My Kid Experiences Disability. He’s Potentially a Very Rad Human. Right Now, Though, He’s an ASS.

Mar 22 2017

Look. There are certain things that are harder to write than others. Mine tend to get a little flip flopped. Writing about the church? Ugh. HARD. Writing about pooping my closet? Surprisingly easy. So I’m not necessarily like everyone else when it comes to which subjects are agonizing and which are delightful, but, on this one, I suspect I’m like everyone else. Writing about my kid who experiences disability = hard. One of the hardest. Partly because I want to protect as much of his story as possible. And partly because there’s a sort of unspoken Hippocratic Oath among those of us who parent children who experience disability; we want, above all, to do no harm to these kiddos who already have enough challenges without their mommies making it worse by speaking out. You know? And so there’s an almost-covenant; if we DO tell our kids’ stories, we tell OUR PART ONLY. We tell the bits that help other mamas and dads like us know they’re NOT ALONE. We speak of our children in the BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT, always with sympathy, always with understanding. The world is already judging them, after all, more harshly than the world judges me or you, and we’ve made HUGE STRIDES over the last 5 or 10 years in helping the world SEE our kids as HUMANS FIRST and not CHALLENGES FIRST.

Disabilities of all kinds are less maligned than they used to be. We ARE making progress, at least among those of us who are kind and seek a diverse human experience. I see a new campaign every day to break down barriers. To increase understanding. To educate the public on how to treat each other. But, as a society, we still seem to need those who experience disability to be sweet and nice. To be cherubic. To be, if they experience difficulty, TRIUMPHANT about it, damn it. OVERCOMING their difficulties. And we’d like to hear about those difficulties after they’ve been solved, please. Never in the middle of them. Never, EVER. And so we rob those who experience disability of part of their humanity. Their ability to be fully, messily human when we insist they only have MAGIC and never mess. We make them caricatures of people so we can understand them in as few dimensions as possible; we steal their complexity and, in the end, part of their story, after all.

We’ve gotten to the part where we parents can admit raising kids — ANY kind of raising kids — and also raising kids who experience disability is HARD WORK. THANK GOD we’ve arrived there and parents are reaching out to each other to form networks and advocacy programs and person-centered decision making. THANK GOD and all the people who have made this happen.

We have not gotten to the part where we can share the full truth of what we experience.

But, friends.

Friends.

Friends.

I need to tell you a piece of that full truth now, because we Woolseys are in the MUCK and the MIRE right now, and we are NOT seeing the magic in the mess. We might someday. We cling to that as our future and carry that hope for our child who cannot carry it for himself right now. But today is not that day. Today is MESS, following days and days and months and months of more mess.

My kid — my kid with GREAT potential, who is beautiful and sensitive and had a HORRIBLE, HARD START in life and, since then, EVERY medical, psychological, mental and developmental reason for the very real challenges he faces every single day — is also an ASS right now.

Like, my kid is REALLY a jerk.

And it’s not Oppositional Defiant Disorder. There’s not some unearthed diagnosis here. We KNOW what this is — a large part is, in fact, medical — and we know WHY he does it, AND ALSO, he’s currently a big bully and his behavior is not OK. ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE at the same time. He has good reasons to be a jerk, AND IT’S NOT OK. Both/And, friends. Both/And.

My kid used to be kind. Truly, deeply kind, and he looked out for others. Lately, 95% of the time, he’s not kind. Not to his family. And, more and more lately, not to his peers, either. Nearly all of the words he uses these days around our house are intended to maximize rudeness, hurt others, or, if he accomplishes all of his goals in one fell swoop, both.

He punched his 10-year-old brother in the stomach a few weeks ago.

He told a kid at school he was going to kill him. “I didn’t mean it, Mom” and rolling his eyes didn’t go over as well as he hoped.

He uses his man-sized body to block people littler than him or stand imposingly over them while refusing to move — nonverbal threats of force.

He’s been banned by XBox Live for inappropriate (read: threatening) chats.

His Gmail count has been deleted — by Google, in an official decision — for the same. We have responded at this point by removing all access to everything online for the foreseeable future. Which, you know, makes him ECSTATIC.

These are not, in other words, cute misbehaviors or understandable one-off scenarios. These are consistent. Disheartening. Discouraging. Sad. And this is a child on the cusp of adulthood — knocking on the door of age 18 — so I often have to pull myself back from the brink of going Full Lizard Brain, all “FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW IS THE ONLY REASONABLE SOLUTION,” and assuming this is going to all end in a firefight with the police. The facts that he’s only ever at school or at home don’t seem to matter to Mommy Lizard Brain. She exists to call up the worst possible scenario, bless her catastrophizing heart.

Please understand, I am not unsympathetic to his behavior, nor do I blame the man child entirely. There are good reasons for this kid in particular to be a total raging asshole right now. In addition to intellectual disability, he is developmentally somewhere between an immature age 4 and age 6, with all of the impulse control that entails, while trying to navigate a 17-year-old body with hormones; he has expressive and receptive language disorders which keep him locked inside his head without the ability to talk things out the way you and I do, making for quite the pressure cooker of emotions and frustration; he suffers from anxiety and PTSD which he keeps on a tight leash at school and, therefore, unleashes entirely when he gets home; and, he is the perfect storm of social awareness — aware that he is different and desperately wanting to be cool with no real ability to navigate peer relationships in a socially normative way.

It is, in other words, a total cluster. Just an utter mess. This is a kid — a young man — who is trying to find his power and his purpose, and he’s found it very powerful to use his body and his words as weapons. To a person who feels otherwise out of control, having ANY amount of power is extremely seductive; he simply doesn’t have the developmental or intellectual ability to combat that right now. The problem is, we don’t know if he ever will.

I like to think, when Lizard Brain isn’t in control, that this is a phase.

I remind myself that many teenagers — myself at that age absolutely included — go through a raging asshole stage.

I remind myself of all the help we’re getting — from his school, from doctors, from specialist, from eating programs and emotional regulation, from my parents who are working tirelessly on his behalf to get him the additional services he needs.

I remind myself that my child who experiences disability is FULLY HUMAN, and all of this simply proves it.

I remind myself that he is also FULLY DIVINE, made in God’s own image, even if I want to drop kick him over the back fence right now and see if any of that damn divinity will shake loose so I can SEE SOME.

And, because I, too, am fully human, I succeed at those things some days, and I don’t succeed others.

So.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because my kid, like every person on this planet, is real. He’s complex. He suffers. He makes good choices. He makes terrible ones. He is not cherubic at the moment. He’s being rather awful, in fact. Part of being real, though, means being ALL MESS sometimes. ALL MESS with magic buried deep down inside.

Waving in the dark, friends,

 

 

 

 

 

Because I Needed to Fix ONE Damn Thing

Mar 20 2017

There’s paint on my fingernails. Some of it’s nail polish. Some of it’s wall paint.

Abby came home from college for Spring Break. She left warm, sunny Hawaii where her friends spent the week on the beach in teeny, tiny swimsuits getting perfect tan lines, for cold, rainy Oregon and her mommy and daddy. I told her she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong. But kids these days; they never listen.

“LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE,” she said, Spring Break Day 1.

“OMG! YES. YES, LET’S GO GET OUR NAILS DONE RIGHT NOW,” I said back, which I’ve never previously said to her — never in her whole life — because it costs $25 to get ONE PERSON’S NAILS DONE ONE TIME, whereas an ENTIRE BOTTLE of nail polish is $3.99 at the grocery store, OR, if you insist on being fancy, $8.99 with a $2 off coupon.

But Abby knows exactly when her mommy is a sucker — Spring Break Day 1, man — because even if she’s doing college and Spring Break wrong, I’ve at least taught her the life skill called How to Manipulate Your Mama So She Does Whatever You Want, Always. And so, I sit here typing with manicured nails, but also hands dotted with wall paint because I’m why we can’t have nice things.

“Tracy and I got fake nails today,” I wrote in my 5th grade journal after we snuck to the store and squandered our allowance on press-on nails, “but then we dug up a gopher hole, so they fell off.” My 43-year-old hands are, in other words, exactly like my 10-year-old hands. I tried to look like a grown-up, friends. I tried real hard.

I painted my bedroom this week.

It wasn’t part of the plan, I have 36 other priorities right now, my teenage man-child with special needs is having a rough go of it lately, but, suddenly, nothing felt as important as painting, rearranging and redecorating my bedroom. Not one thing.

Instead of mock myself for it, though, I’ll tell you — and myself — a more gentle truth: I needed to control something in a world that feels out of control. I needed to make something pretty in a world that seems ugly. I needed sanctuary as our church falls apart. I needed a sanctuary to sit in. I needed to find sanctuary in the ethereal sense. And, while there’s a very, very small, logical part of me that understands painting my room ultimately provides no substantial fix, there’s a much larger part that is soothed by fixing something. Anything. One goddamn thing. Even — especially — if that thing is where I lay my head at night.

More soon, friends. I’ve been trying to wrap my fragile, fabulous, fearful, fierce brain around what to say about the world these days and how to navigate it. I’m almost there. Stay tuned.

With love, as always,

 

 

 

P.S. Here’s what I’ve done to the room so far…

I forgot to take “before” photos, so these are mid-way pics… in the middle of cleaning and reorganizing pre-painting and moving furniture.

BEFORE(ish):

BEFORE(ish):

We’ve switched where the bed and desk are located. Thus,

AFTER:

AFTER:

P.P.S. I DID think about making the bed for you — it’s adorable with all the different Bohemian-feel linens which are a combo of stuff we already had, like that weird and fabulous 1960’s quilt from my great aunt, and the throw pillows you can see on the dresser, and the other linens like the blue and white bedspread I scored from Goodwill — but, honest to God, our bed is only made 0.0001% of the time so making it for you felt too much like lying. So we’re going with “it’s the thought that counts.” I thought about making the bed, so it counts, yes? Yes. This is why we’re friends.

P.P.P.S. The Nolen’s Booksellers sign was Greg’s score at the recent sale in Portland of all the prop pieces from the Grimm TV series. Seems fitting to put with Aden’s werewolf self-portrait and our twins’ zombie pic.

P.P.P.P.S. The desk wall isn’t done.

I’m considering doing a word mural on the wall with what has become my theme…

There is MAGIC in the MESS,
and GRACE in the GRIME
and WONDER in the WILD
of this LIFE lived OFF-COURSE
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

It seems like the perfect place for such a reminder. I’m just not sure how to execute that idea. Thoughts??

P.P.P.P.P.S. I have a beginner’s writing retreat coming up in May at the Oregon Coast! I’d love to hang out with you there. You can find all the info here: Writing 101. Please do consider coming! And contact me if you have any questions. <3

Where I’m From

Mar 7 2017

When I first had a baby who was soft and snuggly, who smelled good and was dressed the way I liked in Baby Gap dresses I snagged from the consignment store for a steal, I felt sad for the mommies of bigger kids. I watched them, mostly at church, and I thought they were just so… homely. With horror show teeth growing on top of each other, forgetting to let the little ones fall out before the big ones came in. And mismatched clothes with tears in all the wrong places; a pocket attached but barely, a toe sticking out of a sock without a shoe. They were gangly and awkward and socially cringe-worthy. They smelled wonky and had funny hair. And, I suppose, I remembered myself at that age and felt retroactively embarrassed for myself. So I felt sorry for their mamas, and I suspected they longed for their kids to be little again, still sweet and small; still pretty; still perfect and unmarred by time and teeth.

Now I’m the mama of the gangly ones with the funny hair and wicked grins, and I still think they’re homely, only now I find them delightfully so, and I revel in the secret of the mamas of the bigs — the secret that these goofy kids are also pretty and perfect and unmarred. Both/And, friends, and becoming more Both/And every day. Both homely and stunning. Both wonky and wonderful. Both grimy and gorgeous. Both magic and mess. Like all of us, it turns out, made up of a mix and jumble. Human and divine. And I adore that they are mine.

Cai came home from school last week and declared he hates writing the Most of ALL. He’s in 4th grade and he hates writing. He hates drawing. He hates art. And he really, really, extra hates poetry. Poetry is horrible. And then he pulled a poem from his backpack and threw it on the kitchen table, on top of Something Sticky from days ago, and on top of bills and groceries and someone’s sock, and he left the room to play XBox with his brother while I read his poem and laughed because it starts silly… and then wept because there it was, all written out, who my kid is at this wonky, beautiful age, and where he’s really from, in truth.

Where I’m From
by Cai Woolsey

I am from computer.
From Twix candy bars and XBox.

I am from chaos.

I am from madness.
From helpful
And dirty.

I am from the willow that weeps
And the pear that is sweet.

I am from eating snow
And joyfulness from Beth and Greg.

I’m from loudness
And ruff housing.

From peace
And love.

I’m from kindness
And giving.
I’m from my Papa’s Marines
And from cheese and steak.

I’m from the hospital.
I am from my home.

I asked Cai’s teacher about the poetry unit they’ve been doing. The awful, horrible poetry unit he hates which produced this picture of who my kid is, at age 10, and his wisdom and awkward, awesome grace. She shared the template with me, based on Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon, and I decided to write my own, as well.

It made me nervous, to be honest, because, as is common for Third Culture Kids, I never quite know how to answer Where I’m From. Do I say where I was born? Where I was raised? Where I live now? Where my heart, which ebbs and flows like the ocean, from one coast to another, pulled by mysterious forces, is drawn? It’s… complicated… for kids like me. We tend to know Who We Are rather than Where We’re From, but nobody ever asks Who Are You? when you meet for the first time.

Still, I thought. Still, I’d like to try so I might see. You know? And I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I steal some lines from my son.

Where I’m From
by Me

I am from the wilderness.
The jungle.
The highlands.
The home.

I am from chaos.

From magic and mess.
From grace and grime.
From wonder in the wild of a life lived off course
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

I am from the water;
the ocean which is dark and light
and full of life and danger.

I am from hot toddies made by fierce and friendly women.
From ancient Irish enemies — Kerr and McDonough —
and their Scottish Murray foes,
turned friends, then lovers, then strangers, then friends again.

I am from dramatic sighs
and doing things a better way
and blowing up
and quieting down
and trying and succeeding
and trying and failing
and trying
to love each other well.

I’m from Stop Baiting Your Brother, Beth
and
Someday You’ll Be Best Friends,
and she was right; we are.

^^^I’m from telling my kids the same thing.^^^
From Brainwashing for a Better Tomorrow.

I am from Love made real who walks among us.
From Love which still turns the whole world upside down.

I’m from the Celts and the Gaels
and the Viking pirates who sailed the sea.
I am from the Wild, Wild West
and an Asian jungle,
and so I’m made of rice and whiskey
and freckles
and things that taste free.

I’m posting the template below, because I’d really love to see yours, too. Feel free to use it loosely, as I did, ’cause you know who needs more rules? NOT ME. 😉 :*

Sending love, wild friends,

 

 

 

Where I’m From Template:

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

March Book Selection for It’s A Likely Story Book Club

Mar 1 2017

ALikelyStory

My friend, Korie, a librarian here in my little Oregon town, has been reading books for months now with one theme in mind — not a white protagonist. Children’s books. YA. Fiction. Nonfiction. She realized a while back how very white her reading list was and made a commitment to change that, both for her personal reading pleasure and also so she can better recommend books that feature people of color to our library patrons and customers. Korie’s the one who recommended An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir in January, my favorite book club book so far — and she recommended the book we selected for March, below, which I’m VERY excited to read. If you’re interested in following Korie while she curates books with leading characters of color, you can look at the hashtag #notawhiteprotagonist on Facebook which has a few of her selections listed or, even better if you’re looking for her comprehensive Not A White Protagonist list, follow her on Litsy where her handle is BookInMyHands.

A Likely Story Book Club
Announcing: March’s Book Selection!

Akata Witch
by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world.

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

……….

READ BELOW for our review of last month’s book, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

But FIRST, I wanted to be sure you know we still have spaces available for the March 9-12 retreat at the Oregon Coast!
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest (or willing to come on over next week ;)), I would LOVE to hang out with you there.
AND, if you’re a teacher or minister, be sure to ask about discounts.

……….

And here’s our review of February’s book, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty:

On a scale of 1-5, 1 being “UGH, I would rather stab myself in the eye than read another book like this,” and 5 being “I am currently buying 57 copies to give to all my friends,” our Facebook group collectively rated Big Little Lies a 3.8

My rating was 3.5. a 3.5. This was my first Liane Moriarty book. I LOVED her author voice and the way she develops characters with small but telling details. I loved the way she makes characters multi-dimensional — Madeline, for example, who cares about SO MANY superficial things, never met a battle she didn’t want to fight, is kind and unkind at turns, AND is a deeply loyal friend with such relateable feelings about her ex, his wife, and her daughter’s desire to move out. I liked the pacing. It kept my interest. I liked the little “reveals” along the way. However, I am not typically a murder-mystery or suspense reader. I produce plenty of anxiety in my regular life not to need any more in my entertainment life. So, while this was clearly a fictional, escapist type of book, it’s not my favorite way to escape. Personal preference is the only reason I’m not giving this one a 4… she’s clearly a gifted author, and it was a great story.

Comments from our Facebook book club:

Sarah B Arsee wrote: “The heaviness of the abuse subplot really changed this from an escapist book to one inducing way too much anxiety. I think I would rate it a 3-4. 3 because I didn’t enjoy reading it like I wanted to, I was hoping for more escape. 4 because it was really well written and she nailed the myriad of characters. So I guess that means 3.5 from me.”

Terry FischerWolfe wrote: I really enjoyed this book as a fun quick read. I would give it a 4. I loved the depth of the characters, the fast pace and the humor. I also don’t normally care for murder mysteries, but this one didn’t feel like one. It really felt like a light beach read to me, even though the subjects were pretty heavy.”

Karrie Johnson wrote: I give it a 4. I enjoy whodunits and it kept me on my edge of my seat wanting me to finish quickly. It also threw in a couple of surprises. Also made me get connected to the character, made me happy to see them happy sad/worried for them when they are distraught. I also think it raised great awareness on abuse.”

Louisa Davidson wrote: “I would give it 4-. I thought the dV plot line was really well done and I kept thinking about it afterwards. But I agree that that does not make for a relaxing or escapist read.”

Kitchen REVEAL (A Group Remodeling Project: The FINAL Chapter)

Feb 28 2017

I know. This reveal has taken months. And months and months. Which is a terrible repayment to all of you who weighed in with your placement, design and decorating decisions on parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 67, and 8 of this project. I mean — you’re the people who took us from I Don’t Want to Start My Stove with an Ice Pick Anymore to TODAY.

The bad news is this: we LOVE EVERYTHING about the new kitchen, and we’re painfully aware we wouldn’t have made, like, 70% of these choices without you (quartz countertops, moving the stove out from under the window, wall and color choices that gave us the farmhouse industrial look we hoped to have), so you’re officially on the hook for every Woolsey design project from here on out. Honestly, you have only yourselves to blame, so I don’t want to hear you complain about this. If you had thought ahead and given us crap advice, we wouldn’t be relying on you now. But you DIDN’T think ahead, it looks AMAZING, and it functions even better, so you’re stuck. Forever. You made your bed, friends.

The good news, however, is this: we don’t remodel frequently, so it may be a while before we throw ourselves on you for assistance again. Oh, we have a thousands things that NEED remodeling. We just don’t usually have the time, energy, capacity, or willingness to spend the money in order to accomplish them. So you can rest. For now.

Which bring us to …

… THE GREAT REVEAL!

The last time we saw Betty, she looked like this:

She was IN PLACE in the kitchen, but the rest, obviously, was unfinished.

Here’s what her space looked like BEFORE she moved there:

And here she is NOW:

I kind of feel like if the rest of this post was filled with nothing but that one picture, it would all be worthwhile.

 

Just one more time:

I feel like I’m DREAMING.

Can we just recall for one second that I was starting this…

…with an ice pick? surrounded by orange counters?

And now I COOK HERE:

Before:

AFTER:

From the Family Room before:

From the Family Room after:

I love all of it. ALL of it. But my very favorite part of the remodel is in the picture below, where Betty sits, and to her left. Above her, there’s fantastic light and a totally unnecessary, fabulous, luxurious pot filler. I’ve already made stocks and soups, and I adore this feature.

To Betty’s left is the pull-out garbage and recycling drawer. The fact that it’s not under the sink is a little troubling to guests, but it’s IDEAL for cooking and baking. With the baking cabinet just above the mixer, also to Betty’s left…

…I can work in that space, throwing away wrappers, eggshells, etc. as I open them. SO MUCH LESS MESS. Which in our house is the same thing as a MIRACLE.

And then there’s this, which those of you with a keen eye for details and a TINY bit of OCD have already noticed. It’s the one knob that doesn’t match, which was the Christmas present I forced Greg to buy me. See it?

It’s my beer bear.

Its mouth opens bottles.

Which is the same thing as saying it’s a Necessary Kitchen Device, I know, but Greg felt like that was less than obvious.

I tried to get Greg to buy it for me last year, from Planet Dork on Etsy, but it was too close to Christmas for shipping to make it to us on time, so nope. No beer bear bottle opener for me to display in our kitchen from Greg. It was a sad time.

THIS year, though, I made SURE in OCTOBER to remind Greg to order early because I PLAN AHEAD.

Greg didn’t order it in October.

That’s OK, though, because I reminded him again in November.

Greg didn’t order in November.

That’s OK, though, because I reminded him again in December.

Which is when Greg said, “SHOOT! Sorry. It’s too late to order it now.” He clearly felt AWFUL that he hadn’t ordered it in time for Christmas. I mean, he tried to fake like he didn’t feel horrible by saying things like, “I already got you an ENTIRE KITCHEN REMODEL for Christmas,” and, “Seriously, Beth? You really want to hang a bear head trophy in our newly remodeled kitchen?” and, “You know it costs $40, right? FORTY dollars plus international shipping for a bottle opener.”

I reassured him, though, that he needn’t feel bad, that it wasn’t too late, and that he shouldn’t worry that he tried to give me an incomplete kitchen remodel for Christmas when it would only take one, tiny, practically free steel sculpture tastefully handmade by an independent artist in the south of France to make it perfect. I even offered to go ahead and place the order for Greg because I am a Christian wife and we are our husbands’ helpmeets, and I mentioned it would be ideal, anyway, because if I placed the order I would also be able to order the sculpture by the same artist titled Dog with Unfeasibly Large Testicles which carries the loving words, “You’re the Dog’s Bollox!” and would make Greg an ideal birthday gift. Two birds, one stone! Greg said that was unnecessary, that he would actually be happy to order my beer bear, that I didn’t need to worry my pretty little head about a thing, and GUESS WHAT? The order magically came in time for Christmas!

So now the beer bear lives next to Betty to keep her company, and the kitchen remodel is complete except that he needs a name.

Bently the Beer Bear? Brewster the Beer Bear? Buzz? I mean, obviously, with Betty next to him and Syphilis wandering past, we can’t have the bear there not knowing how to introduce himself.

Taking name suggestions now.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. This is what my children do when I tell them to stay out of the kitchen for 15 minutes so I can take pictures of an artificially CLEAN space:

Chemistry experiments. “Stay out and keep things clean for 15 MINUTES ONLY” = CHEMISTRY experiments.

We Woolseys, I tell you; we are GREAT at following the rules.

P.P.S. Also, yes, that is our Christmas tree. And yes, it is the tail end of February. And no. No, we have no plans to take it down soon.

P.P.P.S. There are last-minute spots available for the Mindfulness Retreat, March 9-12. If you’re needing rest, respite and a reset at the lovely Oregon Coast for the weekend, please come! Given our current political climate, I cannot think of a better time to relax with friends, new and old, have lovely meals prepared for us, and learn how to be present in our world with curiosity instead of judgement. Contact me if you have any questions about this retreat! If you’re a teacher or minister, ask about the teacher/ministry discount, please. I’m at fivekidsisalotofkids@gmail.com. Or you can contact Maggie, the retreat coordinator, at petersonm1@spu.edu. I would LOVE to hang out with you for the weekend!

 

Is This Normal? Some Thoughts on Love. Also, Dogs. Also, Bodies.

Feb 23 2017

I took my rings off the other night.

My wedding ring. My engagement ring. The two stackable rings I wear with them that I bought in a fit of extravagance for $12 at a fancy strip mall with immaculate sidewalks and enormous, Christmas-tree-lit palm trees in Southern California after an hour of agonizing over which to pick.

I took off the twisting ivy ring I bought to remind me that I grow fast and strong and have the power to break down huge barriers, at least eventually.

And I took off the filigreed silver ring with a riot of flowers and leaves; the one I bought in Mexico and wear on the middle finger of my right hand. I call it my flip-off ring, even though I’ve only ever flipped off Greg’s back with it, and, much more often, myself, usually in reproach for saying something Self decided was stupid. Self is all, “Stupid, stupid, stupid. JEEZ, Beth. WHY DO YOU SAY WORDS OUT LOUD? TO PEOPLE?” Then Self pulls out the flip-off ring, points it at me, and waves it around. In other words, Self can be a real asshole. Self and I are working on this.

I took my rings off the other night, but not because I didn’t want to wear them. I did. It’s just that my fingers felt jittery. Scritchy. Like they buzzed with constant, tiny electric currents. Bees under the skin. Restless Finger Syndrome? I don’t know. I just know the rings had to go away for my fingers to survive; strange sensory attacks that subsided when the rings came off. I took them off again just now, triggered, I suppose, by frantic finger memories.

Is this normal? Is this a thing the average person experiences? Or is this a symptom of mental illness? That’s a question to which I never know the answer. Not ever. About rings and other things. Does it make a difference that I also had to put on a tank top because my forearms turned scritchy, too? That the buzzing traveled through wrists and up my arms like something both alien and organic? Foreign and ingrained? Like the buzzing is the Borg and like resistance is futile? Does that make it more likely to be an illness issue? Or is this just part of having a body? I’ve never been particularly good at this part of being human — the How to Have a Body part. Why do some people seem to know how to have a body? And how to work a brain? Or are those myths, and it’s all a mystery to everyone? How is it possible to be past 40 and not know?

I took my rings off the other night.

I took the rings off, and then my shirt, and I wore a tank top and naked fingers and somewhat ugly panties which were lacy but worn, and I pulled my knees to my chin in my chair and stared at my computer screen and didn’t know what to say.

I didn’t have Writers’ Block. The opposite, maybe? Too many scritches and jitters and too many words pushing against the dam.

Too many thoughts about the state of the church and what it looks like to leave.

Too many thoughts about the state of our country and what it means to be both fierce and kind in the world right now.

Too many thoughts on why I can’t be silent these days, even though people tell me I’m complaining, or I am not respecting authority, or I should just “let it all sort itself out” and “see what happens” which appears to be something only privileged people say to each other because their lives aren’t on the line.

Too many thoughts about which wins when the choice must be made — ferocity or kindness — and which is the way of Love. Both, I bet; it’s just a matter of when to flip over the temple tables in a righteous rage because politics has married religion to make profits of gold, versus when to eschew the Sabbath rules to heal the sick, and give sight to the blind, and harvest food for the hungry, and to lift our neighbors’ oxen out of the ditch where they’ve fallen.

It’s rule breaking, either way — ferocity or kindness — to choose the side of the vulnerable. So often the way of Love, though. Over and over, the way of Love.

I stared at the screen the other night with too many words in my head, and no rings on my fingers, and I gave up quickly because I’m working these days on being gentle to Self even when Self isn’t gentle back.

Instead of writing, I put my computer to sleep, and I got in the bathtub and turned the water to hot.

I read a novel that was unedifying and captivating and perfect.

I listened to squabbling children whose arguments were repetitive and endless.

And I let the dog lick my toes and gaze at me with consuming adoration. I thought my dog should give Self lessons in Love, and lessons to the world, too, though the world will accuse her of being too affectionate, and too in-your-face, and too unable to understand the bigger issues at hand.

I took my rings off the other night. I don’t know if I did it because I’m ill or because I’m human. Probably both, though. Probably both.

Love to you, friends,

To Tomicka Who Works the Night Shift at the Crowne Plaza

Feb 8 2017

 

Dear Tomicka Who Works the Night Shift at the Crowne Plaza at the Seattle Airport,

I don’t know how many frantic phone calls you field every night. I don’t know how many of those come from mommies who are too far away from their kids to help them. I don’t know how many times you have to calm them the heck down and tell them not to worry because you’ve got this. I don’t know if this was old hat to you or a first. All I know is, you handled it like a rock star.

My kid was stranded the other night at the airport with a flight cancelled due to snow, which you already know because we talked about it on the phone while we became best friends. She’d flown to Seattle from Oregon on her way back to college in Hawaii, but, after waiting inside the airport 6 hours and another 3 hours sitting on the plane, the flight was cancelled, the passengers returned to the gate, and she was stuck. Tired from a long day of travel and delays, and stuck.

Now, yes. My kid is 18 and a half, so technically an adult. But she’s a BRAND NEW adult — a baby adult — and, perhaps more importantly, her mommy is new to having an adult, so we’re just learning the ropes around here. She could have handled herself. She would have done fine. But she was traveling alone for the first time, and it was snowing buckets outside, and the next flight wasn’t leaving ’til morning, so MOMMY TO THE RESCUE, right?? Except I couldn’t really rescue her. I could only try to find a place for her to sleep while she navigated the rest on her own.

I booked her a room at the Crowne Plaza.

We usually stay at a different hotel at the Seattle airport. One with crumbling asphalt in the parking lot and a very long, bent chain link fence. They serve horrible coffee with powdered creamer, and the carpets are stained, but the rooms are clean and cheap, and, frankly, that’s all we usually look for in a hotel.

But I booked her a room at the Crowne Plaza. The price was $50 more than we usually spend, but I wanted a place that made her feel safe. I wanted a place that made me feel safe. A clean room, not as cheap, but safe. I assume this is what people talk about when they say they have “standards.” Ours are usually lower than other people’s, but this time, no. Crowne Plaza it was.

I called you after I made the booking because I know hotels don’t usually allow 18-year-olds to book rooms, and I needed to make sure you’d let her check in. It was 11:00pm, dark with flurries furiously falling, and Abby was making her way to the hotel shuttles. She was texting me every minute to ask if she was in the right place. To ask if I was sure.

“This is the Crowne Plaza, Tomicka speaking. How may I help you?”

“Tomicka? My name is Beth. My daughter, Abby, just had her flight canceled so I booked her a room with you. She’s 18.”

“Well… our policy doesn’t allow 18-year-olds to stay alone here…”

I interrupted you. I was maybe a tiny bit frantic. “But my kid is STRANDED AT THE AIRPORT, Tomicka, and she’s ALONE, so WE NEED A SOLUTION. What is our solution here??”

“It’s OK,” you said. And “DO NOT PANIC.” Which sometimes I need to hear, even if I say back, “I AM NOT PANICKING, TOMICKA. I AM VERY CALM.”

“Let me finish,” you said, and I took a deep breath which was really just me preparing TO FIGHT YOU TO THE DEATH for a room for my child, but then you said these words to me, “Beth. Listen. I am a mommy. I will take care of your daughter. Although our policy doesn’t allow 18-year-olds to check in alone, I will call my manager right now to get an exception approved. I am on this. We can make this happen. I’ll call you back in 10 minutes.”

Listen, Tomicka. When my kid was tiny, we had one rule if she got lost. I drilled it into her over and over.

“If you get lost, what do you do?” I’d ask. “FIND A MOMMY,” she’d reply.

Find a mommy. That was our rule. Because I knew, if my little lost one wandered up to a mommy with a stroller, or a mommy handing out goldfish crackers at a park, or a mommy pushing a kid on a swing, and said “I am lost,” the mommy would protect her. The mommy would help her find her way back to me. Oh sure, the mommy’s reaction after that could go either way — she might be amazingly sympathetic and pat me on the back and say “there, there” while I cried out the adrenaline of losing my kid, or she might be mean and ask me what kind of a mother I am, anyway to lose my child like this? — but I knew she would keep my kids safe before that reaction. And that’s all I needed to know. One rule: Find a Mommy.

You called me back 10 minutes later, just like you said. And also like you said, you’d fixed everything. My kid could check in with the caveat that she couldn’t order room service because they serve alcohol, so delivery would be restricted on her account. “Don’t worry, though,” you said again, “Here’s a number to call if you want to order her a pizza or something. She’s probably hungry.” She was. She hadn’t eaten for 12 hours. She was tired and she was hungry. “BUT IF YOU ORDER,” you clarified, “make sure you have them deliver it here to the front desk. It’s probably fine to have them deliver to her room, but she’s 18 and traveling alone, so let’s just have them meet here where I am.”

 

“And listen,” you said, “ANYTHING she needs tonight — anything at all — you have her come find Tomicka, OK? I’m a mommy, too. That’s what we do.”

That’s when I said I love you and that you’re my best friend forever.

People ask me all the time, with all the terrible things happening around the world, why I stubbornly think people are good. Why I think there’s still hope. Why I insist that people I haven’t met in real life are, too, my very real friends and not virtual at all. You, Tomicka, proved my point. I keep thinking that way because people like you exist. People who look out for others. People who find common ground. A community of mommies. A community of momrades. Which is why, even if we never meet face-to-face, I still will always be,

Your best friend forever,

 

 

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Tomicka’s name as Tanika (as can still be seen in text photos).