My Mother’s Day Gift

Mother's Day

Atti has gone back to school. Finally. He still has a whole lot of recovery ahead of him – he can’t scoot yet or sit up unassisted – but he’s back in his red wheelchair which is what we needed for him to be able to get back to his routine. Lucky for me, it was right in time for him to make me a Mother’s Day present.

It came home with him from school wrapped up with a card and a ribbon and I asked him if I could open it then or if I needed to wait. With a smirk he told me I had to wait until Mother’s Day morning, so we set it on top of the fireplace.

Atti’s been sleeping in our bed for weeks now. Being strapped to a pillow to keep his new hip joints in position and then put in a hospital bed too far off the ground for him to get down from even if he could move just proved to be too much anxiety for one boy to take, so he’s spent every night in between me and Bear, his giant leg wedge pushing us so far apart we high 5 to say goodnight. But on Mother’s Day morning I woke up to his arms around my neck and him kissing me awake, no matter how hard I tried to sleep in. He was more excited for this than Christmas.

We went out to the living room for some breakfast and he told me I could open my present. I unrolled a reusable grocery bag decorated with his little handprints in the shape of a sun, and a handpainted card that read, in his own wobbly handwriting, “To Mom: I love you. Love Atticus.”

This is what I looked like:

As I was weeping, Atti just looked at me with a sly little grin on his face. He was so proud of himself. Usually when he brings things home from school they don’t stick around long. I don’t bother saving the work of his teachers, who are usually the ones behind the art projects, but this one was different. From how he made me wait, to his little face when I opened it, to how he was so excited and proud of himself that he couldn’t stop jumping long enough for me to take this picture, it was clear he was behind every part of this. And he felt so good that he was able to give something instead of always being the one in need of giving.

This was the Mother’s Day that I had been dreaming about for years. Full of messy art projects and adorable expressions of love. This was the first year that Atti was really able to express himself. Unless you watch him closely and really take the time to understand his expressions, he seems disinterested in so much of what goes on. But really, it’s not disinterest. It’s counting on people to look past him and not wanting to put in the effort to change their assumptions. But I know how to speak Atticus, so he showed me. He held that damn pencil and he struggled over those letters. He planned a surprise for my special day. He reached way outside himself and he did it to express his love for me. It’s just too beautiful to bear.

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Building our Family

Family

When I imagined my family, I always had this image. I was standing at the head of a Thanksgiving table loaded with food, raising a glass to offer a toast of gratitude. I look around at every seat filled with someone I love, and I see the love they have for me reflected back. I’ve had plenty of dinner parties and events with full tables, but the image was distinct because of the depth of feeling. These were not guests, they were family. They were connected to me forever. And every failed procedure or adoption pushed that dream of mine further and further away.

Having Atticus made that dream complicated, because I had to admit, from very early on, that his future was unscripted. The fact is that every person’s future is unscripted – there are no guarantees of marriage or children or health or even good relationships – but most parents don’t have to admit that until their children become independent. I had to face it from the very beginning. So, while there is still every possibility that Atticus will grow up and get married and have children, I knew from early on that I couldn’t count on it. And I was not willing to let go of counting on it.

When I’m honest with myself, that’s a huge part of the pain behind infertility to me. I want the illusion of planning a future. I want to be able to believe that I could have a child that would meet every milestone, that would happily and uncomplicatedly grow up, fall in love, have more children, and surround me with my dream. Intellectually I know that is not only impossible to guarantee, but inappropriate to put on a kid whose only obligation should be to walk their own path and not mine. But that is a wicked hard cultural norm to fight against. Not only do most people expect no less, they feel entitled to no less. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, go into some parenting group and suggest that some of those precious snowflakes will end up a disappointment. You’ll be lucky if you leave with your eyeballs in tact.

Even during our pre-Atti infertile years, I wanted to love the concept of Family Is What You Make It, but I usually just found it disappointing. We moved so much that any friendships we assembled would fail under long distance pressure, differences in life phases would take their toll, and people would usually have different expectations out of the relationship than I did. Most people don’t go through life family shopping after all. So my heart would just break, over and over again.

Last July I met up with my niece Holly for the first time in years and years. We went to lunch and told each other our life stories and laughed and laughed and when things stopped going her way where she was living we invited her to come live with us. She moved in back in November, just in time for my abdominal surgery, and then the whole rest of the shitstorm we’ve been living through.

In February my friend Jenn had a similar situation. Things stopped going her way where she was. She’s working on a startup that will result in refugees and immigrants getting access to legal aid and I believe in her and I believe in her project so I invited her to come and stay with us too. Just in time for Atti’s surgery and the whole rest of the shitstorm we’ve been living through.

In one sense it seems like the timing couldn’t have been worse. There were times that were really challenging to manage. Holly moved in not having a drivers license and needing a job and for a while there it was complicated getting her everywhere she needed to get. Jenn now works alongside me every day, her on her laptop working on her projects and me at my desk working on mine, and some days we spend all our time talking when we each had deadlines we were supposed to be meeting. There’s two more adults eating and sleeping and hanging out and that has changed the dynamic of our simple little threesome right when everything was so so so hard.

But I don’t know that I could’ve gotten through it all otherwise. For all the complications and negotiations, I also have so much more support and so much more love. When I’m having a pain day I have people who will tuck me in and bring me platters of snacks. I have more people that will talk with me through all the big decisions I have to make, who will love Atti ferociously, who will validate hard things in my past, who will make me appreciate who I am and where I’ve been, who will let me love them.

When we’ve gone through hard things before, Bear and I will tackle them like partners. One of us on house stuff, one of us on Atti stuff. Or one of us on work stuff and one of us on family stuff. We’ve had to divide and conquer. But now, we’re a squad. And when we’re all together hanging out and watching a movie together, I just want to explode with happiness, even in the midst of the hardness. I just love my team so much.

I think I’ll get my dream. Maybe just not in the timeframe I imagined for myself, but that seems to track with how my life works. All the things I have tried to claim for myself have blown up spectacularly, but the things that are brought to me are the things that last. It’s so unsatisfying that I can’t just make what I what happen when I want it and how I think I want it, but I think God likes surprises. And likes the struggle.

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Full Circle Moment

Sesame Tweet

This is what I woke up to this morning. I’m going to try and explain how this is a sea change for me. It’s going to be a total bummer of a story, but hang in there. There’s a happy ending.

I’ve written and spoken pretty extensively about my abusive childhood, but I rarely tell the stories. I have a selection of stories that I think are hilarious in their downer-hood, and some stories that are only hilarious to me while the rest of the room gapes in open mouthed horror, but I rarely give out the gorey details. This is purposeful and I have a lot of reasons for it, but I’m going to break that rule so I can explain just how important this tweet is in my life.

My childhood was abusive and neglectful. A lot of people have sadness and trauma in their childhood and part of the reason I don’t tell my stories is so that they can’t be ranked. I am not interested in playing a game of “Who Had it Worst!?” (Boy, would that be some weird theme music.)

Many people experience abuse and trauma. But my parents? Were experts. They went to creative and innovative lengths. It’s like, if everybody eats, some people really really enjoy food, and my parents were foodies. My parents were the foodies of abuse.

I have a specific memory. We lived in a house in Broomfield Colorado, and my younger sister and I were too young to start school. Which meant that I was 3 or 4 years old. We lived in the basement and my dad worked days while my mom worked nights and my two older siblings went to school. So I was home alone with my younger sister until my mom came home from work, and then we had to be quiet while she slept after her shift. And kept sleeping until everyone got home. So my sister and I would stay in the basement by ourselves until my siblings came home from school. Sometimes my mom would call down the stairs and hand us a bag of donuts on her way off to bed, but most of the times we would fend for ourselves.

I was three or four years old and I was climbing down the stairs with a bowl of cold cereal, trying to balance it carefully so I didn’t spill the milk on the stairs and face trouble. I’d set us up in front of the TV and we’d watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and that was the only happy part of my childhood.

I learned to read at 3 years old because of Sesame Street. I had friends who I felt cared about me. I saw happy families and people and muppets work through conflict with understanding. I would pray that Maria and Luis would adopt me and that Grover and I could be friends.

I grew up and I learned to keep secrets. I learned how to hide and let people believe what they wanted to believe. And like most abuse survivors, I believed that I was intrinsically damaged and dangerous. I believed that there was something so wrong in me that my parents couldn’t help but abuse me. It was easier to accept blame than it was to face that the people who were supposed to protect me were dangerous. And as I hit my teenage years and began to think about my future, I knew in my bones that children could not be a part of it. I *knew* that I was a Nitrogen bomb and that when the day came – and of course it would come – that I exploded, everyone in my path would be charred. I was a 16 year old high school drop out who lived in my car. I was a street rat. The life lessons I had to pass on were how to spot trouble, how to dodge, how to hide, and how to climb through a vent to get to the locked up food. Nothing a happy child should have to know. I knew that the best way I could protect my potential children was by not having them.

As the years went on, that shame became a secret too. In our society having kids is still pretty much a given, and for a girl in a religious environment it’s all but a fact. All of those feelings became a burden that inspired reinvention and denial. As I kept getting older and faced the years of infertility, I was nearly crushed under the conflict of an honest desire for children to love and a secret relief that they weren’t coming.

I worked really really hard at addressing that. I have always been diligent about getting emotionally healthy and this was one area that I dove deep into. People tell me a lot that I’m brave because of what I talk about publicly, but it doesn’t feel brave to me, it’s just how I’m wired. If I’m going to claim any bravery for myself it’s in staring the ugly right in the face and dealing with it. Whatever success I have as a mother is because I did that. I opened that door and I looked in the dark corners and I faced it all down so that my children wouldn’t have to.

Getting that tweet from Sesame Street brought me right back to that 3 year old me. It brought me right back to that loneliness and longing and that hope that someday someone would love me. And it made me realize, again, in a way that 3 year old me could understand, that I did it.

I took all the ugly that I was handed and I transfigured it into love. And because I did that my child will never know that world. He will be untouched by the Nitrogen bomb because I spent years defusing it and turning it into fertilizer that nourishes the soil and creates beauty.

That tweet was a pat on the back from a beloved family member, telling me that they were proud of what I’ve done. I don’t have parents or grandparents to tell me they’re proud of me. I only communicate with two siblings who live far away. No cousins. No aunts or uncles. No family friends or old teachers or church elders. There is no one in my life who could have offered that and had it mean anything like this. This was a gift that I will treasure forever.

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Show You Care

Happy love

This neverending fertility journey I’m on has been horrific. I got some more bad news this week, but I’ll get into that another day. Right now I’m deep into self-care mode with lots of puzzle doing, cat snuggling, and playing with Atti to get me through the hard stuff.

As I’ve been wading through all my tender feelings, it’s really hard to not sink into a place of desperation or loneliness. It’s really really easy to succumb to all the magical thinking that tells you there’s a reason you can’t have kids, and that it’s because there is something wrong with you. This infertility stuff, I tell you, it gets right down to the core of your identity and the love you have to give and long to receive.

But one beautiful bright spot in all this darkness is how people have shown up for me.

When I go through a hard time, I cocoon. I don’t leave the house, I don’t reach out for help, I hide in a safe space until I feel strong enough to re-engage with the world. Of course, this coping mechanism comes with some significant drawbacks. Namely, when the hard time is your own body and mind, a cocoon isn’t always a safe place. And often, hiding by yourself just intensifies the loneliness. But what is a person to do when they need support but don’t have the energy or courage to ask? You ask in whatever way you can bring yourself to. Sometimes that’s just squeaking out “help” to a trusted friend, sometimes it’s attending a meeting, sometimes it’s even vaguebooking.

Over the last few days the texts and PM’s and emails have been flying my way from all sides. Some who recognize what it means when I post about having a “bummer day” while in the midst of fertility treatments. Some responding to a more detailed call for help, and some just following an impulse inspired by whatever you want to call the human connection we all share. I call it God.

As I’ve been lost in the fog of my own problems, I’m constantly amazed at the goodness of people, putting aside their own problems to care about mine. To take the time to send a text while they’re racing around with all their own responsibilities. Who forgive me when I need to take some time to respond from the well I’m at the bottom of. Who never ignore that impulse to offer kindness.

When I’m more myself, I tend to wander through life with a big goofy grin on my face and my unmistakable cackle announcing my arrival. My laugh is something I’ve been self-conscious of forever – it is loud and omnipresent, but I know that if you ask people who love me what they love about me, my laugh comes to the top of the list. And even strangers have told me that my laugh cheered them up. How silly that something so small as a laugh is all it takes to spread a little joy. When something as untaxing as a high five can turn a day around. From my current vantage point under the covers, a text is hope. A friendly nod can overcome so much sorrow.

SoulPancake, home of Kitten Therapy and Kid President, has launched their latest viral campaign to put some goodness into the world by challenging people to show they care. This video totally made me cry at how beautiful the world is. From the high-fiving baby to the gentleman on the phone spelling out plainly exactly what the person on the other end meant to them, it’s a lovely reminder to step outside ourselves and our fear of rejection and prove how much love is in the world.

Because there is always more love than loneliness. And it takes so little to remind us of that. So do it today. #showyoucare

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Year of Pleasures – Love Note

Love Note

Atti has a lot of trouble with fine motor skills. Those darn fingers of his won’t listen to do much more than follow the pointer finger around. So a lot of the therapy he does involves art so he can practice working with little pieces and give those other fingers a job. He’s still obsessed with the alphabet, so his OT gives him a lot of foam stickers to work with – it’s something he cares enough about to keep at while he’s frustrated trying to get the backing off the sticky part.

I visited him the other day and his OT helped him cut out a heart shape with special scissors, then asked what they should spell. I admit, this was my suggestion, but Atti got all excited and spelled it out himself. He was so proud of what he made he could have busted wide open, and so was I.

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Year of Pleasures: Donut Love

Donut Love

 

Bear teaches Early Morning Seminary, which is like Sunday School for teenagers, but it’s every morning before school. He starts class at 6 am, goes to the gym, then work, home in time for food, plans the next days lesson, and then falls asleep on the couch while watching television. On top of everything else we’ve been dealing with, it’s been a pretty major sacrifice, but he loves it. And I have spent my years getting to hang out with the teenagers and have my fun, it’s only fair he gets a turn.

Every Friday he brings donuts for his students. And every Friday he makes sure that he saves me a sugared donut, since that’s the only kind I like. (Don’t worry, I’ve talked to him about sugar on my keyboard, but it’s still a pretty adorable visual I woke up to.)

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Clay Best Friend Necklace and Galentine’s Cards!

Polymer Clay Best Friend Necklaces

Polymer Clay Best Friend Necklaces

Are you watching Parks & Recreation? Because you should be. It’s the best show on television, easily. Not only is it hilarious, but all the characters actually like and support each other. It’s the kind of people you want to know, and the kind of town you want to live in, mostly. I could do without the raccoon infestation.

On that show Leslie Knope starts a new holiday for the day before Valentine’s Day which she calls Galentine’s Day. It’s a chance for her to get together with all her lady friends and celebrate their friendships, and I think that is so beyond super brilliant. My lady friendships are something I appreciate more and more with each passing year, and I think we absolutely do deserve a holiday. So I made some cards I’ll be passing out to my friends, and which you are welcome to use as well.

Galentine's Day Cards

Galentine’s Day Cards

I made six different versions, just click and save, and spread the lady love.

Galentine's Day Card 6 Galentine's Day Card 5 Galentine's Day Card 4 Galentine's Day Card 2 Galentine's Day Card 3 Galentine's Day Card 1

But since some friendships deserve more than just cards, I couldn’t stop there. I wanted to make a modern grown up version of the little gold necklaces that best friends would give each other when I was a teenager (I hear. I don’t have any personal experience with that. Cue the sad trombones of Tresa’s depressing childhood). Wearing one half of those “Best Friend” necklaces just looked so special to me, and now that I’m a grown up I can make up for lost time.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 1
Take some well-conditioned polymer clay and roll it out to about 1/4″ thick. Well-conditioned just means that it’s nice and smooth and pliable, and not a dried out crumbly piece of garbage. You just have to squish it and squish it and squish it for a while to make that happen, but if you have a particularly bad case you can mix in a bit of petroleum jelly. Once it’s rolled out, use a cookie cutter to cut a heart shape, just as if you were making sugar cookies. Once you use it on the clay, however, you won’t want to use it on cookies again, so the dollar store is a great place to look for one.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 2
Cut a jagged line down the center of your heart and smooth out any rough edges.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 3
Poke a hole in the top of each piece so it can be worn as a necklace. A pencil works great for this job.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 4
I used letter stamps to put “Be Fri” on one piece and “St Ends” on the other, but you could also do that by hand with a dull pencil. Smooth out any stray marks.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 5
This step is optional, but I wanted to add a little glitter. So I used this stuff called Luster Dust and brushed it onto the clay like I was applying blush to my face. I love the cool opalescent shimmer this stuff adds. Bake the clay pieces according to the instructions on the package.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 6
Once the clay is baked and cooled, you can add some paint to the debossed letters to make them stand out. I rubbed a bit of acrylic paint over the letters, and then came back with a washcloth or a baby wipe to remove the excess paint. Use a light touch over the top of the letters so you don’t just wipe all the paint away.

Clay Necklace Tutorial Step 7

With the paint dry you can add a ribbon and your necklace is ready to give away.

I don’t really have one specific person I would describe as my Best Friend, so I made a few sets of these to pass out among a treasured group of friends. I feel a lot more lucky that way. I wish I could go back and tell my 7th grade self that there would come a time when I had such an embarrassment of riches in the friend department.

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Atti makes our dreams come true

Atti says his line

Twice a year at church, the children’s organization performs a program they’ve spent the last six months preparing. They offer readings, they sing songs, and all the proud parents giggle at the children’s antics and cry at the sweet little voices singing about God’s love. Somebody’s kid always does something unintentionally hilarious, it’s a welcome break from the usual speeches, and for most people it is the highlight of the year.

For infertile people, it is a gauntlet from hell. It is having every cherished wish held up just beyond arm’s reach. It is sitting in a crowd of people reveling in their happiness and good fortune while you feel like the force of your emptiness will turn you inside out. It is feeling the mask ripped from your face and knowing that everyone in the room knows you are different, wrong, unworthy. It is feeling like the black hole of need threatening the happiness of everyone around you, the bitter note that ruins a perfect meal, like your sorrow is glowing so brightly it is obscuring the vision of those around you and everyone would be better off if you weren’t there.

In our early infertility years, Bear and I would try to cheer each other up with inappropriate jokes. We’d pick out which kid would be most like ours – the booger eater, the scream singer, the ad libber – and tease each other about which of our less than desirable characteristics our future offspring would be sure to put on display. But as the years went on, those jokes got less and less funny.

Eventually I just added Primary Program Sunday to the list of weeks I took off for my mental health. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and two primary programs a year found me staying in my bed, pretending to have a cold, wishing that a little nyquil was all it took to make me feel better.

Primary Program
Even once we got our little hero, we never knew if this was a rite of passage that he’d participate in. During the primary program in our last ward he was down away from the performance and only told his teacher he wanted to join the other kids at the last minute. He joined them for a song, and then while his teacher held him he said loud enough for the microphone to pick up, “I love kisses!” and gave his teacher a kiss on the cheek. It was heaven. My kid was the ad-libber.

Now that Atti’s a little older, the kids his age actually have parts. He had a line he had to memorize, they practiced speaking into the microphone, they learned sign language to perform along with one of the songs. It was official. And with Atti being so verbally limited, and even more pathologically shy, I had no idea what he would go along with. He’s known to break into huge watery sobs when one of his favorite songs is over, or get mad and throw things because he’s embarrassed by being the center of attention. But he didn’t do any of those things. He was a total pro.

We sat in the front row to make it as easy as we could to get him up and down from the stand, and that meant that he had a prime view of his favorite audience. He kept saying, “You got your mama and your daddy.” He blew us kisses, he picked his nose, he had a giggle fit, he scream sang, he danced so much he nearly tossed himself down the stairs. When his class came forward to say their lines, the teacher whispered in each child’s ear and they repeated it into the microphone. Atti put the microphone into his mouth, gave it a couple of chomps, and then said, “I AM MADE IMAGE!” Which was close enough.

Taking pictures in church is considered the height of irreverence, but I couldn’t help myself. Bear tried to wrestle the phone away from me but I just grabbed him by the tie, stared him right in the eye and said, “I have been waiting my whole life for this. You let me take my picture.”

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Year of Pleasures: Love Note

Love Note

Woke up, went to the computer, and discovered this waiting for me. I know how to pick em.

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Why I love antiques

Making the new couch at home
I’ve been scouring Craigslist since moving into the new and much bigger house. We have a lot more space to fill up and we’re doing it on a strict budget, so my Craigslist mojo has come in handy once again. I’ll show off my finds later this week, but for today I had to tell you the story of this gorgeous couch. 8 ft’ long, original upholstery in impeccable condition from the 60’s, and we got it for 80$. We had to pack Atti off to a friends house for the day while we drove 2 hours each way to claim it, but it was still worth it.

Once Atti was safely off playing, we jumped in the van to discover that the battery was dead. AAA came and sorted us out and then, an hour later than we planned on, we made our way down to a small agricultural town. The owner was so understanding and had even shampooed the couch for us, her husband helped Bear load it in the car, and then they both helped us turn it and reposition and experiment until we managed to get the full 8 feet in and get the back shut.

Before we left she asked if I would meet her mother, Agnes. The couch belonged to her and she wanted to meet the person taking it away. Agnes is 98 years old and about to enter a nursing home. This couch was one of her last remaining possessions and it was hard for her to let go of it. I can only imagine. Curling up with your spouse as you watch T.V., watching your children cruise along it taking their first steps, story time, parties, visits with friends and families, a couch is a pretty integral part of family life. I took her hand and assured her that I would take good care of it, and we went to leave. Only to discover that our car battery had died. Again.

But before we could call AAA, Agnes’s daughter Bernadette came to our rescue. She drove Bear to Autozone to buy a new battery, pulled out all her tools, and painstakingly taught him all about a car’s electrical system, how to change a battery, and how to know when the problem was more than a battery.

While Bernadette and Bear handled the car, I sat in the tree shaded back patio with Agnes while she told me about her life growing up on a dairy farm. She was expected to pull her weight as much as her brothers and she got so good at farm chores that her father started calling her “Tony,” because she was just like one of the boys. She milked the cows by hand, had her own saddle horse that she used to follow her father all through the foothills, and when the town had their 4th of July parade she would dress her horse up and ride proudly down main street. She raised four children in a little house in a small town and took care of this couch like it was her prized possession.

Bernadette had assumed that I was from a consignment shop, since that’s most of my Craigslist competition, and Agnes was so relieved when I told her that this couch was for our own house. That I had a room full of books this couch was going to nestle up to and Atti and I were going to spend our days snuggled up together and reading story after story. That this couch was so long that tall people like me and Bear were going to take long Sunday naps on it while Atti played with his cars at our feet. That our kitties would curl up on it and adopt it as their own.

With the new battery in place thanks to help from Bernadette, we climbed in the car to leave. Agnes tearfully waved as she said, “Goodbye, couch.” With Bear working in elder care, we’re well acquainted with the agonizing change a loss of independence brings. Objects matter then, a token of all the life behind us. Often the memories are gone or confused, but the object provides the anchor. It’s a symbol of all the things time takes with it – memories, love, relationships, people. I rode the whole way home laying on that couch, feeling the warmth of all the years of love Agnes and her family embedded in the stuffing and springs, and carrying in my heart the bittersweet trust we’ll all eventually have to find someday, as we face the generation behind us and turn the world over to them.

I’ll be good to it, Agnes. Thank you for entrusting it to me.

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