One of my favorite bands sings a song that I can’t help but see as a ballad of my life these days. Whenever I hear it, I stop and pause. Unfortunately, this is not a tale of love or happiness. Instead, it is a tale of not knowing who you are anymore. And maybe even finding out that you never have known who you are. In fact, as with anything, my interpretation of this song, I’m sure, is totally different than what others’ might be. But to me, it describes what I see these days of how my life has unfolded and brought me here.
How did I get here? Well, as this past week has presented much emotional uprising from my past, I have been forced to do a little soul searching as some memories have floated to the surface. For about 20 years, I have thought of my past as a time that existed without action. I have known it was there like a big hairy freaking beast, shoved into a deep dark cave that I covered with about 20 feet of concrete. One foot deeper every year. Well, unpacking a few boxes and finding an old container of items I have kept from my past (not many things, I mind you), started this week of emotion for me. It wasn’t just the box. It was a group of letters I found from an old friend. A small group of letters tucked nicely along the inside of the box, postmarked circa 1992 through 1993. 20 years ago. I recognized them immediately. But I didn’t remember what they said. So I sat at my son’s fluorescent green old school desk and proceeded to read. I read all of them. Wow. As I sat there, I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I surely wasn’t ready for what was to come as the week unfolded. But I as I sat and read, all of these memories came flooding back. It hit me like a train that never slowed down as it came through town. I just sat there.
When I came to the last letter, I noticed it was thicker than the others. I opened the envelope and noticed that inside were two letters. One from my friend, and one from me. I never sent it. I wasn’t sure why, and I didn’t read the whole letter at that moment. I read the first paragraph, which was in direct reply to my friend and I assumed why I hadn’t sent it. I packed the letters back into their spot, and I went upstairs and went to bed. I slept that night. I slept under a veil of vivid dreams of a time I had forgotten. I woke up the next morning on a mission. I had to find that old friend. There were questions I had that I needed answers to. My life no longer made sense in my mind, as my timeline of events was now skewed and out of place. This almost one year period documented in letters threw out everything I remembered about my life around that time 20 years ago. This is because I ran from my hometown and found people I wanted to know. I presented myself as I wanted to be, but never revealed my doubts and I kept my secrets locked inside.
I left ‘me’ behind and never looked back. Not until last Sunday night. To my astonishment, I found this friend quite easily (thank you facebook) and amazingly our conversations were almost unchanged from 20 years ago. Although I had forgotten, this friend had not. Their recall was as if it happened a month ago. I had (and have) so many questions, but I feel like a fraud. How can they remember our time, but I had lost it all. That only lasted a day, as the pieces slowly flooded my mind like that train I spoke of. It took a day of almost nonstop messaging back and forth, but the memories finally broke through revealing that I had sort of made up a version of events that I was comfortable telling people about. I realized why and how I ended up where I did, and I realized (after reading the whole letter that was never sent) how we had lost touch. It wasn’t anything I did, or any choice I made intentionally. It also wasn’t anything my friend had done or choice they had made. It was a choice that was made for me. I know that now. And I know now that the day I stashed those letters, was the day that my future path was placed in front of me. I don’t regret the path, but I do regret some choices I have made in regards to myself.
I now see that I have more secrets in my closet than should be allowed. But, I don’t know how to deal with them. And, I think I understand more about myself and what makes me tick now. I don’t know what to do with this information, and I’m not really sure how to move forward. But telling my story, might be the best way to do so. At least this will help me come to terms with who I am, and will maybe lift a bit of the weight of those lies.
So, the last post was a bit depressing as we were facing tough questions with our little man. As of now, we are in the clear, and he seems to be growing out of some of those pesky food allergies. We will soon be challenging him with peanuts (scary!) and starting immunotherapy for relief of seasonal allergies. So, all is well on that front.
On another front, the dreaded past front that keeps following me, as if it belongs to me or something, I’m still having that strange feeling of being alone yet surrounded. When I was 14, my mother died. Not much longer after that, my father moved away. I am fairly certain I can trace my loneliness to that moment in time. I faced 2 choices, at at 16: buck up or continue to drown.
Miraculously, I chose the first. I bucked up big time. I got a job, moved in with a friend, and graduated high school…all at the same time. I started attending a junior college as part of my high school and got a day job. Yes, I was the only 16 year old in my classes. I was a YOUNG 16 year old, and it was rough! Shortly thereafter I bolted from that town. That town that I despise, because I have few good memories of it left. I have managed to suppress most everything about my life there. I can recall small snippets of here and there, but mostly it is a blur. I know it happened, but the details are buried so deep they can’t breathe.
Slowly, I have dug up a few memories, here and there. But not many have been that pleasant. For example, and abusive, shitty, steroid-using boyfriend I graced some of my high school days with died several years ago from a brain tumor. I couldn’t help but be a bit sad for the loss of his parents’ child and his siblings’ brother. But mostly, the news brought with it those awful memories of being with someone that you cared about, but can’t do anything to help them. In those cases, the abuser doesn’t want to abuse you…you are just present when the rages hit. As much as I rationally know this, I was 16-17 and thought that I could help. WTF? Super hero teenager to the rescue. So anyway, pretty much shitty, crappy memories came floating to the surface. I capped that shit as fast as possible.
Then, facebook, that dreaded yet loved facebook, brought me back into contact with my old flame from those ugly days (pre-steroid boy). We dated, secretly (so I thought), for nearly 4 years. We can just say he wasn’t the sort of boy my father, or any other adult in my life, thought I should be with. Of course, that only fuels the fire that burns in a young girl’s heart. Being back in touch with this person led to many mixed feelings and soul searching on my part. I recovered memories of good times that he and I had, but again, mostly the really shitty ones. The ones where he treated me like crap, and then I retaliated and treated him like crap. Yeah, those. They can flooding back. In our conversations through facebook, we began explaining ourselves to one another in our own way. It was a bit therapeutic for me. I realized some things about myself and about why I made some very bizarre decisions during that time in my life. I realized that being with this person wasn’t really about the two of us after the first year or so. It was more about me holding onto him because no one wanted me to be with him. WTF? Control issues much? I still am not sure what his reason was. I think we thought we really loved each other and we could envision a life outside of where we were at the time. Man, being a bit older and wiser tells me that I was pretty naive and idealistic. I really thought I was changing the racial barriers in West Texas at the age of 15. Anyway, now I see with clearer eyes, that my idealism is broad and can be naive, even now!
My old flame and I are still ‘friends’ on FB, but I don’t go out of my way to say hi to him. I wish him well, and I hope he stays out of trouble. Of course, there will always be some feelings between us, but I am sure part of my inner struggle is to bury them back deep in a hole somewhere.
So, that was a while ago. And life went cruisin’ on by as I worked, worked, and worked some more. Occasionally I found time to do fun things. But mostly I worked and went home with my amazing family. Then…the pits opened up again and some memories started to come back again. These days I am feeling as if I have had a major trauma, as there are times I see flashes of memories that seem foreign, but then I place them. I place them in that dark place I left so far buried. This time, the memories are good one. WHAT? you ask. ‘You have good memories of your childhood or teenage years?’ And my response is, of course. Like everyone, there were good times. They just got buried by all the crap. So now that some good has come back to me from my past, my new motto is ‘Buck up girl. And face it dead on. Find the good times and remember those. And most importantly, find who you are.’
Today. When I woke up this morning, the feeling remained. A feeling of alonenesss, quiet, and almost destitute. All of this is in my head though. I am not alone, my world is far from quiet, and there is absolutely no wanting in my life. However, I have been having this openness in my heart for some time. I am starting to think that I know what it feels like to be an orphan. My mother died when I was young, and my father, well lets just say he was an absent father. Of course I know that I have always had things in my life and have never known hunger or the true pain of being an orphan. But in my heart, I am sure I know what it feels like to be alone.
I am surrounded by people that love me and would hold me if needed, but I don’t know how to need those things. I never learned how to need to people, as there just wasn’t anyone beside myself to need. I have a loving spouse that is amazing, and I have in-laws that are there and wonderful. But, the feeling remains. I remember when my son was born, I was terrified that something would happen to me and he would be alone like I was when I was little. I have made a pledge to myself that he will never know what it is like to be alone. I know I can’t guarantee that I will honor this, as I can’t control whether me and his father will always be around for him…but I will do my best to make sure while I am here that he knows I am here for him, no matter what. He will never be alone, he will never be forgotten, and he will never be forsaken while I am here. When he was little, I was terrified every night that I would not wake us and he would never know me. So I wrote him letters. Many letters.
This somewhat irrational fear of my death doesn’t consume me, but is always in the back of my mind. Sometimes I look at my son and can’t help but hope that he knows how much he means to me and how I want the best in everything for him. Don’t we all want these things for our children. Our sweet, innocent children. These feelings have waxed and waned over the course of many years, with new strange feelings adding on. One new one, is the worst of all. A feeling that something might happen to him and not me. Several times in his rather short life we have heard a word that is not a comfortable word to hang in the air. Lymphoma. No mother (or father) ever wants to hear a word like this from their child’s doctor. Ever. And particularly not three times in 6 years. This sweet boy that has no pain, little fear, and a huge heart is not sick. If he is, he shows no signs. However, we still take blood and run tests. The illusive infection still there. Moving around his lymph nodes. No one knows what it is. Yet. We will one day. But for now we will continue to hear things like possible acute leukemia and lymphoma as tests are being run.
The feelings that stir from moments like this are unexplainable. Particularly for me, someone that has no idea how to talk to people about these things. Life continues to go on around us. We somewhat ignore the possibility of what might come. We go on as if nothing is wrong. There isn’t anything going on. But yet, somewhere there is. I don’t know how to deal with these feelings. The feelings of being completely alone, while always surrounded by hundreds of friends.
The feelings of being an orphan, I am sure are not even close to what it really is like to be an orphan. But what I do know, is that losing my mother when I was young shaped the rest of my life. Bad or good, who knows. But I do know that my life is the way it is because of how I was shaped from that moment. Most of my word exists in my own head. Conversations alone and with myself, and that is how I work things out. How I settle my nerves. And now, how I deal with the possible diagnosis. It might be nothing, but it might not be nothing.
So, I am a very bad blogger. I don’t want to be a blogger, but I also need a place to put my thoughts. It helps free my mind, and writing is something I am paid to do…just in another form. You can tell from my sporadic postings that this is not something I spend that much time doing. I am a busy person, as we all are. I have a full-time job that helps to pay the bills and I have a 5 year-old son. My job is very taxing. I spend my time wearing many diverse hats. Those hats all have to do with education, mentorship, leadership, and learning. And, in my ‘spare’ time within my job I try to find time to squeeze in scientific discovery, since that is the basis for my hiring and my expertise.
There are very few moments on any given day that I am not working on at least 3 things at once in my head, while I am physically doing something else. This is not healthy, I know. But it is a life an Academic and Scientist chooses. Work doesn’t end when I head home or pick up my son. In my head I am still trying to solve that problem or postulate that hypothesis. I live for the stress, and don’t know how to deal when it isn’t present! My work life translates to how I parent my child as well. I can’t help it. I spend my entire day working to educate and train our future scientists and broaden their horizons to be able to question all things and use actual evidence as a means of understanding the world.
My son has a greater appreciation for social issues, fairness, and equality than most adults do…and he is 5. I think it is pretty simple to a 5 year old though. You treat people the way you want to be treated. ‘How is that hard?’ is a question I see him asking himself in his head. He questions everything, which can be annoying at times…but I think he will be equipped to tackle life with humility and compassion. Since being at his new public school in an ‘inner’ city in the South, his compassion has been worn on his sleeve many times. He notices when others are less fortunate than he, and immediately has a plan in store to help alleviate whatever ‘problem’ has arisen. An example of many: he noticed that some of his friends at school don’t bring a snack for snack time and therefore are hungry. His request was to bring a giant bag of pretzels for the class so that his teacher could give his friends a snack if they are hungry. This is important to me, because I know some things about his school. One fact is that over 75% of the children at his school qualify for reduced or free lunch. These kids are not getting quality food and nutrition at home. Many of them only eat at school, 5 days a week. My family can afford to buy snacks for our son’s class (and many other families do the same), and we don’t do it because it is our good deed or because our faith tells us we should…we do it because it is the right thing to do. Help others when they need help. My 5 year old understands this. Why do adults continue to label this as a handout and call the lesser fortunate lazy?
In my lifetime, I have taken advantage of many programs, both government and private, that have helped me get to where I am now. I am fairly certain that people won’t call me lazy or looking for a handout. If they do…they need a real reality check. I consider myself successful, but more importantly is that I am happy, safe, free, and have the ability to help others. I grew up in middle class America. I grew up with educated parents that stressed the usefulness and importance of education, learning, and progress. I did have to start working earlier than my peers to support my pursuit of education. But one difference for me, is that I only had myself to support and not my entire family like so many of our youth today. It takes hard work to make it these days, and for many that means working multiple hourly jobs to put food on the table. This doesn’t leave much time for education and advancement to higher class status (financially). I was fortunate in that I was able to be selfish and put myself through college-all 10 years of it- and not worry if my siblings had food to eat or a warm bed to sleep in.
I was also fortunate to have a mother that valued education and family. Unfortunately, she passed way too early and I was way too young. However, my favorite memories of my childhood surround conversations I had with her late at night. I have always had trouble sleeping (going to sleep that is, as my mind races through life every few seconds and never takes a break) and still do today. When I was young I struggled with our family’s Christian faith and I struggled with not ever feeling like I fit anywhere. I got in ‘trouble’ at vacation bible school for asking too many questions and I dreaded becoming a member of the church. It was fake, for me. I went through the motions because I was told to and I was a good Southern girl. But these memories aren’t the ones I hold onto. The ones I treasure are the ones that surround my discovery of myself and being told that it was ok. I fondly remember getting in trouble at Camp Fire camp because I didn’t feel comfortable praying around the bon fire each night. After camp, my mom and I had several long discussions about religion and faith into the late nights. This is when I learned that it was ok to question and to think for myself. I learned that my mom had done the same in her lifetime. She let me borrow her many religious books, including a book about Scientology that I still have today. My mom taught me that there are many faiths that shape peoples’ lives and that we are all free to chose what we believe in or what we don’t believe in. But, most importantly, she taught me that I was a strong and intelligent young lady that was capable of accomplishing great things in life…if I wanted to. It was up to me. This was a defining moment in my life, that I wouldn’t fully understand until many years later. She passed away not very long after we got through the majority of my questions. Of course, the timing is a bit fuzzy as I was a pretty young girl at the time. I do remember that this was the year that I began wearing a metal peace sign I had made in our garage out of wire I had found in one of my dad’s tool boxes. I wore that necklace to her funeral. I didn’t realize what that would mean to me so many years later, but it means that she understood me way before I understood myself. As a parent now myself, I only hope that I too can lead my son down a path of finding himself in this oftentimes horrible world. And I hope that we can direct him to find the good in all people and things and work to help protect those good parts.
This all comes to me today…a day in which I should be celebrating since we just re-elected the first African American president…but instead I am sad because I have been reminded of the hatred surfacing around us. The hatred that has been spewed throughout the election by both sides is unacceptable. But, what gets me the most is the slander and the lies. The misinformed are gonna be the death of me, I swear. Disenfranchising people is discrimination, no matter how you sugar-coat it with ideological beliefs. I don’t force my beliefs on you…keep yours to yourself. Don’t try to govern me based upon your ideologies, because I will fight back. And please don’t worry, no one is gonna force you to go get an abortion. Really? That is the latest slander? Good grief. Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion. I still don’t know anyone that has ever had the thought: sweet, I’m pregnant…I get to go abort that fetus now. Seriously people. Think about the issues a bit more before you start spewing hate speech.
So, it has been awhile since my last post…something like a year! However, I am finding that I am need of an outlet again. Right now is a pretty politically charged moment in the USA, with June elections occurring and the season of the November election just ahead of us. After attending a rally last night for a local politico, I started thinking about some interesting ironies that exist around what people like to call the ‘sanctity of marriage’. One thing that I can’t figure out, is why people care who marries whom? I get that anything other than their way scares the hell out of them…but what’s it to them? Who cares? Isn’t it more important to care about more pressing social issues? Like education, clean air and water, and healthy people?
My frustrations came about after a lovely conversation I had with a friend who is preparing to march down the sidewalk of starting a family with her partner. They plan to do a biological birth if they can, in lieu of adoption, and I don’t know the specifics (nor do I really care…because why would I? No one asked my husband and I about the specifics of how our son was conceived.) However, after this great news and much enthusiasm for my friends and their future family, I became a bit unsettled and concerned for her partner…you know, the one that won’t physically carry the child in utero. What will her parental rights be and how will they be obtained, since our stupid country doesn’t allow same sex marriage, and marriage is how we stupidly define family. After much thought and subsequent conversations with amazing people, I am now wiser to the ways of adoption rights and how gender plays no role in adopting parents’ rights or abilities! This is great! But doesn’t make sense, given the conservative policies we have for marriage. Again, why do we care about who marries whom? Family values, right? Isn’t their argument that children need a mom and a dad? (Which, btw, we know to be complete horse shit.) Do they just not know that same sex couples can legally adopt children? Should I be quiet, so that they don’t become the wiser? Just kidding. I find this quite disturbing because the basis for arguments that are used daily to remove rights from so many Americans is SO flawed and blind.
SO….Push on everyone, and keep up the fight. We will win someday. But in the meantime, keep embracing who you are and know that there are many people out there that love you for who you are and what you do for the better of humanity.
Today was another day of hot and muggy weather not typical of North Dakota! Yesterday, Moorhead set a record for highest dew point (88) and heat index (134) ever in Minnesota (http://www.startribune.com/blogs/125847178.html). Total craziness that the heat indexes in Minnesota and North Dakota are the same as though in Texas! Never would I have imagined! I just have to say that it is hot out there, and in here, and pretty much everywhere! The child is crabby…all the time! I can only imagine it is due to a combination of a few things: 1) he is growing again (finally), 2) he is not getting enough sleep because he refuses to go to sleep until 11 pm, 3) he is a punk, or 4) it is freakin’ hot!
I think we can make it until next Friday for the heat relief! I hope!
After a short week back at home, we are preparing to head out again. This time, we are headed to Texas to enjoy some sunshine and heat! I know…it sounds crazy to want to go to one of the hottest places in the US…but I have to say that this LONG winter and then LONG spring have almost broken me. The cold, wet weather is making my mood sour.
But, the good news is that all I have to do to cheer up is look at my amazing son and I always smile. Today we played soccer in the front year and then A rode his bicycle while we walked the crazy dog. All of this while trying to avoid an incoming thunderstorm. With all of the deadly tornadoes in the past few weeks, I have to say that I am a bit spooked this year when the sky turns gray. The bad weather makes me think of how awesome nature is and how biology fits into nature so well. It always amazes me how so many amazing plants and animals exist today with such cool adaptations. It is amazing how fast plants pop up and bloom up here in the cold…and I tell you when it rains up here, everything greens and blooms within hours. Crazy!
One of my favorite things about little A is his inquisitive mind and the way he gets it. One of his favorite television shows is Dinosaur Train, on PBS. He has learned about so many different kinds of dinosaurs, and he remembers everything that Dr. Scott says! We will be driving down the street, and from the back seat A will say, ‘Mom, Dr. Scott says that we should have a night time exploration to see what animals are nocturnal. We can pick out different things about the night animals, like big ears.’ I love this part of being a mother and a scientist! I get to teach my 4 year old about adaptive mechanisms…and he gets it! He respects a PhD paleontologist (and I guess the big thing here is that he knows what a paleontologist is) because of this amazing educational show. I highly recommend it for all parents! And…for a little promo for the show, Dr. Scott is a friend of Dr. Genie Scott, one of my science heroes.
I know…television is bad…but I do say that good television isn’t bad. There is a lot of crap being broadcast, and I can’t believe my parents ever let me watch television. Having only one child makes it pretty easy to monitor what he is watching, and for the most part it is fun to watch it with him! What I love is that it seems like he gets the message that the shows are trying to get across. He is actually listening and paying attention and he is absorbing the knowledge. Why can’t our college students do this? My 4 year old can…
This tangent takes me to something I was listening to on NPR Talk today about ‘no child left behind’. There have been several reports published over the past few years that have demonstrated that this teaching to the test approach doesn’t work. Apparently, a larger more intense study was published recently saying what we, as educators, have known since the beginning. Incentives to teachers for good student test scores is not what results in increased education and retention. Teaching to do well on a standardized test is not teaching our future leaders how to think, how to be critical, or how to be inquisitive. We see this trickling up through our Freshman that have no ability to find anything you haven’t given them explicitly. This is frustrating. Very frustrating.
Even if we get rid of NCLB today, universities all over the US will have these same problems for at least 10 more years. Our future leaders are going to look like this: they will not be able to synthesize anything that doesn’t have a manual with step by step instructions, they will not be able to answer a question without restating the question in a clever manner to seem like they answered it (because that is as deep as their critical thinking skills go), and they will always ask someone what exactly they need to know for the next stage of their day.
I am not looking forward to when A goes to public school…and yes he will go to public school because I believe community participation, learning, and nurturing…100%. Call me a socialist if you will. I will take care of my neighbors any day because I know that societies and cultures that take care of their own are far more happy, healthy, and successful. I know A will be fine at public school…I am just worried about how I will be!! If we live here when he goes for his first science lesson and they try to teach him about creationism…I might lose my marbles all over the local school board.
I was up for hours last night unable to sleep, again…for reasons unknown to me. As I lay there listening to the calm sounds of my loving partner breathing and our sweet little pup snoring and knowing our son is sound asleep next door, I couldn’t help thinking about my life. Life is great and a bit confusing from time to time. We find ourselves in an interesting time in our lives, with big decisions that will soon have to be made. (At least we hope that will be the case!) I have never considered writing a blog, until late last night as I lay there frustrated with sleeplessness, yet again. And, of course while I lay there I ‘wrote’ a very eloquent blog in my head. This version will, of course, be crap I am sure!
For a catch up, I am woman that wears many hats: 1) scientist, 2) educator, 3) mother, and 4) spouse (and of course the order changes on any given day at any given time!). I am a, well I will just say a scientist that spends everyday of her life asking questions about biological life, designing/conducting/analyzing experiments to test those questions, and then passing on my knowledge to the next generation of scientists and science-minded people. I know that is a lot to take in. As a professor at a research university, I find myself always explaining to others that at are not privy to academic life that 1) no, we do not have summers off; 2) no, we don’t only work a few hours a day when we have class; 3) no, we are not freeloaders of the university system; and 4) yes, I work my ass off for every penny that I bring into said university. As I am still fairly young and have a young family, I feel that I need an outlet for my rantings as I metomorphosize into my next raven. In comes my bird blog. We’ll take it for a test spin and see how it goes!
I find that the hardest thing for me, at this particular raven state, is to remain true to my tenants and still be a productive professional that still loves to go into work everyday. This is becoming somewhat hard for me lately, as my partner and best friend is not enjoying his vocational options as of late. Our beloved academic institution has let us down, and now our family is in a state of flux that is ready to fly from this perch at any moment. We find ourselves in a place waiting for our next coordinates, and our patience is slipping away slowly. For those that know me well, know that I am far from a patient person. My entire life I have always had a goal to obtain and a place to go next. This juncture in my life is far from my historical comfort zone and I am trying to learn how to trudge these new waters in a path that will lead us to a better place.
I am not a spiritual person, but do believe in people and I know that our struggles today will get us where we want to go. Now, if we just knew where that was! I hope you enjoy reading my posts, and I am sure that many of them will be rants of a raven…meant to help this bird keep her feathers in tact!