My Greatest Ambition- ‘The Most Important Lesson’ …Can You Help?

It is now October 2015.

Seven years ago this month my big sister, Sarah, lost her life and left behind two beautiful children. Losing her changed everything.

Personally, I struggled with this very much (“very much” being an understatement). There were so many aspects of the experience that were extremely hard to handle and totally threw me for six. Since then I have wanted to help support, protect, and comfort the kids my sister left behind, but I have been in no position to do so. As I type this I am living seven thousand miles away from them with no imminent hope of affording even a visit back home.

The Ambition:

In 2013 I started and finished writing a story. It all came in a wave of inspiration. I sobbed while I wrote it, I sob when I talk about it, I sob when I think about it. My greatest ambition is for this story to be illustrated, published, and both available for sale and distributed for free.

Let me explain:

When my sister was in the accident, she died at the scene but was resuscitated and on life support for ten days. Her children were taken to a separate hospital and were treated for minor injuries. They were two-and-a-half years old, and two months old, respectively. They were then cared for by friends for a few days until my sister’s partner was able to leave my sister’s side and take them home. Once this happened, all the children really knew was that their mother wasn’t there anymore.

At the hospital when we were all going through this ordeal, they didn’t give us any materials to help explain anything to the kids. I don’t even know if there is a program in existence that does this. So when I wrote the story, I had this in mind. How do you explain to young kids what has happened to their parent? Transcending the parent/child relationship, how do you explain loss to children?

Without wanting to delve into any religious or afterlife type of detail, the story that came into my head was one of conveying the understanding that our loved ones never really leave us if we keep their memories, words, and lessons alive.

The Story:

In the story, the main character is named after my niece, Ezri. Ezri bunny is a curious little bunny who loves to explore and ask questions. She gets a baby brother, Lucian (named after my nephew) and is so excited, but her excitement turns to disappointment when she realises he’s too young to play ‘pretend’ with her. She then decides to show him her favourite things.

As Ezri shows her baby brother her favourite things, she is keen to tell him all about them: The flowers, the lake, and the beautiful sunset. But she soon realises she doesn’t have all the knowledge to explain them the way she wants to. With Mama Bunny by her side, she asks questions about them and her mama gives her explanations she doesn’t fully understand…

Ezri was still curious. “But Mama, why does it make the sky so pretty before it goes away?”

Mama Bunny thought again about what to say. Then she spoke tenderly, “Ezri, my little love bug, it is teaching us a lesson. As the sun sets, it gives us a beautiful show that will never be repeated. But it won’t wait for us to come and see it, it will carry on as it does. We have to choose to see it if we really want to enjoy it, because if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss it. But if we do pay attention, I mean really pay attention and take in all it has to show us, we will have a wonderful memory of that amazing display of light, to carry us through even the darkest of nights. The sunset will fade away, but our memory of it, the imprint it leaves in our hearts, is what will keep it alive in us. And that memory can never be taken away for as long as we live.”

…until the day Mama Bunny is suddenly not there anymore.

Ezri is confused, and goes to find her mama.

     Ezri went outside. “Maybe,” she thought, “I can find her.” She went to the meadow to see if Mama Bunny had got lost there picking flowers. She could see some of the flowers losing their petals as the wind blew. She found a fluffy white one she was sure had been yellow before. As she touched it, some of the white fluff sailed away in the breeze. It was so beautiful to watch, she blew on it and sent the rest of the fluff dancing on her breath. As she looked around, she noticed all the yellow flowers had turned white and fluffy. She ran and jumped through the meadow and watched all the bits of fluff dance around her. She stopped for a moment. “Mama?” she called.

But Mama Bunny wasn’t there.

Ezri thought about what her mama had told her about the flowers. The flowers were now going away, but she guessed the white fluff was on its way to making new flowers. “Goodbye,” she said to them, “see you again soon!”

As she visits each of her favourite places, looking for Mama Bunny, she gains a better understanding of her mama’s words. Beginnings and endings, peace and reflection, culminating in the ultimate understanding of her mama’s “Most Important Lesson.”

What I need:

Editing: I need help to make this a reality. I have all the words typed and edited to the best of my ability, but I need it to go to the next step.

Illustrations: I am artistic, but I am not an illustrator. I would like help in this area. Someone who knows how to illustrate and can understand my vision for this and where I want it to go.

My poor attempt:

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Publishing: I need a publisher to hear me and want to work with me.

Promotion: This project is designed to be available for sale for anyone who wants it. I also see it being included in a package distributed at hospitals and hospices (et cetera) and by Social Services as an illustrated story to read to the kids affected.

Others: I can see quotes from this and the corresponding artwork sold as merchandise of all sorts, with portions of the proceeds going to either a new or existing charity that focuses on comfort for children who have lost parents.

I can see a short cartoon made from this story available to view for free on YouTube.

I want to tour and read this story wherever it’s welcomed.

I don’t have anything in the way of money or resources to give. I am just me, not rich in the slightest.

Ideally part of completing this project would allow me to visit my home (America) for the first time in over five years, to see my niece and nephew and give them an illustrated, printed first copy of the book, and read it to them in person.

Feedback So Far:

Everyone who has read the story so far has loved it and has passionately told me I need to publish it. This, I feel, is my greatest purpose thus far. My gift to the world.

What’s Been Stopping Me:

Fear. Of applications, rejection, failure, you name it. I have had extreme artistic block when trying to do the illustrations myself, and have been unable to complete them.

I don’t know how publishing works. I am not an expert. I don’t feel I know how to do this alone.

Can you help?

Email me @: talkingthisandthatblog.gmail.com

Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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Please share this everywhere. Somehow, some way, the right person will see it and get in touch with me.


Copyright notice: All quotes and ideas expressed here are the sole intellectual property of Kirsten Young. Copying of any portion of the above without permission is strictly prohibited.

Not a Post About Crochet (Only)

The past few days I have been working on something special.

I was going to log on and write a post about it the other day, but what I ended up with was The Other Things I Am. Needless to say I was exasperated that day… motherhood is really trying sometimes.

One of the things I had meant to say with that post was that, in addition to writing and a bunch of other things, I crochet as well. Like writing, I haven’t crocheted in about a decade, until recently. Working with yarn has a tendency to reduce stress, so I took up knitting and restarted my crochet habit around February time.

I first made one of these special things I mentioned a couple of months back, using a free pattern from one of my favourite magazines. I altered the pattern slightly and used different yarn and a differently sized hook. What it made was a larger, monotone version of the stuffed toy, for which I designed some clothes. Namely, a ballerina costume and little ballet slippers. A picture of it even made its way into my favourite magazine and won me a ball of yarn. Woo!

While I made the toy, I had a friend in mind.

This friend of mine has been trying for four years to adopt. She doesn’t even want to adopt a baby, which are a more popular choice for hopeful parents, but a girl who is older and has been orphaned for some time, of which there are plenty. For a while she was trying to adopt from Russia because, at the time, it was her most promising option. Then her country legalized same-sex marriage. And that was it; all her money wasted (because adoption is not cheap), emotional rollercoaster ride back to square one. (Russia says “NYET” to any country which allows same-sex marriage, regardless of the sexuality of the hopeful parents.) She was devastated.

Now she is trying from another country, as there are no matches for her in her own country, and so far that’s looking promising. I have the highest hopes for her that she will finally have the joy of being a mother (even though it is such a challenge sometimes) and while she was visiting most recently, I gave her the toy I had made.

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The bear has now gone overseas to go live with my friend, and hopefully soon, her new daughter.

Another friend of mine saw the bear before it was given away. The other day she called me and asked if I’d make one for a local charity event whereby the bear will be in a big jar and donations will be raised as people guess the name of the bear to try to win it. Saves counting jelly beans! So I got right on it, and have finally finished the last little ballet slipper today.

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As I was making it, I thought of the first friend again. As I’m sure most of you have heard, the US recently legalised same-sex marriages. While I am pleased for the people who have been waiting a long time for this, and would like to join completely in their joy, I can’t help but think about how many parents-in-waiting are out there, and how many Russian orphans are out there, who have not been able to be matched because of Russia’s rules on adopting to places where same-sex marriage is simply legal.

I should clarify, the ban for adoption to US parents came into effect late 2014, not the other day. I am not sure of the exact reasons for the ban, maybe just a bit of animosity between the two countries who aren’t exactly friends, but as several states had already legalised these types of marriages, it would not be far-fetched to say that Russia didn’t want its children around same-sex marriages. This feels wrong.

It would be easy to say “Well that’s Russia’s problem,” and not be entirely wrong to say that. But there are children not at fault for simply being Russian, and parents meeting every other criteria for adopting from Russia who are not at fault for simply being from a country which has legalised same-sex marriage. The US is a leader in most political trends, and I would bet many countries will now follow in its steps.

I wonder what Russia’s problem is with this subject. But Russia and the adoption fiasco are just one example of divided opinions about who should be allowed to marry. One doesn’t even need to leave the house to see how divided people are about this. And maybe you think I’m going to give a strong opinion one way or the other…

But I don’t know what the correct answer is on this subject. I can see where people are coming from when they say it’s destroying the family unit, not that I agree with their opinion. And I can see where people are coming from who say “love is love,” not that I agree that same-sex marriages should be legalised. I see how people say that heterosexual marriages are not so great themselves, how divorce should not be legal, and I see there are plenty of same-sex couples who have been together longer than hetero couples.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know what exactly children need and how different genders of parents affect their development from a factual scientific perspective. I do know that growing up without a dad sucked. My mom wasn’t gay, but I can’t say whether another woman around would have been harmful, in fact it would probably have been beneficial. I know a lot of gay guys who are excellent around kids. I know a lot of terrible heterosexual males who have failed miserably at the “dad thing.” I know both gay and straight moms who have failed and succeeded in raising good kids. I have had quite a few homosexual friends throughout the years who have been excellent friends, many times even better than the heterosexual ones.

I am also well-versed in the Bible but will probably never attend church again. I still haven’t covered my thoughts on religion and won’t get too far into that today, but I will say this:

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

There are a lot of innocent people who are adversely affected by the legalisation of something which makes so many others so happy, and what I’ve learned throughout my life is not to get caught up in any sensationalism about anything political. Politicians can be tricky, clever bastards.

I do not wish for my homosexual friends to be denied the right to marry. But I feel that marriage these days has too many legal implications to be just about the marital union of a couple. There are other things to consider: Who gets to be the recipient of the life insurance pay-out once one of them has passed? Without the legal recognition of the relationship, insurance companies can keep all those thousands they’ve collected in life insurance premiums. That seems unfair. There are exponentially more roots to this tree that many people, including myself, do not see.

What I do think is that for people preaching religious principles, I sure hope they’re respectful with their words at the very least. I think the best way to put people off the message you are trying to convey is to be rude about it. For people who are jumping for joy, I sure hope this is as good as you think it is. And just like all the people who have commented on my posts wherever they’ve been seen, saying that I “just need God,” not knowing one way or another what my relationship with a deity has been throughout my life, I hope people know that being gay is not something church can cure, just like depression and anxiety and PTSD are not cured by a preacher.

How ironic is it that one of the biggest reasons I have PTSD and that a lot of undesirable things have happened in my life is because of a preacher in a church who was married and had a heterosexual family?

What I’m trying to say is, there is no black and white answer to this, or to many other things. But there are innocent children affected by adults everywhere because of their opinions and actions. And I am almost positive that having two parents, or even one parent, regardless of whether they’re heterosexual or not, is better than being stuck in an orphanage somewhere.

This adorable, innocent bear, reminds me of all the kids waiting to have parents. And it reminds me of all the people repeating opinions, regardless of whether they are the genuine beliefs of that person or concocted by the media and politicians, fighting against one another over this. What I see is people fighting one another, innocent children denied parents, and amazing potential mothers and fathers of all sexualities desperate for a chance to show children a loving family experience, denied this opportunity.

I’m really not sure which is worse, or what the solution may be, but just like I hope my friend gets to be a mother soon, I hope everything works out for all the right people and for all the right reasons.

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The Other Things I Am

I am a negotiator.
I am a referee.
I am a diplomatic lunatic wielding the baton of power called “Mother.”
My hair is turning grey, sneaky strand by sneaky strand.
I have a drinking problem, which is to say that I can’t get the drink to my face without it going all down my front in various quantities.
My voice is the loudest, and the softest.
I go between “put that down, please” and “get your fingers out of your face” repeatedly.
I am the singer of the bedtime songs and the voices of the bedtime stories.
I am the head chef, the driver, the personal assistant.
And at the end of each day, I am tired.

But I am other things, too.

I am a magician.
I am an engineer.
I am a storyteller, typist, editor.
A confidante and sage to those who need one.
A soul-searcher, an observer, a boil-it-down-and-give-me-the-truth seeker.
A craftsman, a tailor, a designer, a yarn-worker.
A singer, a musician, a collector of sounds.
An artist with perhaps too many artistic pursuits.
A lover of all things intrinsically beautiful.

But this evening, it is nearly six o’clock and all I am is…

wanting some goddamned peace and quiet.

ROLL ON, BEDTIME.

Dear Lucy 3

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    Dear Lucy,

         Today is Father’s Day. Do you know how awesome your dad is? He takes you hiking with your brother, takes you to church, gives you hugs…

If you’d have stayed with me you would have never known this man. I could probably have never taken you hiking. You’d have had a brother, and hugs, but the church you get to go to is so much more fun than any where I lived. And I’m almost certain you’d never have had a dad.

When I grew up I didn’t have a dad around. Sometimes I didn’t mind, but when I got older I was able to see how important dads are. I didn’t want that for you, what I had. I wanted better for you.

When you were in my tummy, there were a lot of things going on. A lot of sad things. I knew that if you stayed with me I would be so sad that I couldn’t take care of you and your half-brother, who was five at the time, properly. I didn’t have a big family and a lot of help. We were alone and didn’t have much. Not even a house to live in by ourselves. I was scared and wanted to do the right thing.

This is one time that my dad was around. He was usually mean, but this time he did something nice. He gave me a way to talk to your mom and dad. Because of this, I was able to get to know them a bit, and knew that they were the right family for you.

With them, you’d have a home. A big family. You’d still have a big brother. You’d have more than just a mom to give you hugs, you’d have a dad to do so much more than that. You’d be safe. And happy.

Love Always,

Birth Mom


Read Dear Lucy 4

What is Dear Lucy About?

A Bittersweet Goodbye

Warning: may trigger strong emotions toward cats or feelings of grief for lost/departed pets. An absolutely true and heart-wrenching story.

One summer when my eldest half-brother was visiting us at my childhood home, one of the greatest loves of my life wandered into the backyard suddenly and without warning.

He was young, jet black with a tuft of white hair on his chest and a roundish head, eyes that were an orangey-yellow and the moment they looked at me, I immediately loved him. He seemed to return the feeling as he came and rubbed against my leg and mewed with that voice my ears would come to adore.

He belonged to the woman who lived three doors down and was full of playfulness and zest. He climbed trees in the blink of an eye, hunted mice and birds in the neighbourhood, and gave the most exquisite hugs.

He would wrap his little cat arms around my neck, place his forehead against my chin, and purr as long as I would hold him. He soon decided I was his human and laid claim to his territory by intimidating any other feline who wandered onto the property. Growing tired of sitting outside, noisily waiting for one of us to come and open the door, he took it upon himself to rip holes in the front and back screen doors so he could jump up, wedge himself between the screen and solid door, and push until it opened. My home was now his, he decided. And I was more than happy to accommodate him.

On weekend mornings during a lie-in, if the doors were locked he’d sit on the air conditioning unit protruding from the window and with the sun shining behind him, his cat-sized silhouette would be there, giving shape to this persistent calling, telling me to wake up and let him in. If he stayed in for the night, he’d sleep curled around my head or the shelf just above, whether I wanted him to or not. I could stand in front of him and pat my chest and say “Here, Blackberry” and he’d jump up and give me his trademark hugs. If I patted my back he would jump up and sit with two legs on either side of my neck, lounging on my shoulders. There he would sit purring, hitching a ride with me as I meandered about the house. I’d feed him by hand and sometimes he would even do tricks for the food.

He would bring me gifts of various sizes. It started with the standard mice, but one day he brought me a bird. He sat there looking up at me and simply sounded, “Meow.” Being a girl of only eleven at the time, I freaked out and threw the bird out the door as quickly as I could. In my state of horror I threw him out, too. After his little time-out he wanted back in so I let him, at which point he sat in front of me once more and regurgitated the bird at my feet with a following look on his face that said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise you wanted it chewed. Is this better?” Once again I freaked and threw him out.

When I was at school, he’d prance through the house at three o’clock every day calling for me. “She’s not here,” my mom would say and he’d jump out the door again. He’d come find me as I walked home, emerge from behind some house and walk with me the last few blocks back home. If I went away for a few days, he’d go back to his other house until I returned. As soon as I called his name he’d come sprinting, or he’d be waiting by the lilac bush already until he saw the car and tried to beat us to the door.

I was his and I loved it. He was the greatest companion I’d ever known and I’d come to rely on his company. He developed an immense sense of trust in me and would communicate in the most extraordinary of ways.

As he got in fights he would sometimes become rather injured; He would come to me and I’d clean his wounds and take him to the vet if necessary. I’d have to put him in a carrier which he hated so much he broke the door trying to get out, and once injured his own paw trying to do so. I hated seeing him hurt and felt awful for putting him in this confined space, but if let out in the car on the trip there he would become loud and difficult and dig his claws in my thighs with anxiety.

From his battles he earned a notch out of his ear and scars on his arms, but after a while I noticed his arms were getting injured in exactly the same way on a repeated basis. It was like they were swelling and bursting, not falling victim to the claws of another.

He never had a litter box as he always went outside, but one day he called at me until I looked at him and asked him what he wanted. On a large piece of cellophane on the floor, he urinated before me. There was blood in it. He looked at it, looked at me and mewed. He never messed inside, so I knew something was wrong, and after another trip to the vet he was given pills to clear up what they told us was a urinary tract infection. Another time, he showed me he had loose stool. I was nonplussed at having to dispose of it, but took him to the vet again with more crying and objecting from within the carrier.

He would have times of seemingly perfect health, but occasionally his behaviour would change and he would become withdrawn, finding a cosy place in my mom’s fabric stash to stay for days. He stopped responding to food and water as often and his once vibrant gaze became one of exhaustion. The vet said he had feline leukaemia and an upper respiratory disease. He administered a few treatments but told us it was terminal.

He started staying in the fabric stash permanently. I’d sit with him and stroke his fur and talk to him. At my young, weird age I’d learned to make the same meowing noises he’d made to me when he was content. He wouldn’t purr or give hugs anymore. He looked like he was in so much pain. Finally after speaking with the vet about his not eating or drinking anything for several days, he said we should put him to sleep or he would starve to death. I was heartbroken as I was going to lose this lovely creature who had been my only friend at times when I felt so alone and alienated. He was the one being I could count on to love me unconditionally and without fail.

As he was so lethargic I carried him to the car without the carrier he loathed so badly. For the first time he didn’t object. I walked into the vet’s office with him and was told I’d have to sit and wait for the vet to arrive. I don’t know if it was thirty minutes or three hours, but it seemed like an eternity.

While we were waiting, as if he’d saved all his strength for this one occasion, he was emphatically hugging, pawing, purring and kissing me for the first time in I didn’t know how long. I don’t know where all the energy came from, but I felt he knew what was happening. I was sobbing so much the receptionist started crying, and when she announced the vet had arrived, my heart sank. I didn’t want all the hugs to end.

As the vet prepared him for his passing I held his paw and stroked behind his ears with his forehead to mine. I said goodbye to my dearest and most cherished friend as he took his last breath and passed on.

The weeks after that, one of my teachers approached me asking, “What’s wrong with you? You used to smile sometimes.” I felt silly for saying “My cat died,” because to most people a cat is just a cat, but not Blackberry. He was so much more. A kindred spirit. A soul-mate, just not the same kind most people have.

I volunteered at homeless pet charities, paying special attention to the black cats. They were never like Blackberry. I decided I’d probably never meet a cat like him again.

But on one glorious, beautiful day, I took a new route home from school and the strangest thing happened. A black cat with orangey-yellow eyes and a roundish head came out from behind a house. I called to it, and it came to me, calling in what sounded like that same familiar voice. I patted my chest, and the cat jumped up. It hugged me, and purred, and put its forehead to my chin. I caressed its ears and noticed there was the same kind of notch in the same place as Blackberry’s. I noticed it had the same little tuft of white hair on its chest and the same scars on its arms. For ten minutes or more I stood there on the sidewalk hugging this cat, until I eventually put it down and resumed walking. It followed me a few paces. I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back it was gone.

Despite repeating that route from that day forward, I never saw that cat again.

112

Finally He Claimed Me

I always wondered where most of my looks came from, because I don’t look that much like my mom.

I’d heard all kinds of stories about him, and used to imagine what it would be like if he were around. His head was so big they had to special order his hat at the mine, my mother would tell me, they used to call him ‘buffalo head’ and he was a black belt in karate.

He never remembered my birthday, except once when I turned eight and got a card in the mail from him. Well, he almost remembered. The date he’d written in the card was three days late. His memory must’ve been really bad, because he always forgot to pay the child support, too. Ten long years and not a penny.

The last time I’d seen him I was two years old and eating peach flavoured yogurt. He and my mother were embroiled in a brawl that landed her with two black eyes and a broken ankle. She said she was leaving. He made my sister and I sit on his knee and choose with which parent we wanted to live. I was never able to stomach peach yogurt again.

As the years passed I learned why I was so afraid of Chucky from Child’s Play; he thought it was funny to put my head in the dark attic and tell me “Chucky’s gonna getcha!” I learned my feet looked just like his. I learned he used to work in the mines as an engineer and hated when my mom put a jumpy snake in his lunchbox. He was rumoured to be the best piano player in cowboy boots anybody had ever seen. I learned he always broke his word, that we shouldn’t get our hopes up for those “daddy promises.”

My mom told me stories of the things he used to do to her and how convinced she was that he had once plotted her murder. He was thwarted by a passing hiker. I believed her at first but then wondered if she was just angry because he wasn’t the husband he should’ve been. You were supposed to be a twin, she’d say. None of his brothers pay child support. They all do this. Maybe he wasn’t paying, to punish my sister and I for choosing to live with Mom. He had two new children now, maybe they were more important. What did he need us for, anyway?

At the age of fifteen I finally got to meet this man, the myth, the legend. He really did have a buffalo head. He really did wear cowboy boots. He looked so much like me. I wondered how many of the other things were true.

One of the first things he said to me after thirteen years of being a stranger, was “I should’ve killed your mom when I had the chance.” I was stunned. We ate pancakes at IHOP and went to the mall. He spent money on me. He saw I had a three-month-old baby, yet he pinched my sides and said, “You need to lose that weight.”

After enduring rants about how my mom just wanted to mooch off him and the government, and diatribes of how amazing he was and how much better my life would’ve been if only I’d got to live with him all these years instead, still I agreed to keep in contact with him. He was a smart man, and some of the things he said could be pretty convincing. But so many other things were so critical.

He said he’d pay for a landline phone so he could have a number to reach me. He said he’d call, but after the first week he never did. He emailed me for a while but his emails were like conversing with Jekyll and Hyde. I never knew what to expect.

Finally I said I couldn’t take it anymore, that there were two sides to every story and then the truth. I was sick of being in the middle of the tug-of-war between his accusations and my mother’s defence, and my mother’s accusations and his angry backlash.

He called me a “whore” and a “slut” for having a child so young. I was “going to be a welfare slob just like [my] mom” and he wanted nothing to do with me.

A year passed, I moved to Utah to live with my sister. He promised to help support me and my son, saying how glad he was I was finally getting away from my mom. “I guess you’re kind of my responsibility too,” he’d said. But it was another daddy promise. And after an argument where I’d defended my sister’s boyfriend (who is a good man) he told my sister he wanted her, “but not bozo and not bitch.”

I tried to enrol myself in high school there to finish my junior year. Without a custodial parent to sign papers, I’d be charged $5,000 to be able to finish. “You’re telling me, a teenage mother who is trying to defy the odds against her, that I need to be wealthy just to get a high school diploma? Where do you think I’m going to get five thousand dollars?” The one thing I wanted, to beat the statistics, shot down in one phone call.

One week into the new school year, I tried a new approach. The don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach. I called a different high school. They told me yes, come down today, it’s already started… in fact, you’re a week late. Bring a parent to sign the forms. I told my dad, “You’ve done nothing for me my entire life. If you do nothing else, please just come and pretend you have custody of me and just sign these papers so I can finish school. Please.” He said I didn’t need a diploma, I could just do what he did and get a GED and a scholarship for the mining program at the U of U. I insisted I just wanted to finish high school. He told me I was stupid, but he went with me and signed the papers anyway.

A few weeks into it they called me to the office. They’d found out I was living with my sister and my baby. They knew I didn’t really have a parent there with me. I thought I would be in trouble, but they had nothing but respect for me and wanted to offer some support. This came in the form of a mentor and a few phone calls to my old school. My old school sent revised transcripts to show what grades I would have had when I left three-quarters of the way through my junior year, and together the new counsellor and I calculated how many more credits I needed to graduate. If I failed even one, I’d miss out on that diploma.

In the time I’d been pregnant my freshman year, given birth in my sophomore year, and been a mother my junior year, I’d worked so hard to get the best grades I could. During the second year I taught myself my lessons at home. I had to omit some extra “elective” classes which took out that room for error. Now even with college-level Pre-calculus and Physics on the roster, I had to keep that ball rolling. It wasn’t about just finishing for me, it was about finishing with flying colours. I had something to prove.

The end of the year came. I’d scored 26 out of 36 on the national Aptitude Competency Test. I’d achieved a 3.8 out of 4.0 Grade Point Average. I’d written two essays and won the Accepting the Challenge of Excellence award on the national level from the National Exchange Club. With that scholarship and some founder’s scholarships I earned by my ACT and GPA scores, I was accepted to Westminster College, my college of choice, due to start that fall.

But now it was graduation day. And all I wanted was that picture everyone gets to have at the end of the ceremony, smiling with their family and their diploma in hand, adorned in their cap and gown. My reward to myself for making it to the finish line despite every challenge set before me, a sunny picture of me and my son together with the piece of paper that said YOUR STATISTICS CAN SHOVE IT in my grasp.

My son to came to the ceremony with me; I had asked my friend if she would watch him. I begged my dad to come. He insisted he had more important things to do. I pleaded, I told him it was important to me. He reluctantly agreed. Thinking it would be better than to force my young friend to keep this toddler quiet during the ceremony, I asked my dad to sit with him instead. He did, or at least he said he did.

The ceremony ended and there were all the graduates with their families taking places on the lawn and getting out their cameras. I trekked up one hill and down the next, around the front and then around the back. I couldn’t see my son or my dad anywhere. I called to find out where he was so we could get that picture; He said he’d seen me cross the stage and then he left. I was devastated. I’d worked so hard for several years with this exact moment, this treasure, in mind. I trusted him, and he let me down. I should’ve known better. Just another daddy promise.

A short time after, his mother came to town for a visit. I was invited to dinner to meet this woman for the first time. She was cold and I didn’t like her. He was extra jolly, but maybe that was just another twenty-one ounce glass of straight whiskey taking hold. He bragged about his cooking skills, bragged about his more important kids and their piano lessons, and then put his arm around me.

“Guess what my daughter did? My daughter got into Westminster just like you, Ma. She gets those brains from her dad.”

Finally he claimed me, and it was nothing like I’d ever hoped or imagined. I hated it. I hated him. I hated all the things he’d ever promised and failed to produce, his daddy promises, and all the words he’d ever said, and his arm around me.

This was my accomplishment, and he was using it to pat himself on the back.

I was angry at him for a long time. But instead of being angry, I choose to be thankful; It helped make me who I am and realise how much I don’t need his acceptance…

I claim me. And because of this man, I claim the son of this slut that much more. I am there for every performance. I am there for every graduation. And I’ll take photos of every. damn. one.

At one point I thought his greatest gift to me was signing the papers to get me back into school, but now I think his greatest gift was showing me how not to be a parent person. I have wisdom and resolve and determination far beyond my years. And I don’t have to wonder where I got that, because for this, there is no question.

235

On Homesickness

I come from the land across the ocean. The land of the big skies, the Rocky Mountains, the majestic, sweeping landscapes and too much fast food. And I miss it. Right down to the Slim Jims and the late-night-one-stop-regret-shop that is Del Taco. It’s where I was born and raised and it runs in my veins. Not the Del Taco, I mean the essence of the America.

Now I’m in England. The place where I’ve accidentally offended people with my two fingers because I forgot it was a thing, where I’ve been mocked for saying pants and still don’t quite understand how to fit in properly. I’ve been here five years now, as of tomorrow. FIVE. That’s a long time to go without a hug from your family.

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine, because I’m busy doing stuff and I don’t notice anything. This is a place where hobbies are common, and I have plenty of those. Sometimes I wonder if I have those hobbies because I’m bored and trying to find something to do, or because I’m assimilating.

Speaking of assimilating, I’m losing my mother language. I use so many British-isms that I don’t even remember which things I used to say and which things are new. I insist on saying words like “folks” just to dig my heels into my American upbringing. But then I hear myself say “Mind the rubbish” and I have to stop to comprehend this foreign noise coming out of my mouth.

One of the hardest days I had was when I first stepped off the plane. Immediately I learned the meaning of “hayfever” as my sinuses filled up and I endured the non-stop dripping and sneezing and wheezing. I was pregnant, I’d been awake for a very long time, and hadn’t eaten for around the same. I had visions before landing of tasting real British fish and chips with the in-laws and having a generally nice experience. It was none of that.

After a lot of messing around and encountering absolutely everything being different, from the door handles to the blinds to the sidewalks, sinks, refrigerators, street signs, EVERYTHING, I was really hungry. I asked for some food, confused as to what happened to the agreement that we were going to have some fish and chips.

My mother-in-law, whom I am extremely relieved to not know any longer, asked if I wanted a cheese sandwich. In my head I assumed she meant grilled cheese sandwich, because that’s the only kind I knew. Nope. She gave me two thick slices of partially stale wheat bread, margarine spread all over, and cold cheese in between. She brought it to me, and in my state of shock I didn’t know what to say but, Uh…What?

What was this thing she put before me? Cold cheese with nothing else in there but margarine? I don’t ever eat margarine, let alone in a sandwich. Butter doesn’t go in a sandwich, either. She asked if I wanted some Marmite. What? Ketchup? Again, what? No! Brown Sauce? Stop!

At this point I wanted to cry. I had no idea what she was trying to do to me. Now that I’ve been here for this long and seen what they do with sandwiches, I understand she was just doing what seemed normal. That, and she’s not a cook. In the slightest. But it was a stiff wake-up call. Nothing is going to be the same here.

These days I’ve found my way around the cuisine, for the most part. Still very little proper Mexican food, which I love and miss dearly. American food is poorly replicated here also. But food isn’t the only problem.

Navigating my way through the unspoken societal rules and boundaries is a challenge. It’s not until after you make the mistake, then repeat it, then have a cry because you don’t know what you did wrong, that someone says, “Oh yes. You can’t do that here. They’ll think you’re nuts.” Ohh okay. I get it. I’ve been parading around like a jester. Cool. That’s just awesome!

I have days where I am so upset about one thing or another that while the pendulum is swinging I romance about how different life would be if I could just go back home. Then I realise it’s not that simple. I don’t have those funds, so I’m essentially stuck. That gets me even more worked up. But the other day, I realised something.

My homesickness is grief. Part of my anxiety is grief. Every household item I buy, every friend I make, all feel like they’re rooting me to this place where I feel I’m not on solid ground and not sure whether to stay or go, or if I’ll ever belong. Another thing I might have to sell. Another goodbye I’ll have to say. To think I’ll never move back home (still have no idea) hurts me quite a bit, like a knife in the heart. But I need to come to terms with the fact that a lot of what I’m grieving no longer exists.

Five years is a long time to be gone. Everyone I knew has moved on, got married, had kids or more kids, scattered themselves across the country. There was no one place I could decide to be before, and now the thought is even more confusing. Where is home? I’m not sure it’s here, but is it in Montana? Washington? Utah? I don’t know if my friends would still have time for me, if the people I care about are going to be able to make room in their lives for me again.

This idea of home I have is a figment of my imagination. I’m wasting my energy fretting about something imaginary. I would love to have the answer (and the means to accomplish it), but I don’t. I’m here now. I only have today. I only have right now.

Might as well do something with it. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

My Conversation With the Un-Dead

I didn’t even like him all that much. He was obnoxious. Purposely obnoxious. But there was something childish and endearing about him. He was obnoxious because he was always trying to be funny. He played the devil’s advocate just to wind people up. He wanted to be laughed at, laughed with if you prefer, because he was always giggling like a hyena. Except when he wasn’t.

Through knowing him I observed two distinct sides of him: The Hyena, and The Mole.

The Hyena was hyperactive to the point he was hard for me to take at times. It could be entertaining and we did have a lot of fun times, but then it would cross that line and it couldn’t be shut off on request. The Hyena wanted attention constantly. The Mole wanted next to none.

The Mole would hide in his bed for days, barely eating or interacting. Sometimes going through Facebook post binges of sharing nostalgic songs he thought described his depressive mood and inner self. It was hard to know whether he was trying to garner sympathy (being the attention-seeker I knew him to be) or simply be alone comforting himself while trying to hint that he needed someone to give him a form of a hug.

We all need hugs sometimes.

At one point my intuition would not leave me alone. Something was wrong. He wasn’t posting his heart on Facebook, he wasn’t calling for a cup of coffee, he had basically fallen off the face of the Earth. It had been over three days since I’d heard any echo of his existence.

I texted; no reply. I called about five times; no reply. I messaged a mutual friend asking if he’d been seen; no he hadn’t. I called again.

Finally I got a text back saying he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to talk. Upon pressing he said he would tell me something he hadn’t told anyone else: He’d just attempted suicide.

He’d tried to hang himself. With his makeshift noose screwed to his doorway, he gave it a go, but it gave out. He woke up passed out on the floor, bruises all around his neck. His voice was messed up. He felt ashamed of himself. Not for trying, but for failing. I invited him for coffee.

He came around, and we had a lengthy conversation. He didn’t appear to want to stop at this attempt. He was pretty sure he was going to try again. I asked him what was going through his head. What did he think would happen when his mother found out. What compelled him to do such a thing.

“It’s not about anyone else, it’s about me. My choice. My life.”

But what about your mum?

“I left a note for her. I told her it wasn’t her fault.”

But do you really think it’s going to be nice for her to have survived her children before her time? As a mother I can tell you that’s got to be the absolute worst thing in the world.

He looked pensive for a moment. “But it isn’t about her.”

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect her. She’ll be sat at home minding her business after going to lunch and doing a bit of knitting and the police will come knocking on the door. Then who will comfort her? Your father? Is that what you really want?

“When Jenny died I was the one who had to go tell her.”

And what happened?

“She absolutely fell to pieces. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I never want to see her like that again.”

Right. So that was one child. It is so unnatural for a mother to survive their child. Now imagine that it wasn’t just one of your children but both. The grief doesn’t just double, it increases exponentially. That could kill her.

I realise this may not sound like the most sensitive way to go about this conversation. But at the time, he was basically saying his goodbyes to me. He was almost certainly going to try again. And possibly succeed. I was not only grasping at straws trying to talk some sense into him, but I realised I had a rare opportunity here.

Do you realise that this conversation I’m having with you now is the one that every single person wishes they could have with the person they’re grieving due to suicide? I’m now asking you all the questions the bereaved have no way of getting to ask.

So what about your friends? What do you think they would feel?

“It isn’t about them. It’s about me. I’m being selfish. I know that. But I can’t take this any longer.”

Don’t you realise how many lives you would affect? What about me? With all the s*** I’m going through, the last thing I need is to be grieving your ass right now.

I should note we had a special relationship. He was always taking the piss out of me. I saw nothing wrong in returning the favour.

“Well I left you a note, too.”

I don’t want your damn note, I want you to not break your poor mother’s heart. Don’t for one second underestimate how much this would destroy her. The least you could do is wait until she’s passed.

At some point I threatened to write a book about him. I told him that because I’ve got to ask all these questions, if he’s dead he can’t stop me. I’ll even use his real name and talk about all the twat things he’s confessed to me. He didn’t seem to like that. Too bad.

He knew it was a selfish decision. He wasn’t in denial about that. But he felt he had the right to make that decision and to a certain extent, he’s right. He can make whatever decision he wants. But timing is priceless. When you’re suddenly gone, it affects everyone who knows you. Whatever struggles people are facing, the passing of their friend or loved one adds to the pile. A lot of times it adds not only grief, but guilt.

Questions like, What could I have done differently to prevent this?

“Nothing. I chose to do this because I selfishly wanted to end it. It had nothing to do with you.”

Why didn’t you reach out for help?

“I didn’t want help. I’d given up.”

Were you mad at me?

“No, and I don’t want you to feel badly.”

But I will feel badly. I’ll feel terrible.

“That wasn’t my intention. I wasn’t thinking about that.”

In the end, I don’t believe he tried again. I told him that no matter what dynamic lies between himself and his parents, I promise they would rather take time out of their busy schedule to go and visit him in his hour of need than to lose him forever. From what I’ve seen, he has reached out to them since.

He and I are no longer friends. The Hyena personality could be really hurtful sometimes. I deal with a lot of personal issues of my own, and having him in my life was adding to a lot of issues that I couldn’t handle any longer. But I don’t wish ill on him, or anyone else. I sincerely hope he gets all the help he needs and begins to thrive at some point, which is the same I hope for myself and the rest of humanity.

However, I have learned one very important lesson through this. I will never take the passing of anyone personally. At the end of 2013 I lost someone to suicide who was at one point a very dear friend of mine. I felt awful. I felt as though I should have known, I should have spoken to him more often, I should have done this or done that. But I’ve realised I can’t hold myself responsible for anyone’s decisions. I have had to divorce myself from the mindset that I could have saved someone who was insistent on departing from this waking life.

If someone chooses to take their own life, that’s up to them. I am no stranger to these urges, but sometimes we have our reasons for either continuing to fight or giving up the fight. I get that. Life is hard. Lonely.

I don’t know if my conversation with him was the right thing to do, but I was there for him. I listened. I cared. I tried. I made myself available and proved to him that when I said “I give a s*** about you,” I meant it. From my experience, that seemed better than to ignore it, disregard his feelings, or shrug the whole thing off.

If you’re struggling, please remember that if you reach out, your call is likely to be answered. If nothing else, there are hotlines to help. In the UK, the Samaritans are there on the end of the line to be an ear (08457 90 90 90). In the US, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “We are here for people struggling through any sort of situation – you do not have to be feeling suicidal to call. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7/365.”

If you have heard someone say they are thinking heavily about attempting suicide, they are not always bluffing. If in doubt and you have no other options, call the authorities. My un-dead friend insisted he didn’t want me to, but in hindsight I probably should have. At the time, I was scared of losing him as a friend for “betraying” him. Funny how our minds work in a crisis. But sometimes that’s the best thing we can do for them.

Read the rest of the story here.

Karmic Heebie-Jeebies

In 2011 I attempted to start a blog. I got three posts into the blog before a random comment on social media, which was probably not even intended for me (but my anxiety wouldn’t let it go), had me feeling like somebody out there thought I was copying them (I wasn’t). Years later I realise that even if they thought that, to post a funny story about being a mother is not copying anyway, it’s just common.

So now it’s 2015 and while a handful of things have changed, the story is still funny. And after the past few posts, I’d like something to make you laugh. Enjoy.

Yesterday was an eventful day for us. The first part of the morning was spent getting ourselves ready and heading to London on a coach to meet up with one of my best friends who deliberately caused herself a layover just to see us. The afternoon was filled with sight-seeing, posing for pictures, and lots of hugs. But before sunset, those feel-good vibes had been replaced by panic, tension and horror.

Once upon a time, a letter came home from My eldest son’s school. (We’ll call him Alfie.) ‘Please be advised that head lice is going around the school… Check your child’s hair regularly.’

“Head lice? Gee, thanks. Let’s just hope Alfie doesn’t get it. Alfie, don’t go near other children’s heads at school. Don’t share your hat or anyone else’s hat. Promise me!”

“I promise.”

Soon after the letter, I had myself thoroughly convinced that it would just not happen to us. I hated having lice when I was six years old, and I was determined not to let them in this house. Not on my watch you don’t!

For about two weeks we thought we were pretty lucky. There was no sign of the little critters, life went on steadily and everyone got to where they needed to be on time. Everyone including Alfie, who needed to be at kickboxing at six o’clock sharp on Thursday night.

While the name ‘kickboxing’ may not immediately imply head-to-head contact, there are some instances in which the children’s heads might meet as they practice certain moves. And when Alfie came home and took a shower after class, he wouldn’t stop scratching his head.

At first we thought nothing of it. “No big deal, surely it’s just a dry scalp from too much shampooing. He’s had quite a few showers this week anyhow. The water is hard in this region, too. We’ll use different conditioner next time.  No time to fuss over it now, we need to be out of the house tomorrow by eight!”

When we woke up yesterday morning we were so busy getting ready that we didn’t pay attention to whether or not Alfie was scratching his head. It was the last thing on our minds at that point. It did get a bit annoying when Alfie would take off his hat and stop walking to do it, so we hustled him along and told him to keep the hat on his head and stop messing with it.

“Can I have a piggy-back ride, mom?”

“No, Alfie, we don’t have time for that right now. We have to get to the bus station on time. Maybe later.”

We made it to the station as planned, and as Alfie sat next to me on our bus journey he rested his head on my shoulder from time to time. Once in London, we took lots of pictures where we were smiling and posing with our heads close together. Our friend hugged each one of us extra tight as we said our good-byes and when we got on our return coach, just when Alfie had rested his head on the back of the seat, I made him trade me places to make it easier to manage the baby.

As a matter of fact, I am not a fan of buses at all. I am always concerned that the person who sat in my seat before me may have had head lice, especially when I see a greasy hair-print on the window next to me. Yesterday was no exception, I just didn’t ever imagine that the lice-carrying greasy person who passed out on the bus would actually be a very clean, seven-year-old little boy whom I love so much.

After the bus had pulled into the station and we were on our way home, Alfie asked me again for a piggy-back ride. I didn’t refuse him this time because I knew he had been so patient all day and really deserved to get off his feet for at least part of the way home. Once on my back I told him to climb onto my shoulders instead, where I carried him for about a third of a mile before I had to put him down. He even got to run (his favorite thing to do) for the home stretch; what a perfect day it had been so far.

Once inside our home sweet home, we were ready to relax for the remainder of our lovely day. Hubby was brewing tea, I was donning my sheepskin booties, the baby was playing with the toys he hadn’t seen all day, and Alfie was…

…scratching his head.

“My head really itches, mom, I think I have head lice.”

“You think you have what? Let me see your head!”

I immediately got out the flashlight and looked through his hair, only to be horrified by the sight of things on the back of his head… crawling around… and… moving… “There’s… there’s one there! There! Get it! Get it!

As I squirmed like a little girl and tried not to empty the contents of my stomach on the floor, flashbacks began to haunt me of all the different times during that day in which my head came close to Alfie’s. I was getting increasingly panicked. What if the baby has them, too? What if he gave them to our friend? What if British lice aren’t supposed to go to America? I HAVE LOTS OF HAIR!

Meanwhile, Hubby was taking a much calmer approach to the whole thing.

“It was going to happen. We knew it would.”

I didn’t! I really thought we wouldn’t get them!”

“Well that was silly. We’ll get some stuff for it in the morning.”

I wasn’t sure I could wait until the morning. However, given the hour and the time required for treatment, it was going to have to wait. It was pure coincidence that we had rice with our dinner, right after I had been getting queasy over lice and nits for some time, but I managed to keep it all down despite fears that it was moving. Shortly after, I thought I started noticing some itching.

I couldn’t tell if I was paranoid or if I really was infested, but I seemed to be freaking out just in case. All night long I had a bad case of the heebie-jeebies, complete with nightmares at bedtime. Not exactly the type of ending I would have chosen for that day.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m afraid of spiders and ticks, especially after Hubby found a tick crawling on me last year, or that I’ve seen one too many episodes of Monsters Inside Me. I’m afraid of quite a few micro-menaces, actually, such as wasps, earwigs, red ants, bedbugs, mosquitoes and even dust mites. There is just something about tiny things making me unhealthy without my permission that really “bugs” me. Plus, I can still feel the nit comb yanking through my super-long hair back in the first grade, which only added pain to the trauma, for a mental scar that is sure to last a lifetime.

While researching more information on the little buggers, it became clear that it is important to stay calm in these situations. Stay calm? Excuse me? This is so that you don’t over-treat the children, and probably also so you don’t traumatise them. So I tried to remember to keep cool.

“Alfie, next time you decide to bring some new pets into this house, you make sure to ask permission first, okay?”

“What? I didn’t bring any…. oh. Well I didn’t ask them, they’re invisible so they just… got on me.”

When Hubby came back from the store this morning with the treatment gel, I was quite excited to use it. It is a product called Hedrin, which is supposed to suffocate the lice and penetrate the eggs to kill them all. When finished simply shampoo, condition and comb out, and voila! No pesticides or harsh chemicals, can be used on the baby if necessary. I saturated Alfie’s hair with it as directed and after fifteen long minutes of “How long is it now, Mommy?” and “Has it been fifteen minutes yet?” it was time to douse him with shampoo.

When I put the conditioner on him and started combing his hair, dozens of little brown flecks kept showing up on it, turning my stomach with each stroke. Only one was as large as a sesame seed so it’s difficult to tell how long he’s had them, but if they have to reproduce sexually and there were lots of small ones and quite a few eggs, hatching every seven to ten days,  and they only lay up to ten a day… how many did he have and how long had they been there? Should we only be concerned with head-to-head interaction from the past two days or the past two weeks? Some friends of ours watched the boys for us one night and their little girl was playing closely with the boys. So I sent her a warning, too.

“No worries, thanks for letting me know. Got all the gear to treat it already.”

Wow! That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting!

“…the first time I got them from my niece and nephew I bleached my hair to get rid of them! This won’t be the last time Alfie brings them home, don’t worry.”

At this point I am feeling much better about the way I reacted. I felt awful at first, but after talking to our friend I realized that if we just keep some treatment stuff on hand, we’ll be fine. My reaction was totally normal, and all was forgiven anyhow. No bleach involved.

After Alfie’s hair was done I treated my own, and now that we have both been treated I can let him near me once again. Alfie’s hair only required about a fifth of the bottle of Hedrin while mine required three fifths. That leaves just the right amount to treat Hubby’s hair and possibly the baby’s so we should all be good. But what the Hedrin won’t remove is the memories of looking through the back of my son’s scalp to see things crawling around on him, sucking his blood. It may be weeks before the nightmares and the phantom itches stop.

I can’t help but be suspicious that this may be karma getting back at me for scaring the crap out of Alfie with his very own plastic spider a few weeks ago. I put my arm around him and pretended I just wanted to hold him close when I put the thing on his sleeve and shouted, “Alfie! There’s a spider on you!” The way he squirmed… seems awfully familiar.