A senior letter

This has to be one of the hardest letters I have ever written. xoxo

I’m supposed to be writing you a senior letter, probably without getting emotional.  HAHA!  Yeah, right. We both know better than that.

Starting with the most mundane, I’ll remind you how proud I am of you.  Words cannot tell you how proud I am.  You’ve become every bit of the man I had hoped you would when I met you 18 years ago.  I prayed you would take the good characteristics of your dad and me and mix them together with your own spin to turn into an amazing man, and you have done that plus so much more.  You’re better than I could have dreamed, God truly blessed me more than I deserve.  You have a beautiful heart and soul, more than you really know – don’t let life ruin that.  You’re more than just smart, you’re sincerely intellectual.  You consider all things and analyze the good and bad before making a decision or judgment.  That’s really the key to life, kid, so you have a one-up on most people already.

I’ve watched you learn to crawl, walk, talk, and read.  I’ve watched you learn to ride a bike, play soccer, play guitar, and drive a car.  I’ve watched you walk into your first day of pre-school, kindergarten, middle school, and high school.  I’ve watched you drive off to your first job.  I’ve watched you go on your first date.  I’ve watched you drive off for your senior prom.  Soon, I’ll watch you walk up on stage and receive your diploma.  Soon, I’ll watch you drive off for your next adventure in the Navy.  You have been a joy and blessing to watch and I cannot wait to watch all the next stages in your life.

I admit that when you first told me about your aspirations to join our military, my heart broke.  It was a selfish act, and it took a long, long time for me to come to peace with that.  I didn’t want to think about you leaving me.  You and I have had each other for 18 years, you’re my firstborn and I just wasn’t ready to face the fact that you’ve become an amazing man who doesn’t enter into things lightly.  It’s because of this and your infallible reasoning that I got on board and knew in my heart you would do amazing things with this opportunity.

I read somewhere that I’m supposed to tell you what I want for you or expect out of you.  Like so many parts of our family and relationship, my wants and expectations aren’t really traditional.  Of course, I want you to get an education, find a good job, meet and marry a great girl, start a family, and all that jazz.  But, Austin, I want so much more for you.  I want you to leave this little town, join the Navy, and see the world.  I want you to live with no strings attached.  You have such a great opportunity to do things very few people get the chance to do.  Since you could read (at the ripe age of 2½) you’ve been fascinated with the world.  You’ve been interested in all things history and science.  Go see all those countries you have only ever read about.  Go see, feel, touch the history of the world and let that experience blow you away.  Life is so short, baby, and you have the rest of your life for settling down.  Hold off on that day to day grind just a bit longer and make adventure your next path.

What do I expect out of you?  Greatness.  However, before greatness, I expect you to live your life to the absolute fullest.  Drink a beer with your new brotherhood and make stupid decisions that won’t cost you too much in the end – you know like an arrest and big ass tattoos that you’ll regret later (and coming from me that’s saying a LOT).  Get your heart broken a few times because until you do, there’s no other way to know real love when it comes to you.

You’re one of my greatest accomplishments in life.  If I have done nothing else in this life, I have raised a great boy into a phenomenal man.  I know that you’ll take part of me, your dad, your brother, and sister & papa and nana with you along the way and we will help keep you grounded…just enough – not too much.

You’re going to be scared, you’re going to be nervous, and I’m sure there will be days you’ll just want to come home, but those days will be few and far between.  You will succeed.  You will be ok.  You will overcome.

Go start your life, baby – it’s only just beginning.  I’m so proud of you and all that you’ve become.  I love you with all that I am and all that I have, son.

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The Darkness

I used to be vivacious.  I vaguely remember those days, the days where I was always on the go and in want of someone’s company because life was full of possibilities.  I remember smiling and laughing without force.  Sometimes, when I try, I can even remember what it was like to not have constant darkness standing over me and threatening to pull me into myself.

I’m not that person anymore and I’m left with only memories of who I once was.  I clinically suffer from depression and anxiety.  I’ve only said it or admitted to a handful of close friends and my husband, only 2 people truly believe me and not one really knows what it means.  I should have a shelf full of Oscars for the performance I put on pretending that “I’m fine”.  Today, I’m not fine.

So, what does it mean?  For me, it means pain.  It means fear.  It means sadness.  It means anger.  It means loneliness.  For me, it does not mean suicidal or batshit crazy.  I was spared the batshit crazy gene, thank God.  For me, it’s most definitely NOT “in my head” and I cannot simply choose to “get over it”.  There is no medication I can take and magically feel better.  I take medication to manage this condition, but sometimes it’s unmanageable.

More often than not, I can be in a depressive state or having an episode and you’ll be standing right next to me and never know.  I still show up to gatherings with friends and family because I still show up for my kids and my husband every day and these are the things required of me.

I am a mother, wife, aunt, daughter, sister, friend, and coworker and sometimes that’s really hard for me.  Sometimes that makes me cry from the overwhelming knowledge that so many people rely on me and deep down I know I cannot even rely on myself.  So many days I just want to let the covers swallow me whole and disappear until these horrible feelings disappear.  But, I can’t.  I have a life, I have children, I have a husband, I have a career and all of this means I can’t escape to a corner in my room for days like I want to.

I wish I could openly talk to my loved ones about this to help them understand what I feel, but I can’t.  I can only write.  It’s my mask.  Today, behind my mask, I will try to explain it to those who don’t battle these consuming disorders.

Anxiety makes me feel everything all the time and at one time.  It feels like suffocation.  It feels like drowning.  It’s consuming.  It’s scary as hell.  I feel like I’m losing control.  I can’t catch my breath, I can’t see my way through my own fears and I just want to find a dark room.  Hearing my loved ones tell me to breathe or calm down or take a pill only adds to these feelings.  I feel like they’ve just pushed my head a little further under.

When the anxiety starts to fade and I come out of the suffocating fog, depression is there to latch on and its hold is so strong and so hard to get away from.  Depression knows that’s when I’m at my weakest and it twists and turns like smoke and smothers everything that is good in life.  My doctor once said that depression is an emotional paralysis.  He’s right, it really is.  Depression lies to me, fills me full of thoughts of how worthless I am, how much I have failed myself, my family, my friends, my coworkers.  Depression steals any ray of light that reminds me I am loved and worthy of being loved.

When the smoke of depression begins to pull back, it leaves me with anger.  Anger at myself for falling victim to this disease.  Anger at myself for being so miserable.  Anger at my friends and family for not seeing through the fake persona I put on so that no one sees just how weak I am.  I just want to scream “I’M FUCKING DROWNING, DON’T YOU SEE ME??”, but instead I smile and say, “I’m fine”.

Depression is exhausting.  Once the anger subsides I am too tired to care.  I am too tired to get up and cook dinner for my family.  I sit and I cry because I know I have chores, I have duties, I have kids to feed, dogs to feed, clothes to wash, a house to clean and I just can’t.  I’m so exhausted.  I’m emotionally drained and I just need to lay down and cry and cry and cry.

These are my bad days.  These are the days when I succumb.  I can be like this for a few days and then not again for several months.  It sneaks up on me and I’m never prepared when it hits me.  Depression is a sneaky bastard.  It’s an evil I never knew existed and then when I knew, I never fully understood what all it was.  Now that I live with it, I know all too well that depression can be debilitating and suffocating and incorrigible, and I hate it immensely.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. 
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
– Oscar Wilde

Enough

When is enough, enough?  Is there ever a time, as a wife and a mother, that I can throw my hands up in the air and (not wave them like I just don’t care…) say – to hell with this, I’ve had enough!  Theoretically, I did just that the other day.  I went on “strike” *insert hysterical laughter here*.  What was I thinking?  That all of a sudden the kids and husband would hear the archangels singing and try to fix everything that I’ve been bitching about?  Pfft.  Yeah, right.

I have teens.  I don’t have really young kids.  In less than 6 months I will have an 18-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old.  Oh, and a 38-year-old…*ahem*.  Yet, at some point these four individuals must have fallen and smacked their precious heads on some sort of hard surface and have completely and utterly forgotten how to use their senses.  Particularly the sense that tells them there are chores to be done – your bathroom looks like it’s growing something in the sink, the dogs have no water, you might have worn that a time or two since the last wash cycle, there’s a smell coming from your bathroom that is going to disturb the neighbors, and OMG you must be sleeping with a zombie because that’s what your room smells like!

So, I lost my shit.  Again.  I explained how absolutely tired I was of being the maid.  Because that’s how I feel…blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda (like Charlie Brown’s teacher only more life-like).  Most days it’s not worth the fight and I just handle it all myself – working, cooking, cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping and mopping, doing the leftover dishes that must have been wearing an invisibility cloak the night before, cleaning the house, and doing every stitch of laundry Mr. EMT and I own because otherwise he will attempt to ‘do’ laundry and we’ll forever be throwing shit in the dryer on wrinkle-free.

The strike lasted a day and a half.  The day I lost my shit, Mr. EMT was home from work and school, a rarity these days.  Thus, I sent him a message and explained what I saw that morning and that I was on strike until I saw the rest of the family learn to pick up after themselves and do their chores.  He had them clean, and clean well – for exactly one day.  It lasted for one day.  Because the dishes wore an invisibility cloak yet again last night, I refused to cook.  Make yourself something to eat, I said.  Heat up leftovers, I said.  AND DO THE MOTHERFUCKING DISHES, I said.  Well, not so drastically, but that’s how I wanted to say it.

I woke up in a little better mood today and I decided I would rather be pissed off and bitchy than to live in a crappily maintained home.  I was going to buck up and do all the stuff I didn’t do since Tuesday when I got home today.  However, insert a call from The Little’s school and I’m right back to wanting to scream ‘Enough is Enough’!  He got into trouble….again….albeit the first time in 3 weeks.  He’s a work in progress, but that’s for another post in the future about dealing with middle school kids with two parents who don’t often agree on parenting style.

With all that being said, I realize I cannot actually give up.  I have to remain married to Mr. EMT even though I wanted to punch him in the throat this week; I have to remain a mother to three unappreciative adolescents and try to remember that one day they will thank me for this shit; and I have to remember to buy another bottle of wine before I get home….because enough may very well be enough, but that does not count for wine.

Oh Alice, how I love thee

March 12

Bedtime stories

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent? Did it influence the person you are now?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has long been one of my most favorite and influential books to date.  Though in truth there are so many that helped shape who I have become.  Each time I read Alice I take something new from the book.  It’s the only book that I can say has grown with me when reading it during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  In my opinion, it makes this particular story timeless.

The loss of childhood innocence, learning quickly that the world will think you too small or too tall, never really being the right fit for what is needed.  As an adolescent, this struck me to my core.  In fact, I held on to it for far too long.  During puberty and into early adulthood I had the horrible feeling of not being enough.  It took me a long time to grow out of that – to figure out that I’m good with me and I don’t need approval to be me.  Through this story, I, like Alice, learned that I am the right size, after all.  I learned not to let the opinions of others dictate who I was to become.

The Cheshire Cat, with his broad grin and fearless behavior, can be thought of in so many translations. As a child, I thought him to be the secret, imaginary friend that tried to get you in trouble by leading you down a path you didn’t know and then disappearing.  As an adolescent, I thought him to be cunning and too knowledgeable.  The best line, for me, was when she asked which way to go and after she answered she didn’t know where when he asked, he simply said it doesn’t matter she will end up somewhere.  How true is that?  We never really know which path to take, but no matter which one it is, it leads us somewhere.  There is hardly a right or wrong.

The Caterpillar is another example of changing each time I read this story.  A simple three-word question and with it says everything.  “Who are you?” She has such a difficult time answering him, you can only assume she doesn’t know who she is anymore.  She’s changed.  Don’t we all?  She insults the cantankerous caterpillar by explaining it is dreadful being only 3 inches tall after all the caterpillar is only 3 inches tall.  Alice who struggles with her own image judges harshly the caterpillar’s size though it’s the same as hers at the time.  We often run into cantankerous, confusing people, but it doesn’t do well to insult them.

This story mostly taught me about adversities in life.  How the world constantly changes and confuses.  It taught me to expect the unexpected and learn that sometimes there is no logical answer to it and that’s ok, we’ll get through that maze one way or the other.  In this way, the story taught me to be more open-minded, not to follow simply to follow and to go with my gut in all journeys through life.  Life is a mess of puzzles, problems, oddities, and no two people are the same or think the same; we have to learn to accept it and move on.

 

Other people’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality
Les Brown

 

1996

March 5

Buffalo nickel

Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

1996

I rummaged through the crap mess in the console of my truck and not only realized I desperately need to clean it but found a dime and on it was stamped 1996.

It was 1996, the year I graduated high school.  It should have been a time in my life of festivities and prepping for senior prom and senior skip day with my best friends while making memories of a lifetime; instead, I saw it as utterly painful.  I didn’t realize then that I was still making memories of a lifetime and that I would make a new friend to carry with me the rest of my life.  I lived in Ohio at the time because my father was transferred there during my senior year.  I met one of my very best friends there.  Both of us were dealt the horrible fate of spending our senior year away from our original high school and all our friends.  I moved from Atlanta and she from New Jersey (though originally from Alabama).  We formed an instant friendship.

We both had to leave high school boyfriends behind, obviously and neither of us was too pleased and we bonded over that quickly.  We became a quick cliché of Misery Likes Company and we kept to ourselves for the most part.  To make sure everyone knew just how miserable we were, we dressed in head to toe black on Valentine’s Day because, well, why not.  It was still the grunge era so we had a lot of black hanging around.

I graduated in May and by that time my father had been transferred again, this time to Florida though I was convinced I would be stopping and staying in Georgia.  I was eager to get back to Mr. EMT and could see no reason why I couldn’t stay on with a family member and attend college there.  1996, coincidentally was also the year the Olympics were in Atlanta so my parents rationalized that it wouldn’t be a good time for me to move back, and I should just wait a little while longer.  I didn’t realize at first that it was a ploy to try to keep me in Florida where they knew my future would probably be brighter since I would be in college.  They were smart, my parents, they knew me far better than I knew myself.

Fast forward to the end of 1996, after a few new friendships and entirely too much partying, I decided it was time to go back to Georgia.  I secretly bought a bus ticket, gave my 2-week notice at my job, and was prepared to leave my parents in almost a haste.  I knew they wouldn’t approve.  I knew they would be desperately disappointed, but I missed Mr. EMT so much that I felt I would lose him completely if I didn’t return.

My mother, being the brilliantly smart woman she is, somehow found out that I was leaving and she drove me there.  In almost complete silence.  It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.  I could feel her anxiety, I could feel her fear, and I could feel her love.  She was going to let me go, but it was going to break her heart.  She knew the struggles I would face, but I was 18 and I wouldn’t hear anything about it.

1996 was a monumental year for me, almost as much as 1997 when Mr. EMT and I welcomed The Eldest long before we were prepared to be parents and started going through the struggles my mom knew were coming.

Normalcy or the lack thereof

Can I just say to all those mom’s out there that are outdoorsy and all ‘go team’, you are a better mom than I am.

Anywho, my husband thought it would be a great idea to enroll the youngest (The Little) in scouts.  I’m certainly not against this; boys need to know various things that are taught in scouts and it would give the two of them bonding time and all that jazz.  Male camaraderie, if you will.

The husband is an EMT (finally) so he works 24/48 shifts.  He signed The Little up last Thursday, and boy was he excited.  It was really sweet, actually.  Last night was their first meeting.  Naturally, Mr. EMT was working his 24 so I needed to take The Little to the meeting and do the introductions and whatnot.  Sounds harmless, right?  I had enough time after the office to go home, cook dinner (chicken with white wine mushroom sauce – does that sound like I am outdoorsy to you?), and forget to grab a pair of flip-flops to replace the 3-inch heels.  We arrive and there are tons of kids and dads with a few moms, but mostly dads.  Some kids in uniform with ribbons that match that of a soldier in his twentieth year of service and others in civilian clothes like my poor Little.

There were 3 or 4 grown men in these uniforms as well.  I looked for them to guide me as to what den(?) my son would be in.  None of them knew.  He was either a boar, bear, webble, fox, or a smattering of other animals.  I couldn’t quite follow as he lost me after something called a weeble-o.  What the hell kind of animal is that?  Clearly, I was not the right man for this job.  After a scout chant, a prayer, and some kind of hand gesture, we move to a circle.  Now, in my mind I think of campfires, smores, singing, rules, or something of the sort.  HA!  No, that’s not what these uniformed overgrown kids pretending to be adults had in mind at all!

Burly Man:  “Parents!  You are to follow your scout and their leaders down the trail behind us”

My mind: Wait, trail behind you?  You mean that overgrown forest with no wooden path?  And follow where exactly, to the end of my existence cause I’m in heels mister…

Squirrelly Man: (in a much smaller voice) “Ok scouts, grab the kid next to you, hold his hand and then raise your hands above your head!  That’s right, boys!  This is your buddy.  Where he goes, you go. Mmmmkkkkk? Alright, let’s go!”

My mind:  Where’s my buddy – don’t I need a buddy?  Does that kid attached to The Little look shady?  What if he heads off a cliff or something?  That seems a bit too vague of a statement, sir.

After hiking on the ‘trail’ and learning all about deer poop, scrubbing of antlers on trees, berries that would probably be the same ones that almost killed Katniss in Hunger Games, and white dots on trees that mark your way – we end up in this enormous field.  There’s an erect tent in the middle and several bags alongside of the tent.  My feeble, indoorsy, HGTV mind didn’t grasp what was happening.

Burly Man: “OK Parents, grab your scout and head to a bag, we’re learning the proper handling of tents, pitching them, and putting them away”

My mind: We’re what?  Are you seriously telling me this little bag holds that big ‘ol tent in it?  Orange is not a good color, btw, it will surely attract bears.

I look around and see one of those soldier-type kids and I’m all like, “Pssst, hey kid, you look like you’ve been here a while.”  The kid looks exasperated at me already, “Yeah, I’m a what-ever-animal-is best, do you need help with this?” and then he laughs.  He actually laughs at me.  Poor Little had already started to unpack the tent bag and was well on his way.  I’ve heard rumors that our family owned a tent, I suppose he and his father have worked on this before.

All ended well, our tent was set up and then put back and we hiked our way back to ‘base’.  I was sweating and panting profusely, pretty sure at least twelve blisters, and about four thousand mosquito bites, I was spent.  They offered a Gatorade, I declined as I was disappointed no one handed me an Absolute and soda for my efforts.

I had hoped for a quiet, normal school year when the children went back, but it looks like normalcy will involve sweating in places one ought not to sweat, bug spray, the purchase of hiking boots, and flasks canteens.  Go Team!

This is my writing prompt submission for Studio Thirty Plus 

Strength

Strength is one of those words whose meaning changes with each person and each situation.  I have overcome a lot in my lifetime; some would probably even consider that I have strength or gained strength because of the adversities.  Looking back, I cannot say the same.  I remember praying for strength at an early part of my adult life.  When I consider what events unfolded after, I chuckle.  I’ve always been told by the wise women in my life that God answers you in ways you wouldn’t foresee.  For instance, if you pray for patience, you don’t become patient – you are presented with an opportunity where patience is needed.  If you pray for love, you aren’t given a knight in shining armor but instead a situation in which you either give or receive love.

I prayed for strength when my oldest son was born.  I shortly thereafter became a single, twenty-year-old mother, working three jobs, and living on our own.  I found the need to be strong, not strength.  Strength, I later realized, was inside me all along.

After a conversation with someone who is quickly becoming a very, very dear friend to me and someone I value a great deal, I began to think about those times of prayer.  It’s something she said to me after a heartfelt conversation, ‘when it’s time you’ll know’.  She’s right.

I’ve come to the conclusion that God gives us the qualities we pray for on the day we take our first breath.  He has already gifted us with these abilities and rather than conjuring them at the opportune time, He teaches us by putting us in situations in which we need to use these gifts to our fullest advantage.

Today, I chuckled after beginning a prayer to receive answers and strength.   I laugh out of fear.  Fear that not only do I possess the answers I request, but also because I know I have already been given the strength needed when I hear these very same answers.  It’s what I decide to do with the answers that define where my strength is most powerful and as I’ve been told once today….when it’s time I will know.  I find a bit of comfort in that when I know, I’ll be strong enough to overcome and close another chapter in my life.

Life is chaos, love, chances, decisions, heartaches, and strength.  Life is also as short as a baby’s breath.  I intend to live it to the fullest while I can.