Clave and Elder Shakespeare

I am what’s known in Mormon parlance as a Missionary Mom. No one else would capitalize the words, but I do. The fact that I have not seen my twenty-year-old son in the flesh for eighteen months has earned me the right to capitalize myself, if I want to.

This is not one of those posts written by one of the missionaries pictured. Actually, neither young man knows that he is making an appearance on my blog today.

Which is fine by me. From what I hear, they’re busy, these two. They belong temporarily to a species of do-gooder unlike any other. Both of these young men–and all the other young men and women in their mission besides–have put aside personal interests in order to focus on the interests, needs, challenges, and lives of the people with whom they collide. People of every faith, color, age, and attitude. Misplaced your confidence?–they’ll find it for you. Need to pack up and move somewhere?–they’re your truck loaders. Tearing out your garden and starting over?–they’re ready to get some real dirt under their nails. They will remember your name, do you a service, and remind you by the way they behave that young folks still keep their manners handy. The question you’ll hear over and over, straight from their mouths, will always be, “Is there anything we can do for you today?”

Is it easy, being a missionary? Are you totally kidding me? You want to get up at dark-thirty everyday, devote yourself to sincere prayer and study (not that there’s any other kind, when you do it right), and head out into the day, looking for that one person for whom life has become altogether lackluster? Or that family whose patterns of dysfunction have rendered them lost to each other? Over and over, you re-polish your message of hope and hold it out to people. Might happen at the gas pump, when someone sees your ministerial nametag and decides to download his life story to you, complete with the mistakes of tragic proportions. Might happen when you’re out just knocking doors, looking for anyone at all to listen to you, and you stumble onto someone who’s been busy soul-searching–the deep kind, where a person gets into the machinery of their choices and starts conducting inventory. As a missionary, you’re an ordained minister, a trustworthy friend of the highest order, and a bonafide, roll-up-your-sleeves yard work doer, if that’s what it comes to.

It’s hard, unremitting, sometimes lonely work that requires real character, which is why–if you’re a young man–you get two years to perfect the art of Being Selfless.

So why have I decided to post a picture sent to me by a Mom who fed my son (he’s on the right, with the beautifully wry smile) and his companion (on the left, with the beautifully big smile) a tasty, home-fashioned meal at the last minute? (Thank you Gina!) Because I just can’t get over those smiles. And I thought folks in my little corner of the world might enjoy a look at them, too.

Elder Davidson. Elder Shakespeare. Thanks for having the courage to just be all-out good. There it is.

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The Graveyard Book: Our Favorite Fall Read

by Becky on November 8, 2013 · 1 comment

in Books

 Book Review of Middle Grade Novels - The Graveyard Book by Neil Guiman

Neil Gaiman may be the most un-derivative writer out there. Which is the highest compliment I could give him. I LOVE stories that feel completely original, and The Graveyard Book, a Newbery Medal winner illustrated by Dave McKean, is like no other scary tale out there.

When a toddler suddenly finds himself in the local graveyard after the murder of his family, the resident ghosts decide to protect him from the mysterious figure hunting him, extending to him the “freedom of the graveyard,” a privilege rarely given to humans. Nobody Owens, or “Bod,” as the child is affectionately called by the ghosts with whom he shares the graveyard, leads an unusual existence, his childhood marked not only by the bizarre event that led him there but also by his relationships with some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in my (many) years of reading.

I read The Graveyard Book out loud to Goose last year, when we were in Spain. He was spellbound, the plot so riveting he scarcely moved when he was listening. Plus, I got to try on all kinds of fabulous (and no doubt poorly rendered) accents, since the various ghosts have totally distinct personalities and hail from various centuries and walks of life. There’s nothing more appealing to a frustrated theater actress than having a book to read out loud to a captive audience eager for a splashy performance. In fact, this book could as soon be acted as read, the narrative so vividly theatrical that you feel you’re watching a play or a movie.

Gaiman ratchets up the suspense by bringing back Jack, the shadowy figure who murdered Bod’s family. You knew he was going to return, and now you want to know why. And the revelations that take place as the reader comes to understand Jack’s identity and purpose are truly startling. I figured Jack merely had a score to settle. But it’s more than that. Much more. And Bod’s real identity holds the key.

This book is a darkly humorous fairy tale, a wildly suspenseful mystery, a cache of the most brilliant secondary characters not part of the Harry Potter series, and an unexpected delight for fans of the graphic novel. Lastly, I love the way Gaiman strikes that fascinating balance between what it means to be monstrous and what it means to be human. Scare yourself up a batch of popcorn and sit down with your favorite listener. And by all means, read this book out loud!

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Dreaming Big

by Becky on October 26, 2013

in Parenting

Snow Capped Mountains

Recently I queued up Grooveshark and listened to the soundtrack from the musical Wicked. Something about Idina Menzel’s Elphaba belting out the grandly hopeful “The Wizard and I” made me think of the way, as a young woman, I was going to conquer the world. Like Elphaba, I felt almost prophetic when I considered how epic my Beautiful Future was going to be. Frankly, I never stopped to think about how I was going to accomplish Something Amazing. I just, well, figured I was on my way. In my very young teenage mind, it wasn’t the process that counted; it was the passionate business of nourishing Big Dreams.

There’s something to be said for Big Dream Love. Yeah, I know, you gotta chunk down those dreams and identify the Measurable Objectives that will propel you forward, and all that (ish). No going anywhere without a plan, I understand that now. But man, I loved that stage of my life, when I just knew deep down that I was on my way to greatness.

Maybe that’s why I love watching my teens dream big, in that improbable, on-the-cusp-of-adulthood way, before the distinct pressures of adulthood inevitably begin to shave some of the beautiful impracticality off the sides of those dreams. If you’d asked my oldest son a few years back how he was going to become a world class surfer, you wouldn’t have gotten the Franklin Planner answer. More likely, you would have heard something like, “I’m going to be in the water more than anyone else, is how I’m going to do it.” To his Mother, my son will always be a world class surfer. Or maybe he’s just world-class–especially because of the way he finally managed to shift a few of his dreams around without compromising their bigness. (Yeah, I’m being a bit cryptic, but I think he’d want it that way.)

As I see it, one of the challenges of mothering teens-with-big-aspirations involves striking a balance: insisting on the work ethic required to fuel a big dream, while getting out of the way enough for that dream to keep all the helium it started out with. Everyone knows a parent who became an unwitting dream-killer. You know, the mom who refused to let her daughter become an Idina Menzel, for example, because she wanted her to be a geneticist (let’s say).

But Ms. Menzel didn’t just leap from teenagehood to Broadway. Like anyone who achieves a Big Dream, she worked for it. And had to sweat a lot and frequent the grocery store and pay bills along the way. Yet I would have loved to take a peek at her life back when she was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen . . . just to get a glimpse of her as a Teen-with-a-dream. I’m told she sang at weddings and bar-mitzvahs while she was studying voice. It’s a far cry from that to the role of Elphaba, which won her a Tony Award.

Only one of my children is no longer a teenager, and I have to confess something about that boy.  I do indeed hope that his dreams will stay buoyant not just because they feel that way but also because he’s learned how to work–hard–to move himself toward them.  And for the petals, still in that stage where their dreams have that ineffable, Technicolor hugeness, my hope is that as they leap toward what they want in life, they can build the mental and physical muscle needed to go the distance.  You know–be willing to be the wedding singers, as it were, as they march toward the Big Time.

A last thought.  The “Big Time” feels vastly different to me now that I’m half a lifetime away from my teen years.  And yes, my dreams changed along the way.  Some days, when my kids were small, my big dream was simply to be able to get my teeth brushed by noon.  But what a revelation, too:  that dreams could take the form of four children who have by turns complicated and beautified my life beyond what I could ever have imagined when I was young.  Motherhood is its own dream, far more fraught and challenging than I realized it would be, but far more meaningful for what it has taught me about sacrifice and love, two words so overused they almost don’t mean anything.  Were I to collide with my much younger self, I’d whisper, “Two boys, two girls, loads of intense work, and a bold new land of joy so big you can’t even map it!”

Snow Capped Mountains

(Photos: Miss Lavender, in the French Pyrenees, leaping and shouting into the void . . . or dream.  Whichever you prefer.)

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Sisters

Text by Becky.  Photos by the Eleven O’Clock Dad.

Shakespeare didn’t think too much of Ophelia.  The way he tells the story, she’s merely a lovely waif with a too-fragile mind–a casualty of her father’s crazy plotting and Hamlet’s crazy . . . craziness.  If you’ll remember, she lies down in a nearby stream and dies, just like that.

Or maybe not just like that.  Sidelined by the father who should have been her ally and the young man who should have viewed her as the main subject of his life, she loses her mind and ends her own life.  It’s a tragic conclusion to a story that never really got to be told.

And that’s precisely the point:  Ophelia never got the chance to be the author of her own life.

When I got home from Spain, I started rereading Mary Pipher’s 1994 landmark book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves Of Adolescent Girls, and the premise seemed proportionately more important to me now that I have one daughter preparing to exit adolescence and one daughter parked smack in the middle of it.  How do we teach our daughters to know, to embrace, and to own themselves?  How do we set them up to successfully author their own lives?  These are the questions Pipher takes up, and her extensive research underscores the need for parents–especially moms–to shepherd their daughters through the rocky years during which girls too often lose their sense of self.  Reviving Ophelia is a must-read for moms invested in their girls’ journeys toward a vibrant sense of self-identity.

So what are the answers?  One is giving a daughter an opportunity to go deep into the machinery of a particular talent or aptitude, not just so she can develop it but also so she can benefit from the surge of confidence and empowerment that comes from having a distinct strength she can legitimately own.  Sports, music, leadership endeavors, the arts . . . whatever a girl desires to lay claim to as “her thing” can help offset the pain of those blistering middle school years, especially, when the game changes and girls begin to buy into the messed-up message that how they look, or seem, is infinitely more important than who they are.

A story.  Knowing that Miss Zinnia was about to enroll at a new high school a short month ago, I worried and wondered.  Would she feel comfortable socially?  Would she find her Clan? Would she have opportunities to blossom?  Having collided once again with Pipher’s book and its crucial message, I decided to start a conversation with Miss Z. about its themes.  We were in the car one day, heading through Provo Canyon, in Utah.  “So what do you like about yourself?” I asked, to start things off.  Right away she told me she liked the color of her eyes.  But that was the “outside of her,” I pointed out, and I told her I wanted to know what she liked about the inside of her, at which point she confessed that she liked her singing voice.

And there it was.  Her voice.  Something she herself resonates to everyday.  What a boon, that not only does she like to sing, but she likes the sounds she makes.  And I found myself silently rejoicing that a few years ago, we committed to taking her and her voice and connecting her with some unique choral music opportunities and some extraordinary voice instruction.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road, either for Miss Z. or for any young woman eager to feel known and valued.  The trick?–not giving in to the abundant temptations to efface yourself as a means to acquiring value in the eyes of peers.  Pipher describes young women who, as girls, were bright, energetic, adventurous, self-assured, their journey into adolescence suddenly becoming treacherous as they quickly gain a sense of how the currency has changed.  In other words, while they might once have felt valued for who they were, they now begin to absorb messages from a society that values women for how they look, among other things.  As Pipher points out, girls too often go from being the subjects of their own lives to the objects of other people’s lives–like Ophelia.

Sisters

Sure, Miss Z. sings, but that doesn’t mean her walk through her middle school years wasn’t fraught.  A group of (not-nice) boys used to tease her, calling her “Peggy Sue.”  Back story.  When she was a sixth grader at a new middle school a few years ago, Miss Z. had a friend who told this cluster of bothersome boys that her name was Peggy.  The reason:  Miss Z. didn’t want them to know her real name.  In the moment, she felt that she and her friend had put one over on them.  What she didn’t bank on was the way the name would stick.  To that particular group of boys, she became Peggy Sue:  the girl who stuck out because of her old fashioned–read “outdated”–manners.  Sure, teachers loved her.  And her likeminded peers followed along when she started her own service club, for example, an effort that included making tray favors for kids in the hospital over Thanksgiving break, and selling mustaches during a “mustache madness” drive to raise money for cancer research.

But if you ask her today whether she enjoyed middle school, she’ll shrink a little, and her expression will go sour, and that’ll be your answer. Striving to be her own person during those years positively wore her out.

We encourage pre-adolescent girls to think, run, climb, jump, explore, discover, and conquer, while in a few short years they’ll be bombarded with another message:  that the shape of their faces and bodies matters more than the shape of their thoughts.  And too many of them, like Ophelia, will become confused by the very wrong but nevertheless predominant idea that as you grow up, being an object of desire trumps just being.

Back when Miss Z. and I had that conversation a month or so ago?  Well, I reviewed what I felt were the basic rules for social “efficiency,” but I framed it as a question of learning a new “language,” the successful mastery of which would help her move around gracefully among peers . . . then free her to be whoever she wanted to be in the meantime.  Sort of like learning the rules to a complex game and then figuring out how to selectively abandon them in favor of self-invented tricks that fast-track you to a decisive win.  “You don’t ever have to apologize for yourself,” I told her, hoping she wouldn’t be confused by my attempts to affirm her even as I was arming her with tricks for navigating the tricky social terrain of high school.

Sisters

Perhaps one of our most important jobs as Moms of teenage girls:  guarding the door to the gym, so to speak, so that our daughters can have some uninterrupted time to bulk up their identities in healthy, defined ways, without anyone storming the place and spreading crazy ideas about how all that matters is how they look in their workout gear.

Ophelia’s mom?  She’s curiously absent from the story of Hamlet.  Maybe if she’d been around, her daughter might have had a fighting chance.

Sisters

That conversation with Miss Zinnia in the canyon ended with her simple declaration that she liked herself.

May that never change!  And may the reason for her straightforward self-acceptance always be something close to what it was that day:  a realization that what she valued about herself was, in her eyes, worth valuing, whether anyone else ever put a premium on it or not.

Moms:  your thoughts about Pipher’s book (if you’ve read it)?  About raising strong girls?  What are your traditions?  How do you set your daughters up to own their lives with confidence?

(Photo: the Petals, in Avila, Spain, sporting their own handmade flower chains.  Distinctly Ophelia-like, but only because of the headware . . .)

 

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CA

So a few weeks ago, I piled Miss Lavender into the car, along with her considerable cache of Crucial-for-college Stuff, and off we went. To college. Miss Lavender, that is. I was merely the ride. Well, not “merely.” I mean more to her than that. (A smiley face emoticon would fit nicely here.)

A few things I miss about my big girl, who used to be a little girl, like, about ten minutes ago. No, really: it happens that fast. One minute, you’re a New Mom, a blue-eyed baby dollie in your arms; and the next, you’re making that one last mondo Costco run, so that your dollie won’t starve during her march toward mid-terms.

To what I miss, then. Definitely the very distinct furrow of concentration on her face when she’d be deep in conversation with me. She’s a good listener, that one. And her delectable smile. And her equally delectable laugh–good and loud, with her head thrown back sometimes. I miss her stylishness: Miss Lavender is a walking lookbook. I miss haunting whatever vintage spot we might have decided to call our new favorite. (At the moment, that would be Decades, in Salt Lake City.) And I always deeply appreciated her take on the world and its happenings. Nothing gets past her. Ah, and I miss her hands, their long, elegant fingers, and their expressiveness. And of course . . . of COURSE her dry sense of humor.

CA

I miss my spirited Petal.

But I’d sell the shirt off my back for her to be able to do what she’s doing. There might not be anything more essential to a young woman’s sense of self-identity than a university education.

So go take the world by storm, Miss Lavender.  You’ve earned the right to.

CA

Un fuerte saludo de tu madre . . . y los dos besitos muy necesarios, claro.

(Soon:  Miss Zinnia blossoms.  And what that has to do with Shakespeare’s Ophelia.)

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House with shutters_9503

“Oh, that I lived here,” I say to myself.  “In this valley just south of Sault, France. In this stone house brightened by turquoise shutters.”

But I don’t. And that’s actually okay, I suppose. The place, its happy shutters, its old trees, its nearby fields of lavender: real alright, but not my real.  Moreover, the house probably has plumbing issues, electrical issues, varmint issues, and drafty room issues.  Sure, it’s charming, but charming is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  At least, that’s what I’ve been persistently telling myself over the last month as I’ve been moving into a new place.

Having relegated the beauties of Provence to memory, I’m planting myself in my New Real, a place at the foot of the Wasatch mountains, in Utah, a spot I never bothered to imagine myself in because I was born and raised in California. But times change, jobs call, new landscapes beckon.

I’m earnestly trying now to see my little corner of the world the way I saw this valley in the Luberon, in France, back in June.  The formula for this kind of seeing:  1) really look, 2) find the Lovely, and 3) remember that the Grass On The Other Side may only be greener (or the lavender brighter) because the lenses of your dark glasses ratchet up the color of everything five shades.

Looking down at fields_9456

Rolled hay_9476

Lavender field_9522

Want to practice along with me?  Okay.  First, we’ll examine the grass on the other side.  Yes, the South of France is decidedly green.  And yes, the village of Sault, nestled right in the soul of lavender country, could charm anyone:  the stone churches and facades, the riot of colorful shutters, the flowers bursting out of an old wheelbarrow.

Statue in front of church_9579

Inside the church_9599

Ivy-covered facade_9561

Oldtime French balcony gridwork_9567

Town facade_9606

Wheelbarrow with flowers_9624

Silas on stile_9608

But being back among my own things?–that business has its charms, too. For example, I felt myself smile as I unpacked my favorite books, which now happily crowd the bookshelves in my new family room. And unearthing my mother’s china, which lived in storage for years, did me a world of good, reminding me of all the occasions when, as a child, I had the job of setting the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I never imagined that simply unwrapping my mother’s things would trigger so many lovely memories of the woman whose absence I still feel so keenly after fifteen years. “We’re going to use all this!” I assured my girls as I filled up the china cabinet that also was hers (and her mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s).  Remember in The Quiet Man, when Maureen O’Hara’s character refuses to consider herself properly married because she doesn’t have her mother’s things around her?  Yeah, I get that now.

The Look, Find, Remember-to-remove-your-sunglasses recipe for Being Content is neither new nor novel, I know that.  I’m not the first to realize the value not only in blooming where you’re planted but also in noticing what else has bloomed nearby, so to speak.  In the spirit of flexing my Finding-the-lovely muscles, I thus have to confess that the late summer skies in Utah rival anything the Continent cooked up for us over the last year. And the mountains here feel mystical in their rugged beauty–sunglasses or no.

The other cool thing?–you know those kids I took with me to Europe?  Well, I brought ‘em back with me, too.

Railroad

Miss Lavender’s smile eclipses many other things just as well down on the railroad tracks here in Utah Valley as it ever did abroad.

Vintage dress from M.O.T.E.L. in Barcelona

And Miss Zinnia’s diaphanous-ness transposes from one continent to the other just fine.

Vintage dress from M.O.T.E.L. in Barcelona

If I can just get this down, you know??–the formula, I mean. Look, plus find. Plus remember the way those (blasted) dark glasses (read “unmanaged expectations”) so often distort things.

Here’s the drill.  I’m writing down ten things I’ve already named “lovely” today, things that have blossomed for me.  (And the shades are in the kitchen drawer.)  Moreover, lest you find this exercise too cloying, consider this:  deliberately searching out what makes you feel light and bright helps keep the darkness at bay.

Ready, set.

One, the song I’m listening to by Juanes, “Es Por Ti.”

Two, the Kershisnik print of the Nativity, sitting on my fireplace mantle.  (I like to imagine myself as one of the women ministering to Mary . . .)

Three, Goose’s hair this morning, the front of it slicked with pomade.  (Look out, fourth grade girls at Barratt Elementary.)

Four.  The Wasatch ridge.  No words grand enough.

Five.  Miss Zinnia early this morning, perky and unflappable, even when I broke the yoke of one of the eggs I was frying for her.

Six.  Fresh-picked Gala apples found at a local roadside stand, now resting in a dish in my kitchen.  (Had one for breakfast.  Oh, my.)

Seven.  My four-slot toaster.  Yes, indeed.

Eight.  Miss Lavender’s Rapunzel hair.

Nine.  My piano.  And the old, wind-up metronome that tick-tocked its way through my childhood practice sessions with me.

Ten.  This list.  I’m serious.  It’s helped me bloom today.

Happy September, friends.  Here’s to living in the season, whatever it is!

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Millay in vintage_7956

The petals and I love all things vintage. If you happen to be in Los Angeles, then the only vintage place that counts is Shareen Vintage, a store-slash-warehouse so unimaginably fabulous it needed its own Eleven O’Clock post.

We discovered Shareen’s place a couple of years ago when we ran into a young woman wearing a vintage dress so truly (say it with me . . .) fabulous, we had to stop her so we could tell her what we thought of it. It was this little brocaded number, very fifties, a buttery yellow.  As we were dying over it, she thanked us for our compliments, then told us we had to check out Shareen’s.  “It’s girls-only,” she clarified.  “No men allowed!”

I love Shareen’s for more than just the amazing vintage finds, though.  You see, Shareen herself is Someone Special.  Here’s the story.  Miss Lavender and I made the trek into L.A. one day with the express purpose of talking with Shareen, who, once we had her attention, was so fully present, so in the moment with us, you would have thought we were the oldest of friends.  To my surprise, she looked right at Miss L, took her by the shoulders, and pushed them back.  Gently but firmly, she said to my five-foot-ten inch daughter, now standing straight and tall, “Don’t . . . ever . . . slouch.”  As Miss Lavender processed this injunction given from the Vintage Maven of Los Angeles (and New York, for that matter), Shareen continued.  “Your shoulder blades–they’re your wings,” she explained, “and you want them to touch.”  Then she illustrated, showing us the way Miss Lavender, with her shoulders back, could have been touching her imaginary wings together.

I loved the metaphor:  shoulder blades as wings, always meant to be touching.  But I loved other things, too–the way Miss Lavender had instantly become not just a customer but the Pupil Of The Moment.  And the way drawing herself up to her full height seemed to give her a vision of herself as someone strong, elegant, empowered.  Do you know what that kind of carefully given–and poetic!–advice is worth to a mother anxious to give her daughter reasons to believe she can all but fly if she chooses?

When they fell deep into conversation about vintage, another side of Shareen’s character revealed itself.  As she talked about her passion for helping every woman find exactly the right dress, no matter her age or body type, she recounted how a woman who had decided to throw herself a quinceañera party for her fiftieth birthday had left the store just a few days earlier–before Shareen could properly attend to her.  “She left discouraged,” Shareen remembered as she explained that this woman had decided there was no point in trying to find a party dress that would flatter her.  “We could have found the right dress,” Shareen said with conviction, “but the store was busy that day, and I didn’t get to her in time.”

In the year and a half or so since our visit with the proprietress of L.A.’s most beloved vintage store, I’ve thought about how much she gave my petal:  a charge to stand up straight, always, and–equally important–an expressed belief that every woman deserves to feel beautiful when she decides she wants to dress up.  That’s part of what makes clothing exciting, after all:  the opportunity to play a part, and to make a statement about who you understand yourself to be.  With vintage, every piece already has a history that the new wearer often consciously deploys as part of an effort to communicate her sense of identity.  When Miss Zinnia dressed up for her “Gatsby” shoot on our terrace in Barcelona one afternoon several months ago, she saw herself as a character right out of a book or a film.  Her dress:  Shareen’s, of course.

Millay in Shareen vintage_7938

After our afternoon with Shareen, I wrote her, to thank her for her words of wisdom.  And she wrote back, telling me she’d wondered about me, about who I was.  “And here you are,” she said in her reply, thanking me for acknowledging the gift she’d given a clothes-loving teenage girl.  That’s what makes Shareen a force not just in the vintage realm but also–and probably more important–in the realm of Girl Power.  At Shareen’s place, every woman learns quickly that she deserves to stand up straight and to feel at ease in her own skin.

(Photo:  a Gatsby-esque Miss Zinnia, in BCN.)

 

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On top of my dining room table, where I used to write, sat a small, paper car. My then eight-year-old son received it one night when the two of us went out to Ruby’s Diner together for some Friday night cheer. He quickly lost interest in his prize, but the thing was too cool (and, truth be told, too pretty) to throw away, so I kept it parked next to my computer, where I could admire the creativity that went into its design. On the bottom of the chassis were directions for the assembly: fold, tuck, fit the tabs into the slots. Easy, breezy! Finished, it was a miniature Woody—spearmint green, with wood paneling on the doors and the tailgate. But what really struck me about the car was both how Ready-to-go! it looked, and how perfectly, utterly useless it was.

Before I got good pharmacological help for a radioactive (the word “severe” doesn’t quite describe it) anxiety and depression back in the fall of 2008, I was a Paper Woody. To everyone who knew me, I looked so cheerily Ready-to-go!  On the outside, I appeared well put together; all my visible parts seemed to be in polished, working order. But if you’d pulled up the hood and peered inside, you’d have noticed the missing engine. And if you’d checked the fuel tank, you would have found it empty. And if you’d looked closely, you would have noticed that my wheels would not turn, not for love or money.  When I was ill, the only thing with any appearance of ‘real’ was Me-as-shell, a hollowed-out car.  It felt like, if someone had wanted to, they could have gathered me, crushed me into a tight paper ball, and tossed me into the garbage without even breaking stride.

A fancy Woody I seemed.  But I was going exactly nowhere because I had absolutely zero traction–zero–and I could not rouse myself. Could. Not. Rouse myself. Depressives often use metaphors to describe their anguish. Mine was ‘quicksand.’ Picture it: shiny car, sinking into the muck, which squeezes out light and air as it swallows.  Hard to go anywhere in quicksand.  No, forget ‘go':  hard to survive when you’re in quicksand.

Five years later and worlds away from that time and that self, I now find that I’ll often notice individuals who look to me like Paper Woodies.  I might see one in the grocery store, her shiny mask slipping momentarily as she waits in the check-out line, where no one else notices the pain that settles on her face for an unguarded moment.  Or maybe when I’m stopped at an intersection, where, in another car, a woman stares ahead at nothing, her expression that unmistakable combination of Hollow and Desperate. I find myself wishing I could talk to them, tell them I get it.

Someone did that for me, actually, back when I was made of paper.  An observant friend, herself a former sufferer, knew what she was looking at, and she helped me connect with a great doctor—a pharmacologist and diagnostician extraordinaire who talked me not only through my medication options but also through their chemical properties in order to help me figure out what might be the right place to start.  I appreciated it, that he talked to me like I still had a mind fit enough for a real chemistry lesson.  More than that, I appreciated that, from Day One, he believed me when I told him I thought my brain was a little broken.

Medication set me on a new path. So did deciding to write about my journey, which became an opportunity to reimagine what it meant both to be medicated and to be well. After all, therapeutic medication and earnest self narratives share the same goal: to relocate the lost You, the once Vibrant Person who began fading to dust when those testy brain chemicals started making life difficult.

Whether you are a Paper Woody or just love one deeply, you ought to know this: there is no shame in reaching out for help. In fact, nothing in my lived experience has felt more true. Had I not gotten help, I don’t know who I’d be right now. I don’t know what the landscape of my family would look like, though I can guarantee you it would be bleak. Nor do I know what the ultimate cost would have been to my sense of self-worth, an already fragile thing corroded by mental illness. I am an advocate for good treatment. After all, the help I got saved not only me but my family: if Mom’s not well, nobody’s well.

If you’ve ever joined me for talk of family, teens, travel, culture, you may have thought my life was charmed.  It’s not.  Most people have no idea how hard I have fought for my health and my happiness.  I guess that’s why I decided, post-Spain, to shift the conversation for a moment, so I could address the theme of mental wellness, a thing so essential to successful mothering that it seems like a foregone conclusion.  But the truth is not just that the mental health of a Mother impacts her family.  That’s obvious, isn’t it?  What’s also true is that Moms have the right to feel and to be mentally healthy, and when they don’t, too often they hide it–perhaps because they mistake unwellness for weakness.  I did that, for a long time.  I wore my coloful Paper Self around, never hinting to anyone close to me that up around my ankles, then my knees, then my hips, then my chest, the quicksand was thickening, threatening to swallow me whole.  I feared that if others knew what I felt, they would judge me, that they would view me as Deficient.  And so I kept silent.  And suffered.  It’s a common tale, and the fact that it’s so common mystifies me now.  I ask myself, Why did I care more about the (often uninformed) opinions of others than about the health of my own mind?

I can be gentler with myself now, in retrospect.  I realize that I was as much a victim of misinformation and misconceptions as I was my own illness.  And I worried about the financial cost of treatment, not appreciating fully that the cost of languishing in the quicksand was far higher than the cost of getting well.  One night, I sat the Eleven O’Clock Dad down and said, basically, “You have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into your business enterprises.  I believe I am an enterprise worth funding.”

Every Mother is an Enterprise Worth Funding.  Every single one.  And for Moms who struggle with depression and anxiety or any combination of ills that damage mind and self-worth and eventually soul, a contribution to her fund–with acknowledgement, support, love, friendship, and meaningful help in all its forms–is also a contribution to the family that counts on her for its own wellness.  The only reason I could ever be the Eleven O’Clock Mom?–I got better.

If you’re that woman in the grocery store check-out line; if you’re that woman at the intersection, I get you.  I believe you.  I was you.  Yes, the quicksand is real (even if it’s invisible to everyone else).  And yes–resoundingly!–you deserve the help that will allow you to address whatever it is that has caused you to sink, whether it’s chemical, situational, whatever.

Think of me as your Eleven O’Clock Sister, if you want.  Your fears, your suffering, your story:  all of it is safe with me.

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From One Coast To Another

by Becky on July 22, 2013 · 2 comments

in Travel

packing pains

What an ordeal, leaving Barcelona.  No, really: we became so attached to that city.  And Miss Lavender’s treasured DIY Door out on the sidewalk, waiting for someone else to discover it and haul it home. The idea of dragging an old door out to the street for someone to claim it probably seems odd, no? But that’s the custom: you don’t want it, maybe someone else will, so we parked it on Provenza, five blocks down from the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

Adios Barcelona!

I hope someone appreciated it. And the care that went into its re-making. And the “Adios” spelled out in bold letters for passersby to consider.

Adios Barcelona!

our Barcelona home

Our place looked naked once it was time to head to the airport.

Late in the afternoon on the 11th of July, our plane took off, and as it banked over the city and began to climb, I watched Montjuic and the harbor grow smaller and smaller.  Finally I had to close my eyes because I couldn’t watch everything disappear altogether.

We landed in Berlin, where, at around 9:30, the sun was just setting. Of course the Eleven O’Clock Dad had to stop and grab the moment.

airplane

Once we’d settled in, the Camera Man left the airport for a while and took himself on a walk.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

The crew tried to get comfortable. Tough, though, on those nasty metal chairs.

airport sleeping

airport sleeping

Or on the ground . . .

airport sleeping

We made it through the night, boarded a plane for L.A. the next morning, and, roughly twelve hours later, landed in California, cleared customs, loaded our gear into the cars of some (very good) friends, and made our way down the coast to Newport Beach, where the Eleven O’Clock Grandparents live on the weekends.

From the Mediterranean Coast, to the Pacific Coast: Goose loves the sun either way.

Newport Beach, CA

Not a bad thing, being back. The weather’s been glorious. And it’s brilliant, being with family and friends. But it may take a minute or two for me to accept the fact that I will be homesick for BCN. Maybe for a while.

Newport Beach, CA

Right now, on the other side of the world, it’s 6:20 am. Sun’s up. The city I grew to love is stirring. And I am so deep-down grateful that we grabbed ten months that would otherwise have gone by anyway . . . and took off for Barcelona, Spain.

(Photo:  the lifeguard tower at 39th Street in Newport Beach. )

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Life, The Day I Become A Re-Pat

by Becky on July 11, 2013 · 5 comments

in Travel

Faucets in Born_9012

I get up early, shower, polish off a strawberry yogurt, check email.  The apartment is quiet for a while.  After a bit, the Eleven O’Clock Dad gets up and goes into high gear.  He is remarkable during cruch time.

Today will be crazy.  We’re almost packed, which means nothing, really.  It’s that last ten percent that gets you every time.

* * *

Mid morning, friends show up to help us with last-minute cleaning and relieve us of fridge and cupboard items that need a home. Saying goodbye to friends here?–brutal. Truly. Alarm bells keep going off in my head, signaling the end of this Brilliant Moment in my life, and I keep punching “snooze” so I don’t have to think about it. If I do, it’s all over.

Last night, Miss Lavender and I stood for a few minutes and stared at the Barcelona Cathedral. When I felt myself tearing up, I told her we needed to go.

* * *

Early afternoon. We’re packed, though still shuffling a few things around so we don’t go over our weight limits. The flat looks startlingly bare. Strange, that a place that was never our permanent home will always feel so much like home.

Barcelona. BCN.  The Catalans say “Adeu,” their version of Adios. I’m not going to say it, though. “Hasta pronto” works better for me.

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