not a day has passed
i haven’t found you in trees,
their limbs streched like veins
Cross posted on my sister site, As Many Loves As Stars In The Sky.
not a day has passed
i haven’t found you in trees,
their limbs streched like veins
Cross posted on my sister site, As Many Loves As Stars In The Sky.
In the midst of the general death and destruction wrought by Covid-19, a grown woman took the time to complain on social media that she would not have a birthday party this year. She was devastated there would be no restaurant, no margaritas, no tapas, no cake, no friends to make her feel special and celebrated.
My first thought? What a selfish brat!
This is a grown up we are talking about, not an eight year old who already picked out unicorn party favors. Has she not read the posts written by traumatized, sweaty ICU staff who are actually risking life and limb to care for victims of this pandemic?
I was angry, but not just with Birthday Girl. I was angry with our country and all the interlocking systems that have failed in keeping us safe, in working cooperatively, and in providing resources to treat us humanely. The more I thought about it, the more depressed I felt. Then, like many have already observed, I realized I was bouncing around in the cycle of grief.
We are all grieving different things right now.
Some of us are grieving celebrations in which we cannot partake. Others are grieving loss of employment, or income needed to stay afloat. Some bear the palpable loss of a loved one to this pernicious disease, while others suffer isolation, and the grief of loneliness.
It made me stop and realize what a judgey twat I was being.
It also made me question what I was grieving.
I’m certainly wandering around in a haze of sad uncertainty that feels a lot like grief. I miss simple structure, routine, consistency. I’ve lost all the ways I typically “do” life. I’ve lost being able to see and embrace my friends and family. I bear witness to my children’s pain at separation from their grandparents (who they typically see daily), their friends, and routines of school and activities.
I definitely miss leaving the house and listening to music really loud in the car on my way to work. Who’d have thunk it? And I miss sitting with my clients, face to face. I miss the things you see on people’s face that you can’t experience in their disembodied voices, or in pics, or in ticktoc vids.
So, maybe it’s a bunch of things? Maybe I really just miss being able to race out to the market to fetch that one thing I’ve forgotten without it being a big HAZMAT issue that puts all our lives at risk?
Maybe I miss when life wasn’t such a hyperbole and I could use hyperboles in fun and actual hyperbolic ways?
Yeah, I guess, I’m not grieving anything greater than a birthday party either. We all know the horrors that are right outside our doors (or at least the ones of us choosing to stay in and socially distance do).
I’d like to tell you that the nice thing about this grief is that it will be impermanent. A vaccine will be developed, treatment will come, and we will be free to roam about the world again. Things will get better. Those are all facts.
But will we go back to normal?
If I’ve learned one thing about grief, it is that grief, when traumatic enough, has the potential to change us, to alter us right down at our DNA level. Don’t believe me? Google the epigenetics of trauma. I swear to you it is an actual thing.
So, the good news is if we stay kind, supportive, and connected, we have a far better chance of surviving and getting back to our baselines. If this situation has taught us anything, it is how much we need one another, how essential the embrace of humanity is to our health and existence.
I’m so sorry I forgot that, even for a moment.
What are you grieving? Please feel free to share in the comments below. I try to respond to any and all who take the time to share their time and thoughts with me. Thank you for being here.
If I NEVER see the Mister Rogers quote to “Look for the helpers; there are always people who are helping,” when something goes dreadfully awry in our world again, it will be too soon.
Unfortunately, in the mist of our latest and greatest (by greatest I mean completely camel shit dick ball sucking craptastic) international disaster, I’ve found this platitude of the famous children’s TV show personality almost everywhere I look.
Sure, on the surface, it’s sweet, kind; it offers hope in the midst of despair. Hope is a good thing. I have nothing against hope.
What I DO resent is the bastardization of a sentiment intended to comfort children and reassure them their adults were in control of dangerous, traumatizing situations.
While it is natural this quote might comfort adults of children to whom they might offer it, it is often held aloft by adults instead, a sort of shield against their own anxiety.
In a way it pretends nothing more need be done than utter those magic words, and presto! Instant comfort and hope. All better.
Mister Rogers has had a moment over the past couple years. Our frenetic, mean world seems to crave his slow-spoken kindness. But with any figure who becomes pop icon, there is a sort of revisionist hagiography, a blurring of flaws so only goodness and purity shine through.
On a lot of pages and sites online, I see people asking, “What would Mister Rogers tell us about Covid-19?” And the invariable answer is, “He would tell us to look for the helpers!”
I didn’t know him personally, but I guess he might tell you that if you were in the four to eight-year-old demographic his show targeted.
But an adult?
I have to believe a man with his intelligence would have challenged us a bit more than just to look for arbitrary people doing important jobs in order to comfort ourselves in the paralysis of our own helplessness, or worse, our laziness.
If I am to continue having ANY respect for Mister Rogers, I must believe he would not encourage us to simply look for helpers while the world literally falls apart around us.
Here’s another reason I truly resent the use of that phrase: I’m a helper myself.
I’m a therapist. This time has been unbelievably unsettling for my clients, my colleagues, my profession.
Within a couple days, we had to figure out how to do our jobs completely differently to continue helping during this time of unprecedented challenge.
Anxiety, isolation, depression. Addiction. Abuse. Hunger. Homelessness.
In a world with billions upon billions of humans, people are lonelier than ever.
I also have a family. My kids are scared. They are schooling at home. I am helping them while juggling my entire caseload. The idea people would look for me as a helper and not see the entirety of my humanity agonizes me.
I’m only doing telehealth from the comfort and safety of home. Doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, bus drivers, pharmacists, and millions of other people who can be considered “helpers” don’t have that luxury.
One thing we all have in common? Fear.
You want to look for us? Know this: We are burnt out. Terrified. We are scared of getting infected, but even more than that, of infecting our families. We carry the weight of our clients and patients every waking moment and into our dreams. We experience vicarious trauma that keeps us up at night.
Right now, the usual boundaries we set for ourselves to stay balanced and healthy are askew. We are being asked to do more, take on more, be more flexible. It comes with the territory, but damn it feels dirty and unfair.
Being a helper gives me chest pains and raging shits. Sometimes I shake. Being a helper leaves me with very little for my own family. Being a helper makes me cry and feel hopeless. Often, my heart races. Being a helper makes me angry, full of rage. Being a helper makes me so tired, but doesn’t let me sleep.
Does this mean I shouldn’t be a helper? No. I don’t believe so. I believe it means I’m human.
Watch the clip of Fred Rogers, in the 2018 documentary, trying to address the nation after 911. He felt it too. He wasn’t perfect. He didn’t have endless reserves of compassion or patience. He despaired just like the rest of us. You can see it in his eyes, the slump of his shoulders. The rest of that documentary was dross to me for its desire to propel him to sainthood, but that one scene felt so real to me. It was the one moment to which I could relate to his actual humanity.
We are all of us squishy, stupid, flawed, fucking human beans.
We are imperfect, but we have a gift of being able to connect with people. If I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t be this tired. If I didn’t truly care, I wouldn’t bother speaking out right now.
Here’s the other thing: As a helper, I can’t help anyone who isn’t willing to help themselves. You depressed? You got trauma? Cool. Let’s work. But let me be abundantly clear, you will be getting busy. My job is to open a door. It is your job to get up and walk through it. I can point to the thread that might start to untangle your messy web. It is your job to start pulling.
The reductive idea helpers exist to endlessly help is not only tiring, it is quite frankly offensive.
I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. That’s fine.
When pain, fear, or sorrow trigger us we tend to go where we are familiar and feel comfort. For many, Mister Rogers provides such refuge, and has since they were young. Do what you need, but I beg you, if you want to look for me as a helper- look at all of me.
Look for me with my greasy hair and baggy eyes. Look for me with the ugliness of my stress acne. Look for me falling asleep watching TV with my kids. Look for me taking walks and trying to crawl out of my own skin because the world scares me and I want to fly away.
Please don’t just look for me hanging up after a telehealth session when I’ve said something wise to create connective tissue with a client, massaged an old scar with clinical theory, helped someone establish safety. Please don’t just look at me when I am “winning” at helping. Helping is hard, fucking drudgery.
And for the love of milkshakes, please don’t just stand there and look! Spring into action!
None of us can know what Mister Rogers would say if he were here. Honestly, I can’t imagine he’d have any point of reference to say anything remotely cohesive about the horror happening on our planet. It doesn’t really matter what he would say.
I wonder if he would want adults to be more proactive with helping children and each other, as opposed to just sitting back and “looking” around.
What words of comfort or motivation can you offer?
There are a lot of ways that start within ourselves and have nothing to do with looking for others.
Reach out to someone to see if they are okay. Reach out to a helper to see if they are okay! I promise you, they are almost certainly not okay even if they say they are.
Draw, journal, listen to music, dance. Infuse the brilliance of art into the bleakness of trauma. Take walks. Sing. Nurture your body and soul.
Make cards and send them to a nursing home for the residents, or even to the staff to pick up their spirits during this time.
Start a gratitude journal. Studies show that focusing on things about which we can be thankful, as opposed to concentrating on the negative, helps encourage positive feelings to take root.
Take time and talk to the children in your life. Check in with them. Read them stories. Allow them time to ask questions about what is going on and to process their own feelings.
Focus on facts, not feelings. Consume social media and the news in smaller doses so you don’t fuel your own anxiety. This will allow you more energy for helping others.
If you are able, donate to a food pantry or to a shelter that is helping the most vulnerable of our citizens during this time. There are so many who don’t even have the luxury of what many of us take for granted every morning.
Together we can do so much to lift each other up during times of trouble, but only if we move beyond our comfort zone, past the shallows of familiar platitudes to the places where authentic connection can truly heal.
Hubs had tried twice to unclog the vacuum. Unsuccessfully. He and Jack had gone out to get planting supplies for our flower garden and the stupid vacuum was sitting in the middle of the filthy living room rug.
The damn thing had been clogged for like a month and every time I tried to vacuum, it spit out more dust than it picked up. I’d once again implored the Hubs to take a peek at it, but he hadn’t gotten around to it.
Long story short, I took the thing apart, with the cheerful support of my six year old daughter, and plucked out a huge wedge of dust and fur along with a broken clothes pin that had been horizontally blocking the hole. It took me a couple tries to put the thing back together, but I got it set straight and was happily sucking up a month’s worth of decrepitude.
Hubs and Jack got home and I proudly announced that I’d fixed the vacuum.
“How’d you do that?” Hubs asked incredulously.
“I exerted my domestic goddess nature on it,” I smiled.
“Mama,” Jack chimed in. “Did you yell at it?”
“No, Punk,” I said, mildly annoyed by the smirks on the three other faces of my family. “I did not yell at the vacuum. Why would you even say that?”
“Well, you are really good at yelling,” Jack laughed.
“Very funny,” I said and dragged the vacuum upstairs to do the master bedroom.
It was actually pretty funny. Jack’s timing was totally on point and we were all able to have a chuckle at my expense. I don’t know if I would categorize myself as a yeller. I do raise my voice on occasion, out of frustration, and truth be told I am not the world’s most patient person.
But it is always interesting to get a little glimpse of how my kids see me as a human. And of course they do not see that for the one time I yell, there are about 47 other times where I take a deep breath and remind myself to go slow.
At any rate, I’m pretty sure the time that Mama (did not) yell(ed) at the vacuum to make it work again will go down in my family’s mythology.
It really was a good week.
I’m contemplating that it really had been just a great week. I was happy. I felt genuine, uncomplicated, happiness.
Both of the kids had been relaxed and pleasant. There was a random, late-winter snow storm and we all got stuck at home. But instead of contracting cabin fever, we lounged blissfully in our jammies, snuggled, and watched TV. I even snoozed. We baked muffins. We ate muffins. It was a day of cozy comfort.
Then Jack found out a piece of his art had been chosen to be in the district art show. It was a totally unexpected accomplishment, and we were absolutely thrilled to celebrate it with him. He was proud and humble as he reluctantly posed in front of his drawing at the local library where the exhibit was held.
The very next day, Emily picked up a book and started reading it to me. She is having a pretty great year in kindergarten, and all of a sudden, a switch has been turned on in her brain and all she wants to do is read. She tenaciously sounded out words and struggled through page after page of Dr. Seuss as I cheered her on.
It felt almost too good to be true.
Things almost never go this smoothly.
We were getting out of the house in the morning in one piece without any drama, on time, and with cheerful attitudes. The kids were not bickering with each other as much. I made a French Toast Bake that Jack (my super picky eater) declared was so good it should be on a cooking show. Emily slept through each night without coming up to our bed and waking us up. They said “thank you” for random things that they normally overlook as crap that I just do on the daily because I’m their mom.
Part of me was tempted to break into song and dance, because surely this sort of delightful existence only happened in musicals.
Honestly, I just felt like I was nailing it. I was totally rocking the working mom gig. I wasn’t even doing anything different or extraordinary.
I didn’t post about it on any social media for fear of seeming braggy, although I did put up pictures of Jack’s art and a video of Emily reading. But the larger, greater sense of the motherhood machine running just right- I did not post about that.
It isn’t often that I feel this way; like all is well, and all will be well.
Much more often I am beating myself up for letting the kids watch too much TV, not serving as much veggie as I should, and forgetting to check if Emily has remembered to change her underpants.
I so easily fill with self loathing because I lack energy to force my kids to write thank you notes. I convince myself I am a failure because my kids’ rooms are pits of despair and I’d rather not deal with them.
And then there are all the times I wonder what the hell I am doing wrong when I can’t seem to get places on time, or when I burn dinner, or when I forget to sign a field trip permission slip.
Even worse are the times when Jack is having a sensory meltdown because his anxiety has gotten the best of him and I am completely helpless to assist him in regulating his emotional state. Or when Emily is annoyed and frustrated and she tells me she hates me.
This stuff is so hard. I had no clue that the hard stuff would be so hard, nor that by contrast, that the amazing stuff would be so amazing.
I also had no clue that motherhood would frequently and chronically consist of so much more of the hard stuff.
So, that’s why I’m writing about the little sweet spot we shared that nice week.
It’s important to acknowledge and remember what it feels like to nail it in this gig. It’s good to write it all down so when times are tough we can remind ourselves what it feels like to know and hold happiness, to do it right. It’s important to remember that we are doing so, so great, even when we think we aren’t, or when we feel like we are struggling to even put milk in our coffee.
There are good moments if we look for them. We create them, like we create life, like we create last-minute, haphazard recipes from the last four random things in our fridge at the end of the week. It doesn’t have to be anything earth shattering. There can be joy.
And that’s the other important thing to remember in this parenting game: that there will be joy again. Even when it feels like the rough patch is going to go on forever, there is still a potential for change.
When was your last parenting sweet spot? How did you nail it as a mom? Are you going through a rough patch now? Talk to me in the comments!
Find something small.
Stay with it.
Give it your heart.
Resonate with it.
Tell it your secrets.
Feel the urge to leave.
Trace its grooves with your fingertip.
Find its secret scent of earth and salt.
Allow your tear to drip onto its surface.
Laugh, but do not leave, not just yet.
Realize the terror in adoring something tiny and tender.
Whisper to it that which you know is certain.
Pull your hand back and continue to find the energy pulsating.
Find something small.
Give it your heart.
Do it again.
Do it over.