It was the wrong thing to say

When I was in high school, I lost a friend to a freak car accident. The news traveled fast. Seth was one of those guys you loved regardless of who you were, what group you were in, or how you knew him. I don’t have the statistics, but I’d say that 3/4 of my high school knew within hours. This, mind you, was before cell phones, text messages, and Facebook.  We just used a regular old land line.

I don’t remember the person who called to tell me. I remember running downstairs, hysterically crying, and screaming to my mother, “Seth’s dead!” Not expecting to hear anything like this, my mother initially looked at me as though I were speaking in foreign tongues.

I tried again. “Seth. Benedict. Died. In a car accident. He died. He’s dead.”

She shook her head. “But you didn’t know him all that well Katie.”

Seriously? A friend of mine, someone I knew, someone I sat near in class, someone with whom I had shared laughs and jokes and chemistry notes is now not on this earth anymore, and that is all? I didn’t KNOW him that well?

My response to her comment was throwing myself against the refrigerator and landing in a heap of tears on the cold laminated kitchen floor.

It was November. The burnt orange and vibrant red leaves had fallen. They were now drying up on the ground, slowly decaying before winter’s wretched bite could get to them. It must have rained that day, because those same leaves were plastered to the road in a slick collage of faded autumn remnants. There was no way for the vehicle to stop that day, but I’ll tell you one thing, the world did.

Inside our little small town school we struggled that following day to make sense of the truth. Most of us hadn’t previously been acquainted with death or loss-many of us were privileged, even if we didn’t know it then. Our parents had done a good job of making sure that we didn’t experience this kind of pain and disbelief. But you simply cannot control the world around your children after a certain point. At some time, the outside forces are going to impact your children and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You’re also going to get to a point where your children are forming relationships and having experiences without you-experiences that you don’t recognize, friendships that might not register on that radar of yours.

My mom was right in one sense-Seth didn’t come over to my house every day. I didn’t call him on the phone at night and tell him my deepest secrets. But every day, he stood outside our chemistry classroom until the bell rang, hands behind his back, smiling and greeting everyone in the hallway. How could she have known how funny he was? How chemistry was all of a sudden not boring with him there? How he was so kind to absolutely everyone, restoring our faith in humanity through those brutally cruel high school years?

That next day, we ran our fingers along the lockers, with their peeling paint, wondering about the  meaning of it all. We huddled in small groups, talking quietly amidst puffy eyes and soggy overused tissues. The teachers and guidance counselors wandered the halls and cried over the loss of one of their students. They mourned at the loss of innocence in all of our faces. We knew now, all of us knew it…we were no longer immortal.

My mom worked really hard throughout my childhood to shelter me from everything she could possibly hide me from. I sometimes wonder if her comment was meant to help me rationalize the experience. She, as a parent, was obviously not ready (who would ever be) to metabolize the loss of a young community member. Legitimately, she also was not prepared to comfort me. But still, it was not the right thing to say.

As a parent now, I see how parenting is 50% trying to prepare yourself for the next thing to come, and 50% admitting that you’ll never actually be prepared for anything. As an adult, I actually find comfort in knowing that I can’t prepare myself for so many of the experiences that will tumble down my road. Rather, I must find the tools I need to cope with different circumstances.

Seth’s death still affects me on almost a daily basis. Most often, however, I choose to remember him, and not the loss of him, so that I can start the day with a smile on my face, and with a little more compassion for those around me.

When You Need to Explain Death to a 3 Year Old

Until yesterday, Harrison hated domestic animals. This is because, back when he was a little over a year old, he decided to pull our cat’s tail and paid the consequences for it. Cameron snapped back and bit Harrison, which scared the daylights out of him. He was too young then to understand that cats don’t like it when people pull their tails, but it’s been an important life lesson that we have referred back to many times:

“Now, Harrison, don’t pull your sister’s hair. It’s not kind.”

“Right Mommy, like that time I pulled Cammies’ tail and he bit me.”

“Yes, sort of like that.”

and,

“Harrison, you must not bite Mommy to get her attention!”

“Oh yeah, because you didn’t pull my tail, so it’s not ok to bite.”
“Ok, yeah, whatever.”

I’m not saying he completely has it down, but he definitely remembers this to be one of his most traumatic life experiences to date, and although I am sad about the event in and of itself, I am happy he learned some kind of lesson.

After Cameron passed away about a year ago, we had our first talk about death. I was completely ill-prepared for it, because that cat had been my heart and soul for thirteen years, and I couldn’t really cope with his death myself, let alone explain it to my toddler. Luckily, Harrison had been way over the cat’s existence ever since the biting experience, so he didn’t ask many questions when Cameron died. Harrison knew we had taken Cameron to the animal hospital, and he didn’t come back home. So therefore, he thought that the animal hospital was heaven. I let that one slide because heaven is a REALLY hard thing to explain to a kid (If you don’t believe me, then you either do not have children or you have never had to try to explain afterlife to them. And if you did, I bet they asked you for a cracker in the middle of your excellently planned speech and you just gave up.) This is probably about the point in my life where I’m going to get a call from my godmother telling me that this is exactly why I need to take my children to church.

So now, you can imagine my surprise, nearly a year later, when Harrison bursts into tears in the car seat exclaiming that he misses Cameron and he wants him back. I don’t have ANY CLUE where this came from, but it took me an entire half hour to calm him down. I even tried telling him we could get a new cat soon and he sobbed, “I don’t want another kitty! I want Cameron!” Me too buddy, me too, but what kind of kid doesn’t want a NEW anything?

I was able to pacify him by telling him fond memories of Cameron, and showing pictures once we got back home. By the time he went to bed, he was happy that Cameron was in heaven, which is no longer the animal hospital but now the sky (“No, honey we won’t see him when we go on an airplane next month”-here we go again with the misconceptions…) where he eats tuna fish, drinks milk out of a fancy saucer, takes lots of naps and plays with balls of yarn. He is also excited about the prospect of a new cat.

Although I was eager to use this experience as a trick of persuasion to talk Justin into getting a new cat, I realize how big of a milestone it is for Harrison to recognize the absence of someone (yes, cats are someones too!) in his life and ask difficult questions about it. Maybe none of us are ready to fill that void with a new furry friend yet. Perhaps, for now, we should just celebrate the life of the one who filled our hearts for so many years.

When They Tell You That You Suck

I had a dream last night about volleyball. More specifically, varsity volleyball back from my high school days. If you were there, you’re wondering what on earth I had to dream about-the tryouts were only a week long and after that, well, I wouldn’t know. The truth is that I got cut from the varsity team. Two years in a row. Worst, I was the only person to get cut. The.Only.One. You can imagine what this would do to a person’s self worth. At sixteen and seventeen years old, when all that matters is being amazing and fitting in, I was a)not amazing, and b) I didn’t fit in. My friends played sports, or had musical inclinations (we’ll talk about that another day, but I knew better than to take that path to destruction) or were artistic geniuses. I was not. I was none of those things.

The coach called me the evening after the last day of tryouts. She tried to explain why I was cut, but her words were lost in the volume of sobs coming from my end of the phone. I was truly heartbroken, and I didn’t understand then why she did what she did. It’s still up for debate whether she did the right thing. But she mentioned a few things that still resonate with me:

“Why didn’t you go to a camp or clinic over the summer to improve your skills? If this was that important to you, you should have joined a club team at the gym to practice in the off-season.”

Luckily, the “volleyball scenario” only comes up once in a while, when people in my company are reminiscing about their younger years, engaged in memories of their elite athleticism. I stand by awkwardly mumbling that I didn’t do much in the way of sports when I was younger and hope no one asks any questions. Usually the conversation passes, and I can wipe the nervous sweat off of my brow, relieved that it’s all over. Again. But there will be another conversation, and I bide my time and wonder who is going to realize this ultimate shortcoming of mine. And for the love of God, people. I am thirty-three years old. I do realize that most people do not care one iota about whether or not I made the volleyball team a decade and a half ago, but it’s not that easy.

When you struggle with anxiety, you replay lots of less-than-sensational moments back in your head over and over. You wonder what other failures and destructions are going to occur in your life, and you hope to high heaven that not everyone remembers all of your shortcomings (and there are SOOOOO many) as vividly as you.

I do believe it is a sign, though. I mulled the dream all over in my head and tried to make connections. I mean, a dream CAN be just a dream, but I did find a connection.

I’ve entered myself in my second writing challenge. They are short, weekly little things where you submit a piece and people in that writing community vote on the entries. For the second week in a row I’m second to last. This is ok, although a little depressing. At least I’m getting out there and I’m learning a LOT about good writing through the voices of my peers.

My coach’s message was simple, but I didn’t understand its importance then. Why didn’t I dedicate time, any time, to this thing that was so apparently important to me? And you know what? I didn’t have an answer then. But every time I have approached failure since my senior year of high school when this all occurred, I have asked myself the same question. Am I doing enough to reach my goal? What else can I do to become better?

So here I am. Practicing. Thinking. Writing. Becoming better. And I’m ready for you to tell me that my overhand serve sucks. But stand by and help a sista out. I love tips and guidance.

Taking the Plunge

Since you’re here, you know I’ve been doing some writing. I started my blog back in May because the stories I had about my children were too good not to share with family and friends. Also, if I didn’t write about them, I’d likely cry about them, and it is well known that I was on my way to losing my mind completely while in the company of two such raucous characters as Harrison and Ella.

What you might not know is that I’ve decided to go a little further with my writing. I can’t say in which direction, because I do not quite know. However, I have dabbled in a few writing contests, joined a few blog shares, and even started writing a book. All of these things are incredibly hard for me to keep up with due to time constraints, however, I am discovering in myself a new and glorious aspect. I can take risks.

I do not like taking risks. I could never be a salesperson, wondering from day to day if I’d make a livable salary based on my charm and persuasion abilities. I cringe at buying lottery tickets; Justin does it all the time, however, I find it to be a senseless waste. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have skipped over an opportunity because I didn’t like the risk involved.

There was one time in high school when I was approached by the gym teacher to be a counselor at his summer camp. Several of my friends were going, or had been in the past, and it was a guaranteed good time. But one thing stood in my way: the morning swim. It would take place at 5 a.m., if I recall, in the freezing cold lake water. And because of this risk, this apparent discomfort that I would face first thing every morning, I passed up the opportunity to work at camp. This job would have been perfect for me: a summer away from home with my friends, an opportunity to work with younger kids, and inevitably the luscious drama and social entertainment that would come from being in a co-ed overnight camp with my peers all summer.

It never dawned on me that I might grow to like the morning swim; that the water might be refreshing and invigorating. My mind was too closed to even accept these possibilities. Although I was reminded that it was the smallest part of the day, and there would be so many more opportunities to outweigh this one small dislike of mine, I still refused. I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t take that plunge.

As if to remind me of the opportunity I missed, the gym teacher kept me on the camp mailing list until last year. I had literally been receiving information about camp reunions and holiday parties for thirteen years even though I had never actually gone to work there. I believe Mr. Sherman was so sure I was going to go, that he put me on that mailing list the minute he proposed the idea to me. It never occurred to either of us to take me off the list, until I sent him a nice message thanking him for the notifications but reminding him that I never actually did accept the offer.

Call me a sucker, but I do believe in fate and I do believe in messages. Perhaps I needed a message from the past to remind me of what I had missed back when I was a teenager. Possibly this would encourage me to take bigger risks. Ones that don’t necessarily involve jumping into a cold lake (which I still do not do), but rather jumping into a pool of writers. Here I am, baring myself as though I were in a skimpy bathing suit, showing you all my stuff. Not everything I write is great. Not everything I write is shared. But here I am writing, taking risks, and feeling ok about it. I can do that now because I’m not so scared as I was when I was a teenager, and also because you’ve encouraged me. Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing. You are what is keeping me afloat.

IMG_1675.2015-09-10_111348(photo courtesy of Justin Clark, Eastport Maine 2015)

 

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Do You Like You?

The other day I came across a Facebook post from a friend which happened to be a Colbie Callait song titled “Try”. The caption read, “She was tired of people photoshopping her, so she did this…” I wondered what THIS was, so I clicked the link. By the end of the song, I was in tears.

If you haven’t heard the song, you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXoZLPSw8U8

Listening to the lyrics, all I could picture was my little girl. My little girl, whose hair isn’t quite long enough for a pony tail yet. My little girl with soft brown eyes and a contagious laugh. My baby, with perfectly scrumptious cheeks and the most adorable chunky thighs you’ve ever seen. I watched the girls in the video. How long would it be until my girl felt like she had to try for others?

I have a picture of myself from sixth grade or so-I was wearing a blue bathing suit and my skin was so pasty white that I’m surprised I didn’t blind the sun on that bright summer day. For years all I wanted was to get a tan. My friends all had nicely bronzed skin by the end of each summer, but the Irish in me didn’t allow for even a glimmer of a tan-ever. I hated that picture then and I hate it now, 22 years later. I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t hate my body at times. Boy, have I HATED my body.

I know very very few girls who can tell me they’ve always liked they way they look. And to be quite frank, if they’ve told me that, I don’t necessarily believe them. So you can understand my concern as the mother of a young daughter who will almost inevitably go through this herself.

I get sick to my stomach thinking about her looking in the mirror a few years down the road, scrutinizing herself, because she will. We all have. She will compare herself to others, and second guess her own true beauty. I’m sure I won’t see it even when she points out whatever “flaws” she thinks she has. This is something I will have to address when we get to that hurdle.

But what I think she needs to know is that it is OK to like yourself the way you are. Too often, we’re looking at magazine covers telling us how to burn fat, how to become stronger, or how to get that amazing hair style. Don’t get me wrong, you can admire those girls with great boobs and long legs and perfect hair. You can be impressed with the ones who can hold their own at the gym and turn out a rock-hard physique. You can even be in awe of that one friend that can eat whatever she wants and maintain a size two. At the same time, however, you can appreciate yourself. You can be ALRIGHT with the frizzy hair and the freckles. We’re always seeing ways to change what we have.Not enough of we read or hear sends the message that it’s ok to just be you, and be happy about it.

“When you’re all alone, by yourself, do you like you?
Do you like you?”-Colbie Callait

Now, entire decades after that horrendous picture was taken, I can look at myself in the all-too-unforgiving leggings that I love to wear and think, “Not bad. I’m ok.” When I go to the beach, I don’t try to get a tan like the other girls. I know better. And when I come in from the sun, all SPF 45ed, I can say, “You’re ok. You’re good. This is good.” When I hop on the scale for the sixth time this week, and I haven’t lost a pound, I can say, “This is still good. It’s great. I’m healthy.” I am thankful for Colbie Callait’s song, and I can only pray that more women will send this message to the girls of Ella’s generation.

 

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