On Bullying

Bullying. 

Every time there is another shooting someone brings up bullying. And I hear about horrible things friends have gone through in their life, things I wish I would have seen but didn’t – with some friends. Just plain horrible things no human should have to go through with friends I didn’t know during those years they were bullied. 

Recently I have also heard about two friends’ children being bullied. 

Here’s the thing – people say all the time “kids are just mean” or “what can we do about it?” There ARE things we can do about it.

Every one of these children has a parent or guardian. Every single bully. They all have an adult that is supposed to be in charge of the rearing and raising of the child. 

Now. Sometimes the parents don’t know what is happening. Sometimes it’s never been brought to their attention. Sometimes they don’t see ANY signs at home and they haven’t gotten in trouble and they just can’t believe their poor sweet Billy would do such a thing. But the thing is, I don’t really believe that. I believe there are signs that people are missing. 

Friends, I want to encourage you to do the hard work. Even when it hurts. Even when you aren’t sure or don’t believe it. Even when it seems like the school/other parent is picking on your child. Do the hard work. Open your eyes.

When my son was in preschool I was told almost 4 months into the year that my son was having behavior problems. I truly was floored. we didn’t see that behavior at home. Truly. He wasn’t hurting children, but he was getting very angry, lashing out, yelling at other children, being mean to other children. I didn’t say “not my child!” I asked what we needed to do to work on it. I asked to have the specialists brought in. I asked how could I help. I went to the school and observed from outside the classroom through the window. I did NOT say “oh, he couldn’t do that” and forget about it. I was actively part of a plan to help him learn that this behavior was not acceptable. I talked to him at home every single day about what happened and how we can do better. Now, when the school calls (only twice this year) to tell me something has happened, I never assume my child is on the “right” end of things. And I do the hard work of digging through what happened with him to get to the bottom of it. I try to figure out what the real story is and how we can stop it from happening again. The time to do it is at this age. Preschool, Kindergarten, First grade. The time to do it is before they are 17 year olds, smashing someone’s face into the bathroom wall. 

Let me back up a bit, because I know some of you are thinking “sometimes you really don’t know until then.” 

I have a relative. When her child does something wrong the first thing she does is try to figure how some other child made her son do whatever he did wrong. She asks the other children what they did. She asks the other parents why weren’t they in the room with the children. She makes a big deal out of what OTHER people did, all the while not conversing with her son. She doesn’t try to figure out what the son did wrong. And for weeks or months she may continue to defend her son. She will bring up why she doesn’t like someone else’s kid because they “got her son in trouble”. We had a get together and this child hurt several of the other children. Several times. When we asked her to intervene she didn’t. She said “oh no, I am sure he isn’t doing that.” Even though several kids came to us at different times telling us the same story. 

This mother refuses to teach her child that you can’t hurt others. That you can’t just lie and get out of it. That’s what the older kids do, you know. “Oh mom, I would never do that. I would never hurt someone else – that person just wants to get me in trouble because they are jealous.” And that mom has never done the hard work. She has never stopped and said to herself “my child is a person. They make mistakes just like anyone else. That doesn’t mean they are a bad person, it means I need to get to the bottom of this behavior and try to help them stop doing this.” So, yes, when the high school calls and says there is a problem, they aren’t prepared. They don’t believe it. This IS the “first they are hearing about this sort of thing.” This is the first they are hearing about it because they haven’t been listening. They haven’t been trying to figure out what their child needs. They haven’t been talking to their child and digging out the real story. They haven’t been doing the hard work.

I believe the thing to do is to pay attention to what the people around you are saying. Is there a house or two your child isn’t welcome in? Maybe it really is your child’s fault. Figure it out. Sit down with the parents. Ask what happened. Put down your defensive thoughts and actions and find out what is really going on. Are the children in class unable to sit by your child? Why? What is he/she doing that makes them undesirable enough that they have to get moved a lot. Maybe it’s just that they talk too much. Maybe it’s that they are mean. Find out. Do the neighborhood children refuse to come over and play? Why? What is going on that they don’t want to. Maybe your child isn’t being mean, but you need to figure out WHY they are being ostracized either way.

When another parent comes to you with an accusation that their child has been bullied by your child, do not assume. Don’t assume that is the whole story, but more importantly don’t assume that your child is innocent. That is one of the most dangerous things we can do these days as parents, in my opinion. 

And if your child is the one being bullied, bring it to the attention of the other parent. It’s uncomfortable. We want to stay in our own little homes and not say anything and hope it goes away. But we can’t. We need to talk to someone else about it. The worst that happens is that the parent is a jerk too. They don’t believe you. The behavior is continued. But at least they can’t say “this is the first I am hearing of this.” Hopefully that will help in dealing with the situation with the school or coach or whomever is also involved, if indeed the parent denies it too.

Do the hard work. Don’t let it slide. It really DOES matter.

 

 

 

Draw your lines, dude.

Today was a difficult day. My son’s sensory problems were overwhelming for both of us. It doesn’t matter that we do home therapy every day and that we have come through a year of professional OT services and that he has improved so much. Some days are still just difficult. And I suppose that is ok. We all have difficult days. I try to remember that, I really do.

Today started out bad. Socks didn’t fit right, waffles didn’t taste right, there was too much sun, too little sun. Everything was stinky. His friends came over and jumped on the trampoline with him. One of the friends accidentally tripped over him and he thought his arm was broken because it hurt so badly. I made him come inside to rest and lay down.

Days like this, I don’t know what to do. Screen time makes him feel worse, but that’s all he wants – to rest in a cool dark room and veg out watching movies. Taking him anywhere (I have learned) is useless – nothing will turn a day like that worse faster than going in public. So, we melted into a pile of his tears, my hair and snuggles. It didn’t make everything better, but I was able to show him I am here for him, anytime – every time.

Maybe that’s the key.

Maybe I can’t fix everything. Maybe I can’t make it all better. I know when I am having a bad day no one else can make it right. So, we did some OT. Then I threw him in the bath. Then when he couldn’t eat more than a couple bites of ANYTHING, I just let it go. I let him munch a little on what he asked for all day. He snuggled with the dog and with me. I took some time for myself on the computer.

At some point it hit me:

Why do I expect more out of my son than I do myself? No, I don’t have his sensory issues. But I have anxiety and fatigue and pain and some other issues. Do you know what it’s like to go out into a loud, public, crowded place when you are anxious? I do. And I think my son feels similarly when he is having a hard day. I don’t expect myself to do things that are too overwhelming. I have very well defined lines that I won’t make myself cross for much of anything. Maybe my brother’s graduation or a cousin’s wedding. But for the most part I do what I need to to help myself. So why don’t I allow my son the same?

And right then and there I decided that might be the best thing I can teach him on days like this.

Draw your lines, dude.

Stick to it. Don’t let anyone make you do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or hurt, even your mom. If you can’t play with your friends, I will tell them you don’t want to play. (Not that I said you can’t, not that you aren’t feeling well, but that you don’t want to, because that should be all it takes for you to not have to do something. Saying you don’t want to should be enough. No excuses. Do what makes you feel best.)

Tell me what you need. Tell me your frozen gogurt sucks today. Tell me you can’t stand the smell of the dog’s breath. Tell your dad he is wrestling too hard. Tell us what you need.

Maybe THAT is the point of these days.

Maybe THAT is what you need to learn.

That you can’t always do it all.

No one can.

And THAT is ok.

 

 

*this is part of a “blog hop” for talking about Sensory Processing problems. I wrote it before I was invited to that, but it seemed to fit, so I waited to post it.*

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National Cancer Survivor’s Day

Today is, apparently, National Cancer Survivor’s Day.

I heard about it a few days ago and thought “oh, I will change my facebook profile picture or something on Sunday.” 

Then I went to change it and I realized a doodle can’t explain what it means to me to be a cancer survivor. 

When I was in an IRL women’s cancer support group, the leader always said that if you have been diagnosed and are still living, you are a cancer survivor. It doesn’t matter whether you are in recovery, in remission, waiting to start chemo, or just diagnosed an hour ago – you are surviving. And you are a cancer survivor.

I liked that thought. Instead of enduring through it, or trying to beat it, or fighting a hard fight, I was a survivor. I had survived.

I had a really hard fight – an unusual case. A lot of pain and worry. My life changed – more than I can explain. And my cancer (thyroid) has the highest rate of recurrence. But today I am doing well. I have not had to have surgery for four and a half years. My blood work and follow up ultrasounds have, so far, been very good. I am optimistic about where I am in my journey. My quality of life is even changing for the better.

World Cancer Survivor’s Day is supposed to be about telling the world what life is like – after cancer. After you have survived. So, this is what life after cancer means to me. 

I am happy. I am happy most of the time. I am more optimistic than I was before cancer – which is kind of weird when I think about it… I have realized that life can be good no matter what problems you have in life. Yes, it might be hard to function with chronic pain, or constant nausea, or constant fatigue (all of which are getting better). But, I always have my family. I always have my son to put a smile on my face. I always know that I am loved and cherished no matter how I feel or what my life is like right now. To know people love you, unconditionally, that is a wonderful thing to realize. I have learned that some days are good. Some days suck really bad. But all my days are better than a day in chest surgery or the week after swallowing radiation. I have found even more empathy for people who are sick or have other challenges. There were times when I could NOT do much. Where if I wanted to go out with my son I needed to plan ahead very carefully, not spend too much energy on anything else – conserve all I could. Even the drive to where ever we were going could completely exhaust me. I didn’t do my hair or makeup much. Often dishes were left in the sink that day. I did what I could – but I had to chose which activity was important. Wearing makeup was not the priority. So, when I see someone who “looks like” a frazzled mess, I am reminded that I have no idea what that person’s life is like. I learned that family (or friends you have made your family) are very important. I have learned to ask for help. I have learned to let others help. Which are two different things. I have learned things that really do help – for most people at least. I have learned to slow down. To enjoy moments, the little things. I have learned to reconnect with my inner being – the part of me that makes me me. To listen to my body and my “heart” and find what I really need, instead of plunging head on with no thought as to what will happen when I do. I have learned to deal with hormone changes. Or at least to tell those around me that I am going through some hormone changes, so if I seem like I am losing my mind, to try not to hold it against me. I have learned to deal with pain. I have learned that pain can be clarifying. And it can also affect every part of your life. 

More recently I have learned that being social helps. Instead of hiding in my basement with movies/tv, getting out with some friends – even for a while – makes life a hundred times better. I have learned that no matter where you are in life, it will change. It may not change the way you hoped, but it will change – that is the only constant in life, as Heraclitus said. I have learned to try to connect with my son on a one to one level every day. Check in with him. Talk. Ask him what he thinks, what he feels, what is happening inside his little mind and heart. I have re-learned that there is pleasure in simple things. I have learned that a challenge can be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have learned that this is NOT the worst thing that can happen to you – whatever “this” is today. There is ALWAYS something worse you could go through. That might not diminish what I am feeling, but it does help me realize that I can make it through those feelings and situations. I have learned that when you are feeling your worst you should help others. It helps you find your balance and get outside yourself. I mentor some cancer survivors, I am in online thyroid cancer support groups where I try to share what knowledge/experience I have, and I am going to start volunteering for an organization that helps survivors of sexual slavery all over the world. I found a way to help others from my computer desk or phone. Anyone can help others – you don’t have to have a lot of time or energy or space. You just have to have love in your heart. 

I have become a different person. A person with new obstacles, challenges, ways to deal in life, and a new outlook. I have become someone I am proud of (most of the time) and someone I think I would like to hang out with. I have been through a lot, but I did get a lot out of it too. 

I guess life after cancer is looking pretty good for me lately. 

I am thankful for that.

 

Therapy as blog posts

It’s been a difficult week.

It shouldn’t have been. Honestly most everything has been very nice. Mother’s day was very nice, volunteering at the school was nice, having a few chats with some lovely people was nice. Hanging out with friends was nice. Making pancakes with my boy for his dad’s birthday today was nice. It’s all been pretty nice. 

But sometimes even when everything is pretty nice, my brain does this thing to trick me. It only focuses on the things that are upsetting me. In fact, it focuses on those few things so much that it is difficult to see all of the nice things.

I have been thinking about things I have absolutely no control over, like the state of the world, or missing girls on another continent. I have been thinking about things loved ones did that upset me. I have been uncomfortable in my own skin. 

Those are the times I know I am slipping and I need to stop and get control again. Those are the times when I know I am in danger of sliding down that deep hole of depression. 

So, here I am focusing on the good things.

Yesterday I had a meeting at my son’s school – I heard from three people I have never met about how funny and smart and witty and humorous my son is. It feels good to hear those things from people who are outside my immediate circle, because it tells me he really is ok. He really is happy and mentally healthy despite all of the things we go through to try to make him happy and healthy. The charming psychologist told me “Don’t stop. Don’t stop what you are doing. All these things you do make a difference. They support him at school.” And one of the people I met with challenged me to look at his day as a whole. If he has a bad lunchtime, that’s ok, if he had a good rest of the day and got his work done and got along with peers. I hadn’t ever thought about that. I honestly have always been so concerned with “controlling” all of the things, that I forget we all have good and bad parts of our days. So, a new challenge, and a good one.

I had a lovely mother’s day and I have had a good time chatting with or hanging out with several friends this week. 3 years ago I had very few friends near by and I didn’t have the energy to get together with them. Now I am able to enjoy the company of other people without exhausting myself.

Two nights ago my son had a stuffy nose. He called me into his room several times to help him, then ended up crying in my bed for half an hour until I could get a nasal rinse, nose spray and glass of water to help him calm down. It was really a ridiculous thing – his father and I were frustrated. He hasn’t acted like this in a while (been throwing more fits lately) and it is starting to wear on us. BUT in the midst of it all, at one point I had gone into the bathroom and he was calling me again. His little cries of “mom!” hit me in the heart. I realized that I am the only one who he calls for in the night. I am the only one he thinks of when he wakes uncomfortable and unable to sleep. I am his person – for now – and I love that.

This summer I have whittled down our activities. We will be going to swimming lessons and karate. That’s it. He has one week long day camp, we will be going on 2 trips to Wyoming hopefully, and his cousins are coming to see us. That’s all. The rest of the time we are going to hang out, go to parks, go to the zoo, relax together, play with the neighborhood kids. Go swimming. We are going to enjoy each other. 

I am going to focus on these things and keep them in the front of my mind. And all of the other good things I have in life – like family and friends and health and happiness. Thanks for letting me use this forum as my therapy. It’s way cheaper. Also cheaper than jail or the psych ward.

 

 

 

Slogging Uphill Through Jello – AKA Mother’s Day

Moms, we need a gang sign.

Something that says “I get you, mom” or “I got your back, sistah” or just “keep on keepin’ on – only 4 hours til bedtime, girl.”

I have discussed this with some friends and although I really like the “double chest pound/peace sign”, the kids have already used that for “I’m out” – which isn’t really the feeling I am going for here.

So, can we work on that, please?

For those of you who don’t understand what I am saying, let me be a little more clear.

We need a sign – a sign that says “I saw that. I totally saw your kid spit on his sister. I know he just wanted to make her cry. Ignore the lady behind you giving you the stink eye, because I get it. I get why you are infuriated with him right now – and I know this is probably the 15th time today that you have had to tell him to stop and you just can’t. take. it. anymore. I get that. Don’t you feel bad about loosing your mind right now. It happens to the best of us.”

We need a sign that says “you gotsta pick your battles, mom. There are only so many times you can say no in a day, or stop it, or what is going on with you today? Seriously. You aren’t made of steel. Let that lollipop she probably found between the seats from the dr’s appointment 2 weeks ago go. Just let it go. Like the Disney song you would like to let go of too. Let it go.”

Our sign needs to encompass a lot of emotions. Because we ride a roller coaster of emotions every day. Our sign needs to say “oh mama, with your eyes full of pride for your child and tears threatening to spill over – Oh mama, I love you. I don’t know you, but I love you and I love your love for your babe, and now – now you have me crying too. Mama with the baby that just started walking, or the 1st grader who overcame her stage fright, or the big boy who wrote a poem that you didn’t know was in that amazing heart of his…. Mama, I know that love and I want to share it with you.”

Our sign needs to say “Mom with the special needs kiddo, mom we get it. We know that some of your mornings you don’t think you can get up again. We know that not sleeping for the past 35 years has just about done you in. And we know that every day you do it. You do it again and again. And you love that kiddo with all your might. We know that special needs often also means a special love. That you give so much more than you ever knew possible. We thank you. We thank you for showing us what that love looks like.”

And it needs to say “Child, you need to thank your mom when you grow up, because you have NO idea how patient she is being right now in the middle of the store while you kick and scream and throw a fit over whatever cereal it is you want. You have NO idea how hard it is to stand there and let you scream and fall on the floor and attract attention from EVERY one in the store. How embarrassing it is to have to push you out of the way with your foot so someone can get by. You don’t know the looks she is getting right now, while she pretends to read the label on another package and wait for you to calm yourself down. Thank your mama one day, child.”

Moms, we need a gang sign.

We need a sign that says “It’s ok if your child ruined the chances of my child getting to go outside in the sun on this beautiful day in group therapy because he was melting down and had to take most of the therapist’s time. It’s ok. Sit down and tell me how you are.” Like some beautiful ladies did for me today.

A sign that says “I get it. I feel like I am slogging uphill through jello too. I feel like I will NEVER see the top. And really, I never will. I will worry and hope and wish and love my child every single day for the rest of his life, and he won’t even know how I feel. He may never know this unconditional, pure, perfect love. Maybe if he has a child of his own one day…   But he may never know what it feels like to love him no matter WHAT he does or who he is. In fact, sometimes you love him even more on those hard days because you hate to see him struggle.”

We need a sign that says “Whatever struggle you are going through, you can rest assured that we want to support you. Whether your child is sick, or struggling in school, or just got arrested for possession of drugs. Whether you don’t know where your child is because they ran away, or you can’t get them out of your basement because they are depressed. Whether your are beaming at your child’s graduation from medical school, or you are cheering the fact that they finally talked. We are here. We may not know your specific struggle or joy, but we know what it feels like to struggle and have overwhelming joy. We support each other.”

This sign also needs to say “All types of moms – we are here for you. Moms who want to be mamas and can’t, or moms who are waiting to adopt and have been heartbroken too many times. Moms who have had children but knew it wasn’t the right time for them and gave their baby a chance at a life they couldn’t give. Moms who have inner demons that are too strong to wrestle and who have lost their babies in the process. Moms who have known the pain of miscarriage. Moms who took in children who needed a home, temporary or permanent. Moms who struggle every day to take care of their child. Women who know that they aren’t meant to be moms and trust that instinct and understand that it’s ok not to be a mom. We are here for you. We are thankful for you all.”

We need a way to tell each other that we understand. That we are going through it too. That we are going to keep on keepin on through every bedtime and teachers conference and principal’s call and therapists appointment and bad grade and college drop out. That we may need wine (or tequila) to get through those things, but we will be there. We need something that says “this is the hardest, most demanding, most exhausting, most frustrating, most anger ensuing thing I have ever done. AND it’s the best, most wonderful, most amazing and mind blowing thing I have ever done too. And THAT, my fellow moms, is beautiful.”

Can we work on that, Moms?

Happy Mother’s Day

Keep on keepin on.

 

 

Perspective and 7 year olds

My son and I had a “your life isn’t so bad if you really look around” conversation this morning. It may have been the first one we have had. I purposely avoid comparing our lives to other people’s lives for several reasons. One is because everyone has pain and your pain and my pain may be different, or even seem less severe, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am in pain. Another is because he is 7 and let’s face it, 7 year olds don’t have the brain development necessary to really understand that across the world somewhere is another boy just like him who’s life sucks – bad – and we can’t even really do anything about it from here. Not directly anyway. However, this week has been challenging for both of us. The last few weeks really. This morning we were talking about getting his hair cut for his uncle’s wedding and school photos. He was upset because cutting his hair makes him “so itchy”. Now, I know that haircuts are challenging for my son. Lots of kids with sensory issues have a hard time with haircuts. He hates the razor, it doesn’t feel ticklish or funny, it feels like it hurts. He doesn’t like the scissors either – he feels like he is getting poked or pulled or hurt in other ways. He feels attacked. And a few times the stylist has told him they weren’t hurting him, and then nicked his ear or neck. It’s better than it used to be. We used to have to hold him down and only got haircuts every 6 months or so. But. We weren’t going to the stylist today. He didn’t need to freak out about it today, before school. So I told him to stop. I said that being itchy after a haircut isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are lots of worse things and he needed to chillax. He asked what the worse things were and I said “kids who are hungry because they don’t have enough food.” He said “or kids who are orphans.” I said “or kids who don’t have a home and have to sleep on the cold hard ground who are orphans.” It actually helped. He was then thinking about other kids who’s lives were harder instead of worrying about being itchy. And then my fussiness about people being in my way in the kitchen as I prepare his lunch for school also seemed pretty petty. Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing.

Trauma and Hope – My Messy Beautiful

We collect tragedies and traumas, don’t we?

String them together like shiny, sharp beads on a cord to wear around our necks.

They glint and reflect the sunshine – showing themselves to all who see us.

This one is for the day I woke up long past time to get up for school and knew something was wrong because I had slept in – the day I woke up and found out my grandmother had died. My first real loss. This one is for the chest surgery I had 2,552 days ago – and all the rest of the surgeries and treatments and pain my cancer brought me. This one is for not being what my mother needed when she needed me most; even though she was always, always what I needed. This one is for the day I signed the papers for my son to enter special ed. This one is for one of the days I woke up not able to function in life, killing my pain with addictive substances and pushing out all the good people I knew. There are so many more. Some are bigger and sharper than others, but they are all there, shiny and sharp and making up my life.

I define myself, really, by these “bad events” in my life. I always have. If you ask me who I am, my mind goes to the days that hurt the most – because somewhere in my mind I think they shaped me the most. And they did shape me, both the tragedy and the relief and release and beauty that came from them all.

But, did they shape me the most?

What would happen if, instead of letting those beads define me, I made a necklace of good things that have happened in my life? What would happen if I let those sharp painful beads rest in my dresser drawer, underneath the socks and underwear for a while?

The new necklace would be full of bright colors and soft curves. Also shiny and also seen by all who know me.

This one is for the days I played in the park as a child, unafraid of the world – climbing trees and laying in the soft grass and hiding in a “clubhouse” of evergreen clusters with my friends and brothers. This one is for the horse riding at the cattle camp with my grandpa and uncles and cousins and dad. This one is for graduation with all my family there to see and all of my friends happy and smiling. This one is for the day I realized it wasn’t all horrible – that life is beautiful and kind and lovely as well. This one is for getting to know my brothers as adults and truly enjoying their company. This one is for the day my husband met his son, standing in the airport after a 15 hour plane ride, holding his 3 week old son and smiling. This one is for the first day I heard “Mama” and this one is for the snuggling and hair twirling and little kisses on my face. This one is for the day I signed papers for my son to enter special ed, but also realized that he is wonderful and beautiful no matter what – and that my job is just to help him, not to “fix” him. One for every family member and friend. Again, there are so many more, all different sizes and shapes. Also making up my life.

But that necklace, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show my whole life either. It doesn’t shape me in the same way, it doesn’t let me learn from my mistakes and the pain and the sorrow. It doesn’t define me either.

So now, day to day, I am learning and trying to live in a way that allows me to have both. To put those beads side by side. The shiny sharp ones and the colorful curvy ones. I am learning to open my heart to it all, as painful as both the beauty and the sorrow can be.

We are not only our tragedy and trauma, and we are not only our hopeful and happy. We are messy and beautiful all at once.

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On Sochi and the Olympics (#1)

I have had many friends writing about the Olympics this year. I have read many things and even seen some videos. I feel that since I have a special connection to this place – without actually being from there – perhaps I should share what I know. My opinions will no doubt differ from everyone else’s, but they are mine and come from a place of thought and introspection.

Being married to someone from a different culture is not always easy. There are enough differences in the way we do things and in what we expect that it can get frustrating. There is also a lot of fun in it. I always have something new to learn about my hubby or his family – like an onion – peeling back the layers. When you learn about other cultures, especially when you become immersed in them, it changes your way of thinking. It gives you the gift of new perspective and allows you to look at the beauty inside of the things you see as negatives. It allows you to realize that you are lucky and highlights that not everyone lives like you do.

This is what I know about Sochi:

Sochi is beautiful. The city, the surroundings, the Black Sea, the Caucasus mountains jutting straight up from the sea, the rocky pebble beach, the forest and the historical buildings – it’s all just so lovely. It has lovely gardens to walk through and beautiful places to dine and shop during the summer tourist season. The culture I personally experienced for the most part is a mix of Armenian and Russian. The population is over 20% people of Armenian descent and my husband’s family and friends mostly fall into that category. They have lived in the area for generations, but they have kept much of their Armenian tradition and still speak a local Armenian dialect in the homes for the most part. Almost everyone I know from Sochi speaks both Armenian and Russian. They have noticeable accents that differ from the Russian accents in the area. Just like in the US different parts of Russia have different accents.

Sochi is the place my husband’s family fled to when the war in their home of Georgia took all they had. It is just across the border from where they spent his early childhood. Some of the stories I have heard are enough to break my heart. Thinking of my husband as a small boy suffering under war conditions, and his parents just trying to keep him and his brother safe and fed, it hurts to hear some of it. He honestly hasn’t told me a lot himself. He is a proud private man and he doesn’t want to talk of the past. When I ask a question that I don’t even think of as related, it is then that I see how different our childhoods were. I have heard some stories from his friends, and parts of his family. His mother, since living here, has shared a few very poignant stories that just break my heart for all of them. Georgia is the place his great grandparents fled to from Armenia during the Turkish Armenian war (or the Armenian Genocide, depending on whom you talk to.) But Sochi itself has been war torn for centuries as well. My husband’s family actually lives in Adler which is a suburb of Sochi. From his backyard and his uncle’s front yard, you can see the new Olympic village by the sea. We visited the ski resort where the snow sports are being held when I was there. It was one of the most beautiful places I have been, and I have been lucky to have seen most of the North American Rockies – including up into the Canadian parts.

This area of the world is not like the area of the world I grew up in. (small town western states in the US) Russia is not an especially safe place. While I felt safe in Sochi, I also knew we were targets being Americans and I tried to keep a “lowish” profile. Staying with his family, in the neighborhood where they know everyone and everyone watches out for each other, I think that was part of my feeling safe. When we went to town and to see the sights, we had an uncle or a brother or a father in law driving us. They were all generally very aware of our surroundings. I took care not to wear flashy clothing or jewelry. We didn’t carry a lot of money. Interestingly, I felt very safe at the beach or in his or his uncle’s home. When we were in Moscow I did not feel safe. I didn’t feel safe in the cab or in our hotel room, and I didn’t feel safe out on the street the next day or at the airport. Before we went to Russia I looked up traveling tips on the US Bureau of Consular Affairs. (travel.state.gov – great resource) They had a warning about traveling to the Caucasus mountains for Americans. Since the proximity to Chechnya is fairly close and Americans have been known to be targets of Chechen terrorists they actually advised against going there, especially alone. It also warned against Americans going to the area in Georgia where my husband grew up and where his Grandma lives. The US does not recognize Abkazhia ** to be a country, so not only were we encouraged not to visit, my son and I could not, in fact, even apply for a visa to go across the border. The Russian Police are able to stop you at any time and ask for documents. Visitors are required to register where they are staying. If they do not, they could be taken to jail. From what I hear, Russian jail is the last place you want to end up. Visitors are encouraged to carry all passports, visas, ID and proof of registration at all times. We were stopped pretty much every time we went somewhere, but mostly in the car. Traffic stopping points are every few miles and you must show proof of ID, car registration and such. I was only asked for documents once or twice, they mostly focused on the driver.

Russia is not “enlightened” in the way we Americans think is enlightened. There is a lot of racism there. In fact, when I went just 5 years ago I only saw two people of African descent the whole month I was there, even in Moscow. I saw them on the boardwalk in Sochi where there were people selling tourist souvenirs. You could pay to take your picture with a parrot or a monkey, there were special treats being sold like ice cream. The Africans (who my husband said were there as university students) were dressed up in what I felt was supposed to be traditional African attire and you could pay to take your picture with them as well. I was of course appalled, but my husband assured me they make amazing money to help them pay for school.  I am told this absence of people of color is changing in the Moscow area. I was told it isn’t generally safe for people of color in the larger cities, I hope that is changing. My husband, being Armenian, has seen a lot of prejudice against friends and family. We know someone who legally changed their kids’ last names so at school they would be treated better. Good paying, not back breaking work is difficult for them to find, public and police treatment of Armenians is poor, racial violence in certain parts of Russia happens a lot. My husband has a friend who experienced public beatings more than once at school in a larger city by their “brand of neonazis” often referred to as Cossacks. Once at a restaurant the waitress asked my husband if our son was “mulatto” – which is the same word you think it is – a word for mixed race children. My husband just said yes. I couldn’t tell that there was any animosity in the question – just curiosity. There were disabled men, mostly, in the city. They were dirty, obviously homeless or close to it, begging. Or not begging and pushing themselves around on a makeshift sort of cart that they pushed with their hands. I could tell there are not services for them there. If you don’t have family to take care of you when you are sick or injured, you are lost. There was a drunk man in long underwear who lived in the small area where there were large garbage containers for the neighborhood to dump some of their trash at. Or if he didn’t live there he found his food and other necessities there. There are also “gypsies” there who beg on the street. They wear amazingly colorful clothing and many necklaces and bracelets. They are not dirty, they look different than the other people who beg. They are treated very badly by pretty much everyone. Seen as a nuisance. One of the reasons my husband stayed here in America was the opportunities he didn’t have back home because of his skin color. Women are not treated well, in my opinion. (my husband would disagree) I don’t believe they have equal opportunities to do as they please in the business world or in school. They are expected to get married and have children – if you do not, there must be something wrong with you. Most women I know do all the work at home and for the children, even if they work as much and as hard as their husbands outside of the home. Many women stay in the cooking/secretary/teaching/retail fields. If there is domestic abuse there is no one to call to help you, except possibly a male family member. It’s just part of life for some women there. Homophobia is rampant and violent. I know many people have seen the shocking videos lately. I can barely stomach them. These are the same “Cossacks” who are violent toward people of color and women. Another place of extreme violence is the armed forces. Young men are required to do a certain amount of service in the military and many die in training. Not from the difficult conditions but from the violence visited upon them by higher ranking soldiers. Mafia is pervasive and everywhere.

But these things do not describe the people I encountered. Most people don’t socialize with any random person at the store or on the street. They find small talk with strangers to be unnecessary. So the people I encountered in general were my husband’s family and friends. They were all lovely. Generous, kind, giving, loyal, protective, funny, happy even in the face of bad circumstances and very social. People got together every day there. The neighborhood ladies would have tea or coffee every day and the norm was to have people come by for dinner once or twice a week. When we were there people came to almost every lunch and dinner to see my husband and his new family. The women were beautiful and kind, the men were loud and laughing. The children were expected to have fun and run around like wild monkeys, which was really very nice. It really was a very beautiful place to visit. The neighbors all know each other and help each other out and watch out for each other and each other’s kids. It’s expected that moms get together with the other moms in the area and let the kids play. Every day. They find it very strange and sad that we don’t do that.

The living conditions varied widely. In downtown Sochi there were large, lovely, new apartments, and older areas with buildings starting to be run down. There were brand new malls and little stores where you could just buy meat, or bread products, or milk products. We frequented a baby store that just sold diapers and baby food and bottles and such. Out where my husband’s family lives there were large lovely houses with gorgeous gardens and land around them, and there were trailers with outhouses and no plumbing. His uncle who lived just up the street had a gorgeous little fruit garden – cherries, grapes, strawberries, fruits I had never seen before. Just beautiful. They harvested the grapes and made wine. Whenever we went over someone climbed up into the tree (my husband, his cousins, his uncle and father were all like monkeys that way in my mind, they climbed easily and frequently) and got fresh cherries or persimmons to serve with tea and cookies. There were neighborhood children who had extremely nice clothing and who were fat and chubby and healthy. They had expensive toys and everything they needed. There were neighborhood children who came to play with my son’s toys (family had all brought over things for our toddler to play with) and who were so careful and delighted with the shiny new things because they didn’t have any toys themselves. One day when we took a back way around the area to go up the mountain to where the skiing and snowboarding Olympic games will be we drove by gorgeous large mansions, and little hovels I still can’t believe people live in. One home was a metal grain silo cut in half on it’s side. Dirty children were outside, pigs were walking in and out of the home, there didn’t appear to be electricity or water. There were literally first world type areas and third world type areas within minutes of each other. They are proud people who work hard and play hard and love their families and help each other.

They have also come to distrust the government and to try to find ways to either take advantage of the system, or find a way to work around it. This seems as natural as anything else they do. Perhaps when your government is so corrupt you just have to do what you can. Maybe this is why when I mention that some of the Olympic construction was not done in time, they simply shrug about it. They have come to expect government corruption, greed and inefficiency.

When I tell my husband the stories I have read, about people being hurt, about people who worked on the Olympic construction being denied pay and accused of theft and arrested and then abused at the police station, when I tell him about the outrage of the animal rights activists, he gives me a funny sad look and says “that’s what happens every day there.” He has come to expect that from his home.

I am glad that the Olympics has brought into the international focus the human rights issues and I am glad I have had friends who want to hear my take on it. I don’t expect there to be much change any time soon though. When I ask my husband why Putin doesn’t seem to care what the rest of the world is saying about his country and him, he says “Why should he care? He was the president and then the prime minister and then the president. Who will stop him?” and indeed it seems like he is as powerful as one can get in that area of the world and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks or says.

I want my friends to know that while there is danger and sadness and things I think should change, and hope do change for the sake of my family, there is also beauty and wonder and very lovely people. Please realize that every place has it’s problems and this place is no exception. But also that every place has good in it as well. One doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other.

People ask me what my Russian family thinks of the Olympics. I think they feel pride. Part of that pride comes from Russians always acting like Sochi isn’t really “part of Russia” – due in large part to the large community of Armenians. When I tell most Russians here that my husband is from Sochi they say “Oh. You mean he is Armenian.” I think they are proud that not only was their beautiful city chosen to be the site of the olympics, but also that by choosing the somewhat excluded city, it gave them a firmer “we are Russian” foothold. I think they have worked hard and sacrificed to make the Olympics successful. My husband’s aunt was evicted from the the home they owned and moved to a new apartment complex on the other side of the city. They used to have 2 areas to rent out to tourists. Now they just have room for their family. There are many many other stories like this. I think they are excited to see all that comes with the Olympics and want to make it a nice place for the international community to visit.

When people ask what *I* think of the Olympics, it is hard for me to put into words, because I feel so many different things about it. I have been aware of the human rights problems for the last 8 years or more. Long before the anti gay propaganda law and long before the Olympics. I have tried all of those years to point these things out to others. Mostly without anyone noticing because it wasn’t a big deal until the Olympics were scheduled there and the new law was passed. I have tried to bring these horrible conditions to light in my corner of the world. I have also tried to share parts of the culture in hopes that Russia and the US can stop thinking of each other as inherently different and as enemies. I have tried to spread the idea that I think would be best in international dealings – which is that we are all citizens of the world. That borders do not have to divide us and that they certainly don’t define us.

Quite honestly I have never cared much about the Olympics at all. I watched gymnastics and skating as a kid and that was pretty much it. I have a fascination with people who work that hard and dedicate every moment of their lives to this one point in time. But I really haven’t ever cared much or tried to watch the games much.

What I feel about the Sochi 2014 Olympics is this: I feel the people who actually do care about it are being ripped off by Putin. I think he has made this not only a partially unprepared for and unsuccessful Olympics, but also opened them up to criticism from every corner and for every little thing due to his bigoted law and his general attitude to the rest of the world. As my husband says “he just doesn’t give a f**k.” And he doesn’t. I feel sad for that part of it. I feel frustrated that what is supposed to be a coming together to celebrate our differences and to change them from barriers into ways we can connect, has been turned into a bad experience for all by one man and the few people who support him. I feel angry and frustrated that Russia as a whole is being seen as bigoted, violent and homophobic, because I will be honest with you, I think the horrible violent crimes perpetrated against the gays (and the people of color and women and young men in the army and the disabled and more) comes from a small percentage of the population who see themselves as better than the rest. And they are being told they are better than the rest by the government as well. I feel the same when I hear people from other countries think that we are all fat bible thumping gun freaks because I know most of us are not. I feel pride in the beautiful city I came to love in the short time I was there – I feel like they are trying to handle it with dignity and grace. I feel scared that something horrible could happen to athletes or visitors or all of the people there, whether it’s from terrorism or from regular every day bigots. I feel very angry when I read my friends who say “Russia sucks” or “Russians are bigots” or “Those assholes over there deserve all the bad press they get.” Because you know what? Every single person I met over there, and almost every single person I have met here who is from Russia are kind, caring, decent human beings just trying to get through life like the rest of us. I feel sad that they have come through so much oppression and pain and war and indigence to make a decent life for themselves DESPITE their government and oppression, and they still have to fight against more of it. I feel frustrated at all of my confused feelings. I want to watch the Olympics to try and steal glimpses of my husband’s home (even though I really don’t care much about the actual sports or athletes) and I don’t want to watch so I can support my gay friends. Though if I am honest with myself, the best way I feel I can support the LGBT community in Russia is to continue to try to bring light to the things that happen there and keep chipping away at the misconceptions about both sides. If I am honest with myself, I don’t think Putin gives a crap whether we watch or not, the Olympic governing body does not care either, and in the end it really does nothing if the countries themselves have not pulled out of it. But I support those who feel this is the best way they can help and send support to the LGBT community over there who most definitely suffer great atrocities. I love that this Olympics has brought these problems to light to more of the world’s population and I am hopeful that when the cameras leave in 2 weeks that the support and work does not. Because the bigotry won’t leave then either.

In the end, in two weeks, the world will stop looking so closely at Sochi and at Russia. I hope that they will have learned something from all of this instead of it being another passing fad. I am sure there are ways to truly become involved, organizations that are helping, senators to write to about amnesty for the people who desperately need to leave, funds to raise, people to send. I hope in the end it is not the games or the athletes or the image of a serious and proud Putin that we remember. I hope it is not the turning off of a tv that we remember. I hope it is the struggle of people in every corner of a massive country who need freedom, who deserve dignity, who should not have to worry about safety. And I hope that we will have something to do with the transformation of the lives they live.

 

 

** Abkazia is a part of Georgia that was the reason for the Civil war when he was young. They have declared themselves to be independent.

life

Life is hard. It is. It’s hard. And it’s lovely. Both. One of my favorite bloggers (Glennon Melton at Momastery) says that life is brutiful. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I agree. But here is the secret: you can’t know one without the other. When I was young I was somewhat obsessed with quotes. Especially the inspirational kind. I would type them up (yes TYPE on a typewriter) and cut them out into little strips of paper and put them on my wall. One of those quotes was “you can’t enjoy the sunshine without the rain.” I have no idea who first said it or if we even know. It seemed to strike a chord with me. I didn’t know that I would one day learn (as perhaps we all do) how true that saying is. You can’t know happiness unless you know sadness. You can’t know peace if you haven’t experienced turmoil. Our understanding of emotion is based on how we interpret our lives. Sometimes things have to be difficult. Sometimes things have to hurt a little. It is only then that we have a comparison for the good things. That’s how life goes.

I have several friends struggling lately. I worry for them. One of the common themes I find in all people who are going through a hard time is the “I just can’t wait until this part is over” thinking. I do it too. Maybe it helps us get through that part of life. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism – it makes us think about how things will be different, better, later on. It gives us a point to focus on and push toward. It’s like running long distance and finally seeing the finish line. I think. I don’t run, but if I did I can totally imagine me seeing that finish line and it giving me a little extra nudge to get there. If that’s how it helps us, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I have always been a “runner”. Not the racing kind, but the “I can’t get out of here fast enough” kind. It’s like my default way of dealing with stuff. I would run away from problems. Either by moving or by quitting or by using a variety of “chemicals” to help me forget. Sometimes I just used sleep and tv. Sometimes food. In the past few years I have experienced some things I can’t run away from. Things that you have to face head on or be broken by them. I believe those lessons have made me a better person. I want to share some of what I have learned. Maybe one day it will help someone. Maybe one of my struggling friends will find comfort from it.

1. Pain is inevitable.

Pain is part of life and you can not escape it all. No one can. When I was younger, trying to find myself, I took some meditation classes from a Buddhist center where I lived. It was a lovely place filled with lovely people. They gave meditation classes to the public every Sunday night. I enjoyed what I learned there. We had lovely lessons and even lovelier guided group meditations. One of the things that struck me was a set of phrases they used. They told us that if you feel pain while doing your meditation (say your back hurts from sitting too long, or your leg falls asleep, or your foot itches), don’t move, don’t try to wiggle it out. They said that life is full of pain. Trying to run away from it or change it does not help you. Instead they told us that if we experienced pain during our meditation the best thing to do was to accept it, breathe into it, acknowledge it and just be in the moment. That the pain would pass. Pain can be physical, emotional, and mental in the way I am using it here, and trust me, they all hurt. I believe this ties into the “you can’t experience the sunshine without the rain” thought process. If you don’t allow yourself to experience the bad, how will you know the good? I actually used the “breathe into it, acknowledge it” part a lot in years to come when I had painful surgeries, when my son was born, or when my chronic pain tortured me. But let’s analyse this in a real life situation, because let’s be honest, most pain doesn’t come when you are sitting in the Lotus position and breathing deeply with a calm mind. Let me use an example. When my mom was sick it was very painful for me. (for her more, but we are selfish beings) I worried about it. I stressed over it. I felt unable to help, and unable to fix things and unable to even be there the way she needed. Those are very difficult emotions for me. They caused a lot of emotional pain for me. I always fix stuff. But I couldn’t’ fix this. When I would quiet my mind and meditate and breathe into the pain, it helped me calm myself back down and find a more centered spot. It didn’t last long, but it did help me center myself again for a while. When my mom died it had been a really hard 6 months for our family. I can tell you almost all of the moments during a 5-6 day period of time with my family during the time of her death and funeral. I can remember all of the love, all of the pain, all of the breathing, all of the faces, all of the kindnesses. Because there was nothing I could do but sit, breathe, acknowledge the pain. Roll around in it. Wrap myself up in it. When time slows down like this, you know – you know you are in a life changing moment, and I am thankful I was able to accept it in this way. That’s not to say I didn’t have pain anymore. Or I still don’t. But I did my best to treat it like a part of life. A moment to learn from. When my Grandfather died I was not in a good place. I was using alcohol and drugs to calm my mind. I was hiding out from my family – not keeping in contact. I was losing jobs left and right. I was living in a dirty apartment. I was unable to process my feelings about his death at the time. Because I ran. I am happy I was able to learn that lesson later. Not all people meditate (though I recommend it to everyone because it’s awesome), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the hard parts of life. Attempting to push the lessons you may be needing to learn away, trying to stop things from happening, trying to shelter yourself or others, does not help anyone. It causes more pain because your stress builds up. Your worry intensifies. You do not learn the lessons you are meant to learn. You do not progress.

It is the same way with our children. We want to protect them, stop the bad things from happening, keep them from being hurt. Some of these things are wise and good – like keeping your child from playing in dangerous chemicals, or keeping your baby from putting things in the electrical socket. But some things need to be experienced by our children – it’s how they learn. When my son was a baby I read that the way a baby learns to stand and walk is by falling down. Falling down and standing back up develop muscles babies need to be able to stand longer and one day walk. Falling down also helps them learn how they are oriented in space, cause and effect, how to control their bodies, and many more things. If we keep our toddlers from falling down, we rob them of the chance to learn. If you have read very many of my other blog posts, you know that my son struggles from time to time in different ways. One thing he struggles with is social aspects of life. He is loud, persistent, expectant, demanding. He knows what he wants and he WILL get it. Sometimes other kids don’t like these qualities – they call him bossy or mean or tell him to leave them alone. When this first started happening my instinct was to run to help. I was the mama bear just wanting to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and to protect other kids too. Because he would throw big fits, I got into the habit of kind of hovering. I would always go with the kids so I could intervene at any moment. I would try to protect him from other kids AND himself. It wasn’t until he stopped the fit throwing most of the time that he started to really learn what other people expected of him socially. I realized that was because I was finally stepping back and letting him learn it on his own. I was finally giving him space to get hurt a little, or mess up a little, or even lose a friend so he could learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. I was protecting him too much. You can explain to a person HOW to ride a bike all you want. Until they actually do it for themselves they can not learn it. Now, sometimes he still needs social cues, and I try to give them if I am there and able to hear what is going on. But I also let him work things out on his own. If he asks what to do, or gets upset, I will give him advice or hints. But I let him fall down sometimes so he can learn. There is a time for everything, including being in pain. There is a time to sit and breathe in the moment and just accept the pain and let it roll around you. Robbing my child of his chance to have those moments didn’t do him any services. Like a toddler who’s parents don’t allow them to stand up on their own some, he would never learn to walk if I didn’t allow him to get hurt some.

2. This moment will never happen again.

This lesson brought to you by the words Cancer, Parenthood, Alzheimer’s, Death, and Love. Actually this lesson was brought to ME by those words. Life is fleeting. It really is. When you are 5 years old, each moment can last all day. When you are 35 you turn around and your son is in Preschool and you don’t know how it happened so fast. You can never get this moment back. And thank goodness for that for some of them, right? Like the ones where you are elbow deep in child poo and can’t reach the wipes that fell on the floor. Or when you son comes up to you with his hands full of something smelly and brown and says “Mom, I think there is poo on the playground.” (thanks to a friend for this example) Or when you are at the store and your son throws a fit because he wants something and you end up having to haul him out of the store kicking and screaming while everyone watches you and (in your mind) judges you as a bad mom. (hm, that’s a lot more potty talk than I am usually prone to. sorry for those mental images) Thank goodness some of THESE moments are fleeting. But some, some you do need to absorb. To slow down and look around you and make a mental photograph. To remember the exact way his smile turns up. To remember the laughter at your silly faces. To remember your husband and son holding each other, trusting each other, loving each other. To remember your mom walking with your son, holding hands, telling him the names of flowers, pointing to beautiful things for him to see. Things you did not see yourself. If you are constantly in a rush, how do you absorb and remember these? If you can’t slow down and stop pushing forward, stop forging the way, how do you remember the lovely lovely moments in life? How do you let them into your heart? When I was at my sickest from cancer – when I was at my mom and dad’s house with my baby – my husband 500 miles away – trying to prepare for another surgery – when I couldn’t lift my son – I sat and looked at him. I watched him. I touched his hand, stroked his toes, kissed his head. I handed him the soft ball he liked to hold, or held a toy up for him to reach for. I tried to absorb all of the moments I could. I had nothing to do but sit. Sit and rest and let my body be strong again. And so I did. I sat and I paid attention to those things in my life I needed to remember. When they wheeled my down to surgery, doped up on Versed, all 4 times, I had one beautiful thought in my head. I remember consciously choosing to drift off into never-land with the image of my son yawning in my head. The first time was spontaneous, but it calmed me so much I made it the routine. From the beginning he did the funniest cute little pucker of his lips at the beginning of his yawn. I loved it with all my heart – that moment of pucker, that second of adorableness – and I clung to that image. I let that image be my life raft, bringing me back to him when the surgery was over. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like when we die. Flashes of the most precious things in our life. A look, a touch, a kiss on a forehead, a pucker. Slow down. Slow down and see these moments. When you are bent over a pile of paperwork, or trying to get the dishes done so you can help with homework and get the kids in the bath, or counting the minutes until bedtime…. stop. Listen for a second. Look around for a second. Capture a moment instead of pushing them away.

3. No one can live like this all the time.

When I was at my sickest, as I mentioned in #2, I was at my Mom’s house. She watched Grey’s Anatomy every week at that time. I was off my thyroid meds and couldn’t follow 5 minutes of anything, so I just sat and watched with her. One of the episodes had a scene – and this scene is branded onto my mind – involving “enjoying every single moment.” One of the women characters (Izzy maybe) had had a near death experience of some sort, and had been going around all week telling everyone to enjoy every moment, pointing out the beauty in every single thing. Telling people to just be thankful they were alive and stop bickering, thrusting her amazement at the beauty of the world onto everyone else. One of the other women characters (Meredith perhaps) told her to knock it off. She said she was glad that her friend had this experience, and that it helped her see the beauty in every moment, but that most people just can’t live like that all the time. Most people are just trying to get through the moment. ** That hit me as well. It was true. While I was sitting, getting stronger, absorbing every minute I was able to stay awake, my family was bustling around me. Arranging child care help, feeding us, cleaning up after us, helping me with showers, getting up in the night with my baby. I doubt they were able to absorb much of anything, honestly. And I realized that sometimes it isn’t the “season” for absorbing and loving and seeing the beauty. Sometimes it the season for pushing ahead, getting up and going forward a few more steps, pushing yourself to keep going. Like a child learning to ride a bike, if you fall down and just sit there and wallow in the hurt and think about how scary it felt to fall, you will never get on again. If you don’t pick yourself up and try again, you won’t learn to ride. Sometimes it’s the season of getting up and trying again.

4. Life is easier with those you love.

Find strength in those whom you love. In those who love you. Find happiness and peace and a place to be safe in your friends and family (whatever your definition of family is). Give to them as they give to you and everyone’s load will be lighter. I could go on all day about this one. Just know that in every hard moment, and in every good one, the people you love will make it better. And remember not to only call them when life is hard. Definitely call when life is hard, but also when life is normal or happy. Share all the times, not just the bad ones. My husband’s family is better at this than I am. They make time to get together, they drop by each other’s houses for coffee and tea. They see each other all the time. I have been trying to work on this more – getting together with people who make me happy, and children who make my son happy. We all need that in life.

I know that none of this is easy. Again, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and it hurts and it brings you to your knees sometimes. But it’s also beautiful and full of love and beauty as well. Life is brutiful. Live it accordingly.

** You’ll forgive my lack of knowledge about this episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I hope. I never was a devoted follower and I was so sick I didn’t know what was going on around me. In a thyroidless induced walking coma. If any devoted fans know this episode I would love to watch it again. It may or may not have been around the time of the “red mist” episode in which there is a bomb in the hospital – I remember watching that episode in the weeks I was there as well.

A New Story

7 years ago today I had my first cancer surgery. A few months ago this would have led into a long post about how my life has changed and the bad side of cancer. I might include a few things I have learned that make it “not so bad.”

I have been meditating more again lately. (insert shaking of head and “why do I ever get off the old meditation train” lamenting)

The other day I had a realization. Like a smack to my face.

That isn’t our story anymore.

Well, it is our story. It’s our beginning – me and my little family. But it isn’t our ending. It isn’t even our now. Our lives have become much more.

This is our story now:

Get up, snuggle with the boy and the 4 legged boy, get stuff ready for school, feed people, clean up after people, go to school. Some days I get to come back to school in a bit and spend my time with amazing amazing little people in my son’s class. Some days I meet some mommy friends for coffee. I love those two days the best. Some days I go home and do housewifey stuff. Some days I have physical therapy or doctors appointments.

I go get my boy after school and realize that the whole day I have been breathing. I haven’t been holding my breath to find out what went wrong at school today. My son is doing so well and is so much happier than he used to be. So much more confident.

We go do our after school stuff – therapy or swimming or karate. We go home and do homework and read books and take baths and I smell his clean bathy smell. He does math. I can’t tell you how much I love this. He does math. In his head. All the time. It’s like he just thinks that way. I know… he must be someone else’s child. But he does. And I love it. We snuggle in bed while I read him a bedtime story and he falls asleep. And then hubby comes home and we watch a show together. It doesn’t matter what, it’s just nice to be alone for a bit, and we snuggle with the 4 legged boy. And then we go to bed.

Lately the boy and I have been going to meet up with friends more when we have a day off of school or on weekends. We both enjoy this. The boy has been playing with neighborhood kids. And we had a big birthday party for him at our house and all the kids had a blast, especially mine. We went on a little ski trip. I haven’t been able to enjoy a trip like that for a long time. This Saturday I am having some of our friends over to make gingerbread houses and snowflakes. Today I made 11 graham cracker gingerbread houses and I ate too much icing. And I realized that I had been breathing the whole day. I wasn’t holding my breath waiting for a migraine or kidney stone or chest pain to knock me over. I wasn’t waiting to feel week and exhausted and have to go lay down. I actually feel comfortable making plans with other humans because I don’t have a migraine every single day and I have more energy since my pain has been better and I am not spending every moment I can in bed. The pain is not gone. And some days I am still exhausted. But I can breathe.

The depression I was living under has eased up. When you feel poorly every day it’s very difficult to be happy. Add to that all of life’s ups and downs and it’s difficult to get through any stress. Physically feeling better has helped. So has getting back to my old self some. So has letting go. Letting go of the things I can’t control.

I had a conversation with my pain doc the other day (who is amazing by the way). It was a lovely conversation, even though he was jabbing me in the face and head with needles and injecting burny stuff into me at the time. He had asked how my family was and I asked how his was. He said his wife and he were just busy with their kids. Just running here and there with the kids. He coaches his boys’ sports and he watches his girl’s sports and they go to teacher conferences and do homework and he loves it. He loves it all.

And I said YES.

Yes.

That is life. Life is all those lovely little moments, all the “day in day out” lovely things. And not so lovely things. It’s life and it’s so so good. He knows, as I do, that you have to enjoy what you can, when you can.

And breathe.