## Random equations in the mathematics of life

### Around and Around

A few years ago, I planned a trip for the family.

It was a crappy time in our lives. The Scientist and I had just barely come off of a 6 month legal separation. My father died after 4 months of being in and out of the hospital. The Ambassador was dealing with the disintegration of his relationship with a cousin whom he used to worship, who had now turned into a bully. His physical bruises were numerous, but the emotional ones took a lot longer to heal. The Professor and the Artist were navigating the treacherous waters of teenagers. All in all, it was a mess.

So I planned a trip.

I told the kids I’d chosen a spot with “something for all of us”. We were going to Idaho. At first, they were shocked, incredulous, and even protesting. Then they figured out I was outright lying, but couldn’t figure out the real destination. I explained that they’d need passports in case we crossed over into the Canadian Rockies. Those beautiful dress clothes? Well, they’re for the formal barbecue and hayride, of course. All throughout the spring, I would expound on the beauty of Idaho, and all the cool stuff we would see there. The kids would roll their eyes, and wonder out loud where we were really going.

The week before we left, I gave the kids a puzzle with about two dozen questions on it. The answers fit into numbered spaces, and all were about, you guessed it, Idaho. They hunted down the answers, and kept the papers until the day we left, salivating over the final clue they’d unscramble.

We packed the car, got in, started driving, and stopped for breakfast. I handed them the last piece of paper – the holy grail containing our true destination, simply by placing numbered letters into the spaces.

Almost.

Remember Ralphie, from A Christmas Story, and his secret decoder ring? Yeeeah. Theirs said, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” too!  I found this hilarious. The kids? Not so much. The Ambassador didn’t speak to me for half an hour!

We got back in the car, and I handed over my laptop. On it was a Power Point, set to music (Two Tickets to Paradise and Guitars and Tiki Bars), detailing our cruise ship, along with each port and what we’d be doing there. The kids freaked out. They forgave me incredibly fast, amazingly enough, and the fun began.

That trip was really good for us. We spent time together, away from the outside world, reassuring each other that no matter what else, we would always be a family. But there were tensions. The Scientist and I were in a really bad place, and though we covered pretty well, we both felt it just the same. I was fine being on the trip with him, but would’ve preferred not to share a cabin with him. We do pretty well when we travel together, but even the Caribbean couldn’t erase the problems in our relationship. Our friendship was crumbling around us, and that had always been the foundation for the rest of the family. We were in danger of losing everything.

2 months after that trip, I asked for a divorce. We separated once again, starting the one year clock required by our state before a divorce would be granted. A month after that, we started therapy, not to rebuild a lost marriage, but to at least attempt to sew back together the shredded fabric of a long standing friendship. Quite honestly, I thought it was a lost cause. While I would never speak against their father, I was done, and simply wanted to move on to parent the kids and try to pick up the pieces of my life.

Now, 4 ½ years later, we are headed back to Idaho. We’re going to a different area, but Idaho just the same. This time, our friendship is in a really good place. Our relationship has changed in so, so many ways, but we are still best friends, and now we’re both much better parents to our kids.

This year, like 2009, has also been tough. The Scientist lost his father after almost the same amount of time as my own father. We’ve lost some friends in sudden, tragic ways. The stresses have slowly eroded us, but we know the island sunshine, and the bond we have as a family will help us put each other back together.

We’ll miss our friends while we’re off the grid for a few days, but it’s a much needed break. There are times in which social media is great, and times when it gets in the way. This week, it would get in the way of the rest and reconnection we so desperately need.

Hopefully, everyone will find the peace they seek this holiday season. There is no perfect world, but maybe, just for a little slice of time, we can find our own version.

### The better side

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Or, as she was called back then, a tomboy. There were lots of other things she was called back then, too. Among the nicer ones were, “wild child”, “spaz”, and “fortheloveofGODwillyousitstill”. There really wasn’t a name for it back in the 70s, but the tomboy child, aka me, had AD/HD. It’s one of the rare occasions in which I have been ahead of the trends. An AD/HD hipster, that’s me. “I was AD/HD before it was fashionable.”

Back then, the brain scans that show the dopamine deficiency in the pre-frontal lobe of the brain weren’t done. And at the time, kids really weren’t medicated. No, treatment for AD/HD was geared toward a much more holistic approach. My parents were told to spank/smack me more often, reduce my sugar intake, put me in sports, and have me skip a grade. Being dedicated parents, they did all of this. Oddly enough, despite such sound advice, my AD/HD didn’t abate. I was intelligent and bored, and the teeny little Catholic school had no idea what to do with me. So I went from being well liked in my class to being bullied by my new class. I was a “baby”, being a year younger and was seen as an invader. My new classmates were pretty clever, not getting caught as they tripped me, hid my books, stole my pens and pencils, and generally made sure that I was in trouble for being unprepared on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, I didn’t react to this with any sort of maturity. I learned to fight.

Being bullied made me hate most of my peers, and made me not trust the rest of them. I had a few friends, mostly boys, as I acted more like them than I did the girls. I related better to people who liked to play, roughhouse, engage in sports, and be genuine than the prissy little China dolls that were in my class. And really, if a boy bullied me and I decked him, he respected that I fought back. Girls, not so much.

My teachers vacillated between loving me because I was a superior student academically to gritting their teeth in frustration at the fact that I was in constant motion, a chatterbox, and bored stupid. But skipping me another grade wasn’t an option; I didn’t have the maturity.

As an adult, I majored in psychology in school. My adviser was a leading researcher in the field of AD/HD, and I sought his counsel on some behavioral techniques I could use in managing it. I have never been medicated beyond the use of caffeine when I had a paper or project or exam, but I also know the pitfalls of Adult AD/HD if it is unmanaged. And now, as an adult, I hear other educators, parents, and even some psychology professionals discussing AD/HD as a cross to bear, a huge burden to be handled, and the bane of the person’s existence. Is it a disorder? A deficiency of a vital neurotransmitter in the brain? Yup. But kids, and even adults, who have AD/HD may as well have their own scarlet letters on their foreheads.

Quite frankly, this pisses me off.

There are aspects of AD/HD that can inhibit my life. I do not dispute these in the least. But AD/HD is not a curse. It is not a horrible affliction in my life, and in actuality, it has some really amazing benefits.

My job requires me to be able to manage multiple projects at once, shifting gears among them several times a day. I am able to do this with ease. I can be reading an article in order to write test items to it, stop to answer the phone, check my email, answer a question from a coworker, and go right back on the page to the word where I left off, without having to reread any of it. The flow of information keeps right on going. I do use organizational strategies such as lists and calendars to keep deadlines straight, and for my home life, it helps me remember dates and important events. But being able to manage the lives of 5 people (when the Kellions were younger)? No problem.

Another beautiful thing about AD/HD is creative thinking. Most kids with this prefer not just to think outside the box, but to live outside the box, and then use the box for a completely unique purpose. This is something that employers can utilize, teachers can encourage, and family members can enjoy. We have the mental capabilities to see new solutions to problems, approach issues with innovative ideas, and create new methods of doing things from the scraps of others’ failures. This, my friends, is not just good; it’s amazing.

AD/HD is comorbid with depression in approximately 85% of those who have it. That, to me, is unacceptable. While depression is largely genetic, there is absolutely an environmental component here that doesn’t need to be. Perhaps if society, especially parents and teachers, learned to rethink their own paradigms about AD/HD, and work with it instead of simply trying to squash it with drugs, those numbers would drop. Children see themselves through the eyes of the adults around them. If those adults are constantly complaining about them, and moaning about having to “deal with” their AD/HD, why wouldn’t they become depressed? They start to see themselves as their disorder. They are no longer a kid who has this unique aspect to their brain, but as a disease, something insidious to treat and hide, since we cannot cure.

It’s long past time that we look beyond the old ways of equating AD/HD to some horrific curse, and start to see it for what it can be. Teach children behavioral accountability, coping strategies, and be their support system. If meds are needed for success, provide them. But remember that first and foremost, behavior strategies and often therapy are absolutely integral to their lives. Encourage the creativity and brain power these kids have, and the results will be far better than what we see today.

### Dividing By Zero

So 2013 just started, and it’s got me thinking a lot about death.

No, I’m not suicidal.  And no, as occasionally tempting though it may be, I’m not killing anyone else, either.

But death has been around a lot lately, and it’s got me thinking about my own mortality.

My father-in-law has terminal cancer, and just found out that it’s spread throughout his body.  After a lifetime of smoking, drinking, along with a steadfast refusal to eat healthy, we kind of assumed that he would forego any aggressive treatment at this point.  It may buy him a few months, but at what cost to his quality of life?  Last time he was in treatment, he was told in no uncertain terms that if he chose to keep smoking and drinking, that it would kill him.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  He lit up another cigarette, swigged another beer, and flipped a metaphorical bird to anyone to challenged him.

So you can imagine our surprise when we were informed that he’d decided to pursue radiation and chemo.  For what purpose?  Reality may have set in, along with the fear of imminent death, but it’s too little, too late.  The cancer, at this point, has spread too far and been fed too generously.  There is no chance this time, of wiping it out.  The only possibility would be to delay the inevitable for a short time, leaving him sick and possibly unable to care for himself.  The ultimate slap in the face to my mother-in-law, who has spent her entire life caring for others.

His cognitive functioning is now impaired, though, so whether that decision is legally viable or not is certainly up for discussion.  (Not by me, however!)  It should be interesting to see how this plays out, though.

January also brought about the first anniversary of Jedi’s death.  Jedi was a good friend of the Ambassador, and the waves of grief that went through our house radiated for months after.  In the year since the smile of an amazing fifteen year old kid went out, the community has pulled together in little ways.  It makes me wish that the positive ripples could happen without the tragedy to poke the water.

My health issues, for now, are nowhere near debilitating or even serious.  They’re manageable though annoying, and occasionally cause me to change plans on the fly.  But what about later?  What about that eventual time when my own kids will be waiting for phone calls after I see the doctor, wondering what my choices will be and how it’ll affect their own lives?

The Scientist has a phobia of aging/dying, so any conversations about that sort of thing tend to be shut down very fast.  Years ago, in a medical ethics class, we had to draft and sign Power of Attorney and Living Will documents.  He signed them as my executor, but didn’t want to discuss the details.  I let it go, but even now he doesn’t want to hear anything about “when the time comes”.

But the fact is that at some point in our lives, that time does come.  And while no one can know what the future holds, the odds point to me being the one to have more serious health issues first, as I have some impairments now.  What to do?  When I started to explain my feelings on this, some twenty years after my initial foray into it, the conversation was shut down just as fast.  He simply doesn’t want to hear it.

I am a staunch believer in the power of choice.  I support assisted suicide for those who make the conscious, cognitively sound choice to choose when their life will end.  Suicide, when linked to depression, is one of the most painful decisions with horrific ramifications for those left behind.  But when a person’s quality of life and physical wellbeing is failing, and they make a well thought-out choice to take their leave on their own terms, I don’t really see how the trauma would be that much worse.

Death is never an easy topic to discuss.  Whether it’s our own, or that of someone we love, the loss and heartache isn’t something readily faced by most people.  But for me, I would rather not be a burden, be it physically or financially or emotionally, on the people I love.  My choice, my conscious, carefully-considered choice, is to avoid that mess.  Let me clear in this: I am not depressed.  I have no wish to harm myself or take my own life right now, or even any time soon.  I’m talking about several years down the road, when time and a life well lived has taken its toll on my physical body to the point that it breaks down.  When my dignity and my joy of existence falter, it is time for me to bid my loved ones farewell, and check out.

I fully realize that my choices are controversial, to say the least.  Many religions believe that a deity is supposed to choose my time of death for me; that it isn’t my decision, but theirs.  Really?  Well, what if the deity had decided years ago, but some heroic doctor cheated it and saved me?  Isn’t that flouting the decision as well?  I know, I know…the counter to that is that if the deity had truly decided, then the heroic doctor would’ve failed.  But I don’t necessarily buy that.  Modern medicine has extended our lives long past the end of our quality of life.  The almighty doctors can treat a disease to keep our shells intact for a while, but our souls stop being viable longer before.

I choose to be done with my physical shell when my soul is ready to fly away.  As a believer in reincarnation, I figure I’ll be back anyhow, so it isn’t that big a deal.

We treat death as if it is a horrific thing to be avoided and feared at all costs, rather than just the next step in our cycle.  I refuse to do this.  While I have no desire to have lunch with the Grim Reaper any time soon, I also have no desire to sit outside my body as a spirit, just waiting for someone to finally stop trying to scrape together a few more minutes.  When the time comes that I make the decision, I will share it with a few trusted people.  I will gather my friends and family to celebrate my life, and I will convey the love I have for each and every person I value.

But after that, I will peacefully make my way into the next realm.  I will take the hand of those who have gone before, I will kiss the ones I leave behind, and smiling with the joy of a life well-lived, I will go quietly into that good night.

### Divisions

The holiday season is one of my favorites.  Despite not being religious, I still sing the traditional “Christmas” songs of my childhood at St. Madeleine Sophie church/school.  I’m the person who has lights wrapped around the ski rack on top of my car (yes, they work and yes I get complimented on them!).  I actually love finding cool gifts for the people I love, and even wrapping them.  I have fun finding goofy, hilarious cards, and even writing the letter and taking the photo to slip inside.  Decking the halls is fun, spending the day going to the mountains with my family to choose and cut a tree is one of my favorites.

But I have to say that there is one thing that brings out the Grinchy McScroogerson inside me.

I cannot stand people who whine and complain about the phrase, “Happy Holidays.”  There is no “war on Christmas.”  No one is cursing Christianity by using the phrase, “Happy Holidays.”  What they’re doing is recognizing the fact that there are a bunch of holidays that occur this time, and making a genuine attempt to show respect to ALL of them.  People who crow about “Jesus is the reason for the season” need to check their history books.  The birth of Christ has been definitively shown to have occurred some time in August.  The celebration was moved to December in a vain attempt to overshadow Saturnalia and Solstice.  Yet, in as much as the Christian faith wanted to abolish the Pagan holidays, it has no issue with bogarting several Pagan traditions such as mistletoe, decorated trees, and wreaths.  In fact, I would absolutely love to have a Christian reader explain to me why, since Pagan religions are so evil, they fly in the face of their own bible to have Christmas trees in their house?  Jeremiah 10: 1-5 certainly seems clear to me.  Hmm.

So instead of whining and complaining when someone doesn’t look at you and inherently know what faith you practice, and which holidays you celebrate, maybe you could step back, remove your head from your colon, and just accept the fact that someone is being nice to you.  Smile.  Say something back.  If you prefer to use “Merry Christmas” simply because it’s what you celebrate, and you don’t care what those other heathens say, Jesus would never want you to acknowledge or respect other traditions, fine.  Rock on.  But stop acting like a self-righteous douchecanoe when someone wishes you peace, love, and joy in a greeting.

*****

The holiday season also brings out family issues for me, and I realize that I am not the least bit unique in this.  Guilt is slathered on thickly in my family, wielded by an expert in the application.  My mother has always sought to have things exactly as she wants them, no matter what the cost to anyone else.  She decides how the scene will unfold, and Dog help anyone who dares deviate from her wishes.  When we were kids, she refused to tolerate even the hint of a lie.  Yet in her own world, she will say whatever she feels needs to be said to maintain the level of control she seeks over her children, her friends, her whole existence.  She would, at the same time, insist that she doesn’t lie.  She “forgets” or “misunderstood” but how dare you suggest that she lied?  What she actually does is interpret things differently, and then conveys those interpretations in the most convenient translations.  But lie? Noooooo.

I have crumbled in the face of “family first” so many times I can’t even count.  I have betrayed my own heart and soul to accommodate the whims and wishes of my mother, to bend over backwards to keep peace, holding silent on episode after episode of bullshit.  So this year, I’ve decided to listen to my therapist and try to stay true to me.  I have no desire to pretend to be happy to hang out with Golden Boy and his new girlfriend, or my aunt who is so utterly clueless that she hasn’t figured out that her wardrobe needs to evolve beyond that of a 25 year old (she’s nearly 60).  My sister approached me last year with the decision that our families should not get together anymore.  I was more than a little surprised, as my family, while not enthused at attending these holiday farces, were at least willing to do so with a shrug.  That her family was “absolutely on board” as she put it, hurt my kids a lot.  They had issues with one of their cousins but not so much with the other.  So when the one cousin made an attempt with an olive branch this year, it truly was too little too late, I guess.  I don’t get in the middle of it anymore; they’re nearly adults and need to figure out their own way.  But they’ve seen quite clearly from my own life that genetics do not make “family”.  Love, trust, and loyalty do.

My holiday season will have its share of stresses, as my in-laws will be with us for my entire break.  They’re good people, but have no hobbies or interest beyond sitting around the house.  It doesn’t mesh well with our family, but we’re going to hopefully make it work for everyone.  That being said, I am determined to have my own peaceful few weeks.  My Zen Holiday.  I’ve got presents wrapped as they come in the house, cards ready to be sent tomorrow, shopping done, menus planned.  I have definitely decided not to work over the break, unlike the chaotic deadlines of last year.  But most of all, I am not attending my “family gathering”.  My mother flew at me when I mentioned possibly being away for the weekend on which it’s planned.  She swore that my sister said she told me the date and everyone said it was fine.  Not true.  I know to double check with my sister on anything my mother says, and she confirmed that my mother hadn’t even mentioned the date to her.  Then last night, when my mother was out to dinner with my sister’s family, my sister mentioned my being absent that weekend.  My mother furiously denied this, swearing up and down that she checked the date with me and that I’d said it was great.  See what I mean?

This season is going to be about my family – the Scientist, the Professor, the Artist, and the Ambassador.  It’ll be about the people who mean the most to me, my chosen family, outside of those four, and it’ll be about that elusive Zen.

Wishing you and your family love, joy, Zen, and  “Happy Holidays”, no matter which ones you celebrate!

### Kinda Like Linear Algebra

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…oh wait, wrong story.

Sorry.  Let’s try again.

Once upon a time…no, that doesn’t work either.

Hmm.

Back in the Dark Ages of 1990, the Scientist took a class called Linear Algebra.  I had a class at the same time as him, but on one fateful (see how I added suspense there?) day, my own was cancelled.  I thought it’d be fun to tag along with him to class, as I always liked math in high school.  Boy was I crazy.

The professor put a particular problem up on the board (*sigh*  Yes, in the Dark Ages, we still used blackboards with real chalk!) that had, I kid you not, more letters in it than numbers.  And the worst part?  Not all of the letters were common Arabic.  Nope.  There were Greek letters mixed in with them.  I was baffled, to say the least.  I had rocked out “regular” Algebra, loved Trigonometry, breezed through Geometry, and loved it all.

This?  This, my friends, was beyond my comprehension.  I pondered trying to learn it, despite the fact that I was a psych major, but then decided that unless I wanted to become and abnormal psych case study, I’d leave Linear Algebra to the smarter minds like the Scientist.  It kinda bugged me for a while, but I came to the conclusion that there are some things in this life that I simply do not need, or particularly want, to take the time to understand.  I don’t hit that point often, but I did so again last week, and I think it might be a Good Thing.

When the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan of my old blog, and certain members of my family decided that I was the Devil Incarnate for posting about Golden Boy’s 2 year molestation of me, along with my best friend, conversations arose with one certain person.  This certain person had caught my brother with me, and of course, Golden Boy swore that was the only time, blahblahblah.  After reading my blog, this person consulted a pastor, and a psychologist on staff where she worked to ask them their opinion.  Both people flat out said, “If it happened once, it happened multiple times.  She’s telling the truth.”  Of course, I was so, so glad to have required outside opinions to confirm my words as truth, but we’ll leave the sarcasm out of this for now.  Of course, it wasn’t any real surprise to me that confirmation was needed for this person – otherwise, she was privy to child abuse and molestation and did nothing.  Granted, she was only 15 herself, and not to blame.  She wasn’t an adult.  But now?  Now what?

So when I was told that Golden Boy had indeed been “caught” with me once, I was pretty surprised.  I had absolutely no memory of that.  I wracked my brain, nothing.  Why did I not remember?  Strange, as I remember pretty much every other detail of it.  Perhaps it was my brain’s way of shutting out the knowledge that someone could have helped me and didn’t.  Perhaps I couldn’t handle the fact that I truly was that powerless.  No idea.

Last week, like any other given morning, I was hurrying to get ready for work.  I turned to rinse the conditioner out of my hair, and it felt like someone had dropped one of Wile E Coyote’s boulders on my chest.  I got dizzy, clammy, and I had to sit down on the bench in our shower for a minute to get my bearings.  In that one split second, I remembered.  Every detail.  I remembered what I’d said, in a child’s voice that rose past the veil of secrecy he’d built to cause her to burst in.  I remembered the look of guilt that morphed into derision, on his face.  I remembered the look of shock, and then disgust on hers.  I remembered everything he said; he blamed it on me, and told her that I wouldn’t leave him alone.  I remembered her shoving me out of his room, yelling at me to go to mine.  And most of all?  I remembered her coming to my room later, and telling me that what I had done was dirty, wrong, and disgusting.  She told me I needed to go to confession, and to hope that God could ever forgive me for what I had done.

I was 6 years old.

And of course, it wasn’t even remotely the last time.  In fact, the next time he got his hands on me, well, let’s just say I’d rather I hadn’t remembered that part.

When I recovered my senses in the shower, I dried off, got dressed, went to work.  My hour-long commute that morning, and that afternoon, was rife with unanswered questions, and the biggest one of all was, “Why?”  Why in the hell had he gone after me, and why didn’t she tell my parents?  Well, I know the answer to that second part.  My parents would’ve killed Golden Boy, and she was so close to him that she protected him at all costs.  Better to sacrifice me.  *shrug*  Wouldn’t be the first or last time.

As I drove, something in the swirls of rage and pain just stopped.  Defense mechanism?  Maybe.  Maybe it was just an acceptance that I will never know why it happened, and at this point?  It’s just not important to me anymore.  I don’t care enough about him to give him the opportunity to soothe his own soul with an apology.  I can’t change the past.  But I can make sure that what happened in my past doesn’t ruin my future.  And I think I’ve done that.

And so, in a moment of peace, I came to the realization that my brother, like Linear Algebra, would stay forever in the realm of things that just aren’t important enough for me to waste the effort to understand.  Small victories, maybe, but they still work.

### Squaring the Circle

About 6 years ago, I had a doctor’s appointment with the orthopedic surgeon who had ruined my knee.  (Yes, worker’s comp still had me seeing him for it.)  This was approximately 14 months after I started physical therapy with the amazing PT that I’d come to really adore.  He had always told me that he would not stop pushing me to improve until the time came that therapy turned, and did more harm to the joint than good.  That time had come.  I carried the report with me, and it felt like the heaviest piece of paper I’d ever felt.  The Therapist and I had talked for an hour the day before, and his disappointment at the failure of our joint efforts was palpable.

Because this was a worker’s comp case, I’d had what was called a Functional Capacity Evaluation. In this, I was hooked up to a computer that measured my ability to do numerous different activities, with the injured leg, but also with my hands and arms, to see how my body functioned as a whole.  The guy who administered it explained that the computer prevented people from faking the results, and laughed at my confusion as to why someone would do that.  My question was, “Why would you want to fake this?  I would think people want to get better.”  My naivete amused him, but he was sweet about it when he told me that some people want to bilk the system to get a higher disability rating.  I scoffed at that idea and told him that I wasn’t doing that – I had a life to live.  The results of the evaluation were quite clear.  Overall, I had a 92% deficit in my right leg.  This means that on average, my right leg functions correctly 8% of the time, and that is it.  That report also went with me to the doctor that day.

The doctor came in, having read the Therapist’s letter, along with the FCE Report, and his eyes were sad.  Despite the crap that had gone down, he really did like me and hoped I would get better.  He sat down with me and said that the official conclusion, based on all professional opinions and official tests, is that I will not walk by myself again.  Ever.  I can do it in small, enclosed spaces, like my bedroom where I can hold things and catch myself on furniture if I start to fall.  But I can never do it outside, where the ground is uneven, and never with shoes on, even inside because they impede my ability to feel the floor.  I was, in a word, numb.  It never once occurred to me that I wouldn’t recover from this disaster, and now I was faced with the possibility that I truly wouldn’t.

I spiraled a bit that day.  I climbed back, but only with the help of a few certain people.  As I am a huge fan of showing gratitude, I’d like to do it here.  These are in no particular order – just the order in which they popped into my head.  (P.S.  The tattoo is Latin.  It’s a quote from the philosopher Cicero, and translates to, “While I breathe, I hope.”)

The Musician – you and I have been best friends for a long time, and we know each other better than pretty much anyone else on the planet.  You are the person who has never given up, even when I almost did.  You sent me articles on athletes who had experimental procedures, you called me out when I was sliding too close to the edge of “I quit” and you have loved me even when I snapped at you in frustration.  You provide perspective when mine is skewed, and you have never failed to be there for me when I needed you.  I am so incredibly blessed, lucky, whatever you want to call it, to have you in my life every day.

The Photographer – my sister from another mother, my twin, separated before birth.  It never ceases to amaze me how well we have gotten along, never even having argued or snarked at each other in thirteen years of friendship.  We founded the Little Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence together, and kept the Sisterhood alive in the Sisters of Bad Habits as well.  You’ve gotten drunk with me, you’ve sniped and snarked with me when I needed to vent, and you were the one who compared my knee to a cheap whore when it acts like one (going down without getting paid).  I’m not sure what the hell I would do without you in my life, and I sure as hell hope I never find out.  You and I have told each other stuff that no one else knows, and for that, we’ll always been on even ground, since we could bury each other.  =)  No one quite understands us as sports moms, and that’s why you were the one person who didn’t bark at me when I spent 8 hours at a track meet, 2 days post-knee-surgery.  I love you every day, and I cannot wait til we can head to the islands together.

The Trainer – you have been in my life for the shortest amount of time in this crew, but you have made a huge impact.  You are the one who always helps me find the lesson, and I do the same for you.  No bullshit between us, no mincing words.  From pathological leprechauns to fruit bats, you are the one person who can strip everything else away to see the real problem I’m having and help me address it.  I can be who I really am when I hang out with you, and for that, you have no idea how grateful I am.  No masks to wear, no pretense to maintain – just me.  You became part of the “village” the “raises” my children, and they love you as much as I do.  No matter what the circumstances that brought you into my life, I will be forever grateful for the fact that you chose to stay there.  Thailand awaits us!

The Ambassador – so many stereotypes fly about teenage boys, and you break every one of them.  Your dedication to being there for me whenever I need you, and even sometimes when I don’t =), your protective streak that is a mile wide, all make you the son that other parents wish they had.  I know that my situation was part of the reason you decided to become a physical therapist, and to know that I helped to inspire you makes it all worthwhile.  Your smile and your humor make me feel better when I don’t feel well.  Thank you for being such an amazing young man.

The Artist – you and I have always had a connection, and that was so evident when I was sick.  You knew before anyone else did when I was in pain, and you’d magically appear with ice or meds, or the perfectly brewed mug of tea.  Your creative spirit and your ability to quietly get it done when you need to inspires me when I’ve had enough.  Every time you dance to your own drummer, you show the world what it is to be a strong individual.  I wanted to raise strong women, and you prove to me every day that I have succeeded.  I can’t wait to see how you rock the art world.

The Professor – From the time you were a baby, you have been so sure of yourself, and such a complex individual.  Other parents were fascinated by your natural resistance to peer pressure, and your self-assurance in who you were.  It was such a gift for us to see you come of age, and see how you developed.  You checked on my every day in the hospital, learned to do the IV infusions with quiet confidence, and appointed yourself my personal caretaker.  You are a natural born caretaker, and it shows in your sweetness.  My Pi Baby has become a Math/Econ Goddess!

And last, but certainly not least, The Scientist.  You and I went to hell and back multiple times over the years.  We certainly did a number on each other, and the damage can’t be undone.  But despite having to tear everything down, declare it “over and done” and starting from scratch, I think we’ve built a pretty cool friendship back up.  You’ve always been protective and supportive, and have done so much to help get stuff done so I don’t overdo it.  Your protective streak is definitely what spawned the Ambassador’s, but I’m grateful for it just the same.  I’m lucky to have you at the end of the day, every day, walking in the sand, swimming with the stingrays, and watching the sun go down.

Things may be deteriorating with my knee now, but I find solace in the fact that these people have chosen to be in my life every single day.  So even if my body decides to fail, the love I receive will keep my spirit perfectly intact.

### Order of Operations

PEMDAS.  We all learned it in math class as kids, but how do you apply it to your adult life?  Prioritizing the various stressors in my life has always posed a challenge for me.  I tend to get very down on myself if I cannot handle Every. Single. Thing. on my own, so being organized and being able to see the game plan helps to alleviate some of that.  When I think about prioritizing my loyalties, that has never been an issue.  Not ever.  But what happens when those two things overlap?

My first loyalty has always been to family.  No exceptions.  But lately, I have had to make some very hard decisions in order to protect not just myself, but my own kids as well.  In doing so, I had to face an enormous amount of guilt and some pain, too, in knowing that the people I once put above all else no longer deserved to be there.  I gave second chances, I let stuff go, I ignored behaviors, and I made excuses.  The end result, though, was that none of it worked.  The problems didn’t miraculously go away, and I had to take a step back to realize that Stephen Covey has a very good point.  “You cannot change someone else’s behavior; you can only change your reaction to it.”  He offers up a concept he calls a “sphere of control” that made a lot of sense.  Part of our stress and our worry comes from trying to control things outside of that sphere.  If it is not in your power to control it, and you waste time and energy fighting that, you risk losing the more important aspects in your life in the process.  Instead, figure out what in the situation you can control, and do that.  Then step back.  When things hit, you have a choice in how you react.  Yes, it is still your own choice, your own responsibility.  But you choose the reaction, and you own the ensuing processes.

I tried to put this theory into practice, but that guilt I mentioned was pretty strong.  It wove its way into my heart, making it heavy with sorrow and with loss.  “You’re the one giving up here, Mick.  You’re the one bailing, not having faith.”  And the worst one was, “You are being disloyal.  This is family you’re talking about here.”  Loyalty is so very important to me, as I’ve had it betrayed on numerous occasions by those I thought were trustworthy.  So the insidious little voices of guilt knew exactly which button would get me to second guess myself.  And trust me, I did so.  Repeatedly.

But that’s where the prioritization comes into play.  No matter how much we might like to say that we love and value people equally, that’s a big ol’ steaming crock of…well, you get my drift.  The fact is that different people are ranked in different ways in our heads, our hearts, and our lives.  What I had to do was own that, admit it to myself, and then act on it.  There were no big announcements, no banners on Facebook, no overt actions.  None of that was necessary.  What was necessary was the way I approached things on a day to day basis, the way I considered my own actions in response to those of others.

The bottom line, for me, is that there is no one that will ever come before the Scientist, the Professor, the Artist, and the Ambassador.  No one.  And if I do not prioritize them, and make it clear that my first loyalty will always be to them, then not only do I damage them, but I destroy myself.  In being true to them, I am true to myself.

This isn’t to say that the broken bonds don’t bleed.  They do.  They leave behind a great deal of sorrow and loss, as an open wound that will take a long time to scar over.  But at the end of the day, I know that I am doing the Right Thing, and I know that the people who matter are better for it.

### Balanced Equations

I was a little surprised that the kids wanted to spend Christmas at the beach again this year.  Last year, we made the decision based on a lot of things hitting several fans, and the fact that we wanted to get the kids away from all of them.  V was absolutely supportive of this; she encouraged us to do it and to just sequester ourselves as a family for the weekend.  It was absolutely the right decision, but it does alter the norm of Christmas morning at home, opening gifts while having our traditional breakfast, and such.

But we do all agree that “Christmas” isn’t a single day for us.  It’s always a time period of about two weeks or so, so really, the day we open Santa’s gifts doesn’t have to match the calendar designation of  “Christmas.”

I’d gotten the family a “message center” that has a white board, Post-It notes, and a little video message recorder.  It was definitely useful for us, but also a lot of fun for the kids, who love to leave goofy videos for each other.  That arrived on the 16th, and I allowed them to open it and set it up.  We celebrate Solstice, so on the 21st, everyone got their “cool, surprise” gift.  I try to get one “big” gift for each person, that’s not on their wish list, that they don’t expect.  Yule is an important day in our family, so that gift was opened then and a little celebration was had.  On the 22nd, we did Santa.  My living room looked like a cyclone of wrapping paper and boxes had hit it, but it was a blast.  The kids and the Scientist loved their gifts, and I did too.  I love having them open the things I chose for them and get excited.  It’s such a rush for me.  Stockings, however, weren’t touched; those came to the beach with us.

Christmas Eve was spent together watching movies, especially A Christmas Story, just hanging out in the living room enjoying each others’ company.  We woke up on Dec 25th to crashing waves and a gorgeous sunrise.  The Artist and the Scientist came down to the beach with me to photograph it – the Scientist then went out geocaching while the Artist and I went upstairs and back to our cozy warm beds!  The place where we’re staying has a full kitchen (as well as a LOT more space than last year’s place!), so our traditional Christmas breakfast of bacon, hot cocoa, and cinnamon rolls/orange rolls (yes, from a can!) was easily made.  We opened our stockings and reveled in more fun gifties and then spent the day relaxing.  The Scientist went back out geocaching, and I’m glad he did.  Shortly after he left, the Artist mentioned that she might be brewing a UTI – crud!!  I texted him and he found an open Rite-Aid and got her unsweetened cranberry-pomegranate juice and Azo.  It seems to be working, thankfully.  We hit the pool, lazy river, and hot tub later that afternoon, and then I worked on my project and we watched more movies.  Dinner was a fantastic lasagna that I’d made and brought, along with salad and garlic bread.  Yum!  The Ambassador and I weren’t feeling great, so we went to bed around 10ish.  We all crashed and slept in a bit, which helped us all, I think.

At home, there’s about 6-7″ of snow on the ground from the storm, but it’s just swirling around here.  I was pretty stunned, though, to look out the balcony door to watch the waves for a bit and see surfers in the water!  Alejandro and I bundled up and went down; that was too good to miss.  Yeesh.  It was really cold!  I got some good pics, though, so it was worth it.  We’re going to play cards and watch football for the rest of today; we thought about going out originally, but it’s cold enough that we’d all rather just stay cozy and warm instead!

Maybe this is the last year the kids will want to do this, maybe it’s the start of a new tradition…either way, it’s been a blissful, nearly-no-stress holiday season.  Success!

### Off on a tangent

Every year, the “holiday” stuff seems to come out earlier and earlier.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I love the holiday season.  All of it.  The music, the lights, the decorations, the food…but the one little irritant for me is the timing.  I like to revel in each one of them, to immerse myself in the fun and the spirit of them, but I like to do so one. at. a. time.  Halloween is a favorite holiday of mine.  I don’t want to hear Rudolph and his one horse, open sleigh while I’m carving pumpkins.  No, no, and no.

Thanksgiving was just perfect this year.  I worked at home on Wednesday such that I could supervise my amazing sous chefs.  They helped me get the stuff that needed to be cooked in the oven done, along with a few other things.   That way on Thursday, all I had to do was do the turkey and a few other last minute things.  My family had gone to Golden Boy’s house, so it was just us and the Teacher.  She has been with me every Thanksgiving for several years now, since her family is on the west coast.  I love having her; she is part of my family.  The Artist’s ex-boyfriend came too, because his fucktarded parents went to spend the weekend with family in NY and left him home, despite the fact that he loves going up there.  Why, you ask, would they do such a stupid, mean thing?  Because someone had to watch the dogs.  It’s too expensive to kennel them.  *blink*  Yeah.  That’s what I said, too.  So anyhow, it was the 7 of us, and it was blissful.  No stress, no drama, just relaxation and great food.  The Teacher and I hung out on the couch and chatted, I did some online xmas shopping, scoring Black Friday deals without setting foot outside my door.  (More on this later.)  The Professor worked on calculus and a paper, The Ambassador watched football with the Scientist and trash talked his friend.  The Artist chilled with The Ex and all was mellow.

I have been absolutely bound and determined that I would have a low-stress holiday season.  People bitch and whine every year about “hating the holidays” and whatever; I don’t really listen because I don’t really care.  I have three coworkers who are notorious for this; it’s almost become comical now, because we make fun of them quite a bit over it amongst ourselves.  The holidays, like any other day, are what you make it. If you allow it to be an overwhelming thing, that’s your own fault.  No one forces you at gunpoint to do anything.  One of the coworkers is particularly fond of regaling us with stories of how stressed she is because she has to host a craft party for her neighborhood, and she has to have an open house for her entire family the weekend after Christmas, and it goes on and on.  Stop acting like a damn victim and take some responsibility in your life.  If you’re overscheduled, learn to say “No.”  There is no excuse for getting in a snit over a season of friends and family and joy unless you personally get caught up in the bullshit that’s out there.

I know that my schedule is generally chaotic; I have an hour commute each way every day.  Physically, my legs do not tolerate jostling crowds and long lines well.  And really, my budget cannot handle doing all of the shopping that I choose to do for people in one month.  So I get stuff ahead of time, I scour online sales, and I have nearly all of my shopping done.  I  scaled down my card list — if I don’t get a card back after two consecutive years, I drop your name.  I’m not doing it to be snarky, but I truly want to exchange cards and photos and letters with people who actually want to hear from me and want me to hear about them.  Like most people, I can be slack at letter writing and such, so the Christmas card can be used as a “catch up” kind of thing.  Facebook has been a great toy that’s allowed me to reconnect with old friends from HS and college.  I love hearing from them!  So even if I don’t necessarily exchange cards, we can keep in touch there.  I decorate in small doses, wrap in small doses, and refuse to succumb to the crap.

The holiday season is about friend and family.  Take the time to tell the people you love how you feel.  Stop whining about how you have to do this, and you have to go there.  If your entire season is about you bitching about how you hate everything, then you, not everyone else, is missing the entire fucking point.  Do not give a gift out of obligation.  If you choose to give a gift, think about it.  Give something that reminds you of that person, or something you know the person would love.  Have a budget?  Stick to it.  Gifts don’t have to be expensive to mean something.  Don’t want to give gifts?  Then don’t.  Sometimes your time is more important.  There doesn’t have to be anything to it.

As for me, I have tube lights wrapped around the length of the ski racks on my van.  People will make snide comments and roll their eyes at me, but then there are people on the highway who do a double-take and smile and wave.  I’ve just improved their day for a second.  We make a family outing out of going to the mountains to cut down a tree; it’s not about getting the biggest or best tree.  It’s about spending the 2 hour drive with the kids talking, tramping around in the snow being goofy, arguing over the tree, coming to an agreement, and then spending the 2 hour return trip talking and laughing as a family.  It’s about time, people.  It’s about my kids remembering that their parents stopped their busy lives to focus on them for the whole day.

So my point, after all of my obnoxious bitching, is that the holidays are what you make them.  And my holidays will be about the people I love knowing how much I love them.  So the laundry will wait next Saturday while the Professor and her two best buddies come home for the weekend to bake cookies. I will choose sappy “mom” gifts for all three of my kids that they may roll their eyes at now, but somehow I think they will keep forever.  I’ll stop on the way home to help my mom put up her decorations.  I’ll hold my silence and attend the Scientist’s holiday dinner with a smile, despite my absolute abhorrence for his boss.

I wish everyone a fun, joyful, and peaceful holiday season, whether or not you choose to accept it.  =)

### Sister-Wives

I kinda fell into watching this show by accident.  One of my [many] weird quirks is that I cannot fold laundry or iron without either talking to someone or watching TV.  No idea why.  Just one more oddity, I guess.

Anyhow, I’ve seen most of this season’s episodes, and found it fascinating.  I’d watched “Big Love” (courtesy of NetFlix), but that’s scripted, where this is a real-life family of polygamists.  Now, understand that in theory, I couldn’t care less who sleeps with whom, and how people construct their families, so long as everyone is working on the same page.  And it absolutely seems that this family is doing just that.  I truly wish them all the happiness in the world, and they certainly appear to have a lot of love in their lives.

But I have to admit to wishing I could talk to the wives, to ask the questions rattling around in my head.  I think I’d chicken out, though, because I sincerely have no wish to offend.  I’m just so curious as to how they feel about things sometimes.

The husband’s name is Kody, and his wives are, in order, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn.  Meri admitted at one point to having some jealousy issues, despite her genuine enthusiasm for the lifestyle.  In fact, she was the one who felt the first connection with Robyn, and suggested that Kody consider forming a relationship and inviting her to join the family.  These women are truly like sisters, and I respect that bond.  They all know that if anything happens to them, their kids are taken care of, and that there is plenty of help to go around.  And in a way, I think I could easily get into a communal living type environment.  I have always loved and embraced the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and I am so very lucky to have that in my kids’ lives.  They have two very involved parents, but my kids also know without a doubt that they have options for a “second opinion” when they feel they need, or even just want, one.  The Artist, at one point, when having difficulty with some relationship issues, talked to me, and then also sought the advice of the Musician.  The Ambassador, on another occasion, didn’t like my answer to a question, and went straight to the Trainer.  I fully support these interactions, and I know this family definitely has that kind of attitude as well.

But something did kind of induce an eyebrow raise from me…each wife has Kody in her bed on every fourth night.  Absolutely fair division, makes perfect sense and all that.  But it got me thinking.  While sex is part of most “normal” marriages, almost more important to me in the marriage bond for me would be the friendship.  This is your best friend.  And after a long day, part of the “reward” at the end is to crash out in your comfy bed with your spouse and just chill together and talk in the dark.  It could be a comforting massage, maybe brushing her hair, or just holding hands, laughing quietly at the absurdities of life.  But not in a communal marriage.  Think about that for a sec.  You pledge your body to one man forever.  But not only can he pledge his body to however many people he wants when you cannot, but you only get to enjoy the closeness with him one week out of the month.  He gets to have that snuggling, the warmth and security of a lover against him when he wakes up at 3am.  But you?  You spend 3 weeks out of the month in your bed alone.  Your sexual needs don’t count unless it’s on your calendar night.  Have a shitty day and want to cry in his arms for a while?  Not if it’s another wife’s turn.  She has been feeling the same loss lately, and she isn’t about to give up her turn to have him in her bed.

I’m not the jealous type, and if the Scientist took a lover, or even got into a relationship, it wouldn’t bother me.  The thing is, though, that if he is spending the night with her, I too, have the freedom on my side, to decide if I want to do the same.  I’m not saying I want to date someone or anything; holy hell, not even remotely.  I cannot handle the drama or the effort right now, and there is already way too much chaos in my life.  But the fact is that marriage is a partnership, and to borrow a stupid cliche, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  I just don’t see the fairness of the way that’s handled in polygamist marriage.

Again, I don’t mean to offend anyone.  I honestly do respect their choices and their decisions.  They are all intelligent adults, who entered this way of life with open eyes and a clear understanding what it entails.  Their religious beliefs are no more valid or invalid than any other dogma, and they have as much right to those beliefs and practices as anyone else.  It just got my mind swirling last night, and so I core dumped it here.