Birthday

(Yes, it’s today.)

For this next trip around the sun, I am focusing on a couple of things.

1. Managing my anxiety.

This is the biggest task for me on a personal level this year. My goal is to focus on what I have control of, and, you know, control it. What’s that old chestnut? The Serenity Prayer. Yeah, that.

2. Writing.

I did not write much last year, and after the burst of excitement I had from “finishing” my novel, I didn’t make much progress on publishing, either. I need to find a way of getting back to this.

3. Fun with family.

My children are getting older, which YAY!, but which also means I feel like I need to focus a little more on connecting with them over and above: Hey, it’s time for you to do these chores. Yes, we need to parent them well, with appropriate boundaries, but we also need room for roller skating and movie going.

4. Managing money and (FOR REAL THIS YEAR) doing stuff about the house.

5. Something outside of me.

I need to find a vehicle for me to be an active part of helping people, either via the political process or through volunteering. I mentioned this recently, and I am still open to suggestions. Writing letters and calling my representatives were exercises in frustration; and I already vote and donate (a little bit) to candidates I support.

So, anyway, happy birthday to me. My plans for the day include dinner out with the children and Dan, brownies, and a new cookbook.

Copyright for Buddha image: sofiaworld / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright for cake image: rojoimages / 123RF Stock Photo

Favorites

Today is one of my favorite days in the whole year. (Shame it happens so early in the year most years.)

Each Christmas, my parents give my SIL and me a Macy’s gift card. The SIL and I make a date, usually around my birthday, to shop at Macy’s. We hit up the clearance racks, and we hit them up hard. I usually have to talk her into buying color (she likes her beiges and blues; I try to get her to buy reds or greens). She usually likes what I pick out, although she is also honest enough to say she likes it on ME, but wouldn’t buy it for herself.

Some years we get lunch, too. This year, we are actually going to meet our husbands out for dinner. That will be nice. Many times, when my parents come to town, it’s for an event that we would have to all see each other anyway. So having dinner just the four of us, for the heck of it, is a treat.

Neither my SIL or I are extravagant spenders or fancy-pants dressers. She doesn’t currently work outside the home, although between volunteering at her boys’ schools (they have four boys, ages 16 to 8) and at her parish, she’s not exactly a house-bound, housewife by any stretch. We try on jeans, shirts, sweaters, and pants; I usually look for work-appropriate skirts and dresses, and I am always on the lookout for something a little funky, a little fun. Sometimes I splurge on jewelry to match an outfit — it’s the only way I get coordinating jewelry. One year, I got a pair of Guess boots for $27.

We mostly talk about the children and extended family. My SIL is fun. She’s a little more conservative than I (both she and my brother are more conservative), and no, I don’t know who they voted for. But we have a good time.

My brother is… he’s deeply funny. It’s kind of hard to describe him. He’s very quiet. He doesn’t have a big personality. He is probably one of the smartest people I know. I can’t think of a time we spent together (as adults) that I thought, “Ugh, that was torture.” I wish we saw each other more. He gets worked up about sports, and loves his Steelers and Penguins. He loves to read, and manages to get through more books than I do. If he recommends something, I usually try to check it out.

I think we share some core values, values we were raised with, about the value of people and Catholic values regarding loving one another. He is loyal, family-oriented, sarcastic but not mean. We share the same tastes in music.

My brother and I are NOT opposites. If anything, Dan and my brother are opposites. They are passionate about different things, smart about different things, and where my brother is reserved, Dan wears his heart on his sleeve.

That’s what we will probably talk about at dinner with each other, books and movies, music, children. We’ll make fun of each other, but not in a mean way. We’ll share good food and good beer. I am looking forward to it.

Then on Sunday, another annual ritual. My husband and I bought the building he works in from a couple, one of whom is a colleague of Dan’s from Duquesne. He is semi-retired, and brought Dan into his practice several years ago; we signed the lease on the Crafton building soon after Michael was born. Each year, this couple take us out to dinner to celebrate the occasion. We always go to Bella Fruttetta, and the food is always excellent. The couple usually orders the same thing every year; Dan usually gets a special, and I try to change it up if they have a new vegetarian entree on the menu.

But it is another good night of lively conversation, some reminiscing, and a celebration of sharing. Sharing lives and paths, food and drink.

This is why we are here — and I do mean this in the larger philosophical sense. To share, to cross paths and find people with whom you share values. We don’t choose our family, it is true, and I realize how blessed I am to have family I love and enjoy being with. And then I am doubly blessed to have a tribe outside of my family, of like-minded friends.

We will raise glasses and toast to our good fortune (and, possibly, wish for the impeachment of a President), and for this weekend, it will be enough. It will be what I do for myself in 2018, and gather strength to do more hard work.

Salute.

What will you raise a glass to this weekend?

Perspective

Friday night, at approximately 11:55, Michael puked.

My first thought was, “Not something ELSE.”

Dan got up, and helped me deal with the vomit, and we got Michael cleaned up. I put him in our bed (with a garbage can to the ready); Dan went to sleep on the couch; and I read for a bit until I could fall asleep.

Michael threw up again at 2:30 (which necessitated another change of sheets and another shower), then at 6:30 and 7:30. Those two latter times, he managed to get most of it in the garbage can. “Hey, at least I didn’t get any on the bed!” he happily pointed out.

Saturday, I was not feeling at the top of my game. Flat tires, sick children, other inconveniences were on my mind, and I was disgruntled that 2018 did not seem to be fantastic at a mere three weeks in.

But upon reflection, I realized that my problems are minor bumps in a fairly smooth road. (Knock on wood.) We are starting the year much as it ended: a mostly healthy family, a roof over our heads, and money coming in from jobs we enjoy. So flat tires and a little puke are a small price to pay.

It made me think of people far less fortunate. We are not being actively harmed by the current administration. When I heard about the “religious freedom” protections being promoted by Health and Human Services, I was horrified. Policies like this one are going to have devastating impacts on certain populations, primarily LGBTQ+ people, and women who want access to family planning and reproductive healthcare.

My idea of religious freedom is that I get to practice my religion, not that I get to impose my religious values on others.

++

We have implemented Circle at our house, and it has not been a popular decision. However, Dan and I are sticking to our guns on this one.

Implementation has been rocky. Flora didn’t have Wi-Fi access the hours we set up for her (3:30 to 9 p.m.) the first couple of days we were using Circle. Dan set it up, and I’m not sure what happened. Her frustration was palpable, to say the least.

When she complained about it for the fourteenth time — she was bored! She couldn’t talk to her friends! — I got a little snippy. “I’m sorry you are missing your phone, but how do you think people in Puerto Rico feel? Some of them still don’t have electricity.”

“I know, I know,” Flora said. “Believe me, I know I have it good. I’m just frustrated.”

“I’m glad you know you have it good,” I said. “We just have to wait until Dad gets home so he can figure this out for you.”

I know how good I have it. My struggle now is: How do I go about making change for the people who DON’T have it good? I feel like I have a responsibility above and beyond food and clothing donations. My exercise last year in writing letters and making calls was extraordinarily frustrating. My Republican representatives simply did. not. care. (One of them had to retire because it turned out that he urged his possibly-pregnant mistress to consider abortion. Family values, my friends!) I felt utterly impotent.

Something I am trying to do for my mental health is to focus on things I can control. So, while I can’t actively impeach the President, or make my Republican Senator heed my wishes, I need ideas about what I can do. I toy with ideas of volunteering, maybe with the children? Where would my efforts be best used?

Ideas welcome.

Finances are tight, so donating money isn’t really on the table. But I should be able to donate time, and my voice, and use my voice to amplify other voices.

If you have ideas for me, leave them in the comments.

Yes

What does a non-coercive sexual encounter look like?

Simple: It is two people saying yes to each other.

Let’s be clear about something: sex isn’t the end game here. Dating, sex, and relationships happen on a continuum. Sure, one-night stands happen; sometimes they are even the desired outcome.

One should still get consent. I would venture to say, even, that women and men can be clear about their intentions of having a one-night stand. “I’m not looking for a relationship, but you’re cute and I’m feeling frisky.” This way, no one’s waiting for a phone call.

We don’t need signed affidavits for consensual sex. The #MeToo movement isn’t going to ruin dating, flirting, or sex.

What a lot of men are just starting to realize is that the sexual interactions they are used to having aren’t necessarily fun for women. Outside of the troubling power dynamics of sexual harassment at the office, and outside outright assault and rape, there are still troubling interactions, messaging, and treatment that needs to be parsed.

We shouldn’t be afraid of this.

I once heard it said, “Sex is like pizza. Guys never have bad pizza.”

This isn’t true for women. Women get bad pizza sometimes. We are more vulnerable, and we’ve been conditioned from the youngest ages to go along to get along. It isn’t until we are in unpleasant sexual situations that we realize that it’s not going to work to our advantage.

++

Expanding on a point I made the other day:

“Traditional ideas about seduction rely on tropes of women withholding sex and men working hard to get it. It’s a narrow notion of heterosexuality — one that does a good job excusing abusive behavior…. [W]hen it’s considered ‘natural’ for men to doggedly pursue women — even those have made it clear they’re not interested — we make it easier for a predator to claim he was just following a normal romantic script.” (source)

Having this conversation about affirmative consent isn’t going to kill dating and romance. It doesn’t mean that men have to sit back until women make the first move, either.

It means take no for an answer, the first time, every time.

It means when she starts saying yes, make sure she still is saying yes minutes, and hours, and days later. Maybe even years!

“But some women like playing hard to get.”

Okay, I hear what you are saying. But the idea that she’s just playing hard to get cannot be the default position. As someone who never played hard to get, this argument falls flat with me.

If you are dating a woman, or a woman has decided to take you home/go home with you, now is time not to push ahead at all costs. If you don’t know if she’s having second thoughts, just ask. Open it up! “Is this okay? What do you want to do?” Check in.

Frankly, many women would benefit from learning more about their own bodies and their own desire. Sexual education, whether in the classroom or in pop culture, centers on boys. Boys have orgasms and pleasure; girls get pregnant. Sexual education for girls is about our period, and how not to be mortified by our body.

I have many more thoughts about this, so if you’re still interested, stay tuned. But this is the takeaway from this post, for men AND women, boys AND girls: Let us learn the language of desire, and learn what “yes means yes” looks like in action. The agonizing going on now by people who don’t want anything to change is worthless. Let’s see some change.

Consent

Mom, Dad, other family members, you may not want to read this one. I have some strong opinions about #MeToo, consent, and assault. This post includes some info about me you may not want to know. And/Or: Trigger warning. Portrayals of unpleasant sexual situations ahead.

So, it seems that an account of a woman who went on a date with Aziz Ansari is muddying the waters. This is akin to what happened when Sen. Al Franken and Garrison Keillor were accused of assault. It’s a mix of “NO, not this guy, whom I like!” and “Wait, is that assault?”

Call it assault, call it a bad date, call it coercion. It is far too common, and this is why the discussions about MeToo don’t stop now, they keep going. We don’t dismiss this woman’s account because she didn’t get to choose the wine she preferred. We say, “Okay, what do men do when they find themselves in a situation with a woman, and the signals change?”

Reading the account was unpleasant for me, and I would guess for many women. Many of us have been on bad dates, have been in situations where we did things we didn’t want to do. I’m going to call it coerced consent.

“If I do this, he’ll let me go home.” Oh, and if you’re thinking, “Just leave!” Where am I? What neighborhood am I in? Did I drive? Are buses running? Would I know where to catch one? Do I have the money in my bank account to grab an uber? Am I drunk?

“If I do this, he won’t get mad at me.” Man, I really like this guy. We’ve been on a couple of dates. I still would like to hang out with him. If I do this, maybe we can still hang out together. If I do this, maybe he won’t bad mouth me to his friends/our peer group. If I do this, he won’t hurt me.

“I said no. Why isn’t he stopping? I’m not touching him anymore, I’m turning my head away. I’m pushing him. WHY WON’T HE STOP?” Because he’s drunk. Because he thinks you’re just kidding. Because you’ve been leading him on, and now you have to put out. Because you’ve had sex before, so why not now?

++

Yes, bad dates happen. With any luck, they don’t end at the man’s apartment, with him not getting your cues, and you wondering how to get out of the situation.

When I was first starting out in the world of dating-with-sex, I stumbled into these kinds of situations. I was uncomfortable, I was unsure of what I wanted to do, I wondered how to stop things without coming off as frigid, or a bitch; I didn’t want to be unpleasant. (And, let’s not forget, I was actually raped.)

Now, eventually, I worried far less about what these men thought of me. I became confident in asserting my boundaries (not just sexually, but professionally, and so on), and sticking to them. Please note, this doesn’t mean that I radically curtailed my social life, or my drinking, or stopped going home with men I was interested in having sex with. But it does mean: I drew some hard lines, and was able to assert them, and chose guys that respected them.

This young woman who found herself in the situation with Ansari will learn her boundaries, and take a lesson from her weird, coercive encounter with him. Most women who have this bad of an experience — and that is most women — will.

This is what the discussion needs to be about going forward:

1. Women have bodily autonomy and voices that should be heard. Women are people, not playthings, not sperm depositories, not opportunities to have sex.

Women. Are. People.

2. Stop portraying romance as “guy chases girl, girl says no, guy harasses girl — even if it’s ‘cute’, even if he’s kind of a nerd — girl finally gives in, and dates boy because he’s really a sweet guy who has her best interests at heart.”

Guy asks girl out, girl says no, end of story. For an example — for several examples of treating women as objects that just need to be talked into saying yes, see Love, Actually. Don’t do any of those things.

3. Instead of coerced consent, let’s work on continual affirmation. Is it that difficult to say, “Is this okay? How about this? What do you want to do now?” Girls and boys can both learn this, the language of desire, the language of YES.

4. Women are not sexual gatekeepers. Men are not sexual animals. Relationships are two-way streets. This practice of coerced consent is harmful for boys and girls, men and women. It limits us to narrow, specific, and unpleasant roles. It gives us bad experiences. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

How else do we teach consent?

Metaphor

On January 2, the children’s first day back at school, my car had a flat tire.

via GIPHY

Fortunately, we have a portable air compressor, so we just filled the tire back up. We filled it up three more days that week before Dan could get it to the mechanic.

In the meantime, the children had delays and cancellations due to frigid temperatures and even colder wind chill factors.

via GIPHY

And then the pipes at home froze. Then they thawed, and I accidentally flooded the kitchen. The thermostat at Dan’s office stopped working.

And my brakes went bad. (Not catastrophically while I was driving, fortunately.)

So far, 2018 has got me like:

via GIPHY

I just want a normal day. No sudden need to work from home (although, thank goodness I can usually work from home if I need to). No more delays; I’m sure the children feel differently. No more house problems or car problems.

I get up and go to work. They children get up and go to school. Dan goes to his office. Weekends are for rolling skating and errand running, not problem solving. And all is well.

It seems like that is a lot to ask so far in 2018. And don’t even get me started on Mr. “Fire and Fury” president and Oprah in 2020. What did quiet news days used to look like? What did functioning government and world respect used to feel like? I want to go back to those days, when class and calm competence was the order of the day in the White House. Even when Congress was obstructing order, at least it wasn’t colluding with corruption and incompetence.

Oh, America of 2015, how I miss you.

HOW’S YOUR 2018 GOING? TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD.

Kate, Still Great, Now Also 11

Oh. My. Gosh.

My dear girl, my dear Kate,

A few words to describe you: sweet, fierce, loyal, thoughtful and loving. 

On the downside, you can lose your temper and take offense pretty darn quickly. We have to work on your tendency to put words into other people’s mouths, or assume that someone is out to hurt your feelings.

When you are in a good mood, you share it. You love making people laugh. You are still my cuddly girl. You are goofy and fun. 

You work hard in school, and it is paying off. You have a close circle of friends. I am happy you decided to join the drama club. It’s the perfect outlet for your energy and creative nature.

And as a final positive note on your birthday, you are a great gecko mom. You simply love Baby. You take good care of him, keep his cage clean, and make sure he has crickets and water. You are such a good pet mom you keep asking for another pet. You want either a bird or a tarantula. I am not ready to commit to the former, and it’s a hard no on the latter.

I love you. Keep working hard. Keep making people laugh.

Happy birthday, baby girl.

Love,

Mom

Year In Review: The Rough Spots

My family and I made it through 2017 without physical or financial troubles hitting us, and for that I am very grateful. (Dan had a health scare in March that was not fun.) It was not the easiest year in terms of stress or anxiety, however, so I’m not willing to give it a five-star rating as far as years go.

I have always been aware that there are many things in my life that are beyond my control, but this year pushed me into (or back into) the realm of anxiety and panic attacks because the number of things beyond my control became a little too much to handle. My children are getting older, and they have a lot of independence. The national news scene was downright exhausting, with a BREAKING NEWS event seemingly every hour. I called my representatives in Congress, often to no avail (two Republicans, and one Democrat).

My therapist pointed out that I seem to be suffering from an unresolved trauma. I don’t think I ever got over the 2016 election, and this year has not left time nor space to process it. Every. Single. Day. is a national embarrassment, a democratic crisis, a middle finger to the population that stands against the current Washington administration.

My anxiety abruptly skyrocketed at the end of August as the children went back to school. Brutal insomnia. Panic attacks that left me struggling for breath, or sobbing on the couch.

I sought therapy. I sought medication (that didn’t go well). I am taking some supplements that are helping, either because they are helping or they are creating a placebo effect – which is helping. I focused on things I could control and I am communicating my wants and needs to my children and with my husband.

#MeToo happened, and that has brought a lot of things to the fore for me. Because, me too.

I am continuing to try to fight the good fight. I just went through my blog, reviewing the year, and a goodly number of my posts are Letters to Congress. With more to come, no doubt.

In the middle of this month, I abruptly became more depressed than anxious, but I have persevered.

The holidays were good. The days are getting longer. A new year looms.

We can do this.

What was hardest for you this year?

S.A.D. or Just Normal (with an Asterisk)?

The past two-three weeks, I have been dragging. Dragging myself out of bed. Dragging myself to the gym. Dragging myself around the house to get stuff done.

My preference at home is to do as little as possible. Meals have been half-hearted. I have eaten many of them in front of the television with my children. (Kate, Michael, and I enjoyed Zumbo’s Just Desserts.) I am lethargic and unmotivated.

On Saturday, I had a to-do list as long as my arm.

And the sun came out.

I was energized, focused, and getting stuff done. I was not dragging. I even arranged an impromptu lunch with my husband; it included bloody Marys. I kept myself going until 10 p.m. that night.

I mentioned the dragging thing and the sunlight thing to Dan.

“Do you think you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder?” he asked.

Do I think that? No, not really. I think this time of year is hard for many reasons, including and not limited to:

  • Cold weather and gray skies
  • Too much to do for too many people in too little time
  • Grief and its complications
  • Short days, long nights
  • Zero time to myself

Do I feel better when the sun is out? Yes, yes I do. Today, I even made a point of going outside because the air was mild and the sun was shining. A little boost of energy and vitamin D, less dragging of self to gym.

Also, let’s face it, it’s been a tough year. I have a couple of end-of-the-year posts I want to do, including the good things from this year.

I am having a hard time thinking of good things from this year. My big highlight is: everyone in my family is healthy. Which is no small thing, to be sure. Not everyone is so fortunate. (And, believe you me, I am praying for those people.)

Those little bursts of sunshine are going to keep me going, people. What’s going to keep you keeping on this time of year?

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.)