Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Motherfucking Empathy, y'all. And Oprah.

     Today was my day off. After my new normal of waking up to the laundry list of damage Donald Trump has done to the country, and his subsequent psychopathic Twitter-storm about God knows what after I went to sleep the night before, I decided to take a mental health day. I have been in an absolute panic since January 20, and there is only so much my body can take. So I decided to do my most favorite thing. Roller skate and podcasts.

     Podcast search brought up a series about Oprah and her show. Good deal, I love her. But I clicked on the last episode, "Making Donahue", first. I remember Donahue from childhood, because dad watched it every day, so that meant I did too. At first I hated it. I remember it being a lot of yelling, people calling in to add their opinions, my dad talking back to the TV, and feeling sorry for a lot of these people because they seemed upset. It was an awful lot to take in for a kid.
     As I got older, I looked forward to hearing the latest topic and meeting these people who were nothing like the people I knew in real life. They were fascinating. Sometimes they had different accents, or they wore different clothes. They were different races. They were scared of things I never considered threats. They cried when people were nice to them. They were angry when no one else was. The vast and intricate details of their lives and issues were right there for me to see and feel and think about. I had a face to connect to the confusing things the adults in my life would blurb about at dinner. People were amazing creatures and I wanted to know more.

     I remember starting to watch Oprah's show around Jr. High. It was similar to Donahue in some ways, but had a more...nurturing feel. By the time I got to high school, I was hooked. I grew up in a white bubble for sure, but it was a uniquely diverse bubble, in the way that rich kid college towns are, If that makes sense. Anyway, Oprah continued to rock my little world like Donahue had, but she required me to understand, not just gawk. Oprah asked us all to understand. To consider the point of view of another from their shoes, as closely as possible. She had a way of asking questions that was so simple and so...biting. On the regular, guests would take her question and have to pause, the way you have to pause when a good therapist asks you a question. You HAVE TO think. She made us listen. She made it desirable to have the "Aha! moment", which is sometimes just a more favorable way to admit you are wrong in your previous assumptions and now see the forest through the trees.

     That's when it hit me. Donald Trump is Oprah's fucking fault. She ended her show in 2011, and the world started to deteriorate after that. Empathy is lost and even further, empathy is not considered a positive trait by a third of the population. We started dividing ourselves up by labels and political parties, and we stopped trying to see anyone else's point of view. Live and let live died. We even started getting mad when anyone even asked us to consider another person's feelings. And THEN, we were so pissed off about the general population refusing to listen to our struggle, that we stopped taking responsibility for our own emotions. We started to make our problems, everyone else's problem. We stopped trying to control our emotional reactions, and wore out everyone around us and the "snowflake" was born. Oprah wasn't there to explain our feelings to us in her signature "Aha!" and nurturing way, and we lost our fucking minds.

     I don't know how many people remember when the term "politically correct" came into use, but I remember that the point was to be aware of insensitive speech and unintentional aggression toward people of minority populations. Translation: let's be culturally accurate in our terminology. It's Native American, not redskin. Gay, rather than faggot. African American instead of negro or whatever other weird shit y'all used to say. It was simple, it was reasonable, and it was a social evolution toward intelligent discourse and it SHOULD have helped make us more comfortable interacting with each other in a changing world. In a world where the internet was brand new and we had the exciting and new opportunity to connect with people from all over the planet. It was the newest revision to basic fucking etiquette.
     I think it started out great, until white fragility entered the picture. Hang on, I don't hate white people. I won't shame you. I recognize that constantly being told you are wrong and not good enough is naturally going to make you defensive and even combative (Irony, much?), so that's not where I want to go here. But I have to tell you that if your reaction to criticism is always rejection, you aren't doing yourself any favors. Being able to say, "Shit. I thought this thing, but maybe it's actually this other thing", opens up the world and makes everything less scary. No one likes to feel stupid. Everyone likes to feel like they are on top of things. And even though it causes two minutes of discomfort, after that initial moment it is really a relief. You become more aware. You can function  more easily in a changing culture. That's a good thing, because evolution doesn't stop. To put it harshly, trying to swim upstream is just going to hurt, until you die from exhaustion.

     And now, instead of coming home from school and learning that the world is small and we have more in common with each other than we don't, we have an entire news network devoted to propaganda and their chief message is that political correctness is a big looming monster that stole religion and decency and family values. My own grandmother told me that getting rid of political correctness will stop all these shootings and violence and terrorism... The woman is a fucking doctor. Educated to death. What the fuck. The world asked her to stop saying Mulatto so she lost her shit and voted in a dictator. WHERE WAS OPRAH IN THIS TRANSITION? I swear to the Gods, if Oprah was here this wouldn't have happened. She would have had a show with refugees repairing American flags at the City hall, and people with alternate pronouns walking their dogs like regular people, and showed a straight white man in a dress what it's like to use the gender specific bathroom that matches the gender on his birth certificate and shit would be peaceful right now. Fucking Oprah.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

High school isn't for everyone.

     I received a series of angry emails and text messages from Gage's bio-dad's girlfriend one day (he stopped talking to me at all, even in email, once he got his new girlfriend, now fiance), about what a terrible mother I was for "letting Gage drop out of high school". They told my son they were disappointed in his choice. That they knew he could do better. That maybe living with them in California  is just what he needed to succeed in school. And so on. My reaction was deep, heartfelt hysterical laughter. Those two, bless their hearts, had zero experience raising a teenager, and were not the best examples of how essential and important a high school education is. Life was still beating the crap out of them and neither had ever held a job for long enough to get anywhere. They both love Gage very much, I do not doubt. But bio dad has not attempted to co-parent in a meaningful way ever, so any input from that direction was just noise, to be honest.

     Why would I laugh at such a thing? Because I was EXHAUSTED. So tired of fighting with Gage to do his classwork. Tutoring. Long nights of studying. We tried online public school. Failed. Back to independent studies. Meh, that was okay by the skin of his teeth. Non stop struggle with his apathy toward anything school related. Academics, social stuff, anything. He had been grounded, rewarded, distracted, engaged, prodded, begged, encouraged, and lectured to do just the bare minimum, and he couldn't even consistently do that. I had long talks with our friends, family, even strangers. I read blogs, articles, and research on everything from disciplining teens to learning styles to childhood trauma that might have effects on school performance. I had grilled Gage for information over and over...WHY??? Why cant you do this? Why won't you? Is it me? Is it your dad? What do I do with you?

     I felt like a failure and I blamed myself for everything he did that was "wrong". Yes that is in quotes, because I have since concluded that high school is fucking stupid and the American model of it is antiquated and structured like shit and I hope I can find a way to avoid it with my youngest kid. But at the time, it caused such a strain on the whole house that it was easy to blame it for whatever stress was going on in any other capacity of life.. Gage's school career was fucking up our peaceful, fun vibe in the house. It was tearing us up as a unit. We didn't talk as much.
     Shawn and I couldn't take it anymore and we started to analyze our intentions, and asked ourselves what the point was for all this. Is all this struggle worth it? What was the end result we wanted for Gage? What expectations do we have, and did they make sense and apply to Gage, or were they wrapped up in our own failures? How much does a diploma matter versus a GED, realistically? Will an extra year of school help or hurt him? And once we answered ourselves it was pretty clear that the best thing for him was to get out and get a GED. Our boy was not cut out for the extracurricular bullshit that goes with high school. Some people are able to navigate it and benefit from it. But some are not. And he, was not. We didn't tell him we wanted him to do it, but we did present it on the table of options after Sophomore year ended.

     Then he hit his Junior year, and he suddenly decided he wanted to graduate. He got better grades. He regularly worked with his counselors on plans to catch up. He did extra classes. Senior year arrived and he bought the senior sweatshirt and we reserved his cap and gown. But at his Senior exit interview they told us he couldn't graduate on time. He was devastated. First real life lesson about consequences...achieved. It sucked. But wow did he get it. If you ask him now, he'll say he regrets not trying harder, but also that back then he was anxious, depressed, and high school just wasn't for him.
    We told him it was okay, that Shawn and I didn't graduate and we turned out to be productive members of society (how long that took wasn't mentioned). I pointed him in the direction of GED classes and he navigated most of that process himself. That's when I got that hilarious email from bio-dad's girlfriend. Gage waited until the last second to tell his other parent what had happened. He hates confrontation and didn't want to hear their opinion. And I did not blame him one bit. I don't even remember if I responded...that's how seriously I took it.

      Hindsight is a bitch though, amiright? In hindsight, my oldest baby boy was chugging through adolescence like molasses in January. He entered that phase of life stunted from childhood strife. Yes, he is the more reserved kid in the group, but he will shine where he feels safe. And he did not feel safe.
We have always been close, but adolescence alienates you and forces you think you want to figure it out alone. The emotional gymnastics required to get through a day in the life of a teenager is enough to floor an adult. On top of that, Gage inherited the family panic disorder. And he was homesick for California. He had more than enough to deal with and then the pressure of a school model that didn't work for him and a new culture and set of friends, severe acne, a new brother, an intense little sister, a still new family dynamic, etc etc etc much more did I want from him? What is reasonable? What is necessary? If I had it to do all over again...I don't know. I still feel like I failed here and there, but it's not useful to pick it apart anymore. There wasn't one moment or even five that could have changed everything. And honestly it doesn't matter. He is a good person, and he is progressing and learning and becoming a good man. That is all that matters.

     So yeah. I "let" my son drop out of high school. Ha. I have no regrets.

I'm back for round two.

Hi y'all!

     I haven't been here since 2014, but I will only tell you why, briefly. First, we adopted Brandon, and he was far too fragile for my full-disclosure style writing. He needed space, and continuing the blog was impossible without including that part of our lives.
     Then, I started to evolve in a direction that changed my worldview in a way which made some of my ideas and rants pretty embarrassing. I contemplated starting a whole new blog so I could spare myself from the shame, but that just wouldn't be honest, would it? ;)

So, here we are. I have made friends, and lost friends. I have run 2 successful businesses, I started working as a cake decorator for a major company, I have two adult children and one who is in preschool. I have adulted at a fair level. I am also about to turn 40.

     I am about halfway through life, if I am lucky. So.Much.Has.Happened. I'm scared and excited about the next 40 years coming up.
     I have always felt it when the universe gave me a resting point to reflect and compare and look around with fresh eyes. I'm not sure if the catalyst this time is my birthday or the Presidential election, but both have certainly been heavy in my mind. I'm here in this moment, and it feels like this moment and not like any other time. I'm present. So I need to write. I have a lot to say, but I don't know how to start. So I just...will. Gimme a minute. More to come.