Happy 9th Birthday, Hillary!

I remember this time last year, when you turned eight years old. We were struggling with the drama du jour, and I didn’t write you a happy birthday letter because I didn’t want to write about my parenting shortcomings. If it makes you feel any better, no one told me that my children’s struggles would be a reflection of me. It’s not in the instruction manual.

But now you are nine. Whatever you were struggling with at seven and eight is long gone. The transformation has happened before my eyes, and it delights me to watch you grow into your own person.

You are kind, polite, and overall wonderful to others. You understand the basics of injustice. You share and give easily. You wholly understand that others are watching you and behave accordingly. Honestly, if you learn nothing else, these things will be your greatest asset in years to come. I am so proud.

You are coming out of your shell. Long gone are the days when you look to me for approval or hang on my arm waiting for rescue. You say what you want to say and certainly don’t need me to intercede for you anymore. Just a few weeks ago we went to dinner with some friends, and you spent the whole time engaged in conversation with adults like you’d done it all your life. I was so proud. I am so proud.

You understand that life isn’t fair, and not just because I say it all the time. You know that responsibility increases with age. You know that sometimes it’s easier to do the thing you hate than to argue about it. You know when to speak up for fairness for others. I am so proud.

You are so smart. You got straight A’s and A+’s in school this year. Your teacher says you are the first person to raise your hand, that you offer to help others who struggle, that you are a great team and individual player in her class. I am so proud.

You fill an important place in our family. You take your role of oldest child very seriously, often better at keeping the peace between your brother and sister than I am. You love to be near me, either helping me cook or keeping me company when I am writing or working on art or grocery shopping. I love your company, too.

You are nine now. As of 7:54 AM on Saturday morning, you were nine. You had your first friend sleepover and two parties, too. You had funfetti cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. You got your ears pierced. You blinked and smiled and pretended it didn’t hurt. You hugged me all day because I finally let you pierce your ears. You called it the best day ever.

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I already know this is going to be a great year. You’ve got every tool you need to make the world wonderful and your whole family behind you to help.

Happy 9th Birthday, Hillary. I love you so much. You are my best friend.

With love,

Mom

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A Post-Election Guide For Democrats

It’s 4 AM on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, and I’m so very wide awake, as many are after last night’s stunning election upset. We have a new, unlikely president-elect and his name is NOT Hillary Clinton as we might have expected.

The questions are many. How do we tell our children, especially our little girls, that Hillary didn’t win for them? How do we respect the office of a president that is so reviled and detested? How do we wrap our head around this new, unexpected reality? How do we hold our heads high and simultaneously work through our emotions, which according to anecdotal evidence across the web, range from anger and extreme sadness to rage and complacency?

I cannot stress this enough: It is what it is. No take-backsies.

First things first. There will be a segment of buffoons on social media who will gloat and gloat and gloat. I anticipate this to be a larger-than-average amount of people than one might expect. Let them have their day. They aren’t speaking directly to you or to me, but it will feel like it. Resist the urge to fan their flame. It will go out on its own, unattended.

Secondly, let the sunrise be your guide. It came up, after all. Today is also a day for Democrats to rise and shine. Half of America may claim victory, but the rest of us have a chance to show grace, decency, kindness, and respect. Our children are watching our reaction to defeat. This is of greater importance than any victory celebration.

Third, and finally, because I hope to get a tiny sliver of sleep yet tonight, do not waver on your beliefs even a millimeter. For the briefest of moments in the throes of shock in a sleep-deprived haze, I wondered if I was wrong. Do not allow yourself this thought. We have important work ahead of us, some of it known by nature of the election results, some of it not yet known, and we must be watchful for those opportunities.

As you wake up today, stay proud in your political affiliation. Keep showing kindness and love, generosity and fairness toward others, and be bold to call out anyone who won’t adhere to our high character standards.

It may not feel like it right now, but we do live in the greatest nation on Earth. The power is still in the people, and we can and will make forward progress in the face of this setback.

If you do nothing else today, put your feet on the bedside floor, rub the sleep from your eyes, and get up. You are courageous and bold. You have lost nothing.

All-Ages Craft: Leaf Garland

Garland, bunting, banner, pennant. I am smitten with anything I can hang on a string.

I am always on the lookout for crafts all the kids can do together. They are 12, 10, 8, 6, and four. Garlands fit this bill most of the time, plus the display is always wonderful.

Today’s craft is a leaf garland.

I purchased color diffusing leaf cutouts, but the same results can be achieved with coffee filters and a steady scissorhand.

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Begin by preparing the color medium you will be using. I diluted a variety of food coloring in water. The less water, the more vibrant the color. I used about one-quarter cup water and 10-15 drops of food coloring. We also used a watercolor paint palette with a variety of colors for a subdued color effect and Faber-Castell watercolor crayons for bright and bold leaves.

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Place a paper towel underneath each leaf or coffee filter. Use a paint brush to apply food coloring or watercolor to the leaf and watch the colors spread and blend. If using watercolor crayons, draw the design on the leaf or filter first, then apply water and spread the crayon.

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Lay aside each leaf, including the paper towel, and allow to dry completely. To hang on a garland, use a hole punch and run a string through each leaf then hang using thumb tacks.

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The leaves came together quite quickly, even for my youngest artist, and because the paper diffuses and blends the colors, it is very forgiving and difficult to differentiate artistic level.

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One of the kids would find a cool new technique and the rest would copy for a similar effect. The oldest in our group is 12 and she created some very intricate designs. My husband even got in on the action and created a leaf accentuating his favorite football team’s colors.

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Any art that brings together the entire family is the best kind of art.

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A Motivational Speech to Myself

I don’t spend a lot of time doubting myself, but when I do, you can bet that I put myself through a rigorous question and answer session usually tedious enough to make me forget what it was I doubted.

No lie.

Occasionally, though, I come across a truth I hadn’t noticed before, then take to my keyboard to tell the world what they most likely already know.

I aspire to be a peacekeeper, a giver, a helper, a fixer wherever I can. I cannot keep all the peace, I cannot give what I don’t have, I cannot help or fix when helping or fixing hinders forward progress (like a four-year-old putting on his own shoes). But when I see a unique opportunity to give my time, talent, resources, help, or advice, I jump on it and speed off.

Today, I fully understood for the first time in my life how easy it would be for me to give up on others.

It is quite one thing to throw a 20 into the offering plate every week and let the church take care of my contribution. It’s quite one thing to let a stranger with a full cart go in front of me and my 3 items at the store. It’s quite one thing to pick up an errant piece of trash on a public sidewalk and dispose of it. It’s quite one thing to gather up all my discards and donate them.

It’s quite another thing to have my generosity rejected by a man digging in the trash. It’s quite another thing to give up on a woman whose only desire was companionship because my time and patience ran out. It’s quite another thing to pour myself into building someone up and realize rather painfully how much they didn’t want it or need it. It’s quite another thing to let anxiety in new situations ruin everything.

I could continue to help others the easy way, but that is not my objective. I want the challenge, I crave the challenge.

It’s so plainly obvious why people quite helping others – it’s hard. Helping others is fraught with rejection and fear of the unknown, it tests character, and the “mind your own business” line in the sand is actually a poorly excavated gash in the landscape that frequently changes position.

No matter how much good I do, one negative experience has the power to invalidate every positive thing I’ve ever done. It would be so easy for me to give up right now, focus my attention on something new, and be perfectly content.

Except quitting for the sake of personal discomfort is not being true to my self.

I am not a quitter. I haven’t quite got the hang of helping others, but I cannot quit trying either.

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Self – Dr. Seuss nailed this one, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not,” and you’ve been chosen for this duty. You have the strength to try again and again with the full knowledge that it will never be easy for you. It is time to embrace the difficulty of the task of helping others and to keep pushing forward no matter how defeated and deflated you feel. This is your calling. Keep going!

 

Two Years Later

If I may start with a cliche…

Wow, does time fly.

(That’s actually personification, but I’m sure no one at all is keeping track of my grammar usage.)

Two years ago I surrendered. I reached the lowest possible point in my life – daily fantasies of being hit by a bus, complete and total confidence that my kids would be fine without me, anger that I still can’t comprehend, agony, indecision, worry – and I forced myself to pick up the phone and make an appointment at the clinic. The phone shook in my hands, my whole body shivered, my voice was weak and wavered, but I placed that call. And several weeks later, I forced myself into my car and drove myself to that appointment with clammy hands, a nervous stomach, and anxiety off the charts, but I did it.

One of the first things I did at the clinic was fill out a survey on mental health. Even as I was filling in the blanks and trying to rate my state of mind on a scale from 1 to 5, I was terrified that my “score” would be fine and I would live forever in misery.

Of course, that’s not how it ended (or began, depending on how you look at it), but anxiety is a master of deception and disguise.

The first year was rough. I remember just two weeks after I began taking medication, my anxiety was triggered, and I had a visceral reaction inside my chest, as though the anxiety was a sentient being grabbing my heart and squeezing, making my ears ring, my head swim, my breathing quicken, and my fingertips tingle. I read through the medication’s lengthy informational packet, so I knew it could happen, but it was worse than anything I had experienced before.

And eventually, my anxiety went away. The depression lingered and the anxiety broke through quite a bit, but three dosage adjustments later and all is well.

Recently, I read through some of my blog posts from before I sought help. They made me incredibly sad. Not like that threatening, overwhelming sadness brought on by depression, but the pitying kind, the shameful kind. I am, on occasion, ashamed of my mental health.

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I am chained to a pharmaceutical indefinitely.  The other night, I snuck a snack around pill-taking time, and just stared at the scene before me with near-disgust. Three Oreos, a glass of milk, and a pill. I’d had a long day, I was tired and emotional, eating Oreos for comfort, and washing it all down with my 20 milligrams of salvation. This is my life.

This is my life.

I wouldn’t go back to my life before I got help for all the tea in Boston Harbor, but sometimes I get maudlin when I think about needing a pill to get me through every day. Nevertheless, I have the extreme privilege of bouncing back now, something I could not do two years ago.

So here I am, feeling ridiculous with myself for washing down a rough day with Oreos and an anti-depressant, but I am alive and worthwhile and loved, and I would sell my soul to the pharmacy all day every day to be able to have this pity party. Bottoms up, my friends.