Toddlers: How Mine Survived

Toddlers

Raising children is a fine line between harnessing demons and treating them as humans. It’s a difficult job. I’m so glad I’m done.

See, I despise toddlers. I despised my own and I despise other people’s toddlers. Even when toddlers do the cutest things, more often than not, I’ve had to wrestle with them the way I wrestled with my own inner demons. Though I haven’t developed a taste for wine, I understand why Moms need the tonic.

Here is an interesting article that may throw Moms of Toddlers a lifeline.

I like infants. They can’t get away from me and they can’t say “no.” I love to hold them and soothe them and kiss their soft little faces. I miss that.

But I don’t miss the “Terrible Twos” or the “Fighting Fours.”  I don’t miss changing diapers or potty training. I don’t miss the biting, slapping, and kicking. I don’t miss the calls from the daycare teacher about how my child went “thug” for no particular reason. Or broke an arm in an attempt to fly from the top of a jungle gym. Or ate something, like trash. Or threw up everywhere.

I have lots of war stories. Lots.

I also don’t miss the sass. I trained that shit right out of my children, but it was a hard road. Corner time was a common event and the “Ritual of the Spoon” was applied, though sparingly. My oldest still loses his keys, but not to my house.

Each toddler was handed over to my now ex-husband. He loves toddlers. Unless they are doing something from the above two paragraphs. *sigh* I always played “bad cop.” But the child had to be completely out of hand.

My ex and I were pleased about the infant-toddler-adolescent arrangement.

Once they exit the toddler years, about ten or eleven. No, seriously, the baby doctors have this all wrong. About ten or eleven, then I like the child again. They’re funny and full of  strangely accurate observations. Everything is interesting to them.

At this time, I became the warrior mother. Navigating them through middle school and high school was very rewarding, even though both were dismal students.

I also taught them the art of critical thinking. My children read and absorb information even as adults. My heart swells when one of my sons argues with me about the validity of world events and societal practices. I love it when they have their own opinions based on their own experiences and research.

I don’t have my hand up their asses so they parrot what I or society says.

It takes a community to raise a child. I believe that because otherwise, both of my children would be scarred for life. I didn’t inflict myself on my toddlers, even as ill as I was, but I could also hand them over to those who had no children or had a child who needed new friends.

And now I reap the benefits. My “bad cop” turned into bad-ass-defender of my children’s autonomy and safety. Both report that they feel loved and liked by me, that they always have.

So yeah, I despised my toddlers and I despise yours. Though I loved and continue to love my children, toddlers are savages. But mine survived and most likely yours will too if they don’t dance in the middle of a busy street because you had to go the bathroom and he escaped his play pen and crawled backward down the stairs at 10 months.

I’m not sure I have recovered from the “Dancing In the Streets” saga. I have a heart arrhythmia now.

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Image may be subject to copyright.

 

 

 

Old Lady Badges

Old Lady Badges

As I get older, I realize that my mother was an old lady well before her body had caught up. I don’t know if it’s my medication or a strict code of courtesy that my mother had passed to me when she died, but I have begun to collect my Old Lady Badges.

What are Old Lady Badges? They are scenarios in which you no longer give a fuck and speak your mind. The Old Lady Badges I have collected so far are as follows:

  1. Chastising a young person in a public forum, a child who is not my own, for taking something for granted.
  2. Calling the manager to discuss the behavior of an employee while my head bobbles with fury.
  3. Sending back a dish of food, dammit, because I’m paying for a pleasant experience, not the chef’s incompetence.
  4. Spoiling a little dog to death.

I haven’t done number 3 or 4 yet, but I’m sure 3 will happen. Not so sure about 4 but if I could have a pit bull-corgi mix, that would send me over the moon. We’ll see.

I’m sure there are other badges that will surprise the hell out of me and might depress me:

  1. Talking to strangers because I’m lonely.
  2. Crying in the middle of the aisle in a store because I can’t remember what I want.
  3. Eating cat food because I have 17 of the furry bastards and can’t afford groceries.
  4. Going to a local soup-kitchen because cat food isn’t cutting it.
  5. Feeding pigeons in a park.
  6. Wearing clashing shades of purple and orthopedic Doc Martins.
  7. Saying out loud what everyone is thinking but won’t out of courtesy.
  8. Losing my mind—completely.
  9. Muttering about how kids these days don’t know the meaning of customer service.
  10. Taking public transportation because I forget my destination, or where I am, and panic.
  11. Talking about days gone by to my grandchildren.
  12. Reading the obituaries to see which of my high school and college acquaintances I’ve outlived.
  13. Buy a house that has everything I need on one floor. Everything.
  14. Having a doctor for each part of my body.
  15. Planning my life around doctor appointments.
  16. Playing pinochle at the senior center.

I’m also sure there are badges I don’t know about. I hope I don’t have to experience most of these. I may have earned number 6 already. I’m not known for discretion among my friends and family, but I think they love me for that quality.

Number 7 is a frightening badge to earn. For number 8, I don’t mutter. I speak very clearly and succinctly about that topic. Number 11 looks very interesting and I may do it just to earn the badge.

Though I write this with a dash of humor, it’s truly a morbid sense of what’s to come. I’ve learned about a few of these from my mother and father. I already need bifocals so that will be number 17.

These are very real scenarios that senior citizens experience. Overlook these inconveniences. The “elderly” are full of knowledge and experience. They also have wicked senses of humor. Listen to them. They are not invisible.

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text, Image may be subject to copyright.

The Release of Death

The Release of Death

My mother and I before she said, “I’m sorry.”

I can only speak of my own experience now that someone with enormous influence over my life has died. I could write about the horrors of those last two weeks or how I cried when I made one of the most harrowing decisions of my life.

Instead, I’m going to write about the last two years since the death.

I had a love-hate relationship with my mother. It was a two-way cycle of yelling for most of my life based on misunderstandings that can only arise from two incompatible perspectives violently clashing. She believed that everyone, including myself, lied to get attention. I believed that honesty was the best policy, sometimes to my detriment.

My mother had Bipolar II with a co-morbidity of closet narcissism. The world revolved around her and the vagaries of her manic-depression. She refused to get help and she refused to acknowledge my illness as anything other than histrionics and attention-seeking.

I can’t hold her illness against her now. Not since my diagnosis with Bipolar II, which was only valid in psychiatric circles with the release of the DSM-V in 2013. The medical community had betrayed her with their shoddy treatment of her breast cancer. The psychiatric community could only do the same.

She was right. Many times, she was right about people and situations. How she conveyed these insights was the problem, because she cast her sense of self-importance and “superior” intellect into the telling.

I don’t care for that kind of conveying. It smells of deceit. But how could my mother deceive me? I was her first-born and only daughter. I was her miracle when she gave birth to me.

These insights are the aftermath of death. You don’t only grieve the loss. You grieve for the relationship and the moments. All of them.

You get angry that you were left behind. You lament over unresolved grievances. You regret the future that will never be.

It’s all about you now.

You might hate the person who died, and if the ties were half a strand of DNA and/or all the interactions implied in that sort of relationship, you are torn up inside. Love and/or hate. Mixed emotions that you must resolve.

But here’s the other side of the coin. Whatever awful relationship you had with this person who influenced your life, the death sets you free.

Whatever aspect of your life this person dominated is now open for you to explore. Sometimes, it’s your entire life, but usually it’s a shedding of judgments that infected you through criticisms. It’s the letting go of someone else’s perspective. If you want to, you can see clearly.

The weight that lifted from my shoulders after my mother died was enormous. Here I was thinking I was my own person and I’ve discovered that I wasn’t. My mother’s influence touched the most important aspects of my life and colored them with the idea that I always made poor decisions, that I was nothing compared to her. That’s a weight I was willing to lose.

I’m relieved she died.

There. I said it. As much as I loved my mother, I hated her more. Her decisions deprived me of a potentially healthier life.

Because that’s what abuse does. It gives you a greater potential for illness. It gives the abuser a greater potential for illness. Emotional, mental, and physical violence take its toll on both parties involved in the transaction.

I can’t change what happened, but I wonder if I would have been a more productive contributor to society without her influence. I wonder if I would have developed my predisposition for Bipolar. There was a time when I wasn’t ill. I was just frightened and conflicted. Hypervigilant.

Sometimes I miss you, Mom. We had some good times, but only after I “divorced” you. You couldn’t undo my childhood, but at the end, it meant so much that you wished you could. That you learned how to say, “I’m sorry.”

But most importantly, you said, “I believe you.”

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved.

The Art of Courtesy

The art of courtesy

Intentional discourtesy pulls your decent-human-being card. I worry for your children and hope you haven’t reproduced yet.

I am no Miss Manners. I curse like a sailor. I have foot-in-mouth syndrome to such a degree that LSCWs despair of my ever being cured. But there is one thing my father taught me, and it is the bedrock of all good things in society. He told me this as a child and I have never forgotten it.

Civilized behavior is leaving a room as nice as or nicer than when you first entered.

Behaviors that are not civilized include:

Dropping trash on the ground. Treat trash like dog poop and put it in a receptacle. Not the sidewalk, not the expressway. Just don’t.

Leaving a trail of discarded clothing and other belongings. Don’t let people know you’ve been in a room, or several. This is the symptom of a disorganized mind. Keep that shit in your bedroom.

Fucking someone else’s significant other. Ah, the possibility of true love to escape the misery of your relationship with your SO. If you can’t fix the issues, leave. Then you can fuck whoever you want. I learned this the hard way.

Coercing someone. I’m not talking about grabbing your toddler as they bumble toward a busy street. Coercion is when you do something that isn’t in the best interests of the coercee. This is a matter of listening to the other person. That’s one of the most civilized things you can do.

Taking up two parking spots. If your Maserati needs two spaces at the grocery store, keep it in the fucking garage. If you can afford a Maserati, you shouldn’t be doing your own shopping anyway, entitled asshole.

Cutting in front of the little old lady in the checkout line. This is one of the most disrespectful things you can do, in my opinion. Elders usually mellow out to an extent that they can become invisible. Don’t treat others like they’re invisible.

Not taking care of your animals. If you own a pet, you are responsible for said pet. If you own anything, take care of it. That’s what ownership is about. It’s not having. It’s a responsibility. If you can’t take care of it, don’t own it. Simple.

Not taking care of your kids. This is egregious. Your children are parts of you and if they aren’t the center of your care and concern, it’s a reflection on how you feel about yourself. Neglecting children is right up there with beating them. And your past is not an excuse. It’s an obstacle to vanquish. I speak from experience.

Here are the basics of courtesy:

At work, at home, and in social settings, acknowledge other human beings. I have never, ever been so insulted in my life as when the grocery check-out clerk failed to acknowledge me. I told him a few things and finished it up with “You are not too good for this job.” I believe I earned one of my little-old-lady badges with that one.

When someone renders a service, fucking thank them. Tell them you appreciate them. My favorite line is, “I appreciate this so much. You’ve been so helpful.” And I mean it. You can’t believe how this changes a surly clerk or child into a smiling human being.

Get your nose out of your fucking phone! Granted, this is a pet peeve of mine, but it is so rude. Put the damn thing down and look at the other person across the table from you. You can have the same interaction with this person, only face-to-face. Your addiction to your phone is a serious issue that may need medical attention.

I’m not blaming anyone because that would be the dirty pot calling the dirty kettle unwashed. As I grow older, I’ve discovered just how rude humans can be to each other. I remember my twenties and thirties and I cringe. I’ve become mindful of how I treat others and how I treat myself.

Courtesy is a mindfulness, an awareness, that will have a positive effect on the world around you. As the wise ones over the millennia have said, “Your reality begins from within.” That means every action you take reflects your inner world. Be kind to yourself.

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Image may be subject to copyright.

Don’t Kiss Me, I’m Irish-American

st-patricks-day-wishes

On Saint Paddy’s day, there are Americans who are of Irish descent that do not maraud in the streets in drunken stupors. We do not carouse. There is no Bacchanal on this holy day.

This is the day the Irish and those of Irish descent go to church, have a quiet dinner with their families, and give thanks for the service that Saint Patrick has given to free the people from evil and bring them to godliness. There is no alcohol sold on that day.

Those on the outside looking in have claimed this holy day as a reason to drink ‘til comatose or become stumbling, inebriated assholes puking at curbs. They wear green hats, socks, green pins, green shirts, and drink green beer (if only Padrick had foreseen this travesty…).

You do not get to be Irish for a day. You do not get to appropriate our heritage as a reason to lose all dignity. And like every other oppressed population in America, we only get a day of recognition for the services our ancestors have provided to the prosperity of this country.

I do not make claims of equivalencies here. I make the comparison above because only oppressed populations get “special” days or months. The longer the “celebration,” the greater the oppression.

Saint Paddy’s day has become an oxymoron in America. The holy day to celebrate freedom and devotion has been turned on its ear and twisted into a nightmare of consumerism and corporate manipulation. I’m sure the bars in every American town are delighted to take your coin. I know the liquor magnates get excited about March 17th.

Holy days for the Irish are just that. The day is a time of reflection, of gratitude, and family. Imagine the British turning an American holiday like Independence Day into some dog and pony show where everyone pretends to be Texan for a day, coal-rolls with their hemis in grand parades, and stages mock lynching while drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. Would you be offended?

I am because I value my heritage. American society has twisted up and focused on the least admirable of qualities attributed to the Irish. The true purpose is to celebrate the spirit of the Irish in their devotion to the best qualities of people: Loyalty, kindness, family, and unshakable faith.

Just because I’m offended doesn’t mean you must stop celebrating Saint Paddy’s day in whatever manner you wish.  My greatest distress is that the Mardi Gras of “Irish”-American depravity is conflated with living, breathing people of Irish descent who will be in church today and will return home for a traditional meal of their ancestors.

For my family, corned-beef and cabbage with soda bread is the traditional meal.  And it may sound trite and commercial because it’s a meal associated with the Irish. But when you add in the Potato Famine and the economic collapse of that era, which sent the Irish swimming to America in droves, corned beef would be a big deal reserved for the holy days.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a celebration of freedom that was granted through God’s servant. To my knowledge, Padrick wasn’t of Irish descent at all, but that’s the beauty of the Irish. Having been vilified, they vilify none. They welcome others to their table because nothing is more sacred than breaking bread with friends and family.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Image may be subject to copyright.

An Open Letter to Melissa

An Open Letter_awkward

The awkward girl without a book.

An Open Letter_highschool

The awkward girl with a book.

An Open Letter_now

The confident woman I’ve become. Thanks for helping me to make this possible.

Dear Missy:

I’m writing this letter and making it public now that school shootings have become a “normal” fact of life. To me, you are kindness incarnate, and though I may never reach such heights, your nature is a standard that I’ve made my own.

I was an awkward girl: small, thin, and poorly dressed. Your first instinct was to protect me. I don’t know why. I don’t know which of your experiences motivated you, but you saw me. You worried for me.

At the lunch table, when I made conversation so awkward with your friends because I hid in a book, I knew you tried to include me. You hoped I would swim in waters that I couldn’t navigate. Maybe when I was five or six, it would have worked; that was before everything went wrong for me.

My existence was hell on earth, and throughout my life, when things were the most dangerous for me, an angel has stepped up to show me the way out. You stand out in my memories as all the other angels do. While your efforts to bring me out of my shell, to protect me, appeared to have failed, you showed me the way out.

Each time I help another, I remember you. You didn’t care what I looked like. You saw through my ‘weirdness’ and my attitude. If I saw you in the hallways, you always had a smile to greet me.

That continued kindness made an impact on my very self-hood. You helped me save myself in ways you can’t imagine. Perhaps I would have shot up a school of innocents if you hadn’t reached out. Or died of an overdose somewhere on the east side of Baltimore.

There was so much potential for an unhappy ending.

The reason I’m telling you this is I want you to know you made a difference. You hoped I would thrive. I do now, but it was a long road. Your small actions were one of the lamps that lit the path to where I am now.

Others have expressed their admiration for your kindness, and the way I remember you, you will aver my praise and tell me that you didn’t help enough.  I say to you, seeds are small, but they grow into plants, crops, flowers, and trees. Never forget that every little kindness is powerful. That every plant that grows under your care will thrive even if you don’t see the fruit of your gentle labors.

I want you to know that when a butterfly flutters its wings, I think of you.

Thanks for reaching out,

Gwen

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text and pictures.

 

Relapse Is No Fun

pendulum

Keep in mind that this a first person narrative based on reading and experiences over the years. I highly recommend that you do your own research. New discoveries are being made all the time.

Bipolar is a physical illness in the brain, one that if not treated, has the potential to shrink the corpus callosum and areas of the cortex. Untreated, it can devolve into dementia and other cognitive issues. Even with plasticity, your brain can’t keep up with untreated Bipolar as it “eats” your brain.

Bipolar is a life-long illness that cannot be cured. Bipolar has nothing to do with learning how to control your moods or thinking “positively” or the endorphins created by forcing yourself to smile. I’ve tried acupuncture, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), doctor visit after doctor visit. I even tried the Celestine Prophecy without much success.

I’ve also discovered that medication doesn’t make Bipolar go away but does make it possible for me to live with the illness. I take my medication like a nun saying the rosary.

When I found out that relapse was a common event in the lives of Bipolar II individuals, I felt like I’d been hit by one of those Japanese bullet trains. It doesn’t go away? This shit’s gonna come back and get me again? Hospitalization?

The doctors talk about early warning signs of a manic or depressive episode. I’ve learned that I yell at my cats before a manic episode. Then I clean house like Serial Mom.

Finally, I’m depressed, and I sleep.  I can sleep away an entire weekend if no one stops me. I avoid things that need to get done, like laundry and paying the bills.

As I pull through another depression, I’ve discovered that the medicine helps more than I realized. The first spell of wellness is a rush. Then reality sets in. Bipolar doesn’t go away but it can’t take over my life like it used to.

Today, as my mind tumbled over everything that might have triggered this mild relapse, I decided to try that “smile” exercise. I was astonished. It worked! I ate a bowl of raisin bran, drank some water, smiled some more and now I’m happily writing away.

As I learn to manage my illness, other factors set in. Like peri-menopause. And getting older. Due to an injury, I am unable to work out, which is a line of defense against Bipolar. Do not underestimate the magic of living as healthy as you can.

Flax seed, fish oil, and other types of supplements and fresh foods that are chock full of B vitamins and Omega 3s & 6s help improve and maintain the think tank in your skull. They also help me remember why I walked it a room and what I was supposed to get.

Surprisingly, there is an ample and powerful first line of defense against relapses of all sorts. Water. A hell of a lot more than you’re probably drinking right now.

And get rid of that soda. It’s poison, calorie-free or not. No binge drinking alcohol. or binge drinking coffee. Moderation is the key because Bipolar is an illness of extremes.

So, yeah. Relapse. It’s real. Keep your mood journal and you’ll be able to tell when one is coming on. Keep taking your medicine. Keep drinking water. Talk to your psychiatric care physician (I just had my medicine upped to 300 mg and a supplement added).

And don’t get down on yourself because of a relapse. It’s a normal and expected part of the illness and there are ways to mitigate the magnitude of a relapse. You’re not going crazy. I swear.

©2018. I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved for text. Image may be subject to copyright.