To make a long story short, I have hypothyroidism. Only for real.
It all started innocuously enough.
It was an ad.
As I was feeding Chick breakfast and listening to the news, I heard an ad announcing that a very large company will be moving to my city. It will take a few years– 2018– but they’re relocating their entire headquarters. My first thought was “Man, housing prices are going to skyrocket.” My second thought was “Man, I either need to buy now or get out before it happens.”
As you all know, I’ve been seriously thinking of leaving the East coast. I’ve been looking at a few cities. In typical fashion, I created a spreadsheet comparing said cities with an Ostrich Quality of Life Index (patent pending.) I like to make informed decisions, and this process helped me quickly eliminate some options and zero in on others. Using my proprietary formula (factoring potential income, average commute time, average cost of a 3 bedroom, and average cost of daycare) I quickly tossed out San Francisco. LA would be possible, but Seattle was looking like the very best alternative. I shared my findings with Mr. O and started to dip my toes in the Seattle waters.
Mr. O had been rather silent. Not entirely out of character, but in retrospect I should have known better. You see when Mr. O doesn’t want to do something, he ignores it. Pretends like it just isn’t happening. And because this Ostrich abhors a vacuum, I fill the silence with whatever I *think* he thinks. And I thought silence was complicity.
With the dawning realization that Very Large Company is coming, my urgency to leave kicked into high gear. I went to work and started looking at how to make this move West work. The trouble was, I couldn’t. Even with all my spreadsheets and research, the three places we were looking at weren’t working out. The logistics were wrong, the cost of living one I can’t support, or commutes I can’t bear. I have been working on this relocation puzzle for weeks, and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t make it fit.
I started to spiral. I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt tight. Cue panic attack! So I ran to my one refuge at work– the Mother’s Room.
While trying to get my shit together, I tearfully called Mr. O because I really needed to talk. More specifically, I needed someone to talk me down.
ME: I’ve tried and tried, and I can’t figure out how to make this work. I’ve looked at all the pieces, all the variables…
O: You’re putting too much pressure on this one decision. You need to slow down. Why don’t we just move and see what happens?
ME: I can’t do that. I want a home, Mr. O. I want to settle down with our family. I don’t want to move across the country, only to pick up and move again because we can’t afford it.
O: Maybe we need to compromise on somethings. You’re not going to find everything you want in one place. Maybe it will mean a longer commute…
ME: I know, but there are somethings I won’t compromise on. I want our own home, and I want to be with our family. Chick is growing up so fast, and I don’t want to miss that because I’m driving two hours in a car everyday. That matters to me.
ME: I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t make San Francisco work. I know that’s where you want to be, but I can’t figure it out-
O: Well, I don’t want to move to Seattle.
ME: … What?
O: I never wanted to move there.
ME: I can’t make California work, Mr. O. I don’t know if we can move at all.
This, it should be noted, triggered more crying and chest heaving. Because I realized that when Mr. O said he wanted to move West, he really meant he wanted to move to San Francisco. There is a part of me that feels this is totally irrational on his part. It’s like a kid who says they want to live in Disneyland. That’s charming, but completely unrealistic.
This is where our partnership typically hits the skids. Mr. O is the dreamer, the kid who wants to live in Disneyland. I’m tethered to reality. It isn’t like we don’t know this about ourselves– we even have a joke about it. This dynamic first came to light when we went on vacation together for the first time. Mr. O doesn’t plan anything and just likes to let serendipity take over. I have to plan everything because… well if I don’t, who will? Thus Vacation Ostrich is the planner, while Vacation Mr. O is the free spirit.
(That makes me sound like a total kill joy, but if it weren’t for me we quite literally wouldn’t have places to stay. Mr. O doesn’t even want to pick a hotel because “Let’s just see what happens…” I’m not okay with just rolling into town without a bed booked because I did that in my 20’s with very poor results. This is not my default mode- you can tell because I looooathe the planning process. In fact, I’ll admit I even resent it. But I’d rather that than sleep on a park bench, literally or metaphorically. Yes, I am justifying my behavior. It’s my blog. Deal.)
Anyway… Where was I? Ah yes… panic attack in the Mother’s Room. I was crying while mumbling “I can’t make this work, I can’t fix it, I can’t fix it…” when Mr. O told me to stop and breathe. And made the radical suggestion that we swap roles. He will be Vacation Ostrich and I will be Vacation Mr. O, at least for a few weeks. We come at problems differently, but we’re not going to go anywhere unless we meet some kind of middle ground. For the next few weeks anyway, I have agreed.
Since then, I’ve been trying to define what being Vacation Mr. O really means. It isn’t so much that he isn’t realistic, but that he sees possibility. I’m trying to broaden my perspective a little bit, even opening myself up to staying where we are.
I’m also trying to sit back and figure out what is important to me and why. It’s been a good clarifying exercise so far. In the midst of my sweaty panicky freak out, I blurted out the two most important things to me: Home Ownership and Family. Smack me with a wet noodle, I never thought I’d say those things. It’s just so damn Leave It to Beaver, but there you have it.
Family… okay, yes. It isn’t uncommon for a mother of a small child to want to spend more time with said small child. As much as it was a surprise, I wasn’t really shocked by that response. The specificity of home ownership? Yeah, that seemed weird. While I was driving home from dinner with friends last night, it dawned on me where that is coming from.
Since my mom died, my father’s mortality has become more real. No, he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. (Hopefully. Seriously, Universe, if you even think of screwing with me like that right now, you and I will officially have a smack down.) But I’m also keenly aware that he will die some day. When that happens, my family home will be gone. My siblings and I will have to sort through ~40 years worth of our collective identify, and decide what to keep. At that point, I will be without a mooring… Unless I moor my goddamn self.
There are other things here that need unpacking, like the realization that my income is what keeps my family afloat. I am the head of the household, which wasn’t really a role I was prepared for. With that comes responsibilities I haven’t even started to grapple with. You’d think Vacation Ostrich would relish that, but I don’t.
Mr. O and I have agree to regroup in a few weeks to see what this Freaky Friday swap yields. Until then, I will do my best to dwell in possibility.
I have cried every day since last Sunday.
I view what happened in Orlando as a deep, painful rupture of our humanness. 49 beautiful lives are gone. To say that this breaks my heart is a complete understatement.
As with all tragedies I’ve experienced over that last few years– the public and the private– I am shocked that the world has the audacity to keep spinning. In a few short days, we’ve turned from outrage at the shootings in Orlando to the regular drone of pointlessness that is American pop culture. The only related trending topic in my FB feed this morning was about JK Rowling sending flowers to victims. That’s nice of her and all… but.. What the actual f@ck, people?!
As much as this is devastating to me as a fellow human, I recognize that my friends and family who are gay experience this tragedy on a different level. I’ve done my best to avoid knee jerk reactions, to sit back and listen, to offer support when I can. I struggle to find the *right* words to say, worrying that I’ll contribute to hurt and fear instead.
Then I realized that perhaps my relative silence was part of the problem, because the rest of the world seems to be going silent or brushing this under the rug. I don’t want to be complicit.
Growing up, I went to a Quaker school. If you don’t know, Quaker service revolves around the act of silence. Imagine getting school kids to sit still for any period of time… Yeah, it was a challenge. And yet, it taught me that there is a value to periods of reflection, and there is a value to finding your voice and speaking from the silence.
My first instinct is Love. Because that has been my saving grace so many times before. It isn’t much, but it’s a place to start.
I feel like I should tell you all about my first mother’s day as a mother. It was, however, fairly uneventful.
Last year, it was an absolutely train wreck with much crying in public. I remember it was a beautiful spring day with flowers in bloom and trees being… trees. I feel betrayed by the weather, because in my heart it didn’t feel like spring. I was missing my mom, conflicted about pregnancy, and unsure how I was going to do any of this without her.
This year, the weather again thumbed its nose at my internal emotions. Because this year, I was feeling okay. And this year, it was cold, rainy, and generally miserable.
There is a mother’s day tradition in my neighborhood– Lilac Sunday. The arboretum near by opens its gates to moms, dads, kids, and food trucks, and gives tours of the lilac collection which is usually in full bloom by this point. There is usually sunshine. There are usually people picnicking.
This year, it was a rainy mess, but we trudged on anyway. I mean, after spending a week in the rain with a 10 month old in Amsterdam, how much different could it be spending an afternoon in the rain with a 10 month old in my hometown?
Truthfully, not that different. Again Chick decided that strollers were for chumps and insisted on being carried. (You’d think I would learn…) This meant that one of us had to carry Chick, and the other one had to walk behind carrying an umbrella to make sure the Supreme Leader stayed dry. I felt like a Victorian manservant. (Note: That might be the title of my parenting memoir, were I to write one.)
After that, we came home. Chick and Mr. O napped. I went to the grocery store and made Chick’s dinners for the week. I won’t lie, there is a part of me that is extremely annoyed that those roles were not reversed. Then again, I got a few hours of quiet which was also a nice gift.
So there it was. Nothing too special, but then again I don’t think I wanted much more. What I struggle with is why. Is it because I don’t generally get amped about holidays? Is it because mother’s day represents one huge-festering sore, one part infertility and one part mom grief?
I do not cringe when I see pregnant women anymore. This is a fairly recent development- I would say that in the last few months I have had practically no twinges when friends or colleagues announce pregnancies. It feels like progress, something like acceptance of the emotional turmoil of last few years.
I now cringe when I see women with their mothers. I also cringe when I see women who would have been my mom’s age. Or who have her hair, which was once thick and black but gracefully turned salt-and-pepper gray.
This whole dead mom thing… that still aches. On mother’s day, and everyday.
So… I’m getting a little frustrated with my dad. It’s a kind frustration, not an angry one.
My dad has struggled a lot since my mom died. To be expected, really. He has his good days and his bad days, but lately the bad ones have started to rack up with more frequency. My dad has been increasingly needy in the last few weeks. It all started when two former colleagues of his died- he got word within two days of each other. Now, he hadn’t talked to them in years, but still… it’s sad. My father is at that age where the death notices just start to roll in. Again, it’s sad… but what can you do? Stop 80 and 90 year olds from dying?
His messages to me started to get a weird panicky tone. He emailed and texted me several times a day. Then he texted me that my great uncle died (he was 96.) I got this text in the middle of a meeting. Not exactly the right time or place. Perhaps this is an example of older folks not understanding appropriate communication methods, but that’s just shit you don’t text.
Anyway… Sensing a disturbance in the force, I called him that afternoon. And he talked for 45 minutes mostly about my brother. (Context: my brother basically got fired because he got so depressed after my mom’s death that he stopped going to work. He’s been able to plead his case and is now “on leave” with the understanding that he is supposed to find another job while he is “on leave.” There is more nuance to that, but that summarizes what’s going on.)
Now, I get it. My dad is concerned for my brother. But this was different. It’s like my brother’s depression and all the people dying is proof that the world is a terrible place. He also implied that my mom’s death was easier for me because I’m “okay.” Cue brain boiling. Even though that insensitivity, I did my best imitation of a cheerleader, and talked with him about ways he can get outside, try new hobbies, meet with friends… you know, keep living even when life looks shitty. After the past few years I’ve had, I’m very good at this.
Several times in the last week, I emailed him an interesting article or podcast, and he’d either claim he can’t read it or access it. The end request is “Why don’t you call me and tell me about it/show me how it works.” Today he asked me to call him and tell him about a party I went to this weekend.
He emails constantly, texts me about people dying… Just as I was writing this, he texted me, my brother, and my sister an essay about Beverly Cleary’s birthday, and asked if Ramona Quimby was my role model. It was like an essay question over text. What, what?
Look, I love my dad, but I can’t be on the phone with him for 45 minutes every night when I get home from work. I have dinner to make, a baby to take care of, a house to make less chaotic. I can’t respond to every text and email because I have a job to do (and a big fat project I’m trying to keep from going off the rails.)
In the spirit of teaching a man to fish, I did a little research and found that there is a cooking class on May 14th that I thought Dad would really like. He’d get out of the house, it would give him something to look forward to, and he’d meet new people. Our exchange went something like this:
ME: What are you doing May 14th?
ME: Great, I’ve found a cool cooking class for you! It’s only 3 hours on a Saturday. You’ll go to a local farmer’s market, meet the farmers, and make fresh food from seasonal ingredients!
DAD: I appreciate what you’re doing but I have to get ready to go to my summer house. So no thank you.
To be honest, this is horse pucky- the man has 6 weeks between now and the class, which is plenty of time to get ready. He just doesn’t want to do it.
Anyway, this was my epiphany: my dad wants companionship, and the best I could possibly be is a cheerleader. He wants my mom back and is trying to replace that closeness through emails and texts, and it just isn’t going to happen. Every time I make suggestions about how he can find companionship elsewhere (like going to the pool, going to a cooking class, or joining a book club) he finds reasons not to do them. I offer him this support, and he says no, I want that. But I just can’t be the only thing he seems to want.
It’s a no win situation.
In the past, I’ve had to set boundaries with my dad and it looks like they need a refresh. The question is… how do you do this that doesn’t shake his already fragile foundation?
This morning, my coworker Robin came by my desk. The usual “Hi/Good morning/How are you” commenced. He responded with “*Sigh* I’m tired.”
Robin is the father to a three year old. He could be tired for a number of reasons. I didn’t pry, and continued eating my Cheerios.
But he lingered and we made a little chit chat until Pea came over (His daughter has been in and out of the doctor’s office with, it turns out, mono. Babies get mono. Who knew?)
Pea made an off hand remark about how things were with Robin.
“We lost it.”
At my desk. At 9:20 in the morning. My coworker is openly talking about how his wife miscarried this week at 8 weeks. As you may recall, Robin and his wife suffered a miscarriage late in their last pregnancy. They are facing it again, and my heart breaks for them. There was a part of me that wanted to scream “Good god, man… GO HOME!” But we all have our ways to dealing with grief. I told him that if he ever wanted to grab a cup of tea, just ask.
(Aside: This lead to a very odd series of comments from Pea about how this is okay, good things are coming, etc. I wanted to push him, because this is NOT okay, good things aren’t always coming along, and sometimes things are just fucking miserable. Pea, of course, comes with his own set of losses so he knows this sting. I suppose this is just my way of pointing out that people who experience pregnancy loss can still be emotionally tone deaf.)
With my recent CD1, the idea has cropped up that Mr. O and I might try for another baby. You see, we have one on ice. Just one. I realize the chances that this one will thaw and become an actual human baby aren’t terribly high. But hope is there, somewhere in cryogenic deep freeze. The other day, I was looking at Chick and Mr. O playing together and thought “There is a 70%* likelihood that this is it for us. This is my family.” And you know what? I am okay with that.
Until this morning, I hadn’t also applied this statistic to the other side of the coin: There is high probability that my hypothetical pregnancy could fail. I’ve fortunately never experienced a miscarriage, but I don’t know that I could handle it– especially if I lost the only embryo we have left.
I don’t know what my point is exactly… Maybe just to say that these are wounds that never really heal.
*Based off the statistic that only 20-35% of IVF cycles result in a live birth. I rounded a little to a 70/30 split. Sad sack stats, but thems the breaks for us infertiles.
A few weeks ago, Mr. O and I watched Wild. (A big Saturday night for us now includes a movie that we may or may not watch all the way through. So far I’ve seen How to Train Your Dragon 2, Unbroken and now Wild, all in 20 minute increments. There is a lot of pausing when you’re also wrangling a 5 month old.)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the general plot, Wild is about a woman (Cheryl) who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail after her life hits the skids. By “hits the skids” I mean her mom dies, she becomes a heroin addict, and engages in otherwise destructive behaviors. The movie is really well done. Mad props to Reese Witherspoon. She did a beautiful job.
While Cheryl is hiking the trail, the movie flashes back to her past, to what brought her to the point where she is willing to hike 1,100 miles. A lot of it focuses on her relationship with her mom, which helps explain why her death was such an inflection point. Cheryl loses herself. Hiking the trail is what brings her back.
I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.
As corny as it sounds, I get this movie. I GET IT. These past few years have been just plain shitty for me, what with infertility, my mom dying and the resulting fallout from that. In the process, I’ve changed a lot. Not for the better, mind you. When I look back on who I was before, I really was fearless. Falling down didn’t scare me because I had so much faith in my ability to pick myself back up and move forward. I now know I can fall down — and just lay there devastated.
I liken what’s happened to repetitive stress injury, like my IT band strain from a few years ago. This is a really common running injury, so much so that it is often referred to as “Runner’s Knee.” On a day to day basis, I was fine. But over time, tiny stressors on my body resulted in a full-on strain that made it painful for me to walk. I remember vividly when I knew there was a problem. I went out for a 5 mile run, and 2 miles in I was crying on some stranger’s stoop because I quite literally couldn’t move. Months of PT later, I was okay. But even to this day, my IT band will give me drama if I’m pushing myself too hard, too soon.
That experience taught me the difference between “Ouch” and “Holy shit.” Emotionally, I’ve hit “Holy shit.”
I’ve changed. In real, tangible, not-great ways. I’m not trying to fix myself, to “go back” to who I was before. But I would like to find ways to live my life with less fear. Of not being afraid to fail.
I kept telling myself what I need is a BHAG. In office speak, that stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Like hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Only not that because I’m not insane. I need to fix a target and aim for it. It doesn’t even matter to me if I make it. I just want to TRY. I want to want to try.
I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about what this BHAG would be. Learning to bake bread? That seems too tiny. Running a marathon? Honestly, I don’t have the time for that right now. Every single idea I have seems too small or leaves me bored.
Moving to the other side of the country?
Now that feels about right…
When I was writing my mom’s obituary, I started off with the usual “Mom was born in Point A, died in Point Z.” This is how all obituaries start. I remember thinking my mom would never have guessed that she would end up where she did. Not that I thought she’d be disappointed. Just that when she was a kid in her small town, I don’t think she fathomed every where her life would go. You see, even if an obit tries to summarize a life by Point A and Point Z, I knew about all the points in between. Her life was full, even at times adventurous.
I need more points in between.
That feels big and audacious.