Perimenopausal Fun: How to Know When Low-Dose Estrogen is NOT for you

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I’ve written a handful of posts dedicated to women’s health and those posts receive the most traffic and comments from internet searches (and likely from Russian bots). This tells me I’m on to something. The one that receives the most traffic is a post dedicated to “PMDD”: pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. 

Wondering about that third word, are you? It means the opposite of “euphoria.” Disorders can’t be cured. So this one has to be addressed and managed. I feel as though I am cured from it, but I know that I am not…

My style is glib at times, but my intensity and interest in this subject is real because being a cisgendered female is hard. I won’t go into my sentiments surrounding the appropriation of my gender by cisgendered males because frankly I don’t have the required bandwidth nor the belief system to fully engage. To me, men feeling as though they are missing out on being a woman and who get to forgo the hips and the breasts expanding, and the periods (missed or on time), and the unwanted advances and leers of horny old men are out to lunch. I’ll trade a week and you can go through it all — you can:

  • put on a training bra in the dark or in a locker room,
  • deal with feminine hygiene (maybe even in a public bathroom or, say, totally unprepared at your violin lesson for your first time as a WOMAN),
  • barter your lunch for three tylenol to abate your cramps and risk suspension or expulsion from school because of it,
  • birth one of my kids,
  • fight off a drunken asshole’s overtures at a keg party… or
  • sit on a couch waiting for your ride home when your date cools off because you won’t sleep with him… or worse.

Go for it.

I also would be willing to bet that most men who want to appropriate my gender wouldn’t have the stones to endure a week of perimenopause.

This is becoming political… my apologies, but I feel I had to say something.

This post is about females and the shit we go through in our middle-life stages.

First: get an app on your smartphone or keep meticulous records. I use “PLog”: https://itunes.apple.com/app/period-log-free-menstrual/id494474881?mt=8 

With that said, one year ago, well into the end of my ninth year of perimenopause (which is the purgatory between getting your periods every month or so and all the emotions and physical symptoms that come along) and the time of life when all that shit stops, I was suffering. My moods were all over the place, yet I didn’t really dial in to them… I just sort of noticed them, “that was rude of me to say…” I’d say to myself. Or, “Since when do you do things like that?” I’m still there.

The weird thing about perimenopause to menopause is that it’s not a pause. A pause implies a restart. And your cycles don’t stop like a machine would stop, say if you turn off your car’s engine. Short of an oophorectomy, it’s believed to be a “pause” of your “menses.” Let’s be honest here too: it’s not at all a ‘pause,’ it’s a full-on shut down, so even the nomenclature is screwed up here. I’m guessing a man invented the word:

The answer to this mystery is found in the origin of the word. In 1821 a French physician named de Gardanne first coined the term menopause when he published his book “De la ménopause, ou de l’âge critique des femmes” using the term menopause to describe the phase in a woman’s life.

YES! It was a man! Merci, dude! I don’t speak French, but I’m seeing blah french blah french blahcritique” and “des femmes” which is never a good combination.

For menopause, things shut down like a forest fire which starts out slowly because someone didn’t put out a campfire. Or because of the climate or winds or a cigarette was tossed out a window… Then it smolders a bit and it gets oxygen… and it spreads to dry grasses or pine needles (which are basically small vats of kerosene because there is so much oil in them) and then a few yards in one direction and then an acre and then an entire forest, and then a national park…  But that’s fire.

For women, it’s much more subtle, but the experiences can feel similar. Just like some fires are “controlled burns” or a “small forest fire,” the clinical definition of menopause requires that a woman’s periods must stop for a full year.

For me, last year about this time, I was desperate for help. And based on the condition I’m in today, I’m nowhere near that year of cessation.

First: what the fuck is going on?

Borrowing from my immediately previous post, this graphic explains is what’s going on:

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I’m 49 now. I started on this circus clown car ride (the middle graph) 10 years ago. Any day can be like that middle graph for me. Sometimes it is an entire day that feels like that.

The changes in hormonal levels as women age cause the following symptoms (lifted word for word from the Mayo Clinic site which is much more reputable than webmd, so take a breath, my comments in red):

Symptoms

Throughout the menopausal transition, some subtle — and some not-so-subtle — changes in your body may take place. You might experience:

  • Irregular periods. As ovulation becomes more unpredictable, the length of time between periods may be longer or shorter, your flow may be light to heavy, and you may skip some periods. Oh? If you have a persistent (what do you mean, ‘persistent’? like a child, “momcanihaveacookie?momcanihaveacookie?” persistent?) change (vague, object!) of seven days or more in the length of your menstrual cycle, you may be in early perimenopause (early?! ARE YOU %)(!@&_%@ kidding me?! EARLY?!). If you have a space of 60 days or more between periods, you’re likely in late perimenopause. <– not me, not yet. I’m still in this hang time. 

  • Hot flashes and sleep problems. Hot flashes are common during perimenopause (I have been spared the recognizable hot flashes, mostly and so far). The intensity, length and frequency vary. Sleep problems are often due to hot flashes or night sweats (DING! now we’re talking: the intensity of my night sweats for 10 years have rivaled those of my immediate postpartum weeks when the hormones females use to create and sustain life inside the uterus and the rest of her own body, which is effing exhausted from the process, but it’s really only just the beginning), but sometimes sleep becomes unpredictable even without them. <–OMAIGAAAD! I would literally trade all of my Cap’n Crunch for just ONE NIGHT of uninterrupted sleep. I realize the flip phrase, “I’m so tired I could take hostages” is no longer in vogue, but my kids get it.  

  • Mood changes. Mood swings, irritability or increased risk of depression may happen during perimenopause. The cause of these symptoms may (y’think?!) be sleep disruption associated with hot flashes (fuck yes). Mood changes (muuuuahhhahaahaaaaaa boooohooowoohaaaaaaaa… waah… grrr… what? me? grr… your mother sews socks in hell… ) may also be caused by factors not (NOT?!) related to the hormonal changes of perimenopause (um: no, highly doubtful).

  • Vaginal and bladder problems. (Oh what fun it is to ride…) When estrogen levels diminish, your vaginal tissues may lose lubrication and elasticity, making (you feel as though your privates have been replaced by 03-grade sand paper and generic brand tissues – or so I’ve heard) intercourse painful. Low estrogen may also leave you more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections (thankfully not there yet: word to the wise, ladies from my doctor: PEE IMMEDIATELY after sex, not in the bed, but y’know, within a few minutes as your urethra needs to flush itself) . Loss of tissue tone may contribute to urinary incontinence. Do those kegels and pelvic floor exercises! Yoga! Find your psoas muscle (no, it’s not a sex muscle).

  • Decreasing fertility. As ovulation becomes irregular, your ability to conceive decreases. However, as long as you’re having periods, pregnancy is still possible. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, use birth control until you’ve had no periods for 12 months (and even then: watch it. I have friends who’ve welcomed a new member into the family thinking they were good to go).

  • Changes in sexual function. During perimenopause, sexual arousal and desire may change (and not just a little… ). But if you had satisfactory sexual intimacy before menopause, this will likely continue through perimenopause and beyond. (Stay in communication with your partner. That’s the important part… so smoke signals from the other wing of the house are always a good idea, that way your man will know when it’s safe to approach.)

  • Loss of bone. With declining estrogen levels, you start to lose bone more quickly than you replace it, increasing your risk of osteoporosis — a disease that causes fragile bones. This is JUST as important and really, a serious issue. Watch the caffeine intake, take moderate walks for resistance exercise, use weights (even low weights) to maintain your bone mass health.

  • Changing cholesterol levels. Declining estrogen levels may lead to unfavorable changes in your blood cholesterol levels, including an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol — which contributes to an increased risk of heart disease. My mom’s went through the roof as she aged; mine has always been about 157 so I need to keep an eye on it. That said, Mom ate cheese like you read about (I just read about eating cheese) and indulged in lots of sedentary, unhealthy behaviors and addictions and basically no did not exercise ever / at all / ever / constantly / never. At the same time, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — decreases in many women as they age, which also increases the risk of heart disease (you can encourage your HDL levels through exercise and diet. My mom died of a massive cardiac arrest — not a heart attack which (broken down by me) is a major incident and spasm of the heart muscles — but the cessation of electricity to flow to her heart causing her heart to no longer function; coming back from a CA, for a woman in her condition [not good at all] would have been a divine miracle).

More from the Mayo Clinic site includes:

When to see a doctor

Some women seek medical attention for their perimenopausal symptoms. But others either tolerate the changes or simply don’t experience symptoms severe enough to need attention. Because symptoms may be subtle and come on gradually (like a thief in the night), you may not realize at first that they’re all connected to the same thing — rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, another key female hormone.

If you have symptoms that interfere with your life or well-being, such as hot flashes, mood swings or changes in sexual function that concern you, see your doctor.

This is where it gets fun for me. Because I went to my doctor. She put me on a low-dose birth control pill, “Lo-Estrin 1/20” because of my complaints:

Wanting to punch people, exhaustion, brain fog, emotional projection, confusion, inability to take a joke, complete viper-like mood swings, appetite disruption, back aches, headaches (which I simply never get), sleep disruption, fantasies of running off to Cabo (still never found a cure for that).  

I took the pill. For the first cycle, it’s 21 days of the drug. Within two days, I felt like I was 26 again: super able, focused, interested in sex, I had an appetite for food, I was sleeping like a dog (that’s a good thing because we all know babies don’t sleep) and other stuff. I felt great. As is the case in a standard birth control pack, on the first Sunday of the fourth week, you take a sugar pill (or just skip a week and start back up on Sunday with the new pack) and that starts a period. 

I did that. 

Halfway through my second cycle on the pill, when I was supposed to be “ovulating” I started to spot. I made a note. It lasted five days. On the first Sunday of the fourth week, I took my sugar pill to begin the standard pill-induced menses.

On Tuesday, I began to have thoughts that can be best described as sympathetic to suicidal ideation. I’m not kidding. 

I practice mindfulness (it’s how I’ve avoided becoming an alcoholic or other addict). I have spent years on a therapists’ couch so I understand emotions, and I get how powerful they are. Being a writer I was able to back out of this “sympathetic interest” and write a script, in my head, or a narrative about a woman who resembled me (but was taller, natch, and blonde) and my station in life who woke up and decided she didn’t want to live anymore. 

The depths of this transient depression were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, maybe I can equate it to the loss and ineffable grief I felt after I was dumped by a boyfriend, with whom I thought I would spend the rest of my life, when I was in college. Maybe. It was deeper than the grief I felt after my mother died — but maybe it was just faster and more intense. My grief surrounding my mother’s death lasted months and wavered in intensity. This moment hit me hard and fast. Out of nowhere. One minute I was pouring my coffee and the next minute I thought of suicide. 

I knew what was up. I did the math: this is a new deep and ugly feeling. I’m taking this pill, this is supposed to be my period, and I have PMDD but it’s under control…

So I grabbed my dogs and we took a very brisk walk for an hour. Charlie was all about it, but poor Murphy, who was 8 at the time, was frequently looking up at me and saying, “Can we take a break now? Please?” I was so grateful for their company. They kept me present. I have said twice to myself that my dogs are keeping me alive and this was the second of those times. The first time was when Murphy vocally persuaded a man, whose intensity and energy was palpable from 50 yards, to turn and cross the street away from us. Murphy is a golden retriever, he doesn’t bark warnings to humans; it’s not part of his breeding.  

Halfway through the walk, I started to feel better. I worked out the scene and projected it on to a false character. I put her through her paces from ideation to the moments of and the grief of her surviving loved ones and the days, weeks, holidays and life’s milestone moments which would undoubtedly follow because LGO: life goes on.

After I worked all that out, I did take a break in my walk and I called my doctor. I told her assistant what was up and she asked me if I needed emergency assistance and I told her I was ok. That I was outside. That I had no weapons or agents of harm with me. That the sun was on my face and my dogs were by my side and I was ok, really. Because I was and I thanked her for her concern, but I was calling to let her know what was going on because it was really scary when it first started. I asked, “Should I take the real pills now instead? Should I continue with the sugar pills?” (I felt like the patients who took L.Dopa in Awakenings; I didn’t want to stop the pill!) 

She relayed my message to my physician who said back to the assistant, “Tell her to stop the Lo-Estrin and call us after her periods stop for a year…” That doctor, is Joanne Herrmann, MD, and I don’t think I’ll be crossing her threshold any time soon. I understand it was a game of “Operator” going on, and you can call me weird and codependent, maybe, but if I had a patient who told me what I told her assistant, I’d be calling back that patient myself. She certainly practiced Primum non nocere. I guess.     

Later that day, I had lunch with a friend and I told her everything that happened. She listened intently; but I think I scare people because I’m so vivid and in-tune with how I’m doing. That was the last time I saw her.

Since that last pill, I’ve gained a new respect for estrogen and progesterone. I’ve learned that any time I’m feeling shitty and allowing it and noting it is a good thing because it means the process is still happening. It means I’m here.

I had a very high-level understanding of the phrase “mood swings” until that day. The take-away: investigate your options. Lo-Estrin 1/20 might work for you… just be ready for those sugar pill days.  

Causes

As you go through the menopausal transition, your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone rises and falls. Many of the changes you experience during perimenopause are a result of decreasing estrogen.

Risk factors

Menopause is a normal phase in life. But it may occur earlier in some women than in others. Although not always conclusive, some evidence suggests that certain factors may make it more likely that you start perimenopause at an earlier age, including:

  • Smoking. The onset of menopause occurs one to two years earlier in women who smoke than in women who don’t smoke.
  • Family history. Women with a family history of early menopause may experience early menopause themselves.
  • Cancer treatment. Treatment for cancer with chemotherapy or pelvic radiation therapy has been linked to early menopause.
  • Hysterectomy. A hysterectomy that removes your uterus, but not your ovaries, usually doesn’t cause menopause. Although you no longer have periods, your ovaries still produce estrogen. But such surgery may cause menopause to occur earlier than average. Also, if you have one ovary removed, the remaining ovary might stop working sooner than expected.

Complications

Irregular periods are a hallmark of perimenopause. Most of the time this is normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, see your doctor if:

  • Bleeding is extremely heavy — you’re changing tampons or pads every hour or two for two or more hours
  • Bleeding lasts longer than seven days
  • Bleeding occurs between periods
  • Periods regularly occur less than 21 days apart <– that’s one I will now begin to keep an eye on

Signs such as these may mean there’s a problem with your reproductive system that requires diagnosis and treatment.

So this is all good, and I’m thankful for it. But the bottom line for all of us in this situation is symptoms and how we manage them.

About three years ago, Dr. Herrmann suggested I take something called “Brisdelle” which is a subclinical / super low-dose (7mg) of Prozac. The idea is that it will calm you down enough to sleep at night and abate next-day anxiety which is increased because of night sweats which happens because you’re anxious…? I’m still a little fuzzy on that. So I tried it for four days. It made me feel like I was a narcoleptic game show host. I stopped after a week. Some people have doubted my claim, that the drug needs to be in my system for six weeks before it takes full metabolic effect.

Mmmmmkay. Survey says….?! Znnngngzzzgngn! Where are you from, little lady….? Znnnngngngnnnznzzng.

I take herbal supplements: Estroven AM and Estroven PM; they help. Maybe they’re doing an insanely bang-up job and I have no idea because I’ve been taking them for about a year. Before that I took something called “Herbal Equilibrium” but Dr. Herrmann told me to stop taking it because she doesn’t believe in supplements… well, she believed in that Lo-Estrin 1/20 enough to prescribe it and it made me very sad, so maybe she’s wrong.

But we address problems by understanding what they’re made of. In this situation we need to dial in: WHAT does estrogen do??? Since we all know how we got here, thanks estrogen, we need to know what is going on and what estrogen regulates because it’s super subtle stuff.

A year ago, I did not know that estrogen played a major role in digestion. Did you?

I did not know that estrogen is involved in the sleep process and the release of other hormones which help us get a good rest. Did you?

So I went back to the web, and I blew off Webmd again and went straight the alma mater of one of my besties’: Northwestern University, for help. This page and its title, “How Hormone Depletion Affects You” was exactly what I was looking for. It will have all the information about WHAT estrogen and progesterone mean to you and why this crazy circus clown car is in your life.

Here we are ladies:

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That feels about right…? Doesn’t it?

Oddly, I am comforted by that image.

It tells me, “Sigh. Finally. Someone out there understands. I’ll have that Nescafé International Coffee now… Vienna Font Brick Caramel please… yes, I’ll wait… ”

The paragraph accompanying that DaVinci -esque image does a great job of introducing content that I simply can’t improve upon (for many reasons, the foremost of which is because I’m not a doctor), and it will behoove you to read it and learn about what is going on because all I can do is commiserate with you:

Hormones are the messengers in the body that travel through the blood stream to start, stop, speed up or slow down your physical and chemical functions and processes across all body systems. Your ovaries are the source of estrogen and progesterone, the two key hormones that control the reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle and fertility in women. You are born with all the eggs you will ever have. The eggs are in the follicles, which are found in the ovaries. During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles declines and the ovaries become less responsive to the two other hormones involved in reproduction—Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). As your ovaries age and release fewer hormones, FSH and LH can no longer perform their usual functions to regulate your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These inevitable changes in your hormones and natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can significantly affect your health for years to come. Click on the bars next to diagram to discover how estrogen depletion can affect each part of your body.

We’ve got this, sisters. Keep the conversation going.

Thank you.

 

 

New Year’s Intention & Perimenopause

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It has been almost seven months since I last posted here.

I can not say I don’t know where the time has gone, because I actually do know where a great deal of the time / bandwidth has gone.

It has gone toward my new year’s intention: practicing non-attachment. Non-attachment to expectations, to people, to projects, to myself. It’s really hard…  and it’s like a paradox: who says when you’ve achieved non-attachment? Is it ok to be non-attached to your non-attachment? Does that count? And what is the balance? (I’ve likely already failed.)

It has gone toward me applying my best intentions toward practicing detachment from my eldest son’s college experiences. He is doing well, learning lessons that only life can give. Learning academically of course, and doing quite well, but he is learning things in the way that I wanted for him to learn: that you can’t unring a bell.

It has gone toward a near-obsession with the American political landscape. I believe it was around the time that I last posted here that our official presidential candidates were nominated. I won’t go into details or great depth here as this blog is my refuge from those energies, but I will say that I believe I’m finally coming out of the fog from all those days.

It has gone toward a reinvestment of myself into my yoga teaching. I have almost doubled my adult teaching gigs and dropped two children’s yoga gigs. It was both difficult and easy to make those decisions. A part of me wants to help children and teach / inspire them but I have to let go of the notion that I am going to make a difference for some of them. We are all here on this planet in a season which matches our mission(s). I have realized that my mission here is to not try to appeal to all people and those people needn’t appeal to me. The doubling of my teaching time has had an effect on my body: it’s tired. I have learned that I needn’t demonstrate nearly as often as I used to and while I’m physically relieved from wear and tear, I’m a bit bummed about it because some of my teaching cues come from being actually in the pose with the yogis.

It has gone toward hands-on mothering of two sons rather than three. While my eldest still needs me in a philosophical sense, he doesn’t need me to make him dinner, to wake him, to take him for haircuts or dentist appointments. My younger boys still need me for that and believe it or not: the reduction in demand does take some getting used to and head counting. It’s almost the reversal of “Did I leave the baby in the carseat in the front hall?”

It has gone toward not writing. I sure do miss it.

It has not gone toward my laundry practice.

My husband turned 50, and that was a low-key big deal here. I gave him a nifty band for his Apple Watch and took him out to dinner with our younger two sons, his brother and his wife. Connor later snuck home with his girlfriend to surprise his dad with some favorite gelato and a cozy fun time was had by all.

I turned 49. I unfriended some people on Facebook who no longer contribute to the fullness of my life. One is a relative. I am really ok with this decision. The entrenched victim narrative surrounding this person’s every behavior had corrupted our visit over summer to such an extent that when I made the choice, it was not a Newtonian reaction. In fact, I paused for several weeks. I can say confidently though that the distancing from this and the other persons has resulted in stability, actually. I’m tired of feeling as though my every thought was being monitored. And I was tired of monitoring them… (if we are going to be honest here…).  I hope everyone is doing well, but I don’t care enough to ask. Sometimes you just have to close the door, y’know.

I am experiencing shitty perimenopause on a daily basis. This hormonal experience is not for the psychotic… because it already has moments of psychosis and sleep deprivation and knee-jerk reactivity built in. Do you see the middle graph? (Don’t even fucking look at the first one or the last one until you look at the middle one first.) That second / middle graph has been my life for the last 10 years. I started perimenopause when I was 39 and it was all cute and curiosity at first: “Oh, I wonder how long that badger will live in our yard?” but after five years, it has been nothing short of a fucking mystery and I don’t know how much longer I must endure its caprice and coquettish ways.

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This is not my personal pattern, but one from NIH or something like that (I give up trying to divine the exact source and so should you:  I’ve had that graph for at least a year).

Let’s look again at that middle graph which ostensibly covers a six-month period and copy it 20 times and run it linearly (as in a timeline) to cover a 10-year period and then you will have a SNAPSHOT of WHAT MY LIFE HAS BEEN LIKE.

I look at that graph, like it’s yearbook. And I suppose it is to a certain exent…

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Those premenopause years: from BIRTH to my 39th year, were all: Let’s go to the beach, then the movie and then dancing and frolic all in light-colored and white clothing, go to camp, learn to swim, play an instrument, have a crush, lose a friend, gain a friend, watch your parents fight … then one day in puberty do those things in those clothes except for XYZ days… and then let’s learn to drive, go on a trip, play some soccer, go for a run, fall in love, dance in the rain… pause….. then let’s have some friends over, and go to a mall, fall out of love, lose a friend again, gain another friend, stare at cute guys, go to college, apply for a job ….buy a car… get a place …. pause….. then let’s take a cooking course, stare at more cute guys … maybe date one… then marry one and then buy a house, have kids …. pause…. another kid (or years go by) ….

Then in my 39th year, this….

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I’m flying without radar here and as you can see, from that graph above, that flight plan is fucked up. Would you get on that plane? Go ahead, look at it again… it’s worth the laugh. And that’s what most of this has shown me: that I have to laugh. That’s not to say that I can’t cry (because I do, believe me) but crying over this (that image above) is unnecessary.

I’m not looking for a trophy or a badge or a pat on the back. I’m looking for an end to this stage of my life.

My mother is dead, and she was the only woman (just like her paternal aunt was the only woman in two generations) in her sibling pool, so I don’t have an aunt. And her being gone means there’s no soft-focus “Summer’s Eve” moment for me when I could walk down a misty, dusky beach with her (not that there ever was that kind of vibe to our relationship) and gently query her for finite honesty about her cycles and her reproductive history… that would require things she could not deliver.

The fun part about all this is that in order to be considered a member in the postmenopausal populace:

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you must be without a period (that bleeding stage) for at least a year. I have to say, I can’t help but see all those flat lines as… shitty. The very hormones that I’ve grown accustomed to, estrogen and progesterone, are leaving me at the party. No, they are taking the party away and leaving me there to clean up after the party.

But I’m nowhere near that, yet the eggs I’m spitting out are likely capable of creating life that would not be sustainable. I like to think my eggs, if they could be an emoji, would be this one:

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Let’s see… what else… I learned that I have two basal cell carcinomas scheduled for removal in a couple months. It’s the glorious results of misspent younger days under the sun with my then bestie whose parents were Puerto Rican and Greek. I am 71% Irish (thanks, big bro for getting the Ancestry.com DNA test). This friend would invite me over to her house and I’d go. I’d wear my royal blue with black piping one-piece LaBlanca swimsuit. We would “lay out” under the Virginia sun, in July, covered in baby oil and USE A SPRAY MISTER TO KEEP US SHINY! and she’d walk away like a Bain de Soliel model and I’d need paramedics to carry me away on a stretcher because I could not move my smooth muscle tissue beneath the exoskeleton I’d created in those four short hours in her backyard.

I joined a new studio to teach yoga (I touched on this earlier) and I’m really enjoying it. The owner feels like someone I’ve known all my life and I’m grateful to help her further her dream of providing a haven in the community to practice yoga, learn pilates, build strength and sometimes, just sit and be.

I directed a 660-boat rowing regatta the first weekend in November. The weather was sublime and glorious. I was in my element of serving people as well as protecting and reestablishing the brand of our rowing club after a couple years of inconsistency. I have offered to do it again for this fall. People think I’m crazy, but they’re right. But I’m really good at it — I am in a zone when I’m managing chaos with a smile on my face. (That was a scary sentence.)  I walked almost nine miles that first day. The second day was almost six. I was utterly wiped out. But I was really gratified too because it was such a rewarding experience. I bought myself some expensive Adidas shoes a week later.

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I do need a megaphone sometimes; it didn’t cut through the fog, but it helped me keep the coxswain’s attention.

 

The next night I taught yoga and two days later, still riding the regatta wave, we all woke to some really historic news: a woman was NOT elected president of the United States and instead, a man who strategically went after the electoral college (so: with an actual plan to win, not a hope to win) votes, attained more of them than the other people running for office. That was an ASTONISHING DAY for me. The night before, we had my brother and his wife and kids over. My dad too, to watch the election and just sort of huddle as if preparing for an apocalypse. We used the hot tub and had a really lovely night. My brother left around 10:30, glued to his iPhone. I decided at 11 that I was going to bed; I had to teach yoga the next morning. Some of the results weren’t in yet and the west coast had only recently begun to get later tallies. I remember clearly still that my husband came up to me to gently wake me the next morning in the pre-dawn darkness. He said, “It’s unbelievable. Trump won.” I was mildly shocked. I didn’t like Clinton, but I honestly thought she would win. I voted for Johnson.

I taught three yoga classes, as I always do on Wednesdays, and I witnessed a three-generational fog in those classes. In the morning, I teach women my age and they were all … quiet, sort of blown away. In the early afternoon, I teach mostly seniors or people older than I am and they were all subdued. The children I usually teach on the afternoons were simply stoic. Little girls openly cried in front of me, “My mother said a bad man is going to be our president…”

I felt as though I HAD to openly discuss the election because they were so affected and because they are children and are not savvy to the nuances I employed in my earlier classes. One of the little girls, who is usually a game show host in my classes, who likes to co-opt what I teach and preempt me as much as possible asked to stay in “child’s pose” the ENTIRE class. She didn’t even want to play “musical mats” (which can usually get any kiddo out of a funk).

I don’t have an inflated sense of who I am to these people, but in a sense, especially for the first class, this was likely the first social gathering of their day. I didn’t feel compelled to speak to the election, but I also wasn’t ok with ignoring it. I can’t remember what pearls of wisdom I may have imparted other than to suggest what I always do: “Whatever you’re feeling is OK.”

On Christmas Eve, we went to dinner at a restaurant in Georgetown. The buildings are historic and their floors are uneven. I slipped down the steps but managed to stop my fall by grasping one of the spindles on the landing I was escaping. I had just taught a power vinyasa that morning, so I was still “worked” from that but I did hear a snap. I didn’t tear my rotator cuff, but I definitely strained it. I believe the “snap” was from the heel of one of my brand-new Frye Boots smacking the riser as I stopped my fall.

When I returned to the table, after announcing to the numerous wide-eyed diners and the freaked-out expression of the maitre’d rushing to my aid, “I’m good, I’m a yoga instructor!” (I do NOT know why I said that other than to spare myself some embarrassment [it didn’t work] but more likely shame [ditto] and more likely to spare any discomfort on the part of the restaurant staff), I had immediate tingling in my arm, and almost near-immediate numbness. I raised my arm above my head, I did some classy yoga moves with it at the table (with some wincing, so I knew the nerve was OK) and the sensation returned within five minutes. I could move my arm on its own.

That night was the last time I colored my hair. (Nice transition, huh?) I’d been dancing around the concept for awhile, but I’d like to see how I look with my natural hair color and I’d like to spend the rest of my life not sweating my roots coming in. So far, so good. I don’t have the chutzpah that some people have: going cold turkey, so that’s not happening. I am getting a chemically assisted transition or detox. My tactic has been to wear my hair pulled off my face as often as possible because it shows people what’s coming in and what to expect. It also helps me deal with the choice, which if I can say so myself, is pretty damned gutsy. I don’t believe that I need to adhere to an unattainable standard based on artifice. I’ve long struggled with my own “lie” of coloring my hair while being someone who is SO WHOLLY INTERESTED and devoted to alignment and truth.

To spur me on, I joined a Facebook group “Gray and Proud” which is a supportive and empowering collection of humans (mostly women) who know that this choice “to be the way we were born” can be hard. I do not mean to imply that I know the struggles of those who’ve chosen to live a cloistered life because of fear of coming out as their true selves, but I do believe I share a kinship with them. We are all afraid of being judged and sometimes, truth scares people. Sometimes, people like to live their lives and their narratives. I’m cool with that. Sometimes other peoples’ truths upset another person’s narrative. Well, that’s not the other person’s problem.

The previous time I tried to go gray I was 36 (I’ve been coloring since I was 20) and it didn’t look right. I wasn’t feeling quite as confident and as “fuck it” as I have been lately. Don’t get me wrong, “fuck it” does not mean I’m “letting myself go”; “fuck it” means I’m letting you and your standards go.

It means I’m trying to walk my intention for the year. I’ll post pics on my progress, but not yet; there’s really not much to see here.

The dogs are doing great: Charlie, now three, and mellowing a bit is a sweet and loyal boy. He still barks at things that are not there and tries to take down Murphy at every chance he has when Murphy is standing up (which isn’t terribly frequent these days as he’s now nine, AND he’s a dog).

Well, there is always lots more to say, but I’m at almost 2900 words and I’m a little tired. It’s nice to be back. I’ll come back sooner, I promise. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments and let me know how you’re doing.

Thank you.

Preparing for the Push Off

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I’ve been in denial about this for months.

It’s almost here. Three weeks from this past Thursday will be it. The day my first, my oldest son pushes off for college.

It started out subtly enough, the departing. In May, he had his final soccer game of his pre-college life. The U-19 league. So, soon after that last game I found myself repressing a lump in my throat as I confronted a simple thing. Just a swipe, really, but it felt as though my hand were made of iron and it was dragging along a magnet. Trying to move, trying to get my finger to drag over my laptop’s touchpad to deliberately press the “delete event” prompt from my family’s calendar and alerts for his soccer practice reminders.

I shouldn’t be so maudlin. I hadn’t been driving him to practice for months. He was a late-blooming driver. It was my pleasure to take him to practice or ride shotgun as he drove. Our conversations in the car varied from laughing about a Ben Bailey stand-up routine to talking about his friends, class work, or social disappointments. Sometimes it was just silence. Or really loud Kanye West. But those days are over. I no longer need to see the alerts on my phone about his practices. So I drag my right hand with my left hand to click “delete” on the alerts.

I don’t want to click “delete.” It is really hard to click delete on that alert.

I couldn’t possibly be prouder of the young man he’s become. He’s handsome, funny, really smart, creative, clever, sensitive, caring… all the things I wanted him to become. I didn’t do it though; he came with that software already installed. I suppose I helped him learn to use it, but we all know our kids are pre-formed before we get them.

I met him in the middle of the night more than 18 years ago. He was just eight pounds and almost 21 inches long. I remember, he was so quiet, the doctors thought there was something amiss. Perhaps he wasn’t breathing well. Maybe his brain was misfiring. But his eyes… his father knew he was just fine. His eyes were bright and blue-green and so serene. So calm and observant. “I knew those eyes the minute I saw them open,” his father said. “They were your eyes. They were just like yours…”

They put him in the “french fry warmer” as we called it, to keep him cozy. They invaded him with their suction devices and wiped him of his vernix. Soon he let them have it, a robust and brief goat-like bleat from that enormous head. It was just after midnight when he was born and I was totaled. I’d been dealing with dormant but annoying labor for about 25 hours. I wanted to see him.

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They did their tests and pokes on him. They were stupid, I think now. “Haven’t you ever met a mellow baby?” I remember thinking about them the next day. “Look at him, he’s perfect…” I would sigh and stare at this beautiful son… “Connor. Hello.” I met him in the morning, around 4. It was dark and he was hungry, so I learned to try to breastfeed him. It took a few days, but we figured it out.

Look at him now! 5’10” and 150. Hair almost as dark as mine when I was his age and his big green eyes.

“You should write Batman’s in My Shower now, Mom,” he said about a month ago. Batman’s in My Shower is the title I decided to give to a memoir back when my boys were 10 years younger than they are now. I wanted to write about becoming a mother and how it’s changed me.

The title comes from the truth that in my bathroom shower for years was at least one Batman action figure for my sons to play with while they bathed. The book would be about how my life melded with theirs and how my space became theirs as we grew into one another and gradually apart from one another. I remember holding one of the boys while he played with the doll and I washed his hair and cleaned his little squirming body as he would have Batman and a squirting goldfish battle it out under the Water-pik shower head typhoon.

Washing a child in a shower is like trying to wash a hairless cat that won’t scratch your face off because it actually likes the water spraying in its face. The cat is animated, no doubt, but it’s not deadly and it’s writhing and hissing joyous coos of delight as the baby shampoo (remember that smell?) lathers and runs down their faces.

The sole remaining Batman has a layer of soap scum in his armpits and crotch; his cape is hard and stiff like a chamois that’s been hung in the sun. He’s covered in a layer of dried soap and hard water residue from years of torrential cleansing. He’s perfect.

I haven’t dared to write more than a page of BiMS because that would mean that I’ve crossed over a benchmark, that the “memoir” is activated because the moment is past; that the “mothering” is over. So I sit here, in wait. Wondering when the feelings of the intensity of his impending departure will pass and I will feel light and airy again.

“Raise your hands if you have a student who will be living on campus and you live in the area…” said the admissions person at new student / new parent orientation last week. Her eyes scanned the ballroom. At least 30 hands, including my own, went up; some sheepishly, some defiantly.

“Make no mistake. If it’s five minutes or five hours or across the street or across the country, your child is leaving home,” I almost broke out into tears at that moment. I had to keep it together. She was right, that hag. My kid is leaving home. He is about a good run’s distance, 4 miles, from home, but he’s not going to be here every day when I wake up. Nor will he be here when I avoid making dinner.

You see, Connor has been my wingman for better part of a third of my life. He has grounded me, helped me chill out, provided a better reason than a paycheck to get up every morning, and has generally made me a better person. He has made me a better mother for his brothers. He has made me a better friend to my friends and he has made me a better daughter to my parents. I don’t want to foist too much upon him because that’s not fair. I’ve done a lot of Work too, he just made it a fantastic reason to do it.

I’ve prepared him a bit I hope too. I stopped washing his clothes for him about four years ago. He’s got it down — brights with brights. He’s good at it. That transition began subtly enough too, and I will own that I’ve relapsed a few times. Like a junkie, I’ve slipped back into Mom-mode for him and folded his t-shirts or even turned them right-side-out when they come out of the dryer. I have to stop myself sometimes from unbending his jeans from of the mind-boggling twisted rebar-like clump they’ve morphed into as I heave the next crate of wet clothes into the dryer. Some articles are easier than others to let go. Socks for one… I would rather eat McDonald’s, no. I take that back. I would still sort his socks over eating McDonald’s.

My father said to me about two weeks ago that what I’m about to experience, my child leaving home for college, is in his estimation one of the most emotionally arduous and profound experiences in my parenting. “I don’t know what it’s like to watch a child leave for college from such a deeply loving and supportive home, so you’ll have to excuse me as I soak all this in vicariously,” he admitted during that conversation. “My own mother, she was difficult. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but she made it awful hard on me. I never looked back,” he added, “when I left for school.”

I never left home for college. I went to university locally. It was part of my life I suppose: my mother needed my vigilance. I would’ve loved to have lived on campus. I remember visiting my friends who lived in the dorms. Music, “The Cult” was always playing and the halls smelled like popcorn, pot, ramen, vanilla body spray, coffee, patchouli, Dr. Pepper, Finesse shampoo… beer…  I promised myself that if my kids ever wanted to live on campus — even if they went to school locally — that they would live on campus. I’m really glad we have chosen this.

I asked Connor about his own thoughts and impressions; if he’s ready to go, if he’s looking forward to it. “I’m excited. It’s nice though, to not want to leave, too. I’m lucky to be going, to be able to attend college, and I’m lucky to be not terribly ready to go… That it will be hard to go and nice to go… Does that make sense?”

He couldn’t have said it better.

I know I haven’t been writing here or personally anywhere is because of this. How do I go from being a hands-on, non-helicopter Mom of three to this? It is really perplexing. I bought a comforter set for his bed; sheets, pillows, all the towels and textiles. A 28-oz size bottle of Pert (his favorite) is in a bag and waiting for that first pump somewhere in his shower. Without a Batman, likely. I thought I was finished shopping and then I caught up with a bestie today who’s oldest son is also heading out soon for the first time (he’s very tight with my son) and I realized I don’t have pens for him. I didn’t buy pens or notebooks or a stapler. WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER SENDS HER KID OFF TO COLLEGE WITHOUT PENS??

I’ll tell you: the mother who really doesn’t want her kid to leave. Sure, he’s got a computer, but who needs that? We all know learning happens with a pen and paper. No. The “real learning” my son will experience will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook or in the hushed whirr of a hard drive. It’s waiting for him in the dormitory, in the lecture halls, at the dining hall, and in the random conversations with exhausted students in late-night study groups and eating fests.

Really? Did I just write ‘the real learning  … will not be contained between the end papers of a textbook’? Someone shove then trip me when I leave this room. I deserve it. Who knows where the real learning takes place? I hope it’s been taking place all along.  

I expect I will be an emotional disaster worthy of FEMA assistance when I leave him on the 25th. Every time that damned song from “Narnia” comes on my playlist, “The Call,” I start to blubber and sob, really deep ugly crying. It’s not ok. When he walks in the room, I’m all super sunshine and smiles! No, I’m not, and he gets it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from witnessing my mother, it’s that “the show must go on, kid” mentality is a one-way ticket to Xanaxia. I expect the music at the dorms on drop-off day will be Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” or some unknown genre which will pulsate and grind and moan. It will be played at a precise megahertz to annoy the shit out of aging parents and get them the hell off campus tout de suite.

There’s a part of me which needs to go for a drive, a long drive to, say, Charlottesville or somewhere similar so I can process the reality that he’s out. If he were a challenging kid or obstinate or disrespectful or basically horrid, this would be so much easier. He’s not. He’s a GEM of a human. I’ll be real with you, we argue at times, and I think it might be happening more a little now than it ever did, and I wonder if that’s because we know what’s coming.

Is it like one of those “distancing-prep” dynamics wherein people begin to isolate and curl into their corners before a big departure? I am not sure, we are pretty real with each other. He’s all-too ready at times to tell me I’m the reason we are SPEAKING LOUDLY AND CURTLY AT EACH OTHER.

Maybe not Charlottesville… Maybe  I’ll go to the parking lot of his college and stalk him.

My youngest asked me the other day, “Do you think Connor will come home, Mom? You know, just to hang out…?” I honestly didn’t know what to say. I have no expectations. My youngest and my oldest are very similar in temperament. Five and a half years rests between them; we refer to those two as “the bookends” because they are so grounded and rational.

Connor needs this though, to have his own experiences, and I’m so happy for him that he will have them. I’m equally happy that my other sons will miss him a lot. My middle son is excited for him, and he’s really bummed out. “It will be weird around here, without him,” he said. “Like, for every morning of my life, he’s been here to play with or annoy or learn from. He’s taught me so much…” he turns away, stops talking and leaves the room. I start to well up. I know he’s welling up. It’s a frequent occurrence, these bloated, trailing-off conversations about Connor leaving for college.

We talk, we parents, about how we’re robbed of time with our kids. How they grow up and change so fast. How the days drag on but the years fly by… All the clichés and adages and truths. In the end though, we don’t want them here when they’re 33. We want them out and about and falling in love and starting their own families maybe or going to graduate school or getting married… we don’t want them in our basements. We don’t want them in their footie pajamas all their lives — EVEN IF we could have them at cute and floppy, sticky-fingered, sweet-smelling 22 months, all their lives, we wouldn’t want that. Not ever. Don’t tell me you would. “Just one more day… like this…” No. You want them to grow and learn and thrive and shave.

Another friend and I were talking last week. Her son who is Connor’s peer is her youngest of four. He and Connor “played soccer” together when they were five. He is leaving too, for a college five hours away. She was telling me about their conversation they had about his “drop off” at school. She said she asked him if he thought it would be like hers, when her parents helped her unpack her room and they made her bed, and put her posters on the wall and hung up her clothes in the closet… they met her roommate, and then they all went to dinner and walked around the town a little… then her parents spent the night in town and had breakfast in the morning together before they left her alone with her “new life.” She asked him if it would be like that for him or would it be the type of situation where they unpack their car, drop off the boxes and leave him in the dorm to figure it out. No lunch together, no walk around town, no overnight at the local Marriott. She waited, she said, her eyes uncertain, a twitch betraying her calm.

“He said, ‘It will be the second one, mom. Dump and drive. I’m ready. You’re ready. I’ll be back…'” and she sighed after she told me what he said, and we laughed about it, because it was so “him” to say that.

“But I’m not ready…” she said, quietly, her lips pursing as her eyes gazed around her roomy kitchen. Empty of chaos and crusted mac & cheese pans.

And the friends are leaving too. That’s a part of this gig that no one really tells you about: that when your kid takes off for college, his friends are likely doing that as well, so all those faces and sounds and cups you cleaned up and backpacks you danced around won’t regularly be in your way again, either. We’ve been blessed to know lots of his friends, and his girlfriend? Don’t even get me started. Every time I think of her leaving too … it’s not good. I am like Mike Myers playing Linda Richman and having to take a break during “Coffee Talk” and ask you all to tawk ahmonst y’seves becawse I’ve becohm verklempt.

Right now, it’s late. I’m up writing and he’s in the other room watching “Bob’s Burgers” and I can hear him snorting and giggling. It’s really late. He should be in bed.

I’ve got 20, shit, 19 days before my father watches my son eagerly leave his home reluctantly. God help me. If it’s so good for him, why does it hurt so much?

Thank you.

 

Goodbye, Terra Centre

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After 13 years of near daily walks to our elementary school, it has finally happened. We are no longer part of the TCES community; we have “aged out.”

It started in 2003, when my oldest began kindergarten. My youngest was still inside me; he had a few more months to bake. Save for those early postpartum winter weeks after my youngest was born, and about 30 days to use Kiss & Ride on “weathery days” I walked my kids every day to and from school.

The path to school is gorgeous.

 

It was perfect to quiet the mind and give the body just a little jump start to the day. Often it was leisurely and we did see all the things in the images above. I am not a huge believer in stressing out being late to elementary school. What do we miss? Perfect attendance? Or the little TV show they broadcast each morning which announced the cafeteria menu, the weather outside, TC birthdays, and anything else of note … but … please. All of my kids say no one ever listens to that broadcast. I could often be overheard saying to the boys, “It’s not Harvard. We have time. Look around the path… look around this place…” And we would.

Once the final baby came along, so came the daily use of the double stroller, that godsend and albatross. I remember grabbing the leash of our faithful golden, Maggie, wrapping it round the handle of the stroller and pushing off for school as she would keep perfect pace with me, never wavering from her parade. My middle son who is my mirror, often made the experience more melodious than many people were likely ready for so early in the morning. Because he wasn’t a student there yet, he saw little need in going to school to drop off Big Brother. We disagreed daily.

We had a song for him,

Oh I won’t ride my stroller to school
I told my mommy I’d walk
But now my mommy won’t pick me up
So I’m gonna screech like a hawk.

More often than not, we were just on time.

Our first year at the school, around winter break, it was struck by a Norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a vomiting illness. I was walking home the first morning back from break and a TV crew was outside on the main road leading to my house. A well-known female roving reporter, Gail Pennybacher, asked me if she could interview me. With her cameras. I was a new public school mom, recently postpartum with Thing 3, and she wanted to talk to me about the outbreak.

“Are you a parent at the school over that way?” she asked, pointing to TC which you could see now the the trees were bare.

“Yes… what’s this about?” I asked, I’m sure.

She talked about her intentions.

I had no clue about the outbreak. It was over. I guess there was some form of communication from the school before it opened after winter break but I was barely functioning.

I noticed that the disgusting low-pile industrial carpeting was replaced by shiny linoleum tiles, but that was all I knew. Gail told me about the outbreak and asked me if she could film my then-kindergartener son and me washing his hands. I said yes, immediately followed by the caveat that my student son wasn’t home and that I had to put my kids down for a nap. It being a Monday, a half-day back then, I assured her he would be home in three hours.

But I felt weird, as though I was betraying the school. Being a new mom and knowing NOTHING about FCPS and Terra Centre from a parent standpoint (plus people can be assholes), I didn’t want to make enemies over there. During the meantime, I reached out to the principal to let her know that the news crews were stalking the neighborhood.

That was my first interaction with that principal. She called me back and asked me for intel. She said I sounded like I was someone who was media savvy. She was gooood. I said I had worked in PR and was a freelance writer. She said I would be helpful to her. She prowled up to her saucer, got down on her haunches and wrapped her tail around her hips, slowly lapping. “Tell me more…” she said. I told her about me, and then she asked me how to handle the news crew.

That night, the news was on and I saw our segment. My jaw hit the floor when I watched that woman OWN that reporter. She played me. I was so naive. Over the remaining nine years, she and I barely spoke. Outside of the Carter administration, I considered her one of the least effective leaders I’d ever witnessed. I learned over the years that parents had tried unsuccessfully to oust her at least twice before we got there.

I made friends through Terra Centre. Some I still know, others have faded away or moved away. But while I have faded some, I have not moved, which is an oddity here, in one of many communities referred to as the Pentagon’s bedroom.

Most families who roost here are military or somehow entwined with the federal government in public service, civil service or as a contractor.

Once again, my team is an anomaly of two anomalies. I do not hail from a government family, nor does my husband. His family, I think a third-generation Washingtonian tribe, was in private business and my family was in journalism. I feel confident saying there are not many of us around here, those who’ve been here consistently as long as we have.

We moved into this house in 2000. I met this home when it was under contract.

“It’s under contract and it’s higher than your range. Forget it,” Barb, my ever-enthusiastic realtor said.

“I don’t care. I have to see it. Get me in there.” I said.

Barb used her keypad and we were in. I felt dirty, as though I had to whisper everything I said and thought. It was like breaking into a bank vault.

The house wasn’t well-appointed, but it had my requirements: a fenced flat backyard and a basement. It also had other things I didn’t know I had to have: hardwood floors, a playroom, a main floor bedroom with full bath. It didn’t have what I really wanted: a garage, but I’ve found over the years that those just get stuffed with crap no one uses.

“It’s under contract. You can’t be here…” a little woman whisper-shouted in broken English from the top of the stairs. I remember her to this day: graying hair in a bun, half glasses perched on her nose. A floral quilted housecoat. She thought she was protected by the UNDER CONTRACT sign on the post outside her house.

“I understand. I had to see it. I’m compelled to be here. I have a son, he’s 2 and I’ve got another one on the way,” I said, patting my newly swelling belly with the same hand holding my toddler’s wet sticky palm. He flashed his enormous green eyes, long lashes and deep dimples at her.

Her shoulders softened. Her voice warmed and she descended the stairs to just three from the main floor. She was Filipina.

“My name is Corazon,” she said.

“That means ‘heart?’ I said back, smiling. We nodded.

“If the contract falls through,” I said, “Please call my realtor. She’s leaving her card. Please. I need to be here.”

Corazon gestured to the kitchen and said, “the yard … for him.”

For them, I thought to myself. Peering through the windows, I agreed, “it’s lovely.”

“Shade,” she said.

I continued out the kitchen door on to the “deckette” to look at the flat fenced back yard, feeling a little breeze and cooler air than the front. We were nestled beneath a canopy of Oaks, Dogwoods and Sugar Maples. I tried to keep my composure. I needed to be in this house.

It was August. We were still in our bright and airy seven-year-old townhouse. Well, sort of.

Y’see, we don’t have much luck with real estate endeavors. Long story short, our first buyer was under-qualified. I knew it when I saw him cross the threshold late during our open house. When you’re pregnant, you don’t ignore your gut. They wanted to close within 30 days. They were hot to trot. We hadn’t found a house yet. So we got cooking.

Most of the houses around here don’t last long on the market, but it was a weird time. The ones that lingered were absolutely horrendous, smelly, dark and dreary as though the people in them were having to leave against their will. “Aren’t these people motivated to sell?” I would ask my agent, shaking my head and feeling lost every time we unlocked a door.

After living here, in Burke, for almost 16 years though, I get it. People DON’T want to leave here.

Eventually our townhouse sold. It might’ve even been larger than the house we’re in now. My husband likes to think so. I heartily disagree. Doesn’t matter. The first buyers of each house fell through. Our buyer was a cabbie. I knew it was him and he was a cabbie when I saw him drive by in his work vehicle and slow down in front of the house, indicating to his riders (I think his mother and wife or sister) that this was going to be their new home.

My stomach fell out of my body, My vision honed and I got prickly all over my skin witnessing his gestures and sitting there in front of my house under the hot sun. There was no way they had the money. I panicked. I called my husband, he was certain I was wrong. I called our agent, she was telling me I was pregnanty-nervous. She used to be a nurse. I’m really glad she got out of that gig, she had no empathy skills. She listed “weight lifting” as one of her hobbies.

I knew it would fall through. It did. It fell through likely about two weeks after our contract on this house was accepted. The good news is that I wasn’t nuts and pregnanty-nervous. I pointed at my husband and chided my agent. The bad news is that we were effed.

The first buyers of this house walked on the contract because of a Radon issue. Two days after we dropped our card for Corazon, they walked. Her agent called my agent at night. My agent called me. The next morning we went to put an offer on the house contingent with Radon remediation, which she had a contractor there installing that afternoon. My husband hadn’t seen the house until we wrote on it.

Our agent was all “this school and that school… and oooh and shopping and oooh metro… and banks and conveniences…” and I was all, back yard. Shade. School? What do I know of schools… It turns out we landed in a really good school district.

I remember when my husband first stepped on to the tiny deck, “Land!” he said. It’s not a lot, but it’s ours. The kitchen is modest. When my children were very busy and smaller, it was manageable. We did finger painting and conducted general mayhem in the kitchen. Now that they’ve grown, it’s a little tight a lot of the time, even after our renovation. They “eat” (it’s more of inhaling and grunting) at the breakfast bar. We don’t have as many family dinners as we used to. I have two man-childs and another one, the one who just left elementary school, burgeoning. Soon though, the biggest man-child will be off to college so it will be less man-childs.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that either. It feels like it’s all happening so fast.

Terra Centre used to be underground. Well, not really underground, like sub-level, but it was covered in grass. We used to call it the EduCave. But it’s been renovated and that renovation came with a new principal who is leaving…. TC teachers are strong, many of them have been there for at least 10 years and despite the administration being yet again in flux, I have very few reservations about TC’s promise. The class sizes rarely hit above 28 because our neighborhood is 30+ years old; all gross residential development is over. It’s a good school. It’s so good that it’s hard as heck to find a house in this ‘hood.

The other day a realtor came to talk to me about the house next door to me that sold in 4 hours. I had met her clients when I was staring down my sprinkler. They asked me questions about drainage and the walk to the school. They didn’t win the bidding war and the husband was in tears. They loved the house. They loved me too.

The walk to Terra Centre, for me, was part of my routine too. It is 1/3 a mile door to door. Going there and back twice a day ensured I saw other people. It meant exercise, community, sisterhood. I volunteered at the school to assist the teachers, absolutely, and to help the children, no doubt. But I also volunteered to improve my life. To not feel like a failure for not having a job, and for not sitting on my ass eating bon-bons.

I’m not a nostalgist in the least. I’m a “GSD” (Get Shit Done) person. But I am sort of taking my time here. I think that makes people nervous: when someone like me, who’s normally driven, Type A and a go-getter, decides to sit, feel and write and emote… it can be off-putting. Luckily for me, my boys know how I value feeling the feelings so we can process them and get through them. They know I’m not going to run off to the basement with a bottle of vodka and deny myself into oblivion.

The fact of all of this is that I’m a little blue. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. And I guess I am. Will I get over it? No, I will get through it. I don’t want to “get over” anything; I want to process things.

Undoubtedly, people tell me to think of the happy memories. That change is good! That I should remember to concentrate on the tremendous growth the boys have achieved. It’s hard to witness it all, frankly. There was a time when I felt that their growth meant I stagnated, but I see it now, we’ve all grown.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: EVERYTHING and EVERYONE we encounter is our teacher. Sometimes they are teachers reminding us to hold our ground, and other times, they are teachers telling us to get our shit together. Terra Centre taught me about service, friendship, neighbors, boundaries, and duty.

I remember early in my volunteering that it had occurred to me that I wasn’t much of a volunteer. I sort of got down on myself a little about that. I grew up in a largely narcissistic environment, so I was conditioned to deal with and for myself because, well, that’s how a kid survived narcissists. You had to be a narcissist… When in Rome…

But I also gave myself a pause. How do we change? By changing. So it was at Terra Centre. It was the first time I was a mom of a student somewhere. At the preschools, they’re all about getting moms out of their houses and out with others: shopping, doctor appointments, taking care of themselves. They are purposely short days 3-4 hours apiece so the kids don’t get antsy and the moms can maybe get a nap.

I was nudged by a neighbor to volunteer at Fun Fairs (think mini carnival populated by  drunken toddlers). She is a child of service members and married to one. I learned that Fun Fair isn’t my jam. So she suggested a dance. Tried it. NFW. Movie night. Nope. I realized eventually, while jumping through the proposed hoops, serving on the PTA, presiding over the PTA and other involvement that I’m more about GSD than telling kids to stop running or to “put that down” and getting other parents to see me as a performer.

While I’m an extrovert, when it comes to getting shit done, I’m a silent partner. I bought a tiger suit for the school mascot. Either they hadn’t had one in a decade or they never had one (since the present principal at the time arrived). So I bought one and the PTA paid me back. I’ll never forget the first day I wore it. It was after school. The Friday before Columbus Day in 2008 and a young teacher was walking the halls and I was in the tiger suit. She screamed and JUST ABOUT passed out. She almost fell down running away. She left the school after that year. I want to say TC Tiger had nothing to do with it but … phobias be powerful… The story is that got engaged and moved to Ohio…

I had no idea she actually had “masklophobia”: a real phobia of people in costumes / mascot suits. She told me about it later. She wasn’t around to see me when I took the tiger head off my head and said “It’s OK! It’s ME! It’s Molly!”

I wore that suit for school events for little over a school year. It didn’t fit me. I looked like a malnourished fake tiger. “TC Tiger” was the mascot name and the kids simply could not get enough of TC Tiger. I was ready to pass the baton despite my obsession to make sure TC Tiger was well-handled: you can’t see less than 4 feet in front of yourself in a mascot suit and so accidentally mowing down a kid is entirely too possible.

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This is me in the mascot suit the day it arrived: the Friday before Columbus day 2008. It’s from an album titled, “TC Tiger Visits School and Molly Loses 4# in the Process.”

The funny thing about being inside that suit is that you’re smiling but people can’t see you. So when tiny children run away traumatized but you’re in there cooing and making “It’s OK Toodles, it’s just me, Molly,” faces, they can’t see that. All they can see is a giant head, fangs and a stupid smile and huge hands trying to hug (NOT GASH) them.

The principal at the time wasn’t too thrilled with the PTA being so “school spirit-y” she felt that was her job. Sitting in her office, hiding most of the day, biding her time until retirement. She was lukewarm to TC Tiger. Or maybe it was me she was lukewarm to. It was most likely me… By this point, I think all three of my kids were in the school and she and I had cooled from that first encounter when she gaslighted me after Norovirus. Often she was content letting the school be “cleaned” by employees who’d rather be hanging out smoking at Starbucks across the street… Truth. We had issues with that. Hence, the Norovirus.

I learned that exercising my talents: writing, public relations, empathy, awareness of our connection to others, art, rallying for a cause to benefit all, enthusiasm for other people, their right to live on Earth and their promise, is really what works for others and what makes me hum. Doing all the volunteer stuff I was talked into doing didn’t further anythig of any value, for me or them. I learned to advocate and get the attention of the County on important matters such as hygiene, safety and communication.

At Terra Centre, as in any school environ nestled in Power Play central, the real work can be in dealing with adults.

Now I’m talking about the parents… persons with multiple degrees, fancy letters or abbreviations before and after their names, ranks, and connections. I also learned about projection, inadequacy and self-esteem issues, drama, need for excitement, and the predilection for some of those parents to stand on the narrow shoulders of or behind the gentle chests of their children.

The children? They taught me kindness and patience. They taught me boundaries. You have no choice when a little girl grins at you through her gapped teeth, “I GOT IT I GOT IT” when you try to help her with her milk carton.

In May, my youngest banished me from the walk because he wanted to walk alone to school for the last three weeks. A helicopter parent, I am not, but the kid seldom gets out on time, and I like the exercise. We also use that time to chat about stuff. He banished me from the walk home back in November, “I’m 12 now…” so … yeah. There was no excuse / little brother onto place my interest. He was the excuse. He was the little brother.

So we made a deal: he gets out of the house by 8:27 and he could walk by himself. He did alright. But on the last week, I pulled rank. I told him I would be walking with him on the last day of school. To and From. He didn’t balk. I think he got it. For 6th graders, the last day is traditionally a “recognition” ceremony. The kids get “certificates of achievement” of being a student at the school and passing 6th grade. Other awards are given out — it’s lovely actually.

The morning of the last day, it rained, so his dad drove us. The walk home though… I was not giving that up. I would NOT make the day before my last walk home from school. I did not give up a career in corporate communications and PR to miss this moment.

Here’s how it went:

If you watch that video until the end, you’ll see he turns around to look at me. The fades in the video were not my doing, it was the light coming in as we left the shade of the path. The house in my comments is not mine.

At first I was self-conscious about doing it but I quickly put that away. As you will see, our walks to and from school are Rockwellian. I’m good with the video now. I didn’t discover his backward gaze until I watched it last night. That it’s 1:43 in length, “143” being our code for “I Love You” makes the capture all the more lovely to me.

In a sense, I grew up here at Terra Centre. I learned that persistence overcomes resistance and that a gaggle of noisy parents who give a damn can effect real change on a busy over-traveled street. I learned that school principals are just people too and they come with their own dreams, fears, alliances, and hesitations. I learned that rational people can run a school and that kids needn’t be afraid of principals.

Most of all, I learned about myself. I learned that it’s ok for me to miss the school. After 13 years, I felt like family. To my kids, it’s a place they where they learned to tie their own shoes. To me, it’s a place where I liked to walk. I always appreciated my walks to Terra Centre.

I will miss it very much, and so I get it when I see moms of kids in high school or college or medical school or living in Manhattan on their own with a family walking their dogs with the moms of kids in third grade… just to see a little kid again or to mosey beneath the shade on the way to another day to ourselves.

Thank you.