Friday, June 23, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Bella

My son's dog has passed away.

Bella was 15+, a basset mix rescued from a shelter in PA when my son was 9.

Hounds are outdoor dogs, not pets...
Or so this former country-girl thought. 

My old gal, Amanda, had passed in February. I'd been promising my son a dog for almost a year. In July I attended a writer's conference in the area and stopped in to the shelter where my friend had gotten her springer spaniel. I was hoping to find a similarly sweet and intelligent friend for my troubled son.
We'd already been on quite a journey. The tantrums started at about age 3. He was recently 9, and rather than diminishing with age, they'd grown worse. There was more to come, but we already knew something was wrong. We just didn't know what, or how far we'd have to go before the road would turn for him.

When I talked to the folks running the shelter, he asked me, "How do you feel about basset hounds?"

I rolled my eyes. I had hounds as a kid, and they were noisy, slobbery, boneheaded doofuses, better kept in outdoor kennels than in the house, due to the difficulty of housetraining. My experience with hounds told me they were hunting dogs, not pets. He told me that she'd been returned to the shelter by a family that didn't look after her properly, that she was shy and sweet. I relented and agreed to meet her, knowing I would be bringing my son back later to look at puppies. Smaller, fluffier, easier, trainable puppies.

She came into the visitor's room looking anxious. She went immediately to the windows, staring out as if looking for someone. Looking for her family to come back for her. The family that had returned her, bone thin and shaking. She still wanted them. And my heart melted a little.

I brought my son in, as planned, careful to explain that he was free to choose a PUPPY. That he should meet her, but he didn't have to choose her...
It was a lost cause. She was brought into the visitor's room and LAUNCHED herself at him. Wagging, wiggling, facelicking happiness embodied in a bony hound dog. "I want THIS one, Mom."

It took us SO long to get weight on her.

And so it began.
She came home, only to hide under the kitchen table and bark and growl at my husband. She managed, with her six-inch legs, to get on top of the kitchen table to raid the butter dish. She refused to eat at first, forcing us to get creative in concocting dishes she would nibble at, until she eventually decided to eat properly. She was so thin at first that the vet wouldn't spay her- and by the time we got enough weight on her, we discovered that my dog Charlie had been a bit frisky and there were pups on the way.

I was worried sick... She'd just gotten healthy, and the vet had revealed that her stated age of 3-4 years was inaccurate- by then she was close to 8.

She successfully delivered 11 pups, but 4 did not survive past the second day. Of the seven remaining, we were able to find homes for 5. Two of her girls remain with us to this day.

Bella with her girls.

In the past few months, I noticed a change. She was moving more slowly. Returning to her picky eating habits. Having more digestive upsets, which have been common with her, on and off, the entire time she's been with us. (We've consulted the vet before, and he told us there was nothing to be done; she simply had a sensitive digestive tract.)

A long story short... She was an old lady- past 15 now by our best guesstimate- and she was tired.

She loved the outdoors, even in winter, but summer sun on grass was her favorite.

She spent her last day lying in the sun in the grass. At some point she wandered out by the kennel to be near her girls, content to lie there. We brought her in that evening and she had cuddles on the porch and fell asleep in one of the recliners. Fearing the evening air would be too chilly for her old bones, I moved her inside that night, into her crate with a fresh blanket. When we got up in the morning, she was gone.

This has been a journey. She was with us when my son was expelled from school in the 5th grade. When he was throwing his tantrums (Which we know now were expressions of anxiety.) When he told me he never really wanted a dog anyway, but cried when, out of sheer frustration, I threatened to find her a new home.

She taught him that some tasks- like feeding the dog and taking her out- must be completed regardless of feelings or mood. That some things are more important than our own internal turmoil. That when someone, or something, is depending upon us, we must set aside our personal challenges and rise up.

She helped him grow, helped him mature, and helped teach him empathy. She was always there with her floppy, silky ears, and her sneaky way of climbing onto the couch when she knew she was supposed to go into her crate for the night.

She was slobbery and smelly and noisy and stubborn- everything a hound dog is. She was also, for 8 years of his life, my son's friend and companion. She was a good dog, and she will be missed.

Rest easy, old Girl. You've earned it. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Building Together

Whirlwind... That's our lives recently.

We're settling in, adjusting to a new family dynamic. My kids have gained a sibling and a stepfather. Beloved and Doolittle have gained two more kids and siblings. We're just getting past the "stepping lightly" polite stage of people getting to know one another and afraid to offend, and hurling into the sibling-arguments stage of "I know we haven't lived together long, but I'm not putting up with your crap" stage of security, knowing that this is here to stay. 

We're doing our best to build a lasting foundation.

Some days, I get tired of the bickering and nonsense, but most days, I'm warmed by it- knowing that the kids are secure enough in their relationships to start being jerks to one another. They know that they can fight, knowing that the relationship can take the abuse. That they'll make up later. That it'll be ok- that this family isn't going anywhere, and we're in this for the long haul. 

In the midst of all this, we're planning a wedding. And doing life... We just replaced our beater van with another pair of beaters- a rusty, banger of a Cherokee, and an F150 that was thrown into the deal upon agreement to let the seller have our old van (he'll scrap it out.) And life goes on. 

Among all this is a sense of contentment. A sense of settling in. A sense of security in the future that we're building together. Of foundations being laid. 

I don't know where this will all go. I'd love to say that I see a rosy future with his kids and mine walking linked arm in arm off into the sunset of our elder years, and us secure in the knowledge that they'll always have each other. 

I hope they'll always be together. Even if they do drive one another nuts.

As the children of mixed families, Beloved and I both know that may not happen. When step parents pass away, many times the children drift apart. The family created by marriage splinters in the absence of the glue that held them together. I pray that will not be the case with our children, but I know there are no guarantees. So, I welcome these days, the bickering and making up, the laughing and the goofing off and the going off together to do who-knows-what without Mom and Dad, because they are knitting their own foundations. I just pray it will hold for the long haul... that what we are building together as a family will become a shelter for our children, and our grandchildren. 

Life, love, and family are precious. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


This meme is Inconceivable.


It's become a hashtag on Twitter. A Facebook meme. A joke. A sneer. Just another word that's carelessly and thoughtlessly thrown around until its meaning is battered from our universal consciousness.

What does "triggered" mean to a PTSD survivor?

It means a crippling sense of overwhelming anxiety. Literally being physically unable to function due to a breakdown in the psychological function of our minds. It may create a violent outburst, a crying fit, a panic or anxiety attack, or a period of deep depression. It may create a temporary break from reality. It could mean a flashback to the most horrible thing we've ever experienced- literally re-living the moment in our minds. This is the reality PTSD and trauma survivors live with. We are careful about "triggers" because they are events which re-open the wound and require care to regain our ability to function normally. Triggers are exhausting to deal with.

To a survivor, a "trigger" is not a joke. It's not a meme. It doesn't mean "I'm really angry about what I just saw/read/heard." It doesn't mean "I'm frustrated," "I'm sad," or "I'm upset." It doesn't mean "I strongly disagree with what's happening here," or even that I'm upset with a societal or personal injustice.

It means that a trauma survivor has been re-injured and may be in need of professional intervention. When it's used as a joke or taken out of context and used by, or to make fun of, "Social Justice Warriors" et al online, it steals our collective recognition of the PTSD and trauma survivors' experiences. It steals any cognition that their very real injuries exist. It makes an invisable wound even more invisable, and makes it even more difficult for the survivor to feel less alone, less isolated, and less ignored.

Please stop using it as a meme. Stop using it to express your outrage, frustration, or anger. Please stop belittling and mocking the condition that some of us live with. Misusing psychological terminology is not cute, clever, smart, or funny. It's cruel and thoughtless.

Trauma survivors are not special cupcakes in need of kid-glove, Politically Correct(tm) treatment. Would you make fun of a person who was recovering from physical injuries or permanent disability for their inability to function normally? If not, then why are you doing it to trauma survivors?

Please, stop hashtagging "triggered."

"You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means." -The Princess Bride

Friday, October 7, 2016

Don't Sh1t Where You Eat

Guys, something bad happened today.

Not horribly bad, not earth-shatteringly bad. Thank heavens, my family and friends in the path of Hurricane Matthew are all safe and accounted for. My kiddos, visiting their father in Arizona, are having a good time (so far.) Life, in general, is fairly normal in the Teens & Other Wild Things household.

At work, however... Well, not so much. Work is a frigging mess.

Have you ever experienced that weird feeling of devastation, like the world is falling apart around you, but nothing's moving? 

I work for a small store. There are five of us- A store manager, two assistant managers, and two cashiers. I know that sounds like a lot of managers, but there must always be a "key holder" in the store- so they need to split up the hours the store is open between the Store Manager and the assistants. We're a small, fairly tight-knit group. Right now, our Store Manager is out with an injury. She's unlikely to come back any time soon. Fortunately one of our assistants is experienced and well able to take the store over. We talked about it, and thought, hey we can do this. We've got a good manager, and we can pitch in and get 'er done. No worries!
Great, right?

Hey, no worries! We've got a great team, right? He's got this. 

Well... Not so great, because today I learned that the second assistant was arrested yesterday. It was a gut-punch. I literally felt breathless when I got the news. I teared up. I didn't want to believe it. I've worked with this guy for a while. He's funny. Goofy. A decent manager. Just an all around good guy to work with. I wanted to believe it was a misunderstanding. A false accusation. But no... I saw the evidence with my own eyes. He was definitely stealing.

I just don't understand. WHY would anyone steal from their own store? It just makes no sense. There's an old saying: Don't shit where you eat. It's basic survival. In this case, it translates to; Don't steal from the people who pay your bills! You idiot.

Now, I'm no angel. I don't mean to come across as a sanctimonious holier-than-thou finger-pointer. Stealing's not just wrong in a moral sense; it's goddamn stupid because you will always get caught, eventually, and nothing you could gain is valuable enough to weigh against your reputation, your conscience, and your future employment prospects.

A reputation is a terrible thing to waste. 

When my kids were small, they each went through a common stage- the pocketing a package of gum at the grocery store stage. When I caught them, in two separate incidents, I did what my own Mom did when I was about that age and pulled the same stunt- I marched them right back into the store, made them pay for the gum, apologize, and throw it away. Mean mommy? Maybe. But I pray I have instilled in them some sense of right and wrong, and that I will never get a call from my child seeking bail because they were foolish enough to believe they could steal from their place of employment (or anywhere else for that matter!!) and get away with it.

It shouldn't even have to be said: Stealing is never ok. :(

I don't know what else to say, guys. I'm sad. I'm confused. On some level, I even understand- I know what it's like to scrape for every dime on paychecks that never go far enough... but still, I'm having trouble realigning my view of this person to include the idea that he's been blatantly taking advantage of the trust of the entire team. Oddly enough, even though I'm only affected indirectly, I'm hurt. I trusted this guy. Thought he was one of the "good" ones. I'm disappointed and sad.

Goodnight, Friends.
Tomorrow is a new day.
Hopefully it'll be a better one.

All we can do now is clean up the mess and move on.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Please don't call me special

I've been called a lot of things through the years, but by far the most hurtful has been "special."

I know that sounds insane. Reverse humility, attention seeking... No, it's really not.

The fact is, hearing that I'm "special" because I survived the trauma that led to my PTSD is like a knife to the gut. If I'm "special" for surviving, what does that make the other victims who did not? Less special? Less deserving? Those ideas send survivor's guilt into a spiral.

I'm not special because I survived. I'm not special because I pieced myself back together, hid the entire thing from my family, and tried to get on with my life. None of it makes me special, or conversely, less deserving.

Hiding was a form of survival.

What happened was not an object lesson. It was not God carrying out some mysterious purpose. It was not a sound bite, a media clip, or a podcast topic. It was horrible, tragic, terrifying, and awful. It was loss. It was hate. It was anger and terror and the stuff nightmares were made of. It was not "special," and it did not make me a better person.

The idea that God "has a purpose for everything" is ingrained in much of Christian culture. Some take comfort in the idea that, in an out of control world, God is in control always. And (I believe) he is. However:

We live in a fallen world. That means that God's vision of perfection- humanity working in harmony with one another and with the Earth, was derailed. We got too much knowledge too soon as a species, and, like kids exposed to something we weren't ready for too young, we're still acting out the consequences.

As a friend is fond of saying "Death, loss and separation were never in God's plan for us.
We were not meant for death. Eden was the plan. We were made for Eden."

We are fallen human beings. God is sovereign. He is omnipotent- that is, he is capable of controlling everything. But does he? No, and for a very good reason- Free will. If God controls every human action, what would be the point of Creation? The entire experiment becomes completely pointless if He controls everything. Free will was the entire point of creation- we are created as autonomous creatures. That means that sometimes, we do truly awful things to one another. Out of our brokenness. Out of our own hurts, failures, and fundamental flaws, we sometimes do the worst things human imaginations can produce. The idea that God controls everything, and has a "purpose" for everything, is fundamentally mistaken.

Bottom line? Not every event has "meaning." Sometimes, incredibly shitty things happen to people who don't deserve it. The trick to finding peace, at least for me, is to learn to be OK with that, to find peace in the center of a storm of chaos. Not being "special," but rather, acknowledging being caught up in the swirling insanity that was unleashed when that fatal first bite was taken.

Please don't call me "special" because of what I've suffered.
Being myself is quite enough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Her name was Rachel

I'm sharing this in honor of the brave folks of the Twitterverse, who participate each week in the #PTSDChat hashtag conversation on Wednesday nights.

Sometime I may tell more of her story, but for now, this is as far as I can go. 

The rain is falling outside and I’m not thinking of anything really. Just watching the drops come down, splattering on the grass and road and window, when you come to my mind, uninvited, rushing in as always all bright eyes and out of control curls, grabbing my hand and pulling me from my reverie.
Come dance! It’s raining! Come dance with me!

Giggling, tugging, skipping, you lead and I follow, pulled by an unstoppable force, unadulterated joy in its purest form. We dance… You dance, and I watch as you spin and twirl and run and stumble and move through the rain, letting it splash over you, letting it wet your hair, which makes it even more unmanageable, letting it wet your face and your teeth as you smile into the sky, laughing all the time.

Dance safe my beautiful sweet girl. Let the rain fall and splatter on the grass under your brown bare feet. Let it soak into that wild hair and make it even more wild. Spin around and laugh and laugh. Let heaven ring with your laughter. Let it embrace that joy and keep it safe. Someday, maybe, I’ll be able to dance with you again. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sticky Fingers Rant

Dear Jerkwad-

Yes, we're on first-name terms now. I hope you don't mind. I figure that cleaning up after your little "prank" this afternoon has earned me the right to call you by your given name.

Did you think it was clever, opening five separate beverages, drinking about half of each, and leaving them behind the shampoo on the shelf for me to discover when I recovered my store tonight? Normally, recovery consists of making the shelves neat and pretty again after a long day of being shopped. Shoppers are notorious for making a mess of the shelves as they peruse the product lineup. This is normal and expected.

Open bottles of pop on the shelf, stashed behind the shampoo? Not so much.

Coke creates a sticky mess on a retail shelf.

So, dear Jerkwad, I hope you'll understand if I am less than amused by your shenanigans, and if I happen to catch you leaving your ill-gotten (stolen!) beverages behind, I will surely rain down the terrors that only a provoked Mama Bear, who has spent far too many hours scrubbing, cleaning, and straightening over the years of raising her own offspring, and more recently earning minimum wage and cleaning up after thoughtless customers (which is surprisingly similar to cleaning up after children,) can unleash.

You don't want to make me angry.
You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. :-p

There may be bloodshed. Or, at very least, a call to the local constabulary. At any case, be warned. Your days of pop pilfering and vandalism are limited. Next time you come shop(lift)ing at my store, I'll be waiting.

The Fed Up Cashier at Your Local Shop