Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I’ve been debating for over a week if I wanted to share this or not.  It’s not the kind of story I generally post, but everyone keeps telling me it’s too funny/horrifying/relatable not to share.  I’m going to offer a disclaimer, though:  if you don’t have kids, this blog will probably not interest you.  In fact, you’re probably going to wonder why on earth I would ever think this was appropriate to share.  Heck, I’m willing to bet some of you who DO have kids might feel the same way.  But I know that there are at least a few of you who will read this and think, I am so glad that has happened to someone else!  So without further ado, I present my one and only scatological story (with pictures). 

Sunday before last, my mom’s side of the family had their annual reunion/potluck.  I dressed Peanut in an adorable new outfit so that she’d look “spiffy” when she saw all of her relatives.  We loaded into the car to make the 45 minute drive to the church where it was being held.  Not long after leaving the house, I heard Peanut grunting.  Dang, I thought.  She’s going to poop.  I worried about her squishing poop up her back, as babies often do when they are in a car seat. It makes an awful mess, on the child and and in the seat.  Then she began to cry.  She cried for a few minutes and stopped.  I could smell the gift she’d left me in her diaper and made a mental note to change her the moment we arrived at the reunion regardless of how many relatives wanted to stop and talk.
About twenty minutes into the trip, I stopped for gas.  When I got back into the car, the odor had grown more offensive.  I thought it was just because I had gotten some fresh air while I was filling up. 

Not poop
As we drove, though, the smell grew stronger and more rancid.  John didn’t seem to think it was any worse, though, since his nose had sadly become acclimated to it. 

Worried about having a seat full of poop, I upped my speed a little and focused on getting to the church. Peanut sat in the back seat talking to herself and giggling.  I glanced into the mirror at one point to see her putting something in her mouth.  “What are you eating, Peanut?”  She just smiled. I assumed she had found a Puff somewhere from the day before. 
Suddenly, as we topped a hill, the smell became overwhelming, almost to the point it gagged me.  John smelled it, too. 

“We need to pull over,” I said. “It smells like it got out of the diaper.”   I could already picture a trail of poop up her back.  I couldn’t remember if I’d packed a change of clothes before we hurriedly left the house and wondered if she’d be attending the reunion in nothing but a diaper.
I pulled into an empty church parking lot.  Grabbing the diaper bag, I went around to open the back of my SUV so that we would have room to change her.  John got out and opened Peanut’s door to assess the situation.  I knew from his reaction it was bad.  I never dreamed it would be as bad as it was, though. 
Not poop
She had indeed pooped.  No, that’s not the word.  She had exploded.  My sweet little girl looked like she’d been taking a mud bath.   The poop had not gone up her back as I’d feared; it had pushed out of the legs of her diaper and run down to her ankles.  She had kicked her feet around and managed to smear it between her toes.  But my curious little baby had to get a closer look.  She reached down and stuck both hands in pools of liquid poop.  
She had smeared poop across her face and into her hair.  Suddenly, a wave of nausea swept over me as I remembered my question from a few minutes earlier:  What are you eating, Peanut?
My daughter smiled up at me from her poop smeared face right as the realization set in that she had been eating her poop.  My baby put her poop in. her. mouth.

(In her defense, there was corn in it.  What, too much?  Deal with it.  At least you weren't there to witness it.)

99% of me wanted to crawl into the back seat and cry.  The other 1% ordered me to pull myself together and clean the child up.
The day before, I’d taken her travel wipes out of the diaper bag and put in a large pack to take to the sitter.  Thank goodness I had or we would have been removing our clothes to wipe her down.  It took the entire pack of wipes for the two of us to clean the radioactive poop from her stinky little body. 
Fifteen minutes and 75 wipes later, she had on a new diaper and there was no visible poop on her body.  She still smelled like the devil's armpit, though.  By this point, my husband and I were both sweating profusely in the 100 degree Southern heat.  I was miserable in more ways than one, struggling not to cry or scream in frustration and exhaustion.  And repulsion.

At least it's not poop
I called my mom to let her know what had happened, so she was ready and waiting to assist when we arrived.  We took Peanut to the bathroom and gave her a bath in the sink.  I ran my fingernail under all of hers, trying my best to remove any remaining particles of poop since she’s constantly sticking her fingers in her mouth.  She was very patient as I scrubbed her with soap and paper towels, even letting me wash her hair.  We rinsed her off and my mom said she smelled fine.  I stood back to take a look at her, looking for even the tiniest trace of fecal matter.  Peanut grinned at me.  Her mouth.  Oh my Lord, what do I do about her mouth?  I’m not proud of what I did next, but I don’t see what option I had.  I squirted soap on my fingers and thrust them into her mouth before she could protest.  I rubbed and scrubbed the roof her mouth, cheeks, tongue and gums.  I wiped her four little teeth with a paper towel.  She didn’t cry or resist or even make a face.   Yes, I washed my 11-month-old daughter’s mouth out with soap.  
My mom assured me that Peanut didn’t even remotely smell like poop anymore, so I let her carry my daughter out to see all of the family.  I looked at myself in the mirror.  A fuzzy halo of hair surrounded my face, courtesy of the humidity.  All of my makeup had melted and there was mascara under my eyes.   I scrubbed my own hands and arms and tried to make myself presentable.    I went to the kitchen, poured a glass of tea and took a deep breath.  While my extended family admired my precious, freshly-scrubbed little girl, I found myself laughing just a little.  I had survived Poopageddon.  I still had the task of scrubbing out her clothes, but I would just have to think about that later.  At that moment,  I felt like I’d earned some sort of “mommy badge.”  My child finger-painted herself with feces, and I didn’t have an absolute meltdown.  With the help of my brave husband, I'd done what had to be done.   I shook my head, amazed at what I was able to tolerate for the sake of my own child.   
Now it may be a different story the first time she vomits…

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Here are few snippets from blogs I've been reading this week.  Some of these are presented out of context, so if you want more, take a few minutes to check out the blogs.  I've included links.

"The only unpleasantness was the smell of the smoldering ruins of my pride, self-respect, and civic virtue when I allowed myself to be fingerprinted for my new job. I understand why it is done. I believe the safety and security of children is sacrosanct. I do not believe, nor will I ever believe, though, that anyone's individual rights and protections should be sacrificed to the majority opinion. I will allow it to happen, though, despite private complaints and misgivings, because no one is coming for me. Pastor Martin Niemoeller is rolling in his grave, God rest his soul: 

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I did it for a job. I am not a felon, a bail jumper, a pedophile, a drunkard, junkie, or "deviated prevert." I am certain, nonetheless, that there will come a day when secular humanists are targeted, and I just hope that someone will have had to courage to stand up for me before that time. The quote is the bedrock of my personal philosophy. As a teacher, I believe this is the most important precept I can communicate to my students. I couldn't care less if they know that Lincoln didn't really free any slaves. I am a failure, however, as a teacher and a "human bean" if my students do not take this lesson with them and remember it forever. When the evil building engineer threw away my 25 years of teaching memorabilia (may a weeping boil on his nose never heal), this was the only poster that survived. If I were to lose everything again every year, and only one thing could be preserved, this would be my choice, year after year."
from Fall Down Seven Times Get Up Eight


We've been talking about disappointment lately--how to handle it, how to avoid it, how to purposely not avoid it. I told Lainey we had plans with her friend Aleena the other day and, as plans often do, they went bust. She was devastated. Stomach jerking kind of cries and tears she couldn't hold back.

"This is why you should probably wait to tell her about plans," Brett suggested. "She gets her hopes up."

"Oh, but it's good for her," I retorted. "Disappointment is part of life."

We volleyed good opinions back and forth in an important discussion that affirmed our dreams and hopes for what our kids will be someday. That ultimately we want them happy. But the meaning of happy is intricate and subjective and dependent on a lot of things. Facing disappointment is one of them, and finding the tools to cope and adjust is something that is learned. I want my kids to learn this just as much as I want them to be happy.

from Enjoying the Small Things


To say he faces challenges is quite an understatement. Every time we meet with a therapist or a doctor or have tests, I am overwhelmed. It seems that we continually have bad news or we have to pay an outrageous amount of money that we don’t have. I’m told he is cognitively 4 years old and can’t function in a normal classroom setting. Each doctor or therapist is so kind, loving and concerned…and honest. There are so many things that he needs. And today, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t provide it.

I lose my patience with him. I expect things from him that he cannot accomplish. I am much too hard on him. I do not have the money to pay for all the therapy and tests that need to be done. I cannot hire someone to work with him one-on-one like he needs.

In my super weak, most human moments, I can’t help but think, “What else?” What else does he have to face? Wasn’t the lack of love and nourishment enough to suffer? What else do we have to sacrifice? Wasn’t it enough for us to bring him home?

But when I watch him, when I really stop to observe him, I see joy. I see happiness and fun and a carefree spirit. I know without any doubt that God designed him to be with me. Me with countless shortcomings and flaws, Andre with such love and forgiveness to offer. I see a child whose rewards are far, far greater than I can count and I see a child whose shortcomings are nothing compared to many other situations.

from Unconventional


A little after midnight, I finally pulled into the campsite. As I tried to make myself comfortable somewhere between a toddler seat and a steering wheel, I wondered some more.

Is it worth the drive?

This journey through life is not easy. I am often cramped in a position I see no way out of, sitting next to someone I don’t always get along with thinking all the while that somehow everyone else has it a little better. And if only I could change this little bit, everything would be better.

And now that I have had a taste of real suffering, the veil has been lifted. The veil that allowed me to say, “Smile and be happy!” while all of creation groans under the weight of sin has been lifted and I groan alongside it.

I used to look forward to the future, to the adventures each day brought, to the fulfillment of dreams painted on a canvas of late night conversations and musings about all that life could be. But the color has gone out of my dreams as I realize just how unimportant most of my pursuits have become. How unimportant they always have been, though I never recognized it before.

But now I look forward to a different future.

The children are better at it than I am. LE sometimes prays that God would let Tiggy sleep in His big bed. Bug wants to know if Jesus plays chase with him the way we did. They talk about Heaven the way I used to talk about this property: full of work and play and loved ones and life.

Sometimes I listen to them talk and I get glimpses of Heaven. Of eternity. Of life with God and the saints and Tiggy. Forever. I imagine the brilliance of Heaven and all I ever hoped for in this world pales in comparison. Standing at the gates of eternity, it is hard to imagine that the temporal struggles of this world will have quite the same importance as they seem to now.

from Roscommon Acres

When the Change Doesn't Happen

Yesterday I wrote about how my life changed when I had a baby and how I believe that I've adjusted to (and even welcomed) those changes because I planned to have my daughter.  I wasn't really specific, though, about those changes.  There are several types of the changes that (should) take place when you become a mom. These changes take place constantly, even daily.  In addition to your child's developmental changes, there are changes to your own life.  There are the obvious changes that you expect--less sleep, getting two people ready to go somewhere, possibly having your fun bags used as a source of nutrition, etc.   Then there are the changes that are understood best once you have a child--becoming invisible for awhile when people visit, having to be constantly on your toes when your little one becomes mobile, the protective instincts that make you feel slightly crazy at times.  There is no book, no website, no class that can truly prepare you for being a mother.  You might learn what to do and how to do it, but it doesn't prepare you for what you'll feel and how you'll change--especially since every woman is different.

But the most significant change for me actually took place before I ever brought Amelia home.  Though it may sound exaggerated or overly emotional or even cliche, the change that has affected me most was the moment they handed my daughter to me.  When I felt that tiny, wiggling, purple baby against my skin and my eyes met hers, I literally felt like a completely different person.  Scars I had clung to for years were wiped away.  Anger and bitterness I'd been harboring dissolved instantly.  All of the garbage in my life that could get in the way of being her mother was reduced to ashes.   I was physically and emotionally exhausted from labor, but I have never been more clear in thought or set in determination.  I knew in those first moments that I would go to the ends of the earth for my child. Though I knew love, I couldn't even fathom my own capacity to love someone until I had Amelia.   She was only in my life for seconds before I knew that I never wanted to live without her. 

As I've said in other posts, I can only speak for myself, not for other mothers.  I know that these feelings are in no way unique to me, but do other women feel them instantaneously as I did?  Do the feelings often need time to develop?  And what happens when these feelings don't develop at all?  When a woman looks at her child and doesn't think, "I would give my life for him."  When a woman loves herself more than her baby?  When she sees the changes that accompany motherhood as roadblocks for her own life?  

Is this life-altering change something we control?  Can we force motherly instincts and devotion?

I have refrained from blogging about the Casey Anthony trial because there is nothing I can say that hasn't been said before and in far more eloquent, intelligent ways.  The Anthony case has been the first major murder case of the social media age and it turned into a total circus. But Anthony is not the first woman involved in (okay, accused of being involved in--are you happy?) her child's death. 

As of January 2010, there were 61 women on death row.  Eleven of those women killed their own children (counting one that was adopted).  But the number of women who commit filicide each year is much higher than the death row numbers imply.  Some studies estimate that in the United States alone, as many as 200 women each year kill their children.  Often these deaths are a result of gross negligence, including failing to seek medical attention for their children.  Other mothers give birth secretly and abandon the babies to die (this actually happened at the school I worked at in Memphis; thankfully the child was found and lived).  There are those who physically abuse their children and those who do not protect their children from an abusive father or boyfriend (however a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that deaths from abuse were 12% more likely to be caused by the mother than the father).  But he ones that generally make the news, though--the ones who dominate the headlines and become fodder for hacks like Nancy Grace--are the mothers who murder their children, often with their own hands. 

What makes a woman murder her own flesh and blood?  What goes wrong that makes the one person who should be biologically programmed to protect her child violently end his life? 

In 1983, Diane Downs shot her three children at close range and then drove them to a nearby hospital.  One daughter died; another daughter and her son lived.  Her surviving daughter actually testified against her mother at trial.

Between 1991 and 1999, Australian Kathleen Folbigg smothered her four children, who ranged in age from 19 days to 19 months.  It was only when her husband found her journal that detailed the murders that she was brought to justice.

In 1994, America watched as Susan Smith cried and begged for the return of her children after she claimed they were abducted in a carjacking.  Nine days later, Smith admitted to strapping her sons into her vehicle and allowing it to roll into a lake.

Ten years ago this summer, Andrea Yates--a woman with a history of severe mental illness and depression--drowned her five children in a bathtub in her Texas home and then calmly called 911. 

The list goes on and on:  Marybeth Tinning murdered eight of her nine children over two decades; China Arnold cooked her 28-day-old daughter in a microwave oven; and most recently, a Florida mom named Julie Scheckener

These are the stories that turn our collective stomachs.  But for those of us who have children of our own, these atrocities are more than we can begin to wrap our minds around.  I can't comprehend how anyone can hurt a child, especially their own.  How does a woman carry a child for nine months, give birth, hold that baby for the first time, watch it grow--and then kill her own son or daughter? 

Andrea Yates, 2001
Most of these women are diagnosed with some type of mental illness.  Andrea Yates had multiple bouts with post-partum depression and psychosis, hearing voices and struggling with delusions.  She attempted suicide twice in the years leading up to the murder of her children.  As horrific as her story is, it's difficult not to somehow pity the woman who believed she was saving her children from Satan.  (If you aren't familiar with the Yates case, I recommend starting with The Yates Odyssey). 

But what about the women who seem to have motives to kill their children, such as a desire to be a man who doesn't want a family?  Why would a woman choose a man over her children?  And what of those who have systematically killed child after child over a period of years?  Where Yates seemed to have suffered at psychotic break, these latter women kill their children and often meticulously cover it up only to kill again.

So I ask once more:  what happened?  Did these women ever experience "the change," the total transformation of motherhood? At one point, did they feel the same as I do about my little girl?  Somewhere along the way, did these women all malfunction (for lack of better word)?   

Or do these women somehow lack the capacity to feel a mother's love?  Are they so selfish that they are unable to relinquish their old lives and embrace the necessary changes of motherhood? 

Are they broken?

Are they evil? 

Why would most mothers die for their children while other women deny theirs the chance to live?

Which brings me back to a question that haunts me sometimes when my mind tries to rest.  What if we don't have a choice?  I can't help but love and protect my daughter--but what if my urges did not lean toward nurturing?  What if I had looked at my daughter last August and felt nothing but contempt?  What if I had only seen a burden, an inconvenience?  I experienced a change that day as I was lying in the delivery room.  But what if I hadn't?

I can't even fathom harming my daughter under any circumstance, so I can't help but wonder why these women seemed to harm their children so easily.

What determines which of us will be mothers and which will be murderers?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Planned Parenthood

As Amelia’s first birthday approaches, I can’t help but look back on the past year.  My little girl has changed so much and she’s done it so quickly.  I want her to grow and develop, but I sure do wish I could hit a pause button now and then.  Amelia isn’t the only one who has changed—I’ve changed, too.  It’s not a secret that being a parent dramatically alters your entire existence, but nothing can actually prepare you for the highs and lows of having a baby.  

The past year has been the most exciting, terrifying, joyous, frustrating, beautiful, exhausting, fulfilling, draining, incredible experience of my almost 32 years.  And while the adjustments haven’t always been easy, I believe I have transitioned to motherhood more smoothly than I might have because I (A) wanted a baby and deliberately got pregnant, and (B) I am at a point in my life where I am emotionally, mentally and financially stable.  Even under the best circumstances, babies are challenging, but I have to believe that I would struggle so much more as a mother if Amelia had been unplanned, especially if it had happened ten (or even five) years ago.  If I had a dollar for every time someone over the past years tried to talk me into having a kid, I could take you all to Sizzler for a steak dinner.  People just couldn’t understand why on earth John and I didn’t have a kid when we’d been married “so long.” 

I didn’t understand what the rush was (or why it was anyone’s business).  I knew that I wasn’t ready  for motherhood.  I was still too selfish, too unsteady in life.  There were areas of my marriage that needed to be addressed and worked through to provide a foundation for our future child.  Having a baby wasn’t the logical “next step” for me—not at that moment.  I will never regret waiting to have Amelia.  My life isn’t perfect and I don’t have it all figured out, but I am existing on an entirely different plane in 2011 than at other points in my adult life.  If I had become a mother earlier in my marriage, I wouldn’t have loved Amelia any less and I would have probably done just fine taking care of her.  But I wouldn’t be the mother I am to her at this point in my life.  Choosing to have a child was crucial for me.  I didn’t spend nine months trying to accept that I’d be a mother.  I was able to prepare to be a mother. 

Now please understand that I am only speaking for myself.  Every woman approaches and adjusts to motherhood differently, regardless of her circumstances.  I have known single moms who stepped up to the challenge and are wonderful, nurturing mothers.  I also know women who outwardly seem like the perfect “candidates” to raise children but who are selfish or unstable (or a dangerously unhealthy combination of both).  And whether or not a pregnancy is planned does not dictate a mother’s success.  There are many “accidents” walking around in the world who are happy, healthy, well-rounded people.  And there are entire sets of “planned” siblings who are broken, scarred products of broken, scarred parents and marriages.  All I’m saying is that I know me.  And while I would have done my very best if I’d had a child earlier in my life, my “very best” would have been hindered by insecurities, unresolved anger, anxiety, and past mistakes I was still very much clinging to.  I don’t think I would have totally screwed Amelia up, but I know I would have been less patient and more self-absorbed.  I make mistakes as a mother every day, but I don’t think I would have been as conscious about them back then. 

Image by Shawn St. Jean
I always hated when people told me I “needed to have a baby.”  However, I find myself tempted sometimes to tell people they should wait.  I know, though, that it isn’t my place to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do where babies are concerned.  I do share with younger couples why John and I chose to wait.  And I tell them how it has not only benefited Amelia but also our marriage.    We still have our rocky times, but we had nine years to lay the groundwork for a stable, happy home in which to raise our little girl.   Maybe some people can do this in a year or two, but we needed more time.

I love my little Peanut.  I can’t imagine what life would be like without her and already struggle to remember what life was like before her.  I gain nothing at this point by dwelling on what kind of mother I could have been, but I do believe I wouldn’t have been so willing to be a mother.  When I make a mistake, I am conscious of it.  I acknowledge my shortcomings and actively try to better myself.  I don’t know if that would have been the case under different circumstances.  It would have been difficult to focus on the needs and well-being of a baby if I were instead focused on my own hang-ups and selfish desires. 

Almost every woman has potential to be a good mother, even under the worst circumstances.  The key is having the energy, patience, wisdom, and desire to be a mother.  I am thankful that I waited until I truly had that desire.   Becoming a mother has changed every aspect of my life.  I can’t help but wonder if I would be struggling with resentment or depression if these were not changes I had initiated and welcomed. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Stanton Douglas opened his eyes as far as the bruises would allow.  He stared at the wall and attempted to focus his thoughts through the suffocating haze of pain.  The wall was most likely blue at one point but now it was the sickly grey of corpses.  Stanton remembered Maggie saying that she painted her bedroom blue because the color has calming effects.  Despite the swollen, pulp-like tissue he once called a mouth, he smiled as Maggie’s face flickered in his head.  Beautiful Maggie.  Beautiful, dead Maggie.

Behind his lips he could taste the bloody, metallic holes where his front teeth used to be. He ran his tongue around his mouth, searching for other gaps.  Tooth. Tooth. Gap.  Tooth. Gap. Gap.  As his tongue worked its way to the other side of his mouth, it ran across something hard protruding from the inside of his cheek.  He prodded at it with his bloated tongue until it was free and spit the tooth onto the ground.   He wondered if he’d swallowed his molars and bicuspids or if they were lying somewhere on the floor near him.  Not that any dentist could reattach them now, but they were his teeth.  All those years of braces and brushing and flossing and fluoride—all for them to be unceremoniously removed from his head.

Stanton longed to stretch, to see if indeed he could stretch anymore.  He had long since lost feeling in his arms, cinched behind his back at the elbows and wrists.  Before the numbness set in, he had writhed in agony, attempting to push his dislocated shoulder back into its socket.  Now he would welcome the pain, anything to give him hope that his arms weren’t irreversibly damaged.  He concentrated on moving his fingers.  He asked his body to move his fingers. He demanded.  He begged.  Staton could not move his fingers, though.  He wasn’t entirely certain he even had all of his fingers anymore. 

Stanton relocated his attention to his lower extremities.  He turned his head as far as his neck would allow, straining to see his feet , tied to his wrists.  What flesh he could see was blue. Not calming at all, he thought.  With what will he still possessed, he willed his toes to wiggle.  He felt tears sting his eyes, frustrated that he had no control over even the smallest part of his body.  His thighs and knees ached, a sign that he still had feeling and wasn’t completely paralyzed. 

Once again, Stanton stared at the once-blue wall.  He wondered how long he’d been in this concrete room with the glaring lights.  If he went by the number of times he’d regained consciousness, he had been in the room for at least16 days.  That couldn’t be right. Rubbing the stubble of his chin and cheek against the floor, he estimated about four days.  Four long, excruciating, piss yourself, curse God and eventually find some religion days.  And not once in those four days had he contemplated how he’d get out of the blue room.  Beaten, naked and hog-tied, he was unable to even flop around like a fish in the bottom of a boat.  Escaping wasn’t even an issue worth considering. Survival was the only priority now.  And, if by some miracle, he managed to channel Houdini or David Copperfield or Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, freeing himself from his current state would take more than some dislocated joints (which he had) and voodoo.  Escaping this room would be impossible.  Though he couldn’t see them, he knew that just outside were guards.  Big guards, armed with big guns.  Stanton had decided early on in his captivity to use no energy attempting an escape.  He would need every ounce of strength he had to stay alive. 

Stanton’s stomach gnawed at the organs around it.  Long gone was the curry he had been eating when he was apprehended.  His swollen tongue and cracked lips, testaments to his thirst.   Periodically, his captors had come in and hosed the shit and piss off of him, once or twice spraying him in the face.  The water tasted dirty but he seriously doubted that cholera was his biggest threat right now. 

 He wondered how long his beaten body could live without nourishment.   How long before I’m desperate enough to use my few remaining teeth to gnaw off my tongue?  A week?  Two? 

As Stanton stomach ached and moaned, he suddenly felt a small sensation between his shoulder blades.  Just a tickle actually.  At first he ignored it, but it wouldn’t stop.  Stanton wondered if something was crawling on him.  He strained his neck but saw nothing.  The tickle continued as it divided and worked its way both north and south, following the highway of his spine.  Without warning, the tickle mutated into something much more sinister—an itch. 

Stanton had itched before.   When he was eight, his mother exposed him to the neighbor boy who had chickenpox.  Within two weeks, Stanton looked like his Aunt Louise had taken her red bingo marker to his body.  Stanton couldn’t touch skin without coming in contact with a blister.  His entire body was infested.  The rash covered his scalp, the inside of his mouth, his groin, the crack of his ass, between his toes.  Even his eyelids.  Stanton would scratch until he bled, waking up with his sheets stuck to his body.  His mother had tried everything—cool baths, warm baths, calamine, oatmeal, cornstarch, cod liver oil, aloe vera—but nothing worked.  Stanton kept scratching.  His mom told him that he would scar, but eight year olds care more about instant gratification.  Besides, scars are cool to adolescent boys. 

Finally, Stanton’s mother held him down and cut his nails off.  Really off.  “Off” as in into the quicks.  “Off” as in his fingers bled.  She then wrapped his hands in cellophane and duck taped the makeshift gloves to his arms.  She added a pair of mittens, secured around his wrists with rubber bands.  Stanton cried and begged his mother to scratch for him until he figured out that he could reach some of the itching with his feet.  He dug his toenails into his calves, his thighs.  He even hoisted his leg up with his arms and scratched his cheeks.  Very limber, little Stanton was.  Eventually his mother figured out why he wasn’t wailing anymore and subjected his feet to the same treatment as his hands.  Stanton lay in the floor and screamed at his mother.  He even cursed her with the few words he’d picked up on the playground at school. Tired of coddling her itching, screaming son, Stanton’s mother threatened to tie him to a bed-post and beat him.  But when it came down to it, she was too tired to deal with Stanton any more.   She simply told him what she’d done was for the best, then mostly ignored him and went about her chores.   Stanton quickly became friends with the inanimate objects around his house—door frames, corners of tables, even his mother’s hairbrush that he laid on the floor and rubbed against.  Stanton briefly contemplated leaning against the wood stove and burning off the itch.

The chickenpox eventually went away, but the scars—both physical and emotional—did not.  Stanton forgot the best he could about the cellophane and threatened beatings, but he never forgot the itching.  Just as his body wore the white pockmarks of a little boy who scratched, Stanton’s mind was scarred with the memory of the itching.  The terrible, terrible itching.  He lived in fear of dry skin and mosquitoes and poison ivy and dirty women.  He swore that he would die before he ever let an itch go unattended or unscratched.  He kept his medicine cabinet stocked with Benadryl and hydrocortisone cream. He kept his nails as long as a man could have them in polite, heterosexual society.  At all times, Stanton was prepared to scratch.

Though Stanton’s ingrained defense mechanisms had been beaten out of him, one was still very much intact—scratching. 

Stanton lay still in the blue room, hoping that the itch would go away of its own accord as itches sometimes do.  The itch would not go quietly, though.   Stanton felt the itch crawl up to the nape of his neck.  He felt it squirming its way down to the top of his ass, stretching out over both the left and right cheeks. 

Stanton tired to remain calm.  He bargained with the itch.  He pleaded with the itch. 

But the itch continued its course, up and down the length of Stanton’s body. 

Stanton thought about his missing teeth, his lifeless hands, his dislocated shoulder, his blue feet.  The bruises and lacerations covering his body.  The blood on the floor around him. His blood.   He had endured pain that might have killed a stronger man—surely just this once he could handle an itch without scratching.  Most of my body is completely numb, he thought. Maybe I won’t feel the itch after a while. But for now he could feel it.   He set his jaw and stared at the wall.  He focused on his mangled body, his dead Maggie, his own imminent death.  Anything but the itch.

But the itch refused to be ignored  Like Hannibal crossing the Alps, it made its way over the hills of his ass and down the back of his legs.  It marched into his scalp, tickling each strand of hair.  Within a matter of seconds, the itch had covered his entire body. 

Stanton was eight years old again.  He began to whimper.  He imagined red, pus-filled bumps popping up all over his body as they did so long ago.  The itch continued to migrate over the crown of his head and into his face.  It spread across his swollen eyelids.  His nose began to twitch.  It infiltrated his four-day old beard.  Sweat mixed with tears and blood as Stanton began to shake.  He ground his face into the floor, desperately trying to catch the itch as it crept up toward his ear canal.

“Get the fuck off  me!”

But the itch did not respond. Continuing its journey around his bruised and broken form, it explored every nook and cranny.  Nowhere was sacred.  

Stanton gritted his remaining teeth and squeezed his eyes shut.  He slowly rocked his body as far as his restraints would allow.  He grunted and groaned.  He cursed the itch, threatened the itch, bargained with the itch.

But the itch was determined to have its fun.  It spooned his scrotum.  It danced in his nostrils.  It lounged in his navel. 

Stanton began to sob.  He cried out for his mother, begging her to scratch, to help him, to have mercy on her only son. 

But the itch had consumed Stanton.  He could feel it creeping inside of him, through his pores, his mouth, his nose.  A guttural cry, a barbaric yawp, emerged from Stanton’s blood-caked lips.  This was not Whitman’s wild cry, though.  It was a man’s soul fighting to leave his body, his prison.   Stanton’s body bent double, his head touching the tips of his blue toes.  He pounded his face into the floor three times, gnawing at the concrete with his remaining teeth.  He somehow managed to roll onto his side, his body convulsing to the extent the ropes would allow.  His shoulder screamed again, but now he did not care.  He had to scratch.  He would scratch if he had to rip his hands from his arms and hold his bloody fingers in his mouth.  The itch would not win.  He was no one’s bitch, no one’s slave.  He would not go gentle. 

Somewhere beyond the itching and screaming and shaking, Stanton sensed he was not alone.  Looking up, through his hysteria, he saw a large, blonde man. 

“Please… for the love of God, please help me.”   

The Blonde just stared, mesmerized by this grown man thrashing like an unhappy child in a department store.  The Blonde recalled the time he backed over a sleeping cat, crushing its head beneath his tire.  The body had jerked much like the man in the floor. 

Stanton screamed and grunted as a man possessed.

“For God’s sake, help me!  You don’t have to untie me just scratch me!”

The Blonde shook his head at Stanton. 

“No not no not no not no. Scratch me, damn you!  Scratch me! I can’t take it!”

The Blonde shrugged his shoulders and reached to his side, keeping his eyes trained on Stanton.

“You’re going to shoot me?  After what you bastards have done, now you’re gonna shoot me?  Because I’m itching?  Then shoot me, you son of a bitch!  Shoot me!  Do it!”

The Blonde drew his 9 mm and pointed it Stanton. 

“Stop screaming.”

In spite of the itch’s grip, Stanton began to laugh the desperate laugh of a desperate man.

“How fucking simple are you?  I’m itching!  I am itching!  Scratch me…shoot me! Can’t… cant… stop!”

A dry, guttural sob burst from Stanton’s lips.  The Blonde himself took a step back, as if the sheer anguish radiating from this man might infect him as well. 

Stanton felt the bullet rip into his body.  He hadn’t even heard the gunshot.  He looked at his assassin—his savior.  The gun remained aimed at Stanton, a trace of panic in the blonde man’s eyes.  But it was too late—the first bullet had done the trick. 

Stanton felt the itch begin to subside. He stared at the once blue wall, noting that the bullet ironically had an adequate calming effect.  He could guards’ voices across the radio and outside the door but their words sounded suddenly foreign.   He closed his eyes; the backs of his lids were blue.  He tried to smile.

As Stanton felt his life pouring out onto the concrete floor, he gave a fleeting thought, quite literally, to where he would go now.  Would the suffering he had endured earn him an eternity in a blue room with Maggie? Would his sins in this life damn him to a concrete room much like this?  He would be fine if this were the end, if there were nothing else. 

Dead and cold in the ground, he would be forever safe from the itch.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Three Questions

Tonight in my women's group, the speaker gave us three questions.  These are questions that we should periodically ask someone who knows us, loves us, and whom we consider a mentor or "accountability partner."   I jotted down the questions and put a little star beside them, reminding myself to come back and visit them later.  Initially I thought, These are good questions! I'm going to send them to one of my nearest and dearest tonight!  Now that I'm looking at them, I'm not so certain I'm ready to have them answered, at least not by someone who is going to be totally honest and blunt with me (which is what people like me need). 

1.  What is something about me that encourages you?

This first question isn't so scary unless you think there's the chance that someone will struggle with finding an answer.  I wondered what people would say if I asked them that.  I am generally an encouraging person, but that's not what the question asks.  What do I project or do that encourages other people in some way?  I have a hard time answering this.  It's not that I'm some inspirational person with a compelling life story.  I'm not sure anyone will look at my life and go, "Wow, if she can make it, I can, too!"  What part of me would anyone look at and be encouraged?  This makes me want to really step back and reevaluate how I present myself to the world.  It's not that I want to change who I am since I'm pretty comfortable with myself and don't make an attempt to present any type of facade.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like I'm one of those people that you meet and know within a couple of minutes if you're going to like me or not.  I figure there's no use wasting time on formalities.  The loud, goofy, "filterless" Amber cannot be suppressed for long, so why try to cage her?   No, what I want to reevaluate is my attitude and reactions.  I want people to look at my life and be encouraged, whether it's because of my disposition or something more specific.  I think my mouth and tendency to act on emotion and not logic get in the way of that.  I've always tried to be encouraging when my friends are in need, but what if my entire life radiated encouragement?  How awesome would that be? 

(Note:  If I am making absolutely no sense here, feel free to ignore me and read one of my earlier, more coherent blogs. I do believe the next section will be a bit less abstract, though.)

This picture is so outdated and really has nothing to do
with the blog, but it made me giggle.
2.  What is something you want to caution me about?

I like to think that for the most part, I have my life together.  But there's a part of me that wonders if I'm just basing this on my life now compared to ten or fifteen years ago.  You know, like the crackhead who says, "But I'm only smoking once a day now, not four. Go me!"   There was a point in my life that someone should have taken a "Caution" sign and beaten me over the head with it--literally.  Every time I turned around, someone was telling me, "You're going to get hurt" or "You need to be careful."  Depending on who was saying it (and their tone), my reactions ranged anywhere from appreciation to indignation.   I rarely receive any "cautions" now, but perhaps there are less obvious ways I am acting irresponsibly.  I'm not "actin' a fool" and putting my life in danger, but are my attitudes or words tearing down people I love?  Do I exhibit signs of some sort of mental illness that no one wants to address?  I mean, it's one thing to say, "You shouldn't drink so much."  It's an entirely different conversation that begins with, "I really think you need to see a doctor and get some counseling" or "It's your negativity that's ruining your marriage." I know those are extreme examples, but I need friends who will tell me what I should hear, not just what I'd like to hear.  Are there harmful areas in my life--emotionally or spiritually--of which I should be aware?  Is there something to which I am blind? 

3.  Is there anything else you want to say to me?

Okay, this last question just drives me nuts.  Though I love creativity and freedom, I also need structure.  Open-ended questions like this shut me down faster than anything, not because I can't think of anything to say but because I have so much to say that I can't begin to know where I should start.  But you know, there does always seem to be at least one thing we want to say to someone, but the  opportunity never presents itself in conversation.  It doesn't have to necessarily be something negative or critical.  Maybe it's a compliment that you don't know how to approach without sounding "weird."  Perhaps it's a favor that you're embarrassed to ask.  Then again, maybe it is something you've done to hurt someone or a situation that causes concern.  Asking this question (and being prepared to accept the reply) could be instrumental in your personal growth or in the nurturing of a friendship.  What would happen if we periodically went to those we love and said, "What do you need to say to me?  What is weighing on your mind or heart?"  The key is that if you give someone this opportunity, you can't use it against them or judge them or explode.  We all want the truth but how many of us are ready to deal with it?

I want to live my life in a way that I'm not afraid of the answers to any of these questions.  It doesn't mean my life is perfect--I just want to be aware of my weaknesses and of the areas in which I need improvement.   The speaker tonight discussed not setting your expectations without first knowing your weaknesses.  I am so prone to having these wonderful, grand ideas.  But I get into the middle of executing the idea and realize that I lack the resources or talent or even will to complete it.  I need to know me better.  And while a great deal of "knowing me" starts with me, I think I have much to learn from those who love me most and know me best. 

So I guess I'm asking.  I know some of you know me well and some only in passing.  Some of you only know me through my blogs.  But based on what you DO know, how would you answer any or all of these questions?  I'm not fishing for compliments and I don't need smoke blown up my ass.  I need honest answers.  I'm a big girl.  I can handle it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

To Have and to Hold

Marriage has been a hot topic in the news lately.  Who may get married?  Who shouldn't be married?  Is marriage "in danger"?  It seems every time I turn on the television, log on to Facebook, or find myself in a group of people, some aspect of marriage is being discussed.  Consequently, I've been finding myself thinking about marriage quite a bit, especially my own.  This September will mark ten years since John and I tied the proverbial knot.  Sometimes when people ask how long we've been married, they seem impressed when I tell them nearly a decade.  Part of me finds it a bit sad that a ten-year marriage is grounds for congratulations, but then again, I'm a bit impressed myself.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not insinuating that I'm in some sort of matrimonial hell.  I have a great husband and we have a strong marriage.  But marriage isn't easy.  Remember preparing for college and being told not to room with a close friend?  I recall being warned that living in a dorm with even your best friend will fatally strain your relationship.  Living with someone--sharing space, dividing responsibilities, learning their faults and quirks--is enough to chip away at the tightest, oldest bonds.  Marriage is exactly the same, only it's magnified by the stresses of careers, bills, a house, kids.  I'm going to be honest, I'm not the least bit surprised that the divorce rate is as high as it is.  So many people get married while they're still in the "lovey-dovey, making out in the back seat, fairy tale" stage.  Maybe people should be required to wait until they've gotten a bit more--um--comfortable.  Maybe they should wait until the new wears off a bit and see if they still want to spend their lives together.  I'm aware that this might drastically decrease the number of marriages, but that would hopefully in turn decrease the number of divorces and broken homes. 

This isn't about whether or not people should marry, though, or how long they should be together beforehand.  This is about the last ten years of my life--of our-lives--and how we made it through the past 3,800 days or so. 

This morning, my little girl and I visited my husband's hometown and attended church with his family (he had to work).  The pastor's message was from Ephesians 5, how the woman is to submit to the husband and the man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church.  He made reference during the sermon to a couple in the church who have been married 73 years.  Stop and let that absorb into your brain.  Seventy.  Three.  Years.  It's a small church with a very relaxed atmosphere, and the little man--who is in his early 90s--quietly (and sincerely) said, "And each year is sweeter than the last."  His wife learned over and tenderly patted him on the shoulder.  As I've gone throughout my day, I have found myself thinking about that precious couple and their remarkable marriage.  What are the secrets of a a 73-year marriage, especially one without a trace of bitterness.  There was a tenderness between this couple that cannot be forced or faked.  They aren't the stereotypical, crotchety old couple of a sitcom.  Though I can imagine they've faced their hard times, they've somehow survived with their love for each other intact. 

I would love the chance to sit down with this couple, to soak in their wisdom.  In the meantime, though, I've been reflecting on my own marriage.  John and I married fast and we married young.  Went went on our first date in February 2001 and were married on September 1st of the same year.  I was 22; he was four days from 21.  More than a few people expressed their disapproval and even their doubts that we would "make it."  Fortunately, our families were supportive and have remained so throughout the years.  I think this has been crucial; I honestly don't understand how marriages survive parents and in-laws who meddle and plant discord in their children's lives.  But even though it's true that you "marry the family, not just the person," ultimately it's the two of you who begin and end your days together. 

I've been thinking about the ups and downs of our marriage and how we've made it through the hard times and somehow come out on the other side even stronger.  What have I learned about marriage in the past ten years?  What do I have to share with someone just starting out?  Ten years doesn't even begin to compare to seventy-three, but every new married couple has to start somewhere.  Perhaps my experiences are easier to relate to for a couple just starting out in their marriage than those of a husband and wife who "have it down pat."  So I've decided to share a few things I've learned over the years.  I openly admit that even though I know these things to be true, it doesn't mean I always put them into practice.  It's frustrating that I find myself often running in circles, trampling a problem with the same old, stinky shoes instead of the new shiny ones that I know work.  But that's exactly why marriage is a challenge.  Anything that involves people--that involves us--is going to be challenging since we are all so inherently flawed.  Especially me.

I could never completely put into words what has made our marriage last, but here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

Marriage is easier if you're married to a friend - It's true that love helps you get through the hard times, but it helps even more if you like the person you kiss goodnight.  If your wife or husband isn't your friend--your besta grudge instead of mercy. In an interview with Esquire, Barbara Bush said, "I think you ought to treat your spouse like you treat your friends. You clean your house for your friends, you make sure they're taken care of, and a spouse comes second. I think you oughtta treat him like a friend."   When our marriage has been most strained, I kept pushing and persevered, not only because I loved John but because I truly enjoy his company and can't imagine experiencing life without him. 

There is no greater gift than forgiveness - Forgiveness that must be earned leads to resentment and insincerity.  You should never have to "make it up" to your spouse in order to be forgiven.  True forgiveness is given freely, often without the offending party asking or even deserving it.  A bitter heart and resentful spirit are cancer to a marriage, eating it alive while e you both fake a smile.  Just as we expect our spouse's apology to be sincere, our forgiveness must also be real.  I'm not saying this is easy; deep cuts take ages to heal.  But without forgiveness, those wounds are torn open again and again.  If every time you argue with your spouse you bring up all of his or her past mistakes, you are withdrawing your forgiveness.  And each time withdraw that forgiveness, you are showing your spouse that an apology is a waste of time since it is not truly accepted.  If you want to show your husband or wife that you love them deeply, forgive and don't bring it up again.  This is a precious gift and will lead to more openness in your marriage.  No one wants to discuss a problem if there's a chance that old transgressions might be dug up and wielded as weapons.  If I'm not afraid of having to pay again and again for past sins, I am more willing to be honest about how I feel or what is bothering me. 

Pick your battles - This applies to so many areas in our lives but especially to children and marriage.  Sometimes you just need to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.  Use some discretion before confronting.  Ask yourself, "Is this really that big of a deal?" or "Am I taking out my frustration about another issue on him or her?"  Anyone who has been married knows how quickly an "issue" can escalate into a full-blown fight.  And how often are these issues insignificant in the grand scheme of things?  Real problems in marriages must be addressed and sometimes it's not pretty.  But there's a difference in something that irritates you and something that legitimately damages your marriage.  You have to choose which things are worth spending time discussing (or fighting over).  And some things you just have to grin and bear, accepting that it doesn't hurt anyone and get over it without having a meltdown.  When you're getting to know each other (or have known each other long enough to figure out the idiosyncrasies that bug you), it's easy to find something to harp on and pick a fight.  But it solves nothing and only chips away at your marriage.  There's no award when you die for "Most Fights," but I can promise once you're gone there will be people who remember you being a "Bitchy Wife" or "Douchebag Husband."   If something genuinely bothers you, talk about it or even argue about it.  But don't turn everything that bugs you into a shouting match.   Choose your battles wisely.  In my field, I've come across teachers  who write kids up and send them to the office for coming to class without a pencil or walking to the garbage can without permission.  Not only does this tell the students that the teacher is not in control, it makes the administrators less likely to take the referrals seriously.  It's the same way in a marriage.  If you freak out over everything, when something truly important or hurtful needs to be addressed, it may fall on deaf ears. 

Don't assume your spouse knows how you feel, what's bothering you, etc. - Women seem to be more notorious for this behavior than men.  I wear my feelings on my sleeve and am completely baffled when someone (especially my husband) can't figure out (A) that I'm sad/mad/scared and (B) WHY I'm sad/mad/scared.  I mean, isn't it obvious from my body language?  Usually the answer is no.  My husband can detect something is amiss but he's not a mind reader.  When we make our spouses play the guessing game, it only exacerbates the problem.  While I'm waiting for him to figure it out, I'm growing more angry or upset.  Meanwhile, he's growing increasingly more frustrated that something's wrong and I won't just tell him.  By the time it finally gets addressed, I explode or break down.  He become even more frustrated.  Most or all of this would have been avoided if I'd just told him in the first place what was bothering me.  This would have eliminated days of silence and/or passive aggressiveness, as well as the fight I'd already "pre-planned" in my head.   In her stand up special Money Shot, Whitney Cummings talks about women being "crazy bitches."  Example: 

Guys you ever get into a fight with your girl and she’s much more pissed off than she should be? And you’re like, “Woah, that argument escalated really fast.” It’s because for the last week we’ve been having a fight with you in our imaginations and in our head you said all the wrong shit.

I laughed and cringed when I heard her say that because it's totally true.  I have had to learn the hard way (as well as repeatedly) that marriage is better if I just tell him why I'm upset in the first place.   Otherwise, I just end up more upset because I think he doesn't care that I'm upset when he is really just trying to figure out what on earth is wrong with me and why I'm slamming cabinet doors. 

Sometimes it's okay to go to bed before the fight is over - Sometimes issues need to be worked out now.  I get that.  This is advice that is on a "case by case" basis.  I just know that there are occasions when we've stayed up most of the night and reached some sort of solution to a problem.  Then, when I have to get up the next morning and go to work on 17 minutes of sleep, I get pissed off again over staying up all night.  There have been disagreements in our marriage that were easier to resolve the next day once we'd gotten some rest and calmed down.  Seriously, there's no way to be logical at 4 AM when you've been screaming and/or sobbing for six hours.  If you reach a lull in the disagreement, it's okay to call a truce and go to bed.  I can't promise you'll sleep well and you may still feel like hell in the morning, but just maybe you'll wake up and with a new perspective or even think, "I was wrong."

A little kindness goes a long way - Kindness can manifest in a variety of ways:  in our words, our actions, our countenance.  In marriage, I've found that kindness works best when it is unexpected, unsolicited, and when it meets a need.  And a kind word or deed cannot be offered with repayment in mind; there is no quid pro quo in kindness.  We all know something we can do for our spouse to show kindness, and generally it's something that requires very little of our time or effort.  However, these small rays of sunshine can light up some of the darkest corners in your marriage. 

Foundation is crucial - My husband and I were married nine years when we had our first child.  Now, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of (or desire to) wait that long.  When to have children is a personal decision we should each consciously make if at all possible.  However, I feel our marriage and our little girl have benefited from our waiting.  During those nine years, we formed a foundation upon which we can build our family.  We know each other.  We know our strengths, our weaknesses, our fears, our hopes, our dreams.  We know what the other is and is not willing to accept.  And most importantly, we know the other person is in it for the long haul.  Some people fear reaching a point in their marriage where they actually have the "should we stay together?" conversation.  For many, this is a "no turning back" point, the place that defines the rest of their marriage (however long or short it ends up being).  For some couples, though, it's the beginning, a renewal.  My husband and I have crawled through valley together and emerged from the other side not as two, but as one.  This foundation, as painful as it sometimes was to forge, makes us better as husband and wife and as parents.  Though I know that we will still face difficulties, we've been through what I think is the worst.  And we didn't drag a child through it with us. When our marriage was at its weakest, we had the chance to strengthen it, just the two of us.  Now that I am a mother, I can't imagine having to balance a struggling marriage with a teething infant.  I am so thankful we waited so that our daughter can grow up in a happy home with parents who are secure in their marriage.


There is so much more that goes into a marriage, but these are some beliefs that have served me well.  Even now, there are times I find myself making allowances for friends but not for my husband.  I struggle not to let my hurt feelings hinder my ability to forgive.  I choose the wrong battle to fight.  Or I choose the right battle and carry the wrong weapons.  I lock up my emotions and make my husband play guessing games.  I get selfish and forget to be kind.  These are not areas in my marriage that I have perfected, but they have come a long way since the beginning.  At least I have the tools to deal with them now as long as I don't fall back into old habits.  I also have the desire  to make life happier for both of us.

I love my husband, and I feel incredibly blessed that we've spent the last decade together.  When all is said and done, I remember the good days much more vividly than the bad.  Maybe we'll get 73 years together, maybe not.  It's not just about how long you're together, it's about how good  you are together.  Whether we get five years or fifty, I just want to spend them with him.