Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Patents and Pink Puffy Hearts

While I continue to adjust to my medication and drown in incompetent rage every time I obsessively check the news, let's take a moment to talk about James.

We'll start with Father's Day this past Sunday. He is a wonderful dad and works hard and thinks a lot about how to be a good one. When we got Landon's daily writing journal at the end of the year it was so fun to read all his thoughts and stories over the last year, but most fun was to see how prominently James was featured. As Landon wrote on one day, "My dad is important to me because he is my best friend." He also wrote a lot about swimming and how having James as a coach makes it so fun for him. And James is a phenomenal coach- hard and tough, but always trying to make swimming more accessible and fun. Possibly the thing I love most about the swim school is that he gets to coach all of our kids three times a week. It's been such a blessing for all four of them (and me!).

We managed to make Father's Day James's perfect day. Not too fancy, not too planned, and not too expensive- just him doing his favorite things with his favorite people. He woke up early and went to swim practice. Five minutes after he got back we were off to his favorite brunch buffet full of delicious foods and as many plates as he could eat. (That is many, many plates.)

Post-brunch he got to take a nap while I taught barre (oy, never do that after a brunch buffet) and the kids played semi-quietly. Post-nap was a movie! In a theater! His favorite thing! I'm just in it for the popcorn and candy, but James eschews both those things and is just there for "the movie watching experience." We saw The Incredibles 2 and we LOVED it. So cute and so fun, and I didn't take any pictures because that's how James would want it.

[No pictures.]

We got home and he ran to the grocery store (not very Father's Day-ish, we do have some time constraints) while I baked his cake (funfetti with dark chocolate icing!) and his pizza that was his whole present.

Oh yes, deep dish pizza shipped to Texas on dry ice from Giordano's in Chicago. And it was SO. GOOD.

In the words of James, it was just as good as the restaurant. It was the perfect present. He doesn't like when we spend money on him, but food is his one indulgence.

That night as we sat cuddled on the couch he said, "thank you for the perfect day." I've decided we're just going to do it all again next year and all the years ahead.

Then on Monday he was interviewed for an article in the Fort Worth paper for his work as President of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition! It's a cause he's passionate about and a role that demands a lot of his time, but I'm so proud of the work he does with the Coalition. After the article was published our local Fox station asked for a TV interview.

That aired last night at 9 and 10 p.m. in Fort Worth and apparently again in Austin this morning! (And possibly elsewhere.)

We let the kids stay up to watch it and while you can watch the actual video here, you can see our version where I'm sitting too far away from the TV and you mostly hear Cora yelling, "That's Daddy! How did you get in that show Daddy?!!" in my ear.

And THEN also yesterday- his patent arrived in the mail!!! Almost exactly three years after he invented The Brick, founded Fike Swim, and started a retail swim products business out of our house, he has his patent!

It's so shiny and pretty. I'm not even sure where it's going to go yet. I did a USPTO search just to see his name pop up and I nearly cried. Fike Swim is his baby and now his baby is official and protected and has a shiny ribbon.

We're so proud of him. I'm SO proud of him. When I met my goal of someday dating a UT Swimmer on my first day of college, I never imagined that my adult life would STILL revolve so much around swimming, but it's a huge part of who he is and I love so much that he's been able to combine his passions for swimming, coaching, inventing, selling, and business and entrepreneurship (and spending time with our kids!) all together in this life we're living together nearly 17 years later.

I love him so much and can't wait for the inevitable fancy date night to celebrate our first patent! (Because two of my passions he's come to share are fancy date nights and finding reasons to celebrate things. Cheers!)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Adventures of All Kinds

So, my doctor increased my Paxil dose last week, something I expected but was apparently unprepared for because it has knocked me out. I've never been sleepy during the day before, but I took a nap Saturday afternoon and then almost fell asleep watching TV last night at 9:30 until I finally just asked James to turn the TV off. Hopefully I'll adjust soon because this can't-keep-my-eyes-open, living-through-molasses feeling is not my favorite. Also, I went to the OB/GYN today for a check-up and she was very concerned about a mole I didn't know I had in a place I cannot see and asked to remove it right then. "Sure why not," I replied and seconds later I have a fiery shot of lidocaine and a scalpel in my nethers. The mole is off to the pathologist and I skipped evening yoga and came home to a giant slice of James's Father's Day cake followed by a bag of popcorn with cheez-its on top that I ate standing because it hurt to sit. I have a dermatologist check-up next Monday so I just can't wait to see what kinds of new adventures that brings. On the upside, I was wearing a new dress that I like very much and made me feel happy, so yay for retail therapy.

But back to the rest of life. We have to go back like 2 weeks, so I'll just hit the highlights.

Like our first swim meet of summer and the return of 5 a.m. Saturday wake-up calls!

I decided not to swim this year. As fun as it was to dive back in the water last summer, I can't say it reawakened any great love of swimming in me. I still love to race, but I have absolutely no interest in going to the practices or doing anything that would make me go faster, and it really is SO nice to just be dry at swim meets. James doesn't understand this, but I am quite happy in my current role in the stands. I'll probably join again for a future summer, but this year, I'm just an enthusiastic supporter.

Speaking of enthusiasm, Cora arrived ready to dominate. Now an experienced 4-year-old in the same 6-&-Under age group, Cora was SO ESSITED to be on swim team again. And this year her best friend Jojo was going to join her. AND she now gets to do backstroke! I still find a toddler in a swim cap and goggles to be the cutest thing I've ever seen.

She did great in her freestyle, dropping a solid 15 seconds off last year's best time. And then in her backstroke, which I thought was going to be a hot mess, she zoomed down the lane, fully on her back, never flipping over and going nearly the same time she went in her free!

Can't believe it either.

Coach Dad deserves many high fives.

The big kids also did great. Claire has emerged as a dominant breaststroker, winning both her races so far this season, and Landon continues his reign in all things, but particularly the 50 free and 100 IM.

Most importantly several of their friends are on the team and the card games of Uno, Spoons, and War continue in the team tents.

After a million hours (or like 5ish) we headed home to pass out before a pool party that night. And I mean pass out pretty literally- James fell asleep, Cora fell asleep (for FOUR HOURS!), *I* fell asleep, and the two big kids lay on the couch, head to head, staring at a blank TV when I walked in an hour later. "Are you watching something?" "We were earlier," Landon sighed, "but then it turned off when it was done." I continued doing stuff in the kitchen and they continued to lie there, just gazing at the black screen. We were a little tired.

The evening's pool party was good fun, even if I did have to nudge the kids out the door a bit. Then on Sunday, we went to the zoo and FED GIRAFFES!

Oh yeah. All caps levels of excitement.

Our new exhibit is amazing and we love it but the two times we've stopped by it's been just before closing and the giraffes are full. But on Sunday we were there right at 10 a.m. and two of them, including my new best friend Captain, were HANGRY.

It was so fun. I love giraffes. I loved feeding my new giraffe. I even made James go buy more overpriced lettuce just so we could do it more. As Claire declared immediately following our giraffe experience, this was the BEST visit to the zoo EVER. And we've been to the zoo about 100 times.

We also bonded with our new hippos, Poppy and Bubbles, from Oregon. I'm pretty sure we're their favorites.

The rest of Sunday was errands, teaching barre, having friends over to swim, and making delicious salmon for dinner and then it was off to week #2 of summer! Landon would be at the Cowtown Marathon Running Camp and Claire was at a Greatest Showman Broadway Jazz dance camp! Both were VERY EXCITED about these things.

Landon LOVED running camp. He was full of stories and running tips every day. My favorite was on Wednesday when we had this conversation:

Landon: Mom! Today at running camp we got these cool belt things with pockets. Hacky packs? Sacky hacks?

Me: Fanny packs?

Landon: Yes! They’re really cool mom.

Claire LOVED Greatest Showman camp. They had a performance on Friday and it was adorable and earnest and everything an 8-year-old's Broadway jazz camp should be.

Cora did not go to any camps because she is still in her year-round Montessori preschool, but she did get new sparkle rainbow light-up shoes and she would like for you to see them.

And the tiny rainbow cheetah Claire bought Cora with her birthday money because Claire is a more generous big sister than Cora often deserves.

We had swim meet #2 yesterday morning and left the house even earlier but somehow still too late to stop at Starbucks on the way. It was a nice pool and the kids swam really well. Landon even had the rare bit of competition and got beat in the 25 fly and then got best times racing the same kid (and winning) in the 50 free and 100 IM. It's good for him to have to work for it sometimes. Cora rocked her 25 free and then lost her mind partway through her 25 back when she hit the lane rope and took the rope's attack deeply personally. James had to jump in to pull her out midway across the pool after she sat with her arm on the lane rope screaming and chewing on her hand for comfort for several seconds. Thirty minutes of hysterical crying later she was able to calmly inform us "the lane rope just hurt my head mommy and I don't like that" and we changed into a dress and snazzy sunglasses and moved on with our day.

Since her older siblings were still swimming their events and couldn't devote a proper amount of attention to her, Cora replaced them with new ones. I realized she was missing from our area and went in search of her only to find her happily ensconced in a new tent, with new friends I did not know (and she didn't either), enthusiastically playing with a set of plastic horses and unicorns. She remained there for the rest of the meet. I still don't know who any of her new friends were, but they seemed nice and didn't mind a 4-year-old crashing their unicorn party.

Gotta love swim meets.

Yes, I do.

That afternoon we all crashed again. Swim meets take a lot out of you and then we had a super fun backyard games party at a friend's house. I took no pictures, but there was a margarita machine, nacho bar, my tres leches cake, and much fun had by all. James and I remain an undefeated team in bean bags and he played a frisbee game while I drank a margarita to refuel. It was a good night.

Sunday was Father's Day and it was perfect but I'm going to blog about it later because it's late and I seem to need 12 hours of sleep now instead of my usual 6, so we'll go straight to food. I have many recipes! Basically everything we've eaten in June so far:

Sunday: went to a BBQ at a friend's and brought Pesto Caprese Gnocchi (literally just cooked gnocchi tossed with pesto, sliced cherry tomatoes, and fresh baby mozzarella balls; this is Cora's favorite meal in the whole world) and Farro Kale-Radicchio Salad with Lemon Miso dressing (possibly my favorite meal in the whole world)

Monday: BBQ Chicken Quinoa Salad birthday dinner! (Claire's favorite meal and chosen birthday dinner), Chocolate cupcakes I made from a box between me getting home from work and the kids getting home from swimming.

Tuesday: Egg roll bowl (made this up based on the memory of past recipes: saute ground turkey with onion and garlic, add soy sauce, simmer; dump in big bag of cauliflower rice, sliced baby bok choy, shredded cabbage, shredded carrots - fill the whole giant pan you're using, stir around until it all softens a bit, add in rice vinegar + sherry + soy sauce + oyster sauce. I would have used sesame oil but I didn't have any on hand. Serve. So yummy and healthy and hearty.)

Wednesday: Black Bean Spinach Enchiladas with added leftover bbq chicken from Monday), Mexican rice. SOOOOOO good. I love that recipe; the enchilada sauce is divine.

Thursday: Big salad night. Take every vegetable out of your fridge + hard boiled egg, avocado, walnuts, cheese, cold cooked pasta/quinoa/farro (whatever you've got)- chop everything, dump it in the biggest bowl you own. Make a dressing (I like red wine vinegar + dijon mustard + garlic + salt/pepper + olive oil; heavy on the vinegar). Toss it all together with tongs and distribute in bowls that resemble the Goldilocks story per person in the family. Serve with crackers and cheese on the side.

Friday: Date night! James and I went to see Ocean's 8 and I ate delicious nachos in my seat at the theater. I made the kids our favorite crockpot meatballs with veggies and fruit on the side.

Saturday: Birthday Party Pizza. Birthday pool party with all our favorite people, and mandatory breaks for the kids to eat some pizza to fuel the swimming shenanigans.

Sunday: Salmon, Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, Kale Salad with Lemon Miso Dressing. My absolute favorite salmon recipe (I broil it in the oven and skip the salsa) that I have missed very much, roasted tri-color potatoes and cauliflower, with the salad that I love that I made last Saturday, followed by some Trader Joe's dark chocolate cookies I snuck in the pantry while James was doing dishes.

Monday: Chicken Caesar Wraps, Oven Fries, Fruit. Sliced grilled chicken breasts and the organic Caesar salad mix from TJ's, rolled into tortillas with sliced tomatoes, served with oven fries and whatever fruit is in the fridge. The kids thought I was made of magic when I turned a salad into a wrap, and really, maybe I was.

Tuesday: OUT. I now teach barre at TCU on Tuesday nights and I just knew I wasn't going to want to cook when I could go out for happy hour tacos, queso, and margaritas with the kids. We met up with friends at the restaurant, proving it was the right decision.

Wednesday: Crockpot Red Beans and Rice, Steamed Green Beans, Cornbread. My fave red beans and rice recipe to date and it's super easy, light, filling, and comforting. And the TJ box cornbread mix because it's excellent.

Thursday: Tamales, Refried Black Beans, Avocado. Steamed frozen tamales, Cora's favorite thing, with beans and avocado and tomato. I skipped this dinner to go to barre, but the kids loved it.

Friday: OUT. It was supposed to be pasta with meat sauce, but I felt lazy and tired and in need of nachos so we went out for those instead.

Saturday: Tres Leches Cake (without the rum, but with cinnamon added to the milks mixture). My contribution to our friend's nacho buffet along with black beans and roasted corn.

Sunday: Giordano's Deep Dish Pizza for Father's Day. Shipped in on dry ice, it was FANTASTIC.

Monday: Chicken Sausage Sheet Pan Dinner (I did tri-color carrots, green beans, red potatoes, and chicken sausage spread over two pans) with Parmesan Orzo on the side (so delicious and simple; I leave out the parsley because I don't like it).

Tuesday: Mexican Rice with all the toppings.

Wednesday: Greek Tortellini Salad, naan, tzatziki sauce on the side.

Thursday: White Bean and Chicken Verde Enchiladas, black refried beans, rice, avocado.

Friday: My Mom's Spaghetti: Carbo-loading for meet #3!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Words and Seeds and Stars

We got Landon's STAAR scores yesterday. That's the standardized test in Texas schools. I don't care much about the tests and one of the reasons we chose our neighborhood was because on our public school tour the principal walked what we felt was the right line between acknowledging that test scores matter for the school in ways they can't control while also talking about all the ways the teach their students well beyond the testing's bounds. Landon is bright and has no stress about these things so it's a non-event, but I went online to pull his scores anyway because he happened to give me the take-home sheet with the instructions on how to do so this year and I like to follow directions. Fourth grade is the first year they are tested in writing (along with reading and math they start in 3rd) and he got a perfect score and was in the 100th percentile. I didn't know the 100th percentile was a thing, but there it was, and in writing. That's so powerful, I told him. Not the score, but the ability to write. The fact that you enjoy it. That a blank page isn't intimidating, it's an invitation. He's always been like that. When we had our first Kindergarten parent teacher meeting, back when we didn't know if he was at all engaged in learning and had NO idea he already knew how to read (parents of the year, right there), we were shocked- genuinely floored- when his teacher turned over all their regular class work pages to show these long essays he was writing and then illustrating on the back of every page. That will help you your whole life, I said, the ability to clearly translate your thoughts into words.

Writing has always been essential to me. I love a blank page, so full of possibilities. There is a deep satisfaction in reading your own words and thinking, yes, that's exactly what I meant. I was surprised by the post I started writing Monday night. I was more surprised that when I finished long after James had gone to bed I read it through tears and thought yes, that's exactly what I meant. And so I pressed publish and went to bed, snuggling into James and feeling oddly at peace with baring my soul because I'd found just the right words to do it. I woke up in a panic 6 hours later and my first thought was ohmygodwhatdidIdo. I frantically grabbed my phone, checked my blog, and yep- there it was. All my words. Words that still felt right, but also felt so raw. People will see this I thought, heart pounding. People I know. Friends, strangers, my PARENTS. They will see and they will KNOW and it will be weird. Three separate times on Tuesday morning I almost pulled it down.

And then the comments came. Comments and emails and texts. It took me 20 hours and a "good stuff" margarita from our favorite taco place to publish the blog link on my personal facebook page. I normally publish a link to every blog post I write, but very nearly skipped this one. But, as I wrote in the facebook post- isn't that the point? I put the kids to bed and waited an hour to check facebook and when I did, I looked through squinted eyes, like that would help feel less exposed to comments that already existed whether I was reading them through blurry eyes or not. And there they were, these wonderful, supportive, personal comments, and you guys, if there's anything I learned besides "sometimes what you publish after midnight is not a mistake," it's that we need to talk about these things. I cannot tell you how many "me too" texts I got from people who surprised me. I still have many to respond to, but know that I read every single one, probably multiple times and they meant the world. And while I don't think anyone has any obligation to disclose that part of their life or confidential medical history, I do think there is quite a bit of power in doing so in a safe place or friendship. (Or very public blog post.)

Several people asked what they could do to be available for people in their life who may be struggling. And that's a hard one to answer because every one is so different- both in their actual struggles, how they perceive their struggles, and the balance between how welcome v. how necessary reaching out may be. So I don't know. In my case I had no idea I was in a hole so (1) I wouldn't have expected anyone else to realize it either; and (2) even if someone had I wouldn't have been receptive to help because I would have been surprised and probably hurt that someone thought I needed it. But as a backdrop I'd say (in my capacity as an absolutely untrained, unlicensed, non-medical professional), be someone who brings up counseling or therapy as a regular, even assumed medical option. Be someone a person who is struggling (even if they don't know it yet) knows they could mention it to. A few years ago a good friend happened to mention talking to a counselor at a tough time in her life while we were getting pedicures. It takes a leap of faith to bring that up and I felt honored by it. It also then sat in the back of my mind as a reminder that yes, people do that, along with the knowledge that this friend was someone I could ask about it. At the time I never thought I would, but still, the knowledge was there. And then six months ago, several years after our conversation, she's who I asked how she found her therapist. It's planting seeds. If a friend is talking to you about feeling frustrated all the time or overwhelmed maybe say, "have you thought of talking to a counselor about that? I have a friend who did that and it really helped." (Or even better, if it's true, "I did that and it really helped.") And then leave it. They'll ask questions if they want or let it percolate or reject it outright, but no matter what they'll know that you think that's okay to do and they'll know you're someone they could talk to later if they wanted to. It's little and it's fairly passive, but it's something and I think it matters to hear people in your life talk about mental health the way they might regularly suggest seeing a doctor or specialist for any kind of physical ailment.

But know also that mental health is just that- mental. It's complicated and distorted by our own reality and perceptions. Sometimes people won't get help who should and that isn't anyone else's fault. I don't think I would have listened to anyone except James that I needed help. And even though he is the person I love and trust most in the whole world, a person who I knew had benefited immensely from therapy himself, it was not a smooth or painless path for either of us in getting me to listen to him.

I guess would also say, for yourself and those close to you- depression and anxiety can look very different from what you think they are. Anxiety doesn't have to be "excessive worrying," the way it is often described. It can be about past hurts and triggers and vulnerabilities. Feeling things are directed at you when they're not, or that something should be about you that isn't. It might not at all be about stress or feeling overwhelmed or anything of the things I thought it was. It can be an inability to get over things. An involuntary need to keep score. It can be SO MANY things and you can still be genuinely happy much of the time you're also battling it. I didn't know that before. Anytime I thought "hey maybe this is a problem," I'd knock it down with "but I'm happy! I'm not a worrier. I feel joy, I don't feel stressed about my life, I actually feel really good about all the parts of my life right now." And that was absolutely true. But we're complicated creatures; we can feel lots of things at once. And sometimes there are feelings that get in the way of relationships or that don't make a lot of sense in the overall framework and maybe it's those that don't need to be there at all.

I need to move on. There are mundane life things to discuss like the fact that our new master bedroom floors erupted two days after they were installed and we now have a mountain range of peaks and valleys and broken wood all across our floor. And both our AC units tried to break two days apart but have now both been fixed. We had our first swim meet last weekend and it was so fun and toddlers in caps and goggles are a magical thing. Landon is at running camp and just discovered fanny packs and thinks they are the coolest. Claire is at Greatest Showman Broadway jazz camp and having the best week ever. James is being interviewed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram today for his work on the Drowning Prevention Coalition and I'm so proud of him. Cora has two "ear confections" and can't swim and it's been a struggle for us all. I have two weeks of meals to share. I fed a giraffe named Captain lettuce on Sunday and it needs to be discussed with MANY exclamation marks.

But I would like to say, before we get back to the everyday business of life, thank you. Thank you for your comments, your support, and for sharing your stories. I write because I need to, but a huge part of the joy I get from it is knowing you all our reading and knowing I can trust you with my words.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Black Holes, Climbing Out Of

I had never really understood the stigma around talking about mental health. Friends and family members have needed various sorts of counseling or mental health help over the years and I've always been an enthusiastic supporter. Your brain is part of your body and no one debates taking care of their heart or bones or anything else, so get thee to whatever medical professional you need at the time and address whatever medical situation you have with a view to a healthier future. I couldn't imagine why it always had to be so secretive.

When Landon had tantrums around age 8 that none of us could control or understand, we went to a children's therapist. I never questioned that step. As soon as we saw we were in over our heads, we got ourselves to someone who knew more than we did and everyone benefited. We didn't go for a while after that and then at age 10 it became clear the approach that had worked at 8 didn't work anymore, so we went to a new therapist. Maybe what we were seeing was normal tweenage behavior, but we go to a pediatrician every year despite his obvious physical health, so why not get a mental health check-up too? And we did. And it was helpful for everyone. I don't talk about it too much to respect his privacy, but I felt- and continue to feel- strongly that we took the right steps and to genuinely not understand parents who wouldn't pause a moment before calling a pediatrician but who delay for months or years or forever in calling a counselor. We all benefited from adding that professional to our lives and I hope Landon benefits for his whole life by knowing that the mental element of healthcare is important and there for him and those he loves.

James has benefited immeasurably from the therapy he started a few years ago. I don't talk much about that either because again, not my story, but holy hell to the extent his story overlaps into mine- and it surely does- I can say that therapy changed our lives. I sobbed in my office the day he called me after his first appointment and told me how it made him feel. I was turned around in my desk chair, staring blindly out the window, and my shoulders were shaking as I tried to cry silently because my door was open. It felt like a thousand pound weight had lifted from my chest and his. I learned so many things about him I didn't know and over the next year he worked really hard and unlearned basically his whole childhood and he couldn’t have done without help.

I write all this to say I am pro-counseling and psychology and psychiatry and see them all as an essential part of overall health. I don't want there to be a stigma around mental healthcare and I have benefited enormously from the people in my life seeking out help when needed and would passionately support anyone in doing the same.

And yet.

I have been seeing a therapist since February, been on medication since March, and I have not talked about it. To anyone, really. You could say it isn't anyone's business, and it's not. But I make all sorts of things other people's business through my blog- if I had a problem with anything else medical you know I would have written a dozen posts about it by now. I had skin cancer and took you all on an overly detailed photo journalistic journey of my zombie skin cream and the scarring that resulted from it. But on this, this huge, new thing that has occupied much of my mind for six months, on this I have been silent. It is a terrifyingly vulnerable thing to admit. All my earnest yet undeniably naive past assertions that "mental health is just part of human health, of course we should talk about it! it shouldn't be a secret!" fall to the wayside when it's me admitting what feels like some sort of failure. Like everything I've ever read as an excuse for not talking about mental health suddenly became true because it's me. That it's a weakness. That I should have been able to fix it. That it makes everything I've written for the first half of the year somehow less. That the happy stories are lies and now everything I write in the future will be read through that lens.

I know that isn't true. I know that because I lived the last six months and I know that anything I wrote was true. I also know I wrote less often for that to be so.

I fell down a deep dark hole after Christmas. I didn't know I was in a hole, but there I was, at the bottom of it anyway. You read so much about people just needing to reach out, but you can't reach out when you don't know you need to. I mean it's not an actual hole. It's sadness for no clear reason. It's needing a reason to be happy instead of needing a reason to not be. It's feeling utterly, unbearably alone when people surround you. It's irritability and a lack of patience, even as part of you knows what's happening isn't irritating and can't figure out why you're upset while the other half feels absolutely righteous in your upset and accepts this small, ridiculous thing as something you will never get over. It is feeling so protective over your flickers of joy that you absolutely lose it when something goes wrong and your fragile inner candle is snuffed out. Don't you know how hard I worked to feel happy and hopeful about something? How DARE you forget some small thing I told you to remember and now the whole day is ruined and I don't know how I'll get that happiness back again. ... I promise it all made perfect sense at the time.

It was James who told me something was wrong. It was me who trusted him and his intentions enough to believe it.

My first appointment with my therapist was terrifying. My hands sweated the whole time as I fought not to brush off her every question with a laugh and self-deprecating funny story. I realize now that wouldn't have worked anyway, but at the time answering "I don't know" to multiple questions in a row to a quasi-authority figure was perhaps the bravest thing I've ever done.

"She doesn't understand me at all," I told James after my first visit. "She's totally on the wrong track. It feels like a waste of time." But I kept going, because once I realized I was in the hole I was sure as fuck going to get out of it. And also because I had no idea how to break up with a therapist and I was afraid I'd never start going again to another one. Five months of biweekly visits later and I don't say that anymore. She understands me just fine, she is not on the wrong track, and it is very much not a waste of time. As it turns out, my mental health professional knows more about my mental health than I do.

And so, I have generalized anxiety disorder. I fought that label because I'm not anxious and I don't really worry about things, but that's not always how anxiety manifests itself. Anti-depressants are helping. I was on Lexapro for 2 days and it made me so sick I couldn't leave the couch because my head wanted to explode. I switched to Paxil and have no side effects at all. It's helping. I can feel it helping. I don't have a fight or flight reaction when something hits a stress point or past hurt. Or I don't do it as often and I recognize it better when I do. I still have a ways to go to remission.

The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week hit hard. Bourdain particularly because I'd just finished reading his book Kitchen Confidential and had loved it so much and recommended it to so many. Amy's blog post today hit even harder. I've read Amy since 2007 and she was one of the first to indignantly and supportively publicize what we were going through with Landon in Chicago. I don't have anything particularly wise to add to the conversation going on right now about mental health and suicide. I know that simply telling people to reach out for help isn't enough. Depression lies. Not just in big ways, like suicidal thoughts (something I never had), but in little ways too. In telling you that you're just not trying hard enough; or that you're all alone when you're not; or that nothing is wrong at all and your absolutely abnormal reactions are perfectly normal and justified. After all, you can't yell for help when you don't know you're in the hole. Depression lies.

I don't know what the answer is. I think part of it is actually treating mental health like any other regular aspect of healthcare. It's talking about it and showing what it looks like. Unfortunately I've discovered that poor mental health looks an awful lot like excellent mental health, but I don't think I knew that before. Earlier this year I kept thinking, but I'm still happy! And I was. I'm still social, I love my friends, I work out, I delight in nachos, I have a great job, I love my family... my shit is still together. And all of that was true. But I was still in a hole, feeling inexorably alone. Sometimes I'm still in it. I just know how to climb out now and Paxil gives me the ladder to do it.

I hope that it helps someone to know that. I feel at once more vulnerable and more complete for saying it. I keep coming back to the quote, "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This is my battle right now. I'm thankful for access to the tools to help me fight it and I hope I can meet the people in my life better able to help them fight theirs. Even if that just means making someone feel a little less alone in the battle.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Claire is 8

Claire is 8. EIGHT. Why does this feel so much older than 7? (or "sebben" as Cora has spent the last year wistfully referring to it.) This chunky baby biscuit turned highly accessorized toddler turned long and lean big kid, my baby girl, Landon's first baby, the one who made us a family of four who would want to become a family of five is 8.

She is all the things I wrote about her in this post and so much more. She remains my snuggliest, my one who most needs the attention of others. She's a great reader, but she only wants to do it if she can read out loud to you. She's independent and strong, but she'd love it if you just came to do the things with her. She can shower on her own, but couldn't you just come check to make sure her hair is rinsed out? Her coloring is the most like mine, particularly when I was her age, which must be why it continually baffles me that her personality isn't like mine at all. She has taught me much, she will teach me more, she is our Clairebear and she is 8.

We celebrated with a Greatest Showman birthday party. For the first time since we moved to this house and celebrated Claire's 2nd birthday we did not have a pool party. At first I was flummoxed. You want to do something that isn't just swimming with your friends? I need to plan an activity? You want your friends INSIDE our house? But I feel like we pulled it off.

There's not a lot of Greatest Showman paraphernalia yet so we went with the general color scheme and some items pulled from the "magic show" and "movie party" sections of Party City. It worked. Claire picked cheese balls and animal crackers as her snacks, we made a candy bar for take-home treats, and there was ice cream cake for later.

For the activities Claire felt strongly there should be singing to the Greatest Showman soundtrack (aka the soundtrack of our lives for the last several months) and a serious and focused viewing of the movie. I told her I really felt there needed to be something to do during the movie because it can be hard to focus for that long ("Not on the Greatest Showman!" she cried) and I would hate for her friends to be bored and distracted and her to be sad no one is staring at the screen with her.

So we went with a craft. Claire loves a good craft. A cruise around the aisles of Michaels last weekend led me to the idea of "dream boxes" from Claire's very favorite song, "A Million Dreams."

We bought boxes and paints and lots of decorations, plus a large tarp to put under it all so James would be able to attend without having a breakdown.

Before the art there was lots of singing and then a choreographed show Claire and one of her besties put on after they practiced at recess last week. It was adorable.

Though Cora wasn't impressed.

The movie was a hit and I fast-forwarded some to get to all the songs by the end. Cora, exhausted from all our partying at the Last Day of School pool party the night before, didn't want to miss out on the movie, so she wordlessly pulled up a nap mat and snuggled in. Not much gets between Cora and her rest.

With the dream boxes complete and fairly minimal mess made (8 year old girls are pretty solid crafters; there was some serious ART going on at that table and I loved it), we moved on to cake. Claire had requested a fancy candle she'd been admiring in the aisle of our local grocery store and, feeling generous, I'd thrown it in my cart during a round of pool party errands earlier in the week.

Readers, that candle scared the crap out of her.

She did not at all think it needed to be blown out. Cora found the whole thing highly irresponsible and knew she'd been right to be skeptical of cake all along.

But Claire persevered, blew out the fire blazing on our kitchen table to save the ice cream cake melting underneath.

Landon has now requested one for his birthday in July.

All in all I feel like our first non-swim party went okay. And since it was 109 degrees outside that day (actual temperature! opening the door was like getting punched in the face by the sun), I was actually really glad we were all inside! James and I got everything cleaned up, a re-watching of Greatest Showman going on the living room TV for the birthday girl, and both fell onto the couch where we were soon joined by a sleepy Cora. Three parties in six days. Good thing we have five whole weeks before Landon's.

Sunday was relaxed and gorgeous. We slept in, I made our shopping list, but as I walked outside to go to the store I realized the air wasn't already heavy with heat and humidity and I ran inside yelling, "WE'RE GOING ON A WALK!!". A cool front had come through in the night and it was a genuinely lovely 78 outside at 9 a.m.

So a walk was had, errands were run, and then friends came over to swim before we headed to their house to test out a new smoker. I made two of my favorite side dishes. Kids played, adults watched the world series for women's softball. It was a solid end to a CRAZY week.

And on Monday, it was Claire's real birthday! The day she actually turned 8. The morning 8 years ago I remember so very clearly. Landon's birth was such a shock and then Claire's was so planned and scheduled.

We decorated the table the night before. Landon had come out to check up on all the activity and added his own gift. He loves a nighttime table decorating and Claire loved the results.

((heart squeeze))

Landon had made her a ring with his 3D pen and we got her a much-requested water bottle (with monogram sticker because it felt very Claire to me) and Caboodle full of tiny special things for my little pack rat hoarder. The best gifts are the ones you don't want to buy (I hate tiny hoarded things) and she LOVED IT.

I did love my Caboodle growing up and was thrilled to find them back on Amazon. The caboodle and its contents are now Claire's greatest treasure.

My parents got her two new outfits and a gift card to Michael's (to buy more tiny things to put in the caboodle!) and I used my grandparents' birthday check to buy her a Mighty music player which she loves. She's our musical girl and I love that she can have her own playlist that doesn't need wifi or a data plan to play on her headphones or little bluetooth speaker. She rocks around the house with it all day and it reminds me so strongly of my sister and I loving our new walkman's (with cassette tape and radio options!) back in the day.

Then she and Landon went to James's swim camp, Cora went to school, and I went to work. Claire requested last minute birthday cupcakes and I figured why not, so I stopped on the way home to pick up a box mix to make up while the kids were at afternoon swim practice (swimming was a theme of this week; 7 practices in 4 days, which is a lot even for our crew!). I accidentally made too many so I texted friends to please come by and help us eat them after dinner.

A dinner that was Claire's choice so of course it was... BBQ QUINOA SALAD!!!! She says it just like that, in all caps, and with many exclamation points. Claire LOVES this meal and she eats more of it than anyone at the table.

Did you spy our new birthday candle animals? We've had the dinosaur and pig for years (since 2010) and a blog reader found me a full set on eBay earlier this year, so the giraffe and whale were huge and exciting surprises for Claire. And Landon doesn't even know we still have more for him in July. I love little traditions and candle animals are a sweet one. Obviously we re-lit them both for dinner and then she blew out a non fire-hazard candle for dessert.

Happy birthday sweet sunshine girl, we sure do love you!