When Tegan was a toddler, I used to write a lot about her on my blog. In fact, her antics were what inspired me to write, Why I Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, which is the post that brought a lot of you to my blog for the first time. Can you believe she is turning TWELVE in a few days?! I write about the kids less and less as they get older, partly for privacy reasons, and partly just because things change and seasons shift. But yesterday, I woke up to a Tegan message that made me laugh, and I told her she should write a blog post for me sometime (while she was eating chicken, as you’ll read down below.) She is still the same sassy, spunky, kid she was when she was three, and I couldn’t possibly love her more. Here is her original message to me, and her first ever blog post. I hope they make you smile.
that awkward moment when your brother freaks out about the expiration date on watermelon juice and your other brother said it was fine but he still sniffs it intensely for like 2 minutes straight and then has you smell it and it smells fine and then he pours it into a cup and drinks it and is like “nOpE tHaTs bAd” and he has you try it and so you take a sip and its like literal death in your mouth and you swear you’re getting poisoned and you’re about to die from death and you spit it out back in the cup but the taste of hell is still soaked into your mouth pallets so you have to force feed yourself water straight from the sink and you put it on blast mode so you’re just filling your mouth with water for multiple minutes and you’re dying and its bad and as you’re writing a facebook status the taste still haunts you.
um, hi. i was eating chicken and my mom asked me to write a blog post mid bite so here i am. she never specified what i should write, so you should honestly just keep scrolling and skip my pointless rambling that’ll probably go on for a long time. however, if you’re interested in my some what entertaining writing, then feel free to stay! if you’re still here, i’m proud of you. what’s up?? you must like me enough to keep reading! well, i’m not sure if this is qualified to go up on a blog page post account thing or whatever she calls it, but she never told me what to write about so i just continued to eat my chicken but still questioned why she wanted me to write this for her. well, apparently it’s because people find me “funny” and they want me to keep writing and all that chill stuff. that is wack, my friend. i’m still waiting on a call from jerry seinfeld to get me a gig with him, but he’s too busy eating lucky charms and drinking pepsi to call me back. shame on you, jerry.
regardless, i’m waiting for someone to hit me up with a nomination for “best blog post ever written by a crazed stranger things fan girl who also enjoys some good garlic bread” award! in my opinion, that sounds like something i would watch. and now would be the time that i have raging writers block, since this is literally about nothing in particular, so that’s fun. i’m just vibing with air, still traumatized from the death juice i almost consumed last night. i’m literally sitting here waiting for my brain to say “!!!!!!!!I HAvE SOMETHING INTERESTINg FOR YOu tO wRITE AbOUT” but there isn’t anything… so… great.
sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.
We’ve had a week up in here. On Tuesday, the 15 year old and I were hit by what turned out to be a very drunk driver, on the way to piano. I’m still freaked out and not sleeping, I’m afraid of every single person around me when I drive, and my car is not okay.
Later in the week, another of my kids was handed one of the biggest disappointments of their life thus far. Not the kind of disappointment that you feel when the gelato place is out of your favorite flavor, but the kind that just reaches in and crushes your soul. The kind from which you feel like you won’t recover.
As a parent, I don’t think there is anything harder than seeing your child in pain, of any variety, and not being able to stop it. I really don’t. When our kids hurt, we hurt. And we want to be able to stop it. We want to be able to stop it so badly. But we justcan’t.
The best thing we can do (the only thing we can do really) is to be there. To sit with them and to hold their hand until the storm passes. These are six things I’m trying to keep in mind while I help them navigate through this season.
1. Don’t minimize it. Adults do this weird thing sometimes where they act as though kids’ feelings are not as important as their own. Like an adult can feel DISAPPOINTMENT, but a child only feels Disappointment Lite. Their feelings are real. Their feelings are valid. If anything, I think a child’s feelings are even more acute. They are so open and trusting (as opposed to adults, who tend to be at least a little bit jaded), so when that trust is broken, they are cut, and they are cut deeply. They are allowed to feel what they feel.
2. Don’t make it about you. As someone who is both an empath, and who just feels big feelings, I struggle with this. I am predisposed to take things harder than a “normal” person, by virtue of personality, mental illness, and just plain luck of the draw. But their feelings are not MY feelings, and I think it’s important that I remember that. If I make it about me, it simultaneously takes away from their feelings, heaps more on their plate, and minimizes their own pain. (See point 1) I love the “Ring Theory” by psychologist Susan Silk.
The person in the center (in this case, the one feeling the disappointment), can vent to whoever the heck they want to vent to. Those in the subsequent rings can only vent OUT, not in. Meaning it’s never appropriate to dump your own feelings on the person in the center.
3. Commiserate. YES, this sucks. YES, it hurts. YES, I’d be upset too. YES, I’ve been there (but only if you really have.)
4. Let them call the shots. I think that sometimes the first instinct tends to be to try to cheer them up. And while there’s a time and a place for cheering up, to be sure, there’s also a time and place for just feeling what they’re feeling. Do they want to talk about it? Listen. Even if it’s the hundredth time that day. Do they want to distract themselves? Join them. Follow their lead in how they want to handle their feelings.
5. Hold space for them. It took me a long time to come around to the phrase “hold space.” I don’t know why exactly, except that it tends to come with the hyper spiritual woo-woo kind of stuff that doesn’t resonate with me. But I’ve since learned what a hugely powerful thing it is, I think in part due to the people who’ve cared enough to do it for me. Holding space basically means you create an atmosphere in which you can just be there, loving them; to let them have their experience, to validate their emotions, and to make room for whatever it is they’re feeling…. all without judging, critiquing, or trying to “fix” in any way. This is a great little article in layman’s terms.
6. Remind them it will get easier. When I was 5 or 6, I had a cat named Shala. Shala died right in front of us, after choking on a hair ball. I still remember my mom telling me, “I know it hurts, but it’s going to get easier. Every day it’s going to hurt a little bit less.” She was right. Granted, there is a huge range of possibly upsetting events in between a cat dying and being on the receiving end of another kind of calamity, but the principle still stands. Time passes. We learn to move forward. Things hurt a little bit less. It WILL get easier. There are two caveats to this though. The first is that it needs to come when it is time, (ie: not when you’re still firmly in the holding space stage) and not a minute sooner. The second is that some people don’t want to hear this at all, ever, and it doesn’t make them feel better. Know your kid.
Disappointment, hurt, and upset feelings are part of life. There’s no getting around that. But with love, time, and a whole heck of a lot of patience, we can absolutely help our kids work through even the toughest of life’s blows.
Looking back, it’s always hard to pinpoint an exact moment in time, but I do know it was in November. I saw my doctor on November 7th. I’d just weaned off a medication (a medication that, in retrospect, was working very well for me) because of some side effects that were starting to interfere with my life. To her credit, she promptly said, “Okay, let’s see what we should replace it with.” And me being… well, me… full of confidence and bravado, said, “I feel good. I’d like to just try going without it and see if the mood stabilizer is enough on its own.” (Spoiler: It wasn’t.)
I had maybe a good week or two after that, and then I slowly, slowly started going off the rails. I was completely free-falling by Christmas, and had all but crashed and burned by the new year.
It’s always such a hard thing to describe to someone who’s never been there, but picture this:
You’re walking (Alone. You’re always alone) in a black forest. It’s getting blacker by the day. You’re getting consumed by the blackness. While you’re walking, you’re forced to pick up and carry everything you come across: Rocks. Sticks. Boulders. Fallen trees. You can’t put anything down. You have to keep walking as your load gets bigger and bigger. You can’t do anything else. Your entire lot in life has become carrying this crushing weight through the forest.
I walked through that forest for nearly three months. Every now and then a hand would appear through the blackness. Sometimes I’d acknowledge it. Sometimes I’d even hold it. But I never, ever let it pull me out. For reasons that are unbeknownst to me, there is comfort in the blackness. There is familiarity in the blackness. There is safety in the blackness. Leaving that forest is scary, unfamiliar, and too. damn. hard. So once again, I gave in. Gave in to the darkness. Gave in to the ever-present weight of the burden on my back.
Until I couldn’t do it anymore.
Because the thing is, that pile you carry? Eventually it gets so high and precarious and unwieldy that a simple leaf could cause the whole thing to topple, crushing you under its weight.
This time that leaf came in the form of a Facebook comment. It wasn’t even a mean comment. It was a condescending comment for sure, but it wasn’t mean. On a healthy day, it would be a minor annoyance. On that day? On January 28th? It was the last proverbial straw on the camel’s back. It was the tiny little leaf that upset the balance enough to cause everything to fall. It was the thing that caused the weight of the world to finally crush me and bring me harshly and violently and helplessly down to my knees. It was the thing that felt like it would very likely kill me.
Something inside me finally broke. My reaction to the comment was so swift and so severe that I had no control over it. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. The events that followed came from a primal, guttural place that just completely took over. First, I deactivated my blog’s Facebook page (the scene of the comment slash leaf), then I deactivated my personal page. Then Messenger. Then Instagram. Then my blog itself. The official party line is that I just “needed a break” – which, to be fair, isn’t entirely untrue – but that’s not why I did it. It was so much deeper than that. In that moment, in that frantic and desperate moment, I was trying to get rid of myself. To get away from the agony that was emanating from within me. I was trying to escape the pain, but the pain was coming from INSIDE ME, so there was nowhere I could go. Somehow scrubbing myself off the internet felt like an immediate solution.
Except it wasn’t.
My internet massacre did nothing to stop what was happening, and I am indescribably thankful that I somehow still had the presence of mind to do what I did next.
First, I called my doctor, and jumped in on a cancellation that had fortuitously just opened up for the next day. Then, I called Mike at work, and while I will never remember the exact words I said, the overall message was this: “I am not okay. COME HOME NOW.”
For the next forty minutes I sat shaking and crying on the couch, while a friend tried to keep me in this stratosphere by reminding me to breathe, and asking me what I could see and feel and touch. (My pajama pants were fuzzy, and that felt very important at the time.)
Later, once he got home, Mike would ask me if I was safe. I answered with a rather vague, “Well you’re standing right next to me. You can see I’m safe.”
But the fact is, when I called him, I felt absolutely, very much, Not. Safe. And it wasn’t even that I thought I was going to harm myself, although to be brutally honest I don’t really know what would have happened if I hadn’t made those phone calls. Still, it was something more visceral than that. It was more like the depression had given birth to a panic attack, but a panic attack unlike anything I’d ever experienced before (and I am WELL VERSED in panic attacks). I was being eaten alive from the inside out, with a fierceness and voracity so severe that I was certain I was going to die. Right there, right in the middle of my kitchen, on a random Tuesday afternoon. And I felt powerless to stop it.
I had officially reached rock bottom.
What happened over the next few days was nothing more than a blur. Everything happened under a thick, thick fog. It wasn’t painful anymore, but only because I’d completely lost any capacity to feel. Or think. Or be. I was just…. there. Except I wasn’t. I saw my doctor the day after I’d broken down, and we decided on a new medication to add to my cocktail. She made me promise I was safe, that I would call if I needed her, and made a follow-up appointment for four weeks. I then spent the next several days … waiting. In that horrible interim space of wondering if a new medication is going to eventually help me, or if it’s going to make my intestines explode, or both. I was dizzy and nauseous for three days, felt physically better by day four, and started seeing slivers of light through the clouds on day six. I felt loved and supported by the few people who knew what was going on, and my family was amazing as always.
I still have all my social media locked down, but now it’s because I want to focus on getting well without the distraction (and also because I think it’s probably healthier for me to stay away for the time being). And while I’m writing this post on February 6th, I have no idea when I’m going to push “publish.” But eventually, I will. Because eventually I’ll be me again.
As for now? Each day is getting a little bit better than the last, which is bringing a cautious optimism. The forest isn’t as thick. The load isn’t as heavy. The sky isn’t as black. I’m starting to see colors again. I’m remembering what it feels like to laugh. If I were a broken leg, I’d be out of traction, but still need to wear a cast for 6 to 8 weeks.
And so, I’ll focus on getting better, being gentle with myself, and doing my very best not to beat myself up too badly up for the fact that I should have gotten help sooner.
All while being grateful as hell for the timing of the patronizing internet stranger that set off the chain that finally stripped me raw and forced me to address the bleeding.
I just recently learned that Drag Queen Story Hour is a thing. It’s exactly what it sounds like: people dressed in drag reading stories to children at libraries, bookstores, and schools. I haven’t really thought about it long enough to have an opinion about it (and my kids are all well past story time hour age). But it did make me think of Provincetown.
If you’re not aware, Provincetown – also dubbed P-Town – is a tourist town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It’s known for, well, tourists, as well as its high population of local and visiting LGBTQ folks. We actually ran into our favorite bank teller there once, back when we still did our banking inside an actual bank. He was a very sweet gay man named Eric, and he was there with a friend or partner. We said a mutually surprised and friendly hello (doesn’t it feel weird when you run into people outside of your normal environment of interaction??) and all went on our merry way.
Anyway, growing up on the east coast, we went to Cape Cod fairly often, and always spent at least one evening strolling around Provincetown. It was the best place to go for salt water taffy, and it was fun perusing all the different shops selling everything you didn’t know you always needed.
One year, we were staying there with a bunch of extended family, and as we were about to embark on our customary trip down to P Town, the question was asked, “What are you going to tell the kids??” Meaning, what were we going to tell the kids about all the LGBTQ people, and/or people in drag that we were going to see.
First, let me say that parents tend to way over-complicate this question. It’s a very easy thing to say, “Those two men are holding hands because they love each other, just like your dad and I love each other.” Done and done.
Two, it’s not like people are having sex in the street. Fun fact: once when we were at a family friendly Rattlers football game, a young (heterosexual) couple directly in front of us was canoodling so hard I was about to offer them a condom. I’ve never seen anything remotely as overt at Provincetown.
But what about the people in drag?? It’s definitely true that there are a lot of people dressed in drag, especially in the evening. I remember they would stand outside their venue, greeting people, handing out fliers, and otherwise mingling with all the salt-water-taffy shoppers. A child would likely, and understandably, ask questions about that. They stand out. They want to stand out. But that’s also an easy question to answer: “Some men like to dress up in fancy dresses and wear makeup.” Full stop.
But it’s sexual! It’s a fetish! Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not something children need to be aware of. People fetishize (I’m being told that’s not a word. I’m keeping it anyway) a lot of things. Children don’t need to be aware of that either.
It’s only a big deal if we make it a big deal.
Children don’t care, nor need to know, about the ins and outs (no pun intended) of what adults may choose to do behind closed doors. Simply SEEING a gay couple, or a transgender person, or an individual dressed in drag, is not going to harm them. If we’re uncomfortable with it, that’s an “us” problem, not a “them” problem. No one is trying to recruit them. No one is trying to turn them gay.
I’m far more concerned about my children witnessing unkindness, or violence, or prejudice.
I’m not afraid of a man in high heels and a wig, and I don’t want my children to be, either.
I don’t know who needs to read this right now, but I see you.
I see you struggling. I see how heavy it is. I see how hard it is to breathe. I see how impossible it feels to put one foot in front of the other.
I see how much it hurts.
I see you, and my heart breaks for you because I know you feel like giving up. I know. But I also know this: (And if you hear nothing else, please hear this) The world needs you.
Your life has meaning.
I don’t know what unique fingerprint you’ll leave in this world, the one that says, “I was here. I mattered.” But I know you’re leaving it.
I don’t know all the people who love you, all the people who want you to stay. But I am one of them. And I know I’m not alone.
I don’t know why the story was written this way, why it sometimes has to be so hard. But I know that there’s a reason.
It’s easy I think, to look around and to ask the question: “How significant am I? What have I even done? Would anyone even miss me?”
The answers are, beyond any doubt:
Very. Everything. YES.
You matter. What you do matters. Your presence matters.
And it’s not about how “big” your life is. It’s not about whether or not you’re a parent, or what kind of career you have, or car you drive, or degrees you’ve worked for, or awards you’ve won.
You matter for YOU. Right now. Right as this moment. Exactly as you are. Lives are touched because you exist. Because of your heart. Because of your smile. Because of that indescribable je ne sais quoi that is distinctly and unequivocally unique to YOU.
Your greatest day hasn’t happened yet, and we need you around to enjoy it.
There’s a life-changing conversation that you’ll someday take part in, and we need you around to have it.
Someone’s entire existence will be altered for the better because of YOU, and we need you around to make it happen.
There are rainbows and sunsets and mountains that we need you to see. There are not-yet written songs and twittering birds and laughing babies that we need you to hear. There are soft white shores and the fluff of a puppy and the warmth of a loved one’s hand that we need you to feel. There are connections to be made, connections we can’t even fathom, that we need you to be a part of.
There are books to read. Movies to see. Art to be created. Food to be eaten. Adventures to be had. Friendships to be made. An entire lifetime’s worth of experiences, and we need YOU to be around to make them happen. YOUR hand. YOUR touch. YOUR heart. YOU will change the course of history in ways you can never imagine.
And if that’s all too much? If it just sounds overwhelming? I get that, too. And it’s okay. It is. I hope the dream of better things gets you through another day, but even if one more day sounds like too much, you’re still needed. Because you matter right now. You are loved right now. All you need to get through is right now. It’s okay if you’re not okay.
You are strong. You can do amazing things. But if all you can do right now is breathe in and out that’s okay too. We need you.
I’ve been writing this blog for over a decade now. Fifteen years if memory serves. In the past fifteen years, I have most definitely felt the judgment of people who vocally disagree with my choices. People are uncomfortable with attachment parenting, with extended (regular-length) breastfeeding, with breastfeeding in public, with homeschooling, with the way my kids have dressed or eaten or looked or breathed. People are uncomfortable with ME too, with my personality, or my beliefs, or my writing style … or, again, with the way I look (people can be mean on the internet.)
And yes, absolutely, there is a difference between politely disagreeing and being a d*ck about it. There is a difference between constructive criticism, and being mean just for the sake of being mean. The thing is, when you’re already worn down, when you already feel like the world is against you, it’s truly hard to differentiate. It all just feels like criticism, and not the constructive kind.
So I absolutely understand the feeling of being “shamed.” The good news is that as time went on, as I became more confident in my choices, it eventually didn’t sting quite as much. Don’t get me wrong… it still gets to me sometimes when people are cruel about it, but it doesn’t weigh me down the way it used to. Still, I understand the frustration and the isolation that comes from everybody judging your choices.
Which is why I’d have a hard time being a celebrity.
I did a quick Google search about mom shaming before I started writing this, and up popped dozens of articles about celebrities who’ve been harshly criticized and lambasted by the public. Everything from what foods they let their kids eat, to how long they let their hair grow, to how they dressed, to breastfeeding too long, to breastfeeding not long enough, to bottle-feeding, to kissing their kids on the lips, for daring to have a social life, to drinking a glass of wine, to working, to not working. The list is ridiculously long and endless. Some are scolded for publicly sharing their kids’ faces, while others are questioned about why they don’t share their kids’ faces. They are truly damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Which, if they’re like me, and sensitive to that kind of thing, must be exhausting.
I hear you. I see you.
… And I’m truly and honestly trying to say this as gently and honestly and kindly as I can …
There are some things that just can’t be lumped into the “mom shaming” category. Some things, that like it or not, we need to swallow our pride about and just… listen. Safety is one of them. People get defensive and angry and prickly when their car seat errors are pointed out to them, but it’s science. Not shaming. There is a correct way to secure your child’s car seat into the car, and your child into the seat. (And yes, rear-facing is always the safest position for your infant, regardless of what height and weight they’ve reached) Similarly, people get defensive and angry and prickly when their baby wearing errors are pointed out to them, but it’s science. Not shaming. When Tegan was an infant, I used a sling for the first time, and had no idea what I was doing. I watched videos, read instructions, and asked other moms. If someone had approached me and told me the way I was wearing her was unsafe, would I have been embarrassed? Yup. Would I have been grateful and made the change? Yup.
But the thing that people get the most defensive and angry and prickly about? Spanking. And spanking, too, is a matter of safety, and a matter of science. Spanking harms children. My speaking out about spanking is not about shaming. It’s not about wanting to make people feel bad. It’s about genuine concern for children, for their safety, for their well-being, and for their right to be raised without violence. It’s about alternatives that people may not know exist. It’s about a kinder way to interact with our children. It’s about changing the script, flipping the narrative, and turning our backs on the “way things have always been done.” It’s about knowing better and doing better.
Have I gotten a lot of hate for speaking out about spanking? Yes. Is it worth it if one or two people have stopped spanking because of something they’ve learned from me? YES. A thousand times, yes.
So much of what we call mom shaming is just unfortunate noise. We really do have a wide range of – equally valid! – choices when it comes to parenting, and they’re all to be respected. Those who are quick to point out the perceived flaws in others’ choices are likely just unhappy with their own. And if I’ve contributed to that noise, whether in person or on this blog, know that I am sorry, and that I will try to do better.
But speaking out for children, for their rights, and for their safety? It’s just not the same thing as shaming, and is not something I’ll apologize for.
*Disclaimer. I’ve obviously never been to every Church of Christ in existence, and I haven’t met all of its members. I know every church has its own “feel”, and that it is made up of individuals who, like me, are just trying to do the best they can. What follows is based solely on my own experiences at a handful of difference C of Cs, with a handful of members, over the course of a few decades. Keep in mind as you read this that I have been hurt by the church, badly, and that these words are deeply informed by that hurt.*
I almost titled this post, “Why I left the Church of Christ,” but then I realized that 1) I’ve already done that, and 2) that’s not really what this is about. It’s about why I continue to stay away. Why I’m continually reminded, years later, why I felt forced to make the decision that I did.
A very brief primer for those who didn’t follow me back then: I left the church because I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the “We are the ONE true path to God” rhetoric. I left the church because I was being taught how to judge, not how to love. And I left the church because I found it hypocritical that some “sins” were elevated above all others (ie: homosexuality, which I don’t actually believe is a sin), while others were celebrated. Fact: I never truly understood what gossip meant until I joined a women’s “prayer circle.” Holy moly.
I was damaged by the church, and if you think that’s an exaggeration, I assure you I’m in good company. Many many people share my story, from many different congregations, and many different walks of life. And every time I think I’ve healed from that damage, something comes sneaking to the surface that tells me, “Nope, not yet.”
This time it was anger.
Because the fact is, one of the biggest reasons I stay away is because I’m not welcome, something I’m reminded of on a nearly daily basis.
And I get it. I do. In this current political climate, people are drawing hard lines in the sand. God knows I haven’t been shy about my feelings about Trump.
But when friends (and by friends, I mean people I used to go to church with) are posting things like this:
Or proudly wearing their shirts that say things like this:
The message is clear. As a Democrat, as a liberal, I’m merely a punching bag. Something to insult. A butt of a joke. Their church welcomes conservative Republicans. Full stop. And honestly? Even if I did feel welcomed? It still wouldn’t change the fact they also don’t welcome LGBTQ members, or a host of other people, except under the guise of “praying for them” and helping them to turn away from their sinful lifestyles.
Another fun fact? I have dealt with depression my entire adult life, another thing I’ve been told isn’t “of God.” That if I’d just turn to God, he’d take it away. I still remember, over a decade ago, when a truly lovely and kind and Christ-like church member, someone I’d always looked up to, died by suicide. And the collective grieving that followed was not just focused on the loss of this beautiful soul, or the fact that depression had claimed another victim, but on how unfortunate it was that she was going to be permanently separated from God. That murder was a sin. That suicide victims could never go to heaven.
Judge and jury. Against everyone and everything they don’t deem as right. Or holy. Or pure.
Or just like them. And that’s really the biggest one of all. They cater to people who believe like they do. And think like they do. And behave like they do. Everyone else? Well, you’re welcome to come, as long as you’re fine with us telling you everything you’re doing wrong.
And let me be clear. I’m fine with like-minded individuals gathering to worship or to fellowship or to pat themselves on the back. Honestly. But don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Don’t pretend to be “bringing people to Jesus” when you’re pushing them away. Don’t pretend to be “spreading God’s love” when what you’re really spreading is judgment. Don’t pretend that “all are welcome” when you and I know both know that someone like me would not at all be welcomed… and would, in fact, be ridiculed, gossiped about, and/or eventually asked to change my ways or leave.
I love God (something I didn’t truly learn to do until after I left the church), and I wholeheartedly believe that He loves me too.
Even if I’m not, nor will I ever be, a conservative Republican.
Two days ago, Tegan’s hedgehog, Oreo, had to be put to sleep. We’d known it was coming. Her function (just her body… her little personality and spunk was as sharp as ever) had been steadily declining for the last two months, ever since she had what the vet guessed was a stroke or a possible brain tumor. It turns out that being prepared for it never really PREPARES you for it. Crying with your 11 year old while her beloved pet dies in her arms is heartbreakingly, rip-your-guts-out sad, and having it happen one week before Christmas does not help.
And even if it were not for the death of a loved one, I’m still not doing all that well this Christmas season. I love Christmas, but – and I know that many of you can relate to this – seasonal depression is a major buzzkill. Everything is tiring. Everything feels hard. The thought of shopping and wrapping and baking and being festive is suffocating and overwhelming. If I’m being honest, the thought of getting out of bed and showering is suffocating and overwhelming. As is my typical pattern when I’m depressed, I’m sleeping either 3 hours or 12 hours. Nothing in between. I’m always tired. Always. Tired.
The week before last was tech week for Tegan’s play (her very first Shakespeare play!), which means very very long days, and it nearly kills me every time. I was still recovering when I had to make the phone call to the vet. And set up the tree. And run the errands. And take the girl to a promised movie. And catch up on all the piled-up laundry. Did I mention I’m very tired?
Mike took over the gift shopping this year. Just sort of quietly got it done with a few covert texts to me while I sat beside him on the couch. I don’t know what all my nieces and nephews are getting from us this year, and I’m grateful for that. Grateful because it was one big to-do that he took off my plate, without having been asked.
We’re all here, and we’re all together. Last Christmas, that was not the case in the days leading up to the 25th (a story that isn’t mine to tell), so this year I’m extra grateful.
We have a roof over our heads, and clothes on our back, and food on our table. And I’m grateful for that too.
The thing is, gratitude and depression can and do exist at the same time. They’re both real, and they’re both strong, this year in particular. This year was hard. This holiday is hard.
In a world of perma-positivity, I think that people can forget that you can feel both. That you can be grateful, or happy even, and still be depressed. Or anxious. Or manic. Or grieving. Or any combination of the above. Holidays are hard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons, and we need to tread lightly, and gently, and kindly.
This weekend (the weekend before Christmas, because we’re crazy), we’ll go out and get wrapping paper and stocking stuffers and food and baking ingredients. And I’ll bake, and I’ll do all some of the things, and it’ll be okay.
My friend is forcing me to make muddy buddies, both because she knows I love them, and because she knows that it’d make me even more sad if I didn’t have them. She’s always right, which is really irritating. And she reminds me that it’ll be okay.
And the rest of the cookies will be made, or they won’t. And the presents will all get wrapped, or they won’t. And it’ll be okay.
And right now? Right in this moment: barefoot in my pajamas at 2:45 in the afternoon, looking at the tree, listening to Tegan sing and play her ukele, and watching the dog sleep peacefully on the floor… I’m okay too.
Earlier this week, Tegan (11 at the time of this writing) expressed interest in a homeschool co-op. I try really hard to make whatever they want to do happen, but this time I just…. couldn’t.
I read through their website deeply. Looked at the rules, the FAQs, and eventually found their statement of faith, that I would have to sign should we become members. Jen of 20 years ago would have signed it without batting an eyelash. But 2020 Jen has grown and changed and evolved. 2020 Jen couldn’t in good conscience sign a statement that said, among other things:
Marriage is defined as being between a man and woman only.
Children must dress according to their biological gender.
People are inherently sinners.
There is only one God, and He is the only way to salvation.
I don’t know when I started to change, or what prompted it. All I know is that my beliefs are different now, and they certainly no longer fit into a traditional “Christian” box. I can’t even claim the Christian title anymore, as its been so perverted as of late, and associated with so many atrocious things. If pressed, I would call myself a Christ-follower.
I do still believe in God… but I also believe that God can look different for different people, that my God isn’t any better than your God, and that your beliefs – no matter what they may be – are just as valid as mine.
I do still believe in the Bible… as part metaphor/story/history book, and part blueprint on loving others (the New Testament).
I do still believe in Jesus… a Jesus who was a brown skinned, bleeding heart, long-haired, liberal, anti-establishment hippie. I believe that Jesus teaches us everything we need to know about love, kindness, and grace.
I believe that most people are inherently good, and that because of human-ness and free will, they sometimes do bad things.
I believe that love is love… and that LGBTQ individuals should have the same rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts.
I believe that gender, much like sexuality, exists on a spectrum, and that it’s not our place to tell people how they should or should not identify or dress. It also stands to be said that commenting on, speculating about, and otherwise concerning yourself with someone else’s genitals is generally weird and creepy.
Mostly I believe that we’re here to live out Matthew 22:39, the greatest commandment of all: Love thy neighbor as yourself.
ALL thy neighbors.
The white neighbors. The black neighbors. The refugee neighbors. The homeless neighbors. The gay neighbors. The straight neighbors. The addict neighbors. The Christian neighbors. The atheist neighbors. The Jewish neighbors. The Muslim neighbors…
I fail at this. A lot. But as hard as it is sometimes, it’s also the simplest doctrine that ever was.
I don’t really have an opinion on Jimmy Kimmel. People seem to like him. Apparently he’s funny. He makes people laugh. He’s a host, a comedian, a writer, and a producer. He has his own late night talk show that’s been on the air for over fifteen years. So, I mean, well done Jimmy Kimmel.
He also does something this time every year (Google tells me that this is year nine) that makes my heart hurt. He has parents, as a “prank”, tell their kids that they ate all their Halloween candy. The parents record the exchange, send in the video, and the internet has a collective laugh over these betrayed and crying children.
Who decided it was funny to laugh at kids’ pain? I’ll get back to that.
Jokes should never hurt. Let’s just start there. Jokes should make both parties laugh. If one party is laughing and the other one is crying, that’s not a joke. That’s bullying. Plain and simple. If a parents pulls a “prank” on their child with the intent of making them sad, it’s bullying. If a parent records a child – understandably – crying, and then shares it with the internet, it’s bullying. If we, as a collective society, laugh at children who are in distress, it’s bullying. We seem to recognize bullying when it’s done in the schoolyard, but turn a blind eye when it’s done by parents.
The very definition of bullying is “seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce.” Is that not exactly what parents are doing when they use their power over their children to make them feel bad? And then splash it about the internet as though it’s entertainment?
Kids are human beings, with human feelings. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost sight of that. Doing something to purposely hurt those feelings is mean. Children are not our puppets. They’re not here for our entertainment. They are people, who, like all people, are deserving of kindness and respect.
Pretending to eat their candy is akin to me parking my husbands car around the corner, telling him it was stolen from the driveway, and then laughing (And filming! Can’t forget the filming!) at his reaction.
But it’s just candy, you may argue. The car comparison is unfair. But what’s “just” candy to an adult may very well be extremely important to the child. The fact that it’s “just” candy doesn’t make their sadness or their tears any less real. It doesn’t make what you’ve done any less cruel. Delighting in someone else’s misery is NEVER funny, no matter how insignificant you think it to be. Candy, cars, it doesn’t matter. Purposely hurting someone so we can laugh at them is one of the lowest things we can do. Jokes shouldn’t hurt.
We have to start doing better. We seem to realize that there is a bullying problem in schools today (which is a start!), but no one wants to have the uncomfortable conversation. No one wants to admit that maybe, just maybe, kids bully because they were first bullied at home. Because they learned that it was all a game to cause someone else pain. Because they learned that it was funny to make someone else cry. Because they learned that “jokes” could be at someone else’s expense.
Our society, and our kids, deserve better. And that is never, ever going to come to fruition if we don’t take a hard honest look at how we’re treating our own children, the youngest and most vulnerable members of our own families.
I'm Jen... the shy, lost girl from the east coast who married at nineteen and eventually found herself - four kids later - in the middle of the desert. I like chocolate. You can read more about me here.