“Who’s your friend that likes to play?”

There is a scene in the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out where Bing Bong is sad because his space rocket has been thrown away. Joy needs to get to headquarters and tries to cheer him up by being happy and silly, but Bing Bong keeps being sad and won’t tell her how to get to the Train of Thought. Then Sadness walks up to Bing Bong and tells him she’s sorry that his rocket his gone, that it must have meant a lot to him. She gives him a hug, he cries on her shoulder, and he opens up to her. Joy tries to interrupt to say there’s not time for that, but once Bing Bong has someone to sympathize with him, he says he feels better and points to where they can catch the Train of Thought. On their way, Joy asks Sadness, “Hey, how’d you do that?” Sadness starts, “Well, I just -” and then the train arrives.

We know how she did it.

Sometimes all I want is to talk about my problems. My feelings. It helps me feel better to have someone listen and not want to jump in with solutions. Just to be there, to reassure me, to be supportive or say something like, “I’m sorry that happened.” Or “I know how that feels.” Or “What a sucky situation.”

I know what the solutions are. It’s not like I haven’t done the research, and the new information often can overwhelm me with yet more things I can do wrong or have failed at. More often than not I have applied this new information and am still frustrated. There are situations where I feel utterly helpless; there are times when I need to feel the uniqueness of an experience in my life before understanding that others have traveled a similar journey. This is when I can best feel the support of humanity, once I peek out of my self-involved bubble and am reminded that I am not alone.

It might just be certain personalities to offer fixes right away. And it’s definitely my accommodating personality to accept these people while still feeling horrible inside. Yes, thank you for trying to help, but that’s not what I need. Yes, I will feel better soon, but I first need to be allowed to feel sad/helpless/frustrated/embarrassed. That’s a part of my process, and it helps me in the long run if I don’t dismiss it or diminish it in any way.

Of course I try not to be melodramatic or overreact, and I’m resilient.

A not-so-heavy example: Yes, I’ve been complaining the past seven weeks about my cold. But should one suffer with a cold for that long? Should I rearrange my life around coughing, since it has wedged itself into my schedule? Should I just say “Oh, well” when my ribs are bruised from coughing so violently and for so long? No. But these things have happened to me, and I plan to get through them and to rise up stronger and more determined than before.

But for now, my body still needs to expel phlegm. But when I do this, or laugh, or take deep breaths, it hurts my ribs on the left side.

What’s my process? First, whine about it. Check: I’ve told several people, who range in sympathy, from: “Have you been checked for pneumonia?” to “Oh, man, I’m sorry. That sucks.”

Next, process this feedback. I’m glad that I could tell people who were willing to listen. I’m grateful for those who stepped back and truly sympathized/empathized. And I’m learning to be grateful for the form of concern people offer as suggestions or solutions. People mean well. And people have different points of reference.

Next, question myself: Wait, what am I doing trying to understand the people I want to understand me? Why does this feel like a bigger effort from me all of a sudden?

Next, return to feeling grateful: People love me, and they care.

Next, keep on keeping on: I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and food and exercise. I’m going to work hard at work and be a good mom and wife and friend, one day at a time. Hopefully enough days pass to heal my ribs and make my cough go away.

Any time along the way, this process could repeat itself any number of times.

I’m well aware others are in far worse situations. The not-so-heavy example of my bruised ribs partly serves to imply that much heavier issues are going on in my life. I’ve talked to some people about those issues, implemented these very steps of handling my emotions and becoming stronger and moving forward with my life. The sadness, helplessness, and frustration would be a much greater burden without this process.

It’s a blessing to share these clunkier and unpleasant parts of my life with the people who mean the most to me. Thank you for being there.

 

For Crying Out Loud – Two Weeks

Hey, you.

Oh, Zingerita. Look at the time flash by. It’s only been two weeks.

It’s already been two weeks.

You get cuter every day. And smarter. And definitely more vocal. The early morning cries have become routine, but I appreciate the communication. Please be patient as  your dad and I continue to learn your language. I hope we’re catching on fast enough for you.

Your crying has several levels, according to just how annoyed you are. Of course you have basic needs that you try to convey:

  • burpy
  • poopy/pee-y
  • hungry

But there are multiple levels to each of these states. For example, let’s look at hungry, which seems to be the most common cry:

  1. I’m hungry: whimper [ehhh] *squeak*
  2. I’m hungrier than usual: [waaah, waaaah]
  3. Are you guys ignoring me?: [WAAAAAH! WAAAAH! HUHNNNNNGH! NAY! NAAAAY!]
  4. GIVE ME SOME [BLEEP] FOOD NOW! : [WAAARRRRGH!] *bottom lip tremble* [WEHHHH] *open mouth with no sound and really red face and teary eyes* [WEGGGGHHHHH! HENGGH-HENGHH-HENGGHH! HEEP?! HENNNNGH!]

We try to catch you in the first two levels of any of the above states, though while we were in the hospital with you we got to hear NAY! NAAAAAY! a lot. This may as well be your first word, because you have cast a dissenting vote since the day before you were born. You quite clearly said NAY to pitocin when your heart rate dropped from the strong contractions.

That’s right, girl: just say NAY to drugs. I’m proud of you.

I’ll always be proud of you.

Speaking of crying, only a handful of people (maybe +1) have actually acknowledged and asked about my emotional state. The hormones are rampant and my emotions are everywhere. Over half of that handful are healthcare providers, and one of them isn’t even my own doctor. The hormone effects are one of the most significant parts of the postpartum experience, and it’s surprising that not more people talk about them. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Of course we want to coo and be excited and grateful and happy, but there are also a lot of tears.

When we were in the hospital and the doctor suggested supplementing breastfeeding with formula, I cried. Over the course of our three-day stay you’d lost 10% of your birth weight. You’d latch on and suckle only to get colostrum, which is good for you but doesn’t help you gain weight, and I was worried that milk wouldn’t come soon enough. The lactation specialist came in and coached me on latching; a night nurse came in and tried to force feed you with the brute strength of her man hands smashing my breast toward your mouth while you cried at level 4 and her commanding you to eat. Then the penultimate day of our stay, Nurse Candice calmly informed us of your weight loss and suggested a breast pump to help stimulate milk production more quickly. She said it almost in passing, but it was something I paid close attention to.

We kept track of your diapers and feedings throughout the week. It was breaking my heart to think that I was starving you, and all my inadequacies and insecurities from 37 years of life pre-you snowballed along with my doubts  of whether I could be a good enough mom to you.

Your dad and I were already pretty sleep-deprived. The effects from the IV drip were taking hold. I wanted to be able to sit up and gaze at you in the clear plastic crib-thing on the stainless steel wheelie cart without staples from the c-section poking me. You were sleep-deprived. We were all worn out.

You were patient from the beginning, though, faithful one. You kept latching on with the expectation milk would come. I didn’t want to let you down.

(That last sentence was sort of a pun about breastfeeding. I’m sure you don’t need me to explain.)

Not even an hour later on the same day Nurse Candice talked to us, I called her and told her I’d like to learn how to use a breast pump. She brought one right away. I’d use it after feedings every two hours or so, and by the next day somehow I filled a 12mL syringe of the creamy stuff, not just the thick, clear colostrum. Nurse Candice saw it and brought back only four small bottles of formula to supplement breastfeeding at home. Because she was so hopeful, I became more confident.

Right now I thrive on that kind of reassurance. The doctor weighed you last week, a mere six days since our discharge from the hospital. You gained over half of the weight you lost at the hospital. We were thrilled at the good news. Because you could now eat until satisfied, your mood improved, and you could sleep better. Your father and I were so thrilled.

One particularly powerful experience happened over the weekend. Even with our little victories that I’ve mentioned, I still could not control my mood swings well. I was having a hard time trying not to feel insecure and like I was always doing something wrong. We were out and you had started to get fussy. It was getting late and we headed back to our apartment. The car ride usually makes you sleep, but you amped it up to level 4 for nearly the entire way home.

When we finally got home, you and I had a skin-to-skin feeding session, which never fails to calm you down. Your dad and I talked while you ate. After you fed for a while, I got up to use the bathroom. I laid you down on the bed so that your father could watch you. As I walked past you, your dad said that you were reaching for me.

Man, I love your dad so much.

I turned around and paused. Your big pleading eyes looked right into my eyes. Your body formed a slight curve, and your arms stretched toward me.

When I returned from the bathroom, I picked you up and held you. I recalled the image from just a few seconds before and cried.

As a new mom I’m beginning to understand that parenting is more than keeping you alive, though I can’t help my anxious wakings to check to see if you’re still breathing. Though I try to be prepared as I can, sometimes I feel I have no way of knowing that I’m doing anything right.

But when you looked at me and turned toward me and reached out to me, you also validated me. There’s a very instinctual relationship between newborns and their parents, but you seemed very consciously to acknowledge me as your mom. You seemed to know that’s what I needed.

Those eyes.

I just wanted to thank you again for your patience. For understanding my tears.

And for a truly meaningful two weeks so far.

And for repeatedly forgiving me.

I hope one day to make you proud.

Love, Mom

Thinking about Brrrr

About a month ago I wandered around the Relief Society room during the third hour of church. I scanned the room of chatting women to see if I could find people who would offer the opening and closing prayers.

When I walked back to the front of the room I noticed the face of the woman who would be conducting the meeting. I remarked to her that she looked tired, and I asked if everything was okay. I expected her to respond with something about staying up all night with her toddler daughter. Instead she told me that her cousin had died the day before.

This completely caught me off guard but I told her that I was so very sorry.

Class was about to begin. She got up and conducted the meeting.

For the final 45 minutes of church I couldn’t pay attention to the lesson. I kept thinking about my church friend at the end of the row, staring blankly, trying not to think. I knew this person was hurting but I still felt vulnerable around her. I wanted to hug her and talk to her about her loss. She had to keep it together so that she wouldn’t fall apart in front of the class.

It wasn’t until after the closing prayer that a few women gathered around her to offer hugs while mournful tears streamed down her face.

I didn’t get to talk to her.

About an hour later back at home, I received a text from this lady. She thanked me for my concern. She said she couldn’t talk before the meeting because she was conducting and didn’t want cry in front of everybody. I told her that I understood and again I was very sorry.

She said that her cousin was found outside the day before, frozen to death.

I gasped then cried when I read this.

People die because of the weather probably more often than we are aware. Pets, too. Heatstroke. Hypothermia.

Since hearing about this incident, whenever I go on Facebook and see people who live in warmer climates poking fun at people who live where it snows or freezes over, it makes me sad.

When the polar vortex hit, all I could do was hope that everyone found a warm place to wait it out. Even the poor souls who have never before experienced weather sub-30 degrees Fahrenheit. Especially those people who watched from their yards the mercury plunge ever deeper below zero.

This lady from church is originally from Arizona, where I know she’d rather be during the wintertime. I wonder when she sees those teasing Facebook posts to actual people who live in snow and ice and constant frigidity, if she says to herself that she can’t be mad at them; they don’t know her. They don’t know she has a cousin who died in the conditions they’re making fun of. They don’t know they’re being insensitive. They may even have experience with cold weather, but it’s hard not to imagine their attitude that they’re superior because they’re warmer. I wonder if it’s even crossed their minds, a loved one dying in extreme weather. Do they know what it’s like?

This lady at church? She knows.

Object Lessons and Objections

Object lessons are incredibly effective teaching tools, especially in religion.

There’s the one about nailing a board to a wall or a tree. If you put one nail in the board it can still spin around; the board is unstable. But if you put a second nail through the board, the board becomes anchored. This object lesson often taught the importance of the Book of Mormon, the second nail that goes with the Bible.

There’s the one about sticks or pencils. You can break one or two or four at the same time, but if you gather 10 or 15 pencils, they’re much harder to break altogether. This object lesson illustrates the importance of unity or contributing talents or time to a single purpose. Strength in numbers.

An especially popular object lesson is where the glove represents your spirit and your hand represents your body. Without your hand, the glove can’t do anything, but when the glove is on your hand, the glove becomes animated. The combination becomes a living soul.

I remember these object lessons from when I was a child. While they tend to be taught in cycles, my ability to remember them pretty well demonstrates their effectiveness.

Elizabeth Smart recalls an object lesson pertaining to sexual purity. About a used piece of chewing gum. She spoke about it at a conference about sexual trafficking, and the Christian Science Monitor reported the story.

On Facebook over the past few days, many people provided links with important conversations about sexual purity, abstinence education, and reassuring victims of sexual assault that they are not sinners/dirty/impure. Here are a few of the links I happened to click on:

Religion Dispatches

Blogs: Flunking Sainthood

Experimental Theology

I’ve read these articles and many of the accompanying comments. Being a victim of sexual assault, I think back to the object lesson with the chewed gum. I wonder what specific connections I made when I was a young girl. How could I have made sense of my worth when the person who had supposedly “taken away” my virtue was the same person who presented the object lesson at a family home evening nearly 30 years ago? Would I have been able to overcome my confusion without therapy?

That reminds me. Because I am May, and this is my month, I should remind you that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Maybe we can come up with different object lessons that help and inspire instead of harm and instill fear.

A Sequence con Sequence

1. I read this article and watched the video.

2. Then I read this article, which is part of this book.

3. Then Reilly and I watched this movie.

4. Then Reilly put the book on hold at the library. Then he checked out the book when it became available.

5. Today, I finished the book. I wrote this little review on Goodreads:

Conversational, thoughtful. Balanced; I forgive the author because she admits her biases. Covers and interweaves three main discussions: bullying, being a good parent/concerned adult/assertive innocent bystander, and mental illness. There’s also an exploration of solutions and encouragement of ongoing conversation, which I wholeheartedly support.

6. At 12:05pm, I decided to write the author of the book. Because that’s what I sometimes do.

Ms. Bazelon,

I finished Sticks and Stones about ten minutes ago, and I found it fascinating. And infuriating. And heartwrenching. And, at times, relieving. I appreciate your huge undertaking of a project such as this, your first, book. Yay!

Your interview with Stephen Colbert (as featured in Slate–about time somebody made him cry 😉 ) piqued my interest in the book, but first I watched the 2012 Weinstein documentary you happened to mention, Bully. So many times people or media want to point a finger at something more concrete, more visible, such as bullying. But when I hear of suicide, I almost always think first of mental illness as a possible cause. I’m glad you explore this subject, and as I read Phoebe Prince’s case, I was disappointed that the right people didn’t consider her psychological issues. It’s always more complicated than people usually perceive.

On the other hand, the ones who were able to pull through–the ones who found new friends or went to new schools or where school administration implemented effective bullying prevention–those kids were became incredibly insightful, self-aware, and empathetic. The way they grew up really impressed me.

Anyway, I loved the book. There’s so much more I could mention! Congratulations on your success, and may we all continue in courage to have these important conversations for our families, society; humanity.

7. At 1:39, I received this reply:

What a lovely note–thank you so much! If you’re inspired to share your feelings on Facebook or via email, please do–I need ambassadors! And I am up for calling or Skyping into book groups, for parents or teachers or anyone.

All the best, thanks again,

Emily

Replies do not always happen, and I was thrilled when the message landed in my inbox.

Thing is, as I read the book, I couldn’t help thinking of the young man who took his life in front of his schoolmates just north of here. I wish there were greater awareness; I wish people weren’t too scared to acknowledge and address mental illness and to examine all the causes of bullying and not just label these kinds of events “bullycide.”

It would be great to have a constructive discussion about this. Because my husband is a school teacher, I would love to organize something to see what steps are in place in local schools to help reduce bullying. It would be so wonderful to set up a call with Emily and maybe some school administrators and some ladies at church to have a heartfelt conversation about safety for our community’s children.

I always feel drawn to the underdog. It’s getting harder just to stand by and do nothing, and feeling helpless is no longer an excuse.

8. – ∞

Guns, You Guys

I don’t even know how to formulate a decent argument about this, you guys. You would think I would learn what not to do by observing all the sloppy, lopsided “discussions” out there. I think I know a good argument when I see one. I try to consider opinions I disagree with; I try to understand why I disagree with certain opinions.

I recently watched this appeal by Senator Gabrielle Giffords. They gave her the floor, they let her make her powerful point in 13 sentences, but I wonder if her efforts are futile. I wonder how many people dismissed her or even the idea of her once she finished speaking.

I recently read this essay by Stephen King, which felt like a pretty even argument and a realistic perspective on what to expect with gun legislation.

I recently saw that David Mamet recently published his opinion about the gun issue. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to, probably tonight.

ETA: I read Mamet’s essay, and it definitely provides contrast to Stephen King’s perspective.

It’s impressive that the gun conversation has lasted this long. More children have died in the meantime. It won’t be as impressive if nothing ends up getting done about it. I wish I could argue this decently; I wish more that I felt that I didn’t have to argue this. I wish I understood those who insist on doing nothing. I wish the argument could lead sooner to a real solution than to more of an argument.

I’ll quote my high school friend Brian who perfectly expresses my frustration: “It bothers me that this argument always boils down to ‘I could kill a bunch of people at a school no matter WHAT you do.'”

Of Bonds

Next Sunday is the Super Bowl. People gather together in different parts of the country to watch the top teams from the two divisions face off against each other. There’s food and laughs and yelling at the television. Sometimes there’s trash talk. Sometimes there’s betting. Many families have the tradition of watching this yearly event. It’s a big deal who gets to sing the National Anthem and who gets to perform at halftime. Often fathers and sons bond over the sport.

My brother and I watched a lot of sports when we were growing up. We learned names and stats; we executed plays with the nextdoor neighbors. When we played inside, I was the quarterback and Frank was the wide receiver. I’d throw his teddy bear toward the couch and Frank would make a diving catch and land on the couch for a touchdown.

Last year Reilly and I watched the Super Bowl at one of his friend’s house. There were burritos and other finger foods and a general lightheartedness within the group. The game went on as scheduled.

As I try to recall details from a year ago, the only thing I can remember is seeing a news ticker run at the bottom of the screen while the game continued playing. I was reading that Josh Powell had retrieved his sons from their grandfather. He locked his children and himself in their house in Washington state. He caused the house to explode, killing himself and his sons. He destroyed any knowledge of the truth of the disappearance and death of his wife, the mother of their sons.

If I think hard enough, I can remember who won the Super Bowl last year. It doesn’t matter who sang the National Anthem, who performed at halftime. Many families and friends had gathered together to enjoy each other’s company, to relish relationships. As much as I try to understand what kind of bond Scott Powell thought he had with his sons, I can’t.