You Know Best, But Do You?

Posted on August 26, 2016

A couple of years ago I noticed a bump on my hip. The shallow secret is that when I first saw it, I thought it was that I had lost weight and it was a bone that could be seen. The hollow-eyed, calorie-counting, laxative-popping, over-exercising girl that I was for a few years in college got excited. The addiction to weight-loss and control whispered in my ear, “You’re doing it, keep going.” I pushed that thought aside because I knew it wasn’t safe. I can’t diet like some people, when I begin to eliminate certain foods or to count calories I am right back on the high wire which takes perspective away putting me at risk.

I was in a health center getting checked for something and I said to the nurse practitioner, “What do you think this lump on my hip is?” She pressed her hands along my hip and said, “That’s just a part of your body.” I kept asking people, from my family, to other medical practitioners and fitness professionals. No one knew and their response was always more curious than alarmed.

Over the past year I have begun to establish myself with a Nurse Practitioner, named Jackie, for my primary care. I trust her and as a result of that I am managing my stress better and really considering the value of my own health as it pertains to my family and my work. My cheeks flush that I needed someone else to make me a priority, but it did.

“Can you take a look at my hip?” I asked her. It was about 3 months ago. She called another doctor in, who like everyone else kind of raised his eyebrows. She ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound person said, “There is definitely something in there that doesn’t belong. I am going to recommend an MRI.”

They put me in the MRI chamber (I don’t know if that’s the right term, all I know is that the 45 minutes I spent in it pressed every claustrophobic button I had).The next day I got a call that I needed to go for a biopsy. My hip lump had everyone puzzled. I rubbed the egg-sized protrusion through my skirt as I was given directions to the surgical center. An hour later I got a call from Jackie.

“I shared your films with a friend of mine who is an oncologist at the hospital.” Cue all the terror. I was standing in the middle of the office and I felt dizzy. “He thinks you should forgo the biopsy and go straight to an orthopedic oncologist in Albany.” I was quiet. “Are you ok?” she asked. I wasn’t. I was legitimately terrified into a mute state.

The next hour was a whirlwind of phone calls and scheduling. The specialist was leaving for a two week vacation so they shoehorned me in the next day. I had to reschedule a meeting and postpone something I had promised the girls. That night Sean had a stomach bug that was so violent he burst vessels in his eyes and could barely move from the fetal position. The girls were needy, I felt guilty for leaving. Sean insisted on getting dressed in slacks and a tie and accompanying me and my mom on the 45 minute drive to the appointment. He moaned in the back seat.

I have been incredibly lucky to have very little need to see specialists or spend time in hospitals, which is to say that I was pretty terrified being in such a place. It reminded me of being in a plane and realizing how very tiny I am and how little beyond my own emotions is within my control.

More than 2 years, I thought.

Two years I let whatever this thing is fester inside of me.

Everyone had said that the slow growth was a good sign, but I felt pummeled by the message I’d been sending over the years, which was “My health is secondary to everything else.”

“Have you seen the screens?” the doctor asked me. I shook my head. “Come on, let me show you.” We walked around a corner, the people in the hallway moved out of his way. I walked toward the illuminated rectangle and stared. He traced the oval shape and explained that it seemed straight forward, then he rotated the image and the oval shape split and snaked around something else. “It’s almost like a tail woven in your gluteal muscles.”

I didn’t know what to say. I think Sean asked a question, then we walked back to the exam room. I appreciated that the doctor got right to the point, “We can biopsy it, that will either tell us it’s benign or malignant, the only difference in approach would be with the latter we might radiate you before surgery. No matter what you are going to want it out, right?” I nodded. “I say we put you on the schedule to have it removed at Albany Med, rather than here in my practice. That way it can go straight to pathology, but I am 90% certain we’re talking about a benign growth.”

I had to wait three weeks, three weeks and two years really, because I didn’t even let myself rate as far as prioritization of need. I can get two daughters to orthodontist appointments, all three girls to the eye doctor, they take voice lessons and go to camp. I match socks and rinse the recycling bin with more focus and dedication than I give my own health. I clucked my tongue and committed to not spiraling into a storm of what ifs.

Driving down for surgery the fear finally came. Tears leapt from the corners of my eyes and I tried to take deep breaths. I only allowed it for about two minutes, then I shifted into a positive place and decided to keep that approach straight through to being discharged. I joked with the nurses, let Sean crack me up about how I looked in the surgical hat, said yes to heated blankets and imagined I was a self-satisfied house cat. Sean sat with me and as the anesthesiologists walked toward me I understood how very fragile every minute really is—how fragile we are and how the decisions we make, and even the decisions we don’t, actively steer us toward one thing or another. They had me remove my wedding ring and say goodbye to Sean.

Anesth

 

The tumor was removed Tuesday. My mom and FAB have been incredible caretakers, along with my mother-in-law and our cats. Sean tries to hide it, but I catch him looking at me with the vastness of what the worst case scenario could hold. The most generous thing I can do for him, for the rest of my family, and for myself is to slow the eff down. I take the pain pills and drink the water, I stay prone in bed, I don’t dive into work emails or fixing the world.

Dressing

I have about a 5inch long wound. We’ll find out at my follow up appointment a week from today if it is benign or some form of sarcoma. I’m still believing in the best, but I will say that as my world has been peppered with words like mass and malignancy, growth and excision, I see how my indifference to my own health has been a threat in and of itself.

I need to pay attention. I need to care. I have to treat my life with some degree of pacing that doesn’t criminalize taking time for myself.

I am grateful for this chance to reevaluate the choices I am making and what they all mean. I’m also grateful for the people who have written and asked me if I’m ok. It was not my intent to turn this into something big, but if you are out there trucking along like I was, handling everything but yourself stop.

Make the appointment. Ask the question. Do the things you would do for the people you love, you are every bit as deserving of care as they are. You might be surprised by just how much your family wants to and is able to do for you.

IMG_6853

High School Girls & Mentors—Using my Voice

Posted on August 10, 2016

March 1st wasn’t a remarkable day, it was a Tuesday, not that I remember. I had to go back to check, because while some details of what happened that morning have faded, the feeling I had as I read the email has not. My heart skipped a beat and I felt my shoulders drop and my chest rise.

We are the Co-Chairs of the Girls Take Charge Club at Shaker High School, in Latham, NY. In this student-founded and student-run program, high school girls go to our adjacent Junior High School to mentor the younger girls in subjects focusing on overcoming adversity that women and girls face while striving for leadership.

Each year we host a “Women in Leadership” event featuring prominent women leaders in our community. We will be creating a panel of women in leadership roles from our community to share their experiences and give advice to our members. This program is a great opportunity for both our high school and junior high girls to meet with and learn from women like yourself who are so well respected within the community.

I remember looking around the room wanting to shout, but not too loud. I felt imposterish and wondered how on earth they came to write to me. I wrote back and said there was nothing I’d be more delighted to do.

A month later they sent a list of questions to use in a bio they would read to introduce me, as well as another set of questions I could expect to be asked.

  1. What does a typical day in your life look like? What kinds of responsibilities does your job entail?
  2. What were your aspirations as a middle school or high school student? Were your dreams realized or did they change?
  3. What other jobs or experiences have you had that lead you to where you are today, and what techniques did you learn while in your position, or while getting to your position?
  4. What has been the most challenging obstacle you’ve overcome on your way to becoming a leader? For example, have you ever been discriminated against in the workplace? How did you overcome these obstacles and what actions did you take that you found were effective?
  5. What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?

 

I remember fretting over what to wear, wanting to send a message of individuality, but not without the reality that how we dress influences what many people think of us. I hoped to sound polished, but not so heavily rehearsed that I didn’t sound real. My goal was for all of us in that room to feel like we are worthy. To have it make a difference for girls who still get treated as property. I wanted to unlock a future with less apologies. Mostly, I wanted to be worth their time.

I decided to follow my gut. I’m better off script. I still trembled a bit as I waited in the library for the students to come in after the bell. One by one the other panelists began arriving, Noël McLaren the weekend anchor from News10, Ashley Miller a sports photographer, reporter, and producer from WNYT and a graduate of Shaker High, Nina Marshall founder of the LYP Project, and Rachel Cassidy  a VP in patent licensing related to new technologies for GE. Eventually we made it to the table and listened as different high school students introduces us.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 5.46.21 PM

 

I imagined other libraries across the country, places with Spanish speaking students and bilingual presenters, audiences hearing from panelists in wheelchairs that mirrored their own, or other formulas that make students feel represented. I hope that it is happening and that where it isn’t there are people stepping up to create opportunities.

We need people like my friend Elan Morgan and the work that she is doing to make sure there are women on speaker lists, and Kelly Wickam Hurst who is out there trying to make sure that race is addressed in the school system.

The opportunities we have to be role models or to pull back the curtain on something for young people is incredibly important. I remember a woman I followed in my early blogging years saying that she had no intention of raising her kids to believe that only good things happen. It wasn’t, she said, her job to send them out into the world without a scratch or hurt feeling, it was to send them out ready for the world they’d meet. I carry that with me and try to balance being honest with being optimistic about what we can do to improve the world and carve out the space we want for ourselves in it without apology.

I am sharing a portion of the event here, filmed and edited with genuine respect and care by Kelli Lovdahl, a woman who works at Trampoline. We went off record, pulled no punches, and, I dare say, enjoyed ourselves. The thing I am learning about myself is that when I give of myself, I get something back, maybe it’s insight, maybe it’s confidence.

I am so grateful to have been a part of this event, but more than that, I am grateful for the way it reminded me that we all have something to give and to learn.

 

Not Today Means Never*

Posted on July 31, 2016

I was pushing the cart absentmindedly, as I meandered through the store. My head wasn’t in it, hasn’t been in a lot lately. I think in the way trouble comes in threes, sometimes distractions come in clusters. A flurry of things that dizzy me into a rut of, “This sucks” and I let them.

It wasn’t until I heard the boy shouting, “Mom, mom!” that I snapped into now. The mom turned, looking every bit as not-there as I felt.

“What?” she asked in a weary and annoyed voice.

He brandished a red and blue decorated package and held it overheard as he chirped, “Crepes!” His whole face was lit up and I wondered for a minute if the girls might like crepes.

“For what?” she asked, looking at him as if he were waving a donkey mask and matches.

“For eating!” he laughed.

She turned the cart and called back a “Not today” as she strolled over to the salad dressings without giving it another thought.

His shoulders fell and he gave a last look at the package before setting it back between the strawberries and blueberries and saying, “Not today always means never.”

Standing beneath the corrugated cardboard banana tree in the produce department I felt a thousand, “Not todays” and “Maybe next times” rain down on me.

“Not today always means never.”

I was the only one who heard him and I knew he was right. She’s not going to buy him crepes. I never went back and bought that divine crushed velvet blazer at Nordstrom, I haven’t taken the girls to the places they’ve wanted to go, I haven’t followed through on playdates, and I haven’t planned an overnight with Sean.

I’d bet that we all have a whole trunk of not todays—some that we meant to get to and others we never gave a second thought.

Just last night I was saying to Sean, after he confessed to feeling some pretty negative things, “It’s so reliably relentless, the best we can do is to make a promise to ourselves that we’ll look for some measure of joy in every single day.”

He sat across from me weighing my words. I knew he was trying to decide if I was being Pollyanna or if this dawning we’ve been having is true—it never slows down, things don’t ease up and allow for cushion. We have to plant our feet wide and grit our teeth and commit to leaning into the onslaught in order to be able to say, “No, not today, because today I am doing this. Today I am saying yes to this thing and no to that.”

He heard me and we sat smiling at one another, in all honesty we may have stayed like that more out of exhaustion and a strange mix of acceptance and defeat, than in a desire to really be there.

I never realized that growing up or being a parent would involve so much effort to be in control of the flow of a day, or, if I’m being honest, of my life. In certain lights I can see the scale being tipped in the direction of, “Next time” and it isn’t how I want to live. I want to be present enough to say, “No, we are never doing that” or “Well, yes, we can’t do it right now, but let’s do it next week” and when they ask me if I promise, I want to be able to say that I really do promise.

We can do that for our kids, our spouses and ourselves. We are in complete control over the next times and one days. I’ve been watching my friend Kelly accelerate “one day” into “soon” and gloriously into, “It’s happening.” The thing I have learned through Kelly is that it isn’t an it that is happening, it’s me.

I am happening,

Choosing for myself.

Worthy of now, not next time.

MakeHistory

I am soaring by giving myself and the people I love right now. Sometimes that means doing something death defying or exerting and other times it means renting ridiculous rideable animals from a mall kiosk because the movie was sold out and why-not?

 

Mall

 

Don’t fall into the trap of next time. Say what you mean, live how you want to remember, and believe that you are in control.

 

*(thanks to the boy at the store who reminded me of this concrete truth)

 

 

Borrowing Words and Worries

Posted on July 20, 2016

Someone once said not to borrow trouble. I’m not sure who it was, but the sentiment makes a lot of sense. I went searching for a quote tonight. I thought I could find a quote to create a tidy little post, not too heavy, and not too revealing, but the perfect amount of “I’m struggling” and “I am learning everyone is struggling” and “let it be.”  I’ve wanted to write for a few days, but responsibilities, mood, and timing kept me from doing so.

Damned if I couldn’t find a single thing that didn’t seem lazy, trite, or just not right. The truth is, I am struggling, everyone has some sort of struggle or pain, and the best we can do is let it all be. No need to borrow, plagiarize, or mail it in. I have a great life with peripheral troubles that mostly can be managed. Every once in a while something is brought into focus that makes me think, “Holy shit, I’ve had it all wrong” or “Good grief, I didn’t know how good I had it” or “I am scared.”

The truth is I have no wisdom on this. I am doing that adult thing of being torn between terror and taking it minute by minute. No matter what, I know that the best things in life are being present (not in a judgey stay off your phone way, but in a screw-ten-pounds-from-now or until-I-have-blank-number-of-dollars-in-the-bank, what I have now is awesome kind of way) and acknowledging you can’t control everything.

Yeah, it’s cryptic, a quote would’ve been better. Instead you get me, fretting and yet completely in love with my girls and the way they dive in and then explode back into a moment.

I guess all I needed to do here tonight is say thank you for being with me and I am wishing you happiness in the moment you are in.

Swim

Too Fast to Track, Too Late to Hope?

Posted on July 8, 2016

Time is moving with little regard for my hopes or desires. The predictable chapters of dating, marriage, first house, first baby, jobs, deaths, second baby, then third baby blur, pages racing faster than I can read or write.

I didn’t imagine time would slow, but maybe I thought I could catch up to it.

I was going to sign my daughter up for dance, then it was too late.

“Most girls are already beyond intermediate, she’ll never catch up.”

I was going to create a plan for spring outings, but the season passed.

I was going to make dates with my daughters, my husband; I was going to go back to pilates.

I didn’t.

I haven’t.

Not sure that I will.

I’ve gone from saying, “I promise” to “I’ll try to look into that,” but it never happens. I get sucked into laundry, I peek at Twitter, I take on a commitment, I mend a stuffed animal. I look up and I have the wrong month on the calendar because I missed June ending.

 

It takes my breath away that we are more than halfway through Briar’s childhood; there was so much I was going to do and it’s too late.

 

I’ve started writing more about my experiences as a girl and a woman that don’t belong on a resume or suit dinner table conversation.

 

I was going to voice my support for Hillary Clinton earlier, but I worried about my business.

 

I was going to speak out against the calls to end NY SAFE act, but again I feared what it would do to business.

 

I was going to be a louder advocate for LGBTQ, but then I wondered if I did enough.

 

I was going to write about Black Lives Matter and I did, but not enough.

 

I was going to write about Alton Sterling, but I wasn’t sure what to say.

 

I was going to write about Philando Castile, but then Dallas happened.

 

Too late. Too little. Too hard.

The “too” of it all will silence you, daunt you into believing you could never make a difference. My chest feels heavy, my heart feels fluttery, and my cheeks flame as I read and listen to the words of black and white women raising black boys.

 

I fear swimming pools, date rape, and texting while driving for my girls.

 

Being shot in a park for looking dangerous? Never.

 

Getting roughed up for wearing the universal hoodie of the teen years? Not a chance.

 

Being too angry? Nope.

 

Too loud? Uh huh.

 

The most looming threats to my girls are that they’ll feel the need to be thinner, sexier, or more liked on social media. Sure, there’s workplace crap, misogyny, harassment, work life balance lies, but there is very little chance they will be killed for taking up space in the wrong way. Neither will my husband.

 

Yesterday morning I was sitting on my back deck sharing a post written by a local blogger about the increasing violence in our country. Briar sat beside me, clearly wanting to talk. My pull to finish the post was frantic. I gave her a just a minute and then another. She kept watching me. I thought about talking to her about Philando Castile or, more specifically, his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter. I shook my head, her eyebrows lifted in question.

 

I took a deep breath and set my computer aside.

 

“Honey, I haven’t been writing much lately and right this minute I have something I can share that, well, I just feel like I have to.”

 

She shrugged and smiled, “It’s ok, mama. I can wait.” I wanted to cry.

 

I took a deep breath and my voice shook. “Yesterday a man and a woman were driving, their four year old daughter was in the back seat. The family was black. A white police officer pulled them over because their tail light was out.” I scanned her face to make sure she was listening.

 

“When the police office asked for a driver’s license the man explained that he had a gun and that he had a permit to carry it.” She interrupted me.

 

“He had a gun?”

 

“Yes, but he had it legally. He had a permit, just like a fisherman would get to fish, that let’s him carry a gun. He told the officer that he was going to get his driver’s license.” Now as I explained this I didn’t talk about the fact that passengers in cars don’t usually have to provide their license. I didn’t explain that there is a phrase: Driving While Black. I stuck to the most basic of facts. “As he reached for his wallet the officer shot him.”

 

 

I didn’t tell her he still had his seat belt on. I didn’t explain that I had watched the Facebook video of the man’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds. I didn’t say that she couldn’t lay her hands on him and kiss his forehead. She couldn’t comfort her daughter. I just said, “He did nothing wrong and the bullets from the police man killed him. I almost stopped, but then I said, “The police officer never called anyone to help the man.”

 

 

She looked into the air, her face turning softly back and forth and her lips moving like she was trying to form words that would make sense from thin air.

 

 

“Mom, what is it though. Why? Why do they kill black men? Do black men look evil? Do they seem too strong to live?” She was moving her arms and searching my face expecting me to have something else to say, a way to make sense of people dying. She has been preoccupied with death and what it means, how to avoid it, what happens after we die, this new proposition that some people will lose their lives in such a way rocked her.

 

 

“For blackness?”

 

 

I swallowed. “Yes, for blackness. He was killed in front of his daughter and girlfriend. Gone forever. Are you ok? And are you ok if I share this?”

 

She nodded, her eyes welling, “You have to.”

 

I really don’t know where to go from here, I only know that I’m no longer going to be a victim to too.

 

There is no too late if we start now.

 

There is no too hard if you commit to trying.

 

There is no too hopeless if we refuse to give up hope.

 

I will never be black, but I will never be silent again.

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: