Turns out the invisibility cloak isn’t as much fun as I’d thought

I’ve been wanting – needing, actually – to write this post for some time. It’s been on my mind for weeks, but I haven’t figured out just what I want (or need) to say. I still haven’t, but I’m going for it anyway. Bear with me, please.

I knew that it would be really hard when Bill died. That’s a completely ridiculous statement, of course, because – duh – it’s always really hard when you lose someone you love. But I knew it would be more than emotionally hard; specifically, I knew it would be difficult being the spouse of someone who’s lost a parent.

‘Cause, y’all, this is not easy. It’s not easy answering your kids’ questions about death. It’s really not easy helping them navigate their own grief, when they can’t always verbalize their thoughts and feelings. You wind up second-guessing their meltdowns and seemingly unusual behaviors and wondering, Is this because Grandpa Bill died? Is it because of their new, crazy schedule? Is it simply because they’re being little schmucks? If you’re just being a schmuck, there’s an app for that. If you’re exhausted, we can re-work things so you get more sleep. But if this is Grandpa Bill-related, we can skip the time-out and go straight to the hugs. Shepherding kids through grief is complicated and scary and really damn stressful.

It’s also not easy being a supportive wife. Nick is so deeply sad, more sad than I can fully grasp, and I so want to help him… But there’s so little I can do. He’s working through his grief in his own way, and as much as I want to crawl in there beside him, I just can’t; it’s not my grief. It is a tremendously awful, peculiar feeling, watching and knowing that someone you love so very much is suffering, and you can’t fix it, you can’t take away their sadness. It’s a strange and anxiety-riddled spot, this spouse-of-someone-who-lost-a-parent place.

I know that just being here, both literally and emotionally, is perhaps what Nick needs the most (that, and someone with whom to not eat anything for five days, for the love). And I’m trying, very hard. I’d read that one of the best things a spouse can do when their partner is grieving so freshly is to take over most of the household chores, and so I’m trying to do that, too. I’m still doing what I used to, of course – getting the girls off to school, emptying the garbages, making most of the meals, doing the laundry, paying the bills – but I’ve been actively taking on chores that Nick and I used to share, from mowing the lawn to feeding the dogs. Perhaps surprisingly (given that I have a tendency to sometimes, um, keep score of who does what around the house; I know… not my finest quality…), I don’t mind any of this. I absolutely get it; the little things are just too much. And if I can’t help Nick actually feel less sad, at least I can let the dogs out before bed. There’s a comfort in that.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Running a household (for lack of a better term) is trying under good circumstances, when you’ve just gotten home from work and have dinner to make and homework to supervise and dogs to feed and floors to be vacuumed and laundry to be put away and emails to be written and books to be read and lunch boxes to be packed and fights to break up. It’s especially trying when you’re doing all of that and trying to help your children and your husband in the wake of losing their grandfather and their dad. I don’t mean to say that it’s harder being the spouse of someone who lost a parent than it is being the person whose parent died. Not at all. I’m not comparing. I’m simply saying that this spouse role is really tough.

It’s downright paralyzing when you, yourself, are grieving deeply, too.

There have been many, many times when I’ve wanted to curl up in bed and sob it out… but I just can’t. The girls need to get to school. Groceries need to be purchased. Dogs need to go to the vet. Life is going on, and when it’s up to me to see that we dot our Is and cross our Ts, plus actually shower every once in a while, there’s time to burst into tears while mowing the lawn and time to cry after reading emails that had long been forgotten, but there just isn’t time to fall apart.

Man, though… there have been times when I wanted to. I miss Bill fiercely.

Lest I give the wrong impression, Nick, for his part, has been fantastic. He knows that this has been hard for me, this balance of grieving and being there for him and the girls and making sure that the house-stuff functions as it should. We’ve talked many times, and he has done his damndest to support me. He knows that I’m sad, too.

But the thing is… No one else seemed to realize it. Whenever Bill’s death would come up in conversation, people would – rightly – jump in and ask how Nick was handling things. They’d maybe ask about the girls. They would offer their condolences. But very few people asked how I was handling things.

True story: people showed me more support and empathy when we lost Madison than when we lost Bill. Now, for sure, Maddy was tremendous, and I was heartbroken to see her go. But losing our dog wasn’t exactly in the same league as losing Bill.

In fact, not only did people not acknowledge that Bill’s death was hard for me, too, they purposely minimized it. When I saw the doctor for my bronchitis, he – very kindly – warned me that I was more susceptible to illness because of the stress in our lives. Then he said (and I quote, for real), “Even if it’s only your father-in-law, you’re still feeling that stress, so you need to take care of yourself.”

Even if it’s only my father-in-law.

Clearly, losing one’s spouse’s parent doesn’t even register on the list of things to feel sad about; who on earth would feel sorrow at the loss of a parent-in-law?? Which means that there’s not a whole lot of support offered to those in my position. We become invisible – necessary, helpful, but invisible. And yet, in reality, this has been the most difficult, most raw, most heartbreaking experience of my life. I cannot do this without support. I cannot do it without grieving.

But how was I supposed to grieve – while keeping our lives humming along – if no one even recognized that I could be grieving? How could they possibly offer strength and encouragement when it didn’t even occur them that I might need it, because it’s “only” my father-in-law? And how on earth was I supposed to explain that I needed it? It’s not really common practice to enter a room or a gathering of friends and gamely announce, “Hey, y’all. Rough waters. I need help.”  I debated pinning a button to my shirt that said, “I’m really sad because I lost someone important to me. Even if you don’t realize that he was important to me, he was. So I’m sad.” But that didn’t feel quite right.

To be clear, I was not wanting people to emphatically throw their arms around me and forget about Nick. He absolutely, justly, deserves and needs people’s support, sympathy, words of love, prayers, shoulders to cry on, proffered glasses of whiskey, and whatever else they would like to give. I have never wanted Nick to be unnoticed, nor for me and my desires to trump his. And, sure, if you want to get technical about it, I’ll grant you that he possibly deserves those things “more” than I do. Like I said, he’s experiencing a kind of sadness that I cannot truly comprehend. I am not comparing me to him.

But I’m still awfully damn sad, and I needed support.

That was what this post was originally going to be about – about my explaining why this was so hard for me, saying that no one gets that I’m upset, too, and to please acknowledge that this really, really sucks. But then two things happened: I wrote about Bill, and I spent some time with a wonderful friend. And now, this post is about something else. Or it’s about to be. Hang on.

Although I’ve been talking to, and seeking support from, friends and family on the phone and online, it just wasn’t enough, and my therapist strongly encouraged me to chat with someone face to face. I knew just the person – a new-ish but already very dear friend – and we tried for weeks to find a night to go out, but our schedules just didn’t mesh. At last, ten days ago, the stars aligned and we grabbed dinner at a local restaurant… and something changed.

She listened – really listened – to everything I had to say. About how stressful it was running the house, about how worried I was for the girls and for Nick, about how very sad I was about Bill but how no one even acknowledged that I could be sad, and I didn’t know what to do. She offered advice. She commiserated. But, most of all, she listened, and I felt heard – and , for the first time since Bill’s death, I felt un-crazy for being so sad. I felt supported. And I felt so very much better, like maybe I can make it through this after all.

Thank god for awesome friends.
And delicious Greek food the night before a five day juice cleanse.

Right around that time, I decided to write about Bill – because, even if no one understood that he could be that important to me, he was that important to me, and I just needed to say it. So I did. And, really… saying it made all the difference. That may be a cliché, but it’s true. Talking about Bill was so freeing, so good; writing let me get it out. As friends began reading the post, I – finally! – felt heard. People got it – no button-pinning necessary.

While I appreciated the catharsis, I didn’t expect to learn something in return. As friends commented about the post on Facebook, however, I came to understand how truly rare Bill’s and my relationship was, and how very, very lucky I am. Apparently, most people truly don’t mourn the loss of their parents-in-law the way that I am. They have a different kind of relationship with their in-laws, and when they die, profound sadness is – according to them – pretty unusual.

I guess, because I loved Bill so deeply, I couldn’t quite understand why people didn’t offer me an, “I’m so sorry, Emily” or “But how are you doing?” Now, I know differently. Now, when someone learns that I’ve lost my father-in-law and they don’t acknowledge that it’s my loss, too, I know it’s not because they don’t care (unless they’re just, like, jerks), but because they don’t know. I no longer become hurt or frustrated; instead, I try to count my blessings. I am reminded of how exceptionally fortunate I was to have loved Bill as I did, and to have been loved by him in return, and I am profoundly grateful. Gratitude is a pretty powerful thing.

So… if I’m all good, then why write this at all? Well, because I’m not all good. Yes, I no longer feel so alone, but this grief thing is still a load of crap. Even though not everyone understands having a fantastic relationship with one’s in-laws, everyone, on some level, can understand grief. And it’s just absurd to be putting constraints on grief based on preconceived notions of how someone should feel, or how close someone was “supposed” to be to the deceased. It’s high time we stopped doing it.

When my BFF Kiki lost her dad in the spring of 2006, there was absolutely no doubt that my mom, my stepdad, Nick and I would attend his funeral. John was very special to me; I’d known him my whole life, and his death hit me hard. Moreover, he was my oldest, awesomest friend’s father. She wanted me there, and I wanted to be there – for me as well as for her. No questions asked.

That is, until I returned to my classroom (after having called in a sub) and had to explain my absence. I’d already used up my personal days for the year, so taking a day “just because” wasn’t acceptable. I suppose I could have lied and said I was sick, but that was, you know, wrong, so I applied for a bereavement day instead. A couple of weeks later, I was contacted by the HR department to clarify my relationship to the deceased. You see, “best friend’s father who I have known my whole life and loved dearly” just didn’t cut it.

On the other hand, if John had been my parent, or my parent-in-law, or my cousin or my uncle, that would have been fine… even if he and I had hardly spoken over the years and I was taking the day off because I’d heard the food at the reception would kick butt. I puzzled over the form for the longest time, becoming more and more annoyed and angry with each passing minute. Who were they to determine what relationships were special enough to warrant “needing” a bereavement day? Who were they to tell me who I should, and shouldn’t, grieve? Who are we, as a society, to be doing the same?

I call bull.
Grief is grief. It is not something to be quantified or compared, but is our own, and only we know how deeply it affects us. Whether someone lost a spouse or a child or a third cousin once-removed or a childhood babysitter, grief is painful and it is real. People who are grieving deserve respect and support.

In the end, I decided that my sadness was real, and so was my relationship to John… or, should I say, “Uncle John.” Bereavement day granted.

And so this is why I decided to write this post: to propose three things. First, if you are grieving, please talk to someone. Whether that’s in person or via email or snail mail or in a blog entry that the entire world can read, talk. Get it out. Say something. Say anything. That, alone, can be so very therapeutic.

Secondly, if you learn that someone has recently experienced the death of a family member or friend, ask how they are. Don’t put constraints on their grief. Don’t assume that, because they lost a parent, they’re wallowing in sorrow and can hardly get out of bed. Don’t assume, because it’s “only” an in-law or an uncle or a 95 year-old great-grandparent who’d “lived a long, happy life,” that the person isn’t enormously sad. Don’t assume, period. Instead, ask. A simple, “How are you doing?” opens the door for the person to spill their soul to you or mutter, “Fine, thanks,” but at least it allows them to determine how they’re doing, rather than you doing it for them.

And finally, after you do ask how someone is doing, listen. Really listen. Let them talk – or not – and be there while they do. Let them know that you hear them, that they’re not alone, that you support and love them, that this sucks, but you’re there. Listen.

By doing so, we can all become a little less invisible. And, with time, a little bit better.

On my honor, I will try…

Annie is a Girl Scout. To be more exact, she’s a Daisy Scout, a designation that I didn’t even know existed before she requested to join her class’s troop last fall.

Ella never got bitten by the Girl Scout bug. Perhaps, to be more precise, I should say that I never brought her close enough to the critters to get bitten, by which I mean that I never offered Scouting as a possible after-school activity. She was taking swim lessons and dance classes and doing gymnastics (although not at the same time, unless you count her acrobatically choreographed aquatic hand stands), and between those and my own piano lesson schedule, I figured it was enough. I simply never brought up the possibility of joining Girl Scouts, and she never asked, and she remains happily un-Brownie-ed to this day.

I’d assumed that the same would go for Annie, but there I go again with the assumptions as a parent, which everyone knows means that I’ll get smacked upside the head by my own cockiness. Indeed, after only two Tuesdays (a month apart, no less) of watching her best buddies skip off to Daisies at the end of the school day, Annie begged me to allow her to join, too. It took me a couple of months to contact the correct people and fill out the proper paperwork – during which Annie’s determination and eagerness never waned – but finally, last January, she became a Girl Scout.

And, really, that’s the whole of it for me: Annie is a Girl Scout. Annie goes to the monthly after-school meetings. Annie listens to the stories and does the crafts and sings the songs and brainstorms ideas. Annie goes to off-site events and earns the patches and badges. Annie even irons on said patches and badges. (Don’t call CPS. She’s [very heavily] supervised. But perhaps I should leave more of the ironing-on to her, because then perhaps she wouldn’t try to iron on the non-iron-on-able patches. Even though they all look like they’ve got the special, glossy adherent on the back, turns out only some of them are iron-on-able. No matter how long you leave them under the heat and no matter how hard you press, they won’t magically stick to the vest, not even if you try it from 38 different angles; instead, they’ll need to be sewed. Or pinned, if you can’t really sew. Not that I have any idea what I’m talking about.)

daisy petal ironing
We start ’em on chores early ’round these here parts.

I’ve got nothing against Scouting or camping. Five of the best summers of my life were spent at my all-girls camp in Canada, and I can still do a mean J-stroke and light a raging fire under even the dampest of circumstances. Just because I wasn’t a Girl Scout myself doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to have her become one, nor that I haven’t joined in with Annie from time to time. I’ve brought snack to meetings and participated in after-school activities. I’ve gone on hikes and helped my girl make SWAPS to trade with other Girl Scouts. I’ve helped her collect canned goods for those less fortunate. I’ve sung “Make New Friends” ad nauseam in the car, simply because she likes it.

But Annie is the Girl Scout. It is not a Mommy and Me thing. It’s about the girls. (Heck, I can’t even eat the cookies because they all have gluten.) Annie is the one learning to be fair and honest, considerate and caring, courageous and strong. She is the one learning to respect herself and others, to use resources wisely, and to make the world a better place — all of which is pretty fabulous. And frankly, she’ll learn a lot of that a lot more quickly and more powerfully if I step out of the way and let her get to it.

It seems that not all Girl Scout moms agree.

Annie was invited to an off-site event yesterday, held at a local Girl Scout camp. She and her fellow troop-mates would be making SWAPS, creating trail mix, going on a hike, and making crafts. It promised to be fun; she was psyched. She’s too young to be dropped off at an event like this, so I’d planned to join her, but mostly as a tag-along, a spectator, a cheerleader, not an active participant.

I’d had to take Ella shoe shopping (an event that deserves a post all its own), so some of Annie’s troop-mates’ moms helped shepherd her from activity to activity until I could join them. I made it for the SWAP-making (during which she needed a little assistance glueing things together) and the hike (during which she was paired with an older Scout, taking off down the trail without so much as a backward glance). It was an uncommonly warm autumn afternoon, but the hike itself was still quite lovely.

photo-50

The final event of the outing was a campfire sing-along, with one of the older troop’s leaders guiding the Scouts through several campy tunes. There wasn’t enough room for both parents and girls to sit on the tree-trunk benches surrounding the fire, so I knelt down behind Annie, sharing her song sheet and singing the lyrics over her shoulder. Considering that I regularly sing my favorite camp songs in the car with my own children (except for “The Cat Came Back,” because I’d sooner kill the cat myself than sing about its never-ending misadventures), it was sweet enough. But after singing just one verse of “Hermie the Wormie,” I realized that a) Annie could do this just fine without me, b) she might even enjoy it more with her own friends, without me crooning in her ear, and c) singing about a cannibalistic worm that eventually belches out his digested family members really wasn’t my idea of a great afternoon.

Looking up, I noticed that I was pretty much the only one who felt this way, because the other moms were gamely warbling about Hermie’s digestive tales, doing the hand gestures and making ever-louder “WOO WOO!” sound effects. Just as I began to feel like the worst parent in the field, I saw them: the other moms from my troop, standing off to the side, watching, letting their daughters enjoy themselves, but not singing along.

NOT SINGING ALONG. *gasp* 
I had found my people.

I left Annie’s side and wandered over to the loner moms, approaching them with a mixture of guilt and relief. I confessed that I felt a little terrible that I wasn’t particularly interested in serenading everyone with Hermie’s virtues. Before I could let the guilt settle in, one of them leaned conspiratorially into me and said, “Oh, God. Don’t even worry. We’re probably all going to be kicked out, because we just like to watch.”

What followed was a lively – but hushed – discussion about how thrilled we were for our own girls to participate in Scouts, but how little interest we, as their moms, had in being Scouts ourselves. A snack here and there? Sure. A hike from time to time? Absolutely. Ironing (or safety-pinning, ahem) patches onto little blue smocks? You got it. We would happily cheer our daughters on, but Girl Scouts was for our girls… not for us.

It was then that one of them suggested that perhaps we should create our own Girl Scout meetings better tailored to our own needs. We could discuss bettering the world and being outdoorsy. We could organize field trips and lessons. We could talk cookie sales and how to honor the Girl Scout promise. But we’d do it without our daughters present. At night. Over a glass of wine. Or several. Or, heck, a bottle. Basically, it would be a Moms Night Out, except we’d do it under the guise of Girl Scout planning.

I have SO found my people.

At least no one suggested that we bring wine to the actual Girl Scout events.
Yet.

So, in a couple of weeks, if you need me on a random Wednesday night, I may not be available because I’ll be at a Girl Scout planning meeting. Snacks will be provided. We will be friendly and helpful and use our resources very wisely. And we will, without a doubt, make it our mission to make the world a much better place.

A dozen

Twelve years ago today, I married my best friend. We’d already been together for seven-and-a-half years, and living together (totally in sin) for almost four, so perhaps it might seem that the actual wedding wouldn’t have meant all that much… but it did.

For starters, I loved the wedding itself. We wanted to make it really “us,” so that we could share what meant the most to us with our guests – while also having a rockin’ kickass good time. And, from the a cappella singing to the Minnesota-themed centerpieces, from the autumn colors to the seating cards with the names written on treble clef staves, it was exactly what we’d hoped it would be. That everyone had braved the airlines and set aside their apprehensions to join us – only thirty miles outside of New York City – less than four weeks after September 11th, made it all the more humbling and incredible.

us wedding

But the best part was actually marrying this guy I’d fallen in love with so many years ago. We were making it official, this commitment thing. Nick was mine and I was his and now we were each other’s, this new unit. We were getting married. It was just what I’d hoped it would be, plus cake. WIN-WIN.

I’ve already talked about how being married has both fulfilled and defied my expectations – in surprising but good ways. For me, though, what’s gotten us this far – and what I hope will take us much farther – is that I did, truly, marry my best friend, and that friendship is at the center of everything we do.

I have other best friends, of course. Nick may be the guy I wake up beside, the one who knows me better than anyone, the one who makes me laugh each day, but I don’t share everything with him, nor does he meet every one of my needs. That’s why I have Kiki, who’s known me since birth (quite literally), and Sarah, my sister-wife (sorry, but you know it’s true), and the handful of high school and college friends (miss you, Jill and Jessica!) and new but fantastic ladies (you know who you are, Karina). They, too, are best friends, and I love them to pieces.

With Nick, it’s different. We share this whole, nutty life thing – not to mention the kids and the dogs and the house and our families and Homeland (Dana, with the sexting… Come on, girl!) – and that, by its very nature, connects us in ways that no other relationship can. But still, at the core of the connection, is a deeply-seated friendship. Wrapped up in all kinds of love stuff, ’cause my heart still skips a beat after all these years.

We could pretend that this anniversary is like all the others. We could just talk about how lucky and grateful we are, how we love each other more now than before, how much fun we’ve had, how wild the journey has been, how we wouldn’t have had it any other way. But we’d be lying. It is different this year… because Bill isn’t here.

When we lost him, I lost a dear friend – and Nick lost a best friend. His absence colors everything we do, subconsciously and purposefully, even a day that’s about us. Do I wish that it didn’t? That he wasn’t always on our minds? Sure. I don’t mean that I’m tired of thinking about him, but rather that I wish we didn’t need to be thinking of him like this in the first place… because I wish he were cancer-free, still here, calling us today to wish us well. He isn’t, though… but we continue forward, together.

At our wedding reception, Bill made a short, simple, beautiful toast:

“I wish you the optimism to transcend difficult times
The authenticy to pursue your dreams
The flexibility to learn and adapt to a changing world
The charity to connect with others
And the expanding love to continue to embrace each other and all of us.”

I’d like to think that we’re fulfilling his wishes. Or, at least, that we’re trying.

This twelfth year has been a doozy. That whole “for better or for worse” part has been tested time and time again. It’s a long, winding, challenging, exhausting journey… But still, through it all, I’ve found that there’s no one I’d rather be walking – and laughing – beside than Nick. I can’t wait to see what the next dozen years bring us.

Happy 12th anniversary, babe. Now and forever.
(BTW – next time you want to push that “in sickness and in health” stuff to the limit, I propose some yoga. Or a walking tour of a winery. Or a bike ride to Starbucks. Juicing just wasn’t in the marriage vows.)

us wedding2

We’re on the juice

I would like to apologize for the enormous rumbling sound you’ve been hearing for the past week. To clarify, that would be my stomach, burbling so loudly we’ve all been bracing for an Alien-style invasion. See, stomachs do that when you don’t put anything in them for five days. Well, anything except juice.

Nick and I were on a juice diet this week, and by “juice diet” I mean “consuming nothing but unappetizing nasty healthy juices made in our juicer from fresh fruits and veggies.” And when I say, “nothing,” I mean nothing. No food. Nada. Zilch.

NO. FOOD.
Like refugees. Or prisoners of war.

I can hear you shaking your heads from here. Or see you. Whatever. All of the energy that would normally go to making my brain function has been used to keep me upright.

juicing2
Cucumbers and celery. It’s what’s for breakfast!

The reason for wanting to go on a juice diet was pretty simple: we are crazy. Or, equally accurately, I am crazy about my husband. Believe it or not, Nick was the driving force behind this; I just went along for the ride. The long, cold, slow, joyless ride.

Nick had been talking about going on a juice diet since last summer, when two (married) college friends of ours posted about their very successful juice diet on Facebook. By successful, I mean that they’d been motivated to better their eating choices – and their overall health – by the movie Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, and decided to begin their journeys with a ten-day juice fast. They wrote of losing relatively significant amounts of weight and generally feeling fantastic both during and after the fast. It was, I’ll admit, tantalizing and inspirational – but we just couldn’t find the time to make it work.

There simply wasn’t a week when nothing else was going on — no traveling, no work dinners, no family visits — during which we could give up eating and take up juicing. Which was just fine by me. I (very luckily) don’t really need to lose any weight, and my diet is pretty good overall (save for my Starbucks addiction), so I wasn’t in such a hurry to do the juice thing.

Nick, on the other hand, never forgot. (Unlike the cable boxes that remained in his car for over a year-and-a-half and never made it back to Time Warner. Not that I’m counting.) He’s been wanting to take better charge of his health for quite some time now, but really wanted a way to jumpstart the process, especially after having been in such an emotional haze since early summer. When he looked at the calendar and realized that we had over a full week between family visits and his next work trip, he decided to take the plunge. Being the martyr ever-devoted wife that I am, I decided to join him. Like a lemming.

juicing3
Fun fact: beets turn your poop magenta. Yay, science!

He bought a juicer, researched juice recipes, bought a crap-ton of fresh produce, and we were on our way. I wanted to support Nick, yes, but I was also eager for the other benefits that juicing was sure to bring. For one, I was excited to be all cleared out — removing the toxins and all that. Some of it sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but it makes sense; we eat junk, and some of the junky stuff gets stuck in our bodies. I’ve got IBS. I know what junky feels like. And getting rid of some of that was pretty darn appealing.

I was also hoping to break my late-night snacking habit. Dessert, fine. (Or, should I say, dessert, HELLZ YES.). But, a handful of Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered toffee pieces and a bowl of ice cream and some dried cherries and two handfuls of gluten free pretzels, just aren’t necessary. Usually. Despite my constant admonitions to knock it the heck off, I do this almost nightly, and I was hoping that juicing would help break that habit.

Also, everyone on a juice diet feels amazing. At least, that’s what the websites say. Yeah, the first few days are torture, but after that, it’s nirvana. Your skin glows. You gain abundant energy. You feel clear-headed. You feel clean. Each glass of juice is might as well be water that’s been turned into wine by Jesus. It’s that incredible.

Y’all, while I may be naive about a good many things, I’m not entirely stupid; I knew, no matter what The Internet says, that this wouldn’t be easy. I knew it would be a rough week. But I figured I could tough it out through those first difficult days and then be on my way to Last Supper bliss. I’d read a bazillion websites (and even one actual book) and I understood things. As nutty as it sounds (because, um, omg, NO. FOOD), I started on Monday feeling hopeful and optimistic.

By Tuesday afternoon, that optimism and hope had been replaced by depression and rage. And hunger pains so deep, my children were afraid to look at me because they were afraid I’d try to eat them.

First of all, juicing is expensive. Do you have any idea how many cucumbers it takes to make enough juice to fill someone up for a day? A LOT. An entire refrigerator’s worth, in fact. It just isn’t cheap.

juicing5
Pretty, yes. As expensive as a dozen pizzas, also yes.

Secondly, juicing takes a long freakin’ time. We prepped most of the fruits and vegetables the night before (so we could immediately juice our breakfast and lunch in the a.m.), and that process alone took an hour.
juicing6
“Breakfast” and “lunch.”

Then, in the morning, it took thirty minutes to juice everything, pour it into our containers, clean out the juicer, and wipe down the counter. So we’re talking ninety minutes to prepare and make and clean up breakfast and lunch. If I were to make from-scratch pancakes and a hot lunch every day, maaaybe I could approach ninety minutes. But when you’re eating Greek yogurt out of the container and eating some peanut butter on gluten free bread, you’re just not spending that much time in the kitchen. Juicing takes time.

juicing7
Getting everything ready the night before.
When your meals fit into four plastic bottles, you know something’s up.

It should also be mentioned that most of the juices don’t taste good. They don’t taste terrible (except for the gazpacho juice that was slightly vomit-flavored; Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor earwax beans have nothing on this juice), but they don’t taste good. When the only thing you’re ingesting is juice, you at least want it to taste amazing. Turns out, I like celery and cucumbers just fine when they’re real foods, but when they’re liquified, they just don’t do it for me. BUMMER.

BTW: liquid parsley is nasty.

juicing10
This one was decent and actually tasted a bit like orange sherbet. Like orange sherbet mixed with tomatoes and carrots, but still like orange sherbet.

As anticipated, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were horrendous. The days dragged on forever; we had absolutely no energy, were ravenous, and couldn’t shake our terrible moods. We were also experiencing many of the common side effects of going on a juice-only diet, including chills, sweating, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and chicken pox. Okay, maybe not pox. But it was miserable.

I was looking forward to Thursday and Friday, though, because that’s when Jesus was supposed to appear and we’d be reborn. We’d have flushed the majority of the toxins out and drawn in so many vitamins and nutrients, we couldn’t help but radiate warmth and health and juicy goodness.

Except… it never happened. Maybe we’re just juicing broken, but the nirvana moments never arrived. I didn’t feel quite as exhausted and draggy, but I didn’t feel great, either. I had lost weight, which was a nice enough side effect, but it wasn’t quite enough to make me feel all Born Again incredible. I was still hungry. I was still cranky. And, dear God, was I sick of going to the bathroom. Not in the TMI sense (although there was plenty of that, too… TMI?), but simply because when you put that much liquid in our body (along with the obscene amounts of water you need to properly hydrate and flush your system), it’s going to come out at some point.

Come to think of it, going to the bathroom probably accounted for half of the weight I lost. Not because of the fluids lost, but because of the actual going to the bathroom; when you sprint to the loo every forty-five minutes (especially when you’re substitute teaching – yay!), you’re bound to burn some calories.

Thankfully, the girls didn’t seem to mind our foul moods too much. They were generally really supportive of us, which was very nice of them but also probably easy, considering that their stomachs were full because I was still cooking them delicious, hot meals every day. That was a good time.

They, on the other hand, made our meals without any difficulty at all.

juicing9
Creating our final day’s juices all on her own.

juicing4
Making herself a little orange and pineapple juice.

The juicing wasn’t without its benefits. Ever since my bout with bronchitis three (four?) weeks ago, I’ve had lingering bronchial and sinus issues. At first, I’d thought that this would negatively impact the whole juicing thing, but no! Because when you cannot breathe, you cannot taste. THANK GOD. Additionally, my cough was so bad, I desperately needed cough drops. And when you’re not eating, cough drops are the greatest things to ever hit your tongue.

Another bonus to juicing was that I stopped flossing. Nothing chewed, nothing between my teeth. Boo-yah. (Dentists, no need to chime in. Let me have my moment.) This may not seem like a big deal – probalby because it’s not – but when you’re stuck inside a gigantic, starving cloud, that floss makes a mighty fine silver lining.

By Friday, I was done. Done with having the kitchen floor be constantly filthy because washing a million fruits and veggies and then moving them to the chopping board meant dripping a million drops of water onto the floor, which in turn meant inviting the dogs to trek through the water and leave paw prints everywhere. Juicing is dirty, you guys. I was done with having the skin underneath my fingernails sting madly after being pulled back waaay too far peeling lemons and limes. There’s a reason why people don’t consume these like oranges, and it’s not just because they’re tart.

According to the website we followed the most closely, when your’e done with a juice fast, you’re supposed to gradually add food back into your diet, starting with only fruits and veggies for a few days, then slowly adding in other foods, while avoiding dairy and meat for at least a week. We’d hoped to do that, but Nick’s going out of town on Tuesday, and he wanted to reintroduce food a bit more quickly so that his system isn’t in for such a shock when he’s at business dinners next week. I, too, was ready to reintroduce solid food into my diet, and maybe most of all, I was ready to not spend half my day in the bathroom.

But when the time came, I found my system wasn’t quite ready to move ahead all that quickly… So I started small:

juicing11
My first solid meal in five days: kale, avocado, carrots, and dried cherries. Nothing has ever tasted so good. Okay, that’s a lie. But it was awesome.

I’ve eaten a little more since then, but am still taking it slow. It may have “only” been five days (WITHOUT FOOD. OR STARBUCKS), but I guess my stomach shrunk or something (I took AP biology but that was a long time ago) because every time I eat, it feels like my stomach has been hit with a ton of bricks. That said, even though it was a depressingly awful experience, I’m glad we did it. I haven’t late-night-snacked in over a week, and I don’t miss it. I have an intimate knowledge of every bathroom within a five mile radius of the house. Maybe most of all, I feel like a badass for actually having completed it. And that’s a pretty amazing feeling.

I’m under no illusion that juicing was some magic cure-all. Although I’m glad we did it, I’m even gladder (yes, I said it) that it’s over. Because it sucked. I’m bummed that we never experienced the euphoria that the people of The Internet describe; maybe we were doing it wrong, or maybe we just aren’t really cut out for juicing. Or maybe we needed to do it longer, in order to truly get to that place.

Which means we’ll just have to skip it, because five days was more than enough, thanks very much. I’ll read the Frommer’s Guide and call it a day.

Nick and I have definitely reconsidered the way we approach food and eating. We’re planning to add juicing to our regular diet, in spite of the aching fingers and the filthy floors. We’re committing to eating more vegetables and cutting out (a lot of) the dairy and crap. Nick’s really hoping that the weight he’s lost is only the beginning. Today, we both feel better, both physically and emotionally. We’re excited; it’s good.

When we started this, I’d assumed that chocolate was what I’d miss the most, and I was partially right; I definitely miss me some chocolate. But I was surprised to learn that what I really craved were Caramel Macchiatos and my favorite Starbucks lattes. Which means that, while on a juice-only diet, I craved liquids. The irony is not lost on me.

I’m eager to regain my energy and to use less toilet paper. I’m eager to try out new recipes, especially the ones that have been taunting me all week; if you’re not supposed to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, looking at cooking magazines when you’re not eating is spectacularly stupid. I’m excited to see if we can maintain the changes we’ve made so far, to see if my ADHD – squirrel! – self can follow through on this one.

And I’m damn excited for the decaf tall soy Pumpkin Spice Latte with my name on it.
I mean that literally. They put my name on the cup. Cheers!

 

 

Once a teacher…

It has been almost seven years since I’ve been a classroom teacher. I became a stay-at-home mom when Annie was born in December of 2006, in part due to necessity and in part due to desire. I’ve loved being home and teaching piano for the past (almost-) seven years… with the exception of that second bout of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. And the biting phase Ella went through when she was four. And Annie’s liberal use of “fuggin‘” when she was not yet two (thanks, Nick). And every episode of My Little Pony.

But truly, I’ve loved the opportunity to be here when the girls get home from school, to take them to morning dance classes, to volunteer for field trips and be a room rep, to actually have time in the day to organize cupboards and see friends for lunch. But I miss teaching. I miss the classroom. I miss the kids.

me teachingr
1998: With my first chorus, fresh-faced and un-jaded and such a dork, omg, look at my vest.

I knew, even with ten years’ experience and a shiny Master’s Degree from an awesome university, that it wouldn’t exactly be an easy waltz back into the classroom, and I would likely have to rely on subbing. I know that some – many? – people regard subs as not “real” teachers, but I’ve never taken on the stigma. My teaching career includes four years in my own classroom, two years subbing while I got my Master’s, and four more years back in my own (different) classroom, and I can say without question that being a sub provided me with some of my most challenging and informative experiences. I’m totally down with subbing.

Anyway, I assumed – again with the experience and the degree – that I’d apply, get hired, and land some subbing gigs pretty quickly.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

When no music positions presented themselves last spring (as I’d thought), I applied online – which is how every single teaching application is done these days – to substitute teach in at least ten districts (none of which is the girls’ district, because apparently they’re not hiring new subs right now. At all). When my applications didn’t receive so much as a nibble, I attempted to bring hard copies to various human resources offices, only to be told, “You can give those to us, but they’ll just go in the trash. We do everything online now.”

Awesome.

Short of enabling my online applications to set off fireworks whenever a potential employer clicked on them (which might not have turned out so well anyway), I could do nothing but wait and hope. For nearly six months, I heard from exactly zero schools about subbing, and assumed it was just a bust.

Then, in early September – right when I’d nearly given up hope – I heard from a district that they were interested! Two weeks after I signed up with them, I was called in by another district – to simply be put on their sub list – and was asked during the paperwork-signing meeting if I’d be able to sub the very next day.

All righty. Let’s do this!

9.27 subbing!
Not so fresh-faced anymore, but still with the same enthusiasm. And better clothes.

It was just what I’d wanted it to be, and I was genuinely ecstatic to be back at it again, even without my “own” classroom. But, yeah. Some things have changed since I was last “officially” a teacher.

Let’s start with the cute little ID badge (seen in classy bathroom selfie, above). Back when I subbed, there weren’t no such thang. You just said hello at the main office and slunk off to your classroom, hoping no one would put a “Kick Me” sign on your back. Now, it’s all official. I WORK here. Boo-yah!

Substitute teachers are now given the school safety plans, which include not only procedures for medical emergencies, fire drills, and school bus accidents, but also bomb threats, explosions, hazardous material spills, shelter-in-place due to a chemical or biological danger, person threatening others, and suspicious powder/mail. Y’all, I am no spring chicken. I taught in Colorado when Columbine happened, and was teaching only thirty miles from Manhattan in the aftermath of September 11th. Lockdown drills are just part of the scenery. But, man. I didn’t know schools were so freakin’ dangerous!

Those 5 a.m. wake-up calls? Yep. They still exist. But now the sub callers prefer to contact you as far in advance as possible… by email. In fact, they request that you email them to tell them your availability for next week. How cool is that?! And if they still need someone at 5 a.m., they’ll send out a group text to see who can do it. People. This changes everything. Back when, short of turning off the ringer (which, hello, dangerous), there was no way to avoid hearing that pre-dawn phone call, even if I wasn’t able to sub that day. Now, if I really want or need that job, I’ll hear the text message come in. If I don’t, I’ll sleep right through it. And so will everyone else. Genius!

One word: Smartboards.
Or is that two words? See, I don’t even know. That’s what I’m saying.

What hasn’t changed are the kids. When they come into the room and see a sub waiting for them, they still react with that same combination of suspicion, dread, and mischievous glee. They pull out all the stops and put on a fabulous show.

Good thing that what also hasn’t changed is me. You put on a show, I’ll be there to watch. I love me a good performance. Be sure to use proper inflection. And then I’ll tell you to march your butt right back into your seat (and, yes, I do know which seat is yours; don’t ask how, I just do) and sit down and no, you may not use the bathroom right now even if Mr. So-and-So lets you do it all the time, because we have learning to do. See these? These are lesson plans. And I know that you thought you’d just have a freebie when you came in here, but I’m gonna follow these plans. Because that’s what I’d want if I were your teacher. And if I were your mom.

Ready? Go.

Except I use humor and speak Sarcasm and smile a ton and they can see that I really, really want to be there. So it all works out in the end and there have been no “Kick Me” signs. Yet.

Tomorrow, I’m subbing again. I’m a little anxious, because it’ll be the first time in forever that Ella and Annie have started off to school without me (I need to leave the house at 6:30 – must. go. to. bed), but I’m also more than a little excited. I’ve got my School Safety Plan Quick Reference Guide in my bag. I’ll get my ID badge and be on my way.

So long as no Smartboards (Smart Boards?) are involved, I should be good.

Trial by fire (and water and cleats)

Growing up, I wasn’t exactly what you’d call an athlete. In fact, I’d bet that “athlete” and I were never even in the same room together, much less the same sentence (although my dad always said I had the best practice swing of anyone on my 5th grade softball team). While Nick has many amazing qualities, being a stellar athlete doesn’t really rank among them. And so it has come as quite a shock to us that both Ella and Annie are not only interested in sports, but actually have some skillz (yeah, I added the z. All the cool kids are doing it).

Prior to this year, the girls had been involved in after-school activities that took up relatively little space: a thirty-minute swim lesson here, an hour-long gymnastics or art class there. We knew it was only a matter of time before we joined the ranks of parents carting their offspring to and from numerous extra-curricular activities, banging around town like minivan pinballs, but we didn’t anticipate that we’d be thrown head-first into the mayhem as swiftly as we have this year.

Ella has long loved to swim – she’s just always been a mermaid girl – and decided that she wanted to try out for the swim team. When she made it, she informed us that she’d only attend one or two of the five (weeknight) practices that are held each week, and we thought that seemed reasonable. Once she began chatting with one of her best friends (who is also on the team), however, she allowed that perhaps she’d like to swim three nights a week — maybe Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with meets on Saturday afternoons? That’s a lot, but we can handle it. Suit up, kiddo. Let’s do this.

swimming first time
Her first practice, they swam at least 25 laps (I lost count after that). Not lengths, but laps.
I would have drowned.

Annie is a bit too young for the swim team, and when asked what activity she’d like to try this year, she mentioned art and swimming. As it happened, both occurred on the same days at the exact same time (what were the odds?), so we presented her with a choice… And she chose soccer.

9.17 first soccer practice
At her first practice, turning around and being goofy (who, Annie?) to Ella and me (reading, natch, Harry Potter).

Yes. A child of mine, who grew in my womb and is 50% me, chose a sport over an artistic endeavor. No one is more astonished than I.

As luck would have it, soccer takes place on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, which fit in nicely with Ella’s swim schedule. In case you haven’t been playing along, I’ll help you out: swimming and soccer take place Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. But no! After only one swim practice, Ella declared that she would really like to swim on Thursdays, too… So… Mmm hmm. We have something on the schedule every single weekday evening, plus all day on Saturdays.

Again, I know this is hardly unusual. I always understood, on a theoretical level, that the older your kids get, the busier you become. (Which would explain why friends with older kids would have more difficulty attending a Moms Night Out gathering than friends with toddlers, something that always baffled me when the girls were younger… But you’ve got grade-schoolers! There are no diapers to change! They sleep through the night! They can clear their own plates! Surely you have more time on your hands now! I know. Kick me. I deserve it.)

It’s just that we’d thought we’d get to dip a toe in – gradually ease further down, you know, as we got used to things – not that we’d be pushed off the dock with our clothes still on. Because that’s kind of how I feel right now: disoriented, shocked, and wondering if I actually remembered underwear this morning.

It so happens that both soccer and swimming are from 6:00 – 7:00, which is perfect, because no one ever dines at that time. At the parent information meeting, Ella’s swim coach sagely warned us not to feed our kiddos too much before practice, or else they’d see their meals again in the pool – so she eats her dinner when she gets home around 7:30 (except on Thursdays, because practice is a half-hour later, and 8 p.m. is just too late for dinner, so on Thursdays she eats at 5:00. Got that so far?).

Annie, on the other hand, would be ravenous if she didn’t eat before soccer… Which means that dinner for the girls is at 5:15 on Tuesdays, while Nick and I scarf lukewarm leftovers down while standing up before the girls head to bed. Some nights, we eat together when Ella gets home. Some nights, Annie eats at home with one of us while Ella swims. Some nights, Annie eats at the pool and Ella – and we – eat later.

IF IT’S WEDNESDAY, IT MUST BE CRAZY.

On top of that, I teach piano three afternoons a week – once from home and twice not at home – which means that our babysitter is here to shepherd the girls through homework and snack and make-sure-Ella-eats-at-5:00-on-Thursday-or-else-she’ll-vomit-in-the-pool before Ella’s friend’s parents pick her up for swimming (we carpool, because two nights a week is enough, thank you very much).

9.30 homework prep
I’ve taken to leaving at least five piles of notes when I head off to piano. Everything is more fun when it’s on a dry erase board.

Never before have I had to be so organized, and while it’s a bit torturous and more than a bit exhausting, I think it’s actually been a good thing. At this rate, I’m pretty sure I could end the government shutdown by tomorrow afternoon. Just give me a dry erase board and I will have us up and running again.

This could all be just complete insanity if the girls weren’t thriving and loving it so. Ella is learning about stuff I didn’t even know existed – flip turns and two-hand-touches (so you don’t get disqualified) and no breathing in the yellow zone (have you ever noticed how Olympic swimmers just power through at the end of each lane? No? Neither had I). She’s even decided she wants to be Missy Franklin for Halloween.

9.18 swimmer girl
No more cute tankinis and wild hair; it’s all performance suits and swim caps and goggles that “pop” when you put them on. I’ll posit again: When did she get so old??

Annie comes home from school every day asking if it’s Tuesday, because she cannot wait to get back out on the field. Turns out, she’s a got a fierce competitive streak (Annie? Never…) and rocks at defense, and she even scored a few goals last weekend, too – but more than that, she just thinks it’s a blast.

9.21 annie soccer
Pouring, but not one complaint. You’re sure this is my child???

As a result of all of this extra activity and later-than-usual bedtimes (which happens when you’d normally hit the hay at 8:15 but you don’t eat dinner until 7:45), both girls have been just bushed. Prior to this school year, I could have counted on one hand the number of times Ella had slept past 7:30 (yes, I mean that literally; girl cannot sleep in to save her soul). Since this mania began, I have had to awaken her a few minutes before 8:00 so that she makes it to school on time. Of course.

This past Friday, Ella didn’t swim, and we all enjoyed a leisurely night of pizza and television (Cake Boss, duh). After putting the girls to bed at a reasonable hour, Nick and I rejoiced that finally, on Saturday, everyone would be able to sleep in as late as necessary (well, as much as one can when soccer begins at 10:00).

Which meant, naturally, that both girls were not only wide awake but singing through their walls to one another at 7:15.
Of course.