Some famous painter once said that the colors on his palette looked like they were at war with each other. I think it looks more like they’re dancing, but I dance when I paint.
The paunchy gal here is a figurine brought to me years ago from Mexico by a friend. He must have seen a resemblance, but in all fairness, she’s actually a little less paunchy than I am. She’s taken up residence on our new deck. Before the deck, our weedy patio hid her exposed body, but I like that she’s now shamelessly sunning herself, embracing life and the world, not hiding in fear among the weeds, and definitely not worrying if society will disapprove of her brazenness.
Anyone who’s read this blog for more than a few months at a time, knows I have a penchant for redecorating. I change banners and colors. Sometimes it focuses more on painting and then on cartoons and back again to writing with pictures. So, you won’t be too surprised to read that I’m thinking about a new banner.
What may be surprising is that, unlike previous PickingMyBattles banners, this one may include my brazen friend and also may not have more than a tiny a tip of the hat to the bad parenting and even worse housekeeping that have driven so many posts over the years.
Thing1 was still nursing when he started toddling. He went through the crawling stage and the pulling-himself-up stages. Then he’d reach out for our hands and walks with us for guidance.
And then he didn’t reach out. He figured it out, and our help was no longer needed.
And then he didn’t need to nurse, and he took another step away.
And now he’s getting ready to take a giant step away. Thing2 is taking some of the same steps as he starts middle school and finds his own identity.
And I’m questioning mine.
‘Mom’ was, for a long time, the primary (and sometime only) way I identified myself, and I was happy about it. I didn’t like myself before Thing1 was born. Being his mom, meeting his needs changed my perceptions about boys, about the world and about myself.
But there was a person there before he was born. That person evolved, but she’s still there.
She’s still bi-polar as hell, still eating too much and the owner of a bleeding heart. She’s no longer afraid of hard work or committing to others. She’s a techie, an artist and a writer. And she’s demanding to be as much a part of my identity as the person my kids know just as ‘Mom’.
There is no such thing as ‘just a mom.’ That phrase strips motherhood of the depth of its responsibility and meaning as thoroughly as it reduces women to one of the other popular one-dimensional labels of angels or whores. I’m a bit of all of them and more.
There are still battles to be fought on behalf of Thing1 and Thing2. Thing1’s hair trigger colon still threatens his independence while Thing2’s creativity combined with his pack-rat sensibility could give new meaning to Vermont’s image as ‘the Green Mountain state’ with more of a green glow. I’m grateful to be the one fighting along side them. They’ve helped me see how much stories about family do matter as much as – maybe even more than – the stories about politicians and generals. I will always write those because they are the stories about people coming together, they are ultimately stories about hope.
But there are otherbattles, my battles, to fight as well – battles for creativity and a life of contribution and meaning beyond the laundry pile. They are just as important, and all of those battles can only be won by embracing every aspect of my identity – the loving mom, the bleeding-heart angel and even what the world may see as the bi-polar whore.
They are what combine to make what any seasoned veteran truly is — a fighter.
If the best laid plans can be torn asunder, a half-assed one can really get turned upside down by the minorest of things.
In this case, the minor thing was a 24 flu that turned into 72 hours. I’m fever-free for 24 hours now but still wobbly. I’m up for early morning writing group and work at my favorite cafe, one concession I’ve made to my grand plan, and it’s not just rationalizing, it’s fitting.
A couple years ago I asked if they would be interested in selling any of my cartoon magnets. The magnets had been selling like hotcakes with sweet, sweet maple syrup and.. but I digest. The proprietress took a look at the selection and chose a few, omitting some of the diet-related cartoons that had been very popular elsewhere.
“They’re very funny, but we’re trying to foster a healthy relationship with food,” she explained pleasantly. I got it. Right toons, wrong place. But the term healthy relationship also got into my craw. It’s come back to haunt each time I fall off or even break the wagon.
My brother-in-law has been on what most of us would call an extreme diet for the better part of twenty years. Realizing, just after he finished med school, that he’d put on more weight than was healthy, he disciplined himself to exclude sugar (except for fruits) and artificial ingredients from every aspect of his diet. When he visits, he brings his own food. He lost fifty pounds, kept it off as he saw our niece and nephew through adolescence, and our family has gone from bemused tolerance to grudging and now admiration at his discipline.
Ironically, his discipline has been bolstered by his own recognition of needing a healthy relationship with food. Knowing certain foods trigger bad behavior and vice-versa, early on in his redefined relationship, he negotiated a truce that involves an annual day of indulgence (a whole birthday cake once per year).
I’m thinking about that as I look forward to a day of creativity and work and indulging in solid food that’s flavored by atmosphere and healthy behavior. There won’t be any drive-by burger looting, but there will be a flavorful salad prepared by people who really care about food and about the people they’re serving it to. And when my experiment ends, I’ll remember that its ultimate goal is to hit reset button, to renegotiate my relationship with food and, ultimately, life.
One of the great things about going into a manic season is there are more ideas budding than you can possibly explore in a lifetime.
It’s also one of the crappy things about mania. I’m heading into one now, filling up disk space with posts and pages for a book about chronic illness while whittling away at illustrations for a kids’ book or two.
But there are moments of clarity here on what Arlon Guthrie might recognize as the Group W bench of life. This one came in the shower, as they usually do when there’s nothing handy to write with. I was thinking about the latest essay for the chronic illness book. It included a recounting of our family visit to the penis museum in Reykjavík, Iceland, heretofore the only collection of embalmed wangs I’ve ever heard of.
Rinsing my hair, I wondered if this was the story I should tell anyone outside the family. I wondered should I use the word wang? And then I thought of my family and thought, “Of course I should.”
That’s the way our little gang is.
We’re the ones you see at the family-style restaurant giggling about over who had the best formed burp. We are the ones who warp classic rock songs into ditties about nose-picking. There is no subject off-limits in our section of the group W bench, but I suspect that’s the reason most people have a good time sitting on it.
I started this blog about 6 years ago as an assignment for a writing workshop. It started as a way to share writing and drawings and evolved into a search for an authentic life that still continues.
I spend the majority of my time working at home. Most days, the only people I see are the Big Guy and 17-year-old Thing1 and 11-year-old Thing2. Our family conversations are hardly devoid of any meaning, but tend to focus on “what’s for dinner?“ and “can you pick up the kids?“
The only other regular conversation I have is with my blog. It has helped me deal honestly with bipolar disorder and embrace the dinner table stories that I once pooh-poohed. Over the years, however, that conversation has also led me to question if I was living in my truth and how to get to a place where I could.
One of the truths I discovered over the last few years is that I need to write and draw. When my life gets too congested to allow for a regular time for art, I have resented it.
Last fall, I reorganized my life to carve out time for creativity while building a new career that served the greater good. I started working weekends so I could go back to school, temporarily bowing out of a weekend writing class that had helped keep the spark lit for several years.
Murphy’s Law, however, is still in effect. My precise work schedule surrendered to the chaos of the holiday shopping season. And the bottom dropped out for Thing1.
Thing1 was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder a year earlier. Despite promising early results with medication and severe diet changes, Thing1’s body began shutting down a few days after Christmas. It was barely a week into winter when, knowing which battle mattered most, I withdrew from classes.
Thing1 was hospitalized near the end of January for assessment and treatment. As he lay in recovery after a procedure, I struggled not to cry as his doctor told us that his illness was quite severe and laid out his options. Some required injections or infusions. All of them carried a risk of lymphoma, one of them fatal, especially in young men.
When we got him home, we focused on getting him back to ‘normal’ but quickly realized ‘normal’, like much in life, is an ever-moving goal post. We worked with the school to make sure he stayed on track. We worked with doctors to get him through flu season, keeping them on speed dial through nervous nights.
And, when time permitted and sanity demanded, I blogged.
I still get weepy at night in bed when everyone’s asleep or in the car when no one’s around, even though I know we’re incredibly lucky. Every time I pick up a prescription with an $800 copay that’s been covered by my insurance from work, I know we could also be sitting at our round kitchen table trying to find things to sell to pay for each drug or worrying about bankruptcy.
Long before this blog reignited my creative spark, Thing1 was teaching me patience and determination as I had never understood them before. The self-doubting, self-hating person I had once been before his birth was dissolved in the breast milk and tossed out with a meconium-filled diaper, leaving only Thing1’s mom who had happily reorganized her entire life around his needs.
So when my college sent out spring registration notifications, I knew I would not be signing up. I also knew I will be carving out creative time around my current career until I’m sure Thing1 can fully stand on his own and obtain his own sufficient insurance,
And that’s okay because there are two truths in my life. And, as Darth Vader once said to his offspring, “There is no conflict”. Not for me.
My truth is that creativity matters to me. My bigger truth and the key to living an authentic life for me is that without being true to Thing1 (and now Thing2), I don’t know that anything could keep that creative spark lit.