Adieu, troisième

I have written 2/3 of a very smart, thoughtful, insightful blog on public health and the coronavirus but it’s not done yet so you’ll have to wait.

But today, right now, the thing I am bringing to this space is this:

The decision is all but 100% confirmed and made: there will not be a gayby #3 in our family.

This is not what I want. Unfortunately, there is no compromise on the issue of having a baby, there is no halfway to meet at, there isn’t a way for everyone to win here.

I do not want to have a child with someone who is not fully and completely in agreement with that decision, and L is not. I do not want to end my marriage over the desire for a baby – I want to have another baby with them. And while I did not ask for all of the reasons L has come to this conclusion, I imagine if I knew them I would by and large agree with them. There are many many reasons why not having another child is the best idea.

But I am heartbroken. The sadness and grief is so similar to the pain I’ve felt during break ups. And even more, the pain I felt when I was trying to get pregnant and faced the amelioration of a planned future each month. Except now the sliver of hope that mitigated that sadness is gone. I feel physically wrecked with sadness.

It doesn’t help things that one of my lifelong best friends will welcome his third baby on Friday, and a friend of ours from preschool are due with baby #3 in a few months. Its not just that people are having babies, people are doing this crazy thing and having a third.

I will come out the other side of this. I don’t know how, but I will. If you have ways you got through it, I would gladly take them. For now, my primary approach to dealing with the pain is to ignore it, but when you have big feelings, they can only hold so long.

Life in the Time of Covid-19

I’ve been meaning to write for weeks. I even started a post but it soon became out of date and it just wasn’t worth trying to update. And now things have become so radically different that it seemed prudent to just start over. So here I am.

I feel like I want to capture how things unfolded because when I look back, it feels like things became so strange so quickly and yet, it feels like another time of life entirely since what I can recall as being the ‘beginning’ of this transition into the strange world in which we all live. So much is so different.

On Feb 29th, I went canvassing for Elizabeth Warren (sob!) with my friend Mo. Mo is intensely anxious but deeply extroverted and generally kind of zany and I really love spending time with them even though it also always feels ridiculous. We were canvassing in a neighborhood by the waterfront, big houses with huge curving driveways, recessed from the street, so every door felt like a hike from the street. 50 houses felt insufferably long, but we did it. In between ringing door bells and trying to convince people of Warren’s electability (sob!) we talked about the coronavirus. Washington’s first case had come in late January but it seemed to have gone away but then suddenly that day, there came reports of a death from the virus at a nursing home northeast of Seattle. Mo’s sister, they said, was super freaked out. She lived not far from the nursing home and she’d felt sick. “It’s not coronavirus.” I said. “It’s so rare. I promise, it’s not.”

Then on Sunday, there came news of two more deaths and I started checking my work e-mail because I knew things were probably going to get wild at the health department. (If you didn’t know, while my job is focused on sexual health, I do work for the health department in King County, which covers from north of Seattle down to almost Tacoma – including Kirkland, the location of the nursing home outbreak) I also knew that my team and my job class in general, often get pulled into things like this.

Sure enough, on Monday morning when I checked my work phone – as I always do after dropping Gus off at daycare – there was a text from my boss asking for two of us to head up to the central building to help the communicable disease-epidemiology program field the sudden influx of phone calls. So I rerouted waze and headed there.

When I arrived on the 12th floor and asked around until someone directed me to the administrative manager of CDEpi, things were already that buzzy kind of controlled chaos that fills you with anxiety. I stood in front of T’s (admin mgr) cubicle and told her I was there to help. But I don’t know that anyone had told her that I was coming, and so she was a bit flustered at how to put me to work initially. She was still in the middle of trying to write some kind of script or organize some level of note taking. But the calls were already pouring in and the voicemail box was full and the e-mails were unending.

With barely any initiation or instruction at all, they added me to the lines receiving calls, handed me a headset, an old school message book (the kind that carbon copies itself) and the draft of a script and told me to turn my phone on. From that moment on, the calls came one after another. If I needed to go to the bathroom or eat, I had to immediately put myself on do not disturb but usually a call would slip through in the split second it took to do that, so I’d usually take that last call before escaping.

Mostly, I ended up with calls from doctors, nurses, and EMTs who had a patient (with them, who they’d just seen, who they’d taken to the ER or the morgue) who had symptoms of covid-19 and they needed to report/find out if they should test/request the testing requisition number. In virtually every case, I wrote down their names and contact info; the name, date of birth and contact info for the patient; and the symptoms, situation, and other details. At 10am when I started, I told them to expect a return call in 24 hours when they didn’t have a patient in the clinic, and within 2 hours when they did. By 1pm I’d been instructed to tell them 24-48 hours, or within 4 hours for in-clinic. By the end of the day I was not making any promises about getting a call back.

Some of those calls were heartbreaking – family members of residents at the skilled nursing facility where the outbreak has been concentrated. These people wanted to know if their loved ones had been tested, or if they were ok, and if not when would they know any of that? Or providers who had someone who met the (at that time) stringent testing criteria who needed that requisition number because they were admitting the patient to the ICU. I couldn’t help them. I could take their info, and listen to them, and write down detail and highlight the things they were worried about and then pass it along to the team of people who hadn’t had a day off in 6 weeks before Seattle exploded in chaos.

Some of those calls were absurd: the nurse at a concierge medical practice who, very apologetically, told me that she had patients in her office demanding to be tested immediately though she already knew they didn’t meet the criteria for testing and weren’t even showing symptoms consistent with the virus; the woman who asked to speak with the medical director immediately because she had important information for him about how the virus was spread and who then told me that maybe I should ‘misclassify the message and die.’ She also said that the Medical Director’s inaction to call her back would simply mean she would get the Nobel prize instead.

Many lay somewhere in between – people who were being told by supervisors to report, or who had assessed their patients as at risk for the virus but were not admitting those patients. They needed guidance that likely could have been delivered with a standard answer, but things had escalated so quickly that there hadn’t been time for that.

I worked until close to 7pm that evening answering calls and there was no noticeable slow to the volume. I came back the next day and kept on, though in the interim a new script had emerged, a new paper tracking system, some additional tools. At some point mid-day, the formal call center got up and running and so, in many cases, I was simply directing call there – transferring people to a line with, at one point, an hour long hold time. I was also given a crash course in checking the state communicable disease database to try and cross reference if the paper messages, e-mails, and voice mails had been entered, assigned, and returned. I did this on Wednesday as well. Each evening, I emerged bone tired, often with a thumping migraine, still feeling like I’d done almost nothing to actually help except perhaps divert some of the less critical calls and be a live voice to answer instead of a machine.

In addition to the main call center, they set up a line specifically for families and staff of the care center where the outbreak had begun, and called my team to staff (and, unbeknowst to us until we were knee deep) lead this line. The end of that first week and most of last week I was on that line, which was a different kind of stress and heartbreak. Now, instead of unending calls with questions were people who’s mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, grandparents were effectively imprisoned in a covid-19 time bomb and who had either heard nothing from the facility, or who had been lied to or misled. These people were scared and angry, justifiably so. But once again, I had little to offer them in the way of substance. No, I couldn’t give them their loved one’s test results. No, I couldn’t tell them why the test wasn’t back after 5, 6, 7 days when it should have come in 72 hours. No, I didn’t know who had or had not been tested or was experiencing symptoms.

Between the 7 of us working the line, we managed to pry information from wherever we could since leadership had created the line, publicized it, but then effectively left us to figure out the rest on our own. We cobbled together some systems and information just in time for the situation there to settle enough for the line to no longer be needed. This past Monday, I spent my last shift there closing things down.

In between shifts at the call center and now beginning this week mostly full time, I’m working from home like so many others in the US. Of course, my capacity has freed up quite a bit, since most of my work is school based and schools are now closed until late April, at a minimum. I’m here today, in the Teen Clinic waiting room, mostly to enforce ‘social distance’ with the teens to come in. Usually, I set out snacks and give aways and literature. Today I have a small pile I offer when people come in and then I hand them items directly, to avoid multiple hands touching things. The tables that are usually clumped are spread awkwardly apart. You can only sit with the people you come with.

Like a lot of people, I imagine, two weeks ago when I got that text to come in and answer phones, I didn’t understand the gravity of this situation. I thought people were freaking out unnecessarily. And, well, some people that day were. People who were now assuming that their runny nose and sore throat were caused by the novel coronavirus and demanding to know how to be tested – they were freaking out unnecessarily.

But I also thought – ok, this is a bad virus but so is the flu, especially this year. The flu kills people all the time, even healthy people. The flu has killed many more people than this. Wash your hands, don’t go to work when you’re sick – things we should have been doing already. I thought all of this, despite being pretty well informed about current events (including listening to a fair number of podcasts focused on the virus) and with some working knowledge of communicable disease and how public health works with CD. I came around to a fuller understanding pretty rapidly – but I also spent days almost entirely immersed in information from very reputable sources. The fact that I started where I did despite my position in the world gives me some level of empathy for the people who for a time were still wondering, ‘why is this such a big deal?’

But after weeks of being in the thick of this heartbreak, I no longer have that empathy for people who continue to hold that perspective. My parents are among that group, which makes me angry and also terrified. A week ago when I called my mom she told me she’d just been to the doctor for swelling and pain in her hand and discovered her blood pressure was 200/90. Like, the woman could have had a stroke any minute. She hadn’t been tracking her BP like she should have (she’s on medication already) and though they were able to get it down to a safe range by that evening with more meds, it’s still not consistently where it should be. And yet she continues to take my nephew to Target or go to the grocery store just for fun. My dad is still working part time and while his health risk is lower, he’s still in his 70’s.

I rattled off the numbers from the lifecare center for her: of 120 residents who were in the facility when the outbreak began, 67 of them have tested positive. There are 35 deaths associated with the center (they may not all be residents) and 56 total in King County as of today. I don’t know if it had the impact I wanted it to, but I hope it did something.

There is so much more I want to write about. About this situation and the world that is now and maybe what will come, yes, but also about the things in life where joy still exists. Because I think it may become harder and harder for all of us to remember that joy, whether because we are isolated or ill or grieving. But joy is what keeps us afloat in the slog of anxiety and uncertainty.

Here are the small joys right now:

Ansel turned 5 yesterday! Two weeks ago we celebrated with friends by renting out the planetarium at a community college where Ansel and all of their friends got a personal show about planets and then ate galaxy cake (with frosting colored so black their poop was green!) and ran around in their new astronaut costume with their friends. (I am grateful that mere logistics made that party happen early) Ansel is very much into space right now and, as such, asked for a real telescope – it was in fact, the only thing they asked for. We sprung for a fancy one and last night we found Uranus and Ansel about died with happiness. They are such a light in the world, their brain so unique, their heart so tender. I am grateful for the challenge and adventure of raising this small human.

We had to cancel our vacation to visit L’s mom and our good friends (which is NOT a joy) but got a refund on our AirB&B which allowed us to get a motherfucking kitten! I have wanted a cat for a long time but have also conceded that two kids and three dogs was plenty of beings for one pair of people to care for in a single home. Then we lost Eliot, then Cletus and things felt quiet and sad, but also much more manageable. We were sure that another dog wasn’t a good idea but Laurie was also resolutely not into a cat – they don’t like litter boxes and, correctly, pointed out that I am allergic (a fact that hasn’t stood in my way when I owned cats previously.) Then our friends’ daughter told us about holding a kitten and something in L clicked. The conversations about maybe getting a cat started, then L started looking into cost, then looking online at kittens. Then when we realized we were going to have both unanticipated time and money we thought we’d already spent, we decided to go for it. So this past Sunday, we looked into three different kitten options and ended up with this ridiculously adorable creature who we named “Mr. Frank Sparklepants.” He’s a ragdoll and he looooooooves snuggles and people – he spent virtually the entire day yesterday curled up between my shoulder and my neck while I worked. Ansel loves him with a shaking intensity a la Elmyra Duff so there’s been a lot of time spent on careful handling of the kitty. Angus thinks the cat is interesting but doesn’t seem to understand what it IS. In any case, kitten energy is EXACTLY what our hearts needed right now.

Until I get redeployed again (and I will) I am working from home with too much time on my hands. I’m trying to set up some routines for myself, including working on other non work related projects that bring me some peace and happiness. One of them is writing and this seems like as good a place as any to do that, at least for a lot of the things on my mind. But, I’ve made this promise before . . .

Until then, friends, be well. Take this seriously but don’t let it ruin your capacity or subsume your life. Find joy where you can. Let this time make us better to one another and ourselves.

Sometimes the worst part of parenting is the other parents

When we moved to Tacoma, a little over 2 ½ years ago, we knew we wanted to try and find some kind of preschool program for Ansel, both to give L a break from full time at home parenting two kids and to give Ansel some outside stimulation. Because we were a one income family, we didn’t have much money to spend, which is how we initially found out about co-op preschools. If you’re not familiar, co-op schools are usually very inexpensive but also ask for a high level of participation of families. They are really built for families where there is an at-home parent. We checked a couple out and decided on one because the teacher was SO lovely.

I don’t think it’s overstating to say that co-op saved our family that first year. Things were HARD. Angus was born just weeks after we moved, and he was so tiny and so in need of constant care and weighing and stress about weight. We knew almost no one in Tacoma – displaced now for the second time in a year and change. We didn’t have a lot to keep us tethered.

But, as fate had it, we ended up in a co-op class with a group of people who were, in various ways, similarly situated. Many of us were recent transplants to the area, and all of us were in need of friends and allies. With a few exceptions, everyone really got along and connected. Our best family friends came from that program, and many of our less close but still important friends as well.

We decided to send Ansel to the outdoor program the following year, primarily because we knew it would be so good for them to be outside in the wild. It was a big change from knowing all of the parents and kids to just waving to people at drop off, but Ansel really thrived and so it felt like a good trade-off. The cost for outdoor school was both financial (we were stretched affording it until L started working) and logistical, as the program was located about 10 miles north of us. The struggle increased once L was working and then again when Ansel received their childfind placement and started afternoon preschool at the public school as well.

Last spring, I spent more hours than I’d care to admit gaming out our options for this school year. Cost – both for official programs and the childcare needed to supplement and transport, scheduling, travel, etc. The cost of the outdoor program had gone up as well, and L was still working part time, so things were definitely sticky to say the least. Plus, to be honest, we missed our friends and that community of people.

So, we decided to go back to the co-op this year. Ansel goes to morning preschool at the public school program and then to the afternoon co-op class. We patch together the times when school doesn’t happen and getting them from one school to the other with a couple of other co-op families and a friend from church. It takes a lot of coordinating and weekly checking in, but we manage. Each month we get a new working parent schedule that requires another round of scrambling as L and I decide who can flex time/take off work to work in the classroom during that time.

There really wasn’t an option that wouldn’t be hard. But there’s definitely some additional challenges that accompany the co-op that I was willing to take on because of the community and friendship we had before.

I don’t have many things I would say I genuinely regret, but moving Ansel from the outdoor school back to the co-op is definitely one of them.

Oh, Ansel is fine. They love the Teacher (I mean, I do too – think Mary Poppins crossed with Cinderella crossed with your fantasy grandma) and have fun in the classroom. But the impact on me (and L? I dunno – but definitely for me) has been awful.

I mean, yes, having to take time off or flex hours 1-2 times a month to work in the classroom is stressful, but what has really been difficult is how the community of parents has changed from affirming and supportive to catty and judgmental. And, perhaps because we aren’t there as much as others (or???) it seems like a lot of it has been directed at us – though I don’t think we are alone at all.

If there were an option to get out of this that wouldn’t also be awful for my child, I would take it. That doesn’t really exist, and I know that in the grand scheme of things, you can survive almost anything (including judgy ass moms) for another 4 months, but I’m definitely in it with this right now.

There have been a few moments where I felt overwhelmed with frustration and sadness, but the most recent is really the worst and exemplifies how painfully stupid this all is as well. Last week was kind of a shit show – between surgery on my hand for carpel tunnel and then Anguses childcare being unexpectedly closed last minute – the week was a bit of a wash. I ended up staying home with Gus on Thursday and also picked Ansel up from school because our usual option wasn’t available. Generally, parents who aren’t working in the classroom are expected to do a small cleaning job right before pick up. There’s a chart on the wall with dry erase markers, and things get checked off as they happen. When I got there, everyone was hanging in the foyer – usually (in my very limited experience) folks tend to be cleaning at that time if there’s cleaning jobs left – so I kind of thought everything might be done (there are more parents than jobs.) Right before I went outside to get Ansel from the playground, I did glance inside at the chart and from a bit of a distance, everything looked checked off. Because of the hanging out, I didn’t double check (you know where this is going and you also know that I now deeply regret not looking more closely.) So I went outside, got Ansel and took off.

So, I messed up. I should have looked more closely. Because, yes, there were still a few jobs to do and so I didn’t do one. Why do I know this? Well, you’d hope that I knew because someone approached me and said, ‘Hey, noticed you didn’t do a job’ at which point I would have apologized profusely and then tried to make up for it.

No. I know because the group leader sent an e-mail to everyone saying that we all need to step up and clean better and some families are doing so much and others aren’t. And if you are someone who doesn’t usually pick up your own child, you REALLY should be doing this. For the record, we might be the only family who only occasionally picks up our kid (there is one kid who is never picked up by her family, she always goes with someone else – but that kid’s parents also don’t do working shifts and have some arrangement with another mom.) In other words, I know because I was publicly shamed.

I decided to respond to the e-mail by saying, “Oh hey – I totally messed up! I thought all the jobs were done but they weren’t and I’m very sorry! Please feel free to check me on this if it happens again, but I promise you it actually won’t!” Because it won’t. Because it never has before.

If this were the first incident of this kind, perhaps it would be worth an eyeroll. But it’s not. It’s this, plus the insinuation over group text that our child was responsible for the spate of wintertime colds that happened in December (because we sent them to school when we shouldn’t) though there was no evidence to support this. It’s that plus the veiled comments about who’s around. It’s that people stop whispering when I approach. It’s that half of the newer families still call me “Laurie.” (microagressions for the win!) It’s the at-home moms who get defensive when I mention my job, even though I’ve never said anything that would indicate I value the work they do any less than the work I do. (for the record, I work because I would be an awful stay-at-home parent – not because I think it has any more inherent worth)

I’ve expressed frustration to my good friend (who is in a leadership role) and Laurie before, but I decided this morning to send an e-mail to the group leader and copy the teacher as well. I doubt things are going to change, but I needed to at least have my feelings heard. I need this stuff to be acknowledged. I want them to be aware of the impact of this shit.

It’s become clear that a co-op isn’t a good fit for families with two working parents. And that’s absolutely part of this dynamic – we aren’t around the way others are or the way we used to be. But we show up, we do our jobs, we pay our tuition and have collected our auction procurements. And yes, we invited every single kid to Ansel’s birthday party even though the thought of having to host the parents who I know judge me and tattle to the group leader on me makes me feel sick with anxiety.

The worst part is how much this dynamic is a microcosm of the bigger problems between parents – moms especially. Because rooted in the co-op moms reporting me to the leader for not wiping the play-doh table (ONCE. Like, I’ve cleaned every other time I’ve picked Ansel up) in the assumption that I didn’t do it because I’m lazy, or gaming the system or just a selfish terrible mom. Because I truly believe that if the assumption had been that I’m doing the best I could and made a mistake that I would have been contacted directly, or the tenor of the e-mail would have been more supportive and less policing.

I try my best to try and see where my assumptions cause myself and other people pain, where I’ve bought into the idea that someone messing up is because they are a bad person. Especially when it comes to parenting, which is so complicated and contradictory and nuanced, easy answers just don’t exist. Last week I was mad that a parent at Anguses daycare brought their kid when she was in the thick of hand-foot-mouth disease because how could they do that! How selfish! And then I remembered the times when we’ve been up against a wall with childcare – both of us with immovable and very important obligations and no one else to watch an ill child, when I’ve considered just giving them enough ibuprofen to get the fever down . . .And I remembered that we are all asked to make impossible decisions all the time and sometimes we do it well, and sometimes we don’t.

I don’t have time for people who can’t get on board with supporting each other to do better instead of making sure they know when they’ve done bad. But, for the next 4 months I’m going to dig deep and try to show grace to these people who cannot do the same for me. Sounds like a good thing to work on during lent.

PS – I’m also going social media free for Lent, so maybe I’ll be back here a bit more?

PPS – I met Elizabeth Warren on Saturday and so I’ll definitely be back to tell you why I love her so much and will work my ass off to make her my president.

2019: It never really got any easier

I’ve thought about posting here a lot of times in the last few months. I started a few posts. Once, I started writing, deleted it and then went on a fruitless rabbit hole search for a different journaling platform online and then ultimately decided that wasn’t what I wanted either. I no longer know what purpose this serves, by and large.

But what I know today is that I want a place to put my reflections about the past year and the past decade and this seems like a good place to do it. Maybe it will be the beginning of a blog renaissance, perhaps I won’t be back for months, or even until 2020 is about to end. But for today, I’m here.

January 2019

After 2.5 years of being a stay at home parent, but close to a year of working towards the goal of not being a stay at home parent and getting the shaft left and right, L scored a part time job at the local LGBT center as the training manager. On one hand, this was awesome! L had come to hate being home with the kids all day and was growing increasingly resentful of the job. They were also beginning to feel hopeless about finding a job and it was taking a serious toll on their self worth. As you might expect, this also wasn’t great for our relationship or home life. Of course, it also came with a shift in the logistics of our family that was super challenging. We had to figure out childcare that was affordable and also allowed Ansel to continue attending outdoor preschool. It meant negotiating things like who takes which kid where and what happens when one of them is sick – answers that had defaulted to L before. We continue to patch things together week to week, month to month, and I spend at least a few days each month in a semi-panic about childcare, but we’ve improved our systems, and having a spouse who is being appreciated for their brilliance by other people is a very very worthwhile trade-off. +1 for January.

This is no longer how I visually manage my anxiety about our schedules. I keep it in my own planner now.
Baby Cobain

February 2019

  • It snowed SO MUCH in the Puget Sound which mostly made me fucking grumpy because it meant school was closed for days on end. But I do like snow on occasion so it wasn’t all bad.
  • I went to Portland and spoke in front of hundreds of people who were actually just there to see my friend Nadia talk about her new book. It was super fun to be famous adjacent for a night but also weird because once upon a time, Nadia was just the tall, intimidating woman in my Writing for Religious Studies class in college, and then my friend and then my pastor and now she’s like, well, kind of famous – like, legit got stopped on the street famous.
  • Finally started truly realizing that the concerns we had about Ansel were legitimate enough to begin investigating more fully. One of my turning points was watching them in preschool basketball practice and seeing just how differently they responded from everyone else. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something wasn’t quite right. Even as we came to this realization, we struggled to get the pediatrician to get on board and provide the referrals we needed. Things definitely felt like they were building to a point of crisis. We took them to be evaluated by ChildFind and got results about delays in fine motor, language articulation and some social-emotional and knew we needed to seek out other intervention and evaluation.

I’ll call February a 0 because a lot of it sucked but then some of it really didn’t so, you know, a wash.

March 2019

  • Angus got his second set of stitches on the face in less than 3 months. We hear he’s likely to grow out of the stitches but they do make him look like a serious bad ass right now. Also, babies on Versed are hilarious.
  • Ansel turned 4 and had an amazing My Little Pony birthday party which included a very lovingly made Twilight Sparkle costume, created primarily with felt.
  • Ansel started developmental/peer inclusion preschool through the public school system, which was ultimately a really really great thing.
  • We ponied up a lot of money and had a very well regarded Child Psychologist assess Ansel. She gave us a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum disorder which felt so fucking hard but also started the process of understanding Ansel better and starting to understand how to support them.
  • My brother was a super asswad to me and we stopped talking to each other.

I think we’ll call March a +1.

April 2019

  • I spent a lot of hours of my life fighting with the insurance to get services covered for Ansel.
  • Knowing what’s happening for your kid is great but also it doesn’t magically make things easy and April was good proof of that.
  • We got to appreciate the majesty of this place we live on a visit to Orcas Islands and we spent a whole weekend with the people who really are our best friends in Tacoma and that was lovely.
  • Mostly things just felt impossibly hard in a million tiny little ways that I couldn’t define if I wanted to. But here’s a picture of my family in matching shirts.

April, -1.

May 2019

  • My mom got diagnosed with oral cancer (Get your kids vaccinated for HPV, and yourself too if you’re under 40!) and it seemed like things might be scary for a while but then one surgery got all of the cancerous cells and it was sort of a non issue.
  • Ansel started identifying as ‘both a boy and a girl’ which is still the primary language they use to describe their gender.
  • Things between Laurie and I were feeling pretty consistently shitty but again, not in a hugely definable way.
  • I went to San Francisco for a weekend for work.

May: Pretty mediocre but let’s call it a 0.

June 2019:

  • Saw Brandi Carlisle, Emmylou Harris and Neko Case at the Gorge with blog friends and ran into, like, 6 Colorado queers. Felt a cool breeze and didn’t have to think about children and got a little drunk and felt free for the first time in so so so long.
  • Went to a lot of pride celebrations.
  • Life was generally hard on a day to day scale and now I’m getting tired of recounting a year that felt impossibly difficult but for no discernable reason.

Ok, I’ll give June a 0 too, but only because Brandi and Emmylou sang “A Case of You” and I cried about it because it felt so true and good.

July 2019

  • Tacoma Pride was pretty amazing
  • We only had to take the kids to one place for daily childcare which made like 1000% easier.
  • Women’s World Cup Homecoming Game (-1/2 point because Rapinoe didn’t play and we had shitty seats)
  • Had a breakdown about having another baby even though there was really no reason to (+1/2 because the storage fee bill that set off this manufactured crisis ended up being covered by insurance!)

Okay July, you get +1.

August 2019

  • Angus turned 2!
  • L and I started being more intentional about giving ourselves and each other time to do things that filled our hearts and souls. We also started unpacking the ways parenting an autistic preschooler and a very self assured toddler had taken a toll on our relationship. Things 100% got easier in this space, though we could still use a little more work.
  • The above was helped by a pretty incredible 3 days in Las Vegas where we saw Janet Jackson and had a lot of sex and got a lot of sleep.
  • Upped my commitment to helping Elizabeth Warren get the 2020 Dem nomination because she is a fucking dream of a candidate. Started feeling a modicum of hope about the world after November 2020.
  • Made some more significant commitments at church and started to feel more fully a part of that community.

August gets a +2 because I started legit trying to deal with some of the BS that 2019 brought my way.

September 2019

  • Went for some hikes in the rain and realized how much more I need to do that because it heals my soul to be in this primordial deep green forest with just God and my thoughts.
  • The dog of my heart died after 15 years of being my constant companion and I didn’t know how to exist without him for many, many weeks after.
  • Got a severe case of posterior tibal tendonitis and decided that I was going to do whatever I had to in order to pay the $9000 to try the only thing that might work to end my pain without surgery and further complications.
  • Went to Hawaii with my parents which was simultaneously so lovely and so so difficult. It was so wonderful to see the kids swim and love the ocean, feel deep excitement about seeing Mickey and Minnie, and spend time with my parents away from my childhood home and it’s baggage. But seeing how my parents have physically aged and how limited they are in their ability to get around was heartbreaking. Seeing in action the way my mom treats Angus differently from Ansel and Liam (my nephew) was unfuriating but also deeply hurtful. Continuing to mourn the lack of the family I’ve never had felt exhausting to do in ‘paradise.’

Fuck right the fuck off, September. I know I should be grateful for the vacation but it cost a little too much emotionally, so -1.

October 2019

  • I turned 38. Mostly this is just a statement of fact, because I feel kind of neutral about it.
  • Started the process of getting my exosym which was exciting and terrifying but definitely fully on the road to AMAZING.
  • Things with Ansel started to level out, behavior wise, and we started seeing a LOT of success and improvement.
  • October is, in general, the most beautiful month of the year. This remained true in 2019.

October, I’ll give you a +1.

November 2019

  • Got my exosym. Walked without pain for the first time in 5+ years. And then ran without pain. And then did box jumps without pain. Did obstacle courses without pain. #magical
  • Things were, like, mostly ok and that felt like it was a huge accomplishment because things had felt mostly shitty for a long time.

+2 for the life changing magic of dynamic carbon fiber.

December 2019

  • We did a lot of fun holiday stuff, particularly train related holiday things. Xmas Tree Train & Polar Express were awesome.
  • Ansel was sick for what felt like weeks (but was probably just . . .nope, it was actualy 2 weeks) with maybe the flu and then definitely a stomach virus. They missed SO MUCH SCHOOL and for a week + we woke up each morning hoping to send them to school and then inevitably having to decide who would stay home or frantically text/call people we knew who might be willing to hang with a sick kid. Angus also had some barfs, though it didn’t last. I got a stomach virus and spent 24 hours in the toilet kingdom. All of this happened during one of the busiest and least flexible periods of my work calendar.
  • Because of Ansel’s autism and food based sensory stuff, loss of appetite from the maybe-flu and then barfing from the definitely stomach virus made them extremely anxious about eating and resulted in them, well . . .NOT eating for days at a time. This led to severe stomach cramps and then leg cramps from dehydration which ultimately landed us in the ER on Xmas eve/morning. Luckily it wasn’t anything more serious and L’s mom was in town to hang with Angus.
  • The day after Christmas, L took our dog Cletus (the dog of her heart) to the vet for a senior check up and to ask about weightloss and during the process of taking urine, they discovered a mass the size of a softball in his abdomen. The most likely case was a malignant tumor in the intestine, which would be inoperable. The second option was a tumor on his spleen which could, in theory, be removed but they couldn’t know if it was the former or the latter until they were inside and, anyway, the vet wouldn’t recommend surgery anyway due to his age and breed. We made the very difficult but also very clear decision to put him down. Which means we lost two dogs in the space of 3 months, and both L and I lost the dogs we loved the most.
  • Probably because of the lack of consistent routine + Christmas excess + sadness, our normally feral children have been wilding beyond measure and we are both beyond tender and exhausted and struggling.

So fuck you too, December. -2

2019 gets 4 points total. I don’t know what the total possible score is because I sort of changed the rules as I went, but I think my original thought was 1 point per month . . .let’s stick with that and call the couple of times a month got more than +1 extra credit. 4/12 is definitely an F though.

So, come on 2020. I’m hoping for a year where things just stop sucking a little bit more.

Runner’s High

Yesterday, I ran.

For 5 minutes, going a very leisurely 4.5 mph. But, I ran. I have not run since I finished my last 5k in March of 2014 (I think?) and was riddled with pain in my ankle.

Even when I have kind of needed to run . . .like, when my kids are swiftly moving down the hallway at the YMCA and they turn the corner where the door to the outside is and all I can do is pray that my scream of “RED LIGHT!! RED LIGHT!!” has effectively stopped them. Because the stakes weren’t high enough for my brain to cross the threshold into the pain I knew would come, and stay. (When Angus ran into the street in August, the adrenilene was enough to get me across, but with dire consequences.)

But yesterday, I ran. And the week before I took four quick steps and leaped onto a box. And for the last 8 days, I have walked as quickly as the length of my legs once before allowed me. I raced my children to their bedroom, and I won.

There is no way to overstate just how incredible this is, how immensely it has shifted my perspective on virtually everything. When you are in chronic pain and you don’t even feel able to walk the trash out to the alley, that lens colors everything else. When you are sure that pain and disability will continue to worsen indefinitely, it’s hard to not feel continually victimized by the rest of your life as well.

Conversely, right now, things feel somewhat euphoric. I mean, the shit is still shit. It’s just a bit rosier tinted right now. I imagine things will settle once I get over the wonder of walking foot over foot down stairs. I’ll probably still be in awe of my pain-free abilities, but that awe won’t overshadow the other bullshit that exists in quite the same way.

Until then, I’m rolling with it. And I’m bringing my family along with me. I’m also planning on going on a hike, solo or with whoever will join me, once a week. Because my soul needs it, and now my body can do it.

The icing on this incredible cake is that about 4 days after I launched my GoFundMe to try and raise the money I needed, an anonymous person from my life contacted me and offered to give me the full amount that I needed. Just, write a check for $4500. As long as I kept their anonymity and returned the other money I’d raised. It was a totally unexpected and shockingly generous gift. So now in addition to having a fully functional leg, I am not in astronomical debt or begging my friends for their starbucks money.

Of course, there are things to adapt to, as there are with any change. My shoe collection is now useless. I’d grown accoustomed to having to find shoes that were comfortable for my issues and accommodated my already large feet. But now I wear a 12 4E on the left (that’s HUGE and SUPER WIDE if you don’t know shoe sizing in the US) and I really have to have neutral soles and sturdy materials. So my options are limited. I currently have a pair of black new balance running shoes, a pair of what I would call ‘dress’ sneakers (they might also get labeled tied oxfords) and a pair of hiking boots. I spent $350 to get those and even though I really kind of need something dressier and black for more formal-ish (I live in Washington state so ‘formal’ is relative) I can’t quite swallow buying another pair of $100 shoes while I simultaneously give away my favorites (RIP sweet sweet Blundstones) so I’ll be waiting until it’s a necessary thing.

And if I have it on, I have to wear shoes. Which maybe doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I’m kind of a hobbit and if I’m at home I kind of don’t want to wear shoes. So I’ve been trying to balance wearing them for a while at home while I do the more active stuff and then taking them off when I’m sort of ‘done’ but I miss badly the feeling of coming home and taking my shoes off. Also, I have to wear socks and I kind of hate socks. Not just socks either, compression socks. Still, worth it.

There’s so much more to tell you all but this is the thing I am thinking about almost all the time right now. Tomorrow we have our xmas pictures (excitement/dread for me personally) and Ansel picked out a buffalo plaid dress to wear and it’s just so amazing to watch them do gender and (mostly) not get any shit for it. I pray it’s always so and also that our families keep their shitty opinions to themselves when they get our xmas cards.

And here’s a picture of Angus on a pumpkin after he painted his own face on Halloween cause . . .why not?

Coming Soon: Bionic Mama?

IF you’re a longtime reader, you may remember that I have a long standing problem ankle. You may even remember it if you’re new, since I mentioned it briefly in my last entry. The TL;DR is that I fucked my ankle up really badly when I was 21 and then kept reinjuring it until I could shift my foot an inch over from my foot as a fun trick at parties. My handsome and very kind orthopedic surgeon in Colorado took that from me but, not intentionally, left the arthritis and ongoing pain.

My only options are to wait until the pain is so bad that I opt for one of my very subpar surgical choices, or pay out of pocket for a supposedly life changing orthotic brace.

Over the last couple of months, the pain in my ankle and foot has increased. The poor gait caused by overcompensating and avoiding pain has resulted in tarsal tunnel (kind of like carpel tunnel, but in the foot), plantar fasciatis, and ongoing tendonitis in various places. Then, at the end of September, I had to step over the dog to get into the bathroom and in the process, I managed to do . . .something . . .and ended up with excrutiating pain, probably due to a strain or sprain or even rupture in my posterior tibial tendon.

Things got so bad and were so unresponsive to my usual routine that I ended up going to my generally ineffectual ortho and ended up in a hard cast while vacationing in Hawaii (post coming soon!)

So I made the decision to just DO this other thing. I don’t feel like I actually have a choice. My parents said they’d help me pay for some, and I applied for and got care credit to help me spread the cost out. I’m going to bite the bullet and pay for medical expenses the American way and set up a GoFundMe to help offset the cost as well.

The day after we got back from vacation, I drove to Gig Harbor and got casted for my ExoSym brace. A week later, I put on the clunky fiberglass test device and took my first pain free steps in years. The test device supposedly functions at 30% capacity of the actual thing, and honestly, I would have walked out of there with the test if they’d let me. A week from today I get the real thing.

The Exosym is a orthotic/prosthetic hybrid. Obviously, you keep your limb, so its not actually a prosthetic. But it functions in a similar way, offloading the force of stepping up into the top part of the device so that the device effectively becomes the ankle, taking on the strain of walking/running. It doesn’t require any surgery, no recovery time (though there is PT/training to learn how to use it to it’s full potential) and it’s not permanent – unlike surgery.

Image result for exosym

I am so excited about getting this that I have been legit dreaming (like at night) of what life will be like. I haven’t been this excited about something in a long, long time. Not vacation or holidays or a new car. I genuinely believe this is going to change my life and honestly, even if it’s half as good as I am imagining it could be, I’ll be happy.

If you feel like you want to my GoFundMe, I would be deeply grateful and I’m working with everyone’s favorite ginger queer infertility blogger, Molly, to develop some cool thank you’s, in case you need an incentive. And, if you don’t have $$ but you want to cheer me on, I’ll absolutely love that as well.

Thanks, team! Onward to bionic life!

Sometimes you don’t realize how charmed your life has been – or at least how generously mundane – until you are wallowing in difficulty for so long. I keep waiting for a sunbreak in the downpour, or even a let up. But it’s been a slog for months now.

Of course, I’ve had my share of challenges. I grew up with an alcoholic/addict and it’s impossible not to inherit some trauma from that. I also grew up fat in a world built for thinness, and that too gave me a layer of sadness to contend with. Thanks to those things, I was in a manipulative and abusive relationship and had to dig myself out of that both logistically and emotionally. I also seem to be biologically predisposed to an anxiety best managed with SSRIs.

So difficulty is not foreign to me, maybe it’s just so far in my rear view that it only seems that way. And of course, in the grand scheme of tragedy, mine is squarely in the ‘first world problems’ camp, though feelings don’t play well with reasonable comparison.

All of this prelude boils down to this: Life still feels immensely difficult in general. Today, right now, it’s not too bad. Partially, this is just luck. Partially it is thanks to some concerted efforts on my part to get myself unstuck. I am hopeful those efforts will manifest into a longer lasting impact. But I can’t say for sure.

As has been the case for months, there is no single thing – no trauma that is precipitating this. There is just a mountain of small difficulties that loom precariously over my head and regularly land slide into me, knocking me off my feet.

I am exhausted, chronically so. Years of not sleeping through the night (I think I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve had uninterrupted sleep) but also something else that a sleep doctor hasn’t quite figured out yet. I use a CPAP despite having basically normal breathing numbers from a sleep test, and I take a medication often used for narcolepsy as well, but still I am just a single long blink away from falling asleep almost anytime.

My children are incredible and brilliant and funny and dear. They are, as well, demanding and thankless, prone to meltdowns, deeply impatient, enjoy throwing toys at each other and me, and despite their impressive capability will still whine for us to do things for them that they have proven able to do. Ansel’s ASD amps a lot of this as well, making the come down from any meltdown or tantrum take much longer or have more intense consequences.

Thanks to exhaustion and the difficulties of raising children, my marriage has devolved into part executive management team, part sadness/anger/hurt/resentment mud pit. We are both aware of our failings here and on Monday, Laurie sent a message to the people who love us the most, asking them to hold us accountable to the promises we made when we got married. Reaching out has been good in and of itself, and I think it will reap some other rewards as well. This might be the most distressing part of this mess. L and I aren’t used to sniping and arguing, we spent the first years of our relationship basically conflict free and even after that, it was rare and isolated. To experience days in a row of conflict feels heartbreaking and scary.

Weighing on this all is my health which isn’t in the best place. The ankle I severely injured in college and, after years of chronic re-injury, had surgically repaired three years ago, continues to cause me a lot of problems. The surgery increased my stability, but a lot of the arthritic damage was done by then and I’ve developed a host of other issues in the intervening years. I can’t walk without pain and running is out of the question. Three weeks ago Angus ran into the street a few steps and without thinking, I darted after him. He was fine, of course, but I kicked my pain up about 10 notches from those three steps. My ortho is kind but at a loss. I’m too young for a replacement ankle, which would only last 15 or so years before I would have to get another, assuming I even could. My other option, a fusion, might help with the arthritis pain in my ankle joint but would exacerbate the pain in my talus and cause arthritis in my hip and knee. I recently found a hybrid orthotic-brace available only at a clinic in the next city over. It’s not covered by insurance and costs $9K out of pocket. The office suggested setting up a GoFundMe and I’m desparate enough to do it right now.

The inflammatory osteoarthritis that, thanks to genetics, I’ve been waiting for has come, causing my hands to curl into stiff claws in the night and ache all day long. Unlike other forms of arthritis, there isn’t anything I can do to stop the progression of the disease, though the pain will likely stop when, like my mother, I reach my 60’s and develop the nodes that disfigure the hands but strangely alleviate the pain.

But still in the middle of all of this, there is still joy and love and beauty, still things that make my heart sing. Ansel returning to school and loving it so much, Angus dancing with abandon and very excellent rhythm, the return of the fall to the Pacific Northwest which brings deep green and cleansing rain and the smell of wet cedar and the proliferation of all shades and textures of moss, my tiny funny urban church and the connections I am building there, a newfound passion to a political candidate (I am all in for Warren and I plan to convince you and all of Tacoma to be as well!) I am doing what I can to cultivate this joy: starting a book group at church, signing up to canvass, investing in some tools to journal and create, carving out and asking for time to do these things and trying to make room for this for my partner as well, looking for the ways in which my children’s demanding need and intensity of feeling are assets to them and me.