How I Finally Took My Mother’s Advice (Kind Of)

(I published this on Linked In, but I thought it worth a share here, too.)

When I was in fourth grade, I came home from school, and found my mother in the kitchen.

“I’m going to be a writer when I grow up,” I announced.

My mother stopped whatever she was doing and turned to me. She got down to my level.

“Why don’t you go to pharmacy school, and you can write in your spare time?” she asked.

This idea was completely anathema to my plan to becoming a famous writer. It was like we were speaking two different languages.

Last week, I published a post on polypharmacy. It made me think of my mother and that long ago conversation, and then chuckle.

My mom is now enjoying her retirement. She was a pharmacist who, after years of working at the independent pharmacy she and my father started, branded herself a consultant, and started her own business. Her specialty was going into long-term care homes and reviewing patient charts to look for exactly what I had blogged about.

My mom reported possible dangerous drug interactions to the long-term care home nurses and physicians. She flagged patients who were probably taking too many medications, or taking medications they didn’t need to be taking any longer. She was working on polypharmacy and deprescibing long before such terms existed.

I went on to get my journalism degree at Duquesne University, which was my parents’ alma mater (it’s where they met). Being a journalist was invaluable to my current career as a marketer.

Also key to my success are my pharmacist parents, who encouraged each of their children to cultivate their strengths and their passions, which is how they ended up with a doctor (dermatologist), a chiropractor, and a writer.

I now work in the healthcare field, and no doubt many conversations with my parents, plus working a couple of summers as a delivery driver for their pharmacy, helped land me here. I still have that novel I’d like to see published, but writing about topics that I can also chat with my parents about when they visit is rewarding as well.

Thanks, Mom, for always cheering for me, and recognizing my passion was writing, and not organic chemistry!

What’s some advice your parents gave you that you ended up taking, if in a round-about way?

(I have told a version of this story before, with other good advice from my mom.)

#OhMichael, Age 7

Dear Michael,

When people found out I was pregnant with a boy, I got a lot of “just waits.” I was assured that boys were very different from girls, of which I already had two.

But I had a girl, and I had a KATE. I questioned how much more rambunctious a boy could be than his irrepressible soon-to-be big sister.
It turns out it’s more a matter of style than degree.

You are a little more physically active, a little less able to sit still, than the energetic, outgoing Kate. You are sweet and open and affectionate; you talk CONSTANTLY; and *usually* you are very self-assured. You have a very active imagination, and you can play by yourself or with others for hours, inside the house with action figures or outside in the yard with a stick.

When given the choice, you will wrestle and play with Kate. When not, especially if you’ve already been wrestling/playing with her, you will sulk, and then go on on your own.

Let’s talk about that sitting still thing for a hot minute. You don’t have any problems in school. You’ve been a slow reader, but I don’t think it’s because you can’t read. You like the straight-ahead facts of math, and are picking it up quickly. Your spelling is improving, although your handwriting is not.

But dinner time is a challenge for you. You take a bite, and jump up. On the plus side, you are a great eater, although you wouldn’t know it to look at you, my little string bean. But you really cannot keep your butt in your seat through a meal. For that matter, watching TV is not your strong point either. You are on the move.

And: it’s fine. I will try to do better and be less annoyed.

You love to laugh. You have strong emotions. You don’t like when things don’t go your way, just like every other child in the world, you can respond with anger, tears, or both.

You are… particular. As in, you prefer things a particular way. An egg sandwich has to be made just so. You like routine, which is something I find ironic because as a baby, you just went from place to place with us. You like information, and you like to know what’s next. Maybe that is a direct response to being dragged around as a baby when we had stuff to do.

You depend on your sisters, but you also needlessly antagonize them. I do believe the latter is part of the job description “Little Brother.” You and Kate are probably a little closer temperamentally than you and Flora, and so I think you prefer Kate. You love hanging out with Daddy, and whenever a project is afoot, you know your role: Stand-by guy. This means when Daddy tells you to fetch, hold, or carry something, you are there to do it.

But my favorite thing about you, little buddy, is how affectionate you are and continue to be. You will give hugs any time, in love, comfort, or gratitude. You say, “Thank you” to me often, even sometimes for little stuff like stopping for ice cream. You require Daddy snuggles at bedtime, and will wait up for them if you can.

You are my best boy. Keep growing, keep going, keep loving.

Happy birthday, Michael.

Love,
Mommy

How Not to Harass

Don’t touch another person. It is that simple. Especially if you are in a place of work, from a restaurant or a bar, to a corporate office. Keep your hands to yourself.

Don’t comment on another person’s body. Don’t comment on their weight or the way their clothing fits.
You can compliment a person without commenting on their body. “Those are cool shoes!” “Your hair looks great.” “Where did you get those leggings?” “I like that shirt.”

Don’t make sexual innuendos. You never know who will laugh and be amused, and who will be made uncomfortable – and even if someone laughs and is seemingly amused, he or she may simply be covering up their discomfort. They don’t want to be seen as a poor sport or viewed as without a sense of humor.

And don’t make sexual overtures at work. Don’t ask for dates, massages, or “private meetings.” Keep your clothes on.

++

I listen to these stories in the news – who’s been fired, who’s been harassed, who’s been raped or assaulted. Nearly every woman I know posted to the #MeToo campaign. (I did too.)

I am raising a son, and every day I teach him something else about consent. I tell my children to keep their bodies to themselves. I know he has a good example in his father, and in other men around him.

We let our children decide to hug someone (or not). My children are very naturally affectionate, so it’s more often me reminding them to ask if it’s okay to hug someone.

I am not teaching my children caution because I want them to be scared to touch or to be touched. I am teaching them consent, and how to ask for it or offer it, so that they recognize their own and others inherent bodily autonomy.

My body is mine. Your body is yours. Her body is hers, and his body is his.

Communication is key in consent. Asking and answering. It starts at home, listening to our children when they aren’t in the mood to hug or cuddle, or wrestle for that matter.

++

Stop treating women and girls like they are disposable. Stop protecting men acting badly – even if they don’t do anything to you.

Girls and women exist in their own right. We aren’t decoration or entertainment. We have just as much right to decide how to live our lives and how to move through the world in our bodies without having to fight every day. For the right to speak. For the right to be heard. For the right to not be commented upon or touched.

If we just acted like every person was a person – with complete autonomy, and worthy of respect and dignity, how much better the world would be.

Time for an Update

1. Therapy is going well.

2. Lexapro did NOT go well, and after only three days, with my doctor’s permission, I ditched it. The side effects were pretty awful, but for three blissful days, I didn’t have anxiety. (Just insomnia, tremors, and nightsweats!) I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor to see about trying something else. Although, I have to say, the anxiety in general has been lower. I think because I am starting to process some trauma (see #1).

3. In the “Acting Like a Responsible Adult” category, I had my very first mammogram. It wasn’t as horrible as I feared.

4. In the “Not Acting Like a Responsible Adult” category, I spent last night eating Chipotle in front of Jane the Virgin on Netflix. I also drank two beers.

I did not have to take care of anyone last night. Dan and the children are in Virginia; I am joining them this evening.

It was kind of nice to not have to take care of anyone for a night.

5. I am not cooking anything Thanksgiving Day — I am showing up at my sister’s (with Dan and the children). I will probably help clean up after dinner, though. I mean, I can’t do NOTHING.

6. With some luck, I will gift you all with a post-Thanksgiving rant about what I am traumatized about (edited for my parents’ well being).

7. Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for online and IRL friends; family, both immediate and extended; and a good career. Be safe, eat well, drink some good drinks.

What are you thankful for this year?

Flora: You’re a Teen!

Dear Flora,

I really need to start writing these birthday letters ahead of time. I have been thinking of this letter since Friday, but we had a good and busy birthday weekend for you. A visit from your partner in drawing, which included an illustration of you; out to lunch and a Michael’s visit with your nonna and pap-pap; mall time and dinner with friends. Then Sunday, bacon for breakfast, a movie (okay, Casablanca, so this one was for daddy), and your chosen dinner of beefy cheesy macaroni, peas, and chocolate cake.

Your first official teen year finds you with a solid moral center and a great belief in right and wrong. We started watching LOST with you (you have a great love of the mysterious and supernatural), and boy oh boy. You have some opinions about how people should act!

I think this goes for the world outside of television as well. You and your friends seem keenly aware of the social issues and challenges facing you all as girls in this world. You are straddling the space between being a child (see the Charmander you chose at Build-a-Bear) and being a teen (see the chokers from Hot Topic). You are loyal to your friends, and you will stick up for them no matter what. So far, you have disdained romantic entanglements; you don’t even like people to hint at them with you.

School is not the highest priority for you. You love science and your science teacher, and in reading, you are learning a great appreciation for storytelling, but other than that? Homework gets done and things are checked off. You had a virus that held you out of school for nearly a week, and you were clearly frustrated that you were expected to do the work you missed.

While you have strong feelings, I can see you trying not to let them rule you. You try so hard to be fair and thoughtful. Your siblings definitely challenge you the most in this area. You are quiet and introspective, but you can be goofy. You love to laugh, and I love watching your humor develop. You can appreciate puns as well as more subtle forms of humor, and girl, your giggle is still among my top favorite sounds in the entire world.

I know that you doubt yourself at times, and I know you don’t want to disappoint anyone, especially me or your father. I am here to tell you: You are doing great. Cultivate your strengths. Continue to be curious and develop your talents. Continue to be kind to everyone around you, and stand your ground when challenged.

I got you, girl. I love you, and I am so proud of you.

Love,
Mom

Image “baby cactus” by Flora, one of her first watercolors

Be. Here. Now.

This has become my mantra as of late. Especially when I feel the anxiety coming on, the tightness cinching around my chest.

Deep breath, ‘be here now’ in my head, and an assessment of my surroundings. What can I see? What can I hear? Do i have hot coffee or cold water to anchor me?

In therapy, I describe a terrible event — a worst case scenario of what I was sure was going to happen because i forgot to so something on my to-do list. Things cascade until I am living in my parents’ basement, slowly killing myself with cigarettes and bad food.

My therapist studies me. “That’s a little extreme,” she says.

“RIGHT?” I say. And then i burst into tears.

Crying is good. I don’t like crying, it’s not my favorite. Not crying is better, in my opinion. But I think crying is progress.

My therapist thinks I have an unresolved trauma that is causing the catastrophic thoughts. She wants me to explore mindfulness.

Be. Here. Now.

I go in for my annual physical. (I am an adult; I schedule annual physicals now!) I get a flu shot. I talk to my doctor, whom I like, a lot, about anti-anxiety medications. I ask about Xanax. She says she can prescribe that if I want, but it’s not her first suggestion. She likes Lexapro as a first line.

A drug like Xanax, she says, or ativan or klonopin, “chases the anxiety.” That is, when the anxiety starts, it’s what you take to try to stop it. An SSRI, like Lexapro, can prevent the anxiety from starting. It’ll even things out, smooth things over.

We talk about side effects, and a make plan for the next six months.

Even just knowing I have a prescription to fill creates a lightness in me. We have a plan. I have a way to manage.

Be here now.

I have a lot of work to do. What is the trauma or traumas i still have to process? What does mindfulness look like for me? Will medication help me figure this out, smooth the edges so I can work on a way to make my life into what I want without meds, with manageable anxiety?

Copyright for featured image: mantinov / 123RF Stock Photo

An Unsolicited Review of Thor: Ragnarok

In truth this isn’t a review of the movie. I enjoyed it immensely; it was an an unabashed romp through the Marvel world of Asgard. It’s fun when Chris Hemsworth gets to be funny! Tessa Thompson as a alcohol-swilling, over-the-shoulder winking, badass Valkyrie was a treat! And while Cate Blanchett will always be the elf queen Galadriel, it was delightful to watch her chew up the scenery as Hela.

Just one scene in the movie gave me pause, actually took me out of it for a moment. It is toward the end (so, spoiler alert). In it, Karl Urban, who plays Skurge, a glorified janitor in Asgard, leaps into action wielding two weapons from Earth. I don’t know enough about guns to be sure, but I guess they are meant to be semi-automatic rifles. As he explains earlier in the movie to two Asgardian ladies, he got them from Mid-World, from a territory called “Tex-ass.”

“I named them Des and Troy,” Skurge explains. “Because when you put them together, you get ‘Destroy’.”

While throughout the movie, Skurge plays reluctant henchman to Hela, in this final scene, he is attempting to smuggle himself aboard a spaceship to get away from Hela and the destruction of Asgard, which is known as Ragnarok, in case your Norse mythology is rusty. Same concept as the Christian Armageddon. As the people try to escape, Hela’s army of undead warriors is attempting to climb into the ship and lay waste.

Skurge looks around him and sees families with children huddling in fear. He whips off his disguise to reveal his guns, strides toward the warriors, and starts firing.

And just like that, I was no longer entertained. I sat there wondering if the guns were supposed to be semi-automatic or automatic. If Skurge had picked up modified weapons. Las Vegas was barely a month old; the night we went to the theater, a gunman in Texas had mowed down people IN A CHURCH. And I was sitting next to my 6-year-old son, who is old enough to think guns are cool, but has no idea about how destructive they truly are.

Now, it’s hardly Marvel’s fault that I wasn’t crazy about that part of the movie, that I found it troubling and almost inappropriate. Nevertheless, here we are. Urban was unwittingly cast as the “good guy with a gun” — two of them! — that the NRA drools about all the time.

The scene didn’t work for me. It’s still bugging me three days later. The whole narrative about guns in this country is endlessly troubling to me.

Gun owners such as the guy in Las Vegas just like guns, and for some reason he decided to use his to kill a bunch of people. I bet he didn’t have a motive beyond that. The man in Texas saw his guns as a way to solve a problem, presumably; he was in a spat with his mother-in-law. Never mind that his in-laws weren’t even at service.

Guns are instruments of war, especially the types of guns being used these days in mass shootings. Something for Americans to think about: On American soil, who are we fighting?

Copyright for featured image: chutimakuanamon / 123RF Stock Photo

TV with a Teen

I don’t remember how it came about, but after Stranger Things was released last year, and I watched the whole thing, then watched the whole thing with Dan, I asked Flora if she was interested in it.

She was.

So then, Flora, Dan and I watched it together.

Earlier this year, Dan proposed watching LOST with Flora. (We have the DVD set.) She was game.

And now, of course, we are watching Stranger Things 2 (NO SPOILERS). As of this post, we are on episode 7.

It’s pretty great to watch TV with Flora.

1. She has a solid moral core, and it is very much in evidence, especially as we watch LOST. Sawyer is a jerk, Jack is a hero, Kate is complicated. Flora loves Charlie, and finds his drug habit distressing and disappointing. (We just watched the episode where that was resolved.) Shannon is selfish; Sayid is smart – I could go on. We’ve explained to her that each of the characters goes through a moral arc. So pay attention.

2. Her loyalty and affection are much more evident when we watch Stranger Things 2. She is utterly convinced that Will is going to die. (DON’T TELL ME.) I think the romantic story line involving Nancy her least favorite part of the show.

3. It has been EXTREMELY CHALLENGING to not binge watch Stranger Things 2. (Having seen all of LOST, it is not that hard for Dan and me to parse it out episode by episode.) However, since season 2 came out on Friday October 27, we have held it to one episode a night… Although now that I am typing this, maybe we did watch two episodes on Saturday.

Anyhoo, Netflix is designed for binge watching, I get that. I do not miss network television; waiting a week between episodes; commercials. But in reality, more than an hour or two of television isn’t something my schedule can accommodate.

4. FLTOG, please stop talking during the show, Flora. (You too, Dan.)

The other day she was poking around on Netflix, and she watched the pilot episodes of both Parks & Recreation and The Office. I let her know that those are probably not shows appropriate to her. “I have a couple of friends who said they were funny,” she told me. Still, I think I will make her wait on those. I tried to get her into Supergirl (I’ve heard good things), but she declined.

Here are my protests to The Office and Parks & Rec (both of which I have watched, and do find funny): the storylines stray into office interactions that include, overtly or not, sexual harassment. I don’t want my almost 12-year-old watching that and thinking it’s normal or a part of life. (Even though, until quite recently, it seemed to be normal and accepted as a part of life.)

So we will continue to watch Stranger Things and LOST with Flora, and we will find a show to watch with Kate as well (suggestions welcome!). She’s not ready for either Stranger Things (although she thinks she is) or LOST. And she’s not into superhero shows. I’m not really sure what’s out there for her. (Michael watches The Flash. I am not 100 percent convinced that he knows what all is going on, but it also seems like harmless entertainment.)

Do you watch TV with your children? Do you enjoy it?

The Exorcist, Axe Murder Hollow, and Bad Choices

In high school, I worked part-time at a local business called Home Video Exchange, a place that rented out movies on VCR tapes. It was the precursor to Blockbuster. (Anyone remember Blockbuster? Yea, verily, the long ago days before streaming everything.)

Every now and again, I’d choose something to take home myself. We were allowed free rentals of anything we wanted, except for new releases. I brought home Pink Floyd’s The Wall one time, and watched it with my brother… and my dad. Super awkward. I rented About Last Night, and got in trouble with my parents for that one.

And one summer evening after my high school graduation, I rented The Exorcist.

I don’t know what possessed me.

*pause for laughter*

I invited some friends over, and we watched it in my parents’ finished basement. Cast of characters: Alicia, Hope, Tim, and my post-prom-date, then-boyfriend Mike.

And then, after we watched what is arguably the most terrifying movie in the history of movies, we decided to go to the most haunted (allegedly haunted) site in Erie, PA: Axe Murder Hollow.

As with many smaller towns, Erie has an infamous, apocryphal murder. It took place more than 60 years ago. The way I heard it is that a local farmer lost his mind and chopped his family into bits, then killed himself. Other stories say the motive for the murder was that the farmer’s wife was stepping out, and he killed her and her lover. With an axe.

Either way: Axe. Murder. Hollow.

Mike knew where it was, so we piled into his beater, and drove out there. We weren’t even drinking.

As we descended the road that lead into the hollow, my friend Hope said, from the back seat, “Oh my god, did you see that gypsy woman standing on the side of the road?”

The other four of us said no, we hadn’t.

Hope was a little freaked out. “The farmer murdered his family because he was cursed. He wouldn’t let the gypsies camp out for the night in his field, and this old gypsy woman put a curse on him. He went berserk.”

That pretty much unsettled everyone. “Maybe we should just turn around,” I said to Mike.

“We’re here anyway,” Mike announced. He stopped the car.

And then he shut it off.

This did not go over well with the female contingent in the car. Tim and Mike had a few yuks at our expense, and Mike said, “Okay, okay, we’ll go.”
He turned the key.

Nothing happened.

“You better not be fucking around,” I said shrilly.

“I’m not, I swear,” Mike answered. He tried the key again.

Nothing.

There was a lot of yelling at that point. Even Tim was like, “Get us out of here, man!”

The car started, and we peeled out.

++

Mike called me the next day.

“My car didn’t start this morning,” he said.

“You’re kidding me.”

“I swear, I’m not. I had to get it towed to the garage. When I told them it wouldn’t start last night they pointed out [car-related thing that was broken]. They said I was lucky it had started up again at all.”

I didn’t see Mike too much after that.

++

I guess if there’s a moral of the story, it’s, “Don’t visit a haunted place after watching a horror movie.” Or maybe it’s, “Don’t shut off the car if you drive to a haunted site.”

Either way, if you visit Erie this Halloween, there’s this place where this weird thing happened…

Copyright for featured image

This was originally published by my friend Kim Z. Dale at her blog Listing Toward Halloween, at ChicagoNow. You should head there for lots more Halloween themed fun and chills.

When Anxiety Attacks, Part II

I have intrusive thoughts. Aside from my insomnia, it’s probably the biggest symptom of my anxiety.

Last night, after going to therapy again, I had a panic attack in the parking lot. Then around 2 a.m. this morning, I awoke from a dream — a nightmare, essentially. I was on a walk around the neighborhood with my children. Michael was way ahead of us. He came across what looked like construction equipment, and climbed up on it. It looked like someone was cutting branches off trees.

Well, he climbed up on a platform full of bark and woods. I called to him to get down from there, and even as I was shouting, he got dumped into a nearby dumpster full of branches and leaves and bark. Fortunately, he was able to climb out. I woke from the dream with a start, and my VERY FIRST THOUGHT WAS: “What if that were a wood shredder instead of just a dumpster?”

THANKS, STUPID ANXIETY BRAIN. Next, it wanted me to catalog all the ways my children could die, with getting hit by a car at the top of the list. While I watch helplessly, naturally.

I don’t remember what I did to shut it down, but it worked. I think I just said, “No. No I am not doing this. Everyone is fine, and sleeping, and go away, anxiety brain.”

Dan has given me a couple of tricks to try, as has #LadyTwitter. One woman on Twitter had me focus on my immediate surroundings. “Are you standing or sitting down?” she tweeted at me. “What is the room temperature like? Have you eaten anything recently?”

One of Dan’s tactics is similar. “Tell me five things you can see, and what color they are. Now, tell me four things you can hear…”, three you can smell, two you can feel/touch, one you can taste. There’s an alphabet one, as well: one syllable word that starts with A, B, C, etc.; then two syllable words, three syllable words, etc.

Plus, the things I know to do myself, of course: deep breaths. Yoga, guided meditation. Progressive muscle relaxation.

Maybe I’m just a hormonal, cliche of a Gen X woman, and this is my mid-life crisis. While the possibility is a little depressing, it also doesn’t help me to know that I’m not alone.

Anyway, here I am, anxiety attacks after therapy, intrusive thoughts, and insomnia.

How YOU doing?