The Stories I Haven’t Told: Part One

*This was originally going to be a post for a link up titled “The Girls We Once Were.” However, it turned into something much different and became instead bits and pieces of the stories I’ve been struggling to write about since I discovered my love of writing at age 13. Stories only a select few know of-either because they lived them with me, were my therapist, or have been the closest of confidants…stories I’ve put off telling…until now. I’m sharing them because the girl I once was and the girl I was never allowed to be is begging me to let her speak so she can heal…so I can live outside of survival and not encased in it. So we can be free.

That’s all I ever wanted as far back as I can remember: to be free. This is Part One.*

*************

She has been waiting patiently, ever so patiently to come out of hiding.

Her eyes are always alert, silently taking in all that surrounds her in each environment she adapts to. They are always on the horizon, waiting. From infancy, her very life has always depended on their vigilance, observation being her shield.

Her ears are perfectly attuned to hear even the slightest shift in tone, pitch, and inflection. They can percept immediately if the shift will have an impact on her person.

Her breaths are light, slow, deep, quiet, and measured during the dormant seasons…heavy, ragged, sharp, and quick during the times of upheaval to help her body keep pace with survival.

Survival. Her whole existence has been about it.

**************

“Stop moving like that, stop singing-you sound awful,” he said when she forgot her place and danced and sang to Whitney Houston’s “Dance With Somebody” in the car. She was 4. She remembers how hot the intensity of his tone felt on her ears as his words rushed through them…her eyes had widened with fear and shock and clouded over with shame for her personhood upon viewing the disdain in the face reflected back at her through the rearview mirror. Her body grew heavy as the energy surging through her in those moments dried up like cement as the sharpness of his inflection consumed it. Her words became muzzled that day, the day she was reminded why silence was a protection. She felt her thoughts retreat quickly and her body stiffen like stone in an attempt to make the impending blows coming her way impenetrable to her core.

***********

Don’t speak. Don’t move. Don’t look up. Stare out at the world, at the faces of others unhindered, unsilenced. Envy their movement. Envy the freedom with which their bodies move. Envy the freedom expression has to reign over their face. Envy the children who get to yell, ask, be seen and heard, play, explore…and envy the way they are loved.

Sit perfectly still. Make your face expressionless, leave your eyes void of anything that might betray life and independence of thought and will. Stay mute. Always.

***********

She is on her knees surrounded by darkness. The only sound her ears can discern in the dark are the heavy hums of the fans blowing back and forth across the room.  She’s been there for hours. Her body is tense from being still for so long and her muscles ache from fatigue. Hey eyes slowly begin to close when she notices movement on the wall in front of her; there are figures dancing in the dark before her eyes. She strains and squints to see them clearly, being careful not to so much as telegraph the slightest movement. Her eyes dart back and forth as they excitedly keep pace with the shadows dancing on the wall in front of her. She feels her vocal chords straining to keep sound from reverberating up and out of her throat and into existence. She can’t make a sound. Yet she must have, or maybe she fell asleep as she watched the shadows dance because suddenly she can hear his voice lashing out at her in the dark. She can’t see his face, but she can hear him growling the words, “You better fucking stay awake. Did I say you could sleep, bitch?!” “No Daddy,” her voice croaks. She can’t even remember what she’d done this time, why she was being forced to stay awake all night, sitting alone in a corner, on her knees in the dark while he got to sleep. She’s suddenly thirsty, and in spite of her fear of angering him further, she makes a request. He answers it with a punch to her back that sends her face into the wall where the shadows had just been dancing. “Sit up!” he demands as he grabs her face. Ice cold water sprays in her eyes, and down her face. The air from the fans meets the wetness now soaking her shirt, and she shivers as she gets back into position. “Maybe now you’ll stay awake. Every time I catch you falling asleep, I’m going to spray your ass with this water. Wake the fuck up!”

******************

She is crying under the heat of the New Mexico sun in the back yard. He finds her in the jungle gym, and climbs all of his 6 feet and 3 inches inside, wedging himself between her and the ledge for the slide. “What are you crying for? I told you she wouldn’t want you. She doesn’t need you. She has her son. She has her husband. Your mother has her own life now. The judge asked her if she wanted you to come live with her. She said no. Look, your mother doesn’t love you. But I do. It’s me and you against the world A’Driane.”

**********************

She could see he was yelling. Spit foamed white and bubbled around the corners of his mouth as words white-hot with rage spewed from his lips. His mouth was moving, but she heard nothing. She felt nothing, in fact, not even the lift of her chest cavity as her lungs filled with air. She was weightless. Breathless.  She wanted to stay in this moment where time wasn’t an entity and there was nothing for her ears to hear or her body to feel. Free. She could be free. He was screaming at her, but there she was existing in a space beyond his words where his wrath couldn’t touch her, and she was free. Boundless. As her eyes rolled to slip her even further away, she felt it coming-escape. This was it. She could be free. But then his screams found their way in, forcing themselves upon her with brute force. Sound synced with motion and her ears could hear him screaming how much he hated her for living. How miserable she made him. How evil she was. How the sight of her made him murderous. Death. She could feel it staring at her through his eyes, and feel its grip in his hands as they continued to squeeze her throat.

She was 13. That was the day she wished he had just done it. Killed her like he’d threatened to do every day of her 13th year thus far. She didn’t think 14 was anything special to see anyway.

Now What?

Not guilty.

Now what? What do we do now? Where do we turn? Who do we turn to, except each other to grieve and travail as despair and fear grip our souls mamas?

What do we do women of color? Jim Crow’s ghost is laughing at us, reminding us yet again that it is a crime for our men to even exist, reminding us yet again that ever since they were first chained to ships bound for these shores, our men are not worthy of life and freedom.

Black & brown manhood has once again been demonized, criminalized, and deemed a threat to humanity, and allowed to be stalked and hunted like prey by predators blinded by fear, insecurity and delusion.

Profiled in broad daylight.

Hunted in the dark.

Statistics.

Killed by them and by each other. Every. Day. By the hundreds.

What do we do now? What do we tell our babies? How do we raise our sons? How do we dress them? Where can we send them to keep them safe from urban violence and from the suburban neighborhood watchman with a gun?

What is enough? Education? Income? Manners? No…seems like it was for awhile but that got ripped from us tonight. Again.

How do we change the system if we can’t become it because they’re closing our schools and putting our men in prison? How do we fight systemic legal and cultural oppression?

When will our voice be heard? How much longer do we have to go on killing ourselves everyday? How many more of our futures must be killed and destroyed by violence? By systemic and cultural oppression?

When will our anger be deemed righteous and worthy enough to receive and initiate effective change for ourselves and our men? Our baby boys?

Not guilty. What do we DO now? Except hold our sons and feel the crushing weight of guilt for bringing them into a world & society that doesn’t value their personhood shatter our hearts?

I am a wailing woman tonight. A woman travailing in despair for the lives of brown boys and brown men in this country. For my sons. For my husband. For my brother. For your men, your sons.

What do we do? What do we tell them to encourage them to be who they are when who they are is on trial every day? Misunderstood, demonized, criticized, devalued, and dehumanized on a daily basis?

What do we do besides hold our babies tonight and feel hopeless and terrified to send them out into the world and see pain and maybe death too soon in their future?

How do we fight? Where do we fight? WHO do we fight? When will our fight for them and their fight for themselves matter?

When will brown men and brown people matter in this country? We haven’t since Columbus set foot on this continent. We have been fighting genocide and for our existence for that long. When will the fight for survival end?

A brown man can be sent to jail for fighting and killing dogs. But if he fights for his life after he’s stalked and confronted? He goes on trial for his own death and his killer is handed the gun that ended his life as he goes home. Free.

Not guilty.

What do we do?

America’s Not Here for Us

“Mom-are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?”

Brennan asked me this last week while driving home. A few days before while shopping in HEB, he asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why “brown” people were slaves…the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr in kindergarten this year. In the store, I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate, yet honest. I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell one version of it.

However when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. The only immediate response I had for him was “let’s talk about this later with Bertski, ok? I think we should talk about it together, alright?” He agreed and went back to watching Fantastic Four, going back to being the innocent 6-year-old boy I wish he could always be but know he’ll grow out of.

I faltered at answering his questions because they caught me between two parts of myself that both bear a particular responsibility. As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent, carefree, and sheltered as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive with others, and have some responsibility for how he carries himself and interacts with the world around him. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child…yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge about the world he lives in and life in general.

But as a woman of color raising an African-American son who has a Puerto-Rican stepfather and half-Puerto-Rican brother, I (and my husband) also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and other brown men have been and still are perceived in American society, and really just about being a person of color PERIOD in the United States of America. I have to explain to him why “peach” people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are-walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of his friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.

As a mother I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality…I have to help him navigate the nuances of engaging with the world around him and the people in it, the ups and downs of life, and everything that comes with being a man. But as the mother of a brown boy in the United States of America in 2013, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts. I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he is a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way so that he’s not viewed as “threatening,” “a thug” “a criminal”….”an animal” even.

I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can *maybe* stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation white people have deemed “ok” for brown people to succeed in. I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy, articulate, capable, and not some terrorist hell-bent on destroying the country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best, to dig deeper and push harder to do even better because our society (unfairly) demands he be more than just a human being like his white friends. I have to make him aware of how our society views him, but still encourage him to not let this societal perspective define him and who he wants to be as a man and a citizen of this country.

I have to teach him that because he is not “peach” others will deem him unworthy and dismiss him just by looking upon his face; that they will still feel they have the right to call him a nigger because “that’s how they were raised,” they “don’t mean any harm by it,” their black friend says “nigga” and Jay Z & Kanye have a song called “Niggas in Paris.”

I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first-they will see a preconceived, stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sadly, even those who “look like” him. I will have to encourage him to remember that although white folks have always been taught on some level that black & brown people are inherently, at their core, evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value, and lack intelligence that he is NONE of those things. I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied, he DOES indeed have rights, he IS more than a stereotype and is not less than his boss, his friend, his classmate…

***********

I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week, and whispered, “Yes-yes we ARE still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son…even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.” In 2013, 40+ years after desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech on Washington’s monument, we. are. still. slaves. We are free, yes, and slavery is illegal…an amendment in the Constitution says so. But systematically? In people’s minds? In our OWN minds as people of color? No….we are far from free. No we are not free, and since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes. We ARE still hated, still thought of as less than human.

As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons, a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”

Somehow, in 2013, America is still not here for people of color. For men of color. And for women of color? Well…“For some folks being black and being a woman makes us less of both.” -A Letter to Rachel Jeanteal (Note: You WANT to read this….and this.)

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America isn’t here for me and my family because our skin is brown and we are a mixed multi-cultural family. Response to Cheerios latest commercial is just ONE of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Deen’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?

So my question is this: Who IS America here for?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not you, citizen. Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past.

If you are poor….

If you are gay….

If you have a mental illness…

If you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than “The Bible is the innerant and literal Word of God” Christian…

AMERICA. IS. NOT. FOR. YOU.

White, male dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your body and reproductive health if you’re a woman-even a white woman.

America only stands for life…ONE kind of life. One that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic only in theory.

FUCK THAT.

You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life American Church?

Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.

You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, Philly, D.C. and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.

You want to stand for life? Then fund schools. Fund innovation and technology. Fund the arts. Supply food deserts. Fund your local food bank. Stop taking money from schools in the inner cities to build $400 million prisons. (I’m looking at you Philadelphia)

You want to stand for life? Get real about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your “hard-earned” privilege.

You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a Veteran’s home, clinic, hospital or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrificed their time and lives so you can make your “stand” for life.

Want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.

Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church? We aren’t a theocratic nation-people can marry, love, and believe who and what they want.

Want to stand for life? Support SNAP benefits and your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless, whether you think they deserve it or not.

So you stand for life? Do you stand & vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs?

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week. (I’m looking at you Black Church)

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others.

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be inclusive. Extend your outreach and support to those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions.

Hear me: if you stand for the unborn who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them and than those who are already living? If you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals? If you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color? If you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day?

Well then, I’m not here for you. Or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America.

I’m here for a much different country. Maybe I believe in a different God and perhaps I AM living in the wrong “democratic” nation. Guess I should take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?

I Actually Wrote This with a Pen…In a Journal.

This year I said I would get back to journaling, art journaling like I used to when I was 19…20…21…22…before I became a terrified single mom whose only existence revolved around one word: SURVIVE. So….I signed up for Chookooloonks “create.2013″ e-course and have been doing the prompts delivered to my inbox every morning, in addition to writing two pages of whatever’s sitting around in my brain. This is what I wrote last night after word vomiting my mania on Twitter. 

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Moving…everything is hurried, frenzied, congested like commuters getting off the subway train in a rush to make it to some meeting at some corporate job they hate feeling so restricted in. By everything I mean my thoughts, my words, emotions in conflict with each other; they slam into one another pressing themselves against the walls of my mind and against my tongue. The pressure that comes with attempting restraint always proves to be a force I can’t reckon with, and they come spilling out, tumbling over each other and onto the people I interact with daily:

My fiance

My friends

My Twitter feed

I would say the “friends” on Facebook too, but I officially broke it off with my dealer Zuckerberg a few weeks ago in attempt to kick my 4 1/2 year habit; a habit that went from being a job requirement to becoming my sounding board and my lifeline. It became the what I barely had in my “real” life-support, understanding, acceptance, help, community. But after 4 years and it’s no longer a lifeline and I need to extricate myself from it. Social media addiction is a real disease…or at least that’s what WebMd told me. It also told me this zit on my face is really a rare disease not even that House guy on TV has heard of and I’m going to die within a week. Thank God it’s not a real doctor…

The only people who aren’t affected are my kids. Sometimes they see Mommie less patient with a sharper tongue and a low tolerance, but what parent doesn’t have these moments, right? When it comes to restraining the symptoms of my illness I do my best to stuff them WAY. DOWN. into the deeper parts of me and quickly sit on top of them as you would a trunk or luggage case overpacked and bulging against its zippers. I try to take the less destructive parts of it and use them to my-our-advantage. I allow it to explode just enough so it amplifies the best parts of me that enable me to love and nurture my boys to my fullest capacity, doing things that my very BOY boys like to do:

Yell…

Run around the house giggling and laughing until I’m begging air to please come back into my lungs…

Jump on the couch…

Watch cartoons….

Eat peanut butter and jelly and PopTarts and have breakfast for dinner…

Trains….

Lego Star Wars and Kung Fu Panda on Xbox….

Shooting my imaginary hot pink laser gun at the red berries on the trees we pass by every day on our walk back from school…

Singing and dancing on the sidewalk caring less about the cars driving past us and more about taking the time to create a memory I hope they hold on to when life doesn’t treat them so nice and they need to be reminded that they are loved beyond measure and matter to someone….to ME.

Was that a run on sentence? Not sure because grammar rules go out the window when your thoughts spill out of you faster than you can type, leaving you with no choice but to chase after them….panting….yelling “WAIT-slow down, you’re going too fast, I can’t maintain this speed.”

Do they listen? No….never. Not in this state. Even if I manage to keep it together on the outside so no one can see the chaos dancing gleefully behind my eyes, my thoughts always find a way to betray me and find their voice in the words I speak….

I don’t know what the point of all this is, my writing it down. What I do know is that it’s jumbled and erratic, nonsensical even. Hello, welcome to a mind hijacked by mania. I guess I should be technical and say “hypomania” but if you ask me, mania is mania and when you’re experiencing it, you don’t feel a textbook distinction. You feel your grasp on your mind and energy weakening and your willpower caving to mania’s seductive allure. You can’t see that it’s deceiving. You don’t realize it distorts your vision and perception of yourself and the world around you. It’s “fun” I guess at first, but always leads to agitation, uneasiness, restlessness, and paranoia eventually…at least for me. In the midst of its chaos I can always hear a small part of me whispering “this is temporary-it will end, so prepare yourself.” It does, it does indeed end, but not until you’ve (I’ve?) lost control of your (my?) mind and it’s racing at a dangerous speed the human brain isn’t designed to handle and it sends you (me, definitely)flying off a cliff…..soaring…then free falling to the ground below, a ground that is unforgiving and jars you (again, ME) back to reality. It’s painful really, like smacking your (my) face into asphalt.

Ok, maybe that was a dramatic description but I don’t find it to be an exaggeration….

Do any of the metaphors I used in an attempt to paint a picture of my manic thoughts make sense? I’m guessing not…I’m not as good at describing and tying thoughts together in a cohesive way like I used to be….you know when I prided myself on proper grammar and “technical” writing. But this isn’t a research paper I’m turning in for a grade, so it doesn’t really matter does it? So go f—yourself grammar police. Go nitpick someone else’s sentence structure.

I can’t sleep. I need to, but of course my inability to control my compulsions during these episodes has me checking Twitter on my phone every 45 seconds and letting my crazy come out in 140 character sprints. I always regret this later, feeling ashamed of letting people see this side of me. I’ve tried staying away, but you know, OCD goes hand in hand with my mania and I suck at saying no. At restraint. Obviously. I try to use Twitter as a means to distract me from what I’m experiencing…but I always end of being swept away in the excitement and euphoria, especially when something great happens (like getting my engagement ring and wedding band! Yep, that happened tonight. The sales lady cried when he put it on my finger. So did we in the van later on the way home.), and I let them speak for me. Then I come down from the high just enough to realize I was Socialite Sally-you know the person at the party who’s had too much to drink and can’t shut up?-and I feel foolish for making an ass out of myself.  When I go back to college I’m going to ditch social work and just major in being bipolar and minor in embarrassment.

Do I have anything else to say? My hand hurts. I should really scrawl my words more on paper than across a computer screen. I’ve missed this, the feel of paper, the smell of ink as it emanates from its tip, forever encapsulating my words on the page in front of me. I guess posting my words digitally is permanent too, but it doesn’t feel the same, it’s not as….personal? Is that the word? Not sure, but  that’s as close as I’m going to get at this point.

My heart feels like it’s about to burst. This clonazepam hasn’t kicked in yet. It usually does. Maybe I’m building a tolerance to it. Which sucks because that means eventually, maybe next week, maybe 10 years from now I’ll have to be on a bigger dose and it’ll stop working.

I should post this, even though I said I’m going to take a break from the blog. I still intend to….I just keep finding things I want to share. I have to force myself to wait and just write them down elsewhere because I do indeed need a break to focus on other things….like actually writing on paper.

I’m going to post this…because I feel obligated to, that whole transparency thing. People should know this is what it’s like, at least what it’s like for me, being bipolar, being manic. More importantly if I share it there then maybe someone who needs to remember that they aren’t alone will come across it, find themselves in my words, and be able to feel less hopeless…because they aren’t alone…

So that’s it then. That’s all I’ve got. 5 pages of erratic nonsense.

I’ll take it…it’s my life after all.

My Initial Response to The NRA’s “Database for the Mentally Ill” Request

“How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark,” LaPierre said. “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”-Wayne LaPierre, NRA lobbyist

The NRA sickens me. Truly. They just gave a completely tone-deaf and disrespectful response to what occurred a week ago today. They believe arming school officials and having armed guards at school will prevent such tragedies. I don’t agree with this perspective at all for varying reasons, but I know there are those of you who do. I don’t want to debate that with you today. I simply want to address the question asked at the end of the above statement.

I’m a mother of two boys.

I’m a USAF disabled veteran and former police officer.

I’ve survived Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I currently live with mental illnesses called rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder type II and OCD.

 I take medication for these illness. 4 of them. Every day. Every.Single.Day.

I go to therapy. I see a psychiatrist.

There are days I struggle to keep it all together and not let the fact that I have some chemical imbalances stop me from living life.

There are days when I want to give up.

I have been hospitalized-not because I was a threat to those around me but because I was a threat to myself.

I am not a violent person, although I have been traumatized by and have experienced violence first hand.

I am not a threat to society.

I have no desire to own a weapon, and never have despite my knowledge of how to use, clean, and take them apart, and being properly trained and qualified on several of them-ranging from the M9 pistol I carried on my hip every shift to the M203 grenade launchers, M249′s, and M4′s I was trained to use in combat during deployments.

I do not belong in a database because I have a mental illness.

My mental illness does not mean I am a violent person.

I am a compliant, law-abiding citizen who still manages to function just like everyone else despite the effects my illness has on me.

My friends who also have mental illnesses? They don’t belong in a database either.

They are just like me: men and women, mothers and fathers living with a painful “invisible” illness but still living their lives, working, raising their children, loving, helping others, and being productive members of society.

If our mental health records should be put into a database, then every person who applies for a weapons permit or who purchases a weapon, should submit to a comprehensive mental health evaluation, comprehensive background check similar to what’s required to obtain a security clearance, and a weapons safety course. You can’t say I should be registered in a mental illness database but not even mention that a more rigorous and comprehensive screening of those applying for weapons permits and buying guns is needs to be monitored as well.

It shouldn’t take less than 20 minutes to walk in to WalMart and walk out with a gun, I don’t care what you’re using it for.

Also? No one should be allowed to own or put together an assault rifle or semiautomatic weapon. I don’t understand why such a deadly weapon should be in the hands of the man who lives next door to me.

Yes, you have the right to bear arms, but maybe the kind of arms you’re entitled to bear should be re-evaluated. Yes, you have the right to protect yourself in case of a threat or danger…but we all saw how that played out with the Trayvon Martin incident, didn’t we? Maybe we start redefining what a threat is and what self-defense actually looks like. Maybe we start asking ourselves some hard questions and making some compromises. Not saying I’m right. Not saying the solutions or answers to this are simple. Just thinking out loud here.

You have the right to bear arms, but guess what? I have rights too. I have the right to have access to mental health services and resources that aren’t underfunded and understaffed; services and resources that have qualified professionals working for them who treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve just as much as “normal” people.

You have your rights. What about mine? And the other 1 in 5 people who live with some form of mental illness in this country? You have a right to arm yourself…we have our rights to privacy…and to the same life you do.

Those who live with mental illness are not all dangerous. We don’t all need to be tagged and stored in some database. If you REALLY think we do, then I say you should be too. Because while you may not have a mental illness you could be just as capable of violence. ANYONE with access to a gun can quickly and easily become a criminal-yes, even “responsible good guy gun owners.”

I am mentally ill. I am not violent. I don’t belong in your database. Stop stigmatizing me and those just like me. Stop using us to redirect criticism and calls to action by saying we are the problem. We are not your scapegoat.

I guess the old cliché is true: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” No you can’t. Not when their greed disguised as advocating for”rights” is stronger than their desire to admit they could stand to learn a few things.

Go fuck yourself, NRA and hold another press conference when you have something more substantial to say.

Racial Profiling: It Happened To Me Today

Finally. I was at the school. I made my way to my usual spot on the concrete bench right outside the door Brennan runs out of every day yelling “Mommie!” “Hey Alex!”; his smile so big just below his glasses it always reminds me of what I looked like when I was his age. Quirky, eager to learn, boundless energy, big glasses-we’re pretty much twins he and I.

I looked over at Alex sleeping in the stroller and partially covered his face with his thick Thomas the Train blanket in an effort to shield him the cold wind blowing around us.

I turned off the Prince music blaring through my headphones, took them off, and placed then in the bottom of the stroller. I glanced at my phone noting the time-2:27. Close to the usual time I arrive every day.

I turned around and leaned my body back against the brick wall, taking in long deep breaths to recover from walking and pushing the stroller up the monster of a hill that leads to Brennan’s school at the top. I reached down to grab a juice box from the bottom of the stroller and heard boots scuffing the ground near me. I looked up and right into the eyes of a police officer, the same one I passed as I headed to my usual spot by the door. Considering recent events I didn’t have to wonder why he was sitting on his motorcycle watching the kids on the playground-he was there, just in case. “Extra security measures,” the email from the school had said. “We take the safety of our students and children very seriously,” the principal stressed in that email.

“Hi ma’am. Can I ask you why you’re sitting here?”

Huh?

“I’m waiting for my son.”

“You actually have a son who goes here?”

“Yes. Why do ask?”

“What grade is he in?”

“Kindergarten,” I said, wondering where this was going. Maybe this is one of those “extra security measures” the school mentioned. I used to be an Air Force cop-I know what it’s like to have to ask people questions when there’s a security threat.

“What’s his name?”

“Brennan. Brennan Mills.”

“And what’s your name?”

“A’Driane,” I said, noticing other parents walking by-the same parents I see every day-and catching their glances as they passed. “A’Driane Dudley.”

“You have ID on you?”

I reached down and grabbed my wallet out of the bottom of the stroller and handed over my ID.

“This says you’re from New Jersey-”

“Yea I know, I moved here back in August and that’s my old driver’s license-it’s expired and I don’t drive. I walk here every day to pick up my son.”

“Ok.” Hands my ID back to me. “This your son too?” he asked, tossing his head in the direction of the stroller. “Anything other than your purse underneath there?”

“Yes. His name is Alex. No. Nothing but juice boxes to drink on our walk home. I’m sorry, but can I ask what’s going on? Is there a memo I missed? Am I supposed to wait somewhere else now, until my son gets out? This is where I usually wait for him-his classroom is right there,” I said pointing to Brennan’s classroom that could be seen clearly through the locked doors. “They are dismissed through this door every day so that’s why I wait for him here,” I said, noticing that another parent had shown up on the patio area, waiting, like I was for her kindergartener.

“Well, ma’am we’re just checking out any and all suspicious activity we see around the school property, and approaching people-making sure they’re supposed to be here.”

Suspicious. I looked over at the mom standing at the base of the patio and felt my face grow hot, becoming very aware of what I was wearing: yoga pants, Bertski’s hooded Vans long sleeved shirt, my headwrap. No…no. This isn’t happening. Is it? There’s no way this is what I’m thinking it is. He’s going to approach other parents after me who are showing up too. This is just a security measure….isn’t it?

“Well alright ma’am. Thanks for your cooperation. Have a good day.” He turned to the other mom standing there, smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Hi-it’s a cold one, today, isn’t it?” More pleasantries exchanged. No ID checking. No interrogation. No asking what was in the Gucci purse hanging from her shoulder. Their laughter grated on my nerves and I stood up, angry as I watched him walk back to his motorcycle and start talking to the other officers in the suburban next to him.

I watched them and waited. Waited for them to walk to another patio down the sidewalk where there were parents gathering and make their presence known, ask questions. They didn’t. No one else was questioned.

Before I could hide the anger and embarrassment washing over my face, I heard the school doors opening and turned to see kindergarteners pouring out into the patio, their chatter loud, excited as they were escorted by older students to their parents waiting in the car line.

I fought back tears as I searched for his face and big smile. There he was. The only brown face in the sea of children, making his way toward me, with his usual greeting, “Mommie!” “Hey Alex!” and grabbing me around the waist. I grabbed his hand, released the brakes on the stroller, and walked as quickly as we could away from the school. From the police. Towards the road that would take us back home, where I wasn’t so “suspicious” looking.

I understand that what happened in Sandy Hook has everyone on high alert. I understand increased security at schools. But what I don’t understand is profiling a woman because her skin color and attire don’t look like they “fit” in a certain environment; one where others are white and their attire-whether it’s workout gear, corporate wear, or designer outfits-never arouses “suspicion.” I don’t understand why I was the only parent questioned during that time. I saw none being questioned when I arrived and none being approached after I was.

I’ve tried not to let the fact that Brennan is the only black kid in kindergarten at this school worry me. There are other minority families with children who attend, but our kids are a very small percentage of the overall white population at the school.

I’ve tried not to give into the “I’m a black woman in an affluent white neighborhood and I need to present myself in such a way that my race doesn’t matter. I’m a parent just like everyone else.” I made a conscious choice to believe that despite my concerns, no one would see our blended family any different than the others that are apart of the school community. For the most part, I believe that the majority of the other parents don’t give any thought to our races or what kind of clothes we’re wearing.

But there have been a few times when I’ve gotten “the look.” It’s usually from women but I’ve gotten it from a few men as well. The fake smile they throw my way when I look them directly in their eyes and say hello….or the silence that lets me know they are uncomfortable. I know what these things mean because I’ve experienced them most of my teenage and adult life. I’m not stupid. Not by any means. I don’t look for something that isn’t there. I don’t go around looking for an opportunity to pull out the race card.

No. I don’t do that. But when racism makes its presence known I know how to recognize it for what it is, no matter how subtle or indirect, and call a spade a spade.

What happened to me today was something that left me feeling violated. It was demeaning and it once again drove home the reality of what my sons will have to face and my responsibility to teach them how to handle themselves when it tries to undermine their value and right to be viewed just like everyone else-human beings. Young men who see differences in others and not let fear or prejudice dictate how they treat others.

Today I was racially profiled. Just like thousands of other American citizens with brown skin, long beards, turbans, and who wear hoodies. People who “look suspicious.” It shouldn’t happen. But unfortunately every day and especially after a horrific tragedy rocks our nation, we go back to these kinds of behaviors and call them “security measures.”

It’s not right. Things like this make me lose hope that my boys will live in a society that’s freer from the grip of racism than we currently are today.

I hope I’m wrong. Right now though? I see we still have a much longer way to go.

Let’s Wake Up From Our Inoculation & Get Real About Violence & Race in America

I didn’t find out about the shootings in Newtown until early Friday afternoon. I don’t spend my mornings watching the news and had spent all of Friday morning playing with Alex and writing my previous post.

When Alex went down for a nap, I settled in on the couch and pulled up Twitter, looking forward to catching up with my friends & posted links.  That’s when I found out. Tweet after tweet expressed shock, terror, anger, and talk about mental illness, gun control…As my mind scrambled to try to figure out what had happened, Bertski started yelling and cussing, his voice angry and choked up with emotion. I ran to the room and found him staring at his computer screen, his face a mix of anger and disbelief. Following his gaze, my eyes met the headline on CNN’s front page. I stared at it, unable to process what I was reading. When I did I quietly went back to the couch and started reading what was coming in about the shooting.

20 children dead. Kindergarteners. First graders. Teachers hiding their students and sacrificing their lives to save those of their students. Assault rifle. A hundred rounds of ammunition. My whole body started shaking, my heart sank, tears blurred my vision. Pain, shock, and disbelief gripped me and rendered me unable to speak. I turned to Twitter to try to express my grief, only to realize that it was too much, too triggering, to overwhelming, the arguing and hateful comments too disgusting. I turned everything off and tried to focus on cleaning my house while processing the grief slowly consuming me.

What happened in Connecticut has shaken me to my core. I’m disgusted, enraged, and mourning the loss of life and desperately wishing the families affected could experience comfort and peace in the midst of their grief.  I’m horrified that such young children were subjected to such terrifying, cold-blooded violence, and feel both grateful and guilty that Brennan had a fun-filled, SAFE day at kindergarten, while the children in Newtown did not and will never have the chance to again or become the people they were destined to be…..

Over the last few days, I’ve read hundreds of tweets and a large amount of posts by people expressing much the same emotions I myself have been feeling. I’ve found solidarity and join in with those expressing outrage and asking as my friend Stephanie did: “If not now, then when?” When will we care more about the lives of our children, and human life as a whole over our “right” to own an assault rifle, or an arsenal of weapons in our homes…even if they are for hunting or so-called “protection?” When will we look at the context of the time period and intent of our forefathers when they originally wrote the second amendment and realize, that the context in which our society now lives is drastically different from the one back in the 1700′s? When we will look at updating an outdated perspective?

I’ve also seen people discussing mental illness, both the need for better mental health care and access to it, as well as the need to “protect” ourselves from such “dangerous and unstable” individuals. “Put them away where they belong, they aren’t fit to function in our society.” I’ve seen the media and others instantly assume that mental illness was to blame for the killer’s actions, even BEFORE we knew he really did have some mental problems we now know were never addressed. I’ve seen heated arguments about gun control, rights, and people demanding we FINALLY do something to make it so these kinds of events are less likely to occur.

So I want to take the time today to address two very important things that I think need to be thought about and acknowledged in the aftermath of this latest tragedy to rock and horrify our nation. I waffled back and forth with whether or not to say these things and make them part of the conversations we’re having with each other and the questions we’re asking, the arguments we’re making. After some thought-provoking and civil conversations with friends who urged me to share my thoughts, I’ve decided to just go ahead and say somethings that I know are not going to be well-received, seriously thought about, and given validation. As I discuss the following points I beg you to not forget that I am in NO WAY diminishing or intending to trivialize what occurred in Connecticut, Wisconsin or Colorado. Bear in mind that I am just as horrified, enraged and heartbroken as you are. But please open your mind up and seriously ponder what I have to say.

First: I hate the way each time something like this happens and captures national attention, the immediate conclusion people jump to is ” this is SUCH a heinous act of barbaric violence that only someone who’s mentally ill could commit such a crime.” Do I believe that there are some mentally ill people who become violent? Yes, definitely. However I believe that it’s a small percentage and know that the majority of those living with mental illness are not violent towards others and have no intent to be. I have a mental illness and while I’ve tried to harm MYSELF I’ve NEVER thought of actually committing a violent act against another human being. So when I hear people instantly associate senseless acts of violence with mental illness, it infuriates me, because I know that doing so only perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness, and compromises the efforts to make mental health and the resources it so desperately needs, a priority in this country.  It damages & undermines the empathy and understanding of mental illness that thousands of people are trying to advocate for in this country as well. For more thoughts on this, please read this letter from a mother whose son has a mental illness: “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”

What I do believe more is that there are some very sick bastards out there with no conscience, who for whatever reasons they deem important, senselessly embark on killing sprees-either for fun, some kind of glory, revenge, or to send some kind of message they can’t communicate in another form or fashion. I think instantly labeling such people as mentally ill, especially before it’s even been verified, is not only sensationalistic in regards to the media, but also dangerous because it gives these killers a subtle immunity if you will from the justice system and public opinion. It gives these killers the opportunity to capitalize off of the insanity defense and increases the chances they will be institutionalized in an understaffed or funded mental health facility instead of in jail or on death row where they belong in my opinion.  So, I firmly believe we need to be very careful about automatically associating mental illness with violence.

Second: This is going to be very hard for the majority of you to swallow and I’ll be honest and let you know it’s as equally difficult for me to say, because I know that when you force people to confront harsh realities outside of the bubbles they live in, their first reaction is a visceral one; they instantly get defensive and reject what’s being presented because really listening to and acknowledging what’s challenging their belief and world view requires asking themselves some rather uncomfortable and tough questions. I know, because I’ve experienced it myself, several times, especially within the past year and a half.  I also know what I’m going to say will be met with a ” this is NOT about race, race doesn’t play a part in these tragedies, and you can’t compare this to what has just happened.” But I’m here to say that whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, race DOES play a role when it comes to violence and how we respond to it in this country.  Socioeconomics also plays a role, but they really just intersect and sometimes overlap each other so I’m making these points understanding this fact.

Let me be honest and say that as senseless and horrific as what happened in Newtown is,  and as heartbroken as I am over the loss of life, I’m also very aware that this kind of violence occurs EVERY day in minority & poverty-stricken communities and receives very little, if any, attention either on a state or national level.  When senseless violence rocks these communities, no one in the media EVER instantly considers mental illness as a contributing factor, or as an explanation as to why someone decided to go on a killing spree. There are no “we need to ACT NOW and demand our elected officials to make access to weapons more difficult. This is UNACCEPTABLE!” expressions of outrage-at least not on a national level.

I also know that if there is any outcry or demands for change from citizens in these communities those cries for justice and real change are often ignored, stifled, and stalled by politicians who care more about advancing their own “more important” agendas than getting their hands dirty and dealing with the complicated and messy reality of life in urban areas.

You’re going to hate me for saying this but do I believe the reasons for the lack of attention and demand for change are steeped in racial bias? Yes, you’re damn right I do. I know it is, because I’ve witnessed and have family members who have lived it, pushed and argued for change, for help, and been ignored or beaten down by a system designed to stay broken instead of fix the problems. Now I know and have spoken over the years to lots of white friends, co-workers, classmates, etc who adamantly and even vehemently claim that what happens daily in the inner city is not on the same level as what happens in communities that don’t experience violence everyday. I’ve even had heard white people during class discussions on violence and race say that it’s not as serious of a problem because it’s “expected” to happen in urban communities, because “that’s just their way of life. That’s the ghetto. Those people choose to live that way instead of choosing to live the right way.”

My response to this bullshit (and yes, racist) argument? Tell it to the thousands of families that are slaughtered on a regular basis, in cold blood. Tell it to the thousands of school children who are shot and killed in school, walking home from school or while they are outside playing because one of their relatives had a “beef” with someone and that person decided the only way to handle being “disrespected” was to kill everyone attached to the person who supposedly wronged them.; to “send a message.” Tell it to the families of those who are killed on street corners and the front steps of their homes…to the parents of children whose throats have been slashed and bodies thrown away in a dumpster.

Perfect examples of cities with this level of everyday crime are Chicago, Philadelphia, and Camden, NJ, a city that can’t afford to pay their police force so they’ve laid them off.  The crime and violence in Camden is so vile, that the city council has given up and reached out to the state and federal government for help. Are they getting it? Not enough to solve the crisis happening there.  In Philadelphia where my mom is a school administrator in charge of dealing with students who have violated the district’s “zero tolerance” policy, kindergarten-second grade students are constantly being brought into her office because a knife or gun was found in their book bag. One six-year-old girl told my mother she took the pistol from where her mother stored it because she wanted something to defend herself if something happened while she walked to and from school. She was terrified of that daily journey. 4 days later, after being in my mother’s office, she was found dead in an alley down the street from her home with her backpack still on. Was there an outcry then? A demand for stricter gun control laws and a more threatening police presence? No. Why? Because it’s an everyday occurrence. It’s “expected” so “there’s not a whole lot that can be done to fix it.” Too much politics, too much bureaucracy, not enough REAL action or solutions being implemented. Murders in inner cities happen because that’s what “we” do. It’s normal. So we just “deal” with it as a way of life.

So what’s my point?

  • That when things like what happened in Newtown occur, the immediate response and assumption by the media and public is 1) if the killer is white, he probably acted so violently because he’s mentally ill, and didn’t get the adequate mental health care that could’ve prevented his violent actions. When it’s a white man committing these kinds of horrifying crimes, the media and police work overtime to snuff out and explain his motives for doing so. If he has an illness, then that almost gives people some kind of…I don’t know what the right word is, but it gives them something to partially explain away his behavior. “Of COURSE he did this because he’s mentally ill and unstable.” Me personally, my first response is that he must be some kind of vengeful son a bitch who decided for whatever sick & twisted reason that his relatives and the KINDERGARTENERS he didn’t even know deserved to feel his wrath.
  • There is never any national attention, sensationalism, outrage and calls for more restrictive gun control laws unless something this violent and senseless occurs in a predominantly white, suburban community where exposure to violence is not an everyday reality its citizens have to live with. It’s not “real” or worth addressing until it happens in their backyards and touches them, and then there is outrage, there are vigils, there are relief funds, there is mourning. And guess what? There damn well should be. Yes- we need to stop and mourn the lives of those innocent children who died way too young & were robbed of becoming who they were destined to be. Yes, we need to help their families recover and offer them whatever they need to make it through this. Yes, we need to honor those who gave their lives to save others. Yes, we need to help the children who witnessed this unbelievable horror who will forever be traumatized and most likely develop PTSD as a result. But we should be doing the same for those who endure this everyday in communities deemed as lost causes.  We need to be just as outraged, just as saddened, just as heartbroken, and just as vocal for the forgotten and broken down communities who don’t have enough voices to speak & fight for them-for their children. They are American citizens too and their kids are America’s children too.  The fact that we only cry out for some and not others disgusts me just as much as the violence in Wisconsin, Colorado and now Connecticut.

Also? In President Obama’s address to the nation on what happened in Newtown, he said we need to quit with the bullshit politics and get real about fixing this problem, “whether its at a temple in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Colorado, an elementary school in Connecticut, or a street corner in Chicago.” Guess what? That was the FIRST time in my ADULT life I have ever heard an elected official in high office put the violence that happens everyday in urban communities on the same level as the violence that occurs in predominantly white communities and say we it’s past time we deal with this shit.

We need to focus on mental health care in this country. We need to pressure our elected officials to change our gun control laws. But while we’re focused on addressing the immediate needs in the aftermath of what happened in Newtown, we need to think long-term and look within to have a much larger conversation on the racial, and socioeconomic issues that breed violence period. We need to confront ourselves and get real about getting to the real roots of these problems. We need to change the way we teach our children about differences and tolerance of those who are different from them. We need to level the playing field for everyone, no matter what race, creed or sexual orientation. Until we do, the governing systems and climate of our culture will continue to be unbalanced, riddled with double standards, and experience the heavily resistant movement toward the “post racial/post modern” society we mistakenly claim to already be.

****************UPDATE***********************

After I published this post yesterday, I came across an essay today expressing & expounding brilliantly on what I talked about here. It helped me feel proud for sharing my thoughts and it was gratifying to read someone else sharing similar thoughts. It was written by Tim Wise, a noted author & speaker on race relations and white privilege: “Race, Class, Violence, and Denial: Mass Murder and the Pathologies of Privilege.” I’ve been an avid reader of his writing and perspective for close to a year now-I highly recommend taking some time to read and reflect on what he presents in his other essays.

My Life Isn’t Always So Heavy. Sometimes It’s Full of Near Marriages & Tear Gas Too.

Today I’m supposed to be telling you about the time I nearly died during a military exercise in the Nevada desert.

Me+5 cans of tear gas+gas mask fail=the fires of brimstone & damnation taking up residence in my body.

It’s a good story, but before I share it with you, I have to explain why I am.

I told my friend Susan about it and she almost died from laughter. Death by laughter is a much better way to go than death by tear gas, in case you were wondering.

Anyway she didn’t really almost die laughing (duh, it’s called exaggeration) but she did have tears in her eyes, and after she composed herself she reminded me of something-I don’t talk about the other parts of my life here very often, if at all.

I’ve spent the majority of this blog’s life telling you about my struggles with mental illness, motherhood, & low self-esteem. I’ve touched a little on social issues & religion too, but the only “light” thing I’ve shared here are my Napoleon Dynamite-esque dance skills. (New here? Check the “Dance” tab up top)

I realized there’s so much about myself and my life that I haven’t shared with you, especially the parts that aren’t so heavy. Example: I used to show dogs (think Westminster type dog shows) when I was 8 years old. Also? I was pretty damn good at it too. See? I haven’t divulged that kind of info and I feel like it would be nice to do so.

So moving forward, I’m going to try and be more open not just about the heaviness of in my life, but the lighter, funnier, interesting experiences I’ve had as well. The stupid mistakes I’ve made,(like dating a guy I met on a greyhound bus on its way to Jacksonville, Florida…after almost marrying this OTHER guy I had moved to Florida for…all while I was 7 months pregnant. Yea. that.) stories from my Air Force days (like the time the government thought it was ok to let me be qualified to use seven different deadly weapons) and other random stuff from my “pre mom, pre mental illness takeover” days. Maybe I’ll even throw in some high school stuff so you can see how giant of a dork I was. (And still am)

I don’t share enough about the other parts of my life or the experiences I’ve had outside of being a mom & a manic depressive, and I’d like to thank Susan for pointing this out to me. You should thank her too because some of these stories will be TMZ-worthy. I can hear your inner gossip hound licking its chops in anticipation.

First up will be the tear gas story. I’ll try to have it up by tomorrow or over the weekend at the latest. I have to talk to some of the people who were there with me to refresh my memory on some of the details. (Inhaling tear gas causes black outs & mild amnesia)

Get ready to (hopefully) laugh your ass off at my expense. There WILL be talk about loss of bodily functions & the expelling of bodily fluids. You’ve been warned.

Wednesday Can Suck It & My Bipolar Life v.5

Afro Barbie

Today has been a struggle, the hardest I’ve had since leaving the hospital. My mind is loud and overcrowded again. Paranoia is creeping in again whispering it’s lies. I’m trying to ignore the urge to disconnect from everything. The depression … Continue reading

Change Really Is Constant

Maybe I was being naive, but I thought once we moved here to Austin and got settled in, we’d be done with Mr. Change.  I mean after going through so much of it the last 8 months, and all of it permanently altering our lives, I thought our season was over once we moved into our apartment.

I was wrong. Dead wrong. I forgot that change is fluid, always there, weaving its way throughout our lives daily. It doesn’t matter if it’s life changing or something we wouldn’t think twice about or deem trivial, change is a constant companion in our journey through life.

Some of the changes we’ve experienced since moving here were planned, well-thought out and goals we set for ourselves. When we talked about moving here back in April, we sat down and talked about what kind of changes in our lifestyle we wanted to make. For example, we wanted to get back into being more active and doing the kinds of recreational activities we enjoy-running, hiking, being outside, exercising, yoga, taking the boys on bike rides, all of us learning how to swim, etc.

I’m happy to report that we’ve done that. We joined the YMCA in September and we’re addicted to it. The kids love going to the child watch play area and basketball courts, Brennan’s going to do track this winter, and both are being signed up for swimming lessons. I’m addicted to the rowing machine, Bertski to the strength training and BOTH of us are addicted to the running trail just across the street. People-I can leave my kids in the child watch at the Y and go run on the 3 mile trail that loops around Lady Bird Lake.  IT’S FREAKING GORGEOUS . What I love the most about it is that you see all kinds of people out there walking or running, whether they are in amazing shape, young, old, or trying to get into better shape. There’s such a huge focus on health here in Austin-you can see and feel it. It’s really been one of the best parts about our move. Being active is super easy in this city and we’re in love with it.

Some of the other changes that have happened have been surprising, incredible, and disappointingly difficult to deal with.

The surprising? Brennan being in school. Why? Well for one, he’s in school. Kindergarten. My baby boy has grown into an incredibly intelligent and dynamic 5-year-old BOY who goes to school. I knew when we moved here that he’d be going. But in the chaos of moving, it was just some intangible theory in the back of my mind. When it came time to walk him to his classroom I was a wreck. Bertski even teared up.

Something we didn’t know when we moved into our neighborhood was that we moved into the one with the best elementary school in the city. A huge part of why it’s so good is because it has access to money (it’s an affluent area, so the parents who are in the PTA pour a lot of money into the school-and they fundraise LIKE CRAZY.) which means they have access to a wealth of resources that other schools do not. Brennan goes to music, art, PE, spanish, and other “specials” offered during his school day in addition to his regular curriculum. His teacher rocks, keeps us well-informed of what’s going on week to week, and to say that Brennan is thriving there is an understatement. His mind has literally exploded with knowledge and he comes home every single day with a huge grin on his face as he tells us about what he learned.

That’s the incredible part. The surprising part? Kindergarten is a LOT of work, yo. We haven’t even gotten to the homework stage and I’m already terrified of the next 12 years. There are projects to do, (which is a first for us because I’m craft challenged) Teacher Appreciation lunches to bring food for, library volunteering to do, car lines to wait in (pause for a breath) school carnivals to attend and donate to, booths to work at said carnival, online resources to practice on, apps to download, music performances to go to…. are you getting what I’m saying? Trying to remember what’s due when, and all of the other details has been more overwhelming than I’d like to admit. I wasn’t expecting it to be this tough of a learning curve. But overall? It’s good. We’ll get through it.

Our lives overall are good. It’s been an incredible experience to have something that was just a dream and a plan become tangible and just plain awesome when you start to live it out. We’ve been so fortunate.

The really disappointing part? Well there are two. One-while Austin is a progressive city, the VA system here is not unfortunately. Actually it’s f*cking awful. I’ve never been to a place where they don’t have operators to answer the phones whether it be at a clinic, hospital, or whatever. It’s so frustrating when you’re in crisis and trying to get ahold of someone and a) no one answers the damn phone b) your new psychiatrist treats you like you’re inconveniencing them and doesn’t listen you, and c) you get the run around when it comes to treatment options or question the lack thereof. (ex: they don’t offer individual counseling. WTF?!)

More on that later, but the last disappointing change is that today Bertski started a new job and I’m a little sad about that. A lot of sad. Even though he spent a lot of time during the day previously working remote for his old client, he was still here and I found a lot of strength and comfort in that. The boys loved it, he loved it, I found relief in it and loved the routine we had developed. He already told me that this new contract is going to involve a lot of late nights, impossible to meet deadlines, and frenzy we’ve experienced with his previous contracts. That worries me, because it tires and stresses him out. He has less time to spend with us and on his side A.I. projects. In the past when he has a contract like this, any routine we’ve developed dissipates and we just kind of let things go. I’m hoping that as tough as this new contract will be, we’ll still be able to adapt ourselves to it and maintain what’s been working so well for us since moving here.

Whether it’s good or bad, large or small change is and will remain constant. I’m going to try to remember this and focus on learning to be even more adaptable to it as I move through these new stages of my life.