Monday, February 18, 2013

On Writing and Thanking and Writing

I've had a notebook ever since I was old enough to write. For twenty years I have had a favorite kind. (I love the plaid Clairefontaine ones, medium sized. And there are only certain pens I like to use. Yeah, I'm fussy like that.) I always have one in my bag. Paper and pen help me clear my mind like therapy or a good cry. I get ink on my hands and callouses on the fingers that clutch the pen, and it feels like I've worked my muscles, as if I went for a long run. I've written my most secret thoughts down since I was a child. Like Harriet the Spy, it's a compulsion for me. Most of the time I didn't even know I was writing to figure things out. I write to remember. Much of my memory is in a foot locker in my bedroom, a real eyesore of a hand-me-down that my husband would love to get rid of. I can't reread the dozens of notebooks that are locked inside - it's too embarrassing and painful. Just looking at the various phases of handwriting - especially the big, round, affected teenage girl handwriting I taught myself - or flipping through one entry after the next about whatever crush I thought I'd pine for until the day I died makes my face feel hot with shame. But I can't throw them out either. That would be like pressing the delete button on 25 years of my experiences. It's all in there. Even when I knew my privacy was being invaded by people who just couldn't resist snooping, I had to write it all down. I related to Harriet on so many levels and read Harriet the Spy so many times I know whole chunks of it by heart. 

I switched to blogging about twelve years ago. I had just met Johnny and we were both pretty crazy. Crazy in love with each other, but also just plain crazy. He was 22, I was 28, and we were both all kinds of intense, unstable, and dramatic. I filled up notebook after notebook either raging about how much I hated him or waxing poetic about how in love I was. And I will confess now that I started blogging instead not because I wanted the world to know about all my personal goings-on but because typing on my computer instead of scribbling furiously in my notebook meant I could be utterly, self-indulgently, and virtually verbose at work too and no one would know I wasn't the world's busiest employee. (My work ethic has since improved considerably, for the record.)

The bad news about taking my dirty laundry to the internet back when blogging was just getting started is that the tools weren't that sophisticated, or if they were, I was not sophisticated enough myself to know it. There was no Facebook then, no Blogger or WordPress. It was even before MySpace. I was using LiveJournal, which was basically Drama Central for twenty-somethings at the time, and early adopter though I may have been, at the beginning I didn't know how to post "friends only."  I never censored myself because after all, it was my journal. You don't like what I have to say? Well then don't read it! I was never especially popular and I had absolutely zero self-esteem, so I didn't think anyone would care enough about what I had to say to bother with my ramblings. But I was wrong. My silly journal got linked around and people who should not have been reading were. I hate confrontation, so I didn't waste any time putting all my words on lock-down to avoid any more drama. 

After that, I blogged privately for a few years. But I have to admit that there is something appealing about letting it all hang out. When I write, I sort out my feelings. I figure stuff out and am able to move on. When I write online, I also feel like I've shared my thoughts and my life with everyone who owns a computer. It's a heck of a lot easier than talking, especially about the tough stuff. I'm not too good at that.  But I'm so in my head that I assume - often incorrectly - that people know what's going on with me, as though tossing my nonsense out to the interwebs was the same as meeting all my friends and acquaintances or coffee and a good heart-to-heart without having to actually open my mouth.
Recently my blog has been getting a lot of hits, and now I am promoting it on a Facebook page that I created just for this purpose. I do that partly to keep it separate from my personal Facebook page; I have new readers who don't know me personally. But even more, I'm secretly (and now, not-so-secretly) hoping that some neurological expert will read about Teeny and will offer up a simple solution to all her medical problems, or that some wealthy reader will want to be her benefactor (okay, or my sugar daddy), or that some hotshot agent (who has nothing better to do than read some working mom's online diary) will discover me and want to publish my sure-to-be-a-bestseller memoir. But I don't want to have to say any of this out loud because it's asking for too much. I want the universe to just know.

Two weeks ago someone was frustrated with me and lashed out with a very judgmental comment about the kind of person I am. We were having a conversation in which I did ask for help, and I was instantly sorry I had. I felt like I'd been slapped in the face. She basically said that I was the type of person who would impose upon others without a second thought, just expecting that they would drop everything to help me. She was, in my opinion, entirely off the mark, and I was pissed off. Even more, I was hurt and defensive. I promptly proclaimed to one and all that I would never ever ask anyone for anything ever again and fled for home, in a tornado of self-doubt. 

But no. That isn't me, and I know it. It's hard for me to ask for help. Over the years I've developed a strong sense of pride and I'm fortunate to be able to support myself and my family with little help from others. I am 40 years old. An adult, a spouse, a parent. I shouldn't rely on others and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do and to achieve so that I don't have to. But it takes a village, right? I don't ask for much, so when I do, the people who love me usually know that I really, really need their help.

I am far more courageous and honest online. I'm able to share my highest highs and lowest lows, when doing so in person makes me feel like I'm alternately bragging or complaining, or worse, hinting that I need something from someone. In person, it's easier to say very little about myself. I talk a lot, sure, but not always about anything very substantial. 

I know it's a little crazy that I would rather blog than confide in a friend. Even I think it's odd that I am a completely introverted oversharer. It has gotten easier over the years - certainly having taught high school made it much easier. I often tell people that once you can stand up in front of 25 teenagers and get them to listen to you, you can talk to anyone about anything, and it's really true! Even so, I still have to give myself a pep talk when I walk into a room full of people and convince myself to talk to at least two people or to introduce myself to someone I haven't met yet. It's even harder for me when friends and family ask me how I'm doing. And the weirdest thing is that I have trouble updating people - even those I really love - about my life before I've had a chance to write about it.

On the other hand, I don't usually think about the fact that sometimes people I work with, neighbors, casual acquaintances and Facebook pals are people who read my blog and have access to very, very personal information. They read my thoughts and my fears, my successes and my struggles. And I know I'm putting all of that out there, but at the same time, I am essentially a very private person. I generally don't bring up Teeny's issues unless someone asks me about her, and I certainly don't blab to everyone I see about all the challenges in my life. But oh yeah, I was the one who invited the world into my diary. I want you all to know. I just don't want to have to tell you. That part is too scary. 

So imagine how I felt when two of my coworkers set up a surprise fundraiser to cover the cost of Teeny's genetic testing I wrote about here. I know these two women professionally and to a lesser extent, personally. I have tremendous respect for them as animal advocates and as moms of young children. I was vaguely aware that they read my blog but I am really not able to gauge people's interest level well - seems there are some really dedicated readers, and at the same time some of my very closest friends and family members are not readers. 

Anyway, these two women worked fast. They spread the word far and wide before I even knew what was going on. The email they sent me on Thursday morning tipping me off sat in my inbox for hours before I had a chance to read it. When I did, I was standing in someone else's office in another part of the city. I was just scrolling through emails on my phone and I was caught completely off guard. Absolutely stunned, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry -- or throw up. I felt so grateful. And I was terrified. I worried that people would think I put them up to it, or that no one would want to contribute. Worst of all was that I had no idea how to react. I wanted to protest. I wanted to apologize. It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me and I felt completely undeserving. For me, feeling needy is just about the worst sensation in the world. I hate thinking I can't do everything by myself. But I can't. I do need help. And these women wanted to help. So I just said thank you. And then I needed to write about it. 

If you're one of the nearly 150 individuals and families who participated and contributed so far, thank you. In three days you achieved 150% of the original goal and there is still more coming in. My jaw dropped time and time again when I saw how many people pitched in to help. Friends, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances. The president of the non-profit I work for. Board members. Friends' parents. Some of you helped when I know perfectly well that you are struggling yourselves. Again, I thank you. And if you're someone who wanted to participate but could not, thank you. Maybe you're one of the people who reposted the link so others could read about Teeny and contribute. That too is a tremendous contribution. If you are a friend to our family who has lent a hand by calling, texting or emailing to check in knowing it's likely that I won't reply right away, by sharing your story or your child's story with me, by hanging out with us talking about politics, movies, the weather -- anything other than cerebellar hypoplasia, by playing board games with us, by dragging me out for coffee or a manicure or just a walk, thank you. My family thanks you all. One day, I know Teeny will thank you. We promise to honor your gifts, which are supporting us in so many ways. Your gifts are covering the genetic testing I wrote about last week, and even more. More of our once-impossibles are now-possibles, thanks to you. Every gesture feels like a hug, a vote of confidence in my ability to lead Teeny and our family through this. So please stay tuned. This kid is capable of big things. I just know it. And I'm gonna write about it. 

Maybe one day Teeny will write about it, too. 


  1. I didn't know you or Teeny until I read a note from an acquaintance on FB about Teeny's need for these tests. While I still don't "know" you; when I read your blogs I think I know you a little. Your thoughts and hopes and wishes and dreams and fears are the same as every mom. You planned to go to Italy and found yourself in Holland. It's scary and lonely and exhilarating and maddening and heart stopping and overwhelming and yet. . . . . you have the beautiful little Miss Teeny and you recognize that.

    And if I may, perhaps the person who broke your heart a few weeks ago simply chose her words poorly but did not intend to be unkind or perhaps she was having a really crappy day and spoke without thinking how it came out. (Of course she could just be a nasty person and if that’s the case shame on her.) Regardless, I do hope that you know, that sometimes the best gift YOU can give someone is to let them help. Giving is a two way street, it helps both the giver and the receiver, please remember that.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment and I apologize for not responding sooner. I have thought and thought about your note: "sometimes the best gift YOU can give someone is to let them help. Giving is a two way street, it helps both the giver and the receiver, please remember that." and it really has changed my life and my ability to ask for help when I need it. It's kind of amazing how many people are willing to be so helpful - it has totally saved my ass from burnout and despair. Thank you.

  2. I have known you as an employee, as a fellow mom, as a FB friend and as a reader of your blog. Laying your heart and soul open as you do may make you a target for the fearful, but the rest of us love you mightily! And I didn't know Teeny is a southpaw !!

    1. Mary, it does look like she's ending up a lefty, doesn't it? Yay!

  3. I love that you have a locker full of journals. What a great idea! I stopped writing 20 years ago when I met my husband because I was afraid of him finding them. Silly. I wish I'd kept it up. Now I blog but you have to be careful what you say on a blog. I just needed a locker. ;)

    Enjoy your todays because that's all there is, the rest is in our heads. Things will get easier. Just stay in the moment and focus on the positive. Keep writing but DO go back and read your writing about your daughter. You'll be amazed at how your feelings change and grow. You will both find your way and she will be okay.

    1. Hi Susan, I just saw your blog about Ainsley. Do you know about the FB cerebellar hypoplasia support group? That group has been a lifesaver to me. We do all have different circumstances and different prognoses, but just knowing there are other families out there that really understand has been so helpful. Let me know if you would like an invite.

    2. Just noticed you're already there! Great!


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