Coronavirus PSA 3/22/2020: Let's Talk About Gloves.

Please read the disclaimers in this post before sharing any covid-19 related content from this blog.

Hi there my lovelies!

In the absence of anything earth-shattering to share, I wanted to talk about this months’ hottest fashion accessory: neoprene gloves.

You’ll see folks wearing them at the supermarket, the bank, and any of those public places that have been deemed essential and are therefore still open. (Thank you, New York, for recognizing the unparalleled importance of the liquor store, btw.)

Before you decide to don a pair, understand how they work.

Here’s how wearing gloves can theoretically help prevent the spread of infection.

When you put them on, you now have a shield preventing whatever contaminants are already on your hands from being transferred to any surfaces you touch while you’re out.

So if you touched your face, or your kitchen counter, or your kid’s face, you aren’t putting those germs onto, say, the ATM machine for other people to catch. Which is a considerate and responsible thing to do.

You also have a shield preventing any contaminants from the surfaces you touch while you’re out from winding up on your hands.

So you can go out and touch the ATM machine, or a shopping cart, or what have you, and not have to worry about bringing whatever was on those surfaces back into your house.

In case this needs to be said, THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN SKIP WASHING YOUR HANDS. Gloves are an extra layer of protection, not a replacement for basic hygiene.

Pretty simple, right?

However….

Gloves are only useful if you use them properly.

Once they are on, if you touch your face, your glasses, or your phone….you have completely undone their usefulness.

You’re still putting the germs from everything you touched onto your face.

You’re still transferring your own germs onto the gloves and therefore onto everything you touch.

Gloves for public surfaces, bare hands for private surfaces (and your face). That’s the rule.

If you don’t think you can stick to that, don’t bother with the gloves. Just wash your hands and disinfect surfaces.

And finally….

Just because there is a pandemic doesn’t mean the environmental crisis has gone away.

Both things are happening at the same time. You still want to limit your consumption of disposable items as much as possible. Use gloves when they are legitimately useful, skip them when they are not. Going out for a walk or a bike ride? If you aren’t touching any public surfaces, you don’t need gloves. Just wash your hands when you get back, because common sense.

And seriously, for the love of all that is holy, people, STOP DUMPING YOUR USED GLOVES ON THE GROUND.

I mean, come on. Even if there WEREN’T an environmental crisis, that’s “how not to be an asshole 101.”

Please remember that we still have to live on this planet when we’re done with this whole coronavirus thing. Also during, for that matter.

Keep taking care of it.

This has been your daily coronavirus PSA.

Coronavirus PSA from 3/21/2020: WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE SICK AND SCARED

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Please read the disclaimers in this post before reading or sharing any covid-19 related posts from this blog.

This one is going out to everyone who is having symptoms and googling “difference between coronavirus and the flu.” Also to everyone posting covid-19 testing hotlines and encouraging everyone they know to seek testing immediately if they have any symptoms of anything.

Don’t do that.

No, really. DO NOT.

Here’s the rundown.

1). There are still not enough tests and strict guidelines for who gets them. ONLY call one of those hotlines if you meet the current testing criteria.

As of the date of this post, in order to qualify for a covid-19 test where I live (Suffok county, NY) you will only qualify for testing if you have either fever AND shortness of breath, OR confirmed exposure to an infected person. Guidelines vary and are changing daily, so google THAT if you’re thinking of getting a test and find out whether you qualify. If you don’t, DO NOT CALL A TESTING HOTLINE. Keep those lines open for the people who qualify. Wait times are already hours long and if you are calling for a test you don’t qualify for, you are part of the problem.

Also, keep yourself updated on what the guidelines for testing are, because they will loosen as more tests become available.

Know the answer before you call and DO NOT CALL if the answer is going to be no.

2). If you can’t breathe or have any other symptoms that make you genuinely fear for your life, DO NOT CALL A TESTING HOTLINE. Call 911.

If your life is in danger, you don’t need a swab, you need help. Call your regular doctor, ER, or 911, tell them your symptoms, and seek immediate treatment. Understand that WHETHER YOU HAVE COVID 19 OR SOMETHING ELSE MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE IN WHAT TREATMENT YOU NEED OR WILL RECEIVE. If you’re dehydrated, you need fluids. If you can’t breathe, you need air. Period.

People in severe distress should NOT be calling covid hotlines, then waiting for two hours on hold so they can make an appointment, get a swab three days from now, and know by next week whether they died of covid-19 or something else. The object is NOT TO DIE, people. Anyone in severe distress should be contacting their health care providers or ER NOW and prioritizing GETTING NEEDED INTERVENTION and STAYING ALIVE. This is common sense, folks. When your house is on fire you don’t call the census bureau and ask whether this means you should change your status to “homeless.” You call someone to PUT OUT THE GODDAMNED FIRE.

3). If you are sick and think you might need treatment for something that ISN’T covid, just call your regular doctor or walk-in and ask what you should do.

Many offices can now assess you via video conferencing. Remember that strep throat, ear infections, abscesses, and all those run of the mill medical issues are still a thing.

Expect longer waits, and for people who are actually dying to be prioritized. Because common sense. Your infected ingrown toenail will have to wait.

4). If you DO qualify for a covid test, here’s what you can expect to happen, in Suffolk county, NY, as of the date of this post.

You will be given an appointment, possibly as long as a few days from the date of your call. When you go for this appointment, you will basically be treated (rightfully) like a leper. You will be asked to stay in your car until proper precautions are taken, and you will likely be asked to put on a mask. There will be as little contact as possible. After you’ve gotten your swab, you will be told to self-quarantine until you get results. The system is so backed up that you will likely wait over a week for results. By the time you get them, you will probably be feeling better. If the results are positive, you will be told to self-quarantine for a total of 14 days (including time served while you were waiting for your results), or until you are symptom-free, whichever is longer. That’s it.

5). Understand that testing is vitally important for statistical reasons, but it makes absolutely no difference in what medical care you need or will receive.

THERE IS NO TREATMENT SPECIFIC TO COVID 19. With this or any viral illness, you will receive supportive care based on your symptoms and need, not your diagnosis. If you need help, you need help, regardless of diagnosis. If you don’t need help, you just need to isolate and rest, regardless of diagnosis.

6). During this crisis, your job is NOT to find out whether you are carrying the virus or even to help keep track of the numbers. It is to keep from getting other people sick, with ANYTHING, and also to keep hotlines and emergency services available to those who need them.

The absolute best thing you can do right now is triage yourself so the system doesn’t have to.

So please…

STOP PRIORITIZING DIAGNOSIS OVER TREATMENT.

STOP TELLING EVERYONE TO CALL TESTING HOTLINES,

And for the love of all that is holy,

STOP GOOGLING SYMPTOMS.

Our medical system is about to be overwhelmed with people who genuinely need help in order to not die. If you think you might be one of them, don’t call a testing hotline. Call a provider or 911. If you AREN’T one of them, STAY OUT OF THE WAY so those people can get the help they need.

If you must google anything, google current testing guidelines and “when to seek treatment,” and if you don’t qualify for testing OR need treatment, just self-quarantine, catch up on your Netflix, and focus on getting well.

Understand what is happening, the role of testing in it, and how it affects both your need for and access to health care. Don’t let panic cloud your common sense. We need everyone to keep their heads right now, because we are, now and always, #InThisTogether.

Surviving the Shutdown: This Mama's Coronavirus PSAs

Hey everybody! Since the Covid-19 outbreak hit New York, I have been posting daily updates on my personal Facebook page, offering clear, calming, and up-to-date information and encouragement for friends and family.

As many have expressed that they’d like to share these updates more widely, I thought I’d start posting them here too.

Before I begin, and in the interests of responsible dissemination of information…

How reliable a source is this?

This is a mom blog, not a news publication. I am a blogger, not a journalist. And I am writing with my local community in mind.

I am sourcing my information from WHO updates, CDC recommendations, local updates (NYC and Suffolk County), articles in center- or center-left leaning publications (for example, the New York Times, which is center-left), and articles written by infectious disease experts or other medical professionals.

I am also including updates on and responses to the things I am experiencing in my own community, and my own common-sense recommendations.

I am NOT sourcing my information from news sources that tend towards heavy political bias (left OR right), unsourced FB posts, or rumors I heard from my cousin’s best friend’s former roomate’s wife who heard it from a doctor friend who knows a guy in Italy.

I am a teacher with a master’s degree in English Education, and my husband is a physician. What that means is that I’m really good at reading, comprehending, and summarizing information, and also that I speak fluent doctor–NOT that I am one. And although I consult with my husband and have him review my posts for accuracy, HE IS NOT THE PERSON WRITING THIS BLOG, so please, DO NOT TREAT ANYTHING I SAY AS IF IT CAME FROM A DOCTOR.

It didn’t. It came from a pretty smart mom who’s good at writing, just trying to help her friends stay sane and informed in stressful times.

That’s it.

It is also vitally important to keep in mind that because things are changing so quickly, THE INFORMATION IN ANY GIVEN BLOG IS MOST ACCURATE AND APPLICABLE ON THE DATE IT IS POSTED, AND IS LIKELY TO BECOME OUTDATED QUICKLY. If there are any glaring errors I will go back and edit them out, but I am not going back and re-writing every post every day to reflect the most up-to-date information. The longer ago a post was published, the less accurate you should assume it is.

I’m going to make two more posts today – one with yesterday’s FB PSAs, and one with today’s.

After that I’ll be trying to post every day or every few days, until this thing is over and we’ve all gotten back to our regularly scheduled chaos.

Hang in there, everyone.

We are in this thing together.

My Coronavirus Crisis: How this Mama’s Staying Sane

I mean, okay, “sane” is generous. But I’m trying for mental health status quo. And it has been HARD.

My personal trigger is when things change in a way that is both unpredictable and completely out of my control. I’m great with change, and I’m great in a crisis. I suck at limbo. And I panic when I feel powerless.

Things I can’t control are happening quickly now, and I am fighting to keep myself out of a mental and emotional free-fall. So I’ve been reading, a lot. And thinking. A lot. And trying to sort out what power I still have.

Here’s where I’ve landed.

I am not worried about getting sick, so I am focusing on keeping others well.

I am fortunate enough to be one of the (relatively) young, healthy people for whom covid-19 infection is unlikely to be dangerous–so I’ve shifted my perspective. Being young, healthy, and privileged doesn’t make me a bystander. It makes me, and those like me, the agar in the petri dish: a favorable environment in which covid-19 can quietly thrive and multiply.

In spite of recent statements out of Washington, the current reality is that most communities do not have the capacity yet to test people for covid-19 en masse, and what few tests ARE available are being carefully rationed among people with the most obvious symptoms. Which means that people like me with ordinary coughs or sore throats or sick kids can not possibly know whether they are carrying covid-19. Until that situation improves, disease experts are faced with the very real problem of trying to contain something that they can’t accurately see or measure.

What’s that mean for me? Well first of all, it means I will be making phone calls rather than doctor’s visits if I want to be tested – because chances are I can’t be, and I don’t want to waste resources others need more by demanding unnecessary medical visits.

Secondly, it means that as much as possible, I plan to behave as if my family, I, and everyone we meet are already carriers – because some of us almost certainly are, and we might never know which ones.

That means that I will not be making decisions based solely on how likely my family and I are to get sick, or how dangerous it would be if we did. Instead, I’m thinking in terms of the danger we could pose to others. Am I a vector to a member of the vulnerable population–an older parent, an immunocompromised relative, an asthmatic friend? How about all the people we have regular contact with–are they vectors to a vulnerable population?

The answer is always, eventually, going to be yes. No one is more than a few degrees of separation from someone who really can’t afford to get sick.

So when everything around me shuts down and I find myself saying “but why tho?”, I’m reminding myself that if I am fortunate enough not to be one of the people in danger, I AM the danger. If you are young and healthy enough to contract covid-19 without it landing you in the hospital, you can, at any moment, become a walking vector.

So I’m going to keep practicing common-sense precautions, avoid unnecessary travel or gatherings, and whenever I am fortunate enough to have the option to stay home, I will stay home.

Okay. I feel prepared. But I’m still a wreck. So I have decided…

I am going on a news diet.

Photo by Mattia Ascenzo on Unsplash

We all want to do something, but it is important to remember that it is not everyone’s job to inform the masses. The people whose job that is might not be doing it super well–but it’s still their job and not mine. And shouting over each other just results in no one being heard.

I am stepping back from the urge to go toe to toe with the laypeople sounding off as self-proclaimed experts. I am not clicking on every article. I am following the CDC and WHO to keep myself aware of the latest official updates and recommendations. When I want to know more, for my own peace of mind, I am seeking out unfiltered information: articles in medical publications, for example, or the advice of medical professionals and infectious disease experts.

And I’m taking a step back from everything else.

I don’t need to know which celebrity tests positive next or which cruise line shuts down. I don’t need to know Oprah’s opinion about it, or my neighbor’s or the local PTA president’s or Dr. Oz’s. I don’t need to engage in debates over whose fault all this is, or how it may have started, or what could have been done better. To put on my Mom hat for a minute: I don’t care who started it, and I don’t care whose mess it is. I expect EVERYBODY to help clean this shit up.

A lot of decisions being made right now are out of my control, and obsessing over them will only make me feel powerless. For the sake of my sanity, I am giving myself permission to stand down. I’m determined to let the scientists, journalists, and yes, even the leaders, do their jobs, and focus on doing mine.

So…what’s mine?

Well, there are a lot of problems right now related to this virus. I have been fortunate, in that a lot of them don’t directly affect me. I won’t go bankrupt if my entertainment business goes quiet for a while. My income is not in jeopardy if I have to stay home to watch my kids during a school closure. My kids won’t starve without school lunches. I’m not afraid to go to the supermarket or other public places when I need to. I am priveleged.

Which just might put me in a position to help others.

Once in a while, I run into someone on social media who posts a simple, common-sense idea that makes me say “oohhhhhhh….why didn’t I think of that?” And it makes me feel a little less powerless.

So, here are some of the truly good ideas that have come across my newsfeed lately.

Support your neighbors.

If the schools are closed and you DON’T have an issue with child care, look into organizing help for the people near you who do. Yes, avoid large gatherings, and no, don’t turn your house into a day care. But communicate with the people in your neighborhood. Find the parents who are trapped in jobs that, for whatever reason, they can not take time off from. Find the people who are in a position to help them. Connect those people. Find responsible solutions. Don’t let families fall through the cracks.

If you are young and healthy and not afraid of, say, going to the supermarket, reach out to your neighbors and find out if anyone needs you to pick up groceries for them.

Support your community.

You can set up, or join, an online group where people can offer up any extra supplies they have, or post about supplies they need. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, toilet paper hoarders.)

Find out how local businesses are being impacted by the crisis. Talk about how you and your neighbors can help support them – like by purchasing gift certificates (preferably online), or organizing fundraisers (again, preferably online. No touchy!)

If you are going to disseminate information, disseminate information about available resources within your community. I’m talking about support groups, virtual social events, suicide crisis hotlines. Instead of using social media to commentate on what other people are doing, use it to do something. Connect your friends and neighbors with the things they genuinely need, today, to get through this–things like supplies, mental health support, child care, money, food, and the knowledge that they are not alone.

Support your friends.

A LOT of the people you know are about to be stuck at home. Encourage them to spend their time doing something other than obsessively binging on news reports. You can organize virtual gatherings. Have online watch parties and Skype parties and book clubs and art classes and live chats. Make beautiful things, and find ways to share them. Help your community stay connected, and entertained, and help create new outlets for the stress we all are under. Help your friends find their new normal.

So I guess what this all boils down to is…

Don’t panic, don’t dismiss. Learn how to stay safe, then find ways to help those who can’t.

and above all…

Don’t be an asshole.

Take care of each other. Feed your love and compassion, not your anger and fear. Know that you are not all-powerful, but neither are you powerless. Do as much as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you can. Be kind, be informed, be careful. And if you have found a way to make a positive impact in your community during this crisis, please share it in the comments.

Hang in there, guys. We got this.

Featured Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

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The Nervous Parent’s Guide to the Coronavirus Outbreak

If you are a human living anywhere where there are news outlets, then you have heard about covid-19, or novel coronavirus.

If you are a human living anywhere where there is social media, you have probably also heard about a bazillion different opinions on it, ranging from “chill out, sheeple, it’s just a cold,” “it’s all a hoax,” and “it’s a massive conspiracy,” to, always a fan favorite, “it’s the End of Days, we’re all going to die!”

If you are a human raising small humans, visiting other humans, or doing anything for a living that involves face-to-face interaction with other humans, the coronavirus has probably already affected you – in the form of new policies, cancelled events or closures, letters home from school, or travel restrictions. Also, if you’re a human with investments, it’s probably affected your money – like, a lot. Which makes the already-stressful task of raising small humans all that much more omg ack.

All of those real-life, impossible-to-ignore effects, if you’re anything like me, probably make you want to believe it’s all a hoax, an overreaction, or a massive conspiracy, because it kind of feels like it’s the End of Days and that’d be worse.

So, in the interests of my own sanity, I’ve been gathering a LOT of information about exactly what novel coronavirus is, how the world is responding, and how we can expect all of that to affect our lives going forward.

In the interests of your sanity, I’ve compiled what I’ve learned so far it into a handy-dandy list.

What This Mommy Really Wants To Know About Coronavirus.

If my kids and I catch this thing, will we die?!

Of COURSE this was my first question. I am not a panicky person…but also, outbreaks are scary. So I researched this one first.

I’d love to say the answer is, “nope, you definitely won’t die! everyone is safe!” but the more accurate (if slightly less reassuring) answer is “probably not.” To put this in completely non-scientific, let-me-relate-this-to-something-familiar terms, if you or someone in your family winds up contracting covid-19, it would be a lot like contracting flu. (NO I AM NOT SAYING THAT COVID 19 IS THE FLU. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FLU. READ ALL THE WORDS PLEASE.) I am telling you that if you need help conceptualizing it, thinking of it as being “basically the new flu” is a handy analogy. Because:

The majority of cases, even in China where the outbreak started and is most prevalent, have been mild, and the majority of otherwise healthy people who contract it are uncomfortable for a while, then recover.

Some cases are severe, and an unlucky few people who contract it do not recover. As you’d expect, the risk of serious complications is higher among populations with compromised immune or respiratory systems.

And something reassuring for you to hold on to when you’re feeling nervous: no children have died, even though children have been infected. Which, statistically, makes your kids catching covid-19 slightly LESS scary than your kids catching the flu.

Bottom line: Covid-19 is not significantly more dangerous than the diseases you already know about, and it is not an automatic death sentence. You still don’t want to catch it.

How likely are my kids and I to catch this thing?

Well, this is a difficult one to get a straight answer to. I can give you a few numbers, explain why they don’t mean much (but mean something), and also some common sense.

As of the time of this post, there are currently 96,898 reported cases of novel coronavirus worldwide.

The CDC estimates there are between 9 and 45 million flu infections worldwide each year.

Geez, StarkRavingMom, must you keep comparing coronavirus to the flu?

Yes. Because the flu is a similarly dangerous disease that we’ve lived with a whole lot longer. Most of us manage to function, psychologically, day-to-day, in spite of the existence of flu. So yes. If you, like me, are trying to figure out how to exist in a world with a coronavirus outbreak without getting either really scared, really angry, or straight-up rocking in a corner losing your damn mind, comparing it to the flu is a REALLY GOOD WAY to wrap your head around it.

So, here’s the super reassuring, if mathematically fuzzy conclusion you can draw from those numbers: all other things being equal (they aren’t, but anyway), you’re anywhere from 100 to 500 times more likely to catch the flu than to catch covid 19. So if you or someone in your family tends to catch the flu, say, one year in every five (that’s about how often it happens in my house), one of you might catch covid 19 one year in every five CENTURIES.

Make you feel better? I mean, yay, but also, the numbers I’ve just given you are mostly nonsense. It’s a wholly unscientific comparison. But I’m using my unscientific numbers to illustrate a much more concrete and valid common-sense point:

You are exposed to flu and other common viruses RIDICULOUSLY significantly more than you are exposed to covid-19. However likely you think you are to catch something like the flu, you are several hundred times LESS likely to catch covid-19.

If you live someplace where there is no covid 19 at all, you have a ZERO percent chance of catching it as long as it stays that way. It’s transmitted by people. It doesn’t magically appear. That’s exactly why it’s such a big deal right now. Unlike the flu, covid-19 is NOT everywhere, and it would be seriously awesome if we could keep it that way. There is still hope that it will never reach the places that are currently unaffected by it. That’s why we’re all being so careful. More on this later.

Bottom Line: Right now, it is unlikely that you are going to become infected.

So wait. If most people are probably not going to catch it…and even if they catch it, they’re probably not going to die…is this really such a big deal? Is this all an overreaction?

No, it is not an overreaction. Yes, it is a big deal. Our problem is that people are under the mistaken impression that if something ISN’T the End of Days, it can’t possibly be that important.

It IS that important.

But why though?

It’s because disease control is about entire populations, not individuals. And also because it isn’t about how many people it will kill, but about how far it will spread, and how common it might become.

Huh?

Let me explain. This time, how about we use pinkeye as a comparison? Just for variety.

Pinkeye is transmissible person-to-person. It is not airborne. It is not life-threatening. It can even resolve on its own without treatment.

So why do we send kids home from school so fast their little heads spin if there is even a smidge of a hair of a possibility that they MIGHT have pinkeye? I mean, seriously…why the panic?

Because if we didn’t, the situation would get out of hand super quickly. If you have children, you know this to be true. Pinkeye is the devil. Once one kid gets it you BURN ALL THE THINGS because your only hope of not having it in your house forever is if NO ONE ELSE GETS IT. If we didn’t have a zero-tolerance policy for pinkeye, pretty much all school aged children would have pinkeye on and off all year. Entire classes would have it at once. It’d be a freaking pinkeye fiesta.

And it wouldn’t stop there. Once the whole school was infected, we’d have shortages of eye drops. Kids going to the doctor would start to catch other common illnesses in the waiting rooms. We’d have shortages of cold medications and hand sanitizer and tylenol and lord knows we’d have shortages of wine.

It wouldn’t kill anyone. It would suck anyway. And no one questions the necessity of preventing it.

When an easily transmissible disease gets loose in a population, it causes problems. The larger the population, the less control you have. Your first, best hope is prevention.

So if it helps you understand the scale of the response right now, think of it this way: the world is a school, and covid 19 is pinkeye.

Only it’s pinkeye that can maybe–like, probably, not, but maybe?–kill you. It’s pinkeye that’s contagious before you know you have it. It’s pinkeye that you can’t treat, so you just gotta wait it out (and stay contagious while you do).

Oh, and there are 7.8 billion kids in this “school.” Roughly.

But there’s also a really significant difference between covid 19 and pinkeye – or between covid 19 and the flu, or between covid 19 and any disease that you see every day and have learned to live with.

We don’t see it every day, and we don’t have to learn to live with it.

It is new, and it isn’t everywhere yet. So there is a real chance, worldwide, that we can keep it from ever becoming the next flu, or pinkeye, or common cold.

Imagine, if you will, that one kid in one classroom gets pinkeye…and if you can successfully keep it from spreading to another classroom….NO ONE WILL EVER HAVE PINKEYE AGAIN FOR THE REST OF HUMAN HISTORY.*

Now stop imagining that, because that’s not how pinkeye works. But that IS where we’re at with covid 19. A few “classrooms” are infected. And if we can keep it in those few classrooms, and make sure that it doesn’t go anywhere else, then once it’s gone, it’ll be gone for good.

We can’t do that with pinkeye or the flu or the common cold. They’re too common and too widespread and there are too many variations of them. People will catch those things, and some people will even die of them, and that’s something that we, as a population, just have to live with. But with Covid 19, there’s a chance. If we are INSANELY STUPIDLY RIDICULOUSLY CAREFUL about this, we can keep it out of the places it hasn’t reached yet, for good.

If we succeed, the unlucky people who WOULD get infected, won’t get infected.

If we succeed, the 2.3% of those people who WOULD die, won’t die.

Let me repeat that. We are doing all of this, because we have a chance to actually STOP covid 19. And if we stop covid 19, PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO DIE WILL NOT DIE.

Does it really matter how many people? How about if no one was going to die, but we could keep everyone on earth from ever having to experience the disease? If I told you that you could make THAT happen, and all you had to do was be hyper-vigilant for a few months…would you?

At this stage of the outbreak, that’s still possible. That’s why it’s a bigger deal than the flu. That’s why the whole world is paying attention. Because this could still go away.

And all we have to do is…. convince 7.8 billion people to help. Even though the majority of them, individually, are not in danger. Even though the world ISN’T ending.

So yes. It’s a big deal. And the fact that you, personally, are not in immediate or significant danger doesn’t make it not a big deal.

But also: you are not in immediate or significant danger.

Bottom Line: The thing we are trying to prevent isn’t the End of Days. The thing we want to prevent is covid 19 becoming the new flu. So Listen to the CDC. Wash your hands. Stay home when you’re sick. Hug your kids. And try to relax.

Remember that the extra precautions aren’t there because you, personally, today, are in danger–but they also aren’t there for nothing. They are there to prevent a large-scale, long-term, society-wide problem.

There are going to be changes in our daily routines. There are going to be extra precautions, official communications, and inconveniences. And if we adapt to those, without panicking, and do this thing right, then we–as in, all of humanity “we”–will never have to compare covid-19 to the flu again.

And wouldn’t that be amazing.

*disclaimer: I didn’t think this needed saying, but my doctor friends inform me it does. For the sake of medical accuracy: no, that’s not how pinkeye works. You can’t get rid of it permanently by isolating it, because you don’t actually need another person to get pinkeye. Pinkeye isn’t one disease, it’s the name we give to ANY infection of the conjunctiva. So all you need to get it is to put bacteria (or a virus!) in your eye. You can also re-infect yourself because fun (and most kids do!) IT IS JUST A METAPHOR, FOLKS. I figured it was a handy, parent-relatable example of why it’s important to contain contagious things, even if they can’t kill you.**

**discliamer to the disclaimer: also neglected to mention in this post, but in case you’re new to the blog and don’t know this: I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. I am a mom with a masters degree in English, access to the internet, and a healthy sense of skepticism. I’m good at words and I’m good at people. Thus endeth the list of things in which I claim any degree of expertise or authority.

The truth about ground zero: diagnosis never gets easier.

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I wrote a blog post about this back in October, and at the time, I was too raw to process it enough to hit “publish.” Months have passed, and the situation has changed–so much for the better–and I’m not feeling those emotions anymore. It’s so easy to forget, once you’ve survived a thing, how difficult it really was, or how recent, or how raw. So I’m going to begin this story at the ending:

My daughter had a breakdown this past October. She missed two weeks of school, and we didn’t know if she was ever going to be able to go back. She now has an official diagnosis, a therapist, medication, and a 504, and she is thriving. I mean, THRIVING. She is a different child. She is happy, and social, and keeping up in school, and picking up extracurriculars. She’s amazing. So much so that it’s easy to forget the way things used to be.

Used to be. It feels as if it were a lifetime ago. But it wasn’t. It’s been barely three months.

I know, because I wrote a blog about it. And I would like to share that blog with you now.

I’m so glad that I wrote this–that I bottled those emotions while I was having them. Because once you’re past it, and you meet someone else who’s in that horrible, dark place where you were…you relate, and you feel for them, and you want them to know they aren’t alone and that things are going to get better. And that’s a wonderful sentiment. But I think maybe this…THIS is what they need to hear, more than any of that. The happy ending is great. But the dismal beginning is what ties us together as special needs parents.

To anyone who needs to hear it….this post is for you. Because I want you to know that you are not alone.

I’m speaking to you from the other side of that darkness now, but I want you to hear my voice from WITHIN it. I want you to know that I’ve walked where you are, and it sucks.

I’m want to show you my darkness. I hope it comforts you in yours.

What follows is the text of my original, unpublished blog post, dated October 29, 2019.

Raising special needs kids is what I do.  My oldest and youngest are both on the spectrum.  I speak fluent IEP.  Half my vocabulary is acronyms – CSE, BIP, ABA, CBT.  I’m on a first name basis with the school psychologists and social workers at three different schools in the district, and most of the teachers, too.  I know all the medications, their warnings and their interactions.  I know all the tricks and tools and adaptations.  I don’t even blink when the district phone number pops up on my phone anymore.  This ain’t my first rodeo.

And yet…

Every time is the first time.  Every child is different.  And I forgot how much this part sucks.

To be honest, I think I forgot this part even existed.

Or maybe I thought we could skip it this time.

My daughter—my beautiful, brilliant, creative, neurotypical middle child–has anxiety.  We’ve always known that…right?  I mean, if I go back into my old blog posts, I’ve mentioned that.  It’s a known thing.  I’ve been saying it for years.  My daughter has anxiety.

But no, we never actually had her tested or screened or diagnosed.  She never had an IEP or even a 504.  She never needed accommodations at school.  Outside screenings are expensive, and her academics were always fine.  She was always fine.  Honestly, it never affected her at school at all.

Except when it did.  She’d miss a day here or there, or have to come home early.  But her grades never suffered.  Her social life never suffered….much?

And at home, we adapt.  The occasional meltdown or cancelled activity is just our normal.  Really, “normal” is a practically meaningless term anyway.  “Functional” is the name of the game around here.  

And things were functional.

Until they weren’t.

And that’s the part I’d forgotten.  The part that no matter how well prepared you are, no matter how strong or smart or savvy you are, can rip you down to nothing as if your spine were made of kleenex.

I forgot how hard this part sucks.  I forgot how it feels at ground zero.

With every special needs kid, there comes a moment…either an “aha” moment or an “oh, shit” moment, usually both.  A missed milestone, a troublesome behavior, an issue you can’t ignore.  That’s the moment right before diagnosis.  The moment that precipitates diagnosis.  The moment when everything hits critical mass and explodes and you find yourself holding the broken pieces that you always knew were cracked but never really believed would fall apart, and you look at the ruins of your “normal” and it hits you.

No, we’re not okay.

No, we can’t handle this.

No, this is not functional.

This is broken.

We need help.

We had that moment this month.  Because my daughter—the adorable, bright, happy, neurotypical one, the one who’s always had friends, who wants a sleepover every night, who loves mermaids and hates homework but keeps up and was so excited to start middle school this year….the one who has anxiety but doesn’t really have anxiety…like, not bad anxiety…

…has not been to school in two weeks.

Two.  Weeks.  We’ve been stuck in this cycle for two full weeks.  We’re entering a third.

But that’s okay.  I got this.  I know how to do this.  This is my THIRD rodeo.  Within the first two days of this thing, I found her a therapist.  I got her a psychiatrist too.  I’ve been in constant communication with her school counselor and social worker.  We’re getting her a 504.  I know how to navigate this kind of crisis.  I’ve done it before.  I’m good at it.

Except…

I forgot what it feels like.  I forgot about the process you have to go through to get that piece of paper that says “yes, you can have help now.”  I forgot what it does to your head.

Because when you start filling out those endless intake questionnaires and having the repetitive conversations with teachers and social workers and therapists and doctors and well-meaning friends, it’s not just about the moment anymore.  You realize that you’re the frog in the slow-boiling pot, and you sit down with strangers and you carefully catalog for them exactly how long you’ve known that water was getting hotter.  And you do this, with an audience, over and over and over again.

“When did it start?”  They ask.

“How is she at home?”

“Tell me about what’s going on.”

And you reach back into the archives of your memory, and you find all those moments that have been your normal for so long that they are misfiled under “normal” or “not a problem,” and you pull them out and you show them to people.  In excruciating detail.

“Oh, it’s just this year…I mean, except…”

“No, there’s no other problems…well, except…”

“No, there’s no behavior issues…except…”

And as you go through it all, and you pick out the things that qualify to check off “sometimes” or “often” instead of “rarely” or “never” on one of those never-ending checklists, you realize what a fool you look like.  You’re the idiot frog who’s been sitting in the pot for eleven years, and you had the chutzpa to be proud of yourself when you woke up this morning and said “gee, this is hot, better hop out!”

And that’s when that awful little voice in your head starts whispering at you.  The little voice that never, ever has anything helpful to say.  That little voice that always makes just enough sense to make you doubt yourself.  As you fill out the bazillionth questionnaire and dredge up memories of off-kilter things your kid did when she was two, that voice whispers, “what is wrong with you?  Look at all this!  How did you not see this pattern sooner?”

I did, you tell the voice.  I saw it.  I knew.

Yeah?  And what did you do about it?

We…got used to it.  It wasn’t that bad.  We adapted.  We avoided triggers.

No, you sat there.  You sat there and you let it happen.  You saw it happening and you decided it was okay.  You failed. Your child needed you, and you turned the other way.

Nice try, little voice, I tell it.  I know myself better than that.  I’m stronger than you.  I did see.  I didn’t ignore.  I did try.  Maybe I didn’t see how bad it was, and maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but I love her and I see it now and that’s why it’s going to be okay.  I’m a good mom.  I know how to do this.  It’s good that we reached this point, because now we can see it.  Now everyone can see it.  So now we can get help.  Now we can fix it.

And that shuts the little voice up…for a while.

But it sits there in the corner of my brain.  Like a tiny ticking time bomb.  And all it needs to explode…

Is for someone to echo it.

Someone always does.  It’s always well-meaning.  It’s never on purpose.  And it’s never just one someone.

It’s the therapist who asks why she’s never been in therapy before.

It’s the psychiatrist who asks why you haven’t considered medication before now.

It’s the social worker who knows you so well because she worked with your older son, and she sits you down and says, “they told me your daughter doesn’t have a diagnosis or a 504, and I said that doesn’t make sense.  I said I know this family, and this mom is always on top of these things with her kids.  She’s amazing.  It must be a mistake.  So…what happened?”

And the little voice in my head latches onto that.  Yeah.  Do tell.  What did happen?

And then the little voice gets loud.  Really, really loud.

My boys never missed school.  There’s consequences for missing this much school.  And I tell myself that it doesn’t matter, because we’re fixing it.  We have a veritable army of people supporting us now, and we are all on the same side and pulling in the same direction and everyone wants what’s best for my girl.

And then someone mentions home schooling.  Or truant officers.  Or CPS.  In passing.  Like “we don’t have to worry about this yet, but…”

And the little voice becomes deafening.

This is happening because you ignored it.  This is happening because you were blind and selfish and stupid.  It’s happening because you didn’t read to her at bedtime enough when she was little, because you didn’t listen when she told you about school.  Because you didn’t play board games together.  Because you told her to leave you alone, when you were reading or writing or watching TV.  Because you told her that her problems weren’t big enough to matter.  Because you were too easy on her, and now she’s spoiled.  But also, you were too hard on her, and you’re a freaking bully and now she’s terrified of the world.  You didn’t love her enough.  You yelled too much. You dismissed too much. You didn’t listen.  You didn’t see.  You can’t fix it fast enough now and it’s not going to get better.  They are going to come and take her away from you and she’ll be traumatized for life, and when it happens you are going to know that all her suffering is because you didn’t see it sooner.  It’s all because you weren’t good enough.  It’s your fault.  She needed you all along, and you failed her.  It’s your fault.  Your fault.  YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT.

I know that little voice isn’t helping.  I know that it’s almost always wrong.  I know I shouldn’t listen.  But sometimes…especially when some well-meaning soul echoes any part of what it’s saying…it makes sense.  Just a little.

And whether I listen to it or not, it won’t.  Fucking.  Shut up.

Honestly, it’s a damn good thing my daughter’s in therapy, because all those coping skills I’m working so hard to help her learn have been doing double duty.  I use her visualizations and tricks to get myself through the day.  I drove to work today–after failing to get her to school, again–shaking and crying and repeating mantras till I could pull myself together.

And I got through, because that’s what we do.  It’s what we always do.  She needs me and I’m not backing down.  It doesn’t matter how we got here—what matters is that we’ll never get out of here if we listen to those little voices.

Also because those coping skills work.  And they’ll work for her too.  There’s always something that works, and the trick is to try everything till you find it.

This ain’t my first rodeo.  We’re going to be okay.

But god, this part sucks.  It gaslights you and it whispers doubt in your ear and it tears you down no matter how strong you think you are, no matter how ready you feel.  It tries to convince you that you’re powerless, right when you need your power the most.

And every time is the first time.

(Featured Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash)

My Truth, My Pride

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Don’t you love how I’ve been openly bisexual for less than a month and suddenly I have opinions about all things LGBTQ+?

No?  Eh, be patient.  I’ll be back to talking about broken crayons and other people’s poop and stuff in no time.  My life doesn’t really leave much time for philosophical musings. And frankly, I have far more experience with crayons and poop.

But the fact is that I came into my bisexual identity just in time for Pride Month, and that’s made me a little hyper-tuned-in to discussions, headlines and debates that, in the past, just registered as background noise for me.  (Because, I mean, let’s face it–if you have school-aged children, June is the losing-our-minds holy-crap-where-did-the-school-year-go month. Mom pride!)

So here’s the two Big Revelations I had this month that really, probably aren’t big revelations at all to 99% of humanity.  But they were news to me. So I thought I’d share.

“My Truth” is a legit thing.

Being the language nerd I am, I’ve had major issue in the past with the use of the term “my truth.”  “No one say anything negative, because this is my truth.” Especially when people use it the same way they use “no offense:” as a preface that forbids disagreement without actually making what follows any less offensive (or in the case of “my truth,” more true.)

I was wrong.

Because “my truth” doesn’t mean “subjective truth.”  It doesn’t even mean, “you’re not allowed to disagree because I said so.”

“My truth” doesn’t mean “not true.”  It means, very simply, “not yours.”

The reason I was hurt, quite unexpectedly, when I asked people whether I should discuss my bisexuality and they answered, honestly and with love, “no,” was because I didn’t understand what I was dealing with.  I trapped people into giving me answers that would hurt me, because I asked the wrong questions.

I didn’t know that “my truth” was a thing.

But it is. My bisexual identity is my truth.  It is a truth born of me. It is a truth intrinsically linked to my personal experience.  It is a truth that has no meaning without me.

“My truth” means that it is mine and no one else’s.  It means that if I let someone else see it, and hold it, I need them to treat it as reverently and as delicately as they would anything that is precious, and not theirs.  It means that:

  • I don’t want anyone else to decide for me whether this truth is important, because it is not theirs.
  • I don’t want anyone else to decide for me whether this truth is beautiful or ugly, because it is not theirs.
  • I don’t want anyone else to decide for me whether this truth is worth speaking, because it is not theirs.
  • I don’t want anyone else to decide for me whether this truth is shameful, because it is not theirs.
  • I don’t want anyone else to decide for me whether this truth is valid, because it is not theirs.

Like everything else a person owns,  a person’s truth is sacred. Human beings are certainly capable of violating that sanctity, intentionally or otherwise.  People accidentally break each other’s things all the time. And unkind people deliberately steal from each other, or deface each other’s things, too.

 “My truth” doesn’t mean you can’t.  It means you shouldn’t.

Any personal experience so profound that it becomes a part of your identity–be that experience self-discovery, joy, trauma, or pain–is your truth. It is yours and yours alone. It has no meaning without you. And it is sacred.

Now that that’s out of the way….

Let’s talk about Pride!

This has been my first experience of Pride Month from this side of the rainbow. And it has been eye-opening.

Just the other day I was face painting at an end-of-year school carnival, and I was asked to paint no fewer than a dozen pride flags on a gaggle of bright-eyed children.  I don’t know where they got the idea, but they clearly knew exactly what they were asking for and what it meant, and they absolutely ADORED their glittery rainbow flags. And yes, every adult in attendance was on board.  Being asked–and encouraged!–to paint pride flags on children, at something that was not a Pride event, made me feel safe and accepted and included in a way I didn’t realize I needed.  It made me feel like my fears about publicly outing myself had been unfounded all along.

There may still be danger, and cruelty, and unkindness, lurking in my community.  But seeing children celebrating Pride, joyfully and without fear, made me feel like maybe, just maybe, the world might be what I wish it would be.  Standing there among those pride flags and smiling faces, I felt safe.

Everyone should be able to feel that way, all the time, and to take that feeling for granted.  But my own experiences this month, and my own fears about blogging about my sexuality, made me realize that not everyone does.  Not everyone can. I am not a fearful person, and I didn’t realize how much nervous, self-conscious energy I was still carrying with me, every day, until someone held up a rainbow flag and let me put it down.

So when I see lukewarm sentiments across social media like, “Just be who you are and own it.  You really don’t have to shout it,” or “Straight people don’t celebrate their sexual preferences, why must you?” it makes me cringe.  And don’t even get me started on the “straight pride parade” fiasco in Boston.

Because yes, everyone should feel safe, secure, and joyful in their expressions of identity.  Including straight people. And nobody should feel like they have to shout to be heard. In a perfect world, we’d all have love, and we wouldn’t need Pride.

But here’s the thing.

If you’re straight, your sexuality is taken for granted.  If you’re straight, you don’t have to come out because everyone assumes it.  If you’re straight, you don’t have to choose how you’re going to identify because it’s a given.  If you’re straight, you don’t have to worry about how people might react if they knew. If you’re straight, everyone already knows and nobody cares.

No one tells you not to let children know that you’re straight, because it might corrupt them.

No one tells you not to mention to strangers that you’re straight, because nobody wants to hear that.

No one tells you you should try to look less straight, because it’s nobody’s business.

And, most importantly: no one tells you or makes you feel, in any way, that being openly straight might make you physically unsafe.

Pride isn’t about sex.  Believe me, queer people aren’t any more eager than straight people to  to talk about their favorite sex positions with Great Aunt Edna over Thanksgiving dinner.  (Well, I mean, I can’t speak for all queer people.  It’s not on my bucket list, personally).  But most people are blissfully oblivious to all of the countless micro-expressions of sexuality that do influence our day-to-day interactions with nearly everyone we meet.

Things like mentioning, in passing, that you have a celebrity crush.  Wearing a shirt to the gym that says “squat like Chris Evans is behind you,” (clever on a woman. Eyebrow-raising on a man?) or a tee shirt that says “My wife says I have two faults: I don’t listen, and something else.”  (cute on a man. Eyebrow-raising on a woman?) These are things straight people can do without thinking, but LGBTQ+ people have to carefully weigh and consider, every time, because expressing your sexual identity in any context means letting everyone around you know that you are queer.  Even openly queer people sometimes choose to avoid those micro-expressions of sexuality in public, because it’s easier, and safer, to keep it to yourself.

Which brings us back to why Pride Month exists, and why Straight Pride Month does not–and does not need to.

Why “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it?”  Why rainbows and glitter and loud music and parties and parades?  Why flags and signs and “look at me!”

It’s not just pride.  It’s courage. It’s affirmation.  It’s a call for change.

When someone tells you you are ugly when you know yourself to be beautiful, it doesn’t make you want to be quietly beautiful.  It makes you want to douse yourself in glitter and show the world that you’re freaking fabulous.

When people tell you to sit down and shut up, it doesn’t make you want to walk away and whisper.  It makes you want to stand up and scream.

When the world makes you feel unsafe, it makes you need to prove the world wrong.

Pride started with a riot.  Did you know that? It started with angry, frightened, marginalized people–specifically, trans women of color–standing up and saying “we won’t take this anymore.”

People were hurt.  People died. There was very little glitter.

It EVOLVED into flags, and parades, and joy and freedom and celebration.  And there’s still an awful lot of sadness, too. This is where you come to mourn those who’ve been lost.  This is where you come to support those who still struggle. This is a pocket reality where LGBTQ+ in all its myriad forms is encouraged to be loud, and proud, and beautiful, and safe.  This is where you create a world that is as far opposite of the world where you live as you can possibly make it. This is where you celebrate the world as you wish it would be. This is where you dare to believe that world might already exist.

Is it over the top?  Damn right it is. Do those rainbow-clad, sweat-and glittered people dancing in the streets have something to prove?  Hells yes they do.

If people don’t get it, they haven’t proven it yet.

And by the way, if you haven’t seen where I’m going with this yet:

This is their truth.

If it isn’t yours, acknowledge that it isn’t yours.  Know that it is precious. And remember that we treat other people’s things with respect.

See?  And we’re back on generic life lessons and parenting wisdom.  Toldja we’d get there.

(Featured Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash)

Being bisexual was easy. Coming out was HARD.

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Last month, something that was kind of huge (for me) happened.  Without even really thinking about it, in the context of a random conversation on facebook, I uttered the words, “I identify as bi.”

It was huge, because up until that moment, it wasn’t true.

I have never in my life, even in my own mind, identified as bisexual. I have always identified as straight. And “identity” is more than just what you say out loud. I am talking about my internal, mentally anchoring, world-defining sense of self. I’m white. I’m cisgender. I’m Jewish. I’m American. I’m a mom. I’m allergic to salmon. I’m addicted to coffee. I’m straight.

Like that.

It’s not that I didn’t know I’m attracted to both women and men.  I knew that. I kind of thought that all–or at least most–straight women were.  I thought straight was a choice, and that by dating men, and by marrying a man, I’d made it.

I’m perfectly happy being married to a man.  I like men. I like monogamy. And I love my husband.

But I’m not straight.  And realizing that this was something not everyone feels, and that it had a name, was actually a really self-affirming and worldview-shifting experience for me.  Like dropping the last piece into a puzzle. Yes, you knew exactly what the picture looked like before you put that last piece in.  The picture isn’t different with the piece in there. But now it’s complete.  And you can finally see how beautiful it is, instead of just knowing it.

So…that was cool.

I also really didn’t think it would matter to anyone except me.  Because let’s be honest, nothing is different–past, present, or future–because of this revelation.  It hasn’t affected how I’ve lived my life up to now, and I don’t really see it changing how I live my life going forward.  At least, not romantically.

I mean, okay, if god forbid anything ever happens to my husband, the kids are just as likely to wind up with a new step-mom as a new step-dad.  (After a mandatory three-day mourning period, of course. I’m not a monster.) But even that isn’t actually different. Just newly acknowledged.

Other than that…nothing, functionally, is different.  At all.

The only change is in how I feel, and the things it’s made me think about.  And that’s exactly the sort of thing that I write about in this blog. Invisible things.  Worldview-altering experiences. Deep thoughts. The fact that even moms have sexuality, and a sense of identity that includes that sexuality.  And that even moms might still have things to learn about themselves, and uncertainty about where they belong. That’s just as relevant to the daily life of this Stark Raving Mom as runny noses and parent-teacher conferences and dirty dishes.  Life’s a tapestry, and this is the thread that got tugged on this week.

So I wrote about it.

But then I had second thoughts about sharing it.

Not because I’m ashamed, and certainly not because I’m shy. But because I don’t often label myself. I try to make my blog an inviting space, someplace where everyone feels equally comfortable.  Kind of like how when you’re staging a house for sale, you paint the walls a neutral color. I want people to focus on my words and ideas, rather than on the person saying them.  I suddenly worried that walking over to the LGBTQ+ side of the room–and just in time for Pride Month!–would alienate people. The choice was personal, the timing was coincidental, and it wasn’t intended to be political. But of course it was going to look political. So I worried.

And once I started worrying, the floodgates opened.

What would it mean to be openly bisexual? Sure, I just decided I’m not going to be shy about it, but I still get to decide when and with whom I share it. Once I publish, I give up that control. It’s out there and I’ll never know exactly who sees it, or when, or in what context.

My blog is not anonymous. A good chunk of my following is local. Did that mean this decision was going to have real-life consequences for my family? For my business, for my husband’s career? For our kids at school?

Was it really that big a deal? Was I being paranoid?

I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t reconcile this sense that this was Very Important with my assertion that it was No Big Deal, and I wasn’t sure how either of those fit with this new thought, could this be dangerous? I decided I needed to bring my husband in on the decision. (No, my sexuality was not news to him).

He shared my concerns about publishing. We couldn’t come to a decision. We decided we needed more heads in this huddle. And at that point, I decided to do something that I realize, in hindsight, was a mistake.

I put it up to a vote. I invited other people to judge the value of my newfound truth. My sense of self. My identity, and my desire to express my identity.

And then I was surprised that it hurt when they did.

Coming out to the people closest to me was almost incidental. I took for granted that they’d be accepting, and assumed (perhaps wrongly) that they wouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought that when a person comes out, there is only one right way to respond (Cool.  We love you no matter what), and only one wrong way to respond (That’s Wrong, you’re dead to me). I know my family, and my friends, and they’re amazing.  I knew which way that was going to go. (I was 100% right).

What I didn’t realize was that there are so, so many other wrong ways to respond.  Well-meaning wrong ways. Tone-deaf wrong ways. Unintentionally hurtful wrong ways.  I didn’t know how vulnerable coming out was going to make me feel. I didn’t anticipate that in the 48 hours after starting this conversation, I’d sleep maybe four, write for like twelve, and run out of wine.

I didn’t know how important this was to me until other people told me it wasn’t.

And the worst part is that if someone a had come out to me, a month or a year or even a week ago, I might’ve said some of the same things.  Truth be told, I have said, or encouraged others to say, the same things. Not because I’m a bad person. But because I didn’t get it.

I didn’t understand what coming out really meant. What it felt like. Its significance to the person doing it. Why it mattered.

I get it now. And, me being me, I’ve taken my newfound perspective and made it into a handy dandy list for you.

5 Things NOT To Say When Someone Comes Out To You. (Even if they ask).

1: “I don’t care.”

Along with this one, “no big deal,” “it doesn’t matter,” or “I don’t get it.”

You guys. It always matters. It’s a huge deal. And you don’t have to get it.

If someone is coming out to you, it is because they have just made an emotionally intense, worldview-altering, life-changing decision.  It doesn’t matter whether they’re coming out as bisexual, gay, trans, pansexual, non-binary, gender-neutral, or a unicorn trapped in a human body.  It doesn’t matter whether you understand its significance. It doesn’t matter whether it’s significant to you.

It’s significant to them.  Impossibly, ridiculously, earth-shatteringly, soul-achingly significant.  And they chose to share it with you, personally.

Care.  Whatever else you do, CARE.

If you’re truly confused about why this matters and feel the need to express it, a more validating thing to say would be, “I don’t really understand why this is a big deal.  But I recognize that it is a big deal for you.  I know it took courage to say, and I’m proud of you for saying it.  Thank you for sharing it with me.”

2: “Don’t tell.”

(Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash)

Yes, I specifically asked people whether I should tell. I asked some of them permission to tell. I asked because I was still reeling. I asked because I was uncertain. I asked because I was scared. I asked because I didn’t even realize yet that this thing is mine, and only mine, no matter how many other people it might affect. I asked because I didn’t know what I needed. I asked the wrong questions.

I got plenty of answers. Some I’d asked for, some I hadn’t. All of them were well-meaning. All came from a place of genuine love and concern.

None of them were okay.

Things like:

  • Don’t talk about this with your kids.  Kids don’t want to hear about their parents’ sexuality.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because if people find out they might boycott your business, and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’ come out to anyone else, because if people find out it might hurt your husband’s career, and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because if people find out they might pick on your kids, and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because you look normal, so you don’t have to.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because it doesn’t matter anyway.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because it’s private.   Nobody wants to hear it and nobody needs to know.

So, what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that these answers dictate the value of my identity.  These answers value other people’s comfort over my own right to exist without shame.  These answers focus on the risk, and dismiss the reward. These answers, without saying it in so many words, paint my desire to come out as selfish, attention-seeking, and incomprehensible.

Here’s the thing…and I wish I’d realized it when I began this conversation, because I would’ve framed things differently:

When someone asks for your opinion about coming out, they don’t actually need your opinion.  They need you to help them figure out their own.

And there’s only one right way to do that. Make them answer their own questions. “Do you think you should tell?  Why do you want to? Why are you worried you shouldn’t?  How likely is the thing you’re afraid of? How bad would it be if it happened?  Which is more important TO YOU – avoiding the risk, or being out?”

Beyond that, it is not yours.  If you don’t understand why a person wants to say something, it is not for you to determine, or even suggest, when or to whom they should say it.  There is absolutely no facet of a person’s identity that is only okay to talk about on other people’s terms.

When a person asks you about coming out to other people, help them find their own answers.

Then, seriously, shut up.

3: “It’s all right.”

Along with this one, “I love you anyway,” “I’m not offended,” “no big deal,” or “whatever.”  Don’t forgive something that does not require forgiveness, because that implies it is wrong. Don’t dismiss something someone has chosen to show you, because that implies it is ugly, or unworthy of attention.

The experience of coming out to oneself is incredible.  It’s seeing something that’s always been there, but for the first time.  It’s looking back at your entire life up until that moment and having it all suddenly make sense.  It’s realizing that you are something different than you thought you were. It’s realizing that you finally understand your whole self, and your whole self is beautiful.  It’s terrifying and life-affirming and belly-dropping and painful and wonderful, all at the same time.

When you share with someone that you’ve had this experience, you don’t want forgiveness.  You don’t want to be tolerated. You sure as hell don’t want to be blown off.

You want validation.  You want to be celebrated, because until someone else does it you’re not sure it’s okay to feel like you want to.  You want a damn hug.

So instead of “I love you anyway,” say, “I love you”–or better yet, “I love you even more.”    Instead of “it’s all right,” say, “I’m proud of you.”

And please, and I mean this:  say “congratulations.”

This is a milestone.  You don’t have to understand it to acknowledge it.  There is a reason people have coming out parties and I, for one, didn’t get it until I came out.  If you are straight, you might never get it.

Just take my word for it.  “Congratulations” is the appropriate sentiment.

(Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash)
Now, I’m not saying you should have rainbow confetti in your pockets at all times just in case. But then again…that’s kind of a cool idea.

4: “Are you sure?”

Along with this, “don’t come out if you aren’t sure, because you can’t take it back.”

This one was NOT said to me.  But remember how I said I’ve been guilty of saying some of these things myself? This one.  Guilty. Recently. I didn’t say it, but I encouraged a friend to say it. To her child.

And that was the first thing that sprung to my mind when I saw things from the other side. I reached out to my friend, and we had a long, long talk.

“Are you sure?” plays right into the vulnerability of a person who may not even realize yet–as I didn’t–how vulnerable they are. Not everyone who comes out is sure.  You are what you are and it doesn’t change, but the extent to which you recognize it, and what you choose to call it, does.  Sexuality and gender identity are freaking confusing, there’s a LOT of labels to choose from, and it can take a lifetime to figure it out.

Case in point: I’m 39 and I literally just figured it out.  And I’m not even 100% sure I’ve chosen the right label.  It just feels right for now.

Coming out is a huge step in self-discovery, self-acceptance, and figuring out where you fit.  You can be unsure of your identity, but sure that you need one. You can be sure that you’re ready to commit to a label, whether or not it’s the right one, because you need to see what happens when you do.

Yes, that decision has consequences.  IF ASKED, it’s okay to warn people about those consequences.  Gently and without advice or judgement. (Have you considered…?  Are you prepared for…?)

It is NOT okay to make the decision for them.  It is NOT okay to question a decision they’ve already made.  It is NOT okay to tell someone you know them better than they know themselves.  And it is NOT okay to encourage someone to question their own mind.

Believe me, no one needs encouragement to do that. The thing we need support for is the decision to stop questioning it.

So please, don’t ask a person coming out, “are you sure?”  If you must ask a question, ask, “are you happy?” It’s the only question that matters, and the only answer either of you should worry about.

5: “Have you even considered how this is going to affect ME?”

Not said to me in so many words.  But an underlying sentiment worth exploring.

Because, no.  Just no.

Yes, of course this is something that affects other people.  Just like getting married affects other people, and having a baby affects other people, and taking a job affects other people, and going on a diet affects other people.

And just as with all those things, the fact that it affects other people doesn’t mean it goes up to committee. It doesn’t mean everyone gets a vote. It doesn’t mean consideration for other people counts more than the experience of the person it’s actually happening to.

And really, I shouldn’t even have to say this: it doesn’t make this question okay.  Ever. In any context. Period.

***

So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about–and obsessing about, and losing sleep over–for the past week.  All this, over my decision to acknowledge that I am a bisexual woman in an opposite-sex marriage, and that I might maybe want to talk about what that’s like once in a while.

Can you imagine how intense this would’ve been if I were making a lifestyle change too?  Because damn. I’m drained just from this. Realizing I was ready to identify as bisexual was the mouth of a rabbit hole, and things got trippy after that way faster than I ever thought they would.  My initiation into the world of being anything-other-than-straight has been more emotionally intense than I ever expected it to be. It’s been brutal and it’s been beautiful. It’s broken me and redefined me and left me sore but stronger.   I’ve barely begun…but even just the past few days have given me a newfound appreciation for what LESS invisible LGBTQ+ people must go through.

I also want to say that my family and friends are awesome, and in spite of any unintentional insensitivity, there have also been a lot of truly wonderful, supportive things said to me, by the same people, since I started this conversation.

Whether they fully understood me, or handled things in the best possible way, my family got the most important things exactly right.

They said, “you do you, boo.”

They said, “you are who you are and we love who you are.”

They said, “this is what we think, but we can’t tell you what to do.  And we’ll love you no matter what.”

And when I pushed back against their advice, they said, “you’re going to do what you want anyway.  You always do. So do it. We support you.”

They were right.

I am out.

It feels good.

Also, I’m not publishing that one blog post I wrote about it.

I’m publishing four.  That one, this one, one about Pride month, and one about coming out to my kids (yup, that happened).  Because I just realized I’ve got a whole lot more to say about this than I thought I did.

And you know what?

I’m pretty confident everything’s going to be okay.

We Made a Lemonade Stand and I Lived to Tell the Tale. (Barely.)

Stark Raving Mom is now on Facebook! Follow me here.

I feel guilty, a lot of the time, for not being better at momming. I know I’m not alone because the internet – and you, dear readers – tell me so.

I feed my kids processed foods. And fast food. I don’t cook as often or as well as I’d like. When I do cook, I’m lucky if 3/5 of my family eats whatever it is I make. Which makes me not want to cook. And, I mean, dishes. I freaking hate dishes.

My seven year old goes through phases where there is one and only one thing he’ll eat. We’re just coming off a mac and cheese phase. Now he’s onto nutella sandwiches. Yes, just nutella. Yes, I know nutella is not much better, nutritionally, than a candy bar. No, he won’t let me put anything on there with it. No, I’m not fighting it. I keep reminding myself that all three of my kids went through phases like these and we haven’t had one fail to thrive yet, so yay for clearing the (super duper low) bar.

I keep waiting for someone to go through a broccoli phase but it just never seems to happen.

More than anything, I feel guilty for not doing more with my kids.

I crave my own time. I want to spend hours working on my novel or blogging or facebooking or painting or shopping online or, yes, binging all the TV shows that no one likes but me. I also NEED time to do things that are simply easier and less frustrating to do by myself, like food shopping, and folding laundry, and answering client inquiries for my business, and filling out forms for school. And the older my kids get, the easier it becomes for me to do those things. Even when they’re all home from school. They’re 13, 10, and 7. They all know where to find the food and how to use the bathroom. They can all operate a phone, a television remote, an iPad and a computer. They know how to call their friends and their grandparents and their cousins and 911. The eldest can go out alone with his friends, or babysit the youngest while I run errands. My daughter can set up her own playdates. They can all reach pretty much anything they need. They don’t (usually) put stupid things in their mouths anymore. They can play in the backyard while I’m in the house and I don’t have to worry (much) about their getting lost, breaking things, eating things, or adopting things.

And that’s wonderful and liberating and so, so much easier…until those moments when I stop and think about it. And feel guilty.

I adore my children. They adore me. And yet, it’s become so incredibly easy for us to ignore each other. How many days slip by while we ignore each other?

Truthfully?

Nearly all of them.

Up until very recently, I was watching my sister’s kids four days a week. Which meant that spring break and summer vacation had me alone in the house with five children, three of them pre-schoolers, and the logistics of creating organized activities for them or putting everyone in the minivan and going somewhere (and getting them all to agree on one thing to do) were simply too overwhelming to consider. I was exhausted, all the time. We had the odd outing, but 99% of the time, if the children were content to entertain themselves and be ignored, I did not feel guilty about ignoring them. I was keeping five miniature people alive, and fed, and not killing each other, and running a household to boot. If we got to the end of the day with fewer than two tantrums, more than two hugs, only one toileting accident and no injuries, I called that day a win.

My parents have now retired and taken over watching my niece and nephew. For the first time in five years, the only kids I have to watch are my own. And they’re older now. And easier to ignore.

This spring break has been my first experience of having all of my kids home, with no extras, while the weather is nice enough that playing outside, or going somewhere, or doing something, is a real possibility.

But doing nothing is so, SO easy. And frankly delightful. And freeing. So that’s what we did, for the first two days. I got the food shopping done, and the dishes, but really, that was it for productivity. We just slept in, hung out in the house, and relaxed. Separately. Ignoring each other. The older ones did their homework and set up their own playdates, or chatted on FaceTime with their friends. The youngest watched videos on his iPad, and played quietly with his toys. I got a few things done, and did a whole lot of nothing, too. Wonderful, relaxing, self-care sort of nothing.

But we didn’t play any games together, or read books, or go anywhere. And the little you’re-not-good-enough voice in the back of my head started in on me.

How many days go by this way?

I don’t keep count, but only because I know. I know that if I did count, the guilt would paralyze me. I know the answer could so easily be, all of them.

Two days ago, my youngest spiked a fever, and as a result our plans with friends had to be cancelled. We were looking at another day of just staying home, ignoring each other, doing nothing. And my daughter flopped on the couch and pouted and cried “mo-om…I don’t want to waste another whole day!!”

I wanted to tell her to hush and enjoy the down time. I wanted MY down time. I was tired, because I’m always tired. I was honestly looking forward to another day of being left alone, and doing nothing. I wanted to tell her to call her friends or go out in the backyard or make slime or draw a picture or watch YouTube videos and let me be.

Except I didn’t want that. I mean, I did–it sounded delightful. But I’d finally hit my (admittedly really high) threshold of guilt. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my kids to leave me alone. It wasn’t fair. I do that too much. Today, I wanted to be better at momming.

So I ran out to the supermarket, and I bought a dozen lemons, and some pitchers, and a cheap checkered tablecloth, and some frozen berries. While I mixed up real, home-made, berry-infused lemonade in the kitchen, I armed my daughter with a poster board and markers and she made a sign:

When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade stand.

And we made a freaking lemonade stand.

It was a NICE lemonade stand, too. I’m a professional face painter. I have a full festival setup in my garage ready to go. I have tables and chairs and a bright pink tent and an A-frame chalkboard sign, and I can set them up solo in the blink of an eye. And I did. (Okay, it was a long blink. I think I pulled something.)

But, you guys. We did it. I did one of the GOOD mom things. One of those things that my kids have always wanted to do (and I always wanted to do as a kid) that I always blow off and say “too much work. Not today!” I decided, “you know what? TODAY.”

My daughter invited a friend over to run the lemonade stand with her. Two of my son’s friends stopped by on their bicycles and hung out at my house all day. Our neighbor’s daughter came over to buy lemonade then wound up staying to help run the stand, and her little brothers came in to play with my (recovering) youngest. My parents stopped by with my niece and nephew and all the kids played for a bit. We got the stand up and running right after lunch and kept it open for a little over four hours, and at the peak of that time I had a dozen children scattered throughout my property–the little guys running between the backyard and the playroom, the girls running the lemonade stand in the front, my son and his friends playing with beyblades in the driveway, or playing video games in the basement.

Come dinner time, all the extra kids went home and I made a home-cooked meal for mine. (Except the youngest. He had a nutella sandwich. Look, I’m not a miracle worker.) After dinner, I took the kids out for ice cream.

It was kind of…perfect.

For one day, I really did it. I lived up to my own standards. I felt like I was really GOOD at momming. We’d done things, and spent time together. We made freaking memories. Suck on that, June Cleaver. WE MADE A LEMONADE STAND.

Also…

Omfg, it almost killed me. By the time my husband got home from work that night, I was ready to collapse. I was sore and sunburned and completely, utterly, never-been-this-tired-in-my-life spent. There is not enough coffee or sleep in the universe to fix this level of tired. I think I broke my me. Like, the whole thing. I’ll never be the same.

And the moment the last speck of ice cream was gone and the last lemonade pitcher emptied and put in the sink with the other dirty dishes (pfft, of COURSE I did not do the dishes that night–even perfection has its limits, people!) my daughter flopped onto the couch, pouted at me, and whined, “Mo-om, what are we gonna do tomorrow? I don’t want to waste another whole day!”

I don’t think I used any swear words after that, but really, it’s only because I didn’t have the energy to muster up any good ones.

At that moment I realized two things:

  1. There are amazing parents out there who can do this kind of thing on a regular basis. I AM NEVER GOING TO BE ONE OF THEM. This shit is not sustainable and frankly I might never recover. I couldn’t even get out of bed the next morning because I pinched a nerve in my neck lugging tent weights in and out of the garage. (Yeah, I have tent weights. Yeah, we used them. I don’t do things halfway, baby.)
  2. It doesn’t matter. I’m glad we did it anyway. It feels like it’ll never be enough…and yet, I think, maybe it’s kind of always enough. Anything is enough. Everything is enough.

We’re not going to be making another lemonade stand this week, I don’t think. But my older son wants to go to the park with his friends today. My daughter is practicing riding her bike in the driveway, which she JUST YESTERDAY learned to ride without training wheels. My still-sick-but-so-ready-to-be-well youngest has already been outside twice, peddling around on his tricycle in the driveway and picking dandelions. Whether they appreciate it or not, that day we spent doing something rather than nothing gave them a taste for, well, doing something.

I can’t make every day perfect. I can’t BE perfect. Most days, I’ll still be failing by my own standards, and I’ve decided I’m okay with that. Because when that little voice in the back of my head says “how many days are you wasting? How many days do you ignore each other? How many days do you do nothing?” I know the answer.

Not all of them.

And that’s enough.

(Featured Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash)

Dear Gymnastics Moms: Don’t be frightened by Samantha Cerio’s story. Be inspired by it.

Stark Raving Mom is now on Facebook! Follow me here.

This one goes out to the gymnastics moms–or any sports moms, or, really, any moms at all of children who have ever fallen down.  If you’ve been seeing all the viral posts about gymnast Samantha Cerio’s career-ending injury, I’m writing this for you.  Because holy crap that’s been triggering.

You guys, I saw it WHILE MY DAUGHTER WAS IN GYMNASTICS CLASS.  Like omg.  I hugged her extra hard when she came home.  She doesn’t know why.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about and are about to Google it, nononono, don’t do that.   Trust me.  Do not.  Get your information here, this is a safe and happy place.

Here is what the internet wants to tell you about Samantha Cerio.

She is a gymnast for Auburn University.  In the Baton Rouge regional competition this Friday, she was attempting a handspring double front with a blind landing and, well…she did not stick the landing.

Her knees turned the wrong way.  Both of them.  There, saved you the image search you would most definitely have regretted.

Don’t read that article. Don’t watch that video. Don’t search for those pictures.  Trust me.

Read this one instead.

That right there is an update by Samantha’s coach.  It includes details of her injuries and recovery and also a snapshot of who she is and where she’s going.   And horrible as what happened to her is, the snapshot is beautiful.

So naturally, it is not a top hit on any search for Samantha Cerio.  The internet’s gonna make you work for this one.  I did the work for you.  Because I love you.

And because my daughter is a gymnast.

And because I DID see the pictures, and they made my heart hurt.  (No, I did not watch the video.)

Here’s what you really want to know about Samantha Cerio.

  • By some miracle, her legs are not broken.  Not that it matters.  Her injuries are pretty freaking severe.  You can read about them, and about her ongoing recovery, in the article I linked.  But she did not break both her legs, and now you can stop imagining what that sounded like.
  • Her gymnastics career is over and she’s amazingly okay with that.  She is handling her injury, and the abrupt end of her gymnastics career, with grace, gratitude, and optimism.  Her own words, from her Instagram: “I couldn’t be prouder of the person that gymnastics has made me  become…It may not have ended the way I had planned, but nothing ever goes as planned.”  You guys.  She’s a BABY.  It’s taken me 39 years to figure that shit out and she already gets it.  Samantha Cerio is wise beyond her years.  Also…
  • She is a brilliant and multi-talented young lady with big plans – and she’s already moving towards them.  She was the co- SEC Scholar-Athlete of the year.  She’s an aerospace engineering major, and she’s already got a job lined up to work for Boeing when she graduates.  Samantha Cerio is going places,  guys.  And she’s definitely got the moxie to get there.  So if this week’s headlines have an impact on you as a parent,  let this be the impact:

Samantha Cerio is not a cautionary tale.   She is a role model.

She is a young woman who has  been forced to  face something that many of us are lucky enough not to learn until much later in life:

Nothing ever goes as planned.

She poured herself into gymnastics.  It was an integral part of her life.  It was a passion.  It was taken away unexpectedly.

And she responded, not with anger or sadness or mourning for all that was lost–though I am sure she is feeling all those things, too.  But she also responded with  gratitude.  With an understanding that the way a chapter of your life ends does not diminish the value of all it has been.  With courage and hope for the future.

I sincerely hope my daughter never suffers an injury like Samantha’s.  But I also hope that when the day comes that she sees how quickly life can change, and  how swift and terrible tragedy can be–because, try as I might to guard her, it WILL come–I hope that she can be JUST like Samantha Cerio.

Samantha Cerio understands something we all need to understand, and to teach our children: that  pouring your passion into a sport, a career, or a goal is ALWAYS worthwhile.  Competitions, awards, achievements and accolades have value, but they are not the outcome.  You can lose all of those things and still be richer for having done them.

YOU are the outcome.

Rock on, Samantha.  Your story’s just begun.