It Takes a Village

It was Amy’s idea to make the hats.

“I was at Wal-Mart getting poster board, mom, and I saw some plain white hats. I thought it’d be fun to get a bunch and write TEAM ADDY on them.”

Not only would it be fun to attend graduation in matching white caps, but the slogan—TEAM ADDY—was perfect.

So, using fabric markers and puffy paint, we made enough hats for Amy, me, a few friends, and the others that would be coming over from Denver—Addy’s dad, his girlfriend, and his mother.

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I wasn’t sure if the Denver group would sit with us at the ceremony, or with me, I should say, as I would encourage Amy to sit with them since she doesn’t see them as often. I couldn’t predict if they’d like the hat idea and agree to wear them. To be honest, I was surprised that Addy’s dad was taking the time off work and making the trip to attend her graduation at all. It’s not that he wasn’t proud of her, and supportive, it’s just that he’s never had any use for ceremonies.

It’s been more than six years now since the separation and almost five since the divorce became final. It was a contentious affair. In the middle of the process, the girls’ dad quit his job and moved across the state, taking a new woman/old high school girlfriend with him. And shortly after that he announced that he wanted the girls to come live with them.

I won’t get into the particulars, but the girls did live with their father for a few years. One wanted to–to give him a chance–more than the other, but they had to stick together. They’ve always stuck together. Their relationship is the heart and soul of TEAM ADDY.

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Eventually, the girls made their way back to me. Their father was busy working most of the time; he always had been and that did not change once he took custody of the girls. It was his girlfriend who ended up caring for them.

Initially, I was angry. Hurt. Incredulous that the court said she would be the one to raise my daughters instead of me. But rather quickly that anger turned to gratitude and appreciation. For if she was not there, not in that household and not available all day, every day, as she was, then I’m not sure what would have become of my daughters.

She transitioned them into a new home, new schools, and through some tough teenage years. She didn’t parent exactly how I would, but she did parent. She parented my children.

It was the beginning of the teamwork. The village. On the first Mother’s Day that rolled around, I sent her a card, thanking her for all that she did for my girls, thanking her for being a good mother, explaining how grateful I was for the village.
She called me immediately upon receiving it and thanked me profusely. The team became stronger.

We became friends.

Not being their real mother, Addy didn’t feel that pressure from her to be like mom, to go through childhood and high school the way mom did it, the way mom would want you to do it. I credit her presence, and the lack of mine on a daily basis, for Addy discovering her true self—her free spirit; her hippie style; her creativity with music, writing, and art; her brash humor; the eschewal of the high school experience that I had in mind for her. The girl knows herself better than I have ever known myself. And she’s only 17.

The power of the village.

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There were tough times in that household, as there are in most. There were several occasions when she was on the verge of leaving him. I prayed she would. Get out. Get a better life for yourself. She was a friend, a fellow woman. I cared about her. But I prayed harder that she would stay. Oh, please stay. Find the strength to stay. And she did. She stayed. Addy–in her honesty and boldness and love for her–told her to leave. Go to a happier place. She explained to Addy why she couldn’t leave; she loved them both and she did not think their dad could handle raising them on his own.

She stuck it out for the team.

I’ll never understand Addy’s father’s style of parenting, of loving. But I will say that he is a critical player on the team. He works hard, he earns good money, he pays his child support. He teaches different sorts of lessons. He does what needs to be done, in a business sense. He has been cordial and cooperative.

Eventually—slowly but eventually—he and I became friendly again, too.

The strength of the village.

And then there is Jim. My Jim. My Jim who is patient and understanding and embraces that I am first and foremost a mom. He loves my girls and has always been there for the three of us. Another pillar in the village.

I remember, five years ago, hoping that we would all get to the point where we could come together for graduations, weddings, births, all the important things that might come up in our daughters’ lives. I imagined us in the same room, being cordial, the anger long gone, the hurting all healed. I wondered if that could ever be a reality.

We are at that point now. And it feels good. It feels healthy.

Recently, Addy was diagnosed with depression. We’ve all been supportive and tried our best to learn more and understand better what she is going through. We’ve teamed up to figure out how to parent a teen with depression, as it is no easy task, perhaps harder even than parenting a teen without depression.

And I cannot leave out the extended family members—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—who are also on TEAM ADDY, as well as friends, teachers, coaches, bosses. The village extends beyond all understanding.

Though we split apart years ago and live in separate cities, we’re one village.

So the TEAM ADDY hats mean a lot to me. I know mine will be around for years to come.

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Recognition and Kudos and a Big Thank You

I’ve read a lot of good blogs lately. Good because they got me thinking. Good because they answered some questions I didn’t even know I had. Good because they made me laugh or cry. Or both.

Recognition and kudos and a big thank you to:

Andrea Read America for 8 Great Literary, Book Nerd, and Storytelling Podcasts. I’ve wanted to learn more about podcasts and how to get started listening to them. While her blog didn’t go into the bare basics that I needed, it inspired me to finally get it figured out. Plus, she was helpful in answering my questions and steering me in the right direction. Since starting to blog, I’ve struggled with balancing my time between reading, writing, and exercise. After reading her blog, I feel like I can perhaps combine exercise with the intake of information.

The Belle Jar for When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option. My daughter has struggled a lot lately with her depression. I’ve written a couple posts about it and have been overwhelmed with the support I’ve gotten from family, local friends, online friends, and the blogging community. The Clocktower Sunset referred me to this particular post at The Belle Jar and, wow, what she wrote really resonates with my current understanding of what depression is and what it means to have it. And so beautifully written to boot.

We were also referred to The Bloggess, specifically her post where she talks about how depression lies. My daughter and I watched the video on this post together and, like almost everything we hear or read about this condition, it furthered our understanding.

And speaking of depression, Nerd in the Brain, who writes all sorts of fun nerdy stuff, was kind enough, with The Spectacular Blog Award: A String of Pearls, to help spread the understanding about this frustrating disorder by bringing more attention and traffic to my posts.

On a happier note, while I was in the middle of a 12-day road trip with my teenage daughters, Daniel at National Parks [and More] somehow found my blog and casually mentioned that, if possible, we should try to incorporate Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada into our trip. I looked him up and found 40 Places to See in the Western United States That Will Blow Your Mind and because of his obvious  knowledge of amazingly cool places, I trusted him and we went to Valley of Fire. Now, I just need to write about the day we spent there.

So, thank you all, and keep up the good work!

With love,

Your fellow blogger,

Randee

 

 

youdabomb.com

About a week ago, with a heavy heart and some trepidation about sharing such a personal topic, I posted The Struggle is Real. The blogging community, my family, local friends, and other online readers responded–overwhelmingly–with support, cyber hugs, words of wisdom, analogous feelings and struggles, and names of books, articles, and blogs that we should read.

One friend commented with "Depression Lies" and pointed us toward The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson.

One friend commented with “Depression Lies” and pointed us toward The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson.

I couldn’t believe the response. Not just the support, but the fact that no one seemed to think it was weird that my daughter and I wanted to share what she’s going through. So, thank you, everyone–you da bomb.

On top of her depression, my daughter was physically sick. I listened to her cough all night long, though I was sure she was sleeping through it. She emerged from her bedroom every morning for more than a week with her hand cupped below her mouth, wakened each morning by coughing up phlegm. She slept a lot and said she didn’t feel well and stay bundled up in a blanket, even on warm afternoons. She didn’t talk much at all. Of course, I thought all the latter–sleeping, bundling, silence–were related to the depression, which they were, but there was more. As it turned out, she had strep throat.

More mom guilt. First, I don’t understand her depression as well as I want to and I don’t know exactly how to help her. Worse, she was quite sick for more than a week before I took her to the doctor. And the only reason I took her was because she said to me (finally), “Hey, mom, wanna see what I’ve been dealing with for the past week?” and opened her mouth in my face, shining her cell phone on the back of her throat.

It was the most disgusting throat I’ve ever seen. Hugely swollen, bright red, coated in pus, sides almost touching, just a tiny opening.

Wow, I remember thinking, she really is sick. It’s not just a fantastic notion of her depressed imagination.

Anyway, the transformation I saw in my baby was amazing as an increased dosage of Zoloft kicked in right about the same time the Amoxicillin did. Mentally and physically healed all at once. Her vibrant self returned.

I was taking an art class after work when my phone rang. I picked up because it was her. “Mama, whatever you do, don’t eat. I’m cooking dinner.”

More like whatever else I had planned for the evening, just cancel it. Cooking dinner? Out of her bedroom? Moving around? Planning and following through with something? Inviting me, ahead of time? There was no way I was going to miss this.

I hurried home after class and found both daughters and the family dog on the couch, starting a movie, waiting for me. It just happened to be one of my favorite movies–What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? I dropped my things and sat right down. Addy said that we were having dinner in the living room. The dinner that she had made was layered dip and chips. Perfect!

I watched Addy just as much as I watched the movie. She was the happiest I’d seen her in weeks. Carefree, playing with the dog, able to sit through the entire movie without retreating to her room. My daughter is healthy and happy, I kept thinking to myself.

By the time the movie ended, it was dark. The girls were tired and said good night. “That was a fun family night,” said Amy, who I know has been concerned about her sister.

Once alone, the floodgates opened. Tears streamed down my cheeks. No wailing, no sobbing. Just silent tears. Not tears of fear or pain or frustration. Tears of relief. And they just kept coming.

I guess I was carting around a bit of stress these past few weeks. I don’t recognize it at the time. I just keep pressing on. Do what needs to be done. But then, when there’s a break in the action, it all comes out. This time, luckily, it came out as relief. Relief that my daughter is healing. Healing before things got worse, healing before something terrible happened.

In the morning, I told Addy about my tears, about how relieved I was to see her acting like her old self again, to see her happy.

“Mom, I just want to do things now. Before, I had to try to talk myself into doing the most basic things–getting up, washing a load of laundry, talking to people. It would take like a half hour to talk myself into something and I’d be exhausted before I even did it.”

I didn’t say anything. Just listened. I need to learn. Learn to understand how this disorder operates, how it affects my daughter. By understanding, perhaps I can be a better support system for her.

“There were, like, several days in there where I was convinced you and Amy hated me. I knew you didn’t. You wouldn’t do everything you do if you didn’t care about me. But, still. I had to put so much energy into telling myself that it wasn’t true.”

This comment made me remember something. “Oh! I made you something in my class.” I went and got the oil craypas water-color relief on fabric. Depression Lies, it said.

“Ha! Good one, Mom! I’ll hang it my dorm room.” She paused and I’m pretty sure she was thinking about the same thing I was:  Yep, you’re going to make it to that dorm room.

“Man, I didn’t realize how sick I was. I don’t really get it until I come out of it. I feel so liberated! I feel happier than I’ve felt in a long time!”

“Well, if wanting to cook dinner is a measure of happiness, then you’re way ahead of me,” I told her, laughing.

“Oh, Mom,” she said, “you da bomb. Dot com.”

 

**A special thanks to Nerd in the Brain on WordPress.com for reading that first post and bringing more attention to it and this important topic.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle is Real

“Oh my God, are you filing your nails?”

The stylish guy behind the counter at BC Surf & Sport looked up from his casual slouch. “First I bit them, now I’m smoothing them down.”

Not missing a beat, my teenage daughter continued. “So, is that, like, your personal nail file or do you all share it?” Two other young male employees, looking just as hip as the first, had sauntered over to join the conversation with this outgoing, plenty-hip-herself potential customer.

“Oh, no, it’s the shop file. We have to fight over who gets to use it.” All three of the guys chuckled.

“I hear ya,” said my daughter. “The struggle is real.”

The struggle is real? What an odd thing to say. Perhaps it was a trendy phrase among the young and cool, something I hadn’t yet heard my daughters use around the house.

The thing is, the struggle is real.

My teenager has had a rough couple of weeks. She’s a senior and will graduate in May. That is, if she can muster the will to get out of bed in the morning; if she can trick herself into believing that it’s worth it to go to class, to finish her assignments, complete the required service learning hours and supplementary reflection paper, to graduate because she has a future that’s worth living; if she can dispel the anxiety that obliterates her days when she’s forced to think about what’s coming next–a summer job, leaving for college, a lifetime of expectations to be capable, competent, optimistic, and excited about life.

For her, the struggle is real.

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I try to understand. I try to hide my dismay and disappointment when I find her hunkered down in bed when she should have been up an hour ago for school, when I get yet another automated call from the school reporting her random absences, when she says she’ll take care of timely business later because she just can’t deal with things right now. I try to suppress my natural parenting instinct of taking away privileges or at least letting natural consequences play out – as would be effective with most teenagers – for some of the things she does and doesn’t do.

But what good is it to take away her car, her means of getting to school? Sure, she could ride the bus, and that would be the perfect consequence for most teens who have trouble getting to school on time when driving themselves, but for her, having to ride the bus, as a senior, would be another good reason to stay in bed. And the joy of driving, of being independent, is probably the main thing that’s getting her to leave the house these days. Grounding doesn’t make sense when what I really want to see happening is her going out more and interacting with the world and spending time with friends. And should I cut back on her already minimal weekly spending money when doing so might result in her being more anxious, less hopeful?

The struggle is real.

Luckily, my daughter makes fairly good choices within the confines of her disorder. Her depression has not resulted in any run-ins with the law. She is not failing her classes. Like she says, she’s got healthy ways of coping, her music, drawing, art. She always finds the time and plenty of humor and love for her sister. She is open about her depression and willing to explain what she’s going through for those of us who don’t get it, who can’t possibly imagine not embracing each new day and what the future has to offer. These past few weeks, as she’s mourned her childhood and confronts her future, she’s felt more anxious and out of control than ever.

I’m always fighting myself.

I don’t feel like I’m on my own team.

I have my coping mechanisms in place – playing guitar, drawing, writing, walking – and I have plenty of time to do those things now, but what about when I go to college? I’ll be so much busier. How will I find the time to calm myself down? I’m already freaking out about it.

I know I miss some classes, but you have to understand that, for me, going to most of them is a huge accomplishment being that I can barely get out of bed.

Every time I’m happy, I feel like I’m just faking it. I know who I really am, that the bad feelings are going to come back.

I feel like you deserve a better daughter. You should have a smart daughter, someone who gets really good grades.

I’m so afraid this is hereditary and I’m going to give it to my kids. I don’t want them to suffer. I’m keeping a journal so that when they become teens I can look back on my writing and hopefully remember and be able to help them get through it.

I listen. I see her tears. I feel the bubble wrap in which she’s encased herself, that protective layer that keeps her safe, but simultaneously keeps me from her. I’ve helped her get a diagnosis, medication, counseling. And yet I cannot give her what it is I truly want to – optimism.

She’s going to have to discover that on her own. And find a way to let optimism rule.

And I cannot give myself the one thing that would help me to understand her better, that would allow me to more thoroughly accept and support her. I cannot give myself depression. And for this, I sometimes feel guilty.

The struggle is real.

For both of us, and for so many more out there, it’s real.

 

The Swing

Her little girl

In the swing

Curious, energetic, bright

She pushes her

Learn, move, create

Harder, faster, higher

And the girl smiles.

Her daughter

In the swing

Inquisitive, assiduous, gifted

She teaches her to pump

Push, produce, live,

Harder, faster, higher

And the girl does.

Her teenager

In the swing

Introspective, lackadaisical, artsy

She watches her change paths

Grow, change, become herself

Twisting, slowing, nearly stopping

And the girl cries.

This young woman

In the swing

Discovering who she is

She watches as she

Looks up, beholds the sky

And resolves to pump again.

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