Saturday, October 3, 2020

Big Family Check In

 Greetings faithful blog readers, 

If you're still here, you truly deserve the title of "faithful." My blog, like everything else in 2020, is in a sad state. I've only written 8 posts all year, but none of us planned for the year we're having. My last check in was three months ago, so I want to give an overview of what we've been up to. 

In July, we spent the entire month in Ruidoso, NM, and it was the best either of us have felt since the pandemic started. We rented a three-bedroom kid friendly place on Airbnb, and the plan was for Brendan's parents to meet us there. Ruidoso had experienced very few Covid cases, but Covid numbers were picking up across the country, and Brendan's parents did not feel comfortable making the drive (plus they are caring for Brendan's two grandmothers, both of whom recently become widows), so we did not get to see them. Other than being sad about missing them, we really tried to make the best of our first ever vacation as a family of four. 


It sounds crazy, but we decided to sleep train Gray (then 6 months) our first night there, and actually, it worked like a charm! We use the method detailed in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and Gray was going to sleep in his own crib in his own room without crying by the third night. This was a huge life improvement for us because it meant that we got the kids down around six and then had the rest of the evening for us. I would usually get up (and still do) at least once per night with Gray. Sometimes it's more like twice per night. Our kids often have us up for the day at a little after 5AM, so I'm not saying sleep is perfect around here, but it's predictable and everyone sleeps in their own room, so that's a win. 

We were in heaven with the place we rented because they had tons of toys for all ages, dinnerware for kids, a stroller, a bouncer seat, and even an extra pack and play. The weather for the most part was great, so we didn't miss A/C. There were some days that got a little hot, which made me glad we brought a big fan, but July in Ruidoso is so perfect, which is crazy because it's only a 4.5 hour drive from Midland, where daily temperatures top 110 degrees. We were in the Lincoln National Forest, so the scenery was beautiful and the smell of pines is unbeatable! 







So what did we do with two kids in tow? Well, our schedule revolved around nap time, which meant we usually went out for a morning activity (often hiking) and an afternoon one (swimming or the playground usually). Let me tell you, we wore those kids out (see car seat pic)! We were able to feel comfortable the whole time with social distancing. The playground was the one place Willa played with other kids, but we wouldn't stay if it was super crowded, and her favorite thing is the swing, so that worked out well. 







Brendan was even able to do some fishing and would often leave to go fishing solo after the kids were asleep and after the two of us ate dinner together. 


He would come back with pretty pictures like this one and stories of the fish he caught or didn't catch. 


Meanwhile, I stayed at the cabin and wrote on this couch. And by mid-August, I finished my second novel (a sequel to the first). I told very few people because personal accomplishments feel kind of futile in 2020, but between March and August, I wrote a second novel by using my evenings after my kids were asleep, and having that creative outlet was one of the ways I stayed sane. For Brendan's part, he has stories forthcoming in Catapult, The Sonora Review, and storySouth. 


And guess who sometimes joined me during my writing time? Elk! They are truly magical, and I miss them. 


A few of the days, we let the kids nap in the car and took day trips for hiking in Cloudcroft or to see White Sands or even just to drive up the mountain. Gray rode on me in the Ergo baby (see lake photo above) and Willa rode on Brendan's back in the Kelty backpack that I gifted him for Father's Day. Willa had some tantrums, but Brendan figured out great tricks like bringing one of her babies and packing complicated snacks that kept her distracted and happy. 




But Willa's favorite part was honestly the swings; Ruidoso had some beautiful playgrounds. 


And our favorite part was after bedtime, where we drank a beer and toasted surviving (literally) another day! We got takeout more than usual and enjoyed a little reprieve from cooking so much. Our best find was a fantastic pizza place (cafe Rio). 


Honestly, it was a wonderful trip, and we wished we could have stayed! 

We got home and saw my mom for a weekend before sending the kids back to daycare. We can't risk exposing my parents to Covid, so we haven't seen them in two months now, even though they are often only two hours away. It's just been a sad and hard year. My brother still hasn't even met Gray. 


Putting the kids in daycare was tough, but we can't do our jobs without it, so we're happy our daycare is employing all safety measures possible (masks for all staff, temp checks for kids and staff 3X a day, shortened hours so deep cleaning before opening and after closing is possible, and tons of hand washing). Gray is in the infant class and Willa moved up to the two year old class. 



Since we do use daycare, we do our part to stop the spread by not doing anything else. We pick up groceries and a Target run weekly. We sometimes get takeout and wear a mask to pick it up. We don't socialize, except I walk with a friend outside once a week (and our kids are in the same classes at school). We do take Willa to the playground but try to keep our distance as much as possible. I worry this still won't be enough, especially with news that we may be expected to return to in person teaching Oct. 20th (we've been doing live online teaching this whole time). I was able to get a haircut (with both of us wearing masks) in Ruidoso, and it's my favorite haircut of all time. It was also SO strange being close to a stranger after all this time that I felt on the verge of tears. I miss getting my nails done. I miss seeing friends. I miss airplanes. If life were normal, we'd be going to Brendan's sister's wedding and our work conference this month. I love seeing family and I love seeing our grad school friends, and I'm deeply sad that we have to miss out on something as huge as Annie's wedding. We're doing our best to protect others and our family, but the loss of human interaction and the loss of being able to celebrate with people is truly extremely difficult. 

BUT, the human interaction I do have in my little family is keeping me sane. 








Willa is 2.5 years old. She's working on potty training, talking up a storm, she loves singing and reading and playing with her babies and circle time at school and school in general. She has a hilarious laugh and wants to pick all our outfits everyday. She tells us what is "so much fun," and makes crazy noises and says "Willa funny." 


and Gray is 9 months. He is cruising on furniture, crawling so fast, getting his two top teeth (bottom two already in), and knows how to clap and sign for "more" and "all done." He is still nursing, but he likes food more. He's already kind of over purees and really prefers whatever big sis is eating. 


Work is tough. We really miss being in the classroom. Technology problems happen daily. I feel like it's harder to remember things and get things done. We miss the student group we co-advise and seeing our coworkers and having normalcy. Being back in person would be good for our mental health, but it is probably not beneficial for our health or public health. We're remote for at least the next two weeks and not sure what's happening after that. I think the uncertainty is one of the hardest aspects of living in a pandemic, especially for planners like me. 

We get outside and exercise daily. We try to remember to take vitamin D. We cook healthy and make each other laugh. Yesterday, I told Brendan he needed a haircut because he looked like a character from Lost, and he said "not a hot lead, but one of the secondary characters meant to show how long they've been stranded on an island?" We honestly LOVE being with each other and crack each other up, so at least we've got that. 

I hope to check in more frequently here, but who knows what will be possible. For now, I'm sending light and love to everyone. It's been a really tough year, and I just hope we survive it. 

<3




Monday, September 28, 2020

Anti-Racism: Getting There

 Greetings faithful blog readers, 

I'm sorry there has been such a huge delay between my posts (nearly three months). I can't write about things that don't matter to me, and basically I've been staying afloat while managing work, parenthood, political panic, COVID precaution, and the personal work of educating myself on anti-racism. 

I wanted to check in and share about my becoming anti-racist journey since I'd posted this list of readings at the beginning of the summer that I was planning to work through. Basically, I want to keep myself accountable and share how it's going. While I wanted to believe I was already anti-racist before beginning this work, I clearly wasn't (yes, there's a HUGE difference between being "not racist" and "anti-racist;" the latter requires ACTION, and that is what we're here to talk about). I'm nervous to write this post, but I think it's a big step for me personally, and I think if we're all willing to take big steps, real change can happen. Okay, here we go...

The first thing I want to say is the reason I started this process. A Facebook friend shared (after the news about Breonna Taylor's death, I believe) a post that said something like if you say Black lives matter, what are you going to do about it this time? I looked at that word do for a long time. And I felt really uncomfortable for three reasons. 1.) because I realized that I hadn't really done much despite believing in the Black lives matter movement. 2.) I had no idea what to do. 3.) I didn't have an excuse for 1 or 2. 

I recently read an apology from the Los Angeles Times about their history of racial bias in news coverage. It contained these sentences: "The brutal death of a Black man, George Floyd, on May 25 while in the custody of police in Minneapolis shocked the world. It also prompted news organizations like The Times to reflect on how they cover, frame and promote stories at a time when the 24/7 news cycle moves faster than ever."

While it is true that George Floyd's death "shocked the world," it also is not okay that this is true because the circumstances surrounding George Floyd's murder were not new. If white people had started answering this question of what to do earlier, the country may be in a very different place today. George Floyd may be alive today. If we're willing to take big steps, real change can happen. So, to apply this personally--When should I have started asking these questions? 

In 2005, I took a Race, Gender, Politics course at NYU. I was 19 years old. It was the semester that hurricane Katrina hit, and my professor spent a lot of time pointing out to us the racist language and coverage of various news sources. Survivors were depicted differently based on their race (for instance, the term "looters" was applied to Black survivors but not white survivors). See this article for more details. We read MANY books which explained racial inequality, and I was familiar with systemic racism. In 2007, I defended my colloquium "Writing for Social Change," and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas was on my reading list. Ten years later, I was teaching it to my American Literature students. But what happened in the thirteen years after my colloquium? On the one hand, is true that since I became a teacher, I was able to explain systemic racism and white privilege to other people. A lot of other people. In that way, I "did something" in thirteen years. But this is part of my personal problem. I was thinking "okay, well I fight against this by educating people about it and helping them to recognize it." I wasn't thinking of questions like "how has systemic racism affected me in problematic ways?" or "how are we going to fix systemic racism?" I was 19 years old fifteen years ago! I'm disappointed that I am writing this blog post in 2020. Why didn't I start examining myself as honestly before George Floyd's death? 

I have a potential answer. In the book White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo wrote that "We whites who position ourselves as liberal often protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination." DiAngelo goes on to explain that most people don't challenge systems which benefit them. Quick note: the book explains racism is not an "action" that is "performed" by "bad" people. We are conditioned within a culture of systemic racism (a culture our country also exports worldwide). If we want equality as a goal and not just an idea, white people have to make changes to an unfair system we created and continue to benefit from. We have to stop justifying the system and stop making excuses for it (and for ourselves). We also need to acknowledge how we benefited. Blog post about the book's main points here. I knew this would be uncomfortable, but if equality is a true goal, I knew it was necessary. So with "it's uncomfortable, it's necessary" mantra in mind, I went back to examine my whole life. 

I grew up in a Austin, Texas, the most liberal city in a conservative state. I went to public school, but I told my mom in a conversation this summer, "I remember my childhood as very white." My mom was disturbed to hear this, as diversity is important to her. She asked what I meant by that. I told her I could still remember the full names of the Black students from my elementary school classes because there were so few. My mom started pointing out the names of my Black friends from K-12. I asked her if she remembered the names of all my white friends. She did not, which was revealing to us both. She asked me if I remembered a two week long diversity fair my elementary school held every year. I did not. We talked about how kids see what is experienced more than they hear what is taught. It turns out, I wasn't crazy. My public schools in the "most liberal city in Texas" were also the most racially segregated in the state. 

I'm not a child anymore. I've been out of public school in Travis county for sixteen years now, and through higher education and life, I've certainly had opportunities to develop relationships with all different types of people. So that's what happened, right? Not exactly. I read this article about questions for white people to ask themselves. It asked you to think about the race of your close friends and your colleagues, your wedding party, your children's friends, etc. When I did this, I noticed something really undeniable: most of the people in my circle are white. My reality doesn't "match with" the way I think of myself as someone that values diversity and celebrates differences. My predominant emotion in sharing this is sadness. I feel like I've missed out. I don't want my kids to be realizing the same thing at age 34. So, what am I going to do? 

I read, listened, followed and watched using this list as a starting point. One of my first realizations is that This is my generation's life work. At times, "doing the work," made me feel awful...but I knew that was proof that I was growing and reconciling with how this problematic system has created problematic issues within myself. But the good news is this: You know in therapy when they tell you "you can't change anyone"? You also cannot singlehandedly change a social system...but you can change yourself. And if white people as a group acknowledge what we can and should change? We could create the system we all proclaim we want. So whenever I thought of times I was silent when I should have spoken up, thought of  something I said or did or even simply thought (I've done a lot of reflecting on the idea that actions can have outcomes we do not intend) and felt ashamed, I also knew I was and am undergoing a process of growth. 

I spend a lot of time with my students talking about how "bad systems create bad people." This is not a new idea. Frederick Douglas wrote about how slavery also hurt slave owners by damaging their humanity. However, it was really hard work to confess to myself and Brendan the many ways in which I'd failed (some of these memories from a long way back). Of course, one reason it was so hard is because white people don't like to acknowledge racism and put a lot of effort towards pretending it does not exist. At times, I've brought this truth about racism to people's attention. At other times? I have slipped into the pretending. I had to examine that. To ask myself why. To ask myself who was benefiting from my silence and inaction and who was hurt by it? The other reason it was hard is because I like to think of myself as a "good person" and have constructed a lot of evidence to support the narrative that I'm not problematic (sound familiar?), but I know there are times I have been. I think this moment is asking us to examine those times we've been problematic, examine the ways the system is problematic (how it works for us vs. other people), forgive ourselves, vow to work for change, and move forward by taking action. 

I think we all harbor fear that other people will not forgive us. I think it is better to be honest and take that risk and hope people do see us as human and choose to forgive us rather than to refuse to confront the truth about ourselves and about our country. If we say "I didn't start this" or "it's not my problem to fix," what are we actually saying? We work to fix problems we don't start all the time...so, I think we're really saying "this isn't important enough to me to fix." While I did educate others about the reality of the existence of racism and white privilege, I could have done a lot more a lot sooner. I think that to me is actually the hardest thing to forgive myself for. I thought I understood, but really, I'd stopped doing the work. The books I'm reading now? They were published years ago. The information was there; It was me. I wasn't seeking it out. 

My friend Jesse from college used to say "not me, other people." When the news about Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper broke, I saw a lot of white friends sharing it, but I told Brendan I worried that this maybe prevented white people from seeing the ways in which their own behavior is/has been problematic. One thing I learned from all this reading and reflecting is that your racism may not be overt, but it's still there. We think of racism as a bad action, but we need to start thinking of how we've been socially conditioned from birth to operate within a racist system that doesn't promote justice or equality. You might not call the police on an innocent Black person, and you might consider yourself "not racist." You might have some Black friends and you might consider yourself progressive, and all those things might be true, but if you're not actively resisting racism (as in TAKING ACTION), you're letting a problem linger (and it's a problem that you benefit from, so doing nothing is actually action in the wrong direction). There's a term performative allyship and it basically means you act and feel outraged when appropriate, but you're not taking action that's actively helping (feeling outraged doesn't help), so another thing I've thought about is what does taking action mean? 

When I think about the version of myself that looked at the question what are you going to do? and thought I don't know what I can do, I feel like I've come very far in a relatively short amount of time. The best thing I did is update my out of date education. I now take an honest uncomfortable look at myself multiple times a day. Maybe you're thinking that doesn't sound so fun. It's not. But if my unwillingness to do it would contribute in some way to people dying and suffering, that should be incentive enough. I can bring this education with me into my teaching. And speaking of that, if you are a teacher, I highly recommend this blog post on decolonizing the classroom. I look forward to the conversations I'll have with students and to telling them about what I've learned. I'm not going to pass this issue to the next generation--I hope to stick around and solve it together. 

Another thing I did is put my money where my mouth is by giving money to organizations working to solve racial inequality and fight for justice and to protesters. I also started supporting Black businesses instead of Amazon for everything. I got excited about what anti-racism could mean for my parenting and for my children's lives. I ordered a lot of picture books from this store (Parents of 2 year olds: Willa is absolutely obsessed with Saturday and A Girl Like Me right now). I started listening to podcasts like raising white kids. I wanted my kids' doll collection to be racially diverse, so I made some purchases. I started reading fiction by Black authors. I read YA, and some recent favorites were Children of Blood and Bone and The Sound of Stars

One cool thing is that Brendan is "doing the work" right along side me. Actually, he's done MORE because he's on the college's diversity committee, and a lot of my reading has been reading he's passed on to me. We have these anti-racism conversations daily. We discuss our feelings daily and what we're struggling with within ourselves. 

The road is lifelong. I can't proclaim myself "there," but if you want to join me, just say so. I'm not an expert, but I'm happy to talk with anyone. I'll read any book with you if you don't want to do it alone. Yes, it's work. At times, it feels like an uphill battle. At one point, a Facebook friend wrote "for some of us, it has always been an uphill battle." But you know what? It also feels good too. I can feel the changes happening in myself. And I know I'm not alone because I've been talking to many family and friends about what they are doing differently now too. 

Brendan heard a white colleague say in an online meeting regarding low student attendance to a diversity event "maybe students are just too overwhelmed with so much information about this right now" (paraphrase). Brendan said (paraphrase) that we couldn't wait for a 'better time' because people aren't going to stop thinking about this. We will all be overwhelmed with information about addressing this forevermore. And we should be. Because we want to grow and change as people (it's what we're here to do!) and we want to make this country everything we all were already promised it was. 

It's hard to hit publish on this post. It's hard to admit that I could have done more sooner, that I wasn't always a "real" ally to the cause of Black lives matter or the work of dismantling systemic racism because I didn't do everything I could to help and I didn't do the work to know what I needed to know in order to help, and worse, sometimes I worked against the cause with silence or inertia or willful ignorance. But I once wrote a post about the meaning of life, and I wrote these words: "If you realize that you've been a jerk, may you rectify it..." 

And I think life is best lived when we try to do that, and when we remember that we are put on this earth to help each other, and that sometimes YOU are the one that needs the help first. 

So, that's where I am. I look forward to posting about what we've been up to as a family, but this is the first thing I wanted to tell you about. 

<3 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Not a Single Itch

Greetings faithful blog readers,

When I think of seven years married, the phrase "7 year itch" comes to mind: supposedly the idea is that after seven years, a couple's level of satisfaction with a marriage is either on the decline, or they are "all in" and experience deep commitment to and happiness with their significant other. I am happy to report that the latter describes my feelings: God knows that fate smiled on me when it put Brendan in my path not once, not twice, but three times until we finally figured it out. If there was a challenging year of our marriage, it was this one. We parented a toddler, I gave birth, we both took only one week of leave, a global pandemic hit when the baby was two months old, leaving us both working full time without daycare for two kids under two, and Brendan lost three family members (one to COVID), which has been devastating for his family without being able to hold a single funeral. This year wasn't easy, but it was filled with a lot of love in addition to all the fear and uncertainty and sadness. I will remember our long walks with the kids, our long conversations late into the night. I will remember loving him with my whole heart. No one ever says life is easy, and relationships are so exception to that rule. Even our wedding, which I remember as the best day of my life had it's hiccups. We went to cut our wedding cake, and it was rock hard (we thought it was frozen, but it turns out, the bottom layer was just fake). This, somehow, strikes me as a metaphor for life. The things you worry about are NOT the things that happen...the things you never worry about catch you off guard completely, and sometimes those "things" that seem like problems for a brief moment are actually very inconsequential. How many times have we made this same face? How many small catastrophes have we weathered together? I thought I broke my toe on our honeymoon (I didn't), we once missed a flight from South Africa to New York because I had my phone on airplane mode (expensive mistake), Brendan spent yesterday and this morning driving home to Midland and then back to New Mexico because a storm hit our house Friday, flipped one circuit (the one our garage door opener happened to be on!), and our petsitter couldn't use the garage code to get in for the first time yesterday and retrieve her key. In all these moments of stress, I'm so glad he's the person I'm stressing with. When it's all said and done, I don't remember the dumb incidents so much but rather how glad I was that he was my partner when it happened.




And there are the BIG things too. The times we've held each other when grandparents died and we couldn't be there to say goodbye to them. Our missed miscarriage with our first pregnancy, which necessitated a surgery and will be a loss we will always grieve. And of course this pandemic and all the isolation and uncertainty it entails. If you're with someone long enough, you know the pain the other person is thinking about. You can acknowledge it with a subtle gesture, and the other person understands. Stay with someone long enough, and you develop a shorthand for everything, even for grief, and thankfully, for comfort too.

Seven years in, and I still feel lucky every. single. day. I think in part it's because Brendan and I never had any pretenses. We were friends for 2.5 years before we started dating. We already knew about all the annoying habits, shortcomings, etc. that the other person had. I tell Brendan he makes me a better person, and he's still nice about it when that better version of me is still a long ways from perfect. 

Every couple has their downs, but boy, have our ups been high. Seven years ago, I never imagined we'd be weathering a pandemic with two young children, but everyday, the three of them keep me going, and not just going, but happy. I look at them, and I think "what did I ever do to get so lucky?" 

I spent the morning listening to kids music with the babies and showing Willa our wedding pictures. She gleefully identified people, and I told her that her and Gray were the best things we've done with this seven years...but the best thing is also that we've loved each other so very well. 

Photos from better times when if you'd asked me "What is COVID-19?" I would've guessed "Um, is that some kind of cleaning product?" No past, Stacy, no, but you just enjoy that large crowd of everyone you love dancing in close proximity because one day, it is these memories you will hold close. 








Happy 7 years, Bren. 
I love you forever and ever. 
<3 
S

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

34

Greetings faithful blog readers,

It's weird celebrating in these times when so many people are hurting. As I write this, the U.S. is finally having a long overdue national conversation about systemic racism, Americans make up 25% of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and our family and a close friend are dealing with loss of loved ones without the ability to gather and gain much needed support. And yet, yesterday was also a day to embrace joy and  celebrate all I received from my 33rd (life changing) year: I grew a life, gave birth, and I am nursing our growing babe and learning daily from our toddler; I wrote a novel and revised it twice, published a story, and did a (I think) pretty awesome job teaching, even while navigating life with a newborn. Brendan and I are navigating this crazy time and still very much in love. There has honestly never been more to be thankful for. Brendan made me a cake, Willa sang happy birthday with us (and ate a huge slice), and I rang in 34 with everything I truly need (except maybe, a haircut!)



 The best part of yesterday was hearing from so many friends and family. The number one question everyone asks each other these days, of course, is "how are you holding up?" Here's what our answer looks like (if you want to read about donate your birthday, skip to the bottom of the post):

Aside from my parents, Brendan and I haven't seen other people socially in over three months since all this began. Brendan can count the number of stores he's ventured into (with a mask, of course) on one hand, while I haven not been inside of any. We're doing okay, but the isolation certainly takes a toll. After Willa's daycare was closed for 100 days, they opened on June 15th. We made the difficult decision to go ahead and send her for 2.5 weeks, despite the fact that we're on summer break. The daycare is taking all possible precautions, and we felt being with friends was something Willa desperately needed while we also needed a reprieve from meeting the needs of a toddler and an infant 24/7. The hardest part of COVID for us is weighing health concerns and emotional/developmental ones. Willa asks to go to school everyday and can't wait to see "my people," Gray's development has flourished in the past two weeks since he is able to play without needing a bodyguard, and Brendan and I were able to rest (a little). Brendan feels like he suffers from "brain fog" in which he isn't able to get anything done. I retreat into writing and have noticed my anxiety increases greatly when I consume a lot of news. My brother got me a subscription to Audm, so I'm listening to long form stories but avoiding click bait/op ed/news analysis type articles (for now). I am also supporting the Austin bookstore Bookwoman and supporting my need to escape to better worlds through a membership to Librofm (audiobooks). Recommend both services highly if you're looking for gift ideas for readers.

If you've been reading the news, you know COVID is on the rise in Texas. Two weeks ago, when we made the decision to send Willa to school, the COVID prevalence here was 1 in 800 something. Today, that number is 1 in 200 something. Back in May, we'd planned a family trip to New Mexico for July, so Wednesday will be Willa's last day for another month as we head up to a cabin in a county that has only seen 11 COVID cases. We will be continuing to practice social distancing, ordering curbside when possible, wearing masks anytime avoiding people isn't possible. We do these simple actions to protect others, especially healthcare workers.

We're looking forward to a change of scenery, to cooler weather, to being outside, to seeing wildlife, to trying takeout from new places, and though we've had a whole lot of together time, we're looking forward to that as well (and hopeful that Brendan's parents may be able to be with us for part of the time if they can make the 2000+ mile drive).

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know that every year on my birthday, I participate in Donate Your Birthday, which is the idea to give your age in dollars (or however much you can) to an organization of your choice. Side note: On Mother's Day, I did a fundraiser for Southern Law Poverty Center and this month also gave to support Black Lives Matter protestors. Black Lives Matters is on my mind so much lately. I've been working to educate myself more about systemic racism with a specific eye on what I can do at my institution to better protect and nurture minority students (a majority of our campus's student population). While I do have a summer read and watch list, this project will be far more than a summer project for me. I'll be working on anti-racism (and on myself) for a long time.

For Donate Your Birthday this year, I picked an organization that is advocating for justice and safety for homeless youth in NYC. I spent the year writing about young people, and my friend Tara made me aware of this organization, The Coalition for Homeless Youth. I read about their work and how COVID has impacted it, and I felt moved to help. Their website is full of information, but this article explains how their work has been impacted recently by COVID. You can also follow them on Instagram (coalitionforhomelessyouth). Side note, my friend Tara is a lawyer and also has a gorgeous blog. She decorates planners and writes about beauty products and family here. 

Thank you for reading faithful blog readers! I hope everyone stays safe and healthy, and I will try to update from New Mexico.

<3

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Goodbyes

Greetings faithful blog readers, 

I just submitted my grades for my final course of the 2019-2020 school year, the twelfth and most challenging year of my teaching career (and I hope the most challenging year I EVER have). It started with a mass shooting, I gave birth and took a week off work halfway through, I finished a novel and revised it twice, meeting my deadline just before COVID-19 shut everything down, and we finished the last eleven weeks of teaching without daycare for our two year old and infant. 

In the span of the last five weeks, we've also been reeling from so much loss. Brendan's grandfather Tom passed away April 19th from COVID, his uncle Doug died after a battle with early onset Alzheimers, and on Memorial Day, we lost Brendan's other grandfather, Boompa, who had been on hospice. We are deeply thankful that Boompa was able to pass away at home surrounded by family, but we are extremely sad that we cannot be there for Brendan's grandmothers and for his parents and sister, who have heroically taken care of the needs of everyone during this crazy time.

I love this photo of Brendan with his mom and her parents (Boompa and Grandma Shirley) and Willa taken this past summer.  


I lost both of my grandfathers before Brendan and I even knew each other, so it was such a privilege to share in loving his for the past 9.5 years. I'll always remember Boompa as a prankster with a mischievous smile who loved inventing often hilarious solutions to everyday problems. He kept a beautiful garden in the shape of a heart, and we looked forward to seeing it every summer and to sitting on his back porch and watching the squirrels and birds. He was a true embodiment of the American dream, starting out as a janitor at a pharmaceutical company and later becoming a scientist that designed the drugs. He was generous: we were able to afford a U-Haul to move our things to Midland for our first jobs out of graduate school because he helped us. He also had a very set idea about the way he wanted things, and Brendan's parents are truly saints and cared for him so well. Brendan was able to say goodbye on the phone. We are both heartbroken that Boompa never had a chance to meet Gray in person, but we treasure all the memories we do have.

I'm saying goodbye to the school year and to the most difficult eleven weeks. I'm ready to dive into full time parenting and hope it's much less stressful than using every waking hour my kids are sleeping for emailing and grading. I'm going to take time to read and write and work on myself professionally and personally. One thing I'm doing is working my way through anti-racism recommended reading/watching/listening. I know it will make me a more informed parent, person, and teacher and better equip me to create change in my classroom, in my children's lives, and in the world.

Our family is still adhering to strict social distancing. We don't even go into stores, and we miss the world, but we feel united in a greater cause of fighting this virus together as a nation and want to do our part to protect essential workers and people that are most vulnerable. I'll check in here as much as possible, but I hope everyone is staying strong. We will get through this.

<3

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This Space, I've Known Before

Greetings faithful blog readers,

Thank you for your kind words of sympathy following the loss of Brendan's grandfather, Tom. It meant a lot to our family and the rest of Brendan's family to read all your condolences and memories, especially since we cannot be together to celebrate Tom's life.

My post today deals with infertility and miscarriage. I believe in taking care of your own mental health, now more than ever, and though there is hopefulness in this post too, if you don't want to read about those topics, I understand.

*

I've been doing a lot of thinking post pandemic...haven't we all? After the initial experience of all the stages of grief, I find that I'm coping better and able to reflect some, and it occurred to me that most of what I've experienced since the realities of this new social distancing lifestyle have unfolded around me felt somehow so familiar. This space, I've known before, I thought, but I couldn't quite place it. The reason I couldn't place it? It all reminded me so much of another traumatizing experience: dealing with pregnancy loss followed by infertility, and already, I'd started to build up blocks in my brain. I don't want to think about this, but I'm going to for four reasons. 1.) It may help someone who is going through this right now. 2.) It may help people empathize with an experience they've never had and be better partners/friends/parents etc. to people going through this now (especially imperative as Mother's Day is approaching) 3.) This is part of being human. We talk about the glittery aspects of life all the time. We shouldn't be afraid to talk about the hard stuff too. The hard stuff makes us who we are. 4.) I think it could be helpful to anyone trying to cope with life right now. Though pregnancy loss/infertility is my past trauma, you could replace it with a number of life events (extended illness/injury, job loss, etc) that end a "life as you know it" and force you to create a new reality.

Remember those posters that used to be everywhere like "everything I need to know, I learned from kindergarten" or "everything I need to know, I learned from my dog"? I guess mine would be called "Everything I need to cope with the pandemic, I learned from pregnancy loss and infertility." Not as catchy somehow, but so true.

The first thing I felt in response to the pandemic? Pretty deep and lingering denial. I couldn't get my mind around the fact that one virus could shut down our entire society indefinitely. It was like the first time I saw "infertility" written on my chart. "Are we really calling this infertility?" I'd asked my doctor. It seemed extreme to me. After all, I'd gotten pregnant with multiples the month I'd gone off birth control back in August, I pointed out, only that pregnancy had resulted in loss. But my D&C was in October, and it was now the end of May, and in the months between, we'd tried fertility treatments like metformin and clomid and ovulation trigger shots to no avail. Now I was getting a HSG, a diagnostic test for people dealing with infertility, so yes, we were really calling it that. To some people, this may sound crazy, but honestly, I think it was what I needed to hear. Before that, I felt like I was waiting month to month for a solution, the next thing to do that would give us the baby we so desperately wanted. After that? I felt resigned to the wait. This might not be a "solved in the next month" type of problem, and I needed to cope with that, to enjoy other stuff. More on that in a minute though, because in all those months dealing with the denial, I felt pretty angry too.

Mother's day 2017 was a pretty rock bottom day for me. My would be due date for the pregnancy we'd lost was about a week away, and I woke up to a text that morning from a friend telling me about her single girlfriend's accidental pregnancy. I was angry. Not at my friend. She had no idea of the degree and depth of the internal struggle I was facing. I wasn't angry with her or her friend I didn't know, it was more of a generalized anger that couldn't be directed anywhere. I longed for a child so much that it felt like an ache. I finally had the means to support a family, a wonderful partner that was ready to be a father, an empty room in my house for a nursery, enough paid sick leave saved to cobble together a maternity leave in a state that offers no paid parental leave, and I'd peed on hundreds of ovulation and pregnancy tests, and still nothing. 

This pandemic made me angry at first too. There was no one to be angry at, and my anger wasn't "rational," but it was still there. How many of us had plans and dreams that have been put on hold indefinitely? How many of us felt we'd being playing a game and the rules got changed in the middle? How many of us felt angry that the pandemic wasn't handled better from the start? That innocent people died as a result? That inequality was, again, a deciding factor between life and death? That there were people all around us not taking it seriously and continuing movie outings and play dates and beach trips? I found that with miscarriage and infertility, my anger was coupled with extreme hurt, and almost no one had any idea because...I isolated myself.

I isolated myself for three reasons. Some of my experiences opening up about miscarriage and infertility weren't that great. Unsolicited advice? Check. Ridiculous theories about why we lost our pregnancy ("was it your toothpaste?") Check. Complete misunderstandings or attempts to minimize my sadness over my loss ("well, it's really just a delay, no big deal in the grand scheme of things") Check. A bit of "it happened to teach you a lesson" thrown in? Check. Did I have some really nice friends and family that sent flowers and dinners and cards? Absolutely, and I am thankful to and for all of them to this day. But the thing is, it only takes a few bad experiences to make people stop talking. Secondly, I knew that I still had a lot to be grateful for. Did I have a "right" to be angry? Did I have a right to this grief when people had been trying longer or lost pregnancies that were further along? Sound familiar? During this pandemic, how many of us have kept from reaching out because we don't want to sound like we're complaining, or because we know we're well or we're still employed, and so, we question if our grief and disappointment can really count when other people's grief is so much more "earned?" Finally, I isolated myself because "anger" and "hurt" aren't emotions that feel comfortable to express. "How are you?" "Fine! How are you?" End of story. When I went to The Netherlands, I kept forgetting that the question "How are you?" annoyed people, and it was such a hard habit to break, but I get it now. When I was struggling with trying to conceive, I could still go out into the world, but what I mean by social isolation is that I couldn't be my authentic self with people. I wasn't open about my emotional truth, and that was worse in a way because there's no Facetime or Zoom to help cope with it.

Grief. Maybe you thought this whole thing was about grief so far? We haven't even touched on the grief part. I wrote journal entries to our lost children that can still make me bawl. So many people told me I'd be "over the grief," once I had children to bring home. That's not at all close for me, and I'm so, so glad. I love our first babies, remember them daily, and I always, always will. It's not that I "want the grief" or "refuse to let go of the grief," it's that I want the love, and I refuse to let go of that love. Maybe it's a difference that's hard to understand unless you've experienced something similar. But pregnancy loss has prepared me to be accustomed to grief. I know how it feels, and it's never comfortable of course, but I can recognize grief in my body. I can say, Oh, you again. Well, hello then. 

When you struggle with infertility, that's a different kind of grief entirely. You're grieving a different loss: the loss in your ability to plan anything. Again, this is something we are all experiencing now. If you know me, you know I love my paper planner. The 2020 planner I bought is currently taunting me. It's just empty. There's NOTHING to plan. And that's how living while trying to conceive feels. Can you plan a vacation? No. Because it might involve going to places with Zika, or activities you couldn't do if pregnant, or money you wouldn't spend if you need to save for fertility treatments, or it might be during a time in your cycle when you need a doctor's appointment. It's hard to commit to anything with certainty. Can you attend your friend's wedding? Can you travel away from your partner for a work trip? Should you commit to that promotion at work? The logistics are mind boggling. So much of life as we've been socialized to live it is in the looking forward to, so when that's taken away from you, you have to find a new way of existing more in the present. Is this possible? Actually, yes.

Question: Didn't you say this post was hopeful?
Answer: Yes.

In May 2017, I realized that I'd spent the school year in a state of "If I get pregnant, I'll be happy," and I couldn't keep living that way. That frame of mind was toxic. It made everything in my life worse, and I had to change it. So finally, I resigned myself to the wait. I mean, I really resigned myself to however long it would take. I told my parents it may never happen. I didn't want them to be waiting anymore. I made other plans. In my mind, I was planning a big summer 2018 trip. We told our doctor we were taking a break from all the trying. And as soon as I no longer had appointments to measure follicles or expensive shots to pick up from the pharmacy, I felt like I was living again. Not because I was relaxed. I wasn't totally. Not because I was completely happy. I wasn't that either. It was because I stopped placing all my happiness on this one outcome and gave myself space to recognize and appreciate other sources of joy in my life. Did I still cry when I got a negative pregnancy test the following month? Absolutely. I cried. I felt that grief. But then I did things to take my mind off it. I couldn't control it. The timing of when it would happen wasn't up to me. Maybe it sounds foolish, but that was really hard for me to reconcile. It was my body after all. I control so many things about my body, and yet, the timing of when it would happen isn't up to me. 

Do you see where this is going?

Following Tom's death, I reached my feeling of "the timing isn't up to me," with COVID, and I realized that this pandemic is here to stay for however long it takes. And it could of left me feeling hopeless, but instead, I found it empowering. I knew the answer: My happiness couldn't depend on one thing. Sure, in this case, that one thing is pretty big, since it's basically the very essence of how our society functions returning to normal. But if that doesn't happen for a year, eighteen months, two years? I'm going to be okay, provided our family can stay healthy, and I do live with fear about getting sick and losing another loved one.

Death always reminds us of how little time we have. When Tom died, I realized I'd been doing the "I'll be happy if X happens" thing all over again. I'm not living this way again, I thought.

I grieved Tom's passing, and I've felt calmer since. This is my life, and there's so much happiness to be found in it. If 2017 me looked at my life today, she'd be filled with gratitude about the children part. This is not a silver lining. The pandemic sucks, and I would never suggest otherwise. A lot of people have died. I'm not telling you to be happy about it. I'm saying it will be easier to find happiness if you accept that you have no control over how long the pandemic goes on.

Today marks a special day in our lives. Exactly one year ago, there was a surprise pregnancy test...something I never thought I'd see. I was thrilled. I was also terrified. My first baby was only a year old. The timing with work would be tough. This isn't what I thought would happen. The timing isn't up to me, I reminded myself, and I showed Brendan that test, and we laughed, cried, freaked out, and placed the world's least thought out donut order together.

Our baby was due January 6th, 2020, and my doctor offered to induce me on December 30th. Maybe you should take the tax write off, people said. I thought about it, but then I thought the timing isn't up to me. We ended up at the hospital on New Year's Eve, the nurses wearing 2020 party hats, and Gray was the city's New Year's baby. And now, months later, it's apparent to me that his timing was better than the months I would've chosen (April/May/June/July) for obvious reasons. And his birthday is better than December 30th because he sweetened 2020, which is shaping up to be a rough year.

In terms of the pandemic, I think the timing isn't up to me, like a mantra, and I find a comfort in that.

We all will get through this. And while I'm terrified of ending up sick, I know that I'm doing everything I can to prevent that and that the rest is not in my control. Will the denial, anger, grief, and feelings of isolation still come over me? Yes. But I have learned to say Oh, you again. Well, hello then. Because my friends, this is a space I've known before. 

And now a PSA: If you know someone battling infertility or pregnancy loss...They don't deserve it, and it isn't teaching them anything (other than how much it sucks to wait), and waiting feels AWFUL when you don't know that the end result will be what you desperately and deeply want. If you don't know someone dealing with this, you may just not know they're dealing with it. Questions about "When are you having a child/more children"--don't ask them. I'm guilty of it too because I didn't realize this was a sensitive question until later in life. If you know someone dealing with this or any trauma, treat them like you'd what to be treated in that moment when you first realized our world and lives wouldn't be okay for a long time. Because that's the space they're in. Like the pandemic, it's overwhelming and isolating; also like the pandemic, eventually (but know one knows when), it's going to be okay.

Thanks for reading,
<3 S

Monday, April 20, 2020

Remembering Tom

Greetings faithful blog readers,

How are you guys? I want to send a message of love and "hang in there" to everyone reading. This is a really difficult, scary, exhausting, and frustrating moment in history, and the only words of encouragement I can offer is that "we will get through this," however long this turns out to be. I wish I had something more.

I haven't blogged in months. My absence was planned until mid-March: I was juggling working full time, caring for a newborn and toddler, and completing the third round of revisions on my novel. Spring break felt celebratory: I met my deadline, my sister-in-law came into town to meet Gray, and I felt like we were finding our stride as a family of four. Then, the news about COVID hit (it really blindsided me since I hadn't been reading much news and our pediatrician had seemed to think it wasn't going to be a big concern) and our lives and the world changed drastically. Then I didn't blog because we were just focused on caring for the kids and doing our jobs and there wasn't any time.

But last night, the COVID crisis became personal for our family, and I feel like breaking the silence. A few weeks ago, Brendan's grandfather, Tom, broke his hip. After surgery, he was unable to walk, and he was moved into a nursing home. On Saturday, we found out he had been moved to a COVID room, and that everyone attending to him had on full protective gear. Last night, at midnight, he passed away. He had been unable to see family in person since his fall, but Brendan's parents and other family had been able to see him through a window while talking on a phone. When I think about how he died, I feel crushed. He deserved a peaceful end. He didn't get one. He is one of so many in that position that it's overwhelming to think about.

Tom was so loved. He traveled a ton and had many stories about his trips. I think our July 2013 wedding in Austin, TX pushed him to be less interested in going places, honestly. He left via ambulance because of heat stroke. We were so worried about him, but he recovered. He never lost his ability to carry on conversations, and I'm so glad that I had almost ten full years to get to know him. When he felt better, he liked to grow food in his garden, and I can attest that his tomatoes were delicious (I also took my first ever pregnancy picture next to one of his tomato plants). He was quick to welcome me to the family and clearly wanted to make sure I would fit in because he gave me my first fishing pole and my first Red Sox hat. I get freaked out taking fish off a hook and think baseball is a damn long game, but he often checked in on my progress with both endeavors to "make sure I was really trying." And now, I realize his wisdom for what it was. Becoming a part of a family is a messy process. It takes touching fish and learning to follow a game with nine innings (or as many innings as they want if you need to go to bed soon). There are a whole host of skills to acquire, and I appreciate that Tom prepared me in the ways that he could.

Tom delighted in Willa, and we were looking forward to having him meet Gray this summer. We're really sad that he didn't get to. We will treasure the pictures we have of him with Willa, including this one from July 2019, which I'll leave you with:


Tom had a death that no one would choose, and it wasn't what any of us wanted for him, but I have felt calmer today knowing that his suffering is over. I'd love to give this post a neat ending, but there isn't one, so I'll end by saying that I hope that, whether you are on the front lines as an essential employee during this crisis or just doing your best to navigate this new social distancing lifestyle, you don't feel alone and that you can find it in you to stay strong. 

Rest in peace, Tom. We will miss you for as long as we live.  
<3 



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