Third Trimester Battle Cry

What’s that, random stranger, distant colleague, not-quite-friend?

You think I’m carrying high, look “like I’m done,” am having twins?

Yes, I’ve got my waddle, supported on sore feet

And yes, my nights are interrupted by acid reflux and poor sleep

But my heart is pumping stronger than ever as of late,

and my organs have shifted politely to accommodate 

this 5 pound, 6 pound, 7 pound being

into which I am pouring all my nutrients, my anxieties, hopes and dreams

I want her to be healthy, safe and fierce and strong

I want her to feel empowered within her body and beyond

And she and I? We have much bigger things to do

than be distracted by your gaze, and by talking small to you

The Blissful in the Boring

Hey yall! Here’s another Terrible Writing Club prompt, doing just that… prompting me along. See below from the team at the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast. 

It’s often easier to reflect on the Big Changes that altered the course of our lives, because they’re way more noticeable. It can be harder to identify and appreciate the monotony — times when things were just okay. Not exceptionally great, but not unbearably bad either.

What do these periods of monotony look like for you? What do you appreciate about them? Today, take some time to write about and acknowledge the blissfully boring times.

As an occupational therapist in acute care, I’m a master of the mundane. When it comes to patients experiencing acute illness or traumatic injury, my primary job is assisting people regain skills for getting dressed, taking a shower, brushing their teeth, and wiping their butts (gasp! Sometimes the glamour is too much; we work hard to stay grounded). But I truly love helping people reconnect with the overlooked, undervalued routine parts of their day. In school we read about that feeling of coming home from vacation- that comfort that comes from one’s own bed, one’s own breakfast routine, and one’s own shower pressure. It is the non-thinking nature of these tasks that imbues them with comfort. At the best of times- at normal times- we take them for granted. But I am daily and intimately involved with the sudden loss of these routines. 

Never ever thought about wiping your own butt? Try losing the ability. Did you take the time to smell your body wash in the shower today? I promise it’s better than our hospital-grade supply. I’m certain that your ratty old pajamas feel better than our gowns. It’s jarring for people, this loss of independence, and every sort of personality quirk and family dynamic comes out of the woodwork to color the loss and the change. It’s secretly fascinating, this surface-level-boring level of intervention and care. Ever handed someone a toothbrush for the first time after a traumatic car accident? There’s power and magic in that, I swear. 

Early on in my mom’s journey with terminal brain cancer, we talked a lot about what she would miss, how she wanted to spend her time, what her “Make a Wish-esque” dreams would entail. I was struck at how much she craved her normal. If the fairy godmother herself had appeared before Mom, she would have asked for more early morning walks with her dog, more long days at her accounting job, more dinners out with my dad, and more phone calls with my sister and me. They’re never going to write a country song about pining for monotony- it’s not romantic enough. But it’s solid, and powerful, and real. I bet my mom would have asked said fairy godmother for unending independence in her self care as well, but eventually those days would end. There’s no shame in the loss of independence, and there’s people out there working their magic to assist with all the dignity and grace they can muster. (They’re called therapists, and nurses, and aides, and PCTs, among others). But despite our best efforts, it can certainly be a tricky and painful and embarrassing ride.

Some of my patients are very-temporarily stuck in these tricky situations. For others, they are confronted with a lifelong course of decline. And guess what? I suspect we will all confront such issues in one way or another someday. That’s partly why the ins and outs of self care are so uncomfortable for we able-bodied, healthy, lucky people to consider. I don’t know guys, maybe we should just take a moment in our boring ol’ routines today to be grateful for the monotony. I promise there’s those among us desperately praying for more mundane. In closing, an OT prayer: May you find comfort (and know it when you see it!) in all your thrilling toileting, face washing, and sock putting-on-ing today. Amen.

 

My Own Kind of Terrible (and Beautiful too!)

Trying something new and looking for community in writing, so I’ve virtually joined the  Terrible Writing Club from the folks at the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast and Still Kickin’. The first prompt concludes like this:

“So, good, bad and/or ugly, how has the pandemic shifted *your* perspective? Are you seeing things differently these days? How is your personal TERRIBLE more or less pronounced in this new reality?”

Here goes nothin’. Response one below 🙂

My mom was diagnosed with high grade glioblastoma (brain cancer) in October 2016. Words that were bandied about in that first 24 hour period included “fatal,” “non-operable,” “it’s good that your parents were able to do that dream trip to Europe,” and “the tumor always wins.” And so ever since that shocking day, I’ve had ample opportunity to contemplate “the end.” Often I imagined the funeral service, and one of the most prevailing and haunting considerations for me was if I would have children at that time, and how old they would be. (I became pregnant with my first within a few weeks of Mom’s diagnosis). I also wondered what flavor of family drama might color the proceedings (always an undercurrent, never straightforward or clear). We anxious folk are adept at imagining scenarios, and in the end, I had 42 months to preview possibilities in my mind.

Never once did I consider that no funeral could take place due to an unforeseen global pandemic (come on anxious brain! We coulda prepped for that!). So it was supremely odd to find myself at a tiny graveside service on an unseasonably cold and windy spring day confronting what I have contemplated for so long.

I’ll be honest: it was kind of awful. The wind whipped through, the beautiful urn we selected was inexplicably covered, and social distancing made the whole brief experience tremendously weird. I feel like my mom’s death was something I had ample time to prep for, and then covid came onto the scene. Its arrival felt like the dramatic tones on a gameshow when the stakes are upped and the pressure is on. It also felt like I was a Mario Kart racer on my intense journey, suddenly zapped by lightning, bewildered and disoriented and teeny. Covid put a strange new spin on the family strain as well. 

After all of the waiting and planning and living and dying that goes into 3.5 years with cancer, I did not anticipate a further period of waiting. I long for closure with my mom’s large community of loved ones. I wish for the warmth of a physical embrace from her dear friends. I loathe that we had to wonder if somebody would interfere at the cemetery if our count went from 10 to 13. I’m angry, I’m grieving, and I’m disoriented (as so many of us are). And it’s still unclear when we will have a memorial service that we want (ie one we would have taken for granted just 6 months ago). After all the uncertainty that cancer brings, I’m pissed covid has heaped a bit more onto our plates.

The day after the funeral, the sun was shining, the weather was 25 degrees warmer, and I visited the graveside alone on the way out of town. I thought of my son (now 2.5) and his time with his grandma. And I thought of the baby growing within me who will never ever know her (supremely unfair for this sweet baby of mine). I took in the sun on my face, the clouds above, the frogs bellowing from the lake, and the chirping birds (I kid you not). And I felt my mom’s presence in this resting place we thoughtfully selected together. If covid has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the tiny (*major) things among us which are unchanged by global health phenomena. Many of them were present at the cemetery that day. And not a one required anxious planning or fretting from me. I, too, was present. And there, however briefly, I was deeply and profoundly at peace.

Zen and the Art of [Your Answer Here]

In college, I read (most of) (some of?) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Two embarrassing facts: 

(1) I read it to impress a boy (who was decidedly not worth it). 

(2) I didn’t get it. I can only admit that as someone who is very confident in my reading comprehension (cough, 36 on this section of the ACT, cough cough).

Looking back, I wonder if my lack of understanding was related to my lack of familiarity with motorcycle maintenance. (Not really, that’s absurd). But I DO love the concept of a series on Zen that’s more applicable to me. Working titles below

 

  • Zen and the Art of the Chik Fil A Play Place (that tomb-like plexiglass structure that compresses and amplifies children’s joys, germs, and screams; a place I will not flock to even when Covid restrictions are lifted).
  • Zen and the Art of Accidentally Attending An Exercise Class With Three 11 Year Olds Taught By a High Schooler (at the age of 31). (There really are no words. Just hysterical laugh-crying with a dear friend on the phone afterward).
  • Zen and the Art of Changing Adult Diapers at Work (I always find myself humming for some reason).
  • Zen and the Art of Don’t-wear-a-mask-no-do-PAPRs-are-preferred-no,-N95-no, surgical-mask,no bandanas,-but-wear-them-one-to-43-times-before-disposing. AKA Working and Living During Covid 19.
  • Zen and the Art of the Perpetual Toddler Clean Up (Bonus points for living in a smallish home).
  • Zen and the Art of Being Referred to as a Physical Therapist for the 12,965th Time in One’s Career (#OTProblems)
  • Zen and the Art of the Social Media Sharing Sweet Spot (Don’t we all long for it? It’s tricky, this one).
  • Zen and the Art of Arranging One’s Pregnancy Pillow Just So (An art, a science, a gift, and a blessing).

What helps you all feel zen? What corner of the zen market do you have locked down? Should I give Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance another try? Wishing you peace wherever you find yourself.

XOXO,

Em

This is 32

This is 32, This is 32, la la la la la la la la la (to be sung  to Nightmare Before Christmas)

Ahem. Hi, I’m Emily. I’m a girl who loves to write because it’s good for me. I haven’t actually written and shared much over the past year, but trust me that I’m often thinking of wonderful  lines at 2 in the morning, and I have lots of scraps of paper full of thoughts to share. Today, though, is all about me (as my Mom always said, “it’s all about you, Em”). Today, I turn 32. 

Here are some things that happened during my 32nd spin around the sun: 

  1. I began to master aerial yoga, which I deeply loved, as it made me feel powerful and graceful and strong.
  2. I had to say goodbye to aerial yoga, as my teacher moved away. Hence began an earnest, fraught, hilarious quest for a replacement class, which is a whole separate post for another time.
  3. I got my appendix out! What a trip. The whole time I was in the ER, waiting for Matt to join me, as he coordinated child care for our son, I kept thinking “I’M the mom in this situation?! When the hell did that happen?!?!” (The whole thing was minor and totally fine).
  4. The mom thing? It actually happened 2 years ago, Em. Ben turned 2 this year, and although his dad and I were traveling home on his birthday, we still got to snuggle and love and celebrate our sweet, naughty, smart, busy boy.
  5. I got to travel to Montana for the most beautiful nuptials of a dear friend. Guys, get you some good friends (college worked for me). I assure you, they make my life much, much sweeter.
  6. I also traveled to OK and Michigan, although the destinations were not nearly as precious as the people I traveled with there.
  7. I lost my sweet uncle Karl, who, again, deserves a stand alone tribute. Karl was “different” (likely labeled autistic if born in another era). He loved Einstein, had the greatest memory of anyone I’ve ever encountered, had a small rotation of greatest-hit stories, and was a wonderful family member, community member, and friend. He died far too soon.
  8. I accompanied my sister to some dark depths of depression and despair, which frankly were unprecedented and out of our league and scary. We helped her get help, and she got help, and healing is not linear, but she is stronger than ever. She is a brave and beautiful soul and I will always always be happy to remind her of that. 
  9. I continued to visit Omaha monthly or more to love on my mom, champion her care, and spend time with my beloved family.
  10. My car hit 160,000 miles and I swear I learned every nook and cranny and detail of highway 29 even more.
  11. I also worked on setting boundaries that work for me and reducing that squishy space where I absorb the feelings and needs of others into the very fibers of my being.
  12. I have a long way to go on the above.
  13. I spent another year scheming and dreaming and loving and growing with my partner-in-all, Matt.
  14. I watched in wonder and fatigue as Ben learned and grew and loved.
  15. I fostered and encouraged this precious friendship between Ben and our pup Arnold, which is almost too cute to handle.
  16. I got pregnant with my second babe! This was shortly before the global pandemic that stopped the earth from spinning and caused us all to examine our lives with newfound love and angst and fear and wonder. Would I choose to get pregnant right this second knowing what I know now? Nah. Am I grateful to be bringing a human into our loving fold? Abso-fucking-lutely. Life is weird like that.
  17. I’m in the process of surviving a global pandemic while working at a hospital and also growing a human.
  18. I made some changes to my work schedule that brought more security and certainty for my little fam.
  19. We therefore changed Ben’s daycare and I was an anxious mess and he was so unphased and happy that I felt maybe I should learn something from him. (Just maybe?)
  20. I continued to grow in my confidence as an occupational therapist. And I continued to mine all the humor and love and compassion and absurdity I could out of the daily roundup of patients. I love it. How awesome is that?
  21. I grew and strengthened friendships at both of my workplaces as well. Who are these sweet souls who choose to care about and look after me? How am I so lucky? 
  22. I reconnected with some old friends in new ways and poured some passion into projects that I love.
  23. I discovered a boxing gym a mere 5 minutes from my house. After 10 plus years of missing my college-era kickboxing classes, I am happy to rediscover the strength and flow I find in boxing. Grateful for encouraging coaches and a good community too.
  24. Enter global pandemic, and hold classes for now. I’ll be back, I promise!
  25. I gained a lot of weight. Pre-pregnancy weight, even. (gasp!) Currently working on loving my strong, capable body and all it does for me (and this baby!). Currently working to crush the deeply-entrenched internal memo that I can’t be proud and beautiful if I’m not stick thin as well. 
  26. I journeyed with my mom through her agonizing, beautiful, slow decline and eventual “graduation”/restoration to full health and wellness/death. Much more on this to come. I could write a whole book on it (and I just might!).
  27. My family learned to lean on each other and check in on each other and monitor each other with the quickest of interpretations of our tones of voice.
  28. I learned- and continue to learn- that just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to. Just because I can, doesn’t mean that other people can’t. I can rely on them and release some control every now and again (yipes!).
  29.  17 days after my momma passed away, my loyal and trusty wonder pup Arnold was diagnosed with  lymphoma. As someone who is VERY VERY tired of cancer and timelines and prognoses and losing loved ones too soon, this frankly sucks. We’ve got our pup on treatment and he is quite comfortable for now. I cannot overstate the comfort he brings to me and I’m going to do my damndest to bring him comfort in return.
  30. And just lately, my sweet 90-year-old grandma has been struggling a bit after falling and breaking a wrist on top of typical 90-year-old conditions. Confronting this at this time, under these worldly conditions, less than a month after the loss of my mom, is hard on my dad and my family.
  31. I’m blown away by the steady stream of sympathy/love messages, rolling right into extra love on Mother’s day, rolling right into birthday well wishes. There aren’t words for the strength and support I gather from my community, but you can bet I’ll work on finding them and expounding on them here.  
  32. I’m stronger and wiser and more tired and more grateful than I was 365 days ago. And reading through the above, I’ll give myself some grace on the writing productivity as well.

That’s a wrap team! Welcome back to you, welcome back to me, thanks for reading, thanks for loving, and please, please help me to keep finding that light. Sometimes it feels like a whole heap of inscrutable darkness but I promise, the light will always, always poke through. Love to each and every one of you!

 

People Pleasers Anonymous

I think I came out of the womb a people pleaser. (Hope that’s not too graphic: Mom, how was that for you? Hope your labor wasn’t too laborious! Happy to be here! No need for a big fuss!) Of course, I know that in real life, my perpetual-people-pleasing is due to some alchemy of a personality predisposition, some nuanced and unspoken messages in my upbringing, the cultural and societal context, and the fact that pesky gender norms on assertiveness and “niceness” and sweetness persist even today. (Thanks to Sociology for the insight!)

And pleasing people isn’t all bad. I have few enemies and many friends, I get along with all types at my jobs and in the world at large, and I’m sure (amidst a pretty impressive report card) I earned only high marks in “plays well with others.”  I’m pretty hell-bent on harmony, and I love bridging gaps and making connections and getting on the same page, so to speak. Give me two people who are complete opposites, and I promise I can bring them together in some tiny way. It’s like my not-very-showy party trick!

The problem is when said harmony is no longer authentic- and trust me, I have been there all too often. Coworker with political views which offend me? No problem! I’m sworn to silence on the principle of getting along! Friend taking advantage of me? It’s fine, I’m fine, I can accommodate! Being chatted-around instead of admired as I get my first tattoo? Not a problem, y’all. It doesn’t even hurt much (actually that’s the truth, but…) What results is an image of me contorted into a tiny little ball, all knees and uncomfortable elbows, projecting only “are you comfortable? Are you okay?” to my companions, while inside I’m freaking uncomfortable and freaking annoyed. And as I get older, resentment starts to creep in. (It sucks in here. Pay me some attention. Don’t you people even care about me?!) Yipes! Not a good look.

So here’s my manifesto moving forward, my mid August resolution, my “Let It Go” Disney ballad, if you will (was the average princess aged 31? Are there problematic gender themes in those stories?) Ahem:

Less people pleasing. More people championing. Still meeting people where they are (as is my nature), but more sharing uncomfortable truths for the good of all involved. Less “I’m fine” when I’m not, less “it’s okay” when it’s not. And please, God please, much less “sorry” when I. am. not. Less easy-breezy-”go-ey”-flowy on things that really matter to me.  More taking up space and less worrying what I look like doing so. More firm (but not my belly, oh no, not that). Firm, not as a stick in the mud, but as a glorious boulder unmoved by the river flowing around it. Others can work around me, surely, right? I’ve been doing it my whole life. And while I don’t want to impede others, I am determined to stick my ground in an authentic way. Less meaningless harmony overshadowing insults and offenses and pain. More meaningful connection through honesty and love.

It’s a tall order, yall. I have a lot to work on. But a public declaration never hurts, right? And the cold never bothered me anyway.

(Less beer while writing? Nope, that’s for another day.) 

All my authentic and space-taking love,

Emily

 

Tired, Teething, Two

Tired, Teething, Two

 

is much like the tipping point

between tipsy and too much drink.

It’s the friend at the party who’s fun,

but teetering on the brink.

 

And we’re laughing and we’re crying and we’re yelling,

and we can’t quite tell what’s what.

And we’re hoping for hydration and sweet sleep

before we hurt ourselves too much.

 

And we hope sweet sleep works its healing magic,

and we may rest without complaint,

so that we may meet the new day

sober, refreshed, with new restraint.

 

In The Margins

I once heard the idea that at the extremes of the political spectrum, left begins to mimic right, conservative mirrors liberal, and the two overlap a great deal. This makes good sense to me, although it’s surprising in this era of “make your own truth and yell about it” and “vilify the opposition at any cost.” To a certain extent, I think the polarization of politics is comfortable to us humans. We know right where to align ourselves and we don’t have to spend a lot of time or brain power thinking about it. Good versus Bad. Truth versus Lie. “For the people” versus “Out for themselves.” To think that taking one ideology to the extreme might land one right on the other team? Preposterous!

Of course, the truth is much more nuanced than our familiar alphabet soup news channel polarization implies. The idea of us all lined up along a spectrum is not quite as simple as two defined camps. Good bleeds slowly into bad and vice versa, in politics and cancer and life. And bless my perfectionist, concrete-feedback-seeking heart, that sucks for me. Here’s what I’ve realized in life with glioblastoma:

Though comforting, simple dichotomies don’t exist. Every happy memory, when viewed through a certain lens, is tinged with sadness a la Disney Inside Out. Ride each radical hope far enough and you’re bound to crash into sickening, familiar fear. And sweet moments of gratitude are often infringed upon by grief. I want 20 more years like this with my mom: relaxing, soaking up each other’s physical presence, laughing at ourselves and helping one another the best we know how. And I desperately yearn for 58 more years with my pre-diagnosis, stunningly beautiful, supremely capable, and completely compassionate mom. I want this so much my heart aches and my eyes well and I daily battle with the truth that no matter how hard I try, no matter how good I am, no matter how deserving my family is, I can’t control the outcome. Occasionally I’ll come across an old voicemail or email and I’m bowled over by grief-gratitude. It’s a trip, ya’ll. (Not the fun kind. But it is somewhat nice. You get the idea…)

Intuitively, (and fortunately), the converse holds true. I am shocked to find sweetness in the lowest, darkest valleys that seem incapable of bearing such fruit. During a literal low not too long ago (a fall to the ground), I rushed to my mom’s aid and before doing much, she said “thank you, love you baby.” From her location. On the floor. Oof. During our darkest phase (many moons ago now), Mom couldn’t talk much or clearly make her needs known. But she always stroked my hair and hugged me back, and when she whispered or quietly verbalized, damn if it wasn’t always sweet. There’s a certain carefree and filter-free nature to my mom these days, and it’s kind of lovely to get on that level with her. I think we could all benefit from operating there from time to time. She moves more slowly, but she has a better appreciation for her surroundings, and she asks wonderful and curious questions. And though in certain ways she’s not herself, it’s as though her internal compass is exquisitely calibrated and points due north: to kindness and love.

So where does that leave me? It leaves me loving her, enjoying her, championing her, celebrating her, and fiercely protecting her safety and dignity. And simultaneously, it leaves me mourning her, wanting her back, wrestling with this unfamiliar responsibility, juggling some home-home-work-life balance issues, and desperately trying to carve out time for myself. It leaves me acknowledging that the highs are always a teeny bit low, and the dark is always shot through with goodness and light. It leaves me clinging with all my might to the good, even as some of it seeps hopelessly through my white-knuckled hands. It leaves my perfectionist, concrete-feedback-seeking heart struggling a bit. And it leaves me thinking politicians ought to be a bit more flexible on the details.

It’s not at all comfortable here, in the margins, where one thing blurs right into the next. But it helps knowing that feelings are fluid and nuanced and fleeting. And so, too, are our experiences and memories. And so, too, are we. See how nice/terrible that is? It really is the best/worst place to be. And while I can’t fully endorse life in the margins, I can promise to embrace and accept you should you find yourself here. There’s plenty of room for interpretation in this weird ass spectrum. There’s plenty of room for all.

XOXO,

Emily

Arnold the Anti-Anxiety Pup

My dog Arnold

is pure giant paws,

and cold nose,

and good intentions.

 

And his mistakes

(and oh, he makes them)

are almost always of the enthusiastic and well-meaning sort.

 

Led by his nose and a love for his people,

carefully calibrated to our nerves and our needs.

 

And I’m a consumer of chemical comfort,

and affirmations and relaxations are my friend.

 

But nothing beats my dog Arnold’s heavy head

in the crook of my neck,

in the small of my back,

in the crease of my knee.

 

He asks so very little of me,

compared to this daily offering of kindness and compassion,

calm and peace.

 

And so I sacrifice some blanket,

and scoot towards the edge of the bed,

and absorb his unconditional acceptance.

 

And I try to believe him

that, though fraught with faults,

I’m lovable and I mean well, too.