The rocking chair

I rocked my daughter to sleep tonight. She sat cradled in my arms, and we sang together.

“Rock a bye baby, on the tree top …”

Our rocking chair creeks and we sway forward and back.

“Rock” – creek – “a bye” – creek – “baby” creek…

And the right arm is broken.

“On” – wobble – “the” – wobble “tree” – wobble…

The chair was a gift, handed down from when my parents moved from my childhood home. I remember the chair sitting in a corner of my parent’s bedroom. The slider door on the left, and the chair on the right.

I remember the last time I was rocked. My legs ached from growing pains. My mom held me and rocked me until the pain subsided.

And I remember the chair in pieces. The arm on the floor. A crack where it was once afixed to the seat. He broke it the day of the big fight. And after that, things were different.

When we came home from going away the chair was glued back together. But the image of it in pieces is fused in my mind.

I thought about not taking the chair. But the idealist took over. “A loving home can make it right!” I thought enough rocks could ease the painful memories.

It hasn’t though. I rock, and it creaks. And instead of taking me back to a place of peace, I go back to hiding under the pool table. And instead of seeing my daughter’s face, I see shards of wood strewn across the floor.

My husband tried to fix the arm. But the glue wouldn’t stick. I lean forward, and the wobble gets worse. I know one day I’ll lean hard enough and it will totally break.

I hate that chair. I stare at it, and see that no amount of love can fix it.

Wayfair had a sale. Rocking chairs – 50% off. I put it on the credit card. It will be here in a few days.

Maybe I’ll regret it. But no one else asked for the chair. No one has else tried to keep it. We tried to glue it all together and it all fell apart.

When the new one comes, I’m not sure what we’ll do. A fire? A baseball bat? A slow dismantle and tears? A simple move to the basement? I just don’t know.

All I know is that I can’t look at it anymore. And in a few days, I won’t have to.

The Hypervigilante

If I were a super hero, I’d be “The Hypervigilante.” My power would be seeing every detail, pointing out potential issues, and making the world a ‘perfect’ place. A hallmark of PTSD is living your life on guard. Once upon a time in Gotham city, the Joker invaded your life and took away your sense of safety. Now, you spend every day in a high state of escalation.

Noticing everything has made me amazing at so many things. I’m great with data details, which helped me escalate in my profession. I specialize in possible sources of gluten contamination, which is why I don’t get glutened very often. “Did that bread touch my salad?! Take it away!”

Yet I am exhausted most of the time. It’s the little switch I struggle to turn off. I jokingly say, “I live life at a 10.” The sentence I don’t say after is, “Because I don’t know how to live life at a 5.”

In the age of a pandemic, my super power came in handy at first. I could see every threat better than most, and as a result I kept my family safe. However, as March stretched into April, and now July goes into August – life at a 10 is taking its toll.

What makes this stage of my life unique, is that I’m now no longer alone in my vigilance. As COVID has killed 150,000 in our country, many other Americans are also living life at a heightened state with me. We question our grocery store trips, getting our hair done, what to do for child care, and whether we should try to dine out for the first time in months.

Talking to my mother-in-law I said, “I’m use to living in this state, and I’m exhausted. So I can only imagine how exhausted everyone else is.” I’ve spent a lot of time explaining PTSD to people. After living through this pandemic together, I’ll never have to explain trauma to people again. We are living through this thing together.

Out of thin air we lost so much. Doctors and presidential candidates were taken. The memories we wanted to create were stolen. Grandparents have yet to meet their new grand child, graduates never got to celebrate their accomplishment, and weddings were moved to backyards instead of dining halls. It’s sad. It’s exhausting. And we’re all tired together. This way of living cannot subsist for much longer.

We were meant to be social creatures, embracing each other’s company. For some time we can embrace life at home. But slowly, the embrace is feeling like a choke hold.

“If only everyone would wear a mask!” I scream in my head.

“Stay six feet away from me and my children.” I whisper to myself when anyone comes near.

“If only the nation had better leaders who could wrangle us together!” I shout to my husband.

If only we could all be vigilant for a few weeks, instead of this dragging on for months.

If only … If only… If only…

Until then, my practical prayers have turned to asking for miracles, and my hypervigilance stays on track until exhaustion wins over. The hypervigilante stands on guard. Trying to keep my family safe.

On rounding up…

Five years ago I listened to a man on NPR talk about his fear of failure. Do you ever listen to something you know to resonate within your soul, but not know how to take action on?

Five years ago I listened to a man on NPR talk about his fear of failure. Do you ever listen to something you know to resonate within your soul, but not know how to take action on?

The man talked about how he felt like his entire life he never failed, and he thrived off his own perfection. However, eventually, he had a break down when he could not keep up with unrealistic standards. Of course, the problem with perfection is: it’s impossible.

My office mates have been teasing me for weeks, “Is everything you do perfect?”

My husband tells me, “You never mess up. I wish you would sometimes.”

The toll of my own perfection is exceptionally exhausting.

Never miss an email, return every call, every decimal point is rounded perfectly, every color combination matches, and no word is spoken out of turn.

My inner critic has no end to my own faults. I ask Del five times a day if I’m a bad mom. Yesterday I asked if I was a bad mom because I was washing Carly’s bottles instead of holding her. Facebook has taught me that if you don’t spend every minute of your life staring at your child, you will miss SOMETHING and regret whatever other thing you were doing in the minute.

Friends of mine came up with the term “round up.” Research shows that women consistently underestimate our abilities. We don’t apply for jobs unless we meet most criteria, and we don’t push for raises unless we’re 1,000% certain we deserve them. Instead of underestimating our internal (and numeric) value, we need to round up.

A few weeks ago, I took a day off of work because I was exhausted. One day turned into two. Then, the week-end hit, and I spent most of it sleeping. My brain finally hit the breaking point. Between being a wife, motherhood, and work, the voice telling me I was not doing enough – and I was not doing it perfectly – burned me out.

I spent a long time thinking of my inner critic. It’s that idiotic little voice telling me nothing is quite as good as it could be. My hair is straight, but there are a few strands always out of place. That report is 98% perfect, but that 2% is enough to ruin everything. After careful consideration, I know where the voice arose and how it kept growing. But honestly – that is all too much to process in one blog post.

But knowing the source, I did something different: I finally gave up.

I put a sign on my computer last week: “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”

Last week I hit send on emails with typos. Last week I stopped overthinking my answers at work and just started muttering. I had a few Facebook posts without commas, a few reports where the font in the table didn’t match the font in the body. But somehow, the world kept turning and no one died.

As it turns out, the inner critic was never keeping me safe – it was holding me back. He should have been telling me I’m beautiful, talented, and my level of detail is unparalleled. But he’s kind of an ass face, and does not like to say nice things.

Lent is upon us. One year I gave up drinking a pack of cherry cola a day. For four years I tried to give up swearing (but that shit never takes….). This year, I’m giving up on my inner critic, and my implausible quest for unattainable perfection. I’m going to think less, react from my gut, and start to tell myself “Damn girl – round up! You got this.”

 

Why hearing “I’m busy” sucks…

A few years ago, my life changed when my dear friend Alex told me “I hate it when people say ‘I’m busy.’ What they’re really saying is that they have other things that are more important than me.”

The moment Alex said that, my mouth got dry because I realized I was one of those people.

If something or someone is important to you – you’ll make time. If not, cool. We all have to make choices. And what are choices other than our personal priorities?

I’d be lying if I said the word “busy” has never come out of my mouth since my conversation with Alex. However, her statement made me rethink the term. Instead of saying “I’m busy” I replaced it with “that isn’t a priority to me.”

“No, I can’t hang out because it isn’t a priority to me.”

“No, I can’t volunteer because it isn’t a priority to me.”

“No, I’m not doing laundry because it isn’t a priority to me.”

Yeah, it kind of feels like poop – doesn’t it? Now imagine how it feels to ALL of our friends and family to hear “I’m busy” when they want to share time with us?

Now when people ask if I can do something, I don’t give them a million excuses BECAUSE NO ONE CARES ABOUT EXCUSES. Instead of giving my laundry list of reasons why I’m not making something a priority – I just answer with the first date I’m free. Unless you’re in the hospital, going to a funeral, have some medical issue, or you’ve just had a child – you can probably make time.

95% of the time – busy a choice. And if it’s a choice it’s within our control. And if we can control it, we should not put it on other people. Sure, you’re “busy.” This is America – EVERYONE IS BUSY. We have work, kids, pets, games, volunteering, Netflix, cleaning….. it goes on.

So don’t tell me you’re busy, just let me know you have other priorities.

On my birthday…

Growing up, one thing my parents did EXCEPTIONALLY well at… was birthdays.  My dad loves giving people gifts, and my mother loves giving people attention.  That combination led to some of the best birthdays and birthday parties the world has ever known.

For my fifth birthday, we did a pizza fest at Rocky Rococco’s – and it was awesome.  For my seventh birthday, we went to Chucky Cheese – and it was amazing.  For my tenth birthday, we went to the YMCA.  For at least four of my birthdays, my parents threw me a surprise birthday party.  My childhood friend Mandy (she is still my friend today) likes to joke that my parents threw me a surprise birthday party just about every single year.

Then, something terrible happened.  I started dating my ex-husband around age twenty, and he did not believe in birthdays.  If I listed the top five worst days of my life, they would easily be:  3) my 23rd birthday, 2) my 22nd birthday and 1) my 21st birthday.  By the time I got to my 24thbirthday, I gave up on celebrating my birthday altogether.  I stopped wishing for cakes.  I stopped hoping for presents.  I stopped wishing for breakfast in bed, flowers, attention, or anything else.

Not long after my 25th birthday – I got divorced.  You would think that I ran around and painted the town red after years of crappy birthdays.  Instead, I told no one it was my birthday and spent the entire day alone. I did the same thing for my 26th birthday.

Several months after my 26th birthday, I started dating my husband Del.  For my 27th birthday, Del asked what I wanted, and I told him I did not want anything.  He refused to do what I wanted.  Instead, even though he had very little money, he got me ice cream cupcakes and wine.  He then proceeded to shower me with love and attention.

He asked me what I wanted for my 28th birthday, and I told him I wanted nothing.  Then a few minutes later I told him one or two things I wanted.  He asked if I told anyone it was my birthday, and I told him “No” and that “I don’t want anyone to know.”

The altogether sad reality is that years of abuse takes longer to break then you think it will.  When I married Del, I thought the cycle was broken and a shower of new love and light would rain down upon me.  Instead, I am finding that the cycle is gradually cracking.

Today, I told two co-workers that I love dearly that it was by birthday tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will be 28.  I wasn’t going to tell anyone.  However, someone at work brought in the exact same ice cream cupcakes Del got me for birthday last year.  If that wasn’t a sign from God to share what is supposed to be a day of joy, I don’t know what it.

I write this blog as my (passive aggressive?) way of telling people that it is my birthday.  I probably can’t tell you in person, because I will most likely start crying.  I don’t want gifts, because I haven’t really coped enough with the past to accept gifts very well.

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I am not old, but it is the first birthday that I feel older.  College sports players are all younger than me.  Super Bowl winners are younger than me.  I have seen some birthdays come and go.  As much as I can be, I am ready for this birthday.

Bring it on God.  Bring it on world.  Bring it on family and friends.  I don’t know what I want, other than to say, “Hey, it is my birthday tomorrow.”