Unexpected Gifts

#5 is sick.

He’s been sick off and on for more than two months and every time we think we’ve figured it out, we haven’t. In the realm of sick kids it is both the worst (vomiting & diarrhea and all the awesomeness that goes with that) and the best (it isn’t a whole bunch of even worse things, and we have really good insurance). He’s a trooper but it’s wearing him down. He’s lost five pounds and for someone who hasn’t hit 70lbs yet, that’s a lot.

When he told me yesterday that the smell of bacon made his stomach hurt it was all I could do to not break down in front of him.

We were at the Children’s Hospital last week to see the specialist and there were some pretty sick kids in the waiting room, accompanied by parents who were as used to hospital waiting rooms as one could be. Parents who, at the moment, were not wild-eyed with fear and were content to watch their kids bounce around the room. Kids who had lost their hair and their coloring and a lot of their energy but could still pop up in front of the aquarium and scream, “Fishie!” I was desperately looking for a direction to turn my mind to that wasn’t all panic and fear, and watching these kids got me thinking about gratitude and unexpected gifts.

Now, I love Christmas. Even when I’m depressed I love everything about it: the decorations, the overly-scented candles, the music, the anticipation, the too many sweets, that goddamn elf, the presents.

Yeah, the presents. There’s some idea running around the intellectuals where I live that you shouldn’t like Christmas presents. That we should all be striving towards more lofty goals of solving world hunger and making peace in the Middle East and that if we get filled with joy when someone gifts us a brightly wrapped package, we’ve merely succumbed to our baser human nature and, oh, we really shouldn’t mention Jesus when we talk about Christmas because it offends all the non-Christians.

But I love the presents. And the baby Jesus.

Yes, Christmas is over-commercialized and our culture is too focused on the material every day of the year; Christmas can be an excuse to go into hyperdrive. But presents- concretely material, unnecessary, wrapped up in pretty paper you usually just throw away- are awesome.

I reconnected with a high school friend on Facebook a couple years ago, and at Christmas he sent my family some pears. You know, those Harry & David ones.

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The gesture really touched me, I’m sure more than he realizes. I thought about our differences: he’s West Coast now, and I’m East; he didn’t celebrate Christmas when we were kids and I did; he doesn’t have children and I have a houseful of them. The note said: I’m glad we reconnected. Now, pears. Big whoop, right? Well, I happen to love them. But the Christmas miracle is that my kids tried them after having rejected the entire pear genre for years. Because Harry & David’s only sends out perfect pears (I picture tiny pear fairies scattering magic dust on the trees in 8-hour shifts), they hoovered them. The case of pears lasted like two days. There is now one more healthy thing my kids will eat, and that’s a big deal. Every time I go to the store, #3 asks if it’s pear season.

Another friend last year gave me this plate. A rectangle plate with a really cool painting on it containing both a dove and an alligator, completely unexpected and entirely perfect.

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I like to think of the dove and the alligator as two aspects of me, and hope that someday the dove will be this much bigger. The plate lives on the sideboard and holds CC’s open wine bottle. I see it every day, and I think of my friend every day. I like that.

Then there’s the skull ring from one of my best friends. Every 40+ year-old needs a skull ring. Mine is particularly badass because she got it in Paris from an artist on the street. It sits on top of my writing desk and I wear it when the muse is fickle.

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It’s on my finger now, and at the end of this long, frustrating day I am reminded that when my friend went to Paris she saw this and thought of me.

We’re on the path to finding out what’s wrong with #5 and getting him well. It may take a while. The greatest gift would be a sudden, complete, magic cure. Perhaps the Harry & David’s pear fairies can put in a good word with the vomit fairies when they get together at the fairy bar. Meanwhile, I’m not turning up my nose at pretty packages with bows on top, because presents don’t have to save the  whole world. Sometimes they make one person smile, and that’s enough to save the day.

What’s the best unexpected gift you ever received?

(Shout out to Elena Aitkin because I totally swiped the title of one of her sweet books- click here: Unexpected Gifts is free for a limited time)

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Hope You Got Your Shots.

A rumble started in our neighborhood last week. A three-way rumble, amongst the people who still have their Halloween decorations up, those who already put their Christmas decorations up, and those people who take their holidays one at a time.

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In New Jersey, nothing says gratitude like a giant inflatable turkey. Sadly, no one house had all three sets of decorations up, and the giant inflatable yard menorah was noticeably absent this year.

If you’re traveling for any of the upcoming holidays, my post over at Family Circle may make you feel better. Just make sure everyone’s had their shots.

Drew Gehling, who plays Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys Broadway is doing a weekly vlog about what really happens backstage in New York. My favorite part of this one is Miles Aubrey’s opening magic trick. You think you know someone… I had no idea he could do that to a quarter. You can see me in this episode too, passionately talking with my hands and out of the side of my mouth about comb filtering. Also, some handsome actors take their shirts off.

Actors are fun at parties. Ballet dancers are interesting in everyday situations.

For more wildlife-based eye candy, here’s a short collection of some of the best shots you’ll ever see, on Rense.com

The last link today is a great story about how the best moments in life are rarely planned out. Poor Timing, Beautiful Surprises by Ariana Gruver.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Red

Oh, hey. I’m glad you came by. Been a while, huh?

Well, you know how it goes. I get quiet when life is busy, when CC is out of town or I’m picking up extra work or cleaning the house. Heh. Heheheheh. Cleaning the house. I can’t even keep a straight face when I type that.

I’m also quiet when things blow up: We have a hurricane. We have a blizzard. A kid goes in the hospital. The Puggles get hives.

But this time I’ve been quiet because my depression took a joy ride.

Depression: Hey. Nice ride. Is this a 289? V-8? Sweet! I’m gonna drive for a while, mkay?

Me: Ummm, that wasn’t really what I….

Depression: WOO-HOO!

Hope you fueled up!
Hope you fueled up!

This round wasn’t terrible. I got up every day at a reasonable hour, I still went to work. I saw the kids, talked to my husband, walked the dogs, and ate my meals. If you deal with depression at all, you know that particular flavor of it is like winning the Depression Lottery. The jackpot this week is up to Functional Depression? Ten thousand tickets, please!

It’s been more of a constant emptiness. A lot of not being at capacity, and not being able to change that.

Two things I’ve not been able to do are talk to my family of origin (because they always see through that shit and I couldn’t talk about it), and write. Well, scratch that. I did write. I just didn’t write well.

Every time I put a pen to paper, I felt like I was recovering from a stroke- or at least from one of those nights with a case of Little Kings and that guy from high school you never really liked but hung out with because he always had the good drugs.

I assure you neither of those things happened.

Forming complete sentences was a real challenge. I’d get overwhelmed or angry or deeply sad or else totally ambivalent before I finished a thought. Sitting at the keyboard was even worse because typing is faster, so there was more time to hate myself in between words.

I can fix this, I told myself. This, too, shall pass.

Except I couldn’t, and it didn’t. And it hasn’t. And I’m getting through this post because I’ve sat down to do it nine times in the past two weeks and I have a playlist full of Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, and Perfect Circle and I’m drinking too much caffeine too late at night and have given myself permission to suck. Out loud.

The lapse, the silence, the withdrawal from society is unfortunately timed because there are a lot of great things happening in my writing world and I sure would like to support them with a strong blog presence. My friends, too, have amazing things happening in their writing worlds and I want to support them as well. I overflow with blessings. But I’m all tap tap hate. tap tap hate. tap tap sigh. tap.

I always think I have a stronger measure of control over the big D than I actually do, and every time it ebbs away I convince myself it’s gone for good. I’m always surprised when it hijacks me again.

Depression: {knock knock}

Me: You again? I kicked you out, you sonofabitch. Go away.

Depression: C’mon, baby, you know you missed me! Let’s ride!

Me: Asshole.

Allie Brosch’s interview on NPR (which my husband, my source for all useful and interesting links, turned me on to) is fantastic, and if you haven’t heard it, here’s the link. She’s one of my favorites. She had a year and a half gap in her blog because of her depression (of the nasty, big-ass variety) and she said this:

“I think there’s a common misconception that depression is about something or depression is sadness or some form of negativity. It can represent a sadness or a self-loathing, as the first half of my depression did. It sort of circled back on itself and made me dislike myself more because I was so sad, and I didn’t know why, and I felt like I needed a reason. … It took me a long time to figure out that something was broken on a fundamental level. There was no reason behind it; it was just the way things were.”

I’ve had the I don’t think I’m pulling out of this kind of depression twice in my life. This isn’t that. I do live in fear of it getting that bad again, though I no longer believe that I am broken. I have promised that I will consider medication if it gets that bad again.

Meanwhile, I fight it. Have you ever heard the phrase: What you resist, persists?

How about, Surrender to win?

So after weeks and weeks of losing battles, trying to find the reason for it and fix it, I gave up. I accepted that it’s just the way things are right now, and there’s no real reason for it. I quit fighting it.

Me: Okay, big D. Let’s ride. Don’t wreck my goddamn car.

My inbox is in the hundreds; I’ll answer a few of them and eat a cookie if I can’t. There are seven unheard voice mails, some of which are two months old, and it’s highly probable I will delete them without ever listening to them. I’ve missed deadlines and I’m about to miss more, but I’m still writing. I’m plugging away, but in quicksand, with molasses, in a straightjacket.

Little things in my arsenal make me feel better. I always considered them weapons against the bad feelings coming, but it turns out they work just fine if you’re already down: Doing something decent for someone even if it’s in a teeny-tiny way; A good story and a strong-ass cup of coffee with cream (not milk, not half & half); Laughing, which this madhouse that I live in gives me ample opportunity to do; Chocolate and heavy metal; A brisk walk under the fall canopy amongst the dead (in our cemetery, to clarify) with the Puggles.

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Oh, and red. Red lipstick in particular. Red lips always make me happy.

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I took this ridiculous selfie when I got to work a couple weeks ago after my writers group told me I looked glamorous, which I thought was hilarious and sweet.

Because I look crazy.

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Does anybody hear Patsy Cline?

I don’t mind; looking like a whack job comes with a tremendous amount of freedom. Especially in New York.

Does the big D hijack you, too?

Where do you find freedom?