I’m perpetually behind these days, but in case you didn’t see it, here’s my boys being famous. I have watched these commercials dozens of times because they legitimately make me that happy even if my own family wasn’t in it.
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.
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.
So, in case you’re not following along on the FB page, Atti’s viral moment is only picking up steam. We’re now in the “local news picks it up” segment of the journey and heading straight for “national news begins to pay attention.” I’ve had to set all my other responsibilities aside as I became his accidental full time momager and suddenly developed a tiny shred of empathy towards Kris Jenner. Just a shred.
We’ve reached the point where I can’t keep track of all the views. So many outlets have shared it on their pages that I don’t know how to even find them all. At last count we had crossed the 20 million mark. Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Ask Men, LittleThings.com, a TV show called Right This Minute, the front page of reddit, trending worldwide on Facebook, and that’s when the local news came calling.
First there was the ABC affiliate. And then there was the Fox affiliate. Each news outlet did their own version and I think each story is worth watching because my child is so gorgeous and lovable, but your mileage may vary. Then USA Today picked up the ABC affiliate story and had it on their front page for a minute. AOL.com ran the story.
This is a still from my favorite news story so far. The local CBS reporter just got us and Atti put on a full scale charm offensive. He is turning into such a little ham. But mainly it showed me that all the viral notoriety is worth it for my baby to go on the news and tell the world how he loved my kisses. I will never be the same.
Then CBS.com – the national news – picked up the local affiliate story. So did FoxNews.com. And all week my phone has been ringing with other offers, more conversations, more attention. And Atti is just so happy that the whole world is seeing him as a cool kid and not an afterthought or a burden.
I know there are lots of new readers with all this attention, so let me give you the Clif’s Notes. Below is a playlist of all of Atti’s videos on my Youtube channel. And here is a collection of all my best Atti stories. He is not only a great kid, but the best person I know. I’m so proud that the world is getting to see what I’ve always known.
The last couple of days have been wild, but I think that I should really just start accepting that as understood when I start writing my posts. I just don’t seem to run optimally unless I’m surrounded by chaos.
I took what was supposed to be a super quick road trip (bookmark that story for another day) and yadda yadda yadda didn’t get home until two days later then expected. Then my activism stuff kicked into high gear as my church issued a press release that was super super problematic around issues of abuse. Writing about that turned one eye of the internet towards me as I started getting hit with some ugliness that comes with attention.
But then. On the very same day I’m dealing with the underbelly of humanity by advocating around child abuse, Atti’s skate park video gets published on Upworthy and suddenly the other eye of the internet turns toward me. But this time with effusive love and support. This time I was hearing about how great we are and how amazing my little hero is and suddenly I feel like human beings are worth fighting for.
And then I started reading the comments to Atticus.
(I left out all the ones chastising us for not using a helmet because, Guess what folks? If your child can’t walk you don’t buy them a helmet. This was not a matter of being too lazy to put one on, this was a matter of not having reason to believe he would ever need one. We had no idea he would love this like he did. Plus he’s on five wheels, not two. He’s way more stable than a skateboard. He has a helmet now. Shush with your able bodied privilege.)
Atti is an EXTREMELY shy kid. Sometimes we’ve met people who know him from videos and he hides behind me or closes his eyes and covers his ears. But he is always wanting me to show him the videos I’ve made of him. There he can see himself as who he really is. And seeing how many people were watching that video? And cheering him on? Made such an amazing difference to him. He went to bed giggling. He was hugging and kissing me all night. I kept saying “Look at all these people who believe in you!” And as we put him to bed we went to read him stories, but last night? He read them to us. He gathered up his courage to try reading out loud. To risk sounding “funny” as he struggled to make the words with his mouth and to show us just what that sweet little brain could do. You all gave him faith in himself.
If you don’t have a disability, imagine the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. Maybe it was a sport and you had a coach who really pushed you to do your best. Maybe you struggled with math or reading. Maybe your parents really wanted to play an instrument and you hated every second of it. Imagine whatever that thing is. Remember how discouraged you got? Remember how bad you felt about yourself? Maybe you even said “I’m so stupid!” when you got a bad grade. And how all those bad feelings about yourself kept you from trying. Maybe you gave up on that instrument. Or quit that sport. Or are still telling yourself “I just can’t do math.”
Now imagine that all of those feelings you have, instead of being around math or sports or the piano, was about talking. Imagine it was about walking. Imagine that every single human encounter you had required you to do a complicated math problem. That’s the world my Atticus lives in.
My job as his mom is to protect that sweet brave spirit. To make sure that he never gets discouraged enough to give up. I need to be his coach and tell him that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that It’s better to have tried and failed than never tried and that Winners never quit and quitters never win. All day long I’m trying to make up for how hard the whole rest of the world is by telling him how much I believe in him.
I wish you all could have seen his face when I told him that a million other people believe in him too.
So. Last we spoke I was calling “uncle” during the run up to Christmas. Turns out that major abdominal surgery during the holidays tends to throw a monkey wrench in your productivity plans. The recovery was pretty brutal. Six weeks, so, technically, I’m STILL recovering. But today I got Atticus on the bus all by myself, and then went for a two mile walk around the lake. That feels like a benchmark.
During my post-op appointment my surgeon told me all about what he found, and like surgeons often do, he made it sound like it wasn’t that out of the ordinary. And for him, maybe it wasn’t. All he does is look at endometriosis ridden bodies, after all. But when my fertility clinic saw it they all lost their minds. My nurse Sue called me up saying “Oh my gosh!! We had no idea it was so involved! How were you walking?!” Which, I won’t lie, felt pretty great. Some people compete in triathlons, I just get through my day with my innards all attached to each other.
There was scarring and adhesions and fibroids just EVERYWHERE. On my intestines, blocking my uterus, attaching my ovaries to the inside of my pelvic wall like they were one of those fraternity pranks where someone is plastered to the wall with duct tape. My bladder was “fused” (that was the actual word the surgeon used) to my uterus. And of course scar tissue from the emergency C-section that saved me and Atti. It was a crime scene in there.
Recovery has been super hard – give thanks for your abdominal muscles next time you need to cough or poop – but I’m feeling so much better. It’s been years since I had this much energy and motivation. Since I had…hope? That I wouldn’t always need to apologize for backing out? Or begging off? Or asking for help? That maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to just..do..all the things that so many people take for granted.
Including having a baby. We’re in the middle of our latest attempt at a cycle right now. Just yesterday I climbed up into those stirrups that I should really just start paying rent for at this point, and had another ultrasound. From my many years of tracking my ovulation, I know that I tend to go pretty late in my cycle, which is a bit of a problem when you’re trying to control so many variables. My reproductive system is just too punk rock to be controlled, though. It’s all “Go ahead and pump all the medicine you want in me. I won’t be rushed. I do what I want. You might call me uterus, but I say it’s uterMe.” And then it puts on some aviator shades as a screaming YEOOOOOWWW echoes behind it.
If my dang body will just play along already, then we’re hoping for a transfer in a couple of weeks. Just in time for yet another December birthday in the family.
My niece is still living with us and that is going awesome. I have a whole lot I want to say about that, but I can’t do it today. Or maybe ever. Dang grown people with their own idea about what they want spread on the internet. It has been a big adjustment but a wonderful one. And maybe one of these days I’ll convince her to let me put her on the blog. She is so incredibly gorgeous and talented, and maybe the only person I’ve ever known who didn’t want to share that with the Internet.
There is still so much more to talk about. Atti’s new wheelchair and his big breakthroughs, my own big endeavors, my plans to make all my dreams come true, and how Force Awakens blew my mind. But I’m trying to learn to pace myself. I am still recovering after all.
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
Since losing my little dreamhouse on Courage Street back in 2010, we’ve been renters. In the last five years we’ve lived in three houses that were pretty great, all things considered. And because we’ve had such good luck I haven’t been in a rush to re-enter the market. Plus, to be honest, I wasn’t ready to love again. I am such a home body – like, a literal agoraphobe – and a home is such an important symbol to me of the roots I long to put down and the safe place I long to create, that losing my first home of my own left a mark on me. (And of course there was the whole destroyed credit and no down payment thing that comes with having a foreclosure on your record. Curse you financial meltdown!!)
Our current house is just ridiculously gorgeous and great for us. We have amazing neighbors, Atti can use his wheelchair to get anywhere in the house, and this backyard. I mean. But it’s not ours. And I’m feeling those hunger pains again.
We went looking at a property last week and it was PERFECT. I can’t stop thinking about it. But they were asking A LOT because there were three houses on the parcel, and yet they were all trailers. To do what we’d want to do we’d have to tear everything down and build again, which would be great, except for the land being way too expensive for that to make any sense. But this land. I dream about it. Views of the mountains on one side, the valley on the other. Acres of rolling hills only ten minutes from Bear’s work. If only.
It might take us a whole other year to really get what we want because as God is my witness I’m never moving again. Bear keeps wanting to play conservative because he doesn’t want to be house poor again, I keep saying I don’t care if we’re house poor for a few years if it means that I never have to pack another box in my life. And I have my heart set on lots and lots of land. In part because I have big plans for a group home for gay kids who can work the farm to prepare for their future and save for college, but also just for Atticus. This kid is an outdoor kid.
When you spend your whole childhood in physical and occupational therapy, you get what they call “therapized.” He’s so used to being bossed around, picked up and lifted into position, told to do simple tasks that have no context, and eventually he’s gotten rebellious. At therapy he pretends he can’t stand or take steps, but at home, if there is a box of Cheerios on the counter out of his reach, he can suddenly master his body in ways I can hardly believe. It’s a constant battle to provide a reward or context that makes enough sense to him to keep doing the work it takes to move his body. And these days, it’s really hard to teach a kid to work.
But! If we had a farm! For a kid who loves playing outside so much every piece of clothing that goes on his lower body is ripped up from dragging against the concrete, whose back is as bronzed as the face of a cowboy but with a belly as pale as a lizard’s, who has callouses on his knees and his toes from the unique way he travels, on a farm, he would work.
Last night I told him that I would take him outside to pick tomatoes with me and we could send them to school for his teachers. He got so excited he jumped on my belly and giggled and refused to go to sleep. First thing this morning I got him dressed in his outside clothes as we sang about Little Atticus had a Farm and all the animals he would have and the tomatoes he would grow with a pick pick here and a pick pick there. We went to my little backyard patch and Atti – who you have to bribe to eat anything not carb based – ate every tomato that hit the bottom of the bowl. And then got entranced by “the little green ones” and picked tomatoes until he counted to 100.
He told me that the first animal he wants to get is a goat. And then a chicken so he can eat the eggs for breakfast. I want to get him a donkey he can ride around or pull him in a wagon. If we had a little donkey, he could take it hiking. Seeing how the world could open up for him in these old fashioned ways, I get teary eyed just thinking about it.
So for now we’ll have to make do with little tomatoes and wrangling cats. Because I am not settling for another house. When I move again, it will be for our Dreamfarm.
My garden is going crazy this summer. I still haven’t had much success starting from seeds, but I’m not too shabby at the rest of it. I went out this morning to check on things and my little cherry tomato plant is covered in jewels. And some of them so itsy bitsy it’s too adorable to believe. I’ve been eating them straight off the vine all morning, filling up a big bowl and eating them like popcorn, not even bothering to wash off the dirt. One of the pleasures of home grown food, there’s nothing to be afraid of and there’s nothing like eating a fresh tomato warm from the sun.