13 April 2014

Orphan

Death is a horrible, sudden loss of someone you love. One moment, they're there, available to take your phone calls, laughing with you over that funny TV show, crying with you over that spilled milk and the next moment, they're gone. Nature abhors a vacuum but that's exactly what is created when a loved one dies, a gaping hole of nothing. They aren't there to take your call, to listen to you gripe, to laugh and cry with you. It takes a while for your body to adjust to the absence and you may find yourself picking up the phone or thinking, I have to tell this to her before you remember you can't. And you never will again.

That's what the last nine months have been for me. I've been adjusting to the vacuum in my life. The only problem is that she isn't dead. She's still very much alive. I just said good-bye to her last July. When she turned her back on me, on us. After we told her we couldn't pay another bill, that we were strapped already paying for three kids and two houses, she decided that Tyler was a horrible person and refused to talk to us.

It's difficult to pick up the phone, dial her number, and say "Hello." To check on her and ask how her day is going. It's hard to talk to her because I know she really doesn't care. She only returns the favor when she needs something. That she is filing everything I say away for a rainy day when she can twist it and launch it back at me. I can't talk about West Virginia because then she rails against decades-old wrongs she perceives to have been done to her by family or old friends. I can't talk about her social activities because she rails against people who are a part of said social activities who may have hurt her in some way. I can't talk about my husband because she hates him. He has done nothing but respect her, financially support her, and give her oh-so-many do-overs and still, she hates him. I can't talk about my friends because anything they may have done wrong in the past is brought up for an under-the-magnifying-glass examination.

Basically, it's work talking to her. So, I don't. I read an article a few days ago about why introverts don't like to talk on the phone, that it's because we need to prepare ourselves for conversations. It's not that I don't like to talk to people. I welcome phone calls all day, even when they're a surprise. I may take a deep breath before I answer, but that's because I kind of need to prepare myself for what we may talk about, even if all we need to talk about is the weather. If I know I'm going to see you, I think to myself, Oh! I need to ask him about work and family. And I can't forget to ask how he's feeling. Yes, I plan this stuff out. It's hard talking when your inner monologue tends to drown everyone else out, so I go by a script in my head.

I can't go by a script with her. I start with a script and it gets thrown out the window because of the constant negativity and the possibility that my script may be used against me in the court of public opinion.

I said good-bye to her last summer. When I realized that she has no room for the me that I am now, the me who is a mom, an introvert, a sarcastic nerd, I cried. A lot. When I realized that she has no room for her sweet grandchildren, I yelled and shook my fists at the sky. And I quietly said good-bye to the woman who raised me. Whenever I talk to her or look into her eyes, I see a stranger. I've tried. I really have. But I'm done trying to constantly adjust and dodge and accommodate. I have stood in place for 16 years, trying to be what she wants me to be and I just can't do that. I'm no longer 26-year-old Heather, young, innocent, revolving around her. I'm 42. I'm a grown-ass woman who needs to move on and circle my husband and children.

I see a common theme running through our relationship and the relationships of other mothers/daughters who have this same problem. The mothers always state, "I put everything I had into her. All my dreams and hopes were hers." And when the favor isn't returned, when the grown daughter goes off on her own and doesn't return the same focus to her mother, the relationship, the love, breaks. I'm here to tell you that I love my Miss-Miss, with all my heart. I would do anything for her, but my hopes are my own. My dreams are my own. As are hers. I refuse to live my life through her. Our lives began separate paths the day I gave birth to her. And that's OK. My job is to raise her to be a strong, independent woman, not to cling to me and look to me for permission and acceptance.

Maybe, raising her this way, by doing that, by having this mindset, my death will happen on the day I die. And not before.

23 March 2014

Coming Out Of The Closet

I am an atheist.

I guess maybe I should clarify. I use atheist, because it is more recognizable than "humanist" or "anti-theist," and calling myself a "scientist" when people ask what faith I am may imply that I'm a Christian Scientist, which I'm not.

Do I believe there is something akin to a "supreme being" in the universe? Possibly. There are many types of life forms just on our planet alone and our universe is so amazingly big and since we may be one of many, infinite "multi-verses" then, yeah, there probably is some sort of life form like the "Q" of Star Trek who are omnipotent and omnipresent and powerful beyond our wildest imaginings, something like a "supreme being." Does this all-knowing, all-seeing God really care about humanity on Earth. I'm guessing not. Earthquakes in California because "He" hates gay marriage laws? Really? Thirty-eight million people on a small section of a small continent on a small planet in the outer rim of a small spiral galaxy in the Virgo Supercluster of the Known Universe is really going to matter to an all-knowing, all-powerful, multi-universal being? Personally, I think no. I guess you could say that in this sense, I'm "agnostic."

Do I believe that science can answer all of our questions about the universe and life? Yes. Right now, we don't have all the answers, but that's the great thing about science. Scientists know they don't have all the answers, and if an answer changes, they grasp that change, they don't fear it. Someday though, not in my lifetime, not in my children's lifetimes, not in 100 lifetimes, I believe scientists will have figured out "life" and answer the unanswerable. That is, if humanity lasts long enough to advance our knowledge that far. So yeah, the identifying answer here is "scientist."

Do I believe there's a place for religion in humanity? No. I feel that overall, religion has caused more harm than good. I think many times that religion causes prejudices, hate, fear, and stagnation. Not all of the people I know who are religious are hateful, prejudiced, fearful, or stagnant, but religious extremes do cause those things. People who kill in the name of religion. Young-Earth Creationists trying to stop science from being taught in science classrooms. Hate for other religions/colors/sexual orientations. Fear of people who are different, who aren't of the same faith. Religion may teach some morality, but it can also teach all those other negative things. My answer here is that I'm "anti-theist."

All together, I describe myself as "Humanist," because I have more faith in my fellow human beings and our potential than I have faith in some unseen power that may or may not care about us. Does that mean that I look down on those people who call themselves Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Jewish or Buddhist, etc.? No, because we all need some kind of "faith" to get us through life. Mine is faith in my fellow people. Your faith may be in God. Should people who identify themselves with a particular religion look down on me? No. But I know they will.

I know atheists/humanists are some of the most least trusted people on this planet. There are some states and countries that have laws on their books that don't allow atheists to hold public office, among other things. Many people fear or hate atheists. I know that once I hit publish on this blog post, some of you who read this will think I'm a Godless, immoral, horrible person. That's fine. Think of me what you will. Cut me out of your life because of this. But know this. I'm the same person whom you've always known. I just kept my questioning of religion, of God, secret from all of you and it is just now, at this stage of my life, that I feel comfortable enough in my own skin to "come out" finally, and announce who I am.

Please realize that I won't cut you out of my life. I won't try to convince you that everyone should be atheists. I won't make your religion, or my lack thereof, the main topic of any of our future conversations. I am still the same Heather I've always been and will be the same until I die. I will always question, always wonder, always explore. I just want to love, be loved, celebrate, be celebrated, and experience everything life has to offer, and that includes fellowship with family and friends.

I'm a humanist/atheist. I love, I laugh, I rejoice, I cry, I feel, I rage, I wonder. I gasp at the beauty of an early-morning sunrise that bathes the land in oranges, pinks, and reds. I giggle in amazement and joy at watching my children become incredible people. I am soothed and calmed when I jump into the ocean on a scuba dive and am constantly surprised by the diversity and beauty of the life just under the surface. My mind is blown over the incredible wonder of this planet of ours and the life teeming on it. I can still feel all the things those who are faithful feel.

So turn away from me if you feel that you have to. It's OK. I get it. Just remember that we're all spinning on this tiny rock together. We need each other. It's how we're going to make it through this incredible journey through space and time.

Love and peace to each and every one of you.

16 March 2014

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Sometimes, you defend people because it's right, because they're your friend, and you would do anything for them because you love them. And you would give up something for them, in defense of them, because it's the right thing to do.

But that doesn't mean they will do the same for you.

I said this to my mother last week, over dinner. She was teaching me how to make beef stew and we were catching up, reminiscing, and doing what human beings do over a bowl of food; we were exchanging information.

When I said the above, we were going over something that had happened long in our past, something that doesn't come up very often, but as most of us do, the subject had wandered into this far-afield spot we rarely ever visit. And I said what I said because it was a lesson I finally learned just before my 41st birthday.

There are many milestones that occur in our lives that mark the transition from childhood into adulthood. A good many cultures celebrate these transitions in ceremonies: the quinceañera, a bar mitvah, the Satere-Mawe tribe's manhood initiation of wearing Bullet Ant gloves. But I don't think a specific ceremony cuts it. It's many little moments that happen over the course of a life that add to one's knowledge base of understanding humanity. And when one of these moments happen you think to yourself Oh. So that's how this works. OK. Understood, Universe. You mature, most times against your will, and little bit sad that some of that naivete is now gone. Our world, our reality, is a lot easier to live in when you imagine that the monsters are black-furred, yellow-eyed, and living underneath your bed, much easier when you believe everyone has your best interests at heart, far easier when you feel it in your bones that everyone wants to work toward a greater good, and definitely easier when you imagine that everyone you meet can be your friend.

Unfortunately, humanity doesn't operate like that and those are some hard lessons to learn, far more difficult than calculus. The School of Life has a rather cruel Headmistress and she doesn't really care if a lesson stings.

The lesson I'm speaking of in this blog post started when I was 18. I was lucky in that I was 18 before I learned an adult will just as soon turn on you as nurture you and they will do it for their own ends. When it happened, I was utterly shattered. I was there, I had passed that American cusp of becoming a legal, voting adult, ready to become an adult who would nurture and lead and guide when one of those nurturing, leading guides gave it to me but good. I remember curling up between the wall of my bedroom and my dresser, making myself as small as physically possible, to emulate the size my emotional self felt at that moment, and crying great heaving gulps of tears. I think my mother worried for my sanity.

I eventually got over it, but filed it away as a Lesson titled "Adults Can Totally Break a Kid's Heart." Little did I know that this lesson wasn't over. It wasn't until seven years later that part two was presented on a silver platter by the Universe. This Lesson was titled "Adults Can Totally Break Another Adult's Heart For No Other Reason Than They Are Bitter And Want To Make Everyone Around Them Unhappy As Well." When this lesson was presented to me, I did the only thing I could do, that I knew how to do. I defended the person who was being hurt. I stood up for this person, even giving up something I loved in the process. I spread my feet, hands on hips, and shouted at the top of my lungs, "YOU WILL NOT DO THIS BECAUSE IT IS WRONG! BUT IF YOU CONTINUE ON THIS PATH, YOU WILL DO IT WITHOUT ME AND I WILL TELL EVERYONE EVERYWHERE HOW WRONG YOU ARE!"

And I did it, too. I stepped back from this thing I cherished, loved, adored, all in the name of friendship. I did it knowing deep down that this friend would always have my back as well.

I was wrong.

The third and final part of this Lesson, titled "Adults Who You Have Defended Will Not Always Defend You In Return" was presented in my life class 15 years later, a full 22 years after the first part of the lesson. When it happened, it wasn't explosive or in my face. It was actually rather quiet. No one really noticed it but me. When it happened, when I realized that this person, who I considered to be family, who I stood up for, had never even thought to protect or shield me, I was devastated. I remember again crying as the hurt of 18-year-old me, 22 years prior, welled up to the surface, and I thought...

Life sucks. These lessons suck. I hate this shit. I hate this School of Life. I'm done.

Except I wasn't done. Being truly "done" meant shuffling off this mortal coil and I certainly wasn't going to hasten that. I decided after having my cry that "done" in this context meant turning off my phone and computer, eating chocolate, and watching as much Top Gear as humanly possible.

And when I finally stepped back, I realized that all things happen for a reason. They are all learning moments, teaching moments, moments that get us through this ridiculous traffic jam of life and give us example moments for our kids so they're at least prepared for their moment when an adult breaks their heart during their childhood, during their adulthood, and when a friend stops being a friend and becomes just another person in humanity's crowd.

When I uttered those words, at the top of this post, to my mother, it was the culmination of a lesson I never wanted to learn, but ultimately had to. I had to learn this so that when it happens again, and oh yes it will happen, maybe my heart won't break. Because I'll expect it.

04 March 2014

Grit

I was a roller skating fiend when I was a kid. Skateland in Kanawha City was my favored hang out. They had a beautiful, large wooden rink with handrails around one side. The rental skates had just the right amount of stinky-foot aroma and Queen's Another One Bites The Dust along with The Village People's YMCA were on constant rotation. During the halfway mark of my almost-weekly visits, I would hit the concession stand for a Whatchamacallit candy bar and an Around-the-World drink (made especially tasty because of the grape soda). I would skate forwards, backwards, shoot the duck, fall, spin, everything. I loved it.

When my kids were invited to their first roller skating party, I was all over it. I lugged my white 1970s ice skates/turned roller skates out of the bottom of the closet. They're scuffed and old, but they have purple wheels, white stoppers, and sparkly purple laces. I showed up, got the kids in their skates, and was ready to follow them around, picking them up off the floor, and helping them learn how to skate.

But wait, what's this? Walkers?!? WHA? Supposedly, the new thing, are these PVC pipe-walker-looking things. They're on wheels and the kids hold onto them and skate around. When you watch little kids skate in the 21st century, the rink looks full of a bunch of 4-foot-tall senior citizens. On wheels. SCARY! So, OK. Here are your skate-walkers. And... GO! My three sped around the rink, having fun, but not really learning how to balance on their own. J-man just runs on his stoppers while Bubba and Miss-Miss are legs-akimbo, constant motion from the waist-down. I put on my own skates (the only adult to do so - sad) and zipped around, re-gaining my skate legs.

We've done this several times, during summer break and for different birthday parties, all with the same results. The kids use the skate-walkers, zip around, and I follow.

Until this past Saturday. I did the usual skate/walker rental, put on my own skates, and followed. It was chaos. There were about five different birthday parties happening and kids were everywhere (as were the spectator adults). My daughter walked onto the carpeted area, left her skate-walker near our table, got a drink of water, went back, and her skate-walker was gone.

My three kids are all very different. When J-Man has hurt some part of his body or his feelings get hurt, you know it. Instantly. He wails as if he's been run over. Every time. Bubba will cry if his feelings get hurt or if he hurts a part of his body badly. So, he doesn't cry as often, but he will still wail.

Miss-Miss on the other hand, doesn't cry all that much. She's a bit more stoic. Is it the oldest child thing? Or the only daughter thing? Or chromosomal? I don't know. But even when she's really hurt (physically or emotionally) she keeps that stiff upper lip and loudly proclaims, "I'm OK, Mama! I'm not hurt! I'm fine!"

When she discovered her skate walker was missing, she slid/stumbled over to me and said, "It's OK, Mama. I'll just skate without one."

And she did. She fell, slid, stumbled, wobbled, all of it. She would hold my hand for a few minutes and then say, "I'm OK, Mama. I can do this." And she did.

J-man lost his skate walker and cried and demanded a new one. Bubba refused to let his go. Meanwhile Miss-Miss was balancing and learning and adapting.

It's just a little thing, just roller skating, but I can already see the future. I can see a smart, independent, thoughtful young woman, full of grit, doing whatever she needs to do to, even if it means falling and failing, to get where she wants to be.

27 February 2014

The Inner Bitch

She's a nasty one, my inner voice. She squats inside my sub-conscious and nags. I picture her as a heavy-set Jewish/Italian/Eastern European mother-type, Aqua-Net keeps her helmet hair frozen in place. She has long, red fingernails and she chain smokes, a bottle of Scotch on the end table beside her. Her voice is deep and scratchy and she sits in a haze of smoke on an old, dirty, "Harvest Gold" La-Z-Boy. She has a thick New York accent and she's not very nice.

"You're only a stay-at-home mutha? What a lazy girl! Look at this lazy girl! She stays at home! WHY AREN'T YOU WORKING?!?"

"You're gonna clean the toilets like that?!? Who cleans toilets like that?! NOT ME!"

"REALLY?!?! That shirt? You gotta be kiddin' me. IN PUBLIC?!? Change. NOW!"

"You can't write this manual. What a joke. They hired a fake. YOU'RE A FAKE! You're not a writer. GIVE UP!"

"I can't believe it. You misspelled 'judging'! You left out the 'g'! AND OVER 200 PEOPLE HAVE SEEN THIS!!! And you call yourself a writer?!?"

This bitch nags and hassles and ridicules me every day. And I let her.

She's been living in my head ever since I can remember. Her appearance has changed over the years. She used to be a blonde, perky, beautiful, snotty cheerleader. When I suffered through fertility treatments, she was a pregnant, hippie, Earth-mother type who could have children with no effort. Now? She's a nasty, old woman.

And she's the reason I don't take criticism well. I have been accused in the past of taking constructive criticism very poorly and I admit that I HATE it when I make a mistake and I DESPISE it when someone corrects me or tries to offer advice or help. Probably because my inner bitch has been advising me and criticizing me and hassling me for almost my entire life. When someone tries to offer me advice, I don't want to hear it, because I've already been hearing it, for months, and in the most negative way possible. When I hear the criticism externally, I expect it to be the worst, to be offered to me in the same way I give it to myself, and why are you telling me I'm wrong when this bitch has already been screaming at me? Can't you see I'm suffering?

I'm trying. I'm really trying to understand that all of you can't see or hear this awful woman, the inner me, who is so very critical. And I'm learning that you just want to help me see and correct any mistakes I make, because you care.

In addition to this daily censure making me feel inadequate, it also makes me feel like a failure and a fraud. When I hear that my father-in-law is proud to have me be part of the family company's team (as a tech writer) and that he feels I'll do a great job, the quiet, meek inner me shakes her head and thinks, "He doesn't know. I'm a fake. I just muddle through and barely squeak by. I'm a fraud." When someone commends me on a job well done? I don't believe it. And it makes me feel uncomfortable. I've heard this is actually a psychological condition known as Imposter Syndrome. Believe me, when I say, I've got Imposter Syndrome in spades.

I'm telling you all of this because when you compliment me and I shake my head and mumble excuses, you'll understand. And if you offer help or constructive criticism and I snap at you, you'll understand. That inner bitch, who never allows me a second's rest, makes me feel less than worthy of anything.

Maybe, someday, I'll find the duct tape and shut her the hell up.

16 September 2013

Eight

Eight years ago, I was a bewildered, scared brand-new mother. My family had lurched from two individuals to a family of four. In math terms, that's two-squared. In psychological terms that's too-scared.

I briefly held my twins, just a few scant minutes, and then they were taken to the NICU. Weighing in at just 4 lbs. 6 oz. (Amelia) and 4 lbs. 10 oz (Heath), my sweet twins were tiny and not yet ready to go home. It took them 20 days to gain weight and learn how to take in eight bottles a day. Even then, when given the OK to come home, they were still wearing preemie clothes and diapers.

Amelia at just 21 hours old.

Sweet Heath, also 21 hours old.
During those 20 days, I was panicked that I wasn't spending enough time with them. I had convinced myself that just a two-hour daily visit wasn't enough and I knew that they wouldn't recognize me, my voice, or my scent. I had brainwashed myself into thinking that these precious twins would come home and not want me.

OK, seriously? Somebody should have knocked me over the head and told my inner drama queen to shut the hell up. Because these are the sweetest, most loveable kids and those 20 days? Smaller than a blip in the grand scheme of their lives.

Heath, P., Amelia, B., and Jarrod. PARTY TIME!

They play hard, love fully, laugh loudly, and drive us crazy. But we wouldn't have it any other way.


We love you, Heath and Amelia! And, no, I'm not at all freaking out how fast these eight years have flown by and that it's only another eight years until you're both driving. Nope, I'm cool.

(Please? Someone? Get me a drink!)

13 September 2013

Old Fart

Presbyopia - noun \ˌprez-bē-ˈō-pē-ə, ˌpres-\ - a visual condition which becomes apparent especially in middle age and in which loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye causes defective accommodation and inability to focus sharply for near vision.

I remember first hearing that word as a child and thinking, But I'm Presbyterian. Why would anyone have a phobia of Presbyterians? We're boring! We eat casseroles! When I finally looked up the meaning of the word, the lightbulb went off in my head and I realized, yeah so not having anything to do with Presbyterians, but everything to do with old people looking at their menus at either arm's length or with glasses they couldn't find because said glasses were perched on top of their bald heads.

A few years ago, I discussed with my eye doctor the possibility of surgery to correct my extreme myopia (near-sightedness), present since age seven. I already was a bit squirrely about letting someone poke around my cornea WHILE I'M AWAKE AND REMEMBERING THE WHOLE THING and when Dr. G said, "Well, we can correct the myopia and the astigmatism, but you'll need glasses again in a few years when you hit 40 and need reading glasses." that was all the excuse I needed to back away from mental images of a maniacal eye doctor coming at my eyeballs with a really large scalpel.

(Yeah, I know, the surgery isn't like that. I KNOW! Just let me have my horror show fantasies, m'kay?)

One of my favorite hobbies is cross-stitching and blackwork embroidery and since age 10, I have thoroughly enjoyed finding a quiet corner and stitching anything and everything possible. The more skilled I became, the smaller the weave on my aida cloth became. The smaller the weave, the neater and tighter the embroidery becomes. And the harder it is to see the holes. That's never been a problem in the past but in the last couple of years I find that I'm squinting more and more and getting really pissed about it.

After my doctor appointment, and to kill time before picking the kids up from school, I stopped off into my favorite mall store and roamed around, touching the clothing fabrics, admiring the teapots, and wincing at the price tags. As I tried on a pair of sunglasses I didn't need, I saw reading glasses of all shapes and colors. And there, on the top, was a purple pair, magnification +1.50.

What the hell, I thought, I might as well give this try and do it in style with a pair of glasses that matches my hair.

And so now, I am the proud, but annoyed, owner of a pair of reading glasses. Yes, I am 41. Yes, technically, according to American life span charts, I am middle-aged. But, dammit, if I'm going to be afraid of Presbyterians, then I'm going to do it with a bit of sass.

If you happen to stop by Casa de CMG, and you come up to my office/craft room/hang out, you will find me thus:


Just call me "Ms. Cross-Bitch" if you're nasty!