Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

IMG_0333Have you ever been in the midst of a seemingly mundane task when *BAM* a million memories flood your noggin?  No?  Well, it happened to me recently on an early morning trip to the grocery store.

I was at the checkout, exchanging pleasantries with the cashier.  She was a very petite, delicate, elderly woman.  She asked how I was doing and I absentmindedly replied “Very well.  How are you?” almost more out of habit than interest.  Her answer was what caught me off balance:  “Any day you wake up on the right side of the grass is a wonderful day”.

I have not heard that expression for years.  It was one of many in my grandfather’s repertoire of colloquialisms. He had several favorites that you’d come to expect him to weave into the pattern of everyday conversation.  There was one, however, that always bothered me growing up:  “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and rise above it.”

As a teenager, this expression was the absolute worst.  Every time that I would whine and mope (the obligatory behavior of any self-respecting 16 year old female) I would hear those words.  Feeling sick?  That was the reply.  Feelings hurt by a boy? That was the reply. Disagreements with peers?  That was the reply.  A bad haircut? Yep, that was the reply. I’m sure if I had amputated a finger that would have been his reaction.

It’s who he was: A man who lived through the Great Depression and experienced friends die fighting during the Second World War.  He was my living, breathing John Wayne. I idolized him. He was a self-made, successful man who worked his hardest every day to make sure his family was taken care of for generations to come.  He lived by this mantra and believed this in his soul.  If you weren’t bleeding to death, your problems were nothing worth complaining over.

I hated it.  Hated it.  I wanted to whine.  I wanted people to feel sorry for me.  I wanted to wallow in my misery.  At that age, these issues were HUGE.  They WERE the end of the world.  I felt as though he was telling me they weren’t a big deal.  They weren’t important.   I felt he didn’t care.

That’s not what he meant at all.  But, it took me decades to figure this out.  It was his equivalent of “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.

What he was telling me was that I was stronger than what was pulling me down.  When I thought he was minimizing my angst, my grandfather was actually teaching me how to be a survivor. He understood humanity.  He had lived through some of the most difficult times in modern history and witnessed some of our countries greatest triumphs.  He wanted me to know this, too.   And, you know what?  It actually worked.

I now see my son struggle while navigating his way through these AMAZING teen times.  When he questions why life bites him in the butt on a daily, I give him my own spin on Gramp’s words.  I tell him he’s not alone, that his problems are real and, while they might seem devastating now, he will get to the other side.  And yes, I also tell him to pull himself up by his bootstraps…and smile.

A Mother’s Journey to Love Her Child

I never wanted to be a mother.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against children.  In fact, I chose a career that was devoted to children.  Devoted to helping them find their way and give them the tools to create a meaningful life.  It was my passion.  I just never had the deep seeded desire, natural to so many women, to have a child of my own.

Early in my marriage, I suffered a miscarriage.  People told me to “try again” and “it will happen” and “don’t give up”.  I’m sure most people would have been comforted by those words…they just didn’t resonate with me.  I was not convinced that I WANTED to try again.

My sister-in-law at the time was very persistent, pushing me to get pregnant.  I will never forget the day I admitted to her my shameful secret: “I don’t think I want to have kids”.  She was appalled.  “How could you do that to your husband?  Your parents?  They want grandchildren!  That’s so selfish…You can’t do that to them!”

I felt like the most horrible human being to ever walk the earth.  She was right.  I was being selfish.  I went home and cried for hours.

I did get pregnant again.  At the “big” ultrasound, the one when the sex of the bundle of joy was to be revealed, I was convinced the technician would say “It’s a girl!”  She didn’t.  It was a boy.  I.  Was.  Wrong.  And I was mortified.

To me, it was another sign that I should not be a mother.  I was convinced that I had no maternal instinct whatsoever.  If for three months I KNEW I was carrying a girl, a girl I had already named, was indeed a boy…if I could be so wrong in my intuition…how would I have any clue how to take care of an infant?

Again, I went home and sobbed.  I was a terrible person.

My water broke six weeks before I was due.  I was transported via ambulance to a metropolitan hospital specializing in premature and high-risk births.  I was alone, surrounded by strangers poking and prodding, and tending to my condition.  My son was not only in distress, but also in a breach position.  I suffered from extreme back labor that was almost unbearable.  All I could do was apologize to the medical staff for having to “deal with me”.  I remember being wheeled into surgery.  In what seemed like seconds, my son was removed from my womb via caesarian section.  As quickly as he came into this world, he was wheeled away from me and taken to the NICU.  I was told he was healthy and strong, and that he looked “wonderful”.  Again, my only thought was “I shouldn’t be a mother.  I couldn’t even protect him inside my body for a full nine months.  I cannot do this”.

It was a full twelve hours before I could see him and almost another 12 before I could hold him.  Here he was, this squirming, little soul. I felt nothing.

It was sometime in the early morning hours the next day when a nurse brought him to me, crying and writhing, telling me it was time for me to feed him.  She forced him on my breast.  He could not latch.  He was too small.  She told me “Well, maybe someday he’ll be able to breast feed.  I guess we’ll have to use a bottle”.  Just like that, she scooped him from my arms and marched my crying child back to the nursery.  Back so that nurses who were more adept could feed my child, since I clearly could not.  Not mother material.  After four days, we were discharged.

The first few months at home were torture.  I was often alone with my son and extremely resentful.  Everyone told me how perfect he was.  How lucky I was that he was so healthy and strong.  Telling me that that he was a miracle baby, to have been born so prematurely and still being ready to face the world like a “normal” baby.  OK.  That’s great.  But you’re not the one working full time, not sleeping and putting on an act for you all to see.  Pretending I felt as blessed as they all said I was.  I didn’t want to be a mother.

There were times I would just stare at him as he cried.  I would walk to another room and let him sob.  I didn’t care.  I was tired and wanted to cry, too.  But I could not.  Because HE was.

I never asked for help.  I never wanted to admit defeat.  I couldn’t let anyone know how I was feeling.  Whether I was mother material or not, one thing I had never been was a quitter.  I’m stubborn to the core.  I do not fail.  As much as he was ruining my life, no one was to know.

I took tons of pictures.  I dressed him in all of the best clothes and showed him off to the world with a smile on my face.  I shared stories of milestones and bragged him up.  By all appearances, my life was perfect.  I was trying to “fake it ‘til I made it”.  It did not work.

One evening, after giving him a bath, I noticed his lips were turning blue.  Suddenly, my disgust toward this boy turned to overwhelming terror.  Off to the ER we went.  They began testing him for pneumonia.  Exams, blood work, x-rays…the usual drill.  I’m not sure what happened to me that night.  But something definitely changed.

When they wheeled him back, I embraced him like I never had before.  I didn’t want to let him go.  He was my son, I was his MOTHER, and I could not stand the thought of him being in pain.  I felt something new toward him.  I felt love.  A love I had never felt before.

I now know that I was suffering from postpartum depression.  My fears of being a bad mother, and the pressure I had felt to have children, only exacerbated the onset of this condition.  I was told that all of these circumstances created a “perfect storm” which was solidified by the circumstances surrounding the manner of his birth.  To an educated woman, it all made sense.  I can look back and see every event, feeling and belief that initiated this downward spiral.

Postpartum depression is real.  And scary.  And dangerous.  I was fortunate.  I was “snapped back to reality”.  And I thank my lucky stars for that every day.  Not all women who are afflicted by this disease are so easily “healed”.  I’ve made it my mission to speak out about this as honestly, and as often as needed.  No mother should have to feel alone in their struggles.

My son is now thirteen years old, and is honestly the love of my life.  That night in the hospital changed our lives forever.  I may not have wanted to be a mother, but I cannot imagine my life any other way.  The people I poo-pooed were right: He is perfect, he is a miracle.  And I am the luckiest mother in the world.

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This Is Me. The One You Don’t See.

It’s approaching the end of the day.  I have not showered.  I have a dishwasher that needs to be emptied, a mountain of dirty clothing that is begging to be laundered, two dogs snoring next to the piles of hair they have deposited on the floor, and a teenage son who is running around this house with his best friend.  Today, I cannot be bothered with the trivialities of hygiene and housework.  Today I am being me.

Today, I am not the woman who appears to have it all together.  I am not the woman who wears thirty different hats, juggling fragile glass balls, hoping that none fall and break into a million pieces.  I will not be the woman who uses humor to navigate her day, hoping that no one sees the stress behind her eyes.  Not today.

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Today, I am the woman with no frills.  Not the woman with the makeup perfectly blended, and the hair impeccably coiffed.  Today, I am taking a break.  This is me.  I have a “fivehead” not a forehead, and it’s lined with marks of experience and survival.  I have poor vision but, my green eyes have seen truths, lies, triumphs and defeats.  My skin is pale and not tanned but, it is the complexion of a strong French heritage.  My smile is crooked, but it has laughed through both sadness and joy.  It is real.  And so am I.

Today, my body is not small but, it is powerful.  It has survived sexual assault and physical abuse.  It has endured broken bones and torn muscles.  It has created life.  My body is exceptional.

Today, my mind is unique.  It has been broken and pieced back together.  My mind has suffered through anxiety and depression but, has never hesitated to learn and to grow.  It has found humor and creativity.  It has a quest for answers and reason.  It is logical and honest.  It has helped others to navigate through their struggles.  My mind is free.

Today, my heart is full of love and life.  It has been broken and healed, broken and healed, broken and healed.  It is resilient with an enormous capacity for empathy and gratitude.  It beats with determination.  It guides me through life’s winding paths and personal encounters.  My heart is kind.

I don’t just love me.  I.  Like.  Me.

This is me.  The one you don’t see.

 

The NY Giants Have a Problem. And It Might Not Be What You Think.

It’s Tuesday evening.  Two days after the NFC wildcard game between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers.  Two.  Days.  Two days and people are still talking about this game.

Why is this an issue?  In essence it’s not.  Not really.  There are games that will always be discussed.  But, the reasons why people are ruminating about this game are not a reflection of the game itself, rather as issues that are a result of the a problem within the NY Giants.  Yes, I said it.  The Giants have a problem.  And it might not be what you think.

Coaching.  The two topics that armchair quarterbacks are posting about on social media and discussing around the water cooler could have been avoided with better coaching:  Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary TD pass and Odell Beckham Jr.

How is that?  I’ll tell you.  Let us start with that Hail Mary.

Was anyone other than the Giants and non-football fans surprised to see that pass?  I was not.   I can not tell you how many posts I have seen in the last couple of days along the lines of “Wow!  I’ve never seen anything like that!” or “Unbelievable!  Hail Mary!”  Any true and knowledgeable football fan can tell you this with 100% certainty:  Aaron.  Rodgers.  Throws.  Hail.  Mary.  Passes.  Quite frankly, I have come to EXPECT them from him.  When Rodgers is inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame (yes, I said when) his introduction will undoubtedly contain a mention of this skill.

We’ve all seen it.  He feels pressure.  He steps back.  He shoots that rainbow.  This is nothing new.  It’s no secret that the Packers practice Hail Mary shots during drills.  It’s a technique used to help the receivers.  Rodgers just happens to be exceptionally skilled at this technique.

So, here in lies coaching issue #1.  Why didn’t the Giants show up at Lambeau Field prepared for this possibility? Why didn’t they spend time practicing deep threats?  Their defensive backs should have anticipated this.  Honestly, I am more shocked when Rodgers is under pressure and does not shoot that bullet.

Moving on to Beckham.

The Giants lose.  He punches a hole in a Green Bay stadium wall.  He allegedly headbutts a locker.  Isn’t this just an issue with Odell?  How is this a coaching problem?  Because McAdoo IS responsible for his players.  Someone needs to reign-in Beckham’s emotions. Someone needs to guide, mentor and advise him.  Isn’t it the coach’s responsibility to expect a certain amount of decorum from their players?

This behavior is not new.  We’ve seen it the last couple of seasons: fights on the field, fights with kicking nets on the sidelines, etc.  Don’t get me wrong.  Beckham is an amazing talent in his own right.  He single-handedly  allowed me to win my Fantasy Football Championship title during his rookie year.  He’s talented.  He is.  But he is also on a fast train to disaster. He is becoming a distraction and a hindrance.  And, no…I’m not going to address the boat scandal.  It’s inconsequential at this point.  Just please, somebody, preferably a COACH help this young man.  Please.  Help him be remembered for his gifts, not his faults.

And…please take this post with a grain of salt.  I’ve been a card-carrying member of the HAIL Nation for years (that’s a Washington Redskins loyalist for those of you who don’t follow the game).  The Giants are my boys’ rivals.  I don’t necessarily want to see them win. This is more about the fact that I hate seeing anyone make excuses for consequences they created.

Time to step it up Giants coaching staff.  Do that, and things may be different next season. Maybe.