Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Santa Cruz

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Saturday morning, Grey and I decided we were overdue for a trip to the beach. Between moving, settling, surgery and illness, we had had zero down time over the past few months (years in reality) and needed a chance to recharge. Packing the Beats up with promises of adventure, we set off for Santa Cruz.

It's been 14 years since I was last in Santa Cruz. Grey and I stop there as part of our honeymoon trip, spending two days exploring the town and doing some surfing. Much has changed since we were last there, with the boardwalk being a lot cleaner and safer than I remembered, and yet so much was still familiar. The attitude and calm being one of them. The smell of the ocean and the glistening of the sand. 

Despite the water being ice cold, the Beats spent over an hour dancing in the waves and racing up and down the shore. Following a quick lunch and a change of clothes, we then took them onto the boardwalk to explore some of the carnival rides. Hours later, they would pass out on the ride home with smiles on their faces and evidence of their adventure litter all over their bodies. 

While they were making those first memories, Grey and I were reflecting on our own previous adventure and where we were today. All that had happened and changed. All that was still the same. Finding a chance to relax and heal in this special town by the Pacific that now holds memories old and new. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Not as expected

The past two weeks have been one of ends and beginnings. At the beginning of the month my students submitted their final assignment for the project I've been guiding them through. The document is currently being uploaded today to be sent to collaborators with the subject heading of "Future Directions?" All the professors have commented again and again how impressed they are with what these students produced (and I'm also insanely proud of them for all they've done). With this final assignments comes my official end to my time at this institution. Materials from my postdoc are still being handed off and I'm taking with me things that I've helped create.

In addition, I was formally offered a position as a program manager for a local science education initiative. It's part-time to start with reassessment happening in the fall seeing as the commute is on the extreme end. But all involved are excited as it gives us a chance to lay some groundwork that originally wasn't anticipated.

All while I'm exploring other opportunities and keeping doors open.

I was thinking about all of this this morning when She-Beat surprised Grey and me by waking up on her own at 6:15 am. For the past 2 years, getting her out of bed in the morning has been a huge struggle, usually with her being too groggy to even eat breakfast. Calling to Daisy to follow her, she beat He-Beat downstairs to feed the cats and then sat at the table and finished her breakfast. No complaints or negotiations required. Staring at her, Grey marveled that already we are seeing results from the surgery: she's no longer snoring at night and seems to be sleeping a lot more peacefully. The idea that all of the struggles we had were sleep related is once again on our minds, even though two months ago the physicians back East were assuring us that couldn't be the case.

In other words, none of this is playing out as planned or expected. Not She-Beat's recovery nor how my last teaching assignment went (let alone what was produced) or even this current position that I will be starting in less than 2 weeks. None of it was anything that I ever would have considered.

Yet now, looking at what is laid out ahead, it all makes sense. The path forward is becoming more clear and it's more promising than I ever could have planned or dreamed of.

None of this is due to lucky. Quite the opposite actually as it's taken a lot of pain and failure, trying option after option and pushing forward when it seemed pointless to. Even now, with an offer letter in hand, I'm still waiting to hear on two other interviews that I worked my butt off to secure and am fully expecting not to hear a single thing about the outcome. In short, a lot of frustration from dead-ends.

But what is true is that sometimes when we focus too much on the one path forward, we fail to see the alternatives. That it takes failing and beating ourselves up a bit to become open to those alternatives we initially would not have considered. And that it's only when we find those open windows and figure out how to crawl through them that the possibilities start becoming clear, working out better than we could have ever imagined.

She-Beat has her post-operation appointment on Thursday. We've been warned she'll likely only be 60% healed by then (at best) and likely won't see the real benefits of the surgery for another 3 months. But all of this has energized me to push for meeting with her IEP team as soon as possible so we can lay out a plan of action for the summer into the fall. And this new position has made me start to explore whether I can integrate in this new curriculum into the outreach I will be helping develop, allowing for all the work my students did to be put into action (and to start collecting data for a publication).

Not as expected when all of this began. But oh so promising.

Monday, May 14, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Just for me

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

On Sunday, while rocking a fever of 102 degrees F, I hung a hummingbird feeder. Despite protests from Grey that the location and method I picked were generally not good (in a spot I cannot observe them, too high to reach without a ladder, no where near the rest of the flowers we have on the back patio and right where there's lots of human traffic), I dug out the cordless electric drill we have and made a hole in install a ceiling hanger.

Grey's points were all good ones. Sound ones. Ones that any sane and reasonable person would quickly agree with. But the thing is, despite all the cons of my choice, I really wanted to attract hummingbirds. Over the past 3 years in Boston, I didn't see a single one and I didn't realize how much I missed these creatures until I saw them in the front lawn a couple of weeks ago. In addition, this mating pair has been hunting the front yard looking for flowers, so I knew that a feeder would be a welcome attraction if for no other reason than to just get them use to the idea.

Plus there's the selfish reason that the act of hanging a hummingbird feeder makes me happy.

This morning, this mating pair has been scouting the situation; flying so insanely close to me as I've been in the door way that you can see the small details on their bodies. I have no idea if they've actually used the feeder, but in my eyes it's a start. And just knowing that makes me happy. Even if it all ends up being just for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Surviving another "M" Day

On Friday, after surviving Kindergarten enrollment (still easier than the DMV!), I decided I had earned a long-desired reward and made my way to a local hardware store to purchase of hummingbird feeder. I first spotted a mating pair a couple of weeks ago and have been insanely excited as I haven't seen hummers since we left Seattle. In my excitement to finally have a feeder with visitors, I spaced on the advertising that would be greeting me at the store. The familiar feeling of panic and sadness that would arise when seeing posters declaring "celebrate Mom!" plastered at every turn and space that was eye-level.

Over the last 7 years I've been blogging, many having written about Mother's Day and what a landmine of a holiday it is. Society is getting better at acknowledging that this holiday isn't a happy one for everyone, but the reality is very few still know the story about Anna Jarvis and how the founding of Mother's Day was meant to recognize a bereaved mother who was also a social activist and community organizer. The idea that Mother's Day's current focus of brunches and obligated gift-giving to only those that have given birth and are parenting living children wasn't the intention and given that we live in a world with ever evolving definitions of "family," that we continue to adhere to such a limited view of who is entitled to be recognized shows how far we have to go. Especially when there are so many that deserve this recognition too.

In years past, I've posted my version of a survival guide as well as links to other resources for getting through this day, but this year in addition to this I want people to take it a step further. In those moments where the grief, the sadness and the pain seem overwhelming, write it out. Or draw it out. Or find some way to create (or destroy) in a manner that gives you an outlet. The warning being that I know doing so will not only likely be painful and you likely may not initially feel better for doing so. But the reason I encourage you to find that outlet, even if the end product never sees the light of day, is that the act of doing so not only ushers in healing. And if it does, even though it may seem trivial, these works are changing the conversation. 

As I was in the check-out line with my new hummingbird feeder, one of the cashiers asked a man in front of me if all the flower and garden supplies he was buying were Mother's Day gifts. Pausing for a moment, he told her yes and no. He then shared with all of us that the flowers were for a memorial garden that he and his wife started years ago in honor of the baby they lost too soon. Standing in stunned silence and choking back tears, all I could do was reach out and touch this man's arm. A silent nod between us said more than I could possibly put to words. Though that moment was a hard one, the impact for all listening to this man's story was immediately clear.

To everyone in this community, whether resolved or deep in the treatment trenches, newly diagnosed or a seasoned veteran, holding children in your arms or in your hearts, existing in the happy/sad, no matter what end of that range, I'm sending you all light and love today and hoping for peaceful moments.

Mother's Day Survival Guide:
Let it out. I'm going to start here, since most survival guides list this one dead last. Look, infertility/loss is hard. Very hard. So instead of suppressing the anger, sadness, frustration, worry, etc., do the one thing that so many well-meaning people will tell you not to do: just let it out. Give yourself a good 30-40 minutes to get the pain caused by this disease out of your system. Shed those tears, voice your worries, curse the universe. Write, exercise, scream. You get the idea. Because once you get it out, you'll feel better. You'll no longer have to worry about being sad the rest of the day because you've given yourself some time.

Acknowledge what you have accomplished. Living with infertility and loss is not for the weak. Anyone who's been on this path for any length of time has changed and will continue to be changed. Most of the time, this has only been for the better. You may have learned how to stand up for yourself, advocating your needs. Your marriage/relationship with your spouse, significant other, family and friends may have strengthened and deepened in ways you didn't know possible. You may have overcome your fear of needles. Whatever it may be, celebrate it. Take a moment or two to give yourself the acknowledgement you and your loved ones deserved for battling this disease. You've earned it.

Get out of the house. This one I can't stress enough. As tempting as it will be to spend the day in your pajamas watching bad TV, plan instead to spend the day doing some sort of activity. If seeing families is a trigger, plan a non-family friendly event. If being with family is a comfort, plan on spending some time. What ever it may be, get out of the house!

Celebrate the "mother" in your life. For those of you who have been reading this blog long enough, you'll know that my biological mother and I are not on friendly terms. That said, I do believe that Mother's Day is a time to celebrate those who have been "mothers" to you in some way. I also believe that one does not earn the title of "mother" simply by being able to birth a human being. There have been many amazing women in my life who have helped me become the person I am today. And I'm sure I'm not alone on this. So spend the day thanking your "mothers", be it spending time with them, shooting off a short email, or simply doing something that they taught you.

Distractions, distractions, distractions. I once read that an emotion lasts for about 10 minutes. The reason why people experience any emotion for longer periods is because they are "refiring" that emotion, be it with mental images or play inner dialogue. So like getting out of the house, find some way to distract yourself. Again, it's okay to be sad, frustrated, etc. But give yourself a break from all the madness too.

Treat yourself.  When all is said and done, Mother's Day is like any other holiday: sometimes just getting through is an accomplishment. So, at the end of the day, do something special. Take a bath, schedule a little "me" time, hog the covers. You get the picture. Reward yourself for making it through this day.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The good witch

On Tuesday, my apartment complexes property manager knocked on my door to ask where the bee hive I had reported was located. This was discovered after a rather large tree limb fell off said tree due to improper pruning, exposing both improper care (thankfully not falling on anyone in the process) and also the hive it have been sheltering.

Beekeeper in tow, the assumption was that this would be a fast removal, with the promise that the bees would be heading off to local orchards to do good through pollination.

That was before the beekeeper talked with an established resident and learned that the hive had been in the building for over 2 years. Looking up, he declared in broken English "that's going to be a lot of honey."

I had no idea that by "honey" he meant honeycombs.

To date, it's estimated that this hive is around 6 cu ft large. All located near the roof of this one building. For those unable to imagine the scale, what that translates to is a wall of honeycombs sitting over the heads of a 3 bedroom, 1200 sq ft apartment. Basically the residents of this unit are sleeping under a wall of honey with approximately 30,000 bees. The beekeeper was only able to remove 3 ft of combs when he was out, leaving with a promise to return if management would give him approval to access the rest of the hive through the ceiling of this unit (side note: it would be highly beneficial for management to approve this as the remaining bees will likely fill the vacated space in a couple of weeks, leaving them with the same problem).

It's a bit overwhelming to think about. But the good news is that all these bees are highly sought after due to colony collapse disorder, meaning that instead of exterminating this hive, management plans on renting them out for a decent fee.

In addition to this spectacle, I found myself roped into renting a cat trap. This property currently has 2 strays, one of which has a rather painful looking growth under his eye that needs attention. After contacting animal control, I was told to rent a cat trap to catch him and bring him into the shelter so they could treat him. Further investigation resulted in finding a local humane society that has a woman who specializes in feral cats on staff, who happens to rent out cat traps. I'm very much in over my head with this, but this kitty needs medical attention so I'm planning to move forward (all while assuring Grey that we're not about to add anyone else to the household).

But the neighbors have gotten wind of this endeavor too.

Combined with my growing patio garden.

And I have a slightly scary disposition that has been making life difficult for the the local drug dealer and property management (it's amazing how the threat of police and legal action tends to motivate both parties).

Today, one of the local kids came up to me and asked me if I was a witch. Taken aback for a second, I asked her why she would think such a thing.

"Well, you have cats, care about bees, are trying to catch the sick kitty, make tree limbs break, grow a weird garden and have crazy hair that needs to be styled."

Trying to suppress a grin, I got down to this child's level and ask what they thought the answer was.

Thinking hard for a minute, eyeing me the whole time, she declared I was a witch, likely a good one. Good because she could see Jaxson and Daisy looking back at her in the window.

"But you scare me" she said, before running back to her friends. Checking behind her to make sure I wasn't following.

Cat trapping is being scheduled. Let's see if I can live up to the rumors.

Monday, May 7, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: From the outside

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Holding hands, she balanced herself as she walked along the buttress roots of a large bay fig tree. Never having seen one myself, I walked beside her, enjoying the bending and weaving of this beautiful tree and laughing at the game she was creating.

From the outside looking in, we looked like the typical mother-daughter pair enjoying a visit to the Arboretum. Stopping to admire the fountain, explore the sundial, letting her smell all the flowers and spending a good 20 mins in the rose garden where she declared they were her favorite part.

But what the observer would miss is the ache in this mother's heart. That though she is so grateful to have this quiet moment with her child, there would also be a wave of sadness for those that weren't there.

Yesterday was International Bereaved Mother's Day. And though the waves of grief no longer are drowning me, there are still moments where the sadness returns. Thinking of the six we lost, thinking of the babies those in this community have said good-bye too all too soon and thinking about Moon's friends who are thick in their grief

So we found ourselves at this garden when the sadness hit me. Allowing it to meld with the beauty surrounding us, creating a memory that I will forever treasure. Because though from the outside we look like a normal mother-daughter pair, our story is more than that.

(Click the hyperlinks for more information about CarlyMarie Project Heal and The Mother Hearts Project)

Friday, May 4, 2018

The curious misunderstanding about grief

Last Sunday, Grey and I took the Beats to go visit their cousins for an impromptu lunch date. So far, we've been fortunate that the kids are curious enough about one another to get along, making these visits mostly pleasant. While setting up for lunch, Grey's brother Lucas and I made small talk, chatting about work and upcoming projects. As the conversation started to die, I asked Lucas where Moon was, knowing she was out of town but unclear to the details why.

Prior to this conversation, I had heard snippets of the story Lucas would elaborate on. That one of Moon's friends and classmates had just suffered a horrific family trauma where her family was mowed down by a driver who failed to yield as they were in a cross walk. How the father was severely injured, leaving him in chronic pain. How her 5 year old son had died and the father didn't remember saying good-bye due to the pain killers. And how now they are all struggling given this friend is going one direction with her grieving process (one that others around her vocally support) while the husband/father is very angry and clearly going in another.

As Lucas told me that Moon was on the East Coast for the funeral, he talked about how much this family was struggling. Then he said something that made it painfully clear that neither he or Moon understood what this family was experiencing: This father need to buck up and get with the program of forgiving and moving on.

In 2012, while deep in the trenches of treatment, I found myself feeling very alone in the world. Grey and I were fighting a lot due to ongoing losses and failed treatment cycles, finding no support from family during that period. Instead we encountered a mindset of "it wasn't meant to be" or "why don't you just relax," with anger from others when they were told their advice and platitudes weren't helping.

Even after finding myself pregnant and the arrival of the Beats, I had a lot of anger over how those that were suppose to love and support us effectively abandoned us. If I'm entirely honest, until this week that anger remained and I was struggling with dissecting why. Why could I not let all that happened go?

Stumbled upon an article about sorority hazing rituals gave me the answer I was looking for.
The “banality of evil” was a term coined by Hannah Arendt in her work on the Holocaust to describe how the great atrocities in history are generally not committed by sociopaths or crazy people. Instead, it is the ordinary people who accept the premise of their state and therefore participate in evil while perceiving it as normal.... We all knew each other, and in some cases had developed intimate bonds of sisterhood. They, like the women before them, only did to me what was done to them. It is strange how a cycle of violence is perpetuated through intimacy. 
With that one paragraph a floodgate of realization was opened, identifying the root of my anger which I hadn't been able to voice. Because prior to infertility and loss, I had trusted Grey's family; my own too. I had a deeply held belief that when trauma hit, they would support us. And when they didn't, my world shattered further.

But the worst part is that they were unable to see the wrong they were committing. How deeply entrenched they all were and continue to be on what grief and loss should look like.

And with this realization, I finally found the answer to the "why" I've been asking for the past 7 years, with the anger and hurt dissipating to reveal nothing but sadness for a group who were unknowingly hurting others they claimed to love.

Honestly, I don't know exactly why I reacted to Lucas's flippant observation the way I did. Frankly, I blame this community for the reaction I did have given that I know the Cristy from even a year ago would have been outraged and actively attacking. But somehow, calmness found me and I decided to  take the road of asking questions and being curious.

Calmly, carefully, I responded to Lucas by stating that I intended to play Devil's advocate and pointed out that this father was actively grieving in a way that was actually not only common, but healthy. That not only was the life he knew forever gone, but also that he now lived with an ever waking reminder due to chronic pain. Working with Grey, the conversation slowly turned, not to one of judgement but of empathy, talking about the fact that though we understood they as friends and loved ones wanted to see this family move on, grief is actually a far more complex and life-long process and that it should be the father, not those around him, who decides what that journey should look like. Even if that includes anger, rage and sitting in the courtroom during the trial of the driver who took his life away.

To his credit, Lucas listened and expressed that he was open to accepting and passing on resources of support for this family. I sent him links for Still Standing, The Miss Foundation and CarlyMarie Project Heal, including special links for Bereaved Mother's Day, Bereaved Father's Day and The Sea Shore of Remembrance (NOTE: If anyone has any additional recommendations, please let me know!!!) and I ended by advocating again that what this family needs, wife, husband and child, is not outside judgement for their grieving process but simply unconditional love and support. All of it received without any backlash.

Oddly enough, being able to finally share this aspect has brought about healing for me too. I wish that this wasn't the case, but with this situation a window for understanding has been presented. A way of educating them about what grief like this actually looks like. And tools so that this time, they actually can support.

Here's hoping that's what happens.

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