Monday, September 20, 2010

I never much liked statistics

Once I fell in love with a boy, who looked so long and so deeply into my eyes that he found tiny brown flecks I didn't even know existed floating amidst the blue. A boy who chased me when I ran, held me tightly when he caught me, and trudged painstakingly beside me with a flashlight through the dark. He showed me what love felt like, and when he walked away smashed my heart into jagged shards.

But then I fell in love with another boy. He didn't notice the brown flecks, or the dimple that appeared only when I made a disgruntled face. He didn't chase me or hold me too tightly.
He didn't fight for me and despite my antagonistic nature tried not to fight with me. But he slowly picked up the pieces of my heart, and painstakingly reassembled them like a puzzle, lovingly smoothing out the rough edges. He didn't need a flashlight because his own spirit shone brightly enough to lead us both through the dark. And when I get lost, muddling around to find my way, he stands patiently and silently shining until I find my way back.

Now when people tell me that my daughter shouldn't "get too serious" with her boyfriend, I understand their concern. She's young and should live life and have fun. Enjoy different experiences so that she doesn't feel as if she missed out on anything. I understand, from a detached perspective, because though I only ever loved two boys--and still love one of them--I don't feel I missed out on anything.

When our friends were partying through college, we were working, paying rent, going to school at night, and raising our daughter. Sure our experiences were different, but I wouldn't trade mine for theirs.

When some of our friends were experimenting with drugs and different sexual partners, we were Ambesol'ing sore teething gums, changing diapers, and getting up in the night to soothe a cranky baby. I don't feel my life is any less gratifying because I never snorted cocaine or contracted chlamydia.

When some of our friends were meeting people in bars, looking for the right one, we were snuggling on the couch watching movies, content in having all ready found each other. I do believe people come into your life for a reason, and we all should experience new and interesting people. But I have a plethora of interesting and inspiring people surrounding me, and I didn't meet any of them in a bar.

So when people tell my baby that she shouldn't get too serious, I understand their concern. But I also know that finding the person of your dreams in high school is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe in everlasting love. I have it. Do I want her to take the same road I did? No. It has been a hard, bumpy road filled with potholes and sharp curves, and I want her to cruise through life on Easy Street. Do I think it would be tragic if she did follow my path? No. Your experiences may help describe you, but they don't have to define you.

Statistically speaking, high-school-sweetheart-marriages don't last. Statistically speaking, having a child before you're married significantly lowers the chances of your marriage lasting. Statistically speaking, children born to unwed parents under the age of 25 will do poorly in school. Twenty years, and three smart, happy, healthy, amazing kids later, we may be rare--though I do know a few other families just like us--but we are not a statistic.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Just Be

When I look in the mirror the person I see doesn't really resemble my actual appearance. My mirror reflects an awkward girl who was "too tall" ever to be a decent gymnast. Obviously, I'm not tall, but I tower over Mary Lou Retton, my childhood idol. Looking back at me is a woman who is "big-boned" and "doesn't have the eating habits of a thin person," because my freakishly tiny mother unwittingly instilled those beliefs. There is frizzy hair with roots needing highlights--okay, everyone sees that. Eyes that aren't blue enough, a nose that isn't small enough, lips that aren't full enough, thighs that aren't thin enough, breasts saggy from nursing three babies, a quick temper, too little patience, and the list goes on and on.

But when I look deeper, I see love. My heart overflows with love for my friends, family, and especially for my husband and children. Unconditional, passionate, protective, unapologetic love. The kind that brings me to tears sometimes because I just don't know what else to do with the overwhelming emotion other than to let it spill from my eyes. And empathy. So strong that sometimes I must consciously ask myself if it's my feelings plaguing me or someone else's.

Many people don't see that when they look at me. Some call me a bitch or a snob. Say that I'm superficial, mean, nasty. I admit to being all of those things and more at one time or another, but I've tried very hard to right my wrongs. Apparently I haven't succeeded, or I'm not as self-aware as I strive to be, since I don't understand what drives people to these perceptions. So I try harder to show them what a good person I am. Strangers, acquaintances, PTO moms, other drivers. Why do I need their approval?

Most of my life, I have tried to make people happy. To be whom I thought others wanted me to be. I succeeded in many ways, but not at the expense of losing pieces of my identity. I could be a chameleon fitting into whatever environment I was thrown: soccer mom, party girl, student, professional. And to some degree, we all do that. But several years ago when I stopped working, stopped going to school, and became "just" a wife and mother, I was left wondering: With all these supporting roles stripped away, who am I?

I'm not sure. I'm not sure I need to know anymore. I try to be who God put me here to be. I try to be a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and person. I try to be kind and compassionate and non-judgmental. I fall short all the time. In this moment, I am trying to quit focusing on who I think I should be, who others think I am, and trying just to be. Just be me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

There, I said it.

Suicide, a noun, meaning to take one's own life, is one of those words that provokes very strong reactions. Like vagina. Simply say vagina in "polite" company, and people become noticeably uncomfortable, avert their gaze, fidget and so forth. Really? If you say arm, leg, even penis, people don't react that way, but vagina...oooooohh, that's dirty.

Vagina, vagina, vagina. Suicide doesn't sound that bad now, does it? Over the past 13 years, since my brother committed suicide, I have said the word many times. My brother died. How? He committed suicide. Most times, that is followed by an uncomfortable awkward silence and the abrupt end of the conversation. Unless I'm feeling particularly antagonistic and continue to engage the person squirming to get away from me before they catch the suicide virus, or whatever they're afraid is going to happen.

So, when my friend posted about writing LOVE on your arm in support of Suicide Awareness and Prevention week (September 5-11) I leaped at the opportunity. I wrote it on my arm, the kids' arms, and some of my friends even wrote it on their arms. A few people asked me about it, I explained, and mostly, they squirmed.

Raised as a Catholic, I was taught that "suicides" go to hell. In the movie, What Dreams May Come, after her suicide, Annabella Sciorra goes to a dark, scary place. Once someone asked me how I could live every day knowing my brother's soul was in hell. I don't, by the way, live that way. And it's probably one of the worst things you could say to someone who lost a loved one to suicide.

It's just not something "nice" people talk about, my mom told me once. What about if "nice" people's sons commit suicide; then can you talk about it?

In my counseling classes, we were taught to identify suicidal ideology in clients: to see the signs, to hear the clues, to gauge the seriousness of the situation. Ask how much a person has thought about it; find out if they have a plan, if they've attempted suicide before. In fact we talked a LOT about suicide. It wasn't a dirty word there.

When my brother committed suicide, the worst part for me was imagining his being so sad. Feeling so lonely and desperate ... as if he had nowhere to turn ... as if we, and the world, would be better off without him. That ate at me for years. The fact that we were all right here loving him was not enough to save him. The thought of his sadness overwhelming his coping mechanisms, waves of depression washing away the lifelines we held, nearly destroyed me.

I've heard when someone you love commits suicide, they die once, and you die a thousand times. Asking why, wondering what you could have done to prevent it, analyzing every conversation for signs you missed, over and over and over until you're nearly crazy. When I hear of someone committing suicide, I want to hug their family. I want to tell them they're not alone. I want to say: There are more of us who understand and share your pain, and to us it's not taboo.

For all those who write LOVE on their arms in remembrance of a lost loved one or in support of someone who lost a loved one, thank you. You did a brave thing. And for those of you who did it for me, and for my brother, I love you and cannot even express how much that means to me.