It’s Not Just You

Not an exaggeration: every day – as in every single day – since my last post I have heard from someone who has a kid who is struggling.  Every single day.

 

Oh, and, by the way, here’s a fact: struggling kid = struggling family.  Truth.

 

Old friends I’ve not seen in decades.

 

Friends of friends.  Lots of ‘em.

 

Strangers who happened to see my blog.

 

Difficult people.

 

Super cool people.

 

Rich, poor, city, suburban.

 

There’s no discrimination here, folks.

 

Each has a story starts with the same theme: a kid who is struggling.  Some situations are eerily similar to ours. Others a different flavor.  All are heartbreaking. Each exhausting.

 

I’ve received private messages, texts, emails, phone calls, Facebook messages all saying the same thing:

 

I thought it was just us.

 

Nope.  It is not just you.

 

It is not just your kid (wait: never just the kid…the whole family).

 

Trust me: you are not alone.

And that’s kind of what it all boils down to, isn’t it?

 

That sinking, horrible, unshakable sense that you are alone.

 

The shame you think only you carry.

 

The anger you are sure no one else feels.

 

The resentment. The fear. The exhaustion.

 

The loneliness. That’s the worst.  The loneliness.

 

But this isn’t just about a kid (no, a family) going off the rails.

 

It’s about financial worries.

 

It’s about aging parents.

 

It’s about having a kid on the spectrum or one who is either bullying or being bullied.

 

It’s about the challenges of marriage – no matter how fabulous your partner might be.

 

It’s about  the college fund you never managed to, well, fund.

 

It’s about the cancer, or the heart disease, or the dementia.

 

It’s about being 100% committed to the (entirely false) notion that no one else is feeling your feels, worrying your worries, dreading your dreads, struggling your struggles.

 

Reality: That’s not the case.

 

While we might know (in our brain, anyway) that others share the same issues, worries, and fear, we definitely don’t always know it in our hearts.

 

While we are busy powering through, superhero cape flapping, and making decisions that are equal parts difficult and terrifying, it is hard to remember that we are not alone.

 

When the phone rings and your heart sinks in anticipation of what’s on the other end, it’s hard to remember that you are not alone.

 

When your kid is this or that or your parent is this or that or when your partner or friend is this or that or you are this or that it’s hard to remember that you are not alone.

 

But, really, I promise you, you are never alone.

 

Jess 2.0

Six months ago, at the urging/behest/insistence of Jess, I retired this blog. Today, I am coming out of retirement, hoping that I still know how to share (without oversharing), impart wisdom (without suggesting that I have any idea what I am doing), and keep things real (without hurting anyone in the process).  A lot has happened in these last several months, so sit back, grab your beverage of choice, and settle in. It has been a bumpy ride.

 

A few disclaimers before you read on:

 

  1. I share this story for many reasons, one of which is this: Everyone is dealing with something.  Some of us are hearts-on-the-sleeve types (insert frantic waving here), while others are more private.  I respect both, and ask that you do the same. This is hard stuff…and something I don’t want anyone to ever have to do alone.  I have an army of family and friends protecting and serving me. I could not have done it any other way.
  2. In a move I never make, I showed this to Jess before posting.  I emailed it to her early in the evening and did not get any response.  That, of course, had me worried. This morning I received this text:

So, here we go!

 

This past summer, well, sucked.  Jess was miserable. I was miserable.  Anyone who was forced to be with us: also miserable.  There was no one incident, no particular event, rather a steady trickle of bad choices and worse attitudes. Our house was a shitty place to be.  There were loud, angry arguments. The tension between Jess and everyone who shared her last name or lived under the same roof was unbearable. She was angry, disrespectful to both herself and to most who came in contact with her, and was headed down a bad path..no doubt about it.

 

One Saturday afternoon, I got a text from her:

Mom, I am sick. Please come and get me at (this address). I ate fried dough and chicken fingers and they aren’t agreeing with me.

 

I knew she wasn’t sick.  I knew she had eaten neither friend dough nor chicken fingers. I knew she’d made a bad choice.  I knew we were in more trouble than I had been ready to admit to myself. .

Thankfully, it was “only” a bad reaction to some unsavory pot she’d somehow acquired – despite having no income.  Barry and I got her home safely where he essentially had to carry her into the house. There was nothing to do or say in that moment, other than to watch her, keep her safe, and wait for the botched high to end.  When it did end, she casually got up, walked over to her dresser, and banged her head against it. Repeatedly. It was horrifying enough that we headed to the emergency room.

There, we met with a kind, compassionate, and patient doctor who wanted to admit her, but did not want to traumatize her by doing so.  He allowed us to bring her home with a promise to, at the very least, take her to see her primary care doctor.

The following morning, we arrived at the doctor’s office and were handed a slip of paper.

“This is the name of a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  You got lucky – Jess has an appointment in three weeks…it never happens that quickly.”

This is when my mama bear kicked in, and kicked in hard.

 “Three weeks?!  You’ve got to be kidding me! This is clearly a kid in crisis…how are we supposed to manage this for three weeks?!”

 

(Aside: mental healthcare is a disaster in this country.  It is shameful, and frightening that someone in crisis is told that not only do they have to wait three weeks, but that they are somehow lucky it isn’t longer!  We were not fearful of suicide, but what if we were…or, worse, should have been? I could go on and on about this,but, for now, I won’t.)

 

As Jess was quietly listening to this unfold, she spoke for the first time.  She asked me to call the psychiatrist she’d seen as a little kid. The guy who was there every step of the way during her transition from George to Jessie.  She hadn’t seen him in nearly five years.

 

Because he is old-school, and because he is deeply loyal to his patients, the psychiatrist saw us the next day.  And the day after that. And three hour long phone calls after that. And then he made a recommendation.

 

“Send her to a wilderness program where she will live on a mountain, sleep under a tarp, be stripped of everything that is eating away at her.  She’ll learn self help skills. She’ll go places – physically and emotionally – that she’s never gone. It can be transformative.”

 

(Note: those were his exact words which I scribed on my phone while he spoke.)

 

I thought he was out of his fucking mind.  I might have even given a few (or many) excuses against his recommendation. Things weren’t really that bad.  She would never agree. It would be a disaster. We cannot afford it.  (Aside: technically, we 100% couldn’t afford it.)

 

Five harrowing days later, we were on our way to Vermont with nothing but eight pairs of underwear.

 

“I am pissed, I am terrified, but I know you are sending me because I need to go.”

 

It would be 54 days before I saw or spoke to Jess. And another 21 days after that before she would graduate.  During those nearly eleven weeks her dad and I had weekly phone sessions: one with her therapist, one with a family therapist.  Our communication with Jess was exclusively through letters emailed between us. These were intense, meaningful exchanges. They were not easy to write (said the writer) and hers were often hard to receive.  They were honest. Brutally honest.

 

My life at home bore no resemblance to before she left.  I slogged through the first few days (okay, weeks) not quite knowing what to do with myself.  I struggled with a tortuous combination of sadness, worry, anger, and, truthfully: relief. Gone were the arguments, the confrontations, the concern.  I knew in my heart that she was safe, but I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. What kind of mother sends their kid off to the mountains at the precipice of winter in New England?  My repeatedly telling Jess that this was not a punishment, but a gift, rang hollow in my heart. The first cold rainy day, I sat in my mother-in-law’s kitchen weeping. Reassurances from my husband, my ex-husband, my family and the few friends who knew what was going on were tricky – not one of them had been in my shoes, all the best intentions notwithstanding.

 

Over those weeks, I began to relax.  I started sleeping again – something I hadn’t done in years.  I got into a new groove – one which I enjoyed, when I wasn’t thinking too much.  I started to breathe.

 

And then, graduation -arguably a fabulous, celebratory day – was upon us. And I could no longer sleep.  I could no longer breathe. Because, despite the joy in her completing (in a totally badass way) a no-bullshit program that included sleeping under a tarp in the dead of winter, no running water or toilets, “showering” by way of a bag held precariously over her head, lugging a 70 pound backpack, having to create fire (no matches, babe), filter drinking water  (this from a girl whose only wilderness experience prior to this was walking from the house out to her car) Jess wasn’t coming home…yet.

 

I have learned a lot about a lot of things I never knew.  A wilderness program, while wholly transformative (more on that in a moment) is actually just the beginning.  It is a total reboot, throw in a new operating system, plug and unplug event for sure. But is is also considered preparation for the next step: boarding school. I could not find one person – both the professionals on Team Jess, nor my psychologist-friends, to tell me it would be a good idea for her to come home -even for a few days – before starting school.  Yes, she was highly transformed, but it would be wildly unfair to expect her to plop back into the same environment that clearly wasn’t working for her without also setting her up for a potentially disastrous result. So, for the six days between her graduation (which, I have to say, blew away any graduation I have ever been to, ever) it was me, my ex-husband and Jess in a hotel in Maine.

 

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

I am not proud, but I am honest: I was dreading it.  I was beside myself with anxiety, trepidation, fear.  I was pre-worrying (it is my specialty) about arguments, and misunderstandings, and general discord.  I didn’t dare to expect things to be different. My bad: I was expecting the Jess who left in October. Guess what? That is not who showed up.  Oh, sure there was a moment here and there, but they were only moments and recovery was swift.  Jess, fresh out of wilderness, is pretty much the bomb.

 

We did some shopping.

 

I brought her for her first haircut in three months.

 

Her grungy hands and nails desperately needed a manicure.

 

We went out to dinner.

 

We slept until we woke up (and, yes, that included me…I slept!).

 

We visited her new school.

 

We went to the movies and cried at the same scenes.

 

We got mother daughter tattoos of The North Star, a promise I made to her when she turned 18.

 

 

It was the best six days I’ve ever spent with Jess.  Ever.

 

We arrived at her new school at 9 a.m. and by noon she had met her roommates, set up her room, and hung a tapestry she’d bought in Israel.  We said our goodbyes. Her dad and I stood by her dorm and watched her confidently head to lunch with her roommates, who, just an hour earlier, were total strangers.  It was eerily reminiscent of the first day she walked into her elementary school dressed in head to toe pink, purple, and green pajamas, no longer George, but proudly Jess.

 

 

It has been about ten days.  Ten days of pleasant phone calls, funny texts, easy chatter.  And, remarkably, no complaints about the food, or the cold, or the people, or anything, really.  It’s all good.  At least for now.

 

Sure, she’s lobbied (pretty hard) to come home for a weekend, but accepted my response that she needed to wait a little longer.  She was persistent, but respectful.

 

And, yes, she’s asked me to send her several things – some of which I have, others, not so much.  And, again, persistent, but respectful.

 

She is, after all, still a teenager.

 

She called me just to tell me that Florence Pugh was nominated for an Oscar.

 

She texted me about a coloring book, “Gay Men Draw Vaginas” and I responded with a link to a story about Gwenyth Paltrow selling candles that smell like her vagina.  You know: normal mom.daughter stuff. I could practically hear her laughing, despite the 135 miles between us.

 

I am wildly (see what I did there?) grateful to the good folks at True North who took my angry, dysregulated, disconnected daughter and helped her do what she had to do to transform herself into a fantastic version of herself.  Sending her there was the hardest parenting work I have ever done (and, um, that’s saying something), but I would do it again.  In a heartbeat. Remember how I said that we 100% could not afford it? Update: we 100% couldn’t afford not to.

 

 

It was this exchange that prompted me to write this blog post:

“I googled myself and, of course, your blog came up.  I started reading it. You need to keep doing that, mom.”

 

I asked her what had changed her mind:

 

“I am over caring.”

 

Um, does that mean you are caring too much or are past giving a shit what other people think, say or do?

 

My heart sang when she replied that it was the latter.

 

 

Atta girl!  Take that Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and whatever other confidence destroying evils are lurking about.

 

Could. Not. Be. Prouder.

 

p.s. I am wise enough to know that there are going to be bumps in the road.  I am seasoned enough to know that the moment we think we really, truly know our children, they up and change.  I am brave enough to be willing to take these risks…because I always knew that Jess could be fucking amazing.

And…That’s A Wrap

In early 2012, I, quite by accident, created this blog.

 

What began as a way of communicating to my friends and family the lightning speed with which my son George was becoming my daughter, Jessie, morphed, over the years, into something that was less about her and more about me.

 

At first, I was little more than the-parent-of-a-transgender-child-trying-to-navigate-unchartered-territory-who-needed-tons-of-support.

 

Then, as time progressed and because a new (sort of/kind of) normal emerged, my experiences as a person, a wife, a mother, a woman, a daughter, a sister, an ex-wife and step-mother were more urgent than those of the no-longer-newly-indoctrinated-parent-of-a-transgender-child.

 

Thank you for allowing me to share, shift and share some more.

 

As parents, we try to do right by our children by making – and helping them to make – good decisions, by guiding them as best we can, but mostly by supporting them.

 

We work hard to achieve that elusive balance between being authoritative and being cool.

 

We convince them – and ourselves -we know what we are doing, even when, much of the time, we don’t. (Okay, maybe you do, but I don’t.  Truth.)

 

Most of us put on a good act, but, in reality, we are just winging it much of the time, hoping that our life experiences have provided the tools we need to support, guide and cherish our children – no matter who they are, what they need or where they might be – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

 

Which brings me to the point of this post:

 

Jess is nearly 18 years-old now (talk about crazy!  How is that even possible?!?!), a rising high school senior (say what?!?)  and, out of respect for her, it is time to retire georgejessielove.

 

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As a ten-year old kid, she was down with it.  Over the years, she’s been a bit more reticent in her support.  And, if we are being honest, there have been times that it has made her life more complicated than it already was, is, and will continue to be.  My intent was never to make things harder for her, but sometimes it did. See above: just winging it.

Also see above: trying to make good decisions.

 

Thank you all for your incredible support over the years.  It has gotten me through some really rough spots.  Don’t think for one second that every kind word, every “you got this”, and every virtual hug didn’t make a difference.  It did.

 

Thank you for, if not appreciating, at least allowing my candor, my sarcasm, my sense of humor in the face of some tricky stuff.

 

Thank you for encouraging me, for holding me up, going along for the ride.  It’s definitely been a little bumpy.

 

I suspect I will blog again some day.  I hope that we find one another when I do.

 

PTE

Confession: I’ve been known to suffer from what I refer to as a PTE – Pop Tart Emergency.  (This is not to be confused with a MFFE – McDonald’s french fries emergency – during which I go through the drive-thru but do not pull away before tasting one to ensure it is hot.  If it is not, it goes back. Duh.)

The two  -PTE and MFFE – are generally interchangeable, a surefire cure  for whatever ails me: headache, heartache, bellyache, you name it. The primary difference is that I have to travel to satisfy the MFFE, while the PTE is easily remedied from the comfort of my own home.  Except, that is, when one of the teenagers who happens to live with me not only finds my hidden stash (don’t judge me – you wish you’d thought of it) but eats them.  As in: the whole box. Not proud to admit, but this might have infuriated me a little.

Upon discovering that my Pops were AWOL,  I inquired – via text so as to prevent myself from yelling at someone about, um, Pop Tarts – as to the whereabouts of my contraband Pop Tarts. I was met with utter and genuine dismay as to why I was annoyed.

Here’s how it went:

Me: Did you take the Pop Tarts out of “the hiding place?!?!?!

(Note: I named the hiding place – but not going to mention it here because, well, then you would all know my hiding place.  That being said, apparently it wasn’t such a crack hiding place…)

Teenager: Yea

Me: Did it occur to you that they were in “the hiding place” for a reason?!?!?!

Teenager: No

Teenagers should be publicly flogged.

pop

 

Oh, I know: their brains aren’t fully developed, they are selfish creatures, they are clueless about the needs of menopausal women, blah blah blah, but seriously – WTF?  Is nothing sacred? Get a job and buy your own damn Pop Tarts! Better yet, replace mine. AmIright?

This all happened about an hour ago.  I feel (a little) badly about losing my shit over missing Pops, but have stopped short of apologizing for my completely (un)reasonable outburst.  I mean, I have to maintain some power, right?

So, off I go to replenish my PTE stash.  Or, perhaps, I will give into the MFFE. Clearly I need to do something.

 

Born In The 2000s…

A friend recently posted an article she had written about how &*%$ing hard it is to parent teenagers. (Okay, she was classier than I am and opted for the word freaking as opposed to what I know she was thinking:  &*%$ing). I shared the post on my Facebook page (1) and a friend commented, “We were just talking about this” to which I responded, “Yep.  But then again, I am always &*%$ing talking about this!”

And there we have it.

Over the past few weeks, I have received several texts and private messages asking me if I am okay, noting that I have been “quiet” lately.  “Quiet”, to be clear, is code for curiosity over why I have neither blogged -at all – or posted much on social media. This, I have learned, is a sign to my followers that something is amiss.  And they are not all together wrong.

So here’s the thing: I have a lot to write about, a lot to say, and a lot on my mind.  As in a shit ton. Remember: I have two kids and two step kids. One (thank the Lord) is a successfully launched, self-sufficient and kind adult. The other three are smack dab in the throes of being teenagers – a job they are taking very seriously.  And, as has been established, raising teenagers is really fucking hard. Oh, sorry, I forgot to pretty-up my expletives. The gloves are off.

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In addition to my own bedroom, my house has three others, each belonging to one of the kids: ages 12, 14 and 17.  And, if it weren’t enough that there are bedrooms for them…they are inhabiting them. And, to make matters worse, they have all read – and epically mastered – the manual:  How to be the “Perfect” Teenager.  Following me?

They are all good kids (at least I like to think so) (no, they are)(really) and I love each, but none of them – not one – are what anyone would consider, well, easy.  Not. One. Of. Them.  I am actually kind of okay with not easy, though.  I mean, who wants a go with the flow, fall in line, no-issue kid? That would be boring. And, if we are being honest, I myself have been accused of being “complicated” which, we all know, loosely translates to “not easy,”…but I am ONE person. There are THREE of them.  All at once.  Couldn’t one, just ONE, be easy?  I’d be down with being a little bored.

Complicating matters is the fact that of the THREE teenagers who hold the keys to my house, only ONE of them came from my body – which, incidentally, has never been the same.  With only ONE am I allowed to lose my shit without repercussions beyond the crappy feeling you get after calling your kid a shithead. (2) With only ONE do I have not just power (oh, who am I kidding? I have no power) but huge responsibility to ensure that, whether they be a boy, a girl, a dog or a Martian, that they not be an asshole.(3)  With only ONE can I bellow, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!”  It’s a burden, folks.

So, yeah, parenting teenagers is really fucking hard.  Step-parenting them: nearly impossible. That being said, I have lived through it once.  I am (fairly) certain I will manage to live through it three more times.  And, while I would love to go into (graphic and brutally honest) detail as to what life looks like on the daily – I simply cannot.  Unless, of course, I am hell bent on ensuring that things definitely get worse before they get better. Ya gots me?

Consider this a little insight into why I’ve been quiet.  Rest assured, however, I am not so quiet here on the homefront.

Oh, and to all my friends who are relishing life on the other side – aka EMPTY NEST – please, for the love of God, don’t even think about telling me I am going to miss this all some day.

(1) I shared for a few reasons.  I. It was spot on. 2. I want more people to read my friends Abby’s stuff – she’s a good writer. 3. I have come to consider Abby a great friend. 4. Abby and I have never met in person, but we are basically the same person – so that makes her awesome.

(2) So maybe you’ve never called your kid a shithead.  Props to you. But, if you have never even considered calling your kid a shithead, you should just stop reading now.  We clearly have a very different parenting experience.

(3) Been using that line for nearly 8 years.  Still believe it. Still pray for it to be.

 

 

I Cannot Breathe

I cannot breathe.

Another mass shooting.

Another presidential hissy fit.

Another group of strangers throwing hate at an entire community of people – those who are transgender – mostly because it somehow frightens them.

Another scene of increased police presence.

Another kid acting out, mostly because their anger is bigger than their ability to control it.

Another pain in my chest, ache in my heart.

Another unpleasant interaction with someone who cannot accept that you are on their side.

Another morning of crushing news coverage.

I cannot breathe.

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We Are All Tree Of Life

I’ve spent the better part of the past three days crying.

What has our world become that a woman can survive the Holocaust only to be shot dead, shot dead, while praying?

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I am not a religious person, but with all the crazy in the world, I was actually in synagogue on Saturday morning seeking, and, for a time finding, quiet, calm, solace and community. Then, in a  moment of horrific irony,  during the Misheberach – the prayer for people who need healing – someone, smartphone in hand,  shared the news.

I have felt vaguely sick ever since.

I’ve gotten angry.  Angrier than I ever do.  I’ve screamed at people I love, mostly because I love them.  And I am terrified.

My heart, my soul and my physical body are heavy, achy and spent. And, though I haven’t laughed in days, I’ve continued about my life, feeling both grateful and horrified at the sight of the “enhanced police presence” which, we are told, is being implemented out of an “abundance of caution.”  But we all know that it is no longer possible to be too cautious…

My patience is short.

I have a dull, throbbing and relentless ache in my chest.  I wonder, sometimes, if I am having a heart attack, but know it is more likely that this is what a broken heart feels like.

I am baking.  And shopping. And talking to strangers even more than usual.  I crave touch and warmth and comfort…wondering not if, but when, the next unimaginable thing will happen.  And we know it will.

Now, more than ever, let’s all remember to be kind.  Most of us are hurting, afraid, anxious, angry and lonely.  We need one another. We need kindness. We need to supportive and loving.  Life is precious. Protect it.  Protect one another.

I Believe Her

I, like most of the country, have not been able to step away from the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

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It isn’t even that I haven’t been able to…I haven’t wanted to.  In fact, it is playing in the background as I write.

She is every woman.

I like her.  I want to have a cup of coffee with her.  I want to know her.

She is honest in her fears, what she remembers and what is at stake.

She’s a class act.

She’s sweet and protective: I’ll bet she is a hell of a mom.

She isn’t a polished orator or doing anything other than being herself, acknowledging when she doesn’t understand what is being asked of her.  No showmanship.  None.

She has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

The world now knows of the anxiety she lives with every day. It’s no one’s business, but she shared.

The world now knows that she had sought therapy for herself and her marriage. It’s no one’s business, but she shared.

Her tears are real.  Her resolve is strong.  She’s a hero.

And, in the moments she has laughed, it’s been genuine and courageous.

I want to hug her.

This, my friends, could be any one of us.

Anyone who had a mother, a grandmother, sister, a daughter, a niece, a wife or a female friend needs to listen to Christine Blasey Ford.  She’s telling the truth.

My heart goes out to you, Christine.

Thank you for your courage.

Thank you for your honesty.

Thank you for fighting for all of us.

 

Until, That Is.

The following is my personal experience with getting off of anti-depressant medication.  It is not meant in any way to criticize, disparage or otherwise shame anyone who has taken, might take or is currently taking one.  In fact, I suspect … Continue reading