Archive for category Childhood

My Son: Holding Tight, Not Letting Go

He fidgets. We wait. He jumps up, runs over to the machine and looks all herky-jerky, happy, just wanting to play with one of those toys they give to kids. You know the toys, right? They’re packed into this glass case, and a kid deposits a fake coins into the dispenser after he gets done with the pediatrician.  In the old days, we got lollipops for our troubles, but modern kids, they’re all obese, or heading that way, so they get these cheap toys. Or so they say.

I look in the mirror and I see a fat woman and for the life of me, she won’t seem to go away. Stop, El. This isn’t thinking. It’s abuse, another form of it, and deep down, you don’t want that anymore.

 •••

  “Mom! I want this one! The jelly-wiggle!” He grins, all dimples and elbows, and dances around, in a circle, each hand raised with index fingers wagging toward the ceiling. When he dances like this, his face breaks into sharp angles that accentuate his Eastern-European chin dimple, which is, I just learned, caused by some strange genetic malformation of the chin bones. My husband has it. So did Kirk Douglas, and so does his son. The funny thing about this chin dimple is it makes a man look incredibly handsome.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that are malformed, not right, a little off, unique, can be the things that make a man, a boy, most loved. I always was taken with a chin dimple, and the fact that it’s a mistake, a genetic error, makes me even fonder of it.

“Shh,” we whisper. “Calm down, love.” He runs back and sits next to my husband, who wears a dark gray suit. Before I can count to ten, he jumps back up again, and stares, intense, eyes narrowed, at the jelly wiggler toy.

•••

She leaned over and scribbled something on his chart. I squinted. 160/102. No. The muscles around her eyes flexed and then she let go, and as her eye muscles retracted, she undid the blood pressure cuff, all the while speaking to my son. Rip, it went, and it sounded so loud in that coffin-quiet office with the pictures of our aging doctor and her three sons on the walls, and I leaned over and shut the office door.

“160/100,” I whispered to my husband, who was watching Dr. M while I held onto my tiny creature, not so tiny now, but in my mind’s eye, I see him as a baby.

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“Mama, was I this big?” He asks, holding his arms about a foot apart.

            I grin.

            He grins, and the grin is as big as his face. “The size of a football?”

            “Yeah,” I nod.

            “I could fit inside a football?” The light dances inside his eyes.

            “Yep.” Now I smile back at him. “That big. No bigger.”

She ripped off the elastic that makes the cuff grip his right arm so tight, and wheeled around, writing something down in his chart. It’s a thick chart for a six-year old. After all, we always joke, he’s our medical scare baby. When I was pregnant with Maddie, I got laser surgery on my eyes, and with those surgically-repaired eyes squinting, I could read her handwriting. 160/100.

It passed quickly. The appointment, I mean. But how fast will this pass? How fast will he pass?

Just a few days ago, he stood in front of the fridge in a Cambray button down shirt and baggy khakis, all serious and tiny, and in my mind’s eye, with both eyes fixed on all fifty-two pounds of him, I saw him as a fifteen or sixteen year old. He was tall and lanky and searching for a glass of water. For some reason, I often see him projected, his tiny form onto his future form, older, taller, a vision, a future ghost of the man he is becoming. It always makes me smile, he always makes me smile, this little boy of mine, this unique, quirky, challenging imperfect child, this sunshine, my sunshine, and I know I can hold on only for so long.

I never wondered if God was giving me this vision to comfort me, to let me know what this youngest son could have been, because he was no longer to be. But it’s weird, because I never see my other two children as older versions of their little selves. Just the baby of the family, my baby, this dimpled man-child of mine. Is God sending him to me, this future man, as a message, as a reminder, a letter of love and comfort and a promise that he will make it through this okay? Or is God reminding me to hold tight, so tight, because his time here is fast fading, fading?

 

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What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?

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The Mendacity of a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy

Here is what’s going down in my daughter’s life . . . to protect the privacy of all participants, I’m using initials instead of names, and in some cases have switched initials up.

Dear School Board Rep. MM:

Re: bullying of MEF

I am attaching the e-mail I sent to the principal at TCES. My daughter, MEF, a 4th grader in Ms. GB’s class, has been subjected to bullying all year, which has now culminated in assault. We are considering contacting the police and we certainly will do the same if another hand is laid on my daughter. One of the children involved in the assault has been harassing MEF since second grade. At that point, Ms. Principal S switched my daughter into a different class. In this case, that will not be a satisfactory resolution.

TCES has a so-called zero tolerance bullying policy, which as far as I can tell simply protects the strong from serious repercussions. Given the increase of teenage and even pre teenager suicide that results from bullying, I am very concerned that the school isn’t doing more. While my daughter is not as of yet demonstrating signs of depression, she is showing an increasing desperation and sense of isolation. To date, she has tried to stand up to the children who have been hurting her, and somehow this has led her teacher to argue that MEF gives out almost as well as she gets. I find this more frightening than laughable.

Regards,

ELF___________

 From: ELF
Subject: bullying
Date: November 15, 2012 4:04:51 PM EST
CC. Principal S

Hello GB:

As we mentioned during our Parent-Teacher Conference earlier this month, we are concerned about KZ’s bullying of MEF. This has been occurring all year and today, it culminated with my daughter racing off the bus in tears. Apparently at recess, MEF was sitting alone and playing a game. Three boys (AK L, DG and KZ) marched over and spat at her (which they also did yesterday). One of them ran up and called her a “Guana [sic] Pig” and “Ninja Pig” and when two girls tried to intervene, KZ pushed MEF, causing her to fall down. AK kept calling MEF these nasty names; then DG shoved and pushed MEF into playground equipment. MEF tried to chase them away, and they screamed, “Leave foul beast.” At some point, AK said, “I hope your little ‘sister’ dies” (referring sarcastically to my son TJF, who tried to stand up for his sister during recess yesterday). At some point during this, MEF called KZ a “stupid idiot.”

At the end of this, KZ told MEF that she’d better not tell on him, or else he would tell on her and say that she was bullying him. This, of all the things I’ve heard from MEF, disgusts me the most. She admits to calling KZ a “stupid idiot” only after she was shoved, pushed, called epithets, struck, made fun of and basically tortured.

I do not want to hear what I heard earlier this year: that “boys will be boys.” No. You have a zero tolerance bullying policy. Let’s go ahead and see that policy in force.

Let me be clear: this is a clear pattern of bullying. We have spoken with you regarding DG, Ms. Principal S. In second grade, we switched MEF to a different class after he sexually harassed her. I don’t want him to ever lay a hand on my daughter again and I don’t know how else to make this clear. And Ms. GB, this is at least the fourth time I’ve raised the issue of bullying, either in writing or in person, this year. MEF loves being in Ms. GB’s class. At this point, if anyone is moved, it must be the perpetrators and not the victim.

I would appreciate if this e-mail is forwarded to the parents of all involved children. And Husband and I request an action plan.

Regards,

ELF
___________________

Mr. Vice Principal PBJ:

Thank you for calling me earlier. I’ve received the rest of the story.

MEF just got home from school and told me she was afraid to answer your question about pushing. To your “leading question” of, “Do you think it’s okay that you pushed the boys,” she didn’t answer what she was really thinking. At that point, she’d given up. It isn’t polite to argue with adults, mom.  What she said to me was, “I was trying to protect myself from them. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t fight back. Especially when they’re spitting at me and calling me bad words. But I didn’t bother telling Mr. PBJ that because he didn’t want to hear it. They don’t really care. Why can’t you just transfer me to a different school, anyway?”

At school today, Ms. GB caught AK and KZ (I think) while they were spitting at MEF. (to MEF’s tremendous relief, Ms. GB gave them a serious rebuke). AK was also bragging that he’d lied and told you that MEF had hit AK (which is nonsense). AK thinks it’s hilarious that he’s pulled one over on you and has somehow convinced you that MEF has bullied THEM. I refer, as exhibit 1, to MEF’s near-perfect behavior record. Seriously. Go ask all her prior teachers.

Oh, and one other thing MEF did not tell you: she has tried to defend herself physically in the past. One day she hit KZ, in the stomach, at recess when he was bullying her. He laughed at her and called her a “weakling.” I fear that she will try to protect herself and will suffer harm at the hands of these boys, who are much bigger, stronger and heavier than her.

What’s happening here is a small, sweet kid is trying, really, really hard to take matters into her own hands. She is trying to create a safe space for herself. When she tried to do that and enjoy some peace, the boys invaded her space (a situation that seemed laughable to you because it involved a make-believe “command center”), spat at her, called her a PIG . . . and then she’s in trouble for pushing them? This is nonsense. Unlike some of the kids in her class, she is not a violent kid, but she’s trying to do her best “to survive,” as she put it. If you don’t act soon, someone is going to get hurt. Please work with me to keep my child safe. I am not satisfied with your response.

Regards,

ELF

On Nov 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM, PBJ wrote:

Good Afternoon ELF,

I am sorry that MEF has the perception that we do not care about what she said because we do.  As I said on the phone, our goal is to make TCES an inviting, safe space for all of our children.   We have begun taking steps to address the concerns we uncovered today and will continue to do so.   I would be happy talk with you further about this either on the phone, or, if you prefer, we can meet next week.  Please let me know how you would like to proceed.  I expect I will be here for at least another thirty minutes, if you would like me to call you tonight please let me know.

PBJ

We won’t stop.

ELF      Date:   November 16, 2012 5:01:24 PM EST

To:       PBJ

I’m far too upset–in tears– to speak to anyone more tonight.

____________

I wasn’t exaggerating. Before I’d typed this, I’d asked all three children to go outside for 15 minutes.  So I could cry.  I needed to break down, feel weak, feel this, for just 15 minutes.  Then I got my shit together, which really only happened when my husband walked across the threshold.

After I took a run, I calmed down and got back on the computer.  A friend of mine sent me a note last night.  She told me a pretty haunting story about a bully named KZ (the same KZ) who tortured one of her son’s friends so badly last year that the child transferred to another school. Yep.  The victim transferred to another school.  My friend added that she heaved a sigh of relief when finding that KZ was not in her child’s class this year. “My son is happy again.”

KZ has chosen another victim: my daughter. His parents don’t or won’t intervene. Meanwhile, the school has erected a smattering of anti-bullying signs around the hallways—the same hallways KZ prowls, searching for victims. 

He preys on the sweet kids. The ones who wear glasses, or are a little bit unique, or aren’t surrounded by a posse at all times. And he’ll keep on hunting until the school stops him. You know what sort of thing happens when the school bureaucrats don’t act?  Kids take their own lives, or they bring a gun into school and . . . well.  Columbine.

What do we do?  I’ve prayed on this a lot.  I’ve prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me; I’ve asked Him for peace and love and I’m still praying, and pretty damn confused.  I know one thing for sure.  I will not go along with the blanket of secrecy that the school uses to shroud the misdeeds of out of control students.  I will fight, and I will not stop until my daughter is safe. So help me God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Truth does not Mirror Belief

In light of something rather unpleasant going down in my professional life, I wrote the following last night on my FB Page:

I’m thinking tonight about integrity, which is telling the truth to yourself, and honesty, or telling the truth to other people. When a person has both qualities, and a willingness to do their best in all their endeavors, you’ve got the sort of person we all like to call “a keeper.” I strive to be that sort of person, and while I may fail at it sometimes, I sure do give my all.

Truth can mirror belief;
belief, truth.

This was my very indirect way of addressing a suggestion that I did not fulfill a professional commitment.  What I wanted to say is: hell yes, of course I kept my word.  But the question unasked is how do I address what someone believes about me, and whether I should care enough to even try?

One of my close friends has written both in her blog and her Facebook Page about this subject in the context of testifying in court against an abuser while she was in elementary school. She was warned that no one would believe her.  Later, when contemplating the issue as an adult, Deb Bryan wrote:

Whose belief matters? As some of you know, I am fond of saying, “Your belief is irrelevant.” That’s not totally true.

If you are irrelevant to me, your belief is irrelevant to me. The way that you make yourself irrelevant to me is to show yourself not thoughtless–for aren’t we all, at times?–but consideredly untruthful, intentionally ignorant of plain facts or malicious. See https://www.facebook.com/yourclosetmonster, Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

From a personal standpoint, I too have wrestled with the issue of figuring out whose belief matters. I was sexually abused as a child, and my family did not—does not– believe me.  Does this matter?  It used to matter, but at some point frankly, their belief became irrelevant.

At some point next year, I’ll publish my memoirs and perhaps a shit storm will follow.  Let me be painfully honest: one of my worst nightmares is that I’ll be speaking to a crowd and my mom and dad will rise from the back row and start screaming at me.  If they find out about the book (and I hope they don’t), my birth family will attack, decry and further disown me.  “Elaine the pain is still insane,” which has been the party line for decades, will serve as the foundation for their response.

And you know what?  I don’t care.  Because they’re irrelevant to me now. At least, that’s the state of mind I’m reaching for, and if I haven’t reached it yet, that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t.

That brings me back to the painful professional circumstance I find myself in. Last night, I fell asleep thinking, what do I do?  I didn’t sleep well. I dreamed that my family was beating me up again. I have these PTSD dreams every night, and when the alarm clock buzzed, I felt my ribs to see if they still hurt.  They didn’t.  And as soon as I realized that I wasn’t stuck in some horror-fantasy, I realized that only I am responsible for who and what matters to me.

By not carrying their misbegotten beliefs on my shoulders, they can no longer rain blows either mental or physical down on me. They are irrelevant, and since irrelevant, their beliefs are too.

God’s grace.

As far as my professional reputation, I have no control over what others think about me.  As scary as it may seem, people are going to believe what they want to believe.  Some of the stuff said and written about me may well be malicious, without factual basis, and easily proven false.  Despite all of that, some may believe the worst about me.

And you know what?  That’s alright.  Their belief is irrelevant because it doesn’t change who or what I am.

There’s a final piece in this puzzle, and of course it’s the most important piece.  The true arbiter of all matters controversial is God.  He is the only one I need answer to, and there’s an amazing feeling of peace that comes with that.  Call it what you will—I call it grace.  With God’s grace, whatever belief others hold about me truly is irrelevant.

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A Hail Mary Pass Thrown into Swirling Gust of Wind: Medicating AD/HD

I paced back and forth in front of my son’s first grade classroom, waiting for his teacher to finish talking to another child’s parents.  My husband tries to come to as many parent-teacher conferences as work permits, but I’d scheduled this one for 10 A.M. on Election Day, so I was going into the breach solo.  And while I didn’t want to feel scared and worried and a little sick to my stomach, I did.

Too often, these conferences hadn’t gone well in the past.  At the very first one, when Ben was still in preschool, his teacher glared at me with this serious, disapproving look.  “You know, you’d better get a handle on this sooner than later, when there’s still time.  Otherwise, he’s going to end up in jail.”

I glanced at my husband in shock.  “Jail?”  I gasped.

“Jail,” she repeated.  “At this rate, with this much oppositional behavior, this much anger, jail.”

In case you’re wondering, we switched preschools after that.

Things got worse before they got better.  When Ben was in kindergarten, I would jump when the phone rang.  If it wasn’t the school calling, I breathed a sigh of relief.  When I visited Ben at school for lunch, his classmates told me that my dear son was “bad.”  As I have written here, this hurt like hell.  I felt powerless and not a little clueless.  The last thing I wanted to turn to was the medicine cabinet.

But we did it anyway, both for our son’s sake, and for our own.  The payoff was not immediate because we had him on too low of a dose: 10 mg of Metadate, which is a generic form of Ritalin.  But once we got the dosage right (20 mg), the turnaround was immediate.

And yet, as I stood in front of Mrs. X, I wasn’t sure.  It had been about three weeks since we’d increased Ben’s dose, and we hadn’t heard from her except for one phone call, which I received the day after we increased Ben’s dose.  It had been a really weird call.  Mrs. X called for the sole reason of telling me that Ben had behaved well all day.  Was this an anomaly, or a new beginning for our troubled six-year old?

Before I even sat down in front of Mrs. X, I knew the answer was the latter: Ben had gotten a fresh start.  A redo, a do-over.  “You know, I’ve been looking forward to this meeting,” beamed Mrs. X.  “It’s been like night and day, like a sun rising, ever since you made the brave step of getting him the help he needed.”

“Really?”  I couldn’t breathe so I tried to sit down without smashing my knees into the tiny table in front of me.  I’m clumsy like that.

“Yes.  Really.  The transformation has been the biggest one I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of AD/HD kids.  Sometimes the meds help a little.  Sometimes a lot.  In his case, he’s gone from . . .”  Mrs. X paused to find a tactful way to say it.  “Well, from struggling, to being helpful, and attentive, and funny and . . . oh so kind.  I mean, he was always sweet and affectionate, but my gosh.  Now he gives me flowers, tells me how much he loves me—“

—“He’s always been so affectionate and sweet,” I murmured, my heart hurting.

She nodded.  “The great thing is that you made this change for him early in the year.  So his classmates won’t always remember him getting in trouble.  I mean, they all struggled to figure out the rules in the beginning, so he didn’t stick out as much in their minds.  And now he’s getting along with his classmates.  He’s funny and well-liked and . . .”  Her voice trailed off and she smiled at me.

Some decisions, when viewed from hindsight, seem obvious.  Other ones seem divinely inspired, like small miracles.  But the decision to medicate our son was more like a Hail-Mary pass thrown into a swirling gust of wind: a combination of savvy quarterbacking, divine guidance and a tad of blind luck all in one.

 

 

 

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My Faith: Why I Cannot Do Otherwise

I wrote the following last week . . .
_______________

I’ve been thinking about my presence on Facebook. As my page has gotten bigger, I’ve met more and more lovely people. Unfortunately, a few folks have said some unkind, sarcastic or even abusive things on my page. It got so bad the other night that I thought about changing the way I talk to you. Maybe, I thought, I should try harder to build an audience of potential readers by developing more of a persona. Maybe I should not be so raw and real all the time. Those of you who’ve been around for awhile know the good, the bad, and for sure the crazy about me. If I’m struggling, I talk about it.

But I’m about so much more than my struggles. I’m about joy and persevering and romantic ideals and kindness and seeking the good. After all, if I’m running from Hell, I’m heading towards Heaven, right?

But heck, I thought, maybe I need to view this as a business. I should conduct more giveaways and promotions and use my influence to make a dollar . . .um no. Hell no. I honestly believe my writing will sell on its own, without me wasting my time and your time with whine-beg-sellathons.

Then, I thought, maybe I should put on some armor and stop talking about my personal issues so much. Maybe it’s time to put on another one of my many personas. But you know what? I’m done with armor, personas and masks. I don’t have the desire or energy to hide behind some fake persona. I’m daring to write and live in my own clothes, using my own words, and I refuse to compromise.

When I thought about it, I realized that some people just aren’t going to like me. And you know what? I like being liked, but at what price? I mean, should I change how I act just so more people will like me? No. I must take heart, respect myself and do my best with the gifts, talents and imperfections that God has given me. And if some people don’t like the authentic me, then that’s okay. Really—it’s okay.

I’m grateful for those of you who enjoy following my stuff. I’m also grateful to those people who gave me a shot and decided I wasn’t their cup of tea. Sometimes I learn the most from the times I’ve failed or, in this case, from the people who have not stayed with me. I’ve learned that I can’t change what I do or how I act to keep from failing or to convince someone not to leave me.  I’m going to keep being E. L. Farris (hey I love going third person lol). I will keep doing my best as a writer and as a human being. That’s all any of us can do.

_________

The thing is, I’ve been thinking about a lot more than my presence on Facebook lately. I never thought I’d be a born-again Christian. Seriously, I never thought I’d say the words. I never thought it. I’m a woman of reason–really, I am. But I have always been profoundly religious, too.

I grew up in a family where there was much religion but almost no faith.  More than faith, religion or even reason, there was confusion and noise and anger. Amid all of that, I searched for Him, but when I walked around studying the Bible alone, they laughed at me. Called me a wanna-be Saint, a pretender, a phony, and an idiot.

My birth family calls themselves Catholic but refuse to submit to the sacrament of Confession, or Reconciliation. I left the Catholic flock but since then, I did try to return. I fell on my knees and confessed my sins to a priest . . . I even confessed the sins done unto me. Despite the best efforts of that priest, the Catholic church would not take me back unless I recanted my marriage in a Protestant church. I could not do this, and so they cast me out.

That made me want to give up on religion. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

I kept searching.

I have no idea what’s really the right religion for everyone else. Each one of us needs to find his or her own road, and wherever it leads you, I hope that God’s love will be with you. Always. All I know is that God never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on finding Him.

I’ve been searching for so long. I’ve been searching for so freakin’ long, and every time I was close, real close, something or someone knocked me off the road I was on. But He never left me.

What pains me today, and I’ll be honest with you–the pain of rejection cuts way too deep still–is that I will lose friends. I think I may have already lost some. It hurts. It hurts that even as I will not judge where they walk or what road they’re on, they will hear the words “Born-Again” and slam the door shut on me. I’ve lost so much in this life. I don’t want to lose anymore or anyone.

It hurts. Because I cannot do otherwise. I cannot choose between friends and my faith. It simply is no choice. I’m quoting Martin Luther, by the way. When he attached his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, he explained, with an anguish I can all too well understand, that he could not do otherwise. Here are his words:

Unless I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasoning that I am in error – for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves – I cannot recant, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. So help me God. Amen.

Like Luther, I stand where I stand. I am impelled to state my faith. It will sadden–it does sadden– me if I lose friends because of this, but this is my faith. I cannot apologize for it. I should not–must not–apologize it. My conscience requires otherwise. As Martin Luther said, so help me God.

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4 Soccer Games, 17 Library Books, 6 Donuts, 4 Slurpees . . .

Three kids, four soccer games, seventeen library books, six donuts, four Slurpees . . . such is the first equation that best describes the math of our Autumn Saturday.

Between soccer games, we all ended up in the kitchen.  With a bottle of water in one hand, I leaned against the countertop, watching as my husband ate a “Muffeletta” sandwich we’d bought yesterday from The Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia.

Our middle child, Travis James Farris, Jr., or “Jim,” sat facing my husband.  “Dad, when I write ‘Junior’ after my name, it makes me proud to have your name.”  Jim’s voice, still high pitched, echoed against the red walls in our kitchen, and I smiled.

Before I could say anything, my husband set his Muffeletta down and wiped his hands on his paper towel.  “Well, son, I’m very proud to share my name with such a great kid. I don’t think I’ve told you today just how awesome you are.”

I glanced at Travis, who was once again grasping his “manwich,” and nodded at the clock.  He sighed; I sighed; and we started to check shin pads, cleats, water bottles and soccer balls.  Fifteen arguments, three Facebook status updates, four missed calls and an entire box of obliterated Munchkin donuts later, I sat in my husband’s big, striped fabric chair in the kitchen, typing up some research notes about angels on my silver Macbook Pro.  My youngest child whizzed around me, and we played our “I love you game.”

I started.  “I love you more than all the leaves in the backyard.”

Ben’e eyes lit up as I spoke.  Before I finished, he danced in front of me.  “I love you more than all the trees in America.”

“Sun, moon, stars.”

He grinned, all dimples showing, and yelled, “Mom I love you more than anything, even God.”

I smiled back at him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Not more than God.  You must love Him most.”  I paused mid-negotiation long enough to mix a smile into my sober response.  “How about except God?”

“Oh, okay, except God.”  He hopped around again.  “And I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  My six-year old, 48-pound boy grinned at me while he sipped his Slurpee. “And if anyone tries to hurt you, I will protect you.  If someone comes at you with a knife, I will hit them, or cut their head off!”

“Um . . .”

Ben jumped up and added, “Look at the picture I drew for you, Mom!  It has pink hearts on it, and me, and you.”

I glanced over at the drawing of two blue-colored people holding hands on a scrap of wrinkled white paper.  Admittedly, I was a little relieved to see that there were no weapons mixed in with the pink hearts that circled the blue-colored sketch of mother and son.  I knew, just as my husband knew–just as my entire family knows–what it means to feel loved, and my soul rang out with laughter and with light.

 

 

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Sleepless in Virginia

I can’t sleep tonight.  My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a campout with our two sons.  My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep.  Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:

1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?

2. Are the boys too cold?

3. Did Travis take his meds?  Did I?

4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon?  Damn.  We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion.  I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.

5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time?  If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.

Ben’s scar

6. Will my headache ever go away?  I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head.  I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic, or the chief medical officer of our household.  That’s the Cup Scout leader of course.  I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound.  I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past.  They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was.  I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.

7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine?  Oh crap.  How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda?  Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have?  And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?

8. What if the anti-diarrheal tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.

9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.  My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting.  I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack.  If I get a panic attack, I’ll have to call Travis on his cell phone and what if his cell phone is out of batteries?  Will that mean he doesn’t love me enough to keep batteries operational?  Crap.  Did he replace the batteries in the black flashlight?

10. Did the boys brush their teeth?

11. It’s too quiet.  Why are the frogs gone?  I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring.  In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen.  Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time?  Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared.  And I was secretly convinced thay it was my fault they all caught pneumonia.  That had to have been my fault, right?

12. How far away is Florida from Seattle?  Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle?  Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally?  And can men and women really not be” just” friends?  What’s my friend Sam doing right now?  I should text her.  It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.

13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out.  Damn.  My heart just sped up.

I should stop at 13.  Wait.  I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.”  Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions.  So does my Maddie.  Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen.  That is one of the many things I like about her.

She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight.  It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it.  I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it.  She wanted to know my story.

I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter.  We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?

“Yep.  I won championships.  I was a pitcher, like Kit.”

Madeline stared at me, a little breathless.  “You were?”

I grinned.  “Come on Maddie.  How many moms throw like I do?”

With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”

I nodded.  “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”

Goodnight friends.  It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia.  I’m not going to bed yet.  But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.

And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.

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Running and Mom Guilt

One kid, then a second, and then a third jumped-tumbled off the high bus steps and gang-tackled me.  After hugging them back, I walked behind the boys with my daughter, who chattered about her day.

“I have something I want to ask you about,” I began, my arm resting on her shoulder.  “All of you.”

She squinted up at me through the afternoon sunlight.  “Why?  What?”

I started to explain what was bothering me as we kicked our shoes off by the steps to the laundry room.  Standing there, with my fingers wrapped around the door frame, I felt off-balance.  One time, years ago, I had shut the door on my son’s little fingers when he used the frame to maintain his balance, and since then, I’d been afraid of sticking my fingers in the space between the door’s edge and the door frame.  And yet for some reason, I still did it every day anyway.  Once I got my purple and bright yellow running shoes off my feet, I breathed a sigh of relief that my fingers were intact, and slammed the thick white laundry room door behind me.

I removed lunchboxes from backpacks, stacked the three backpacks in the space between the china cabinet and the dining room wall and set snacks in front of the kids.  For a few minutes, everyone talked at once about their day, three overlapping voices forming the ever-shifting mosaic of our life as a family.

 I leaned against the kitchen counter top, which is where I usually stand when I’m in the kitchen.  Since the accident, I almost never sit down at the table.  It’s become my new normal and no one thinks anything of it.  When my husband isn’t around, sometimes I jump up and sit on top of the counter, right near the spice drawer, which is where I used to sit as a child.  This annoys my husband.  He thinks it’s going to break the counter, so it’s one of my many guilty pleasures, I guess.

“So, guys, I need to ask you something.  I have this race tomorrow, but I’m thinking it’s going to take me away too long from you.  That’s making me feel really bad.  It seems unfair.”

“Yeah, Mom, you are gone a lot on the weekends.  Why do you have to work so much?”

I sighed and looked at Maddie.  “I’m writing a novel, hun.  And it’s important.”  I took a deep breath.  Was I really gone that much?  “Anyway, I would be gone, like, the entire day, from before breakfast to dinner.  And so I wanted to let you decide.  And whatever you decide is fine with me.  I’ll honor it.  If you want me home, I’ll not go to the race.”

Jim’s eyes brightened.  He didn’t need to speak.  I had his answer.

Then Maddie did one of her smile-shrug-hair flips, with a dozen other facial expressions thrown in for emphasis.  She’s able to convey more without speaking than any other little girl I’ve met.  With her voice rising to a higher pitch as she spoke, she spoke.  “I want for you to do what makes you happy, Mom.”

I sighed.  “No, I’m asking you what makes you happy.”

She twirled her hair.  “Well, it will make you happy to run the race, won’t it?  You’ve trained for it.  You’d be disappointed if you didn’t run it, wouldn’t you?”

I felt like Hell.  She cared about me—that was obvious.  She wanted me to be happy—that was also obvious.  But did she just not want me around?  I tried to pull it together.  “I don’t want you to miss me while I’m doing something that will make only me happy.  What you want is very important to me.”

She shrugged.  Her faces twisted in concentration.  “You are gone a lot on the weekends.  But we’re okay with Dad.”

“So you want me to be gone then?”  It was a stupid thing to say, but before I could right the ship, Ben, with a bored look on his face, swung around in his chair and exclaimed, “I want you to go run it.  We’ll hang out with Dad.”

That stung.  I tried to inspect him, to understand his words, to find the hidden resentment, but I think he was just speaking without filter, saying what he really was thinking, which he usually does anyway.   Tears were rising, but I pushed that back down.

“Am I really gone that much?”

Maddie wince-smiled, and I tried to read everything she was thinking, just as she was trying to read me.

“Okay.  Maddie.  Please.  What do you want me to do?  I want to be here and I want you to be happy.  That’s job one.  Be a good mom.  Take care of y’all.  That’s my job.  What you need to concentrate on is not what makes me happy.  I want to know what makes you happy, okay?”

She nodded.  I could almost see the gears moving in her head.

“So, do you want me to stay home tomorrow?  You have the deciding vote.  And it’s perfectly okay.”

She smile-shrugged again, and twirled her hair.  “It would be nice to have you around.  But what about all of your training?”

I breathed.  Finally.  “The training is fine.  There will be other races.”

“Are you sure?  It’s okay if you want to run it.”

I crossed the room and opened the fridge door.  As I pivoted, slamming the door shut behind me, I thought real fast.  This was absurd.  I was being absurd.  This wasn’t really their decision.  It was my decision, all the way.  Even if it hurt me that Ben didn’t seem to want me home, I wasn’t going to run from my responsibility.  Even if staying home meant admitting I’d been gone too much, I wasn’t going to run from this.  Even if it meant facing my guilt, I could do that.  I could even face my guilt for being away too much and being too busy and too absorbed in my work without turning it into a shame-making session with my past, present and future ghosts haunting me.

Because, you see, I thought to myself, I can control how the future works out with me and my children by slamming the door shut on this race, and this disengaged parenting, right here, right now.  They won’t remember the Saturdays I disappeared, or at least won’t be haunted by them, if I change–if I manage to be here going-forward, most Saturdays and Sundays.  I’m in charge of how our family turns out, and all I got to do is be here, and when here, actually be present.  I can do all of that without sacrificing my work, and my happiness.

After guzzling half a liter of ice-cold water, I rubbed my mouth on my sleeve and then nuzzled my daughter’s head.  “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so much.  I’ll try harder.”

It took a few more passes for us to reassure one another that all was well, and then I changed the subject back to the contents of their day.  And as they unpacked their day like a woman unloads the contents of her purse, I tried to sort through my feelings.  Feeling guilty paralyzed me, and so I had to try to set that aside and think things through.  Had I been gone too much?  Maybe; maybe not.  Children can be self-absorbed.  So can I.  I never really grew up.  In some ways, I’m still a life coming into being, rather than a finished product.  And the thing is, I was profoundly unhappy when I was just a stay at home mom.  No offense to SAHMs (Hell, moms that don’t work get their own acronym just like some neighborhoods garner their own zip codes, so they must be doing something with all of their time, right?), but I lost my sense of self when I stopped working. 

I love being a mom.  But I didn’t love being just a mom.  I’m not much good at most things domestic, and I never felt comfortable with the other SAHMs.  I felt like the ugly swan around them, and deep down, I knew I didn’t belong.  As the days revolved and became years, I felt constrained and trapped and overwhelmed with the unchanging routine of it all.  I wasn’t very good at running a household and I never wanted to be.

Which is not to say I didn’t love being home with my children.  I did.  And they knew I loved them.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind when I disappeared for hours on my long runs—because when I got home, I brought my grinning self to the threshold and bestowed hugs and laughs and well-timed winks.  Running made happy, and being happy made me a better mom.   Within limits, running made me a better mom.

I guess it’s all about balance.  I’d never quite found it.  Every day I reached out and tried to hold onto something stable to find it, because I was always moving so damn fast.  But as a mom, I had to be my own doorframe.  I had to provide the ballast to keep the ship afloat, and to do that, I had to stand still, if only for a few moments at a time, or else I was going to run my family aground.  And ships, like families, get pretty messed up when that happens.

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I Hear Him and I Surrender

This is an excerpt from my final chapter from I Run: Running from Hell with El

Many people have asked me, often with great exasperation, what I was running away from.  For years, friends told me to stop.  Over and over and over again, people told me to rest, to stand still, to stop.  But I was too scared.  I was scared of myself, of the demons that danced and pranced inside me.  I was scared of dying, perhaps by my own hand.  I was scared I’d end up in Hell.  I was scared of my past.  I was scared of facing my pain.  I was scared I wouldn’t survive whatever I saw when I finally faced it—all of it. 

And I’m still scared.  I’m fucking terrified.  Really, I am.  I’m at this crossroads, and I gotta decide which way to turn—which path to take.  If I keep running away from my pain, something really bad is going to happen to me.  I don’t know what that is, and in the past, I’d just keep running for miles and miles, one day, one horizon, one sunset fading into the next, until my legs could carry me no farther.  I’d follow one path, then turn down another one, hoping that I could drink in the adventure of it all and find my way back home someday.

I don’t like to give up.  It feels like surrender.  And surrendering means making myself vulnerable.  All my life, I’ve gritted my teeth and refused to stop moving.  God tried to get my attention more than ten years ago.  The seizures almost killed me.  And I heard Him loud and clear.  I had given up on Him and then, all of a sudden, well, I needed Him.  I realized how much I loved being alive, and every night before I fell asleep, I thanked Him for another day, and begged Him to let me see the morning light.

And yet I kept running away.  I waged war against myself; I plotted my own downfall; and I teetered on the edge of living and dying.  He was patient with me.  He gave me three beautiful children and they loved me.  Through them, I felt the first glint of self-love.  Because of them, I fought . . . I hung on.  I tried to find my way through the darkness inside; I tried to live a good life but I kept running away from my past.  I remained a stranger and too often, an enemy to myself and thus to Him.

The bus collided with our SUV and my life as I knew it ended.  I knew He kept me alive that night for a reason.  I felt His grace inside me as I screamed with a mother’s fierce love, “NO!! Don’t hurt my children!!”  For once, I stood still for a little while.  And I felt a pain unlike anything I had ever felt before.  I ran to Him; sobbing, I collapsed in front of a priest and confessed not just my sins, but the sins others had done to me.  I tried to find my way to Him through my childhood Catholic faith, but the church would not have me as I was—the Catholic church rejected my Protestant marriage.

I staggered and fled again. I was trying to find my way but I managed to get lost again.  I ran and I ran and I couldn’t stop running this time because I was running to stay alive.  You see, I was running back through my past.  I was running right through the gates of Hell and the only way to get through Hell is to keep moving until you’re safe again.

It took me two years of intense therapy to get out of there alive.

This year, for Lent, my therapist ordered me to stop hurting myself—to stop even wanting to hurt myself.  I couldn’t do this alone.  I needed God’s help.  He filled me with His light and I turned that light on the demons, real or metaphorical I do not know, that were lodged inside me.  I don’t care how this sounds.  All I know is that after two decades of wanting to hurt myself, of sometimes hurting myself, I stopped.  I didn’t overcome this on my own.  I worked hard that day to channel light and goodness and most of all, God’s will.  You see, He helped me do it.

Since this day, this miraculous day, I haven’t wanted to hurt myself.  And yet, I still wasn’t listening very well either.  And He kept trying to reach me.  He sent friends to talk to me, friends who told me they carried His message.  It’s true.  I sort of listened, but I also kept running, but slower.  Not as far.  And every so often, I would pause, look around, and listen.  I started to read the Bible again.  I started to listen when He talked to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what He wants me to do.

Then He spoke to my friend. This is part of what He told her:

A: He says you are running from Him, too…and stop it sooner rather than later.

El: okay.

A: Run to Him, not away…Run to Him…

El: I hear Him. Chills are running up and down my spine.

A: Then listen…be kinder to yourself and trust Him to get you through the process. You cannot hear Him when you are constantly going 100 miles an hour.  And your body won’t hold out if you do not slow down. He will get your attention, and He will slow you down. It’s entirely your choice which way it goes.

El: Wow–is this Him or you–the tough love thing?

A: Him. I just type it.

El: man.

 A: Once He wants your attention, He will stop at nothing to get it but it is done out of LOVE—not sickness like all of the past people because he is not a people…He is God! And if He has to inflict pain to heal, He will do that—with love.

El: I hear.

A: It is easier if you surrender…but I know that is hard for you.

… … …

I do have a choice, apparently. I can listen to Him, or I can keep running.  If I keep running, and don’t listen, I’m going to get injured, again.  And it ain’t going to be pretty.  The thing is, some people I love very much depend on me.  And if I can’t get my shit together for myself, I can do it for them.

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was running to when I started writing this book, but now I know.  I knew I was running away from Hell but I didn’t quite grasp where I was supposed to go.  But now He has spoken and I’m listening.  No more running away.  My safety lies in Him and deep inside of me–that place we all have if we can get very, very still, and hear Him. I hear Him.  I’m on my way.  I’m on my way home.

 

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