Tag Archives: grad school

Chopper Mom

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You can hear the chopper blades over head.  The spot light in shining on the ground below.  It must be the police tracking a criminal.  There must be an accident and Flight For Life is en route.

Or maybe it’s me, checking up on my kid.

Let me introduce myself: I am a mom.  I had my daughter when I was 31.  I love her intensely, even when she runs over to me and farts on my lap.  My husband: a police officer, a veteran, an “man’s man” with a sensitive side.  As our child grew, we didn’t have a lot of money, so we worked opposite shifts in order to not pay for childcare.  We might appear to be overprotective right there, the fact that our daughter had a handful of babysitters in her life due to finances and family who weren’t capable or maybe didn’t want to help (or, horror of horrors, I didn’t know how to ask).  Are we overprotective because one of us was always with her?  I don’t think so.  We were practical.  And she was quite used to always having one parent around.

I never even heard the term “helicopter parent” until my daughter was in first grade.  “What is that?” I asked.  “A parent who can’t cut the ties.”  It was first identified as an acceptable term in the 1960s.  The 1960s.  That’s quite a while back. I wasn’t even born then.  My, things have changed, haven’t they?  In many families now, both parents work.  Dad is not necessarily the bread-winner.  We had an era following the 60s, my youthful time of the 80s that went much the opposite direction as we went home to a key hidden under a rock, had a healthy sugar based snack, pretended to get some homework done, but really spent time singing with our radios and our mirrors, perfecting that rock star sneer.  We were “latch-key kids.”  I even got myself up and to school alone in the morning.  It was a different time, and that wasn’t considered neglect or anything, it was typical.  Children can raise themselves.  Well, I did, and at times it’s a miracle I survived.  It did give me street smarts (after a few close encounters) and by the time I went to college I had mastered binge drinking, lying about my age to men, experimenting with any drug my friends would allow me (note: MY FRIENDS were dictating my choices) and flying across the world by myself (as my hometown was in the middle east, my high school and college were in the states).  Now here I am, in 2014, raising a daughter and attempting to find balance.  I don’t want her to be alone all of the time.  I don’t want her to be babysat all of the time.  I wanted to have her, and I tried really hard to get pregnant.  She was no accident.  If I wanted her so badly, why wouldn’t I want to spend time with her?  And is it her fault her parents have to work?  Is it her fault her dad sees the darkest versions of parenting every single day?  Is it her fault her mom feels guilty going to graduate school and having to call her on the phone to say goodnight?  It’s not her fault, so please don’t judge her, and don’t judge us.  We are who we are, and we are doing the best we can.

Behind every helicopter parent, there lies a story.  Instead of berating, be curious.  Stop judging and start wondering, because there are fascinating people out there, trying to do the best they can by their kids.

Life went along pretty merrily until the summer before my daughter entered first grade.  In three months we lost my husband’s best friend to cancer (a person she saw weekly and who interacted with her a ton), our cat, a neighbor’s baby died in our house, and my daughter’s aunt was hit by a car while biking and nearly died.  It was not an easy summer.  And yet she seemed pretty good.  I did everything I could to make fun happen, with the swimming pool, play dates, “normal” activities.

Death was at our door a lot, and it was hard not to think about how easy life can slip away.

I did begin to hover.

When she started second grade, I started graduate school and suddenly her mom who was always at her side, volunteering and taking her to and from school, was gone.  Daddy took over, and became soccer dad, volunteer dad, and chief chauffeur.  And each year started getting harder.  The start of third grade, my husband and I were the only parents lining up with our daughter before school started.  She was crying and clutching me like the kindergarteners around the other side of the building.  I had the nerve to be embarrassed by my child.  That makes me a pretty horrible parent, in my book.  In talking to a professional therapist who works with children and grief, I later discovered that around the time the parent’s grief begins to lessen (on average, about two years) the children’s grief will kick in.  So, really, she was totally text book normal.  But I didn’t know that, and I became fearful of having a “clingy” or a “needy” child.  These are very stupid words, by the way, now that I have spent so much time studying psychology.  So, do everyone a favor and eliminate them from your vocabulary, especially if describing yourself.  People are “in need of” secure attachments.

My daughter was seeing safety disappear all around her.

Halfway through third grade a school-mate died.  She was the music teacher’s daughter.  She was our neighbor.  She was a kid, and without obvious reason of any kind, she died in her sleep.  That’s when I started sleeping with my daughter more.  I felt that on those nights when I was in her room, I could protect her from somehow randomly dying.  I could keep her safe.

We ended third grade with an unfortunate experience: eye surgery to correct strabismus.  If I could have seen how perfectly fine she was, that for her to need her mom was not a flaw, that for her to be fearful and overwhelmed by the chaos of school was not bizarre, that for her, falling asleep could be dangerous.  If I could have seen that, I would have insisted on better pre-op nurses.  I would have insisted on an anesthesiologist who gave a shit about the before and after fears of surgery.  Instead, my daughter went into surgery terrified.  She felt her body go numb.  She tried to fight.  It tore my heart out to see her struggle like that.  And when she awoke, she was in the exact same state (which I have since read about, and it is quite common).  She woke up TERRIFIED and stayed that way for twelve hours.  I mean, terrified.  Every three minutes (while she refused to open her eyes) she would doze off and wake up screaming, “Mommy?  Am I awake?  I don’t know if I’m awake!”  I laid on the floor for the entire day, while she was on the couch next to me squeezing the hell out of my hand.  I promised her I would sleep in her bed for the next two weeks, because now she also equated falling asleep with not just death, but anesthesia – which in her head was worse than death.  And then her dad got sick.  I know, it doesn’t seem like anything else could go wrong.  But this is life, and ours is not the most or the least challenging.  It just is.

He became ill the summer before she entered fourth grade.  He was feverish in the beginning, and was tested for West Nile Virus, which had been found in Colorado.  The test came back negative, as did every other test they thought to run. He was sick for three months before his doctor finally scheduled an MRI.  It took two weeks to get the results.  They came in the morning I was planning on taking my daughter to Dinosaur Ridge.  It was a hot day in August.  I was starting my graduate school internship in a week.  My third year of grad school would begin in two weeks.  And the doctor called to tell us my husband had lesions on his brain.  When you see your big strong husband felled by health news like that, wow.  Let me tell you that was a hard day.

One note, in case you are going through this stuff, we did not share what was happening with my daughter.  I mean, she knew her dad was sick.  But she didn’t know how worried we were, because we tried to keep things so friggin’ normal!  I actually took her to Dinosaur Ridge anyway, and took my husband in for his emergency high contrast MRI that afternoon.  Oh crazy crazy people.  If I could do it over, with all I’ve learned about the brain and parenting and child psychology, I would have told my daughter a little bit more, because she knew things were bad.  But when the parents don’t give words for those feelings, the emotions get very confusing.

My husband lived, I’ll give you that right away because this is an article about helicopter parenting, not about his sickness.  It turned out to be encephalitis, which if you don’t know about – you should google because it happens and most doctors don’t recognize the symptoms.  It is a brain infection, possible after a virus like West Nile, but they couldn’t prove that’s what he’d had.  It took a good 6 months for his brain to get a bit more normal, although the lesions are dead brain matter, so, well, dead is dead.

So, now here we are at fifth grade.

My daughter can not handle sleep overs because she gets too anxious.  In fact, sleep is a daily challenge in our house.  The fifth grade has a three day field trip in the mountains every year.  And so, we drove her up each day, and we drove her down to her own bed each night.  And on the first day, while waiting for her to finish an activity, a fifth grade teacher said, “Some parents just can’t let their kids go.  They’re always fine up here.  They have so much fun.”  Yeah.  I can’t let her go.  OR, maybe there’s a story here.  Maybe you should wonder why this can be so hard for some parents and some kids.  Maybe this is not a choice.  It just is.

My point in writing this is we never know the story.  Start asking people what their story is.  If they are in the midst of some family illness or some traumatic event, they might totally blow you off, or they might seriously appreciate the opportunity for authentic connection.

They might need someone not to judge them.  

Farts Equal Love

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I’ve been working through my third year of grad school (holy crap, that means I’m almost forty-one and not only have a mortgage, but almost $100K in student loan debt!  Awesome.) at a play therapy site.  This means I am working toward having most of the letters of the alphabet after my name.  Special.

So, I do therapy with kids, which is – of course – super amazing.  I just watched the Lego Movie and I want to say “awesome” to describe everything!  It is super awesome.  Everything is awesome.

Except the farts.  Well, in fact, they are awesome too, but I don’t have any air freshener in that tiny room.  And the heating unit sucks.  Yesterday I was being farted on in a seventy-seven degree room.  I think that’s actually a form of torture.

I made the mistake early on with a four year old.  He farted.  I laughed.  Dammit.  I know better!  I’m a parent!  As soon as they break you with laughter, it becomes a form of entertainment.

And so he farts, at least once a session.

What is interesting to me is not only how often I have been farted on in my life (as a massage therapist, a mommy, and now a kiddo therapist) but the “WHY?”

Why do people enjoy farting on me?  Is it because I remind them of worn out underwear?  Is it a new kind of doormat syndrome?  Toilet face syndrome?  Do I smell too good?  Am I secretly made of beans?

Well, in writing my thesis I have been learning a lot about the brain.  I would learn a lot more if I could retain any sort of fact at this point in my life, so I guess I should say – I’m READING a lot about the brain.  Some of it sticks.  Most of it doesn’t.  The brain is cool.  I’ve got that part down.  And it tells us when we’re safe.  Our nervous system relaxes when we feel safe.  We can fart when we feel safe.  Chances are, if you are running from a bear, you probably aren’t farting.  Until you get to a safe place, then you’ll likely shit your pants.

I am that place.  These kids are often coming in because of trauma or neglect.  Being comfortable and safe feeling enough to fart is a huge compliment.  They aren’t running from the bears, they are relaxing their wee nervous systems.

In my face.

And their wee nervous systems are stinky.

Farts equal acceptance.

I wanted to say, Farts Equal Love, because it is Valentine’s Day, but that might be a stretch.  Though it would mean my husband loves me very very much.

Aside

So, I am not the standard grad student.  I am pushing 40, I have a kid, and I am married.   I am attending a Buddhist school.  I am not Buddhist. I am not even a good atheist.  I base my beliefs on coffee beans and magic.  The first day of my first year, I was pumped.  I was raring to go!  I had been working on prerequisites for seven years.  Here it was!  I entered my first class.  It was wonderful.  I was learning things.  I wasn’t at work.  I was expanding my mind and racking up huge amounts of debt.

Glorious!

I had to race to my second class, which was half way across town.  I had ten minutes.  I drove like the wind, and arrived 10 minutes late.  I walked in, and the entire group of 20 students and 2 instructors turned to look at me.

I felt like I had walked into an Elks meeting.  Or a Mormon wedding.  It seemed something important and secretive was happening and I had missed it.

“Sorry!”  I said, far too perkily.  “I just had a class at the other campus; I can’t get here right on time.”

The main instructor had a serious expression on her face and looked terribly disappointed in me, as if while meditating a potato bug had crawled right up her butt, and somehow it was my fault.

“Uh.  I mean, it was only 10 minutes.”  There was a distinct pitch to my voice, much like a whine.

The class looked at me with obvious pity, perhaps thinking I wouldn’t last the day.  I was thinking,”I’m not going to last the day.”  We were all on the same wavelength.  Except for the fact that my wavelength has been out of school for over 15 years and my wavelength can’t read a course schedule and my wavelength scheduled a class that ran one hour into my next class, because my wavelength is totally overwhelmed and my wavelength wants to quit school this very instant.  I was okay before this.  I wasn’t progressing in my working life, I wasn’t learning anything new, but this?  This is not cool.  I am not going to be the kid no one wants to sit next to at lunch.  I’m not going to be the Ally Sheedy of the Breakfast Club.  No I am not.  In fact, I’m going to the bathroom now, and not to meditate.

To hide in a stall.

And cry.

Even the free tampons couldn’t cheer me up.  I gradually picked up my swollen, puffy eyed face, wrapped my heart that really just wanted to be home with my daughter up in some extra toilet paper, took a deep breath and went back to class.  I smiled like nothing was wrong, hoping my fake cheer distracted from my red eyes.  I traveled to the admissions office and tried to figure out my schedule.  The woman, who was about my age, looked at me like I was probably the stupidest student to ever enter the program.  Yeah.  That’s me, I’m the slow one.  Thanks.  By the way, where are the Buddhists hiding?  I thought you all were supposed to love EVERYONE!  Even the remedial grad students!

She told me, “You registered for a class that conflicts with another class.”

Well, no shit.  Now who’s the stupid one?  (I’m not even going to fake that I’m a Buddhist.)

“Yes, I did.  I’m wondering how I can fix it.”

“Well, you have to get online and change classes.”

My face quivered.  I had reached a breaking point.

She looked me in the eye and very seriously said, “This is graduate school, you know.”

I thanked her, for completely topping off my awesome first day of school and went to my car where I proceeded to do the ugly cry and call my sister (she is the main receiver of all my ugly cries – an underpaid job for sure).  I huffed and puffed, telling my sister all the stuff I meant to say to the admissions lady, but I didn’t because my brain operates on a 10-20 minute delay.

Why did it suddenly seem as if graduate school was a NASA program that only 8 people in the world had been admitted to, and if I didn’t figure out my schedule the earth as we know it would cease to exist because the sun would explode and the moon would crash into the ocean?  Yes.  It IS graduate school, I realize this.  And I am paying this school nearly $80,000 over three years to have the honor to earn a degree from them.  I think for that kind of money, someone should hold my hand.  I mean, if I am going to negatively affect the entire planet, shouldn’t SOMEONE HELP ME OUT?!

I never said any of that, of course, and somehow I finished my entire first year without destroying the sun or the moon.  Or my marriage.  Or Buddhism.  It seemed my newbie status was morphing.  I was becoming an expert grad student.  Drinking lattes by the gallon, typing papers by the pound, sitting on cushions and not totally cursing the person who invented the damn cushion.  I could do this!  (Though I could do this better on a couch.)

Until year two.

I made it through my first day with no problems.  Whew.  I really was going to be okay.  And then… then…

it was day TWO!

I went to get my financial aid money.  La la la.  Life is good.  Getting some money from the government.  whoop.  Gonna buy some groceries.  Gonna pay the water bill.  Holla!

“Um, we have no check for you.”

“WHAAATTT?”

“Well, you see this section of the form?”  The financial aid guy drew a big square around a paragraph at the bottom of the page.  I swear he drew it really slowly, emphasizing my stupidity, but I might be projecting.

“You…..Didn’t…..Do….This….Part.”

Seriously?  Why are these people such dick-heads?  What would Buddha do?  Don’t they know this shit is difficult for someone who used to register for classes IN PERSON?  God.  I probably babysat this guy in college.

Of course, again, instead of saying any of this, I cried.  It’s my go-to mature reaction.

Graduate school is no laugh.  But it also is not that big of a deal.  The big deal is that I quit wearing deodorant about 2 months before the program started.  This was probably a bad decision.  If you are going to go back to school as a “mature” student, it’s probably best not to let them smell your fear. I wonder, if I do become Buddhist, will my sweat no longer stink?

My Buddhist Deodorant

Bad tree! You made me cry!

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I have fallen off the blog boat, but I am going to try to make a brief attempt to raise my head above the waters of grad school to say “hello world.”  I started school in August.  It’s intense, and yet in class on Wednesday we “had” to go outside and color for 30 minutes.  I know.  It’s not brain surgery, but it is Art Therapy, so sometimes I feel about as drained as if it were brain surgery.

Brain surgery that I am performing on my own brain, without drugs!

Not that I’m complaining, I certainly have some goobers in my gray matter that could use removal, or hugs, or copious amounts of caffeine.  I’m trying all three to see what works best.  So far the caffeine is my favorite, although I equated my habit to that of a meth addict the other day.  I’m hoping it’s not going to make me look like those billboards of tweakers.  Good lord.  It’s just coffee.  But, man, I have had so much in the last month that I expect my teeth to start falling out at any moment.  I may wake up with a couple stuck in my hair, and I would not be surprised.  My dentist will.  But I’m sure he’ll be happy when I pay his bill with my student loan check.

So, why would I put my teeth and gray matter through such trauma, voluntarily? Perhaps because I am clinically insane. But, from what I’ve learned, insane ain’t so bad.  It’s depression that I’d like to avoid.  At least the insane make some fabulous art.  And you don’t need any friends to have a party, because there they are, all in your head, whenever the party mood strikes!  Wheeee!  Anyway, I’m not really insane (or my art would probably be much better) and so far I’m not depressed. That being said, you may disagree because I have enrolled as a full time grad student at a school where not only do I have 15 textbooks for one semester, but I am required to meditate (and read a hell of a lot about how to do so, if I only had the time, but since I have to read about it so much, I run out of time to practice it!), but I also have to make art (this is my version of heaven), and people around me actually, literally hug trees, sometimes while crying great big animalistic sobs.  This I have learned is another therapy program, Gestalt.  I’m quite happy that I don’t have to hug the trees in the art program.  At least not in front of people.  You all know I secretly hug them when no one’s looking.  But they only make me cry when they have wasp nests in them.  But yes, I am going to a unique school, and I love it.  After almost 6 weeks, I do not yet own patchouli oil, my leg hair is as randomly shaved as ever, and nothing new has been pierced.  I still have my given name (although I think Hot Wind has a nice ring to it).  I am still married (I think.  There’s a guy on the couch who kinda resembles some dude I used to know.  Hope it’s not the plumber.).  And I hope to still be funny  (I think that’s my sense of humor poking out from under my massive blue binder).

Oh silly blog.  How I have missed writing.  I promise to build up many stories to share over the winter break.  So, stay tuned.  I am still me!  I know this because today I had the opportunity to help someone who had been hit by a car.  I held her head while we waited for the ambulance.  I kept talking to her as she went in and out of consciousness.  As the fire engine appeared in front of us she said, “Why are the firemen here?”  I told her the reason, that they are typically the first responders to any scene, and then added a side note of, “Don’t worry.  There’s not a fire.”  She laughed, which gives me reason to believe that she will be okay.

A word of wisdom to those whose brains are worth something – the ones not overrun with boogers and meth: wear a helmet!  I don’t care if you are walking your dog.  Ok.  I’m kidding, although we’d probably all be safer.  I mean, when you ride your bike, wear your stinking helmet.  If you are more concerned about your hair than your brains, then you’re right.  You’re one of the lucky ones who does not need a helmet.  But I’m guessing that there may be a modicum of good inside that brain, so maybe protect it anyway.  If you’re doing meth AND concerned with your remaining hair, the helmet is just a joke at this point.  One political slam here, because it is connected to helmets, and hair.  One of our local politicians, Tom Tancredo, was pulled over last year while driving his motorcycle.  He was not wearing a helmet.  When asked about this, his reply was (and I should not quote because I don’t have the direct source, but my somewhat gooey over-caffienated-gray-matter remembers it as…)”I’m coming from a haircut.”  Yep.  Wouldn’t want to mess up the hair by protecting your brain.  That would be just silly.

A close friend of mine unfortunately did not wear her helmet to work one day, about 15 years ago.  I must give her credit, hardly any one did on a casual ride in those days.  She was hit by a car and suffered a terrible brain injury, followed by an infection that has left her in a state that most of us can’t even let ourselves imagine.  It’s too much.  Her parents have cared for her through all these years, and I have started a fundraiser for them because their resources are depleted.  They are good good people.  They deserve any help humanity can spare.  If you are interested in reading, please check the fundraiser site at www.giveforward.com/magicformoana. 

Protect those beans.  The tree hugging ones.  The insane ones.  The depressed ones.  Beans rule.

Stock My beer Fridge! The Grandkids Are Coming!

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I know.  It’s been a really long while for me… I love to write, but all of my efforts have been going into 10 page papers on The Psychology of Personality.  I have a lot to do in the next four weeks.  EEEK!  So, I figured I’d write another blog.  Good use of my time!

I want to tell you that graduate school is mighty expensive.  I could buy a house (granted, a small house.  in Nebraska.  with redneck neighbors.) with the loans I am getting for the honor of studying myself silly (and I can’t wait, because I’m dorky like that).  I have been researching grants and scholarships and black market organ sales, but it looks like my most reliable source of tuition payment will be the fed.  And I will pay them back because no one likes to bail out a mom.  A bank?  A car company?  Well, sure!  A mom?  Nah.  Still, all that matters is that I get to go.

My mom had a suggestion for me to drum up some tuition money.  She said, “Why don’t you sleep with your brother-in-law, he can afford it.”

Um.  What?

I think that A) my husband may not appreciate that, B) my sister may not appreciate that, and C) EW!  (no offense to my bro-in-law; he’s great, but I couldn’t do that with anyone for money.  for beer?  okay, not even for beer)

Who does that?  I mean, obviously Charlie Sheen’s goddesses would, but me?  I taught an Ethics class last year, and from what I learned in teaching that, it somehow seems wrong.

My mother-in-law (who is very concerned that my selfish desires to attend school will stress my husband out too much) said that she has a friend enrolling in the same program that I will be attending (art therapy, not goddess school).   I asked what her name was.  “Well, I really shouldn’t tell you.”

Ooooohhhhkkkkaaayyyyyy.

“Why not?” I inquired.

“Because we both feel that if the universe wants you to meet, you will.”

Blergh.  That was the sound of me I gagging on my own vomit.

“Well, how old is she (we’re thinking she must be older than I am, and I was the oldest one at the group interview)?” my husband dared to ask.

“I just don’t think I should share that with you.”

Um, what the fuck?  Is she in the witness protection program?  Is she a famous supermodel?  Is she the man who you are having an affair with, disguised as a woman?  Why is this such a big deal?

I can not answer these questions, but I want the world to see the role models I have in my family for aging as a woman.  I need some sane women.  I need some rational women.  My daughter needs a gramma who actually shows up when she says she will and when she does randomly appear, does not get in her face and ask her a billion questions.

Just play with the kid.  Put away the damn bowls and get silly.

When and if I get to be a gramma someday, I vow to do a few things:

I will love my grandchildren with the unconditional capacity of a puppy (but hopefully not pee on them when they come to the door).

I will tell them how proud they make me and remind them of their awesomeness.

I will bake them sugary, fattening treats, with flaxseed and cauliflower hidden inside.  And make them spinach smoothies.

I will watch all the teen drama movies with them, because I secretly LOVE them.

I will have sleepovers.

I will make s’mores.

I will show up.

I will gladly return them when I am exhausted, because I’ll be old and in need of a good nap.

When they’re older, I will have a beer fridge (and if they’re good, I’ll share).

It’ll be fun to be a good role model.  I just wish there were more of them in my family.  I have found them elsewhere though, and those women keep me hopeful that life does not become some wallow-ing self-absorbed pity-party that no one wants to attend.  Thank you, my funny, awesome, witty, smart, beautiful role models.  Even if you aren’t in my gene pool, I love that you are in my life.