Ah editing. A necessary evil for any published writer. Logically I know what my editors are trying to do. They want to help my writing reach as many eyes as possible. It’s good for them and it’s good for me… but… I write my truth. When I see my words twisted and changed, even if only a few of them, I can’t help but feel at least a twinge of irritation.
Last week one of my articles was FINALLY published on a fairly major online platform. I say “finally” because it took about two and a half months after submission and acceptance for the editing and publishing process to be completed. The email I received stating that the article was now live, viewable for the general public, was both exciting and anxiety producing. I was cooking dinner when I received it. Obviously I had to check my email as soon as that familiar ding emanated from my phone. My OCD can not handle a number showing next to the email icon. I sat eating my salad, sapaghetti, and meatballs with my laptop propped on the table in front of me. I shushed the family repeatedly as I scoured the words displayed on my monitor. I was on a hunt, in pursuit of whatever edits had mangled my words.
In all reality the vast majority of my words were not altered. Of course my original title for the article was changed, that I expected. Overall the article was about 92% my truth. I had written about my daughter the ballerina (Remember my post Grace.) and the realities of what goes into her training. How crazy her life really is. I wrote the article because not a lot of people talk about what families with kids at this level REALLY go through. Probably because it is not a large sample of the population that decides to back their seven year old’s declaration of wanting professional level training. Had it been left up to my husband we never would have gotten this deep into all of this. I’m the intense one. Articles here and there touch on the sacrifices of time, money, etc. made for your kid’s elite level training. However I have never seen an article really describing the world that is our reality. I think it is something that needs to be said, that kids and parents considering going forward with that kind of training need to know what they are getting themselves into. My editors did a good job of keeping my overall message but there was an underlying point that ended up missing from the published product.
Part of the pressures and absurd standards on these girls stem from the studio. Flat out, no candy coating, they want our money. They push the girls to do more and more by pitting them (and their parents) against each other. The director’s wife is well versed in identifying the most competitive in the group. She has created an art out of slyly suggesting that other girls are better dancers and more advanced. Then she slips into her sales pitch about extra training opportunities. It’s an easy trap to fall into. The majority of studios do this, ours has perfected the game over many years of business. After all that is just what it is, a business. When my daughter graduates in five years she will be just another girl that went through the program. A past student that pops into their minds from time to time when they see a similar dancer or play one of her videos to help the new crop of girls learn choreography. Part of the point of the article as it was originally written was that it took us a long time to realize we were falling into this trap. I wanted to give other parents a heads up to look out for similar situations that take advantage of them and their children. This behavior shows up in every sport and activity, it is not unique to dance studios. All star cheerleading was one of the worst we encountered, We’ve luckily moved on past that environment.
The editors also changed wording that made the article allude to the idea that Ballerina daughter was going to stop her high level training. Even the new title seemed to suggest her departure. This isn’t the case. She came home yesterday with knee pain likely stemming from tight hips after a two week break from training (her summer “off” season). She is now in the middle of an intensive that involves forty hours of dance for three weeks straight. I told her to ice, pop some IBuprofen, and mark jumps today if it gets too bad. As my article suggests I am now looking for ways to mediate training so she has at least some time to socialize with school peers. That doesn’t mean I’m pulling her from the program or that I do not understand that for her to reach her overall goal training is going to continue to be intense.
My relationship with the editing process is very love/hate. Like I said, it’s a necessary evil that as a writer I need to accept. One that at times will make me roll my eyes or bitch to my husband. I want eyes on my work though. I can’t achieve that goal without the editing process. Doesn’t mean I can’t set the record straight here.
A sensor in my car’s engine is broken. This particular sensor is supposed to measure the oil pressure in the engine. In the event that the pressure falls too low for the engine to operate properly this sensor sends out an alert to make the driver aware of the situation. This alert consists of an alarm, a series of short relentless chimes played out from the dashboard of the car and a written warning telling the driver to stop the engine. I was turning on to our street the first time the sensor went into crisis mode and alerted me to the predicated impending engine doom. I of course panicked myself and quickly shut off the engine. The car was set for maintenance in a few days anyway, so I left it sitting in the driveway until I could get it to our mechanic.
Turns out nothing is actually seriously wrong with the engine. It is just the sensor that is shot and no longer able to correctly assess the oil pressure situation. It’s a four hundred dollar fix on an older car so we figured we’d just live with it as is for a few months. After all, it had only gone off once or twice, car is totally drivable.
That first assessment of the issue took place about a month ago. Now I am about ready to drive my car into a tree every time the freaking “OIL PRESSURE LOW STOP ENGINE!!!!” alarm sounds. Our mechanic has a waiting list three weeks long for an appointment. This wait list has afforded me plenty of time to pay attention to what may be causing my car this sense of sure catastrophe. I spent a few weeks trying to figure out a rhyme or reason to the alerts, what action actually set off the sensor? At first I thought maybe it was worse when I went over a certain speed. Nope, could be going 10mph could be going 70mph. I thought maybe it was worse when I accelerated. Nope. Worse when going uphill or downhill? Nope, sensor does not seem to discriminate. Worse when letting the car glide, not accelerating? Still no dice. Some days the sensor goes off twice. Others it goes off about fifty thousand times. Sometimes it goes off for two seconds, other times it goes off for about thirty seconds. It can be fifteen minutes in between alerts or a fraction of a minute. THERE IS NO CONSISTENCY AT ALL. The only time I know the sensor will not trigger the alert is when the car is idle. When it sits perfectly still neither accelerating or decelerating. Just in limbo.
I have anxiety. Much like the alarm now plaguing my car it is a constant in my life. There is no real rhyme or reason to the alerts that the sensors in my brain send out. Sometimes I suffer full blown panic attacks because I have too little to do. This stupidity happened last week. Things had finally seemed to settle after a school year filled with constant stress and not enough of me to go around. So of course my brain’s response is to panic. I mean obviously something must be very wrong if my stress levels actually decrease. Thanks subconscious for sending out false alarms! With your help I was able to bulk up my stress level to what (I guess) is, at this point in my life, the new normal!
Sometimes I panic because my stress level hits an absolutely overwhelming point. To me this makes much more sense. My brain recognizes my inability to fully complete the tasks I put upon myself. Failure and rejection are my biggest fears. The alarms in my head makes me acutely aware of the possible consequences that would accompany an inability to achieve the results I expect from myself. This panic creates not only a mental but also physical overload and shut down. Maybe it’s my body’s way of creating an out. After all we aren’t allowed to use emotional instability as an excuse in the real world. Physical signs of weakness and illness are universally accepted as reasons to give yourself a break. Mental health isn’t contagious, the flu is.
The alarm in my car will be an easy, albeit costly fix. The sensor will be removed and replaced. The new one will understand that there is not a problem with the engine. The oil pressure fluctuating slightly will not be a reason to send an alert. My brain isn’t as simple. No matter what I pay I can’t remove the sensors that are setting off the alarms. I can try to confuse them and numb them with prescriptions and wine, but the thing is under that numbness they never really dissipate. I can only ever dull the feeling of anxiety. When the high wears off the torture of living in a constant state of fear becomes unbearable. I attempt the holistic approach, I exercise, I take time to enjoy nature, I loose myself in books and writing but in the back of my mind I am still always waiting for the world to come crashing down. And right there is the problem behind it all. Much like the sensor in my car I am in a constant state of waiting for everything to implode. I am waiting for that inevitable moment when the engine combusts ending in a twisted fiery crash. Why do I live in this vigilant state of alarm? It’s what I was taught, that no matter what the bottom will always drop out.
While I am desperate for contentment and joy in my life, actually experiencing those things is terrifying for me. I find it hard to admit that I enjoy the world around me or show thanks for the good things that come my way. This isn’t because I am ungrateful. I have a deep seeded fear that if I make obvious the things I hold dear they will be ripped away from me. I am in constant fear of the bully of life poised at the ready to snatch away my lunch money and rub dirt all over my brand new dress.
What I want more than anything is to idle. Just for a moment find that spot where the engine isn’t moving. The limbo where the slight fluctuation in oil pressure isn’t causing a sensor to malfunction. I need to just stay still and breathe, without the fear that the breath will be knocked out of me at any second. Every once in a while I find a flicker of that calm. I’ll be taking in the vast openness of an ocean and marvel over the great extensiveness of this world. I’ll find a sense of calm. I’ll understand that my trivial concerns matter so much less than I regularly believe. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll retire one day in a place where I can find this peace. Driving down open roads I’ll gaze at the wonders of nature. If I’m really lucky my car will also find peace on open roads surrounded by the sea or mountain ranges. Both of us having found escape from the spike of anxiety dealt out by “STOP ENGINE OIL PRESSURE LOW!!!”
It was Friday, and I was a little over halfway through my shift. The schools were out for a long weekend and the weather was nice so we were seeing a little bit of an uptick in pediatric injuries. A few stitches, two minor breaks, nothing that a cast or some ibuprofen wouldn’t cure. I was considering eating my lunch outside in about fifteen minutes, hoping for a brief reprieve in the sunshine. My anticipation of the upcoming break was abruptly interrupted by our CB radio crackling to life beeping an alert. The EMT on the line preparing us in a quick debriefing of what was headed our way, “Head trauma, six year old male, bicycle accident. Trauma team needed.” The nurses station that had been relatively quite a few seconds earlier started buzzing with activity. I shared a glance with our lead physician Dr. Morris. Over the fifteen years we shared in this department we had worked side by side to stabilize far too many pediatric head traumas. A silent communication passed between us, recounting the numerous conversations we had had both with each other, and with parents about the necessity of helmets when riding anything with wheels. I shook my head and turned to make my way to the nearby med room ready to grab our needed supplies. Dr. Morris headed to prep the trauma room, sighing and readying himself for what was to come. I wished these parents would just heed the warnings, so many of the cases we saw here could be prevented.
I carefully read off medication names to a younger nurse, double and triple checking I had the right vials and doses for a young patient. She grabbed IV’s and antiseptics. Hearing the commotion of a trauma response beginning outside the room I steeled myself for what was to come. I willed away everything in my mind but the determined focus that was going to be required of me. Quickly I ran through the treatment steps we had taken in previous cases as the younger nurse and I pushed through the door, our rushed steps leading us to Trauma room one. Two hands reached out to my shoulders as the room came into sight, preventing me from continuing my mission.
“Katie honey, you need to stay out here right now. Give the supplies to Molly okay?” My charge nurse Dana said gripping me gently on the front of my shoulders. I looked to her with a quizzical gaze. The young nurse, Molly, gently taking the items from my arms an evident concern showing on her face.
“What’s going on?” I asked Dana studying her. Had I made a mistake somewhere? Grabbed the wrong items? I looked toward the room trying to piece together my confusion. Standing near the wall in front of me, looking pale as a ghost, was my fifteen year old daughter Hannah. I left her at home today to watch her younger brother, their age difference making her a perfect babysitter for him. I took in her shocked look, the makeup and tears streaming down her face, and the blood staining her ivory shirt.
A sinking chill shoot down my spine. The hair on my arms stood up as I looked from Hannah into the little room where Dr. Morris was directing the urgent movements of his team. An EMT held an air pump forcing breath into the small figure stationed in the middle of the sterile white bed. I took in the sandy blonde hair that had been neatly trimmed last weekend but that now stuck up in a wreckless pattern, one side of the little head caked in blood. I took in the old Nike sneakers I had been meaning to replace for the last few weeks. I took in the blue and red striped shirt I had helped struggle the boy into this morning. My mind slipping from my calm and focused demeanor as a flash of a memory rushed into my thoughts. The toothy smile I had seen just this morning when I tickled the boys sides right before grabbing my keys and heading out the door to the hospital. I looked back to Hannah with distraught questions in my eyes. I realized it was my son lying limp in front of us, a team of my colleagues working to save his life.
“We did everything right!” Hannah sobbed, pleading with me to understand, “Mom I swear I made Tyler wear his helmet, it wasn’t loose I checked it! He even had his knee pads and elbow pads on. He fought me but I wouldn’t let him ride without them! He just…he went so fast. He went down the hill and I tried! I tried to catch him but I couldn’t! I wasn’t fast enough. I tried! He lost control and he fell. I don’t know how it happened, he had his helmet on! I watched it, he hit his head on the curb but I thought it was okay, the helmet was supposed to protect him! He wouldn’t move mom, he was bleeding so much, I don’t understand! We followed the rules! We did everything right!” She was in hysterics begging for forgiveness and trying to comprehend the situation.
My clinical calm had been replaced by a numbness that somewhere in the back of my mind I recognized as shock. I watched the team, my work family, hover over my son. My colleagues hooking him to machines I knew would display his vital signs, they would observe the monitors carefully, the numbers telling them the treatment path to follow. I watched a nurse take over pumping the bag of air into his lungs. Why couldn’t I remember what they needed to do next? In my shock my brain seemed to stop, rational thought escaping me. I couldn’t fully understand what was happening. We had always been warned that It’s different when it’s your child in distress. We were told that no matter how hard you try you can’t find the separation needed to objectively provide treatment. It was advice I had prayed I would never be able to explain from first hand experience.
“Vitals are dropping. Prepare the cart,” Dr. Morris ordered, his voice strong and calm. Collected but urgent, he remembered the steps. The only thing I remembered was the one reason we ever used “the cart.” It meant the patient was coding. Coding meant code blue, cardiac arrest. My son was dying and all I could do is stand by and watch.
“Katie you need to go sit down honey,” Dana told me trying to push me backwards. I couldn’t move, the only thing registering in my mind was the maternal urge to run to my child and help him.
“Hannah sweetheart come with us,” she gently called to Hannah who still stood frozen in the hallway, watching her brother fight for his life. Her hands covered the lower half of her face, her tears streaming without control, and her body in shock.
“Dr. Steinburg I need some assistance please,” Dana’s voice called out, a little more frantic than it had been in her previous requests. The young resident had been observing the activity from behind the nurses station, trying to learn from his mentor’s actions. He looked to us and quickly ran to help Dana gently pull me away, my eyes clinging in desperation to the scene in front of me. I was vaguely aware of Hannah being nudged away by a medical assistant who had been waiting in the hallway ready for any direction given. She stumbled over her feet also unable to tear her eyes away from the small lifeless figure of her little brother.
“She knows the patient?” Dr. Steinburg quietly inquired of Dana.
“Her son,” Dana answered her voice tight with emotion. Dana had known my kids for years. She had even watched them for me when Hannah was still young and Tyler was just an infant. She was always asking about their progress in school and chatting with them when they would come in to visit. She was one of their biggest fans and was genuinely excited when I shared recital pictures and news of good report cards. Her children now grown she relived her past years of parenting through my experiences. This was going to be hard on her too, but for right now she was succeeding in keeping her strength, knowing I needed her.
Dr. Steinburg’s demeanor faltered for a split second at her answer. He recovered quickly, his professional mask returning. He understood. This was the worst nightmare of any trauma professional. The fear of having your family wheeled in through those doors. This image at times keeping us all up at night.
We didn’t fight as they lead us into a small room off the front hallway. The innocuous sign on the door labeling it the “Family Room.” In reality it was reserved only for the families of our trauma victims. In hospital planning it was understood that no one ever needed to see their loved one in the process of emergency treatment. Nor did the trauma team need to be distracted by stunned horrified family in the already crowded treatment area. I hated this room. It was closed in by white sterile walls, generic floral prints were hung in a pathetic last ditch effort to make the space seem less daunting. Not that it would matter, no one waiting in this room was ever going to be calmed by any sort of decor. I let Dana lead me to the uncomfortable green couch across from the entrance and delicately sit me down. I stared into the empty space in front of me not really processing the events of the last ten minutes. I understood logically, but in my shock I couldn’t seem to get my brain to fully catch up. I could feel the sense of panic but it wouldn’t manifest itself the way Hannah’s was. I could only seem to shut down and disconnect. I felt as if for sure this was a horrible dream yet had enough wherewithal to understand it wasn’t.
“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” I heard Hannah’s hysterics again, I glanced at her red swollen face, distraught with pain.
“I know baby,” I said, my voice sounding foreign and strange. The monotone not holding any of the comfort I had intended.
“It was an accident Hannah,” Dana tried to comfort her, crouching by the chair Hannah sat in and grabbing her hands. “Honey it was an accident. He has the best team in the city working on him right now. I know it’s hard but you’re going to have to stay strong for him.”
I listened to Dana try and comfort Hannah, realizing that those words, words we had repeated to families so many times in this room, weren’t a comfort at all. Repeating this mantra was more to remind ourselves that we really did have the best team around. If there was a fix they would find it. If there was a fix. My only thought, now experiencing trauma from the family’s side, being that the team was only human. I was painfully aware that sometimes humans make errors, even experts aren’t perfect.
I heard my husband arrive before he entered the room. Fathers had a tendency to let their fear turn into anger in these situations. Jimmy was no exception. We understood the emotion, their overwhelming instinct to fix. They were desperate to repair their child but realistically there was nothing they could do. They had no choice but to relinquish control to a group of strangers, being asked to trust that the people taking the control from them were better suited for the job. Many of these fathers tried to control inconsequential things, yelling and throwing items at registration clerks when asked to sign necessary consent for treatment forms. At times the anger was directed at us for not performing our jobs the way Grey’s Anatomy portrayed. They were terrified that we were incompetent. In the end this behavior only hindered the treatment process and we usually ended up having to assign support staff to reason with the distraught parent.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T SEE HIM!!!! HE’S MY FUCKING CHILD!!!” Jimmy’s voice boomed through the door.
“Jimmy, right now he needs the attention of the staff we have working on him. We are going to let you see him as soon as possible, but for now it’s important that you allow them to do their jobs without interruption,” I heard the voice of Richard our hospital Chaplain explain to him.
“THIS IS BULLSHIT!” Jimmy yelled again as the door to our confining space opened and he was lead inside.
“Katie! Why the fuck won’t your damn hospital recognize a parent’s fucking rights?” He spit with venom. He was terrified.
“Jimmy, please stop,” I pleaded, “You need to let them try to fix him. How are you going to help?” I tried to reason with him, frustrated by his antics.
“I know I can’t fucking do anything! I just… I can’t just wait…” he trailed off allowing the fight to drain out of him.
“Right now we have to,” I croaked out wondering if there was even aid to be rendered at this point. I tried desperately to rid myself of the image stuck on repeat in my head, Tyler broken and bloodied unable to breath on his own, the crash cart being opened next to him.
We fell into a suffocating limbo, the only sound Hannah sniffling in the corner. Dana was back next to me on the couch rubbing my arm in short movements, trying to provide any comfort she could. Jimmy’s pacing making the small room even more claustrophobic. I continued my study of the empty air in front of me trying not to focus on the images of patients I had treated in the past, who had succumbed to similar injuries. Time was passing slowly until Dr. Morris finally opened the door. Now it felt as though not enough time had passed, my heart began to hammer in my chest.
“Alright guys I’m going to go straight into this okay?” He started, “He fractured the lower part of his left zygomatic orbital bone, this part right here. Just below where the helmet would have been able to prevent,” he explained to Jimmy and Hannah pointing to his temple, “This is a particular dangerous area to fracture because of the important tissue surrounding it, obviously the eye being a major concern. However right now we do not think there was any major trauma to the eye, although there may be some bruising that will show in the eye itself,” he paused checking us for understanding before he continued, working up to what I knew would be the worst of the news he had to deliver. I expected what was coming next having experience with this type of injury. My body began to shake in preparation for news that even if my son survived he may never function the same again.
“A major concern with any head trauma is from the intracranial bleeding and swelling that can occur after the injury. In Tyler’s case the swelling was quite acute… meaning there was a fair amount. Edema, pressure inside the brain, can lead to respiratory distress, which unfortunately did occur in this case.” Hannah let out another sob and Jimmy made a noise that sounded as if he was choking.
“When talking about recovery from situations like these a concern is how much oxygen the brain was deprived of. Hannah, you did the right thing by calling 911 right away. Had he not had help breathing his oxygen saturation levels would have been much lower and his risk for long term effects much greater. He also would have likely entered cardiac arrest had it taken even ten more minutes before intervention was taken. We would be having a different conversation in that place.” He sighed and ran his hand over his face the first hint that this case had been wearing on him, his professional mask slipping.
“Right now he is being prepped in the OR. They do need to place a screw to repair the fracture and they will place a stent to relieve bleeding in the cranial cavity if necessary. I am hopeful that will not be needed. However we will need you to sign consent for all procedures just in case.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Jimmy interrupted frustrated with the drawn out explanation he likely didn’t even absorb half of.
“He’s not completely in the clear yet,” Dr. Morris warned, “That being said I feel fairly confident in his chances. We will know more when he comes out of surgery, but as your wife will tell you we have seen many of these cases over the years, and usually in cases like Tyler’s patients prove to recover from the trauma. It will not be a quick recovery, he will likely have lasting effects such as headaches, migraines, light sensitivity, fatigue to name a few. You will need to watch him closely for any sign of clotting especially in the beginning. He will need to monitored with a CT scan a few times as well. He’s lucky to have his very own and very qualified nurse to watch over him,” he said smiling over at me. The relief of having a good prognosis to report evident.
I finally allowed myself a deep breath, hoping to steele my chaotic emotions, images of our past patients filtering into my mind. The children we had treated for injuries like this with similar odds had all walked out of the hospital a few weeks after their surgeries. The human body could be amazingly resilient, especially under the correct care. I felt exhaustion infiltrate every part of my body. My fear and relief now pummeling in like a wrecking ball as the initial shock began to wear off. In that moment I had faith that Tyler was going to be okay. That soon I would be able to tickle his sides and hear his giggle again. That we would laugh over his silly faces and be able to kiss his little cheeks.
“Thank you David,” I stood, the tears I hadn’t yet let myself cry releasing freely.
“Katie I would have done anything for that kid, I am so glad he got to me when he did,” Dr. Morris, David, said his own eyes starting to tear as he wrapped his arms around me. “Take as much time as you need in here. You can wait in this room through the surgery or go to the OR waiting room. It will likely take a few hours.”
“Thank you,” I smiled weakly but with a gratitude that would forever hold a piece of my heart. He nodded his head before returning back to the patients still waiting for his compassion and expertise.
“I was so scared,” Jimmy said sinking to the seat on the couch I had just vacated, his head collapsing into his hands. Dana hugged him to her side briefly before standing and squeezing me firmly against her body.
“He’s going to make it honey, just breathe right now okay? I’ll come find you if I get any information,” she said.
“I know. Thank you,” I replied tearfully. She squeezed my hand and left, allowing us time as a family. I knew it was now vital for me to do the best I could to grasp onto my calm and focus, to provide strength to my family around me. I gently sat next to Jimmy and held him against me.
“I was so fucking scared,” he said again letting me squeeze my arms around his shoulders and kiss his head. I looked to Hannah who still had silent tears running down her face.
“Come here baby,” I requested stretching out one arm and making room for her on the stupid green couch. She threw herself into my open arm.
“I am so sorry!” she sobbed again.
“Baby it was an accident” I worked to sooth her guilt, “freak things happen, no one can prevent it all,”
I sat holding my husband and daughter to me for a long time just focusing on my breathing, in and out, in and out. I was incredibly grateful to whatever force was out there writing our destiny. Our family was one of the lucky ones in the book of life. Our little boy was going to stay with us, his story wasn’t over. With the strength and the support we would provide each other we would all survive.
In my youth I was a ballerina. I spent minutes, upon hours, upon days, upon years criticizing myself in a mirror. Watching for the slightest flaws and imperfections, striving for an ideal of beauty and a grace that I would never find. That was the nature of the beast, each one of us pulling and twisting at the bar, pushing ourselves harder to give even more effort across the floor, never having a chance of achieving our absolute goal. Eventually, at one rehearsal or performance we would be at our best. Maybe that day we would know that this was it, the moment that all the work had been for, the top of our peak. For most of us it snuck up and away quietly, we collected our “good jobs” as we iced our feet and packed our bags ready to go back to the studio to continue our chase towards the perfection that we would never come that close to again. Whether we had already reached our peak or not we realized that we would never actually perform a dance impeccably. There would be a turn that we came out of a hair too early or a jump that could have been higher, such is the life of a dancer. You wonder why we’re all so wound up. Over time I learned to create lines with my body that would give an illusion of fluidity and ease. I would grab my legs with my hands and pull them into angles that would make them appear more beautiful to my audience, meanwhile stretching my joints to a point that they would never fully recover from. I learned to balance myself only on the very tip of my toes breaking nails and skin in the process. In the beauty and grace of my dance was the somewhat morbid underside of the cause and effect.
I now have a daughter who is striving for the same ballerina perfection. She spends most afternoons in class pushing, bending, sweating. She watches the girls around her and uses their success to drive herself forward. She wants the long high extension, the clean triple pirouette, the over split in the grande jete. Her weekends have been sacrificed for rehearsals, and her social life now centers around the other ballerinas she spends all her time with. She too understands that she will never be one hundred percent perfect but continues to strive to get as close as possible. Her blisters and muscle pulls battle wounds she shares proudly.
Outside of the studio two of the traits most often attributed to this daughter are grace and beauty. People watch her because she is, in fact, beautiful and as human beings we enjoy things that are aesthetically pleasing. Even her movements are beautiful, she holds herself and moves through her world in a way that only comes with years of ballet training. We tease her regularly for running into walls and tripping over stairs, but watching her tell a story with her hands is like watching an art form. I supposed that would make sense, dance being a performing art. An art that has been slowly infusing into every aspect of her life. I wonder though, what if the focus on the ideal beauty and the grace she and I have spent so many hours trying to achieve is blinding us to the beauty and grace inherently in our lives? While this daughter is being complimented on encompassing the ballerina archetype, I look at my other two children and see a beauty and grace in them as well. Just not the versions you are going to find in an opera house on a Saturday night.
We all have our own definition of both Beauty and Grace, most of which are inherently intertwined. Sometimes we find examples of these qualities it in movement, such as in the ballerinas mentioned above, or in the way a gazelle runs across an open plain. Daily examples are found in the sky when the wind blows shapes and spirals in the clouds, or when it causes the sway of leaves and branches on a tree. I find grace and beauty in words. Words that hit me deep in my core. I find examples in books and poems, in some works the entire story or prose striking me, in others just a phrase. At times I find these traits in words that are simply said aloud. Those perfect pairings shared with you right when you needed to hear them. Some religions find grace and beauty in forgiveness. While I am not someone who tends to find any peace in the act of forgiving and forgetting, I can appreciate the allure. I imagine this like a grace and beauty in the soul that, much like the ballerina, they are working to consistently perfect.
In our attempts to find and quantify grace and beauty in our lives we often overlook some of the most obvious sources. Are grace and beauty not inherent in the older woman who has learned from her experiences? She has lost and laughed, watched the world change and observed the people around her as she has lived her life. Maybe these traits are found in her attempts to share the lessons she has learned, with anyone willing to slow down and listen. Maybe they are in the feet and joints of the dancer. The pain and bruising a simple reminder that she is human, and not invincible. Perhaps they are in our day to day lives, the warmth we feel when we first sip our coffee in the morning. In the way that I as I sit and edit I wonder if my words are too contrived, then having to remind myself that I have promised to freely write releasing myself from the fear of judgement.
Perhaps we are trying too hard to achieve the ideals of grace and beauty and in the process are losing out on the pieces of these traits we are granted as we live our lives. Perhaps if we listened to the old woman this is what she would tell us. Her message warning us that in every moment we live and every emotion we feel holds an opportunity we are usually so quick to overlook. Hopefully we can remind ourselves to pay heed to the little occurrences and observations that hold the beauty and grace we need, while we continue to strive for the ideals and perfections we want.
It’s sticky today. One of those early spring days in the south where the chill has left the air and the thick atmosphere of summer is beginning to creep back up on us. When I threw my phone across the room turned off my alarm clock this morning the humidity hit me, lingering even in the house despite the air running all night. It made me question my decision to wear a sweatshirt to bed. However after dealing with a burst water filter in the kitchen at midnight I didn’t put much thought into my ensemble, I just climbed back into the comforting cocoon under the duvet and six hours of sleep.
Even after tossing aside the old college sweatshirt, with the little bleach stain I like to ignore, I found little relief. Hoping to be hit with a rush of cool air when I opened the door to let the dog out I was disappointed to find no reprieve. I stood in the doorway letting even more of the thick air in around me. I itched to run over to the thermostat and turn it down to a degree that will make my husband complain and my son turn it back up, because after all he is his father’s son. No light should be left on, not thermostat set to a fully comfortable level. Fine I will sit in the hot dark living room drinking coffee while I sweat. First world problems, I know.
I suck up my growing moist discomfort and wait for the dog who is getting old and slow. She takes her sweet time sniffing the air and strolling the yard knowing she won’t have the opportunity to get outside again at least for a few hours. I end up leaving the backdoor cracked for her, I can’t actually close it to preserve the cool inside because she won’t make a sound to be let back in. We trained her too well. So well that two years ago after getting locked out for half an hour and patiently sitting by the back window waiting for us to notice and let her back in she cut her loses. Figuring we had forgotten her for good she took off to find a new home. She knew she was going to die from hunger soon, despite having been fed an hour earlier. Understanding her very dire situation it made sense that she was found a few houses down in the neighbors garage helping herself to the bowl of food they had just put out for their dog. I kind of love the old fart.
I feed groggy children and warn them it’s going to be warm and humid today, so of course they all come back downstairs in jeans and two of them in long sleeves. I’m glad I say words to them. They clearly appreciate my attempts to ensure their comfort. Oh well. I still end up considering looking up a recipe to make them cookies using the giant costco jar of nutella my husband came home with a few weeks ago. It’s Friday after all, cookies on the table after school is an acceptable luxury. Plus I don’t have to actually sign in to any job today, I have the time for such indulgences. Eventually I’ll reach my word limit for the day and need to take a break from writing. Baking is a good activity for that.
Middle kid tells me that today she has a field trip to tour the middle school she is headed to in August. Older kid is already at said school. I separately tell them to try and embarrass the other one if they see each other. This might be purely for my own amusement, I hope they do it, because that would be fucking funny.
Water is falling from the sky off and on but not in steady streams. Soon we’ll be back to the rolling thunderstorms of summer that cool off the afternoons making the choice to have settled here bearable in July and August, but right now its tornado season. We don’t get tornados too bad here but we were on a watch yesterday evening. It was the main topic of discussion at older kids tech rehearsal for this weekend’s show. I remember again she has dress rehearsal tonight. Mental note, five thirty at the theater, traffic was bad yesterday leave early. Heavy rain is suddenly pounding on the ceiling, but I hear it first on the chimney flute. Now I wonder if I remembered to shut it after the last winter fire we set. I tell myself I’ll check later, but I probably won’t.
The rain makes people completely incapable of driving but it at least washes the pollen out of the air. The pine tree pods haven’t opened yet but we’re probably only a week or two away from that, then the whole city will turn yellow. We suffer under the haze of tree reproduction until more heavy rain comes through, on another sticky day, and washes it down the street. We are able to watch cheering while it disappears down storm drains.
I wait in the drop off line at the middle school reminding older kid to embarrass middle kid even giving her examples, a how to guide, that she half heartedly chuckles at. She’s not going to do it. She’s a dork. I realize that I’m either going to produce a totally traumatized adult or a hilarious one. If she ends up being a functioning part of society I guess I’ll consider my child rearing a success either way. I only offered to drive her today because I have to drop the ageing dog off at the vet this morning and her stop is on my way. Judging by the line at the middle school a lot of the other parents are pretty sure their precious babies are going to melt if the ominous sky water touches them while they wait at the bus stop. I fear for the future of my offspring’s generation. Older kid side eyes someone dressed in the school mascot outfit holding up a sign for some student election coming up. She’s not impressed. I feel for the unlucky kid in the stupid costume, this isn’t a day for outside mascots. The school could have been sympathetic and at least let the poor kid stand inside the front entrance. A perfect example of the exceptional problem solving of our public education system hard at work here folks. I muse on the fact that my kids are going to arrive home sweaty faced and frizzy haired while I make my way to the vet in shorts and a t-shirt, still sticky. At least they’ll have cookies.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana recently. It started with my just turned eleven year old daughter and her introduction to the band. This particular daughter is basically just a recreation of my young self, both in appearance and mental stability (aka lack there of). She has recently found a connection with music, one that I can understand and appreciate. Her new found fascination began when she discovered that Billie Eilish’s songs speak to her. She reveres these songs as some sort of gospel in that middle school “no one else could possibly understand her” kind of way. Gone are last summer’s Taylor Swift sing alongs, and gushing with friends about their first real concert experience at the Reputation tour. I don’t think she’d let herself be caught dead listening to Bad Blood now. She has standards. She has Billie posters on her walls, she tells us facts about Billie, her kindred soul. Facts of such importance like how her brother was a character on Glee, a show that seems was just relevant, but she has only seen in streaming re-runs. Since music has always been a source of therapeutic relief in my life I get it. When I heard “Bellyache” fifteen times in a row (I mean seriously I’m pretty sure I could figure out the whole song by memory if handed an instrument now) I got it. So one night while she drilled me on what music I liked, and “Oh! Have you heard this Billie Eilish song???” (yah dude I have the album on my phone, I’m not as out of touch as you think I am) I decided it was time to educate her on all the amazing music out there that her “I know everything” little mind had never stopped to appreciate.
I asked her if she ever listens to Nirvana. She kind of shrugged and was like, yah I guess I’ve heard their songs. Now I KNOW she’s heard them, the same ones that were played in the 90’s non stop still pop up on our alternative radio station when I’m chauffeuring her around. Yes, I still listen to regular radio in the car, I’m all old school like that. In my defense my husband listens to political podcasts. Pretty sure he’s going to be yelling at the neighborhood kids to get of his lawn soon. Projecting back her oh so familiar pre-teen attitude of ya-you-think-you-know-but-you-have-no-idea I said okay, but really do you KNOW Nirvana? Because I have a feeling you and the deep little artistic soul that is bouncing around waiting to break free from you will attach to Nirvana’s music like a leech.
So firing up the old YouTube on our Smart TV I pulled up Nirvana at Redding. Let me take a minute here to reflect on the instant gratification of not only YouTube but also the fact that I can now pull it up on my TV. I mean really? When I was her age I was still just hoping my favorite song played on the radio so I could record it on the cassette recorder I had placed next to the speaker. Without fail the damn DJ would ALWAYS cut in before those last few chords of the song had dissipated. So was life in 1994. I would live with that scratchy interrupted version of my my music until I earned enough money to get to Tower Records and buy the album.
Carrying on, Nirvana at Redding is one of those truly epic concerts that music aficionados, such as myself and my eleven year old (clearly), will still be enraptured with decades down the road. I mean I expect that when our education system begins teaching pop culture history of our time period this event will have it’s very own page in the history books. Just like I expected she was enthralled. My eight year old son did his best impression of dancing man (not gonna lie, he was concerningly good at the part) while we fell into a discussion appreciating the magic of the event. The whole performance still so oddly bewitching even through old streaming video. I explained Nirvana’s influence in music while she tried to wrap her head around Kurt Cobain’s hospital gown. We discussed the meaning behind his lyrics, talked the intricacies of Lithium. Not only the song but the actual drug which I have had an on again off again fling with since my late teens. When she asked if he was still around, picking up on the fact that something was off about the way he was being talked about, we discussed his untimely death. She took it all in, her far too wise and deep for her young age mind processing and coming to understand a piece of the beautiful and tragic impact Nirvana had on the world of music and youth in the 90’s.
Since this introduction her homogenous playlist of Billie Eillish is no longer the only music I can hear on repeat filtering through the door to her room. Her alexa now also constantly playing “Come as you Are,” “Rape Me,” and “Lithium,” the latter being one of her favorites. The opening lines of Lithium seems to strike a chord with her tween girl angst and inevitable restructuring of friendships. She is feeling this particularly hard at the moment as she has spent the last three years using her oddly mature understanding of human interaction to build a web of popularity she now wants out of. She’s tired of being the social performing monkey of her peers. She is beginning to realize her “friends” aren’t really all that friendly or supportive. While she may not fully yet comprehend the true meaning behind “I’ve found my friends, they’re in my head” the lyrics struck a chord in a way that makes her feel understood, and isn’t that what lyrics are meant for anyway? After all any artist that needs their audience to connect to their work only in the way they did when they created it is in for disappointment.
So in her new found love of the music that I too had set to repeat years ago, when I finally got a CD player (remember those? My car actually still has one. I think my car might be getting old…). I found myself reconnecting and once again finding meaning in the songs. As an adult I have a new appreciation and a different connection than I did as a teen. Gone are the days of thinking that a band or singer was the only person/people in the world that could ever understand the way I felt. Instead of the dramatic angst of yesteryear I find myself grateful that someone took the time and was eloquent enough in their descriptions to not only so perfectly capture a time and a world that we have moved forward from, but to also capture raw human emotion. It is these emotions infused in the music that have the power to connect us. Giving us comfort in knowing someone might be able to empathize, especially when we feel misunderstood. In my mid thirties as I come out of the trance of a decade devoted to parenthood I crave a connection that doesn’t involve PTA meetings or gymnastics meets, and when I hear these songs that is what I find. Maybe I have graduated from my angsty adolescent behavior but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel the same thrills and disappointments. Nor am I any less crazy than I was back then, I’ve only learned how to function at a slightly more acceptable level.
So I will continue to pop in my earbuds and play “Nevermind” on repeat until my mood shifts and I connect or reconnect to another artist. My daughter will do the same and hopefully we will continue to share our new and old findings, connecting with not only the music but with each other in the process. I find myself making mental lists of what artists to share with her next, Foo Fighters is an obvious choice. I actually have videos on my phone from their amazing concert in Centennial Park a few years ago. You remember that tour when Dave Grohl was recovering from a badly broken leg but was so rockstar he performed in a medical boot and made it look cool? I tried Fiona Apple last weekend, her music reminding me of a 90’s version of Billie Eilish, my daughter wasn’t sold. Maybe when I set my Pandora to one of the alt stations I have saved, a song I have forgotten about will pop up and we will spend weeks with Green Day or The Yah Yah Yah’s on repeat. Also, dear daughter, don’t think for a second I haven’t heard those late 90’s pop punk songs filtering out from your bedroom too. Just so you know I know every word to those songs and spent many summer nights singing them at the top of my lungs in some open air concert venue or on college evenings bobbing my head to the beat in a glorified bar with a small stage in San Francisco. I know you better than you think babe.
Introductions are awkward. People make an initial judgment on each other during these exchanges based on things like a handshake and eye contact. We notice someone’s appearance and scramble to fit them in a preconceived category of stereotypes in our heads. We use these groups to compartmentalize the people in our lives, to try to understand their choices and beliefs without them ever having to share with us. This is how we learn who we can relate to, who we should seek out as friends vs. acquaintances, or who we think we should avoid. Fair or not it’s an inherent skill. Just like you have done with everyone else you’ve been introduced to through your life, you will inevitably place me in one of your segregated predetermined categories. I will have to accept whatever label you give me. It’s okay, I’m an adult, kind of. I can deal. Probably.
I know a man who has this rule of thirds. Disclaimer, it is very possible this is some well documented anthropologic theory. I should probably google it, do my research so I sound like I know what I’m talking about, maybe later. Anyway I heard it from this guy first, so I will always associate him with the idea. Rule goes like this: a third of the people you meet will like you no matter what, a third of the people you meet won’t be very fond of you no matter what, and the other third will be indifferent but can be swayed one way or the other. Sounds like a political campaign theory. Win over that indifferent third, the registered independents.
Don’t worry I’m not going to try to win you over. If I do, awesome, welcome to my club. We drink a little too much here, both coffee and spirits. We spend too much time chasing the errant thoughts bouncing around our heads. We like Reddit to hone this skill, I mean who actually reads past the first few comments in a thread anyway? You’ll fit right in I’m sure. Grab some coffee, it’s not 5 o’clock yet. After all we like to act like we do have some standards. If I’m not your cup of tea, I get it. We’re not a compatible fit, good luck on your journey to find your people. The world needs all kinds.
I’ll tell you more about myself as time goes on and on a need to know basis. Don’t be insulted, most of the people in my real life will know less than you are going to. Thing is, no ones preconceived notion needs to be based on the fact that I have kids, or a Golden Retriever, what netflix shows I’ve binge watched, or that my major was technically communications. You probably don’t need to know what cities I’ve spent time in, but you’ll hear about them eventually, they’re ingrained in me. You don’t need to know that the people around me assume I am really type A and extremely organized but in truth I am scattered, ADHD, and at times manic. That I am afraid of failure and that spurs a constant stream of over commitment ebbing the deep rooted anxiety when I don’t allow myself the time to let it seep in, but instead builds up the panic of never allowing myself to stop. I’m not a martyr, this is all my own doing, but I’m sure I sometimes sound like I think I am. Whoops.
One thing you should know is I write for myself. I no longer use my actual name. Over time I have learned that the best writing I do is based on honesty. The relationships I have with and observations I make from the people around me. No one I know needs to read my real feelings about them. Even if I think my impression of them and the category I have placed them in is flattering they may not find it to be so. People for the most part are desperate for approval. I really admire those that aren’t. It probably matters to some that I’ve been published. I don’t think it should though, if you find my work worthwhile who cares if someone else thought it was acceptable or not. It’s been a few years since my work was out there, it became hard to write regularly when I didn’t have the time to do so for myself, but only for the people who expected certain work from me. If I can’t clear the thoughts of the day from my head I can’t work through the big projects that aren’t really for me.
I read a lot, and probably half of what I read is fluff with happy ever afters. I don’t write happy endings though, because I don’t believe in them. Let me explain, see I think real life is gritty and messy. I’m not saying there is never joy, there absolutely is, but it’s not a forever thing. If it is your probably high. You might want to stop reading and go google “rehab near me.” Don’t do drugs people, D.A.R.E. and all that. Oh yah, I’m a product of the 90’s, my flannel and doc martins are showing. I write what I know, I write honesty, my reality. Take what you need from my words because I am sharing them for you to resonate with how you will. I have no expectations that anyone else will see my experiences the same way I do.
Hi, It’s nice to meet you. I’m K. looking forward to catching up with you again soon.