 

I know that it was just an afternoon, but it meant so much to me that he spent his only day off running errands with me, hauling six-year olds around, and hanging out with my mom. He was such a good sport about it, and I really appreciated how sweet he was with the kids. He did do quite a bit of gloating about being the favorite, but I was too happy to even argue. 

On Adoption Camp, Happily

This past weekend, I volunteered at Domestic Adoption Camp, which is exactly what it sounds like: a camp for families who have adopted children inside the United States.

I was one of three counselors helping with the pre-kindergarten/kindergarten group. We had five little girls in our group, which was fantastic. The smaller group size allowed us to do a lot more one-on-one activities, which is important with kids that small.

As domestic adoptees and (arguably) adults, my brother Mike and I were invited to speak on an adult adoptee panel in front of adopted parents. I was nervous and excited. Adoption is a non-issue for me; it’s always been a part of my life and I’ve never really thought of it as being a huge deal. It’s not anything that sets me apart; it’s just a fact.

As I get older, I find that adoption is more important to me. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I respect and for which I am eternally grateful. It’s something that does set me apart, to a certain extent. It is a curious thing, the way that I now have so many different mothers: I have my birth mom, my mom, my brother’s birth mom, my dad’s girlfriend. I love each and every one of them.

The panel focused on issues related to adoption and how we as adoptees handled certain things like self-esteem, open adoptions, searching for parents, and transparency. I explained that Mike and I have very different relationships with our birth mothers; I told them how envious I was when Mike got to meet his birth father (Mike jumped in to say that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be); I told them that even though I’ll never get to meet mine, the curiosity about what he looks like only grows stronger.

It’s a magical thing, to be surrounded by families like these. I’ve learned a lot about family over the years, as one tends to do when confronted with the inescapable reality that family is non-negotiable and therefore something you’ll have to adapt to. I’ve learned that family is what you make it. I have friends who are family. I have family who is family. I have family that I don’t consider family.

I have been fortunate enough to find so many different relationships, and when I went to my birth mom’s wedding in South Dakota, my family got a little bit bigger. (I’ve been playing a word game on the phone with my biological aunt. It’s been fantastic – she’s a seriously worthy adversary.)

I have been incredibly blessed to build the kind of strong support system that everyone should have. Through my participation in these adoption camps, I have been able to see the strength of family. The powerful and overwhelming amount of love there is something that gives me chills, in the best way.

Speaking on the panel, I told the adults that transparency was important. And unconditional love. I told them that when I started therapy, I told my mom that I might be angry with her sometimes, and in her graceful way, she told me that she knew that and that she supported me. I told them that if I were to be arrested tomorrow, the first phone call would be to my mother. I told them even though she doesn’t always like what I’m saying, she’s always there to listen. And for me, that’s huge.

When I told her my birth mom was getting married, she wanted to go. I was a little nervous, but I think she was more excited. I was grateful that she was there so that we could all share the experience, both of my moms and me. My family.

I watched a documentary called “Closure” about one woman’s search for her family. She had been adopted by a family in Washington when she was an infant, and as she grew older, she struggled with the not-knowing. (It’s a serious pull.) She began the search and was ultimately successful. It was a moving story, but a poignant reminder that family is forever.

In the documentary, they showed a clip of an old home video in which a stranger was questioning the dad about the kids (eight of them, I believe, all different colors and kinds). “How’d you get so many kids?” the man asks. The dad responds, “They stick to us like magnets. Better question: how do you get rid of them?” Laughter.

My favorite part is the laughter. At the last camp, I remember a girl telling the story of how her parents came to find her. They were in Africa, she was in an orphanage. She beamed as she recounted how they picked her up for the first time, and she smiled at each one of them, and they knew that she was their daughter. She radiated joy as she told the story, and my heart ached with happiness. I could tell that the parents had told her that story over and over, and I could feel the pride she felt.

My mom, Mike, and I have our things. We call each other the “worst guy” and we regularly quote The Sandlot. You’re the worst guy if you are doing something annoying, like when my mom senses that the stop light ahead might – just might – change, so she slows down while it’s still green. You can hear the chorus of groans and “Ugh, you’re the worst guy!” coming from both of us. My mom and I dissolve into a fit of laughter-induced tears when we tell the story of Mike falling off the treadmill. (No one, including Mike, thinks it’s funny.)

Family may be what you make it, but for some of us, we’re lucky enough to have more opportunities for family than most people.

On Parenthood, Bittersweetly

When I was younger, I assumed I wanted children. It was a given. I was going to grow up, get a job, get married, have babies. Simple plan, right?

But suddenly, I’m just not so sure. (About any of it, really, not just the babies part.)

I love babies. Babies love me. I’ll never forget the way my heart melted when one of the little kids I babysit learned how to say “babysit.” “Bye Mommy, bye daddy,” she said, waving her little hands. “Kay-ee bayee-sit.” In that moment, I was absolute mush.

The other night, I was babysitting for one of my favorite families.  I played baseball with the little boy in the backyard — I’ve decided that we may need to bring in an umpire because his perception of what constitutes the strike zone is nowhere near mine. The little girl showed me the things that she’d collected and artfully arranged on a tray next to a bear wearing pearls and a wedding dress. We played “amusement park” in the basement. One of the games involves putting stuffed animals on a person (me). It ended with the cutest snuggle pile ever. 

As I was reading them stories before bed (from a Star Wars encyclopedia), I thought about how much I’ve treasured all of these growing-up moments. I thought about the families I sat for in Chicago, how the three boys told me that I reminded them of the beach, and so instead of getting ice cream my last night with them, we went to the beach to put our toes in the water one last time. That night, they asked me why I was crying while I read their stories. 

The other night, as usual, the kids asked me if I would snuggle them after we finished reading about droids, Sith lords, and Jedi masters. As I listened to their stories about their old cat Fred, I realized that they’re not going to be babies forever. And then I imagined what parenthood must be like. 

Parenthood must be the most bittersweet job one could possibly have. They are so dependent on you; without you, there is nothing. But then they grow. They grow into inquisitive, wonderful human beings. They throw tantrums and wear strange clothes and develop habits you don’t approve of. And at some point, you’re not necessary to their survival. You have to let them out into the world. 

Does your heart break into a million pieces every time you let them go a little further? The first day of school? Their first dance? High school graduation? College? (I always used to roll my eyes at my mom because when I would drive from Denver to Chicago, she’d call me every hour, on the hour. I totally get it now.)

Parenthood is frustrating. I feel like after a while, the cute to frustrating ratio tips dangerously into the “Always Frustrating!” zone and the cuteness just dries up. Am I cute now? No. I’m grumpy, and tired, and constantly burdened by things that will someday seem trivial. (This may accurately describe everyone age 10 and over.) 

Is it worth it? 

Everyone says yes, but maybe that’s because they’re hoping enough yeses will lead to grandchildren. And then you can start the cute to frustrating ratio time-lapse all over again. When the cute baby grandchildren smile and do the baby laugh, you totally forget what it must have been like to have teenagers. 

(I think this is a real thing because a while ago, my mom texted us to thank us for not being sullen teenagers. I laughed and texted back something along the lines of, “Do you not remember the three years I spent as a moody, semi-Goth teen?” Her reply was something about how she must have forgotten. I think we can all be grateful for that.) 

On De-Stressing, Gradually

I’ve been working on the concept of “me time.”

Since it appears that the 60-hour work weeks aren’t going anywhere, at least for a while, and the decisions that have yet to be made hang heavy over my head, just out of my reach for now, I have been focusing on making small changes in the hopes that they will have that marvelous ripple effect over all areas of my life. Stress mitigation is difficult, because when you’re this deep, it’s often hard to identify which stressors are the root cause of ever-expanding panic.

Last weekend, I was wound tightly, anxious and tense. I thought about my schedule for the coming days and realized that I would have no time — literally no free time during my waking hours that wasn’t allocated for work — for the next three days. That’s the kind of realization that settles heavily over your heart, because there is no choice but to keep going, to keep moving forward, to hope that nothing goes wrong to derail the carefully laid plans or you’ll throw everything off-balance.

Then it hit me. The thing I was most nervous about wasn’t the work, but the fact that instead of cleaning my house from top to bottom during my one free night last week, I’d read. I’d curled up on my front porch with a glass of wine and tucked my bare feet under me and I’d read. It had been worth it, when I thought I’d have Friday night free to clean. But then a co-worker burned herself at her other job, and I had to cover her Friday night shift, effectively removing my cleaning plan from my schedule.

Inconvenient? Yes. Necessary? Of course. When someone needs help, you help them. I had to work at Dairy Queen on Saturday and then go babysit after that, and immediately after that, we were scheduled to host a party at my house (thus necessitating at least a cleaning once-over).

Identifying that the most stressful thing for me was the fact that I’d have no time to prep for the party was key. I thought about how to handle it and cancelled babysitting. I had worked three 14-hour workdays in four days, plus the Saturday shift, and I was exhausted. I told the family I babysit for as much, and they were understanding. As soon as I did that, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted. I even took a nap on Saturday, pausing to rest while the world went on around me.

I didn’t clean heavily. I didn’t stress. The handle of our toilet broke and instead of panicking, we pulled out the duct tape and made it work. It ended up being a lovely evening. (The duct tape solution is still in play, and it’s rather charming in a rustic, we-DIY-ed-this-all-by-ourselves sort of way. I’m rather enchanted by the novelty of it, although it must soon be fixed – it’s not the classiest of stopgap measures.)

These are lovely people – as the party began to die down, we took a Friends-esque photo on the couch outside.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when Evan walked in, carrying a six-pack of my favorite beer. It was funny, because I’d bought him a six-pack of the hard cider he likes, so we had a trade. We snuck off at one point, holding hands, and spent the better part of an hour talking and laughing, and I felt so overwhelmingly content. I am beyond thrilled, beyond terrified, and all-over ecstatic.

The next day was a day of no work. I got bagels with a couple of friends and then laid on the giant bean bag in the basement and caught up on Game of Thrones in between brief naps. It was the best burn day ever.

Afternoon arrived, and Gina went to set up in the park for the second leg of our joint birthday party. I grumped around, bemoaning my headache and wishing for long stretches of welcome sleep. Eventually though, the guilt got to me and I got up, washed my face, and put on my Lannister dress (I’ll have to post a picture – it’s insanely amazing).

I’m glad I went to the park. We sported quite happily. (“Sport” is our newest verb. At one point, my friend Katie and I were discussing our contributions to relationships and she said, “I don’t sport.” It was so spot-on and sincere, and I’ve adopted it as an excellent verb to describe any sort of physical recreational activity.) We played frisbee, football, and a rather aggressive game of 10,000. At one point, we were tossing two frisbees, a football, and a bubble stick between the ten or so people in the park. It was wonderful to stretch and move and be.

I laid on the blanket I’d brought with me and stared up at the tree I was under. In that moment, I was calm and content. I had left all of my stress behind. There was no looming Monday, nor were there any obligations left unfulfilled. I was, for that brief period, free.

The sun set and a new week began.

Last night, after working another 14-hour workday, we played night frisbee in the parking lot. (Working with the people you love is also helpful – we work together nearly seamlessly, and the night passes quickly and productively. At one point, I commented to Evan that I adore getting paid to hang out. He agreed.) The light-up frisbee (you must purchase one, they’re the best thing) flew through the air and I was filled with the heady rush of happiness, of appreciation for the current moment and the lack of worry for the past and future.

They had established a plan for the night before I arrived – food and then Game of Thrones. Mike (Evan’s friend) and I had watched one more episode than Evan had seen and we’d agree to lie about it to Evan and pretend we’d waited for him. I failed miserably at keeping up the ruse, and so we re-watched that episode before watching the newest one (70% of which, I slept through, of course). I woke up just in time for the action – and then cried, of course.

I love where I am right now. I love the people I’m surrounded by. I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

“Me time” may not be long bubble baths and hours spent lounging and reading, but it can be found in the places where I least expect it. Finding the calm I’m sure exists somewhere inside of me may be the biggest challenge, but it’s one I’m finally really ready to take on, even if it means tackling it in small pieces or finding joy in strange places.

Baby steps forward.

On the Weekend, Happily

I truly believe that sometimes life hands you exactly what you need when you least expect it. I believe that radiant joy can be found in the strangest of places, like a crowded bar or during an impromptu adventure sometime during the darkest hours of the night.

Last week, my horoscope said that my personal winter was over. As I read it, I sighed in relief. (I don’t care if you don’t put stock in horoscopes, I believe that even the slightest suggestion of positivity can work wonders, and thus, I allow them into my heart, hoping that they’ll plant the seeds of sustainable hope.)

The past few months have been quite the journey, testing me in ways I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to withstand. Whenever I feel like quitting, I laugh and think of my brother quoting Wedding Crashers, “Rule number 76,” he’ll yell, “no excuses. Play like a champion.” As soon as I posted that rather melancholy blog post last week about how down I felt at work and with life, I imagined what Mike would say. He’d have told me to stop focusing on the negative and to count my blessings, to cultivate the positive in my thoughts and in my life.

And I did.  The universe responded in kind, rewarding me with a weekend so full of joy and adventure that even through the exhaustion, there was no possibility but to be happy. So here we are. Spring. New beginnings. Renewed strength. Hope. Joy.

Exhausted from my third fifteen-hour work day last week, I went home Friday night and collapsed into bed. I’m so disappointed – I finished the three seasons of The League that Netflix has to offer and now I’m not sure what to work through. I could finish Breaking Bad, or Mad Men, or ….the possibilities are endless, and overwhelming. 

Saturday brought babysitting. I had two of the three girls. We painted, and did some stretching (we call it yoga, but it’s not yoga at all), and read some stories. I painted Carlos and a birthday card for Jacob.

I went home, got my nails done with Gina (oh yes, the simple joy of a pedicure and gel fill is like best kind of joy), went to my cousin’s birthday with my family – Happy 32nd, Brian! – and then went to meet up with Jacob for his birthday.

I usually have a “no drinking in heels” rule, but I just got some wedges that are so adorable that the rule had to be amended to “no shots in heels.” I danced, quite happily, and then managed to clumsily drop both a glass of ice and a cup half-full of gin and tonic. If you’re looking for a graceful woman, I am in no way your girl.

In all fairness, I was so nervous. For the first time in a long time, I have a crush on a boy developing and I’m panicking. “Be cool” is not a phrase that exists in my life dictionary. Also curiously missing is “Remember to breathe.”

We ended up chasing the dawn, a small party filled with music and couches and warm PBR. (I owe someone beer. Remind me to check on that. I hate drinking beer without giving back; it makes me feel terrible inside.) At some point, I grew bold and reached for his hand, and as our fingers came together, it was simultaneously terrifying yet familiar.

I danced. I talked to new people. I drove home and accidentally let the cat out and spent five minutes chasing him around the yard as dawn broke around me. The chirping of the birds sounded like mockery and I groaned as I finally secured the black beast and held him tight against my chest, pressing my face into his furry head with relief at his safe capture.

I woke up, threw on hipster shorts, and went to brunch with Jacob and Ben. We wandered down Colfax, bringing coconut water to a friend who’d joined us for the evening and who had to work early. We went to Cheeseman Park, pulling some sheets from my trunk to lay on. Just as we’d settled into the grass, the sky grew dark, the air suddenly biting with cold wind. Desperate for summer, we stripped down to our shorts, but frozen in the wind, we huddled under the sheets. It was miserable, and as we headed back to the car, it started to sleet/hail – small soft balls of ice shattering against my windshield.

I went home, napped, and then went to work. By the time I got there, I was wrung out, ready for a respite from consciousness, and thoroughly not prepared to be fully present. I told Evan that if I stopped, I’d most likely fall asleep, and we settled into a frantic rhythm as we helped the customer after customer who came in never-ending waves. I was laughing, though, delighted by my life and in the hilarity of the present moment, and the night passed easily.

I teased Evan about being a professional just as I nearly overflowed the strawberry container, and we had a discussion about his favorite physicist as we wiped down the store. At one point, I turned to Evan and muttered something about “….the inevitable existential crises” that result from our (under)employment at Dairy Queen. He laughed and nodded. I imagine that I won’t work there much longer after he goes; he’s my partner in crime, the other half of the A-Team. The lighthearted and yet mindful banter we engage in both enriches my life and keeps me entertained.

***

Totally off-topic, but then again, when am I ever fully on-topic?

Recently, my favorite pair of jeans resurfaced from the depths of the house, the same place all the socks must go. They are the first “nice” pair of jeans I ever owned, purchased when I was 21. They have traveled with me to countless cities, and they’ve been worn down to the soft point where they’re like pajamas. (The back pockets are also ripping, so it’s a “wear at your own risk or with big underwear” situation.) I put them on today, reveling in their nostalgic magic. But then I got to work and I remember why I won’t wear them anymore: as you wear them, they start to expand, as tired pants are wont to do. By noon, they’re now like two sizes bigger than they were when I put them on this morning. So you know, that’s less than thrilling. Perhaps they’ll have to become house-bound lounge pants from now on.

On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

It’s happened like clockwork. Every five or six months since I joined the working world, I start to panic. I find myself burned out, thoroughly exhausted, and inconsolable because it seems like everything I work so hard for is ultimately unattainable.

This month, I looked at my bank account after I paid my bills, sorted my savings, and so on. For the month of April, I have $15 a day. This includes gas for my car, food, and anything else I need. (Let me put this in perspective for you: It costs me around $40 – two and a half days of life – to fill up Simon’s gas tank. I do this every seven to ten days. Budgeting for four fill-ups during the month of April, we’ve already lost a quarter of my funds.)

***

According to new studies, about 11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. I lost the link to the article, but apparently the people with the highest percentage of prescription drug abuse are people born between 1981 and 1990. And then there’s this horrifyingly sad op-ed piece from a father who lost his son to a drug overdose.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was twenty-three. It was a hellish two-day testing, during which all learning disabilities were ruled out. I’m grateful for that – I always wondered if I was just bad at math or if it was something more than that. (As it turns out, I’m actually average to above average at math, so I’m wondering how much learned helplessness is playing a role in my inability to do calculus. I also wonder how necessary calculus is for a long and happy life.)

In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I’ve embraced my Adderall and all of its drawbacks. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful for the drug. It’s changed the way I work. It’s allowed me to focus, something that I can’t do. I now have the ability to be productive. I often wonder what my grades in high school or college would have been like had I been properly diagnosed around the time I started wondering if I had a focus issue. I wonder if my inability to concentrate – which was honestly so bad that I never read a textbook – negatively affected my grade point average and my chances at success in life.

My manager when I was 16 always used to tell me that I had the attention span of a golden retriever. Now, I’m still not the best at impulse-control or listening, but I’m at least getting better at being patient, at doing work,
[edit: I came back to read this paragraph and realized I’d totally trailed off, leaving it unfinished. I’m leaving it this way.]

True, I immediately lost 15 pounds and have struggled to maintain my four-pounds-underweight weight ever since. I pick at my skin, unconsciously. I was having trouble sleeping for a while. They tried to prescribe me pills for that, but I declined them. I don’t want more pills.

Regardless, I’ve never abused it. Nor have I sold it. Nor would I ever dream of doing that. I believe that too much Dateline as a child has led me to lead the mostly drug-free life I lead today. I am disappointed to hear so much about the struggles that so many people are having with drug abuse, particularly my beloved Adderall. I never took it recreationally before being diagnosed, so I never understood the allure of it. I hate the vilification of Adderall-users. I hate how I feel like a criminal with my pharmacy and my doctors. I hate how hard I had to fight to get my insurance company to cover it, initially. I don’t take it on the weekends. I don’t take it so I can stay up and party. I don’t understand why you would.

***

I work sixty hours a week, and have for much of the last two years. I supplement my income from my full-time job with income from a regular babysitting gig and then a part-time job at a Dairy Queen. I am exhausted. There is no time for balance. There is no time for moderation. I see my family and friends when I can, working them in between the triple-work schedules that I juggle.

I hope that one day, I will make more than $xx an hour. I hope that eventually, I won’t have to work three jobs so that I can make ends meet. But for now, this is what I have to do. I try to love my job, and generally I do, but there are times when things start to get so impossible that I start to drown in the negative.

These past few weeks have been that cesspool of hell, the undercurrent threatening to pull me under. I go from being confident in what I do to cut down and weak. It’s frustrating. The environment, which can be so collaborative and positive, can quickly turn threatening and hyper-competitive, leading to unnecessary drama and unanswered questions. Instead of being able to stay afloat and above the chaos, I find myself questioning my own abilities.

***

People ask me why I work so hard. I don’t know how to tell them that I know what it’s like to wear damp pants to school because your dryer broke and your parents can’t afford to fix it right now.

I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given. I am grateful that I have been blessed with the ultimate gift of education. I am blessed because I  understand the value of a dollar, the value of simple indulgences like a drink with your meal. I understand what it’s like to make sacrifices; I understand how to cut out the unnecessary. (Seriously, if you want to save money, don’t buy liquid. Don’t buy juice, don’t buy soda, just drink water. One of my favorite indulgences is fruit and veggie juices. It pleases me on some core level.)

I don’t ever want to worry about money. (Which is why the sad irony here is that I spend every day worrying about it.) I don’t ever want to have to ask for help. I don’t need a gold-plated bathtub – I need to know that I can pay the water bill. I won’t stop until I know I’m okay. I can’t. If something bad happens, I need to know that I can hold on for a few months, that I won’t lose my house, or not be able to afford a car, or whatever else.

***

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s a life crisis of the worst kind. The “why do I work so much when it’s not really getting me anywhere?” struggle. The “maybe I’ll just live off ramen and be done trying so hard” train of thought.

I’ve been wondering if it’s that I’m materialistic or too greedy. But then I think, that can’t possibly be the case, can it? Sure, I take pleasure in my material comforts, but I truly believe I’m reasonable about them. I haven’t gotten my car fixed (long live the duct taped bumper!) because I believe it’s an unnecessary expense.

***

In the middle of this disjointed spewing of thoughts, I renewed my prescription online. Then I got a message saying that I’m due for a blood pressure check. I will gladly go and do the blood pressure check so that I can get my prescription renewed. I’m responsible. I’m on top of it. I renew, I submit to the examinations of the mind and body whenever they tell me to, I pay. I don’t abuse. I take my dose, no more, no less. I hate that people want to make the drug the problem, when in fact, there are other factors to consider. I will say, though, that I’m glad it happened at 23 and not at 10, or younger. I am grateful that medication was my choice.

***

I hate to say it, but have we considered the fact that our society is slowly building a set of standards that are possibly unattainable? I hear all of these complaints, including that op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal by a very whiny high school senior who didn’t get into her chosen schools, from people who aren’t measuring up. But are the standards too high? Am I one of those who worries I’ll never be good enough simply because I could be good enough? Or perhaps I’m already good enough but can’t see it because I’m constantly being told I should push harder, run faster, be better. (For the record, I’ll never run faster than last place, and I’m cool with that.)

I need my Adderall to focus. But I need my focus to work. And I need my work to survive, to be happy, to be secure. Above all, I want security. Is that so much to ask for? Security should not be the result of a sixty-hour work week. It should not come at the expense of happiness.

***

Last week, someone asked me what I do to relax. I stared at them, my mind desperately searching for any answer besides “gin.” After a very long and uncomfortable pause, I weakly offered, “I take baths sometimes?”

“I expected that you wouldn’t have a lot of answers, but I didn’t expect nothing,” was the response I got. I’m determined to somehow find time to take care of me, to find my own relaxation somewhere in this madness. But perhaps, much like security and happiness, relaxation is another of the unattainables we were told we could have if only we worked hard enough.