For Addye: Musical Marriage Advice

This weekend my friend A’Driane is getting married. When I heard the news, I was instantly happy for her even though I’ve never met her beloved, Bert. Okay, I’ve never met her in person either. But I know her. I adore her. I admire her. I respect her. A’Driane and Bert work at their relationship. They are meaningful in their actions toward each other. They take care of each other. I predict a lifetime of love and laughter. Even though I know these two crazy kids already know a lot about love and how to stay knee-deep in it, I still want to offer some wisdom on the topic. And in my experience, the best love advice comes from country music, specifically 80’s country.

Islands In The Stream-Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

If you go by Pandora’s rotation, 80’s country begins and ends with this song. And who can argue?

“Baby when I met you there was peace unknown.

I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb.

I was soft inside; there was something going on.”

When you’ve found the right person, your soul is calm and you finely comb your hair? And your insides got something going on. Yep. That’s love baby.

When You Say Nothing At All-Keith Whitley

Not to get all mushy, but this song makes me think of my husband. Thank God he doesn’t read my blog, or he’d be embarrassed I told you that.

“The smile on your face let’s me know that you need me.

There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me.

A touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall.

Yeah, you say it best when you say nothing at all.”

Trust in what you know about your spouse and how they express their love. Also, never underestimate the power of The Look. No, not the sexy times one, the Dude, Seriously? one.

Forever And Ever, Amen-Randy Travis

Lots of love songs make promises, but this one seals it with an “Amen.” A promise that’s a prayer is what marriage means to me.

“Oh, baby! I’m gonna love you forever, forever and ever, Amen!

As long as old men sit n’ talk about the weather, as long as old women sit n’ talk about old men

If you wonder how long I’ll be faithful, I’ll be happy to tell you again.

I’m gonna love you forever and ever, forever and ever, Amen!”

Now that’s a promise! Forever and ever. The end. The only problem is I can’t hear this song without picturing Randy’s mug shot.

Photo Courtesy GRAYSON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Meet In the Middle-Diamond Rio

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: marriage requires compromise. When I’m feeling like I’m at an impasse with Michael over something, I ask myself, “Do you want to spend time with him being angry or being happy?” And then I answer myself because I have lots of voices in my head.

“I’d start walking your way.
You’d start walking mine.
We’d meet in the middle
‘Neath that old Georgia pine.
We’d gain a lot of ground
‘Cause we’d both give a little.
And their ain’t no road too long
When you meet in the middle.”

If all else fails, take a long walk and get your priorities in line. Make sure you have your cell phone so you can call for a ride home when you realize you’ve crossed state lines.

Close Enough To Perfect-Alabama

Bert, this song’s for you. I mean, it’s for you to live up to. This is how you should treat my girl.

“She kisses me each morning,
And smiles her sleepy smile
And she don’t have to say it;
I can see it in her eyes.
Don’t you worry about my woman
Or what you think she ought to be,
‘Cause she’s close enough to perfect for me.

Well sometimes she gets down and starts to cry,
But then again a lady has a right.
She’s everything I ever wanted; she’s all I’ll ever need.
She’s close enough to perfect for me.”

Did you know Alabama released an album every year in the 80’s? I have no idea what that has to do with marriage, but I’m sure you can think of some way to apply it.

So, turn up the volume and dance a little Texas two-step my friends! Here’s to marriage and to A’Driane and Bert!

A Better Mom

I’m not what people would call a calm person. In fact, I’ve been called a hummingbird on speed. I am in constant motion and full of a constant stream of thoughts, very few left unsaid. It sounds funny, and sometimes it is. I’m a hit at parties and a bringer of levity at meetings and conferences. But when I’m just living my daily life as a stay-at-home-mom, it’s exhausting and scary. And it is a problem that is stigmatized and misunderstood as evidenced by the reactions to this article on Parenting.com and the ensuing talk shows like Anderson Live and Katie where wine drinking and mood-stabilizing drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist are lumped in the same category.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, and after the twins were born, it became postpartum anxiety and depression. This meant that before treatment my mind was my worst enemy. My ability to imagine turned ordinary new-parent worries into disasters of epic proportions. It was imperative that I give the boys the exact same amount of formula. If I didn’t get them to take good naps now, they would never sleep well. Having pears on Monday meant not even looking at pears Tuesday so that they had a nice variety in their diet. To get to the living room from our master bedroom, you had to pass the mantle which had a corner that stuck out almost into the hall. Every time I passed that corner, I imagined accidentally knocking a baby’s head into it. I saw the blood gushing and heard the screams and cries. I never accidentally hit that corner, but it haunted me every time I passed it. When I went to take the boys to meet Michael, my husband, for lunch, I would pack three meals’ worth of formula in case there was a massive traffic jam, and I had to be with them in the car for hours. Seriously.

It only got worse when the boys got mobile, and I ventured outside to normal places like the park and the mall. My brain saw the germs on the play structures. I could imagine them jumping onto my sons and sending them to the hospital. Stairs were my mortal enemy. No matter how much the boys improved at navigating them, I still imagined them falling down them. My brain played out the whole scene. They fall screaming. I drop what’s in my arms and run to them. There is a lot of blood, and I tell the other twin to call Daddy on my phone. I grab band-aids and calmly apply pressure to the wound even as I know in my heart the injured child would need surgery and would never be the same. And it was all my fault for not holding their hand or telling them to slow down or being late and in a hurry. And the park? Play the stairs scene over for every piece of equipment. I tried to have play dates there and enjoy the company of friends and their kids, but I was always on alert and ready to run after a child heading for traffic or falling to his death from the slides. These things never happened, but I was sure they would.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

I’m shaking, and my heart is racing right now just writing this. I can’t stop thinking of all the examples of this behavior.

The only way I’m able to get through the day and be out among the people is with therapy and medication. And even with that I still have the thoughts. They just don’t paralyze me or send me into an anxiety-induced crabby-fest. My anxiety manifests as anger; the anger is that things are out of my control. But I have coping skills, and I have support.

In other words, my medication makes me a better mom. My medication and techniques I’ve learned in therapy. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding, superpartner spouse.  My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat and my fantastic spouse and my involved parents. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my caring parents and exercise. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my involved parents and exercise and having a hobby.

My point? Yes, I’m medicated, but no, I’m not using it as a crutch. I work hard to be a good mom. It’s an obsession that can lead me down a rocky road. So I use all the tools I can find to find that balance between striving to be what my kids need and keeping my spirit intact. It’s not easy, and anyone who tells you medication is the easy way out has never been where I am-at the top of the stairs facing another day of shutting off the horror show in my brain.

Honey, I’m Home

I was mesmerized by the massive gray clouds, and I realized I could see miles of them. It wasn’t just over our city like in Poland; it stretched well into the next county. And I thought it was beautiful. Seeing for miles and miles was a treat. I could see where I had been and where I was going; I felt like I had my compass reset.

Our adventure in Poland is over, and we are home in Texas. I’ve been giddy about it since we landed, and I kissed the ground at DFW.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted toes.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted feet.

Our first dinner in America? Sonic corn dogs and cheeseburgers. Or, as I like to call them, ‘Merica Meats. We’ve had my mother’s homemade tacos and chili con queso. We’ve had bagels and Lucky Charms. I’ve even already had my parents over for dinner in our new apartment. It’s a culinary wonder, and we are eating it all. I still need a nice steak, but I think I’ve hit most of my food cravings including 12 pounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I’ve been running. The boys have played in numerous parks without jackets or gloves or frostbite. We’ve seen the sun pretty much every day as is needed by my soul.

Even the dentist is fun here.

Even the dentist is fun here.

And oh how I’ve been talking. My blog title has once again been proven true. I’ve talked to friends and strangers. If you speak English and are in earshot, I will speak to you. Excuse me kind Target worker, where are the Ziploc baggies? Did you know the plastic baggies in Poland are useless and come in weird sizes and aren’t always at the grocery store and that their idea of cling wrap would make my mother weep?

Of course I’ve been talking the most with my family and friends. We’ve had our first friend group gathering, and I tried my hardest to slow my motor down. Luckily, the boys needed my help dealing with a crowd of kids and grown-ups we hadn’t hung with in a while.

Friend gatherings involve food and fun.

Friend gatherings involve food and mess.

On Friday I met my friend Christine for a drink after work. (I’d worked two days. I deserved it.) Poor, poor Christine. She didn’t know it, but she was my first outlet for real gabbing and laughing without watching my kids or my foul mouth. We talked about approximately 439 topics, with most of the words coming back to how the topic affected me. I was loud and happy. I was hoarse by the time I left. She kindly said we should do it every week, but I’m sure she went home and prayed I’d be out of words next time.

My tutoring job started last week. I’m working with seventh grade students getting them ready for their state test in reading and writing. I go two days a week, doing writing one day and reading the other. I was so happy about it I actually planned my lessons before I got to school, a new personal achievement. I even packed my lunch and had my clothes ready. And boy did those girls in my first class get the best me ever. I’ve got many friends at the school, so I’m feeling right at home.

I’m also really feeling my teacher soul jump for joy. When we lived in Poland, the owner of the boys’ school and my friend Zosia both made comments about how obvious it was that I was a teacher. They felt my personality and the way I talked to my kids (in public) suggested educator. I took that as a huge compliment. Then, at our gab fest Friday, Chris and I talked about my looking for a full-time teaching job next school year. I told her I had also considered just working retail or something so I could be free of grading and school-bureaucracy nonsense. She said, “No, you love teaching. You’re good at it.” Pump my ego up a little more with props from a fellow educator.

So, my Twitter presence has diminished, and I’m behind in my computer time-wasting, but, we’re settled in our apartment and happy as pigs in Texas mud. Soon I hope to be back to writing regularly and keeping up with the people in my computer. It may be annoying because I’m so peppy, but you’ll get used to it.

And finally, I leave you with things I’m loving about America:

garbage disposal, washer and dryer with large capacity, not having to haul my toiletries all over the house for a shower nor find my clothes in the closet in the kitchen, English-written & spoken, variety at the grocery store, Target.

Joe Elliott And I Go Back A Long Way

I hadn’t planned to write this week or next. We are moving. Moving! And my brain is not to be trusted or used for anything more difficult then figuring out how to heat up frozen pizza. But last night it became clear that I need to share an important part of me. If you can’t handle it, then I guess we can’t be friends.

You see, I love Def Leppard, and I strongly believed for the longest time I would marry Joe Elliott.

It all started with being the new kid. We had just moved to Concord, California, from Carrollton, Texas, and it was a tough one. I was headed into fourth grade, which, as we all know, is the time that lifelong friendships and cool statuses are made. I spent the entire summer with my brother Robert who was 16 at the time.

What he loved, I loved. This included his taste in music and shoes (Vans) but not the smell of Polo cologne. We rocked to bands like Krokus (with their eight-year-old-girl-friendly hit, “Eat The Rich”), Iron Maiden, and Def Leppard.

When school started in the fall, I knew it was time to spread my wings and make some friends my own age. I was ready for my place at the cool table. My surefire method of showing my savvy? Wearing my Def Leppard bandana and pin every Friday. (Look, my brother had the Union Jack shorts like Rick Allen; it was the 80s, don’t judge us.)

One Friday Todd started mocking my awesome fan attire. He said, “Oh yeah, I bet you really know all about Def Leppard.” I hadn’t quite developed my smack talk yet so my response did not hit the mark. I said, “I do! I have all their albums!” To which he replied, “Yeah? All two of them?”

Crap.

Anyway, my love of Def Leppard was rock solid and could not be lessened by Todd and his back-pocket-comb. The obsession was fueled by MTV. I can pretty much give you a frame-by-frame synopsis of the “Photograph” video, and I do a fantastic impression of Joe Elliott’s snarl from “Rock of Ages.”

I could get all deep and sentimental and lay some line on you about how Def Leppard reminds me of my closeness with my brother and the struggles faced when having to move. But also? They rock. And they had great rockstar hair. I’m sorry; they have great rock star hair.

See? Rockstar hair. And an earring. And dear Lord has he gotten puffy.

We moved again just before I entered seventh grade. My brothers did not come with us, so I was left to fend for myself in the identity-creation department. I went with wearing all black and being snarky. It felt right. Then, the summer before eighth grade, Def Leppard released a new album. (And yes, their drummer was down to one arm. Ha ha. Very mature thing to laugh at.) Again, the power of MTV brought the rock gods to me every day. I was sure I would one day be discovered by Joe and asked to be in a video.

My friends were kind and bought me the VHS Historia movie. They tried not to laugh at my notebook covered in fan pics of Joe Elliott in those famous ripped jeans.

THIS. This picture was on my notebook and graced the wall in my bedroom.

Hold on. I need a moment.

Anyway, the Hysteria album cemented my love forever. Though I would go on to see them in concert three times, I seemed to stop adding their new music in the 90s. It’s possible that my brain was just too full to add any more awesome. Or maybe those early albums are just tied to memories too big to expand upon. Those hair band albums of the 80s just make me happy. I sing into my hairbrush and dance like a video queen. I have attitude and spunk. And cleaning the toilets is much cooler.

So, that’s it. Now you know. If my hair band love with heavy emphasis on Def Leppard makes you think less of me, so be it. I don’t need your approval. I just need to rock.

No,This is 40

Okay, everyone get out your shiny new day planners, calendars, and time management apps.

Got ’em?

Good. Now put a big star around October 11. That is my 40th birthday, and you are all invited to my dance party/dinner/fun fest. I want an excuse to buy a new dress and laugh until my sides ache. And I want to be happy. Because you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about where I am and where I’m going.

I know that turning 40 is supposed to make me cry and wonder where all the time has gone. I remember the black party decorations for my mom when she hit this milestone, and the ‘holding at 39’ jokes. I guess she was supposed to be sad about being that age and that her life was over. My brother Michael did not handle 40 like a champ. It was probably because we threw him a lame family party he told us not to do. When my brother Rob turned 40, he had a big party at his house and doubled down on sporting hobbies that proved his youth and vigor. And I haven’t been exactly kind to the myth of the death of youth and fun at 40 myself, having deemed our friend Old Man Curtis when he became the first of our group to hit that age.

And now 40 has come for me, well, in nine months anyway. And though I’ve been upset about it in the past, today, I’m not. I am not giving in to the stereotype recently reinforced by the movie This is 40, and neither are a lot of really smart women I know.

First, my marriage is in a good place. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have figured out a lot about how to work together. I’m sure we have a lot more to learn, but for now, we compromise well and take good care of each other. I firmly believe my husband puts his family first and is intentional in the way he loves us. We’ve survived loss, new lives (Twins! What a fun marriage test!), and two years in Poland away from friends and family. Also? My husband is hot with grey hair at his temples and his toned legs from walking to work every day.

My twins are going to be in kindergarten when I turn 40. I’m not sure why, but it feels like I’ve reached some sort of achievement by keeping them alive until school age. It’s like I leveled up in the parenting game, and I am so ready. Though things are harder emotionally for big kids, and I already worry about how they will face bigger disappointments, I also get to watch them begin their life’s path. They have blossomed so much in this past year, and I know it will only get more interesting as they enter school. I love their perspectives on life and the way they look out for each other. I can’t wait to see the next steps.

But Stephanie, you say, turning 40 for a woman is all about lost beauty and lost opportunities. Well, to you I say:

Because I’m too busy being awesome. I’m not a super cougar hottie. I’m not Stacie’s mom. But, I’m not too hard to look at. This body has done a lot for me, and I can’t blame it for being a bit worn in places. My stomach? Dude’s been in battle. My legs? They have danced a thousand dances and continue to carry a five-year-old when needed. My face? Lined with laughter’s left-overs reminding me of how much happiness I’ve seen. (My neck? Crap. My mom told me for 25 years to take care of it, but I didn’t listen. Thank God for expensive neck cream. I will continue to buy it even if it means I can no longer afford new shoes. Yes ma’am. It’s that serious.)

I have a good vibe going on in my mental and spiritual world too.  I know me well. I’m not perfect, but I know where my imperfections lie. I’m somewhat able to work around them. For example, I know I procrastinate, and I try to fight that natural tendency with lists and self-imposed screen-time restrictions. I face all the parts of me, and I’ve even been known to make a joke or two about them. I know my passions. Writing is back in my life, and I am a happier woman for it. Not only that, but I think I’m a more driven person as well. I want to improve my writing and be read and appreciated by more people. I will write my Poland book and who knows what else. I am surprised because I guess I thought you couldn’t have new goals and dreams at this age.

My heart is also screaming out and yearning to get back to teaching. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion. I had just decided that teaching sucked, but I had no real plan for another path. So, I worked an hourly job at Citibank and wallowed in existential questions. Could there be a better time to meet up with people who knew you when you were an over-achieving honors graduate? I cried a lot that weekend.

But now, I’m sure. I am a teacher. I love English. I would marry the rules of grammar if it were legal. I am here, ready to help you with your writing and work on my own. I want to talk about books and themes and the power of language.

I have so much to look forward to just in 2013. We are moving back to Texas. I get to see my friends and family. I get to go to writing conferences and continue to meet women who inspire me. When I went to my writing conference last October, it was like a new world opened up to me. I guess I didn’t think old ladies like me could make new friends. But I did. And they happen to be women with goals and dreams and positive attitudes. I want to start a new part of my blog that includes video lessons for families needing grammar and writing guidance, and these women helped me solidify this idea. They make me a better person, and I can’t wait to see how that manifests for me as I turn 40.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin' on.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin’ on.

So, Judd Apatow, this is really what 40 is and can be. It’s being at a place where you can use the lessons you’ve learned and try new things. It’s a time to enjoy some of the rewards of your hard work while you continue to seek new successes. It’s a time when anything is still possible though sometimes at a slower speed. So, if you come to my 40 and fabulous party, don’t bring any tired stereotypes or weak jokes about getting older. I will punch you in the throat and then blog about it.

So, what about you? What do you like about your age? What are you looking forward to as the next milestone approaches?

Polish Words-Koniec

A weekly service where I teach you some Polish.

koniec–[konyech];noun, end, finish

Example Sentence: To jest koniec. (This is the end.)

Notes: Well my friends, I did it. I had my final Polish lesson last night. I earned my certificate which proclaims me to be at level A2, and I’m guessing the highest you can get is Z100 because that’s about how far I am from being fluent. My teacher gave me a gift; it was a flashdrive with a song that reminded her of her mother who passed. It is in both English and Polish. Why would she give me a sad song? She had read my blog about my brother passing and how I grieve, and she thought I would like to hear it. How sweet is that? She really was a great teacher and is a kind person. I’m glad I was here to meet her. For my final lesson, we listened to “Silent Night” in Polish and translated it. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t find the version we listened to, but I found one that is nice which I hope you enjoy.

Wesołych Świąt. (Merry Christmas.)

 

Wiser Words

I think we can now agree I shouldn’t post while emotional. My post on Friday after learning of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, was written quickly (without editing, gah) and just isn’t what I meant it to be. I’ll leave it up though because many people were kind enough to read it and comment. I also think it does show one reaction to news of 26 dead at an elementary school.

Yesterday we took the boys to Old Town in Gdansk. It was softly snowing. The river was frozen. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants and enjoyed hot chocolate and classic Polish Zurek. After our late lunch, we walked the main street and looked at lights as snow continued to fall. We were able to see the Christmas market and eventually find our way back to our car. We dusted off the snow and headed home for a quiet night in our cozy apartment. We had a near-perfect family outing. It was pure Christmas joy and family love. It both soothed my nerves from Friday’s news and broke my heart. I can’t even imagine how those families are feeling, how snow and beautifully lit trees will bring back the hurt again and again.

All is calm; all is bright.

All is calm; all is bright. I am so lucky today.

And then I read my father’s words and felt even stronger hurt for our country and the things that are broken. My dad is a good man, and he tries to see both sides of every issue. He thinks his feelings through, and rarely acts hastily. He also doesn’t try to share them on Facebook because he prefers a real-life discussion. So, his published words really made me think. Here is what he posted on his Facebook:

“Tougher gun laws or no? Lots of discussion with good arguments on both sides I guess. What occurs to me is our whole culture seems to glorify violence, greed, and sex. I think it has dulled our senses to what we have become. When my grandkids are here, I can’t even watch most television because of the trashy programs. The same ‘caring’ Hollywood personalities that take a high and mighty stand on social issues make a huge living on sex, violence, and greed. Our legislators care more about getting re-elected than any other objective, and fill their pockets from donors and influence-buyers. It is hard to name a big formerly solid organization that hasn’t been tainted i.e. religious entities, boy scouts, teachers, unions, police officers – you name it. Social media is so dangerous today we should not let our kids use it unsupervised.

My heart aches for the victims and families of this latest atrocity. We are all hurting if we have a speck of humanity, and we should all consider what we have made important in life.”

Those are some really good points. I think this isn’t just a tragedy about a school and its inhabitants being so grossly violated, but it’s also a picture of what we’ve become. And sadly, they were probably not the only children killed by guns this week. My friend Addye left some comments on my post Friday that spoke to this as well. She was saddened and angry by the deaths on Friday, and it was important for her to remind us that violence is not so newsworthy in many cities in our country because it is just so common.

We also will be talking more about mental health issues after this. I alluded to it poorly in my original post. Whether or not the killer was mentally ill is not the main point. Mental illness does not egual evil; most people who suffer from mental illness are not destined to go on violent rampages. As with gun control, I meant to say I hope this tragedy brings about a discussion on how we view and treat the mentally ill. We cannot leave them to suffer because we assume they are dangerous or unworthy. And we can’t paint all persons who suffer from mental issues with the same brush. They are as individual as the rest of us. Don’t push away this tragedy and say it was an anomaly because the gunman was crazy. Don’t use that as a reason to do nothing.

That brings me to my real main point from Friday. We can’t keep getting upset and then doing nothing. What is bothering you today? Are you sad that guns are so easy to get? Are you mad that you have lost family members to mental health crises because they had no support? Do you wish we showed violence and other harmful activities less often on TV and in movies? Then do something. Change your family. Change what you talk about. Bring up the hard topics and try to get people talking in a constructive way. And please, please, write and call your politicians. We need to make them accountable to what we want as citizens.

Finally, I would like to share some wiser words I’ve read this weekend. As a writer, I try to read the best, and it makes a difference in my writing and in my heart. I’d like you to see what I find to be well-written arguments and concerns. Some are calls to action, and some are just hearts pouring out their pain.

“Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god. This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns.” by Gail Collins of the New York Times.

“Why in the world do we regulate teddy bears and toy guns and not real guns that have snuffed out tens of thousands of child lives? Why are leaders capitulating to the powerful gun lobby over the rights of children and all people to life and safety?” by Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund.

“I cry for the parents, running to the school as if they themselves were on fire, hearts pounding, praying out loud, please let my baby be safe, please let my baby be safe.” by Alexandra at Good Day Regular People.

“As a culture we must set better priorities.  We have created an environment where an abstract sense that everyone is entitled to own guns in this country trumps a safe reality for our children.” by Korinthia Klein at Korinthia’s Quiet Corner