Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Great Pumpkin (Village) and a Random Mental Health Update

We've been going to the Dallas Arboretum Pumpkin Village since 2013 when I was 8 months pregnant with Cora and looked like I was smuggling a pumpkin out under my shirt. It is one of my absolute favorite things we and I was very worried that we weren't going to be able to make it happen this year. But! On a Saturday where James had to be in Lewisville (north of Dallas) for an International Swim League meet at 2 p.m., Claire had a volleyball game at the downtown YMCA in Fort Worth at 2 p.m., and Landon was supposed to go to a friend's house before Claire's game so they could go to Six Flags Fright Fast, we found a spot in our morning schedule and at 8 a.m. off to Dallas we went! In separate cars with swim meet supplies, sleepover stuff, and volleyball gear stashed in the back of each one.

Girls' car; we arrived first

We were in the parking lot about 8:45 a.m., through the membership line roughly two minutes later, and were immediately greeted with this year's theme: Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.

And it was GREAT!

The weather was gorgeous- bright blue skies and that magical temperature where no one needs a jacket and no one is sweating.

I got my required "all the kids on the pumpkins" picture, which looks increasingly funny as they get ever bigger and the pumpkins stay the same size.

And then the kids were set free to play- heading as they always do over to the hay maze, turning it in to a raucous game of tag that ends up absorbing at least five other kids around them.

James and I hung back, admiring the decorative gourds and laughing at the fact that our kids are bigger, older, and always moving at 100 mph, but are still very happy to play together for hours on a foot-tall hay bale lined path.

We wandered around the village, catching a glimpse of a kid or two of ours along the way. At one point, Cora tapped me and requested a picture of her "sitting right here on this pumpkin like this."

Nailed it.

Then Claire decided she needed a solo shot.

Landon was annoyed they'd both taken a break from tag.

After deciding we'd seen all the pumpkins we needed to see, and watching many a harried parent try to wrangle their toddlers into a picture (been there! like this year when Cora decided pumpkins were terrifying and not to be touched or trusted. now I can just yell at them to assemble, snap a picture, and let them loose), we meandered on to our other favorite parts of the Arboretum.

Like the frog fountains.

Somewhat tucked back in a corner, these have been beloved by our crew from day one. Of course everyone has to touch the water and everyone has to get a little wet.

Watching, from a safe and dry place, makes me so happy.

Look at Cora's face- pure joy.

We continued on, James and I strolling, the kids racing up and back on the winding paths. We went to the lake, found many ponds, discovered new flowers and corners and paths we hadn't found before (or, more likely, had simply forgotten).

At my personal favorite spot- the tree arched walkway, we witnessed a proposal, complete with professional photographer and all the friends waiting in the wings. The girls thought it was amazing and Landon declared it embarrassing. It was a really beautiful spot and the bride-to-be looked surprised and delighted (and said yes immediately).

We walked some more. I joked to James that it's going to be weird when someday the kids slow down and actually walk with us. Except by then, they probably won't want to go with us at all? It's hard to imagine not traveling everywhere as a fast and laughing (and tagging) pack of five, but then I look at my 12-year-old mantween, and I feel like those years aren't really that far away. And they'll be fun too, but there's something special about traveling as a party pack and I'm committed to finding the time to do more of the little local adventures we used to do so often.

After we had our fill of pumpkins and gorgeous gardens, we went to our favorite Austin restaurant, Taco Deli, which has expanded to Dallas but refuses to come to Fort Worth. We ordered approximately 85 tacos (maybe 15) and devoured them all before James headed north for his meet and I headed west with the kids. As we took Maggie for a quick walk before Claire's volleyball game I did pause to admire our own great tree, which I adore even though we spent a million dollars a year keeping it trimmed and healthy and not crushing our house. But it's gorgeous isn't it? The house was built around it 80 years ago and I feel like we're just the temporary stewards, tasked with keeping it thriving for families to play under it for decades to come.

Apropos of nothing, but this feels like the right time for a mental health update. I was weaned off the anti-depressants in July and had my last therapy appointment in August. Things are good. I hesitated to write about the changes because I didn't want to make it seem that stopping the medication or the therapy were goals of mine or should be goals for anyone else. It's just another step. My therapist's number is still saved in my phone and I have no doubt I'll give her a call for check-ins every now and then. The medication enabled me to forge new pathways of thought and reaction in my brain that were absolutely unattainable for me without it and I am deeply grateful for a therapist and doctor who worked with me to find the right medicine (we tried three brands of the same thing; the first two made gave me vertigo, headaches, and/or heartburn, the third, magically, did not) and the right dose to both get on, maintain, and then slowly wean off. It's what worked for me.

I've always believed in therapy, and after going for over a year I will say that I believe in it even more, but one thing I think people should know, because I didn't, is that therapy is HARD. It is really hard. You go in because something is making you sad or angry or anxious or is otherwise serving as an impediment to your best self and happiness and you want that thing fixed. But your history, memories, behaviors, feelings and the other people who might make you feel those things aren't in therapy. Only you are and you're the only one who can change anything about how you feel or react to those things. And it's so hard. You have to be willing to face truths about yourself, your perceptions, the fallibility and feelings of those around you, and the role you may have played in memories that hurt you and/or truths about what you can change about them. It's not a panacea and it's not a cure-all, but you- the person who walked in the room because you want things to be better- you can get better, stronger, more forgiving, more flexible, more of whatever it is you need to stop having the barriers you're currently facing. But in that room, it begins and ends with you.

And so it's work and it's hard and I was mad at it the first few times I went, but now I'm so deeply grateful. I have a different view on many things and different expectations for others. I have purged past feelings and talked and planned and practiced my words. And the medication is what allowed my brain to pause long enough to put those new plans and practices into action. Rather than spiraling into angry anxiety at triggers I didn't even realize I had, I could pause, and think- what do I want to do/say next? How do I want this to go? Or when I couldn't sleep at night because I was caught up in something I couldn't stop thinking about, I could nudge it aside juuuuust enough to put a new thought there, or to view the (probably very old and very unchangeable) thing that was bothering me in a new light. And then- because the medicine helped me to not be caught in a fight-or-flight response I never realized was happening- I could take a tiny, powerful step in a different mental direction. And then slowly, with time and practice (and medicine!), those tentative steps became natural, and my adrenaline-induced reactions of anger or upset I never realized were based in anxiety began to take a new shape.

And so here I am, flexing my new mental pathways, free (or freer) from past hurts I wanted to get over but simply couldn't, and being a better me in a number of ways I had no idea I very much needed to be.

It's still work and I'm still working, but it's good. It's remarkably good.

And so were the pumpkins.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Catching Up, a String of Stories from Maggie the Bulldog

Hello friends! As usual these days, it's been forever, life is busy, blah blah, but here I am, sitting on the couch after a morning spent in Dallas at the Arboretum and an afternoon spent grocery shopping and attending Claire's volleyball game, before an evening at the ArtsGoggle street festival and feel like I should write something to take advantage of this moment. But Maggie just got herself out of bed and walked all the way over to where I'm sitting, and since nearly all my pictures from the last week are of her, I think I'll let her take it from here.

Hello internet humans! I'm Maggie, the deaf rescue bulldog. Soft and fluffy, sweet and wrinkly, I want you to know that I love you, even if I don't understand where you are and why you can't pet me.

So, on Fridays my mom works from home and it's my very favorite. I help her with her legal work and she helps me hold my head up in the air.

Two "mom is home" Fridays ago, the weather got very cold all of a sudden and it was SO GREAT. My mom was wearing everything fuzzy and put me in a cozy sweater and I took myself to the magical place where a fire appeared the last time it was cold outside.

Except, a fire did not appear. I waited around, just in case. You never know when wonderful things will happen! (I mean literally, I never know. Everything is a surprise when you're a dog and you can't hear anything and you have to sleep a lot and nothing wakes you up.)

But the fire did not come. I guess it wasn't quite that cold. I woke up at some point and my mom was still in her pj's typing away and I was looking oh so stylish in my sweater. I LOVE my clothes and I love when my mom puts them on me. I also love when I just sit and stare at her until she pets me. It never takes very long.

Later that day my family left the house with my big brother all dressed up. Something called Cotillion. It was Latin night and apparently he learned the cha cha. I don't know what that is, but I'm pretty sure you can eat it and if I was capable of being sad, I would be sad they didn't bring me any.

On Saturday, it was still chilly and I was feeling FRISKY. My mom was so excited to put me in my new puffer vest! I'm really feeling my new fall wardrobe. This is my majestic face.

This is the look I give when I want to look insecure to get extra pets. It's very effective.

Saturday was a really special day because my mom put together my new stroller and I got to go inside- with my snazzy vest- and then I got to go on the SUPER long walk that my family does on the weekends that I never get to go on.


I walked 3 whole miles in my stroller! My bigger sister was so proud of me. I'm proud of her too.

Later that afternoon my whole family got fancy and left the house for FOREVER. Or maybe like 4 hours. Whatever. As always, I pushed open the back door to go with them, pretended not to understand when they gestured me back in, and then had to be picked up and carried back into the house.

Then I ran to the back door to watch them go and stare at them like my heart is breaking. But actually I'm okay, I just went and took a nap and when I woke up again, they were already back!

Apparently they went to see a play at the children's theater where I can't go.

It was called Tuck Everlasting and they said it was amazing, even though I wasn't there.

And then they went out to a new fun hot chicken restaurant, that I also can't go to but it's fine really I'm not mad even though I too like hot chicken, and everyone said it was delicious. They were celebrating a round of report cards everyone seemed very happy about. They also ate ice cream cookie sandwiches. No one gave me one.

Later that night I showed I wasn't mad by helping my brother put away the gymnastics mat. I'm a giver.

On Sunday morning, we went on ANOTHER long walk and I loved it so much.

My dad said it was embarrassing but I know he's kidding.

It was so fun to get to explore the park we get to on the end of our long walk- I'd never been to the park! Good thing I'm an intrepid explorer dog now because I walked all the way down to the creek to check out the flora and fauna. But then I didn't want my paws to be dirty so I walked back up with my mom and watched. I'm a lady of leisure now and I don't have to get dirty if I don't want to.

I really love that I have a chariot and get to join in on these long walks now. Being with my humans makes my whole heart happy.

After we got home I had to rest my head for a little while.

And then my whole body.

I have a funny story. It's something my littler big sister said to my mom this week that made her laugh and shake her head a lot later:

Cora: Mom, so Leo in my class has a crush on me.
Mom: Awwww, that’s so sweet. Leo is cute!
Cora: No, mom, I mean, I think it’s just because I’m so pretty every day at school. You know, with my pony tails.
Mom: Right, sure, and maybe also because you’re so smart and funny and kind.
Cora, literally laughs at my mom. Knows it’s about the tiny pony tails. Declines to respond further.

I love my littler sister, and her pony tails.

On Wednesday my mom gave me a new outfit.

I'm a pumpkin spice bulldog and I love it.

Also on Wednesday I went out for a walk with my mom and my sisters and, filled with the vim and vigor of a nice fall evening, I ran and RAN around the front yard, maybe even 4-5 times and everyone was so proud of me. I'm so fit, invisible readers, and I am FEELING IT.

My parents' retired neighbors across the street stopped by just to say how proud they were of me, telling my mom, "when you first got her she didn't know how to play and now look at her! We loving watching her and she always makes us smile. She even barked from behind your gate the other day when we were walking by with our dog. We are so proud of her!"

I'm the happiest bulldog on the block and everyone loves me. Sometimes I still can't believe that's true, but then I see my family or one of my new friends and I know that it is.

On Friday it was my dad's birthday, so my mom let him sleep in and she handled the morning duties. You guys, she's clearly not used to this, but I helped. I sent my sisters off to school with a smile, but I must confess that I find it VERY CONCERNING when they leave the car. Why are the leaving the car? Why can't they stay with me in this contained space? It would very much be my preference.

My family went out to dinner to celebrate and I wasn't invited, but I thought everyone looked very nice before they left.

My humans love my dad an awful lot. He's turning 38, which is basically ancient, but he told my mom that he bench pressed the most he's ever bench pressed in his life earlier that day, so I guess my mom isn't ready to retire him.

After dinner there was a cake. It was funfetti, with half vanilla rainbow chip icing and half chocolate fudge. Nobody gave me a slice.

Not even when I was wearing my party hat.

There was the ceremonial exchanging of the colored cards that I can't read and a blowing out of fire that I found very odd, but everyone else seemed to enjoy.

Alright, now it's late and my mom is tired (or wait, maybe that's me). We wrote this in two parts and now it's way past my bedtime, but I want you all to know that I love you and I love my family and I'm so proud to be a rescue success story. Just a year ago I was still living at the vet clinic, trying to recover from my bedraggled, beat-up state after being dumped by a puppy mill. I had a fresh c-section scar, giant untreated wound on my side, heart worms, infected ears, infected eyes, infected tail, and still so much love in my heart. I'm so glad I have people to share it with and I'm so glad Lonestar Bulldog Club Rescue fixed me up and found them for me. I hope you all have the best week, remember that Maggie loves you.