Advocate means voice, right?

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The calm AND the storm

 

 

 

Once upon a time I was a really judge-y a-hole. I thought I knew everything about everything and this wasn’t even my teenage years. Gaaaaah, I was exhausting. One of the things I knew nothing about but thought I did?

ADHD

Until not only Samuel, but Abraham as well were diagnosed with it. No, scratch that. That’s a lie if I’ve ever told one. I still didn’t know. And quite frankly, it was the beginning of one of the hardest uphill battles I’ve ever fought. Alone but with people, together but on opposite sides of the river. Different but the same words to apply to two of my three boys who just rode the struggle-bus-wave at school something fierce. It was hard to swallow because it was personal and I felt like I had failed them in some way, even though it had nothing to do with me but was about to consume my life. Our lives. Each of us in different ways.

Samuel’s diagnosis, as a Type 1, meaning he has inattention but not hyperactivity, was an absolute dream  in terms of handling it. He was put on a small dose of Ritalin and it was an overnight change, where he went from testing below grade level in every subject to making the honor roll no less than three months later. “He’s not dumb, he just needs a little help,” his sweet fifth grade teacher had told us. Learning about what he needed and why completing homework and turning it in was so hard made a lot of difference in understanding him better. Isn’t that what we all want? To be understood better? He started to gain self-confidence, boosting his self-esteem. You could see a visible change in him, almost immediately but also over time. Not to say he hasn’t had some ups and downs that have needed revisiting and adjusting. Sam still continues to be so much easier to handle.

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So, enter Abraham, who has been marching to the beat of his own drum since the moment he was born. Yesterday he asked me for a picture of that day, and you know what? I don’t have one. He was my fastest delivery, being born less than an hour after I finally got to the hospital because nobody believed that I was in labor and then when the nurse checked me I was dilated to 8. When they told me I couldn’t have an epidural or any other sort of pain meds because I was too far advanced, I broke down crying. I had been trying to keep it together for so long, thinking it would be coming. It wasn’t. He got stuck and the doctor had to help him get his head unstuck and I just screamed in pain. I remember it like it was yesterday, all the pain and commotion, but I don’t remember his face. I hardly saw it. He came early, was whisked out of the room so fast. I had only gotten to hold him for about five minutes and then he was gone but I didn’t even notice because then I was surrounded by doctors and nurses. I was hemorrhaging and they were working fast.

I don’t even know how much time went by before I realized he never came back to the room. And then it was a twilight zone because they started lying to me in ways I would mimic later, when my kiddos asked for something I knew I wouldn’t deliver on. “Maybe in a bit, not right now, etc” kept being fed to me. I remember wanting my Mom there but she wasn’t. Hearing false information in a hospital should be a crime. And you shouldn’t feel alone when you hear it.

****** You’re probably wondering why I’m rambling on about all of this. It’s most likely because I’m defending why I’m so Mama Bear with him. Ku thinks this is why and I don’t think she’s wrong. ******

Not even two hours later, after being told maybe and soon and a whole bunch of other no-in-disguise words, he was off, on a helicopter, to Children’s hospital. See, he couldn’t breathe on his own, he was considered a preemie and they didn’t have what he needed to keep him alive at St. Josephs. And then I was mad, because my doctor wouldn’t release me to go to him. You guys, I was straight up mean to that doctor and he took it like a champ. I’m still not even a little sorry, though.

Skipping forward, he was in the NICU for three a half long weeks where I was by his side day and night, practically forgetting I had four year old Samuel at home, being cared for by my ex’s family. It’s the one thing I’ve ever sincerely thanked them for. I wouldn’t allow pictures in there, not that we had many visitors, which I think I still struggle with, inside. I was so alone during one of the hardest months of my life. He was on a morphine drip, intubated, and not improving for so long. I could hardly take it and yet that’s what moms do; the hardest work and almost always on their own.

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AB and his tia at our wedding, where he unapologetically tore it UP on the dance floor and just lived his life

I still see him, so little and helpless in the incubator, muted and fighting for his life. I was willing his lungs to do their job for so long, and yet I couldn’t make him better. When he was finally home, I would stare at him in the night, convinced that something would happen and he would stop breathing, because joy forebodes fear because that’s what we are taught in the movies.

I taught him baby sign and he was full on signing sentences before he was even eleven months old. He started walking on his tiptoes. He taught himself to read at four years old. He learned cursive on his own, at home, because it was interesting to him. He has a signature, friends. And he’s barely eleven.

He’s also type 2 ADHD. Which means hyperactivity.

It isn’t even what I would consider severe but holy moses, it’s so true for him. He will sit and watch a movie but his body will not stop moving. In fact, from so many talks with his doctor and counselor, he needs the movement to focus his mind. And this has not come without difficulty at school. Difficulty and distractions and distracting. To say it’s interfering with his learning is an understatement, even though he is still so smart.

We’ve been lucky in that a) I believe it. The other side of his family did not. Frick, some of my own family didn’t either. The fact of the matter is that while ADHD has almost certainly been not only one of the most misunderstood medical conditions, it’s also been misdiagnosed and over-diagnosed in many cases. Not in Abraham’s. I mean that sincerely. It wasn’t something we could change with just eliminating things like food dye from his diet. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I know that works for some kiddos.

It doesn’t mean that getting more activity in with your little isn’t the answer. It just wasn’t the sole answer for him. It isn’t a pass to just medicate and while Sam was such a big win with his, we have tried so many different kinds, stimulant and non stimulant alike without finding the best helper.

You want to know what one of the biggest helps has been? Having had some of the BEST teachers for him that understood or tried to understand him, that believed in his intelligence and that worked alongside us to help him thrive. It was such a weight off our shoulders to feel like we had an army behind us. Except, fairy tale elementary school is over and we have entered middle school and all its chaos and we are all drowning at our house.

We have entered a season of school struggle in a way we aren’t used to. Yes, middle school was tough for Sam, but it was Sam tough, so that still makes it sort of mild. I call him the meanager and that’s mostly from those rough years because he couldn’t figure out how to excel in school anymore. Getting him to do his homework, keeping him up on his assignments and learning how to actually study were so hard. Now, it all applies to Abraham and we are RIPPING OUR GAWWWWD DAMN HAIRS OUT.

I mean it. It’s been friggin tough as hell. It is straight up square peg, round hole time and all of us are at our wit’s end. I mean, I scheduled a meeting with his teachers and it was fruitless. Unfruitful. Without fruit? I’m saying I walked out of there feeling like I could have gotten more done trying to teach a giraffe their ABCs. It’s no wonder he’s having a hard time. If I feel like they don’t care, I can only imagine he feels like they don’t care because he’s pretty intuitive and you’d basically have to be blind to not see it. I even called, ten minutes after leaving and on my way to work, and spoke to his vice-principal and expressed how wasteful my time there had felt, was promised a call back and action, a commitment to helping him, etc. It was like being in that hospital room all over again, hearing fake news told to my face without an ounce of meaningfulness.

Today, I took my voice back and I Mama Bear’d it because I am not playing around. I don’t want to be that person that loses their patience with their kiddo over something they haven’t figured out how to control yet, because that’s bananas and not right. It’s not cool to get mad at a child with diabetes for having their blood sugar in the wrong numbers because they aren’t directly in charge of metabolizing their glucose and making insulin. <— wait, did I say that correctly? Do you get my drift?

What I’m saying is, if you have a little with either type of ADHD, or if you have ADHD, hear me on the following:

You are smart.

It is real.

You are not defined by it.

Use your voice.

What about if you don’t? You probably know someone who does, so read up a little on it, so you don’t sound like Vee2013 who was just a judge-y a-hole. Don’t tell people it’s made up because it isn’t. And offer some love.

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Abraham in fifth grade, on his way to camp which was a huge stress to us but he did wonderfully

Meandering with Meanagers

I have gotten better at sharing my herstory of domestic violence but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to think about what it means to my boys. While it was never physical in front of them, they definitely witnessed verbal and emotional. The meanager and I had a deep discussion about it recently and with his permission, I’m sharing Sam’s perspective on domestic violence (these are his words, undoctored):

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Sometimes my Dad loses his temper. If you make him mad, he’ll probably spank you or tell you to stop talking to him or he’ll say hurtful things. It’s not always bad, though. The thing is, some kids might really disrespect his parents and someone seeing it might say things like, “That kid really needs a beating/spanking, etc” but I don’t think hitting is the answer because that kid will grow up thinking violence is okay and then probably hit his kids and the cycle keeps on going.

If he would have hit you in front of us when we were growing up, I think we would have grown up thinking hitting women is okay. About two months ago I talked privately with my Dad and asked him to not yell or say hurtful things to my stepmom. I asked him to try harder to not be so angry or disrespectful towards her. I think he’s working on it, not perfectly, but trying, I would say.

I’ve never physically hit anyone in my life. Well, except for my brothers. We do wrestle sometimes and it gets out of hand but at the end of the day, I would never want to punch someone or hurt someone. When I get mad I want to smash something or punch a punching bag or break something. I’ve been trying not to play certain games on Xbox because they make me the most frustrated but when I do get to that level of mad, listening to music helps me or watching dumb things on YouTube.

When it all came down to my Dad leaving Hawaii with Moose, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought we were moving back to continue living as a family. When you shared some stuff that had happened the night you left, I felt betrayed by him. When you marry someone, you promise to always have a good time, to not hurt each other in a physical way, and I felt like he broke that promise. The first year you guys were separated, I didn’t understand everything because it wasn’t until about two years ago that you shared A LOT MORE of the story. It was hard because I couldn’t see him as much. Because I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t know if I should be upset with him or with you so I just felt neutral. I’m not upset with either one of you now, because that is the past, and I know that you won’t ever forget that whole thing, but even thinking about it makes me frustrated.

My Dad knows it’s not right to hit someone, especially a woman, and I don’t know where he learned that because one day my Grandma told me my Grandpa had never laid a finger on her, so it’s not like he saw that growing up. They [his dad and stepmom] were arguing one day and that’s when my Grandma said that. Sometimes I worry about [my stepmom]. I hope she doesn’t get put in a situation where she worries about her life, like you did.

I hope my Dad has learned from his past mistakes. I’ll probably ask him questions when I’m older and have a bigger perspective of things, but I try not to say too much now because he gets mad easy. I do plan on it, though. My big worry is Moose might become like him because he hits when he’s upset and I worry about Abraham because when he gets mad he calls people names and I don’t want him to get beat up. It’s stressful and I can see those things happening.

I’m 100% happy, right along with my brothers and I know that hitting is wrong. I think my Dad and I are completely different because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings on purpose. I don’t like that. I’m not saying he tries to hurt people’s feelings on purposeI don’t like it when he says terrible things to me so I don’t want to be that way. In a way I know things happen for a reason because if you would have left him sooner, we wouldn’t have gone to Hawaii and you wouldn’t have met Ku. I just know that I still love my Dad and I think he’s happy and I KNOW you are. And I’m proud of you, Mom, for being strong enough to leave and figure out how to be happy.

**Insert crying mom face, because sometimes this young man-cub just blows me out of the water with his maturity and depth of understanding. It can’t be easy being my oldest boy, but maaaaaan, he makes us so effin proud. This reads as he speaks and while I could have changed the layout, I wanted to stay true to him and his heart.

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100 days in…

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Photo taken by: Shannon Sasaki Photography

July 2 is officially one of my favorite memories. Not only were we at our absolute prettiest, but we managed to pull off the party of the century. I mean, that sounds pretty damn biased, but this is my blog and I am calling it what I please because regardless, I am the boss. And so, here we are, one hundred freaking days later and I feel as if I should post what marriage has become to me, what it has meant for our relationship, and where we currently are in our life. And because my friends need absolute facts, I’ll tell the story, because I have them. The absolute facts.

100 days in has proven that marriage is keeping track. If you get up at 6 am and change a chirping fire alarm while the other one sleeps, mark it down. Keep track and use it as ammunition ALLLLL damn day (that was day 99).

It’s matching outfits better because you’re married and this is not a drill. If your wife wants to match you or buy coordinating outfits, you just say YES because clearly she is off her rocker and you will only make it worse if you decline.

If there is four squares of toilet paper left on the roll and you don’t change it, you might as well put yourself in time out because you done just left you’re WIFE hanging and how dare you? She changed that chirping fire alarm and you can’t even change a ROLL OF TOILET PAPER? Never mind that there was four squares left and it didn’t look out. Never mind that noise.

Being married is basically an admission that you can dutch-oven your spouse. That is now legal and allowed and they can’t get upset about it, especially when they passed the gas and you want them to gag over their own odors. That’s even more permissible and they can’t get make one peep about it. Because you’re married, even if it’s only been 100 days. That means more than just being together for five years, even though it shouldn’t because it was one day. Something inside you changed and now they are STUCK WITH YOU. And trapped under the covers with their own undoing.

100 days is smelling the belly button gunk of your other half. You have to. No ifs ands or buts. DO IT.

It’s arguing over enchiladas vs burritos and then bringing that damn argument up FOR THE REST OF YOUR DAYS and it can be interchangeable who is doing the bringing up, which is super confusing but hey, roll with it.

You can now start calling all conversations arguments. “What’s for dinner?” can ABSOLUTELY be followed up with, “Why are we fighting? Why are you always hounding me? Stop yelling!” because you don’t have to make sense anymore. I imagine this is what turning 70 can also look like. Your wife asks you questions and then you just mumble nonsense back. Boom. Also known as one hundred days since I do. Because now you do.

You can decide to go plant based for a few weeks and then decide to keep going because your wifey friggin lives for cheese and now you want to push all the boundaries to see just HOW long she will put up with your ish of no cheese or meat. Just to see. Just to know how long until she loses her ish with you. That’s okay.

In the meantime, she might be buying all kinds of trendy meatless ish for you, because she wants to support your plant based nonsense and then when you try it, you ARE 100 days in so don’t feel bad about making the most disgusted face you can muster up with your lethargy (because you know you aren’t getting enough protein in but you refuse to fall for her meat and cheese traps) and belting out, “THIS TASTES LIKE DOG FOOOOOOOOOOOD!” Go ahead and just yell that from the rooftop. If you have the energy for it.

And when you know you’re reaching the end of her ledge of sanity, agree to eat half a meat burger with her, just so she sees a touch of light at the end of your looney tunnel. Just so she doesn’t run for the hills just yet. You gotta keep hope SORT OF alive. Like that hedgehog you made her keep in the house for a bit. Just like that.

One hundred days is finding all the things wrong with your body so she can croon at your sweet face how much she loves it. Get gradually, increasingly more repulsive about it to see how far she will take this love song she’s penning you. “I hate the way my butt stinks!” Say it in a whiny, about-to-cry-but-not-really-because-you-don’t-cry voice. She’ll respond with, “You have the sweetest stank ass I’ve ever been around. Yay you, darling!” No matter where that was going, you’re winning. You are friggin winning at life.

One hundred days is a lot of gross for one of you and fun for the other. What sounds better than THAT? I mean, win-win in my book! So, Kulia, cheers to 100 days! Let’s pretend none of those stories are about us and drink some wine tonight while we watch This Is Us.

Sound good? Say yes because you have to.

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Raising Men

 

 

 

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Back when they were super cute and easy to handle. No, wait, that’s wrong. Easier? Agh, forget it. They were little.

This has been a tough week to be a growing man in our household. And it is only Wednesday, friends! What the hell?! Is Mercury in retrograde or WHAAAAT… Often times the boys will take turns on who is going to give us the most grey hairs but every now and again we are reminded that life isn’t fair because they all wake up on the wrong side of their bed and collectively come down and play Who-can-be-the-biggest-A-hole all at once. It’s fantastic.

Yesterday, which was only TUESDAY, was a real effin treat and I thought to myself, people think we have it easy. I don’t know why, I don’t understand what is giving them this impression, but it’s not true. Since forever, when I would be out with all three at once, old ladies would stop me at the grocery store or wherever and make sure to tell me how blessed I was. Never mind that this mostly happened in Hawaii and almost all the grandmas were Asian. Having three boys made me a LUCKY GAL to all of them. A hero walking amongst the commoners, with the golden uterus that only pushed out males. I didn’t take that crown so easily. Mostly because I didn’t feel lucky. I will say, though, that I never imagined myself with girls. I just don’t think I could have done this world any favors trying to raise a boss babe. I’ll leave that work to my darling gal pals who are crushing it in terms of raising empowered, strong, brave ladies.

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The fam bam

In the meantime, I’m over here, surrounded by crotch scratchers who love to fart and talk about things that are downright gross. Doing things that girls would never do because they’re all natural princesses who’s hair falls in perfect ringlets. No? I’m dreaming, you say? Huh. I was sure that was the law of the land. I get asked a lot how we do it. Ku and I both. “How do you do it? How do you raise three boys into gentlemen?”

Oh maaaaaaaan, am I glad you asked, because here come a whole heck of a lot of truth bombs. Buckle up.

#1: All boys are different

Whoooooaaaaa, did I just blow your mind there? What are you TALKING about, Vee?!? Yes, friends. I don’t lie to my fraaaaaans. While there are absolute similarities between my three boys, holy mooooosssseeeeessss, was I surprised at how each is their own person. One is quiet and awkward, one is articulate and political, with the remaining one athletic, stubborn and sweet. Yes, all those words can go together because I’m the one writing this. I’m the expert on making all the mistakes with them and so I get to choose how to string my words together. What I’m really trying to say, though, is that each one of them has to be handled uniquely. We use different tones and tactics with each one sprinkled with a healthy dose of losing our ish almost all the time. I’m not perfect, friends.

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When they upset me more than usual, I look back at old pics that make me smile. It’s the easiest way to get over the moment.

#2: It’s okay to lose your ish

That leads me right to this point. We are not without our own faults and one of mine is I can have goads of patience for almost any other little but if my own spawn come at me with ‘tude or sass or utter ridiculousness, I.WILL.LOSE.IT. I will start to huff and puff, roll my eyes, break out some serious sarcasm, and then say something like, “Are you friggin KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?” And then they shape up. Seeing the whites of my eyes really freaks them out. And when friends ask me how to not lose my cool, I have some suggestions but I always throw in that sometimes you will just lose it. And as long as you don’t rage on your children, it’s okay. We’ve all been there and we get it. It happens.

 

#3: I make up punishments that I hope I don’t get my bluff called on

Abraham used to be a total little ish to get to go the eff to sleep. He was so naughty. We yelled all the damn time at him to just close his eyes and stop talking. All.the.time. So, one day, I told him that if he kept it up I was going to make him sleep all by himself in the car. We didn’t have a garage then, we had this tiny little duplex in Lynden (so I wasn’t worried about his safety) and this carport four steps away where we parked Ku’s car. I didn’t really mean it and he figured that out and I remember like it was yesterday that Kulia turned to me and said, “Now you have to follow through,” which made me even more mad, because of course she was right and I never really meant it. All I’ll say about that is that luckily the cops weren’t called on us because he LEGIT screamed bloody murder in her backseat. But he went to sleep when we let him back in, so who’s winning?

#4: Bodily functions are funny. And safe in our home.

We try our damn hardest not to be pretentious. Not in our house. We allow burping, farting, itching, adjusting at your heart’s content. They have to be able to do it somewhere, guys. We let it be with us. I’m not sorry.

#5: ADHD is a real thing

When Sam was in fifth grade, his lovely teacher called us in for a conference. “He’s not dumb but he’s testing in at below average. I think he has ADD and should be tested.” I’ll make this short. He was tested, put on a small dose of medication and subsequently on the Honor Roll. Abraham was tested and we have tried almost EVERYTHING under the sun. He is a work in progress but I bristle when people make assumptions that ADHD is this or that. Over-diagnosed? Maybe. Not real? False. Just boys being boys? I have no words. Boys are a lot of things and they are most certainly a lot of energy, usually in the form of wiggling and playing and roughhousing. Yes. Sometimes, though, something is going on in their premature frontal lobe and it all starts to make sense. Trust your instinct. It’s not always taken care of with a certain diet or eliminating food dyes or making them do one thing or the other. Just stop with that judging. Mom-ing is hard effin work and the less you judge your fellow peeps, the better this world will be. And if your son loses his $350 trumpet for the SECOND time and you yell at him in the car because you cannot contain your words, just stop and take a deep breath and be grateful he’s not living with someone else who doesn’t advocate on his behalf and doesn’t try to understand him and doesn’t just friggin hug him when he needs it. I’m not trying to be uber specific there….I’m just sayin.

#6: Boys love their Mamas

And in this case, they get two for the price of one. My three are especially lucky. Each of them (false, I have to beg the meanager) is pretty loose in handing out hugs (what can I say, I love hugging!) and I make sure to try get one in on the roughest days. Except yesterday. Yesterday was ridiculous.

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We are ridiculous when it comes to Halloween. Or are we just ridiculous. That’s probably more right.

#7: Wine and coffee

I’ve already touched on how much of an anomaly I am when I’m out with my three guys. Aside from the elder adorers I gain I also have the younger ones who might blurt out, “Three boys?!?! (Insert incredulous face) How do you DO it?” I almost always blurt out, “Coffee and wine, friend. Coffee and WINE.” Emphasis on the wine. Did I mention we order it by the case? Yeah, we have quite the hookup through Barclay’s and I’ll send you a coupon code for a HELLUVA deal if you’re interested. Delivered to your doorstep and ready for the parenting magic because a) everything is funnier with a glass of wine in your hand and b) it’s okay to deal with a little help from the grapes. They are fruit, everyone. No shaming here. No shame.

#8: Not everyone is going to adore your kiddos. That’s okay

This one. It’s a conundrum. What do you MEAN not everyone is going to love the crap out of my offspring? How is that even a thing? Yeah, I know. I thought everybody would adore my littles and the reality is, they get on people’s nerves sometimes. They rub them the wrong way, maybe piss them off, say something unacceptable or just have that face that you can’t handle. They might feel like they can say that to you and it’ll be nutso because why would they think that? It always blindsides me and hurts my feelings because they are little projections of my persona. Of course it’ll hurt my feelings. But don’t fret, I’ll get over it and love on them harder. They aren’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea and I’m sorry that life is so harsh sometimes. Just keep loving them.

I’m not ending on a normal number. I’m leaving it at eight because I write this for a little bit of a laugh and a release. I fully realize that my heart is walking outside my body in three separate forms and I don’t take it lightly that one day they may be husbands and fathers. I want them to have solid foundations of love and respect with a whole lotta silly. And I want them to know I am not perfect and neither are they. Cheers to all you mamas, putting in the work and the care. We are raising the future, friends. That’s tough work.

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You don’t understand

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Not too long ago, someone randomly came in to my office at work and began telling me their life story. This in and of itself isn’t rare. I’ve shared how people tell me things. Unbeknownst to me as to why, I hear a lot of people’s secrets, feelings, unplanned thoughts, odd life stories, etc. It’s been known to drive those around me crazy. My ex used to get so upset, not only because strangers talk to me, but because I always respond. I attribute that to my father, who taught me to reciprocate courtesies. “If someone takes the time to say thank you, pay them that same respect by saying you’re welcome. Don’t just nod or say mmhmm.” It’s always stuck with me. Incidentally, when someone throws some salutations my way, I reply back. I smile at them. I make eye contact.

One night I was in Safeway grabbing some last minute groceries and I was working my way up to the registers. I cut up the personal care aisle and was about to pass an elderly lady looking at some products, confused. She turned and gave me this “Help me,” look. I couldn’t exactly explain why, but something propelled me to say hi. She reached out, grabbed my arm gently, much like my grandma or a family member would. Soft but purposeful, loving yet attention seeking. She had a box of Monistat 7 in her other hand and a look of concern in her soft, tired eyes.

“Does this work?” she asked me. Not in a creepy, weird or inappropriate way. There was a sincerity to her tone, mixed with a slight hinge of embarrassment. I remember standing there, grouping my thoughts together. Whatever made her decide to turn and ask me shouldn’t be discounted, right? She deserved some help in my book, without judgement. I could have easily kept walking and pretended I didn’t hear her but that’s never been my style. We talked and I remember walking away feeling lighter, like I had helped someone when they really needed it.

So flash forward to me, sitting in my office one day with my door open when someone stumbles in and shuts the door. While I don’t like being caged in by people I’m not super comfortable with, someone I hardly know, I recognize that she’s needing a pair of ears and some heartfelt time. Before I can ask how she’s doing, because sometimes people need coaxing to tell you why they want to chat, her mouth opens and the word vomit spills forth. Stories are being spewed in a rushed, emotional way. There’s a smidge of anger fueled by a whole lot of hurt in her words. She hasn’t had the best life. I hear instances of being forced to choose between two shitty options. I pull up a chair, allow her to sit and just listen. I see it coming before she does, there’s no doubt in that. This also happens to me, so I greet that old friend of comparison and stay still.

“You don’t understand. You have someone who loves you. You’ve never had the shit beat out of you. Your kids don’t hate you. You don’t get hateful comments thrown at you for being ugly. I don’t even know why I came in here. You have an easy life and I’m just a loser. You don’t get it.”

I let her say that to me. She was comparing her chapter 15 to my chapter 35 and while it doesn’t make sense, why she came in to my office and told me things that made me want to cry, I let it continue. You see, she didn’t know my stories and I wasn’t about to interrupt her. People need to be loved and listened to and it has to start somewhere and somehow that gets lost sometimes. What she also needed in that moment was a lack of judgement because I could see how that one word has caused her so much strife in her own inner value. Somehow, in my upbringing, I became really adept at compartmentalizing and being “stage ready” as I call it. Growing up in a restaurant and working in it from a very young age made me build a chest where I stored reality so that when I was out and about, mingling with our patrons, I wore a mask of happy.

It’s one of the first things Ku shared with me when I started to open up to her. She thought I was happy. It’s not admirable, friends. It’s more of a coping mechanism I’ve developed which really only makes it harder for me to deal with my own demons. I could venture to say she never expected to hear what I shared with her. That’s how good I was at being “on.” So while I’m sitting here listening to a tortured soul assume that I have the greatest life on Earth, what I say is, “We all have battles we are fighting.”

It can be the Mom battle, because we have this vision of motherhood and how we will excel at it in our head. We tell our friends and family things like, “I will never do this or allow that and NOT MY KID….” before we have babies. We see others raising theirs and we shake our heads at their inability to do whatever we deemed is right in our book. Or we see Moms who look like they got it down pat so we find whatever we can to criticize that because how dare she look so perfect? It can be the health battle and how we cannot believe so and so tried that shake or this diet and “maybe try eat less shit.” We can’t lose one effin pound so when they have success we tear them down. “She needs a burger. Vegans are dumb. Oh, another gluten free idiot, because how could they? It most certainly can be the relationship battle because they can’t be that happy because that’s all they post or how can she let him talk to her like that? We mock their highlight reel and we mock their low moments because judgement is a given in this world.

Before we know it the “I would never” becomes our truth and we are so caught up in our own little wars that we don’t notice those around us waged in their own battles, too. That old friend comparison sneaks in and we can’t shut her up because she’s loud and she’s everywhere and we are failing. We begin to break down those around us because maybe that’s what helps us for a fleeting moment but in reality, we all need to feel loved, heard and understood. We need each other to make it. Something I’ve really grasped lately is that it takes a village. Yes. Not just for the raising of the little humans, but for us, too. It takes a village to get so much done. So if you find yourself speaking with someone else, maybe take a moment and don’t assume they don’t understand. Ask them if they do. You might be surprised by their answer.

And if you see someone reaching out to ask you a hard, embarrassing question, do them the honor of at least hearing them out. Ok? Because life is hard. It takes strength to ask someone for help. Especially if they don’t know you. And if you feel like you know someone with a “perfect” life, befriend them and listen to them tell you about their struggles. Really, really listen.

Now go forth and do some good in the world. Say something nice to someone if you find yourself making a judge-y inner thought about them. It just might be what they need to hear today.

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What makes you Family?

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Looking fly at Waialae Country Club before Ka’eo and Denalee’s wedding 5/27/2017

In my 9-5, our team recently took a Strengths Finder assessment. It’s meant to aid in leveraging where people’s strengths lie, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. After answering a whole barrage of questions, a report was comprised, giving each of us our top five and explaining them. I wasn’t surprised by any of my list. In my last few years of self growth, mostly due to personal development and being honest with myself, I sort of already knew them.

The definitions of each strength were what really filled my cup. Knowing I love to learn is one thing, but an assessment stating that I probably collect books blew my mind! How could it know!? The best one, though? One of my strengths is connectedness. Just seeing the word made me nod my head in agreement. I thought it meant something about my ability to connect with others. How I reach out and force friends to stay in touch with me. It’s easier now, with everyone being cyber-connected. But guys, I used to send LETTERS to my friends. I thought I knew connected. And then I read the definition and was floored.

Connectedness: Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgements and in possession of our free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger. You are a bridge builder for people of different cultures.

That wasn’t all of it, just a smidge. However, I loved all the words it entailed. I have always believed that life is not a string of coincidences. How could it be when epic changes could happen from seemingly minute happenings in the world?

When I was in my seventh year of my own personal hell, my ex-husband decided we needed a trip. For his own personal reasons, that he didn’t disclose right away, he chose Hawaii. It’s one of those places that most of the world, at least from where I’m standing, dreams of going. I wasn’t a big fan. We almost never had money, and even when we did, it wasn’t managed well. He had control of that and it stressed me out to think what was being shelled out on this trip, when back home the boys were being fed with food stamps. There just wasn’t changing his mind when he wanted something. I remember being on the island of Oahu, driving down roads and seeing beaches and landmarks, gazing at them in awe.

Somewhere along a winding highway towards the windward side, he told me he was thinking of moving us there. I read it as: this will soon be our new home. It was pretty enough and promising enough that I gave no fight to the discussion. I sighed, asked him when and succumbed to the inevitable. It didn’t take away from how breathtaking Hawaii can be. The water is colors you can pick out of a Crayon box but can never replicate. You can see the bottom of the ocean, you can gaze out and see the curve of the horizon. The sun warms your face and slivers of that make it into your heart. Hawaii called to me and I let it. I remember the rest of the few days we were present, I would think about where we would land when we got there. What roads would become more traveled by me? Who would become my friend? How would my life change? I thought up so much and could never have imagined what Hawaii would come to mean to the boys and I.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written, hopefully it is the story of Ku and I and how we met. You see, meeting Ku was when Hawaii stopped being a place for me and became a feeling. My ex later described it as the biggest mistake he had made. For me, it was the biggest gift. Not only did I find who would captivate my soul and awaken my heart, but we found a second family. You see, I know the boys are loved by his family. They are his blood, too, and there is this fierce protectiveness and almost possessive feel they give to family get-togethers. It’s like the Lannisters incarnate, minus perhaps, the incest.

I won’t compare Ku’s family to Game of Thrones. A) they are human. They are kind and caring and I never feel like I’m about to be stabbed in the back. There’s no b. I do that, often.

Kulia’s family welcomed all of us with open arms. It has never felt forced or weird. There is this sincere love that you feel deep in your bone marrow that is so genuine. So pure. Hugs warm you like bowls of chicken noodle soup on a fall day and kisses on the cheek radiate rays of sunshine down to your toes. Her family and their love for the four of us was unimaginable and perfectly imperfect. I know that’s a hard level to achieve for most blended families so I cherish it and work to keep it seamless. I think it’s because I have seen weird and judge-y and mean (did you see how I compared my ex’s family to the LANNISTERS?) so I can be grateful for what we have been given.

The boys recently traveled to the East Coast with their Dad. When they came home yesterday, the meanager asked to speak with me. He told me about their trip and feelings he had while on it. He shared some stuff that was sad to listen to, about how they felt awkward around new family they met for the first time. It’s so alien to listen to because oftentimes I neglect thinking about the other side of what the boys deal with. The amount of time they are with us makes me think of us being their main family. It’s fair and yet unfair, right and yet not accurate. They have a whole other set of people that have come into their life in one way or another and I should have been preparing them for what might come.

My meanager reminded me of how treasured they feel in Hawaii. “Mom, you know how all of Ku’s family just loves us and never makes us feel weird?” he asked me. I struggled to find words because I just know it to be true. “It wasn’t like that in Virginia. We kept being reminded they aren’t our Aunts and Uncles and we couldn’t call them that. Her mom kept correcting us. We had to call them Mr. and Mrs. It was just awkward. Everything felt awkward.” This coming from the son who likes hugging the least. The thing is, our boys are lovers.

It was hard to hear and all I could do was tell him I was sorry to hear it. I told him I was so happy he was home because it’s never the same when they are gone. I hugged him and let him tell me how his feelings were hurt. I reminded him how sincerely and genuinely so many care for him and his brothers. That some people take time and maybe have a hard time accepting change, for lack of better reasoning.

I just really wonder what makes family, family. Ya know?

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Sam, AB and Moose at our wedding, melting our hearts and making everyone cry happy tears

Dear Daddy

 

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Photo taken by: Shannon Sasaki Photography

Dear Daddy,

I got married last Sunday, the 2nd of July. It was the day after my grandparents celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, which meant a lot to me.  I know you didn’t go and I know why, but  I wanted to share the details with you, because you haven’t asked yet and I really wanted to tell you about it at lunch the other day, but I would have ended up crying, and nobody likes a sad lunch.

From the moment I woke up, I could tell it was going to be gorgeous. The sun was shining and so was my heart. I didn’t think about whether you would change your mind or not, like I had for the last few months. I just felt excited and ready for all the memories. Ana and I went to get some decorations done first thing, which was a great idea. You remember Ana, right? She’s played cards with you at the restaurant before and she’s my best friend. She thought you would come even though I kept telling her it was a lost cause.

The weather could not have been more perfect. There was a slight breeze and so much light. Light in everyone’s eyes, in their hearts. This wedding meant a lot to many, especially me, and I wanted you to see that. I know you don’t understand homosexuality and gay marriage, but I know you understand love. I wanted you to see it. None of us could stop smiling or laughing easily at everything. I remember looking at all our friends’ faces and thinking, this is how I want to live every day for the rest of my life. Smiling and laughing this easily. It was a jovial sentiment and it was catching. I just know your heart would have felt lighter. You just had to make it there.

On our way back to the hotel, Ana and I, we had a deep chat. About being perfectionists and how to let things go. I think somewhere in our mix of wise words, I decided I wouldn’t fret about you on my day. I was going to practice letting go and I felt at ease. She wanted things to be just right for me and I think in a way, she was being what I would have wanted to see from you. Kulia talks a lot about how her parents will be there for me when you guys aren’t and sometimes I think that’s unfair. Except, not this time. Her father is not a fill in for you but he was so full of love and excitement. He clearly wanted nothing but happiness for her on our day. For us. I know for both of us. Ana filled in for you.

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We got to the hotel and started getting ready. There was a mimosa bar and food. Hustle and bustle and constant movement. I didn’t have it in me to think about you anymore, from that point forward. I was practicing letting it go, remember? Either way, I was having my hair and makeup done and chatting about Kulia and I’s crazy last five years together. How far we have come and how unstoppable we seem. It’s undeniable, Dad. We.are.good.together. We make goals and meet them, we push each other to keep growing. We bought an amazing house that we built, together. The boys, who I know were your biggest concern, are thriving. They have never been better. I know you see this. We all do.

I was thinking about that chat we had, our first serious one-on-one, when I moved back from Hawaii. I remember calling you on the beach, to say words to you that I had thought about sharing for over a decade. I was in an abusive relationship that I had finally left. I told you how he had treated me and you said, “You gotta respect yourself and do what’s right because you haven’t been living.” And then in the living room, that first night, you told me that divorce wasn’t the end of my life, but rather the start of a new one. Daddy, this new life isn’t what you imagined but I think it’s bigger than we could have both thought up.

I know it bothers you that I married a woman. I don’t see it that way. As I walked down the aisle, and saw the smiling/happy crying faces of those who love our love, I thought about math. Daddy, 3 + 1=4. I know that’s how you see it. But so does 2 + 2. So does 4 + 0. The thing is, there’s more than one way to answer a problem. All of those equations come to the same ending. That is love, for me. I didn’t fall in love with Kulia because she’s a woman. I fell in love with her soul. I feel like that’s more important than gender.

As we said our vows, I saw my Momma, Berta, Emily, Grandpa and Grandma sitting there and realized my wish hadn’t come true. Even in the midst of my own fairy tale, I couldn’t bippity boppity boo you there. And Berta was crying so many happy tears, full of love and joy for us. I almost lost it, in that moment. I almost cried.

We said our I do’s with the sun in our eyes and in our hearts. I am sorry you couldn’t be there to hear Kulia promise to respect and love me until her last breath. Isn’t that what every father wants? Someone to love their daughter almost as much as they do? Someone to help raise his grandkids to be gentlemen, to be life changers, to love and to respect? This is what I have, Daddy. And the thing is, I know you love Kulia for how she is with me. I know you can see it.

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The night ended as it should. With a beautiful sunset, deep hugs, fun photobooth pictures that I know you would have had no part of, and silly dancing. Everyone was floating on a cloud of love. Mom looked so happy, so full of excitement for our family. Berta and Gracia were loving on us and the boys. Everyone was there for the right reasons and while I’m not judging you, I think you weren’t for the wrong ones.

It reminds me of when I was around 10-11 years old. Working at the restaurant taught me so much, and sometimes without trying to. I was working with Uncle Louis one day, may his soul rest peacefully, when these two ladies came in. One had short hair, the other didn’t. I was bringing them their chips and salsa when Uncle Louis pulled me aside, laughing. Those are marimachas, he told me. I had no clue what he meant, so he explained to me what lesbians were. He defined that slang, offensive word. It was the first I had ever heard of them, and I got awkward. You pulled me aside and asked why I was being rude to our customers. You told me everyone was equal and you wouldn’t tolerate that behavior.

Where was that guy on Sunday? Did you think of me at all?  You told me, after lunch, that you love me no matter what. Did you mean, even if you’re gay and married to a woman? Is that my biggest travesty in life? I didn’t start this blog entry to be upset with you, but a part of me is, Daddy. I know I’ve taken you for quite a ride with my life. This is by far the least offensive; I feel that deep down. Loving her is more right than so many other things. At the end of the day, I will never regret it.

I love you, Daddy. No matter what.

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These five locos

 

Body Image Vibes

IMG_2377“Mom,” my oldest says to me one night. A deep, pensive night. He has stuff to say to me and I make sure to turn to him to give him some undivided attention. Sam, my meanager, as I lovingly call him, has always been a deep thinker. English is his second language; he didn’t learn it until he was in kindergarten. I thought it was the right thing to do, definitely thought it would give him a leg up in the world. Being fully bilingual before he started first grade would have been an awesome gift. Except, that didn’t happen. He was fully immersed in his class, had no classmates to converse with in Spanish, and began struggling from the word go. He doesn’t have either language mastered. His brain just wasn’t wired for it. I try to remember that when he is trying to chat with me and cannot find his words. Tonight is no different.

“Sometimes, when you come to pick me up at school, people see you and start laughing. They say, Sam, your Mom is so fat. It really makes me angry.”

What do you say to that? I want to tell him it doesn’t bother me, that my size doesn’t determine my worth. I find myself saying these words, but the truth is, it does affect me. I would be being untruthful if I didn’t acknowledge that. I feel myself go into robot mode, tell him that it’s a cheap insult and he should shrug it off. That him getting upset shows that he loves me and that’s all that matters to me. I speak slowly and with little emotion. The last thing I want to share with him is that I’ve been hearing it my whole life and it sucks and I try to not let it define me. Except, it does.

I can almost pinpoint the moment I realized I wasn’t looked at the same as some kiddos along with the moment I realized that when someone really wanted to hurt your feelings, especially if they were family or friends, they would immediately go for your biggest insecurity. It’s something I have a hard time doing today, even when I really want to. Cutting people with your words is easy, but what are you sacrificing to gain a moment of superiority? For me, it was my thighs. I’ve heard it all. Damn, check out those stumps! Oh, hey thunder thighs. Your legs are COTTAGE CHEESE! I started saying it myself. And what’s worse is when I’m having a really shitty day, even now. Even in these times, because nobody says horrible things to me like I do; I will stand in front of a mirror and tell myself I am fat, ugly, have the most horrendous thighs, the biggest baby apron, the widest bat wings. I tell myself all of it, because I’ve been hearing it for so long.

These thighs of mine have been the cause of a lot of stress, learning, working around. I’ve dealt with chafing, pants not fitting right, clapping when I go down stairs, ruined pants, not fitting in chairs, having to turn sideways to fit through aisles. They are chock-full of cellulite and jiggle. They are HARD.TO.LOVE.

Enter yesterday.

I was fresh back from NOLA, feeling really bloated and blah. Traveling makes me swell and even more self-conscious. I decided it was a fat pants day. Squeezing into my normal pants and feeling gross just didn’t sound like the kind of 24 hours I wanted to have. I headed to work and visited with friends. It was all making me feel better until I sat in the conference room and felt something cold on my inner thigh. And then it dawned on me. My pants had ripped in the inner thigh. AGAIN.

These are the kinds of things some people just won’t get. They don’t understand it. Their clothes don’t have to be replaced more often because their legs, butt, arms, whatever aren’t breaking down their articles of clothing faster. It’s humiliating and frustrating having to explain why I need a new pair of jeans or leggings. Why I don’t wear skirts or dresses as often as I want. It’s harder still to acknowledge that even though I am far into my journey of getting healthy and fit, I STILL HAVE BIG ASS THIGHS. AND A STOMACH. AND BAT WINGS. When I run into people, I feel like they are sizing me up (pun intended) because I CONSTANTLY size myself up. I don’t understand why I’m a year and a half in to this and I’m not a size 12 like I so desperately want to be. I try not to be envious of the people who cut out soda and lost ten pounds immediately. My body works against me every single day and I don’t get it. I got divorced and gained weight, which is opposite of most people. I get stressed out and gain weight. I stop eating and the pounds pack on quickly. I eat less and samesies. I weigh myself every day and it goes up. I weigh myself once a month and sure as shit, it creeps. Yes, I lose inches but my brain cannot love the scale no matter how hard I try to convince it.

I had packed my stuff for a run in the afternoon. I changed and drove to a nearby park that has trails. I told myself I would run for 2.5 miles and then go home. Becoming a runner has been one of the bigger surprises that I took on in 2015. I constantly told myself I could never do it, and then little by little proved to myself that I could. I am by no means a sprinter but I can go long distances. I remember being freaked THE HELL OUT to run a half marathon and so I committed to, signed up for, and paid for one. I dove into training and worked my ass off, but only figuratively. The day came and I did it without stopping once to walk and it was phenomenal. Except, then I stopped running diligently. I let excuses win more and more. I told myself it was okay, because I was still getting other workouts in. Sometimes.

Now I have another goal in mind, much different than a half-marathon. It’s Ragnar season and I was invited to be on a team for the second year in a row. The thing is, I was more prepared last year because I was still running some, not as much time had passed so my endurance was still up. I also took on a longer run position, with my first leg being over 5 miles long. Running 2.5 right now doesn’t seem like much, but it is. It’s eternal.

I was on the trail, going slow and steady; much slower than I am happy with but continually telling myself that at least I am out there. Usually I will incessantly check my running watch to see how far I have gone and what my pace is, but that makes me crazy and get hard on myself, so I mentally tell myself I won’t do that today. And I don’t. I stay true to my word. When I run, I don’t use headphones. Listening to things, especially music, distracts me. It’s bizarre and unheard of, apparently. Me? I like to run in silence. I’ve found a tranquility in the pain, beauty in the rhythmic movements. I focus on my breathing, control my gait as much as I can. I revel in the landscape and admire our Earth. Running did things I couldn’t find a way through. It reminded me how to be proud of myself, what it felt like to reach a goal. It helped me reconnect with my emotions on a very cellular level. Ku likes to joke that running made me human again and the reality is, she was right. I didn’t cry for a number of years after leaving my abusive ex. I was certain that all my tears were dried up for good. Running brought that ability to feel deeper back to me.

The one thing I had on was my mileage tracker. A velvet computer lady voice that tells me when I hit a mile. I hit two and thought, half a mile to go. I had fleeting thoughts about walking. My mind tried to convince me that nobody would know, because no one was around. Except, I would know and I would speak poorly to myself. Heaven knows I don’t need more reasons to do that.

As I’m trying to reach my goal, I pass a playground on my right, where there are two older kids playing on a tire swing. A young teenage girl is trying to swing a similarly aged boy and they are enjoying their time. She must have caught a glimpse of me, huffing and puffing along the gravel trail and she points and starts laughing.

“Look at that fat girl try to run.”

He turns and starts laughing, too.

Yet I just truck on, because they are right. I am fat. And I am trying.

I looked down at my run watch and realize I’m at 2.6 and then I think, well, that’s closer to 3 so I might as well run 3 miles today. What’s .4 more, at this point? And not far up ahead, a runner is coming towards me in the opposite direction, wearing a hot pink tank top and cute little running shorts. Now there’s a runner! As we get closer to each other, she smiles and in turn I smile back. She waves to me and says, “Great job!” It means so much more to me than those kids.

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You see, I do have thunder thighs but when I finished, I took a moment to stare down at them, with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. These bad boys helped me leave a decade of domestic violence behind me. They helped me jump out of a vehicle and run for freedom. They have taken me across multiple finish lines after so many miles, so many more than a lot of people have run, they have helped me walk into new opportunities that have been life changing and in NINE DAYS they will walk me down the aisle to the love of my life. Yesterday, I could have hated them more than anything but after a small poor-me moment, I reflected on how far these boom sticks have taken me.

And I loved them.

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In the throes of teen angst

I often share stories and insights from raising my meanager. People ask about it, reach out to me, thank me for it, you get the gist. Most times, I’m questioned if he really is mean and while the answer may vary depending on how he’s been the day I’m being asked, for the most part, he is not. He has teen moments, has begun his hand at trying to be sarcastic and witty, is becoming slightly moody, and sometimes is just downright pissy. More often than not, he is kind. He is caring. He is reserved.

Raising our meanager has not come with ups and downs, as I’m sure it is for anyone else in our shoes. Every time I was pregnant, I wished on everything and anything that I wouldn’t have any girls. I remember when I was in my adolescents and let me tell you, I could NOT handle myself if dealt the same cards. I was by no means the worst kid ever; I wasn’t a teen mom or became addicted to drugs, I didn’t have loose morals or party all night long at random houses, but I wasn’t an angel and I always thought I knew more than my parents. I had an attitude, I was miserable and made everyone else suffer along with me. No part of that made me want a daughter. Except, having boys hasn’t been balls easy (pun intended).

Having small men is constant energy. They are loving, curious, problem solvers (for the most part) but challenging. Raising boys has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Throw in the mix that we are raising them in a two female household, where neither of us has experienced wet dreams or random erections. Where we don’t understand the voice changing and giggle when the meanager speaks. We ask him questions in front of friends so they can hear the differences also, except he has caught on to that and is refusing to appease us. There’s the new fuzz above the upper lip and the increased body odor smells. We don’t physically and emotionally understand any of these things and yet we are balls deep in them, too.

For the most part, my meanager has been withdrawn. He spends most of his time in his room, where we let him escape the ridiculousness of his younger brothers because we understand he needs space. We ask pesky questions sometimes (read: I do) and from time to time we force him to engage in conversation or time spent with us. If he’s been particularly difficult, like failing a class and not getting his ish together, we might take him to Costco and make him hold our hands (read: me), gush over him and try to kiss him in public. Being a mom can be fun some days, friends. He almost always takes it in stride and knows we love him. We have each taken a role. He talks with Ku when he has girl questions or topics he feels I’ll blow out of proportion (as if that’s even possible). He comes to me when Ku isn’t around, because he’s convinced she’s more chill than I am.

I know, it’s damn frustrating.

And then there are times he sits down and asks me in his serious, sounds like he has a big loogie sitting in the back of his throat voice if he can ask me something. And I see a storm in his eyes that carries some emotional anguish. It could be something silly and yet it’s not for him so I take it serious and brace myself. I never know what’s coming but I know it has to happen.

“Mom, have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”

And there it is, a sucker punch to my side. I’m always on the fence with how real, how honest we should be with our kiddos. I mean Ku and I, because I fully understand every parent will have their own opinion of what is best. Sam is fourteen and I’m not so sure how in depth and raw I can be with him yet. Yes, I feel my chest tightening but I have to say something that makes him feel heard, understood, listened to. I decide to be real for a moment, because I don’t want to lie to my children, ever.

I tell him yes. That I remember being upset as a teenager, feeling like my parents didn’t understand me, didn’t care about me, that I was second to their business and their time. That I was fat and got made fun of, that I never got invited to sleep overs or parties. I wasn’t popular and I wasn’t good at sports. I was miserable a lot of the time and sometimes I thought about ending it all. I didn’t tell him about how I turned to cutting to feel better and have scars that will never fade from it. I keep it short and simple and then I ask him if he ever has.

“Yeah, after you and Dad split. I was really sad and thought I would never see my Dad again,” he shared. That makes sense. I had a protection order against him, he didn’t know our new address or phone number because he had gone from crazy to psychotic in the blink of an eye when I left. He was only allowed to see the children with supervised visits, which he refused to submit himself to. He went a long time without seeing his children and it was all of out selfishness. He wanted to know what would happen to him and his brothers if I died, where they would go if both I and his dad died. Things were clearly weighing on his mind.

When I think back to my decade of abuse in a violent, toxic relationship with their Dad, I find myself at a crossroads. On the one hand, I’m grateful that he never hit me in front of the kids because I can’t imagine what that would have done to my children internally, except on the other I feel like they still don’t fully understand why the divorce happened. Sam continued with the hard questions last night, asking me if I was sad the whole time I was married to his dad, why I didn’t leave sooner, how bad his dad hit me, and why.

“Why would he need a reason, Sam? Wouldn’t that be justifying doing something horrible to someone when really, there is no excuse good enough for hitting someone you said you would love and honor?” I asked him. And his response was unexpected but reasonable. “I’m not saying a reason makes it okay. I just want to know why he did it.” Except, there’s not always a reason. Often times I think he felt out of control so he would pick fights with me and goad me into answering back to which he would explode. Or I wouldn’t meet his expectations and he would lash out. It was many reasons and yet none at all and so how can you fully understand that?

Sam asked me about his dad’s family and how they treated me, he shared what he witnesses of how they treat his stepmom. He asked what brought me to finally leave and I was careful to be honest without unnecessary details. The whole time we talked he had silent tears slipping down his face and I felt like something deeper was trying to surface. Every now and again Sam does this. Just asks me a question out of the blue, with no notice and I never feel like I answer correctly. I always feel blindsided and yet realize it’s an important moment for him. And I always wish there was a manual I could reference because unless you’re prepared for these things, they just leave you feeling inadequate.

Throw in talking with your child about these deep issues you are still working through. He wasn’t done, though. He had looked over our list of attendees on the kitchen table and had seen that my Dad was a no. “Why isn’t Tan (what they’ve always called him) coming?” And when I explained that he wasn’t okay with our marriage, he asked, “But doesn’t he love you?”

It was hard not to tear up with him. Not only was he asking me some of the hardest questions of my life, ones I’ve asked myself a million times in private, he was hitting on some pretty raw situations. Yes, I know my father loves me and I don’t want to judge him on his not coming to our big day. I’ve accepted he won’t be there. I asked him so many times, hoping he changes his mind. He doesn’t comprehend it and for him to attend, he would have to in his opinion, so he can’t bring himself to be there. I get it, because I choose to. And I love him because regardless of our differences in opinion, my ability to love him isn’t hinged on this one moment. Yes, it’s major to me. It’s monumental to both Ku and I. I am simply choosing to try to see things through his lens and agree to disagree.

Last night was tough. Yes, I found being honest pretty difficult, but I also wanted to answer his questions without projecting my own feelings into our talk because I don’t want him to feel how I do out of solidarity or obligation. I want him to hear me yet draw his own conclusions and thoughts without just being upset with his father or my dad. And just finding the bravery alone to initiate the whole thing with me, the one who is less chill, was pretty awesome, regardless of how much I struggled through it. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be googling how to have difficult yet meaningful conversations with teenagers because shoot me before he surprises me again!

 

What I got from 13 Reasons Why

vylitKu and I recently dove in, headfirst, to the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.”

I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first. We recently had a young student in a nearby city take her own life, reasons unknown to me, but I hope not to her family. It shook me to my core, we both recoiled in horror when we found out about it. Suicide is nothing to take lightly, a serious act of which you lose control of righting it. It’s forever and leaves so much pain behind. I feel selfishly lucky that suicide hasn’t touched our family directly, but we felt total sadness at the passing of the middle schooler. Her name was Vylit (read: Violet).

Her death has been an upheaval for the town she lived in. Oddly, it hasn’t exactly brought everyone together. Lynden, where she lived and went to school, happens to be a very religious, Christian community. It is predominantly Dutch, with a large number or migrant dwellers, who move with the produce seasons. There is a divide, a feeling of judgement, an inability to integrate, just in general. Throw in something that has rocked every resident to their core, and it has become something short of ugly. There has been blaming, a desecration of religious beliefs, finger pointing, hurt, people have turned on the parents and family, or blaming the town, etc. We lived in Lynden for almost three years. Our kiddos were students there that whole time. It is picturesque, almost too clean, and definitely hard to feel welcome. We always chalked it up to the fact that we were two lesbians, not primarily Caucasian, living in one of the hardest communities to feel a part of. In all honestly, we never did. We lived on the same block the entire time and only knew one set of direct neighbors. We didn’t really know the rest.

During our time in Lynden, once deemed the highest ratio of churches per capita, we began dealing with two of our kiddos being diagnosed with two very different issues. Samuel, our oldest has ADD (attention deficit disorder). He had been failing fifth grade miserably, was repeatedly showing as below grade average for every subject. Doing homework was more work for us than him once he got home, he just didn’t have it in him to sit and do it. Abraham was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). HE.CANNOT.SIT.STILL. He cannot follow multiple directions at once. He is definitely not calm, more emotional than his brothers. You can watch his mind go into overload in front of your eyes. But he isn’t unmanageable, he isn’t ridiculously outrageous with energy; not to me. Samuel was prescribed Ritalin and it was PURE MAGIC. He needed just a small dose and it was wonderful. All his grades went up. He was a different kid overnight and not at all in a bad way. Abraham, though. Complete different story.

AB began with Ritalin. It worked wonders for two seconds (read: a few weeks). Once the doctor realized he would need an adjustment of the dosage, she upped it a touch. It changed him. He became moody, withdrawn. My sweet, loving boy was turning inwards and it freaked us out. We switched it up to Adderall, to see if the composition of what is essentially a very similar drug, would make a difference. Again, the smallest dosage gave us a glimmer of hope, because it had begun to impede his learning. I want to note that we fully recognize medication isn’t the only way. It wasn’t our only method. This post isn’t entirely about Abraham and his diagnosis, nor do we want to be judged for medicating our children. If he had diabetes and needed insulin shots, we would have done that in a heartbeat. I see this as the same. That is my truth. It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s. So, his doctor wanted to try Ritalin with him. The smallest dose seemed promising, but when we upped the dose by a tiny amount, he got very dark. We noticed immediately. He was seven years old and had pure hatred in his small eyes. He was overly emotional, had extreme mood swings. We were coming home from Thanksgiving, around a lot of noise and family and he struggles with that. We could see it and were anticipating getting home to our little duplex so he could unwind. He was hard to calm in the car on the drive. He seemed so angry, just unreasonably upset for such a little guy. Our loving, thoughtful, funny mini-man.

We got home and I was on a phone call with an employee about something when Ku came in to the room, visibly upset. She asked me to get off the phone, that it was urgent. Abraham had been so pissed at life that he said the words you never want to hear, “I just want to kill myself.” How was that even possible?! How could a seven year old even KNOW about suicide? We were floored. I held him, hugged him. We told him how much we loved him. I asked him what I would do without my Abraham and he said, “You can find another.” We had never seen him this way and it freaked us out. We stopped the Ritalin. Apparently, changes in mood can happen but it is very rare. It makes perfect sense. AB is a rare specimen of a soul. He marches to the beat of his own drum, he is a natural problem solver, and wouldn’t you know that gets him into more problems than fixes them? His mind is naturally curious, he reads above his age level. He is too smart, sometimes, for his own good. We found him a counselor shortly after this and it was a major help, especially with us. We can read all we want on ADHD but his counselor was able to put into words what is going on better than any book; at least for us.

His being out there, different, unique has raised some concerns with us. He comes home and tells us about how he is bullied and we talk so much about it with him. The thing is, how do you teach your kiddos to stand up for themselves yet also develop a thick skin? Kids can be so mean, so honest, so hurtful. In turn, he started to be mean, also. It has been such a learning curve for us.

Enter in Hannah Baker, the protagonist of 13 Reasons Why. The show begins with her narrating the aftermath and explanation of her suicide. It has become widely talked about. Some people have felt triggers, based on their own history with suicide attempts, some want their teenagers to watch it. Some, like me, wanted to see what the buzz was about. It sounds sad. Well, of course it sounds sad. A teenage girl committing suicide? That’s a horror story we don’t want to be real. Ever. Ku and I watched it and talked about it. I feel like the show did a good job of making it feel like it could be any community any of us live in. It has not been without controversy, though. Is anything worth talking about ever, though? Without controversy?

I get that it can look like it’s glamorizing suicide. A part of me understands it so wholeheartedly and another part of me suggests that it has to, in a way, to really hit home with us. Or maybe there is added drama for the viewers to keep your attention. I know that this was a novel and that while it stuck pretty close (I’ve heard, I didn’t read it) to the book, some parts were changed, most importantly her method of death. It is much more gruesome in the series. There is also the notion that it’s pointing fingers. At 13 humans. Souls who, for the most part, are not bad people, but rather find themselves in situations where they either make a bad choice, aren’t mature enough to make the right one, or don’t know what to do so they remain silent. She put herself in a lot of terrible situations. Yes, I can see it. Yet, I also recognize that as a teenager, so did I. I made bad choices, wrong decisions, and that was how I learned. It’s how we all learn. The school is made to look like the bad guy. Yes, but our public education system can certainly seem like it’s failing our youth in many ways. Suicide awareness, bullying, rape culture, etc are all areas every school can improve in.

We recently learned that a friend’s daughter wanted to play on the football team. She is in fifth grade, but is beginning to develop. The boys on the team couldn’t stop asking her out, bothering her because she’s pretty, so she was taken off the team. This is along the lines of what Hannah talks about in 13 Reasons. Why is it always on the girl? If she looks too pretty, or dressed “scantily” she deserves to be raped. Was asking for it. How many times have we heard THAT argument? It’s horrendous. Our society has become one in where boys are being raised, even in the best homes, to believe that being told they are “acting like a girl,” is one of the worst insults for them. We aren’t teaching what consent looks like with the shows on tv, advertisements, how schools handle certain situations. A friend recently didn’t receive a promotion. She was told there was concern that the added stress of the position might strain her home life, yet the employee who was promoted has a family, also. He just happens to be male.

The inequality of genders is something I took away from 13RW. I also saw a lack of listening skills. Hannah tries to reach out at times, albeit clunky and not poised. Asking for help isn’t always gracefully done. Many times those she tried to tell were involved in issues of their own; it’s through no fault of theirs that they don’t hear her. She needed someone to stop and listen, or maybe not finish her sentences. I took away that I can ask my children questions and just stop my mouth and listen. Let them stumble through whatever it is they want to share. I can make time for them, foster them finding good friendships. Encourage them to talk to me. I watched it wondering how I would have responded to AB if he showed any of the signs that she did.

Suicide began to tear her parents apart. It wreaked havoc on friendships. I can’t imagine what it’s done for Vylit’s family, or her friends, or her classmates. I don’t even know that 13RW can create the right dialogue for anyone hurting from her loss. I certainly didn’t finish watching Hannah’s story and think, My kids need to watch this. Not one bit. I am thankful, though, that I did. I will say that it made me think about me, about my parenting, and how to be there for my boys. Yes, there was a lot more I can say, but I’m choosing to focus on this.

Much love to the VanderGiessen family. You are always in my hearts and I’m so sorry it’s because of the loss of your loved one.