My daughter and I took our very large dog for a bath yesterday. We’ve made a lot of bath progress (from the first bath that we stupidly did in our own tub as my daughter hid in the shower videoing the entire trainwreck). Now we go to a store with tubs behind giant glass walls where strangers can stand and watch. So it’s like our freak show of a home movie moved to the stage production.
Yesterday’s bath went great…best one yet. The only hiccup occurred on the way to the store. The dog attempted to migrate from the back of my small SUV to the back seat. But she’s too tall to make the full transition. Her enormous front legs are in the back seat and her very long back half is still pressed against the back glass. We looked like magicians who shoved her in a box preparing to saw her in half.
During this portion of the experience, as she is trying to extricate herself without the benefit of a developed prefrontal cortex, dog hair gets everywhere. I mean everywhere. We decided to complete the bath, deposit the dog at home, and later find the carwash with the free car vacuums. Only I get distracted and part three never happened.
So fast forward to this morning when it’s time for school. I am ready to drive my two teens and my daughter’s friend to school when I remember the dog hair-laced crime scene that is now my backseat. I tell the girls to grab a blanket and cover the headrests and seats. Simple enough. But now they can’t buckle their seatbelts. I “helpfully” advise both on how to work around the blanket without any part of their persons making contact with dog hair. Now, they are basically sitting in the backseat wearing part toga, part blanket diaper…as we pull into their high school.
Needless to say, they get out of the car quite quickly and I enter into traffic gridlock on the way to a meeting. I’m not the best driver. Combine the poor reflexes that come from a lifetime of neuropathy with the attention span of a Jack Russell terrier and a driving pro I am not. As a result, I get quite a lot of attention from other drivers. I don’t even pretend to be apologetic anymore. I reject the angry and sometimes startled stares with a general look of indifference.
However, I’m getting more double takes and stares than normal. I go through the cursory list of potential car issues I have often ignored to my own peril. The gas tank lid is closed as are all doors. I’m not dragging anything or anyone behind me. A segment on the radio is now talking about a tongue-shaped brush for cat owners where they “lick” their cats free of tangles, so the inventory of potential automobile hazards gets understandably truncated.
I arrive at my destination and disembark. As I get a sideye view of my backseat, I flip out. The space where two teen girls had been sitting on contorted blankets now startling looks like propped up covered bodies…the way dead bodies are usually covered in shows. I’m driving through heavy suburban traffic looking like a scene from Breaking Bad…or Weekend at Bernie’s. This explains a lot about my morning drive, except the cat brush because that is still a mystery.
If you have read my previous entries, you know this is the place I mention what lesson I took away from the experience. People, I’ve got nothing for you today. Drive safe.
Last night, while in a pharmaceutically-induced sleep, I dreamed I was in an MRI machine (a frequent occurrence) being sprinkled with salad toppings by various relatives (a less frequent occurrence). I kept insisting that they needed to let me out or I would miss my American Idol audition, which is ridiculous because American Idol is no longer on the air.
These sorts of wacky dreams are common for me. I daydream like this as well. All the time. During grad school, I passed (or failed depending on how you look at it) the tests that confirmed ADHD. “H” is for hyperactivity would make an amazing Sesame Street episode. I believe that my various physical struggles limit my musculature from expressing said hyperactivity so it all bottlenecks in my nervous system, creating monster dreams, too many words that could ever come out of one mouth, and daydreams that make me ideal for hanging out with 7-year-olds but tend to limit my professionalism with grown-ups.
All of this makes me quite anxious or maybe I was anxious in the beginning. Either way, I’ve tried for a long time to shut off my dream world. I believed that denying all of this impulsive mental pinballing would help me fit somewhere. (You see some anxious people start to label stuff as broken in them and this makes it harder and harder to believe they could ever naturally belong…so updating your personality to a newer version will finally eliminate the bugs.) Suppressing dreams only seems to have intensified my struggles, however.
Years ago, I met someone who would eventually become a mentor and friend, to be called Dr. Mentor in this story (which looks a lot like dementor when I type it…did Rowling mean for these creatures that truly terrify me to represent the exact opposite effect of what a true mentor does…like Dumbledore is to Harry…mind. blown.). Anyway, Dr. Mentor has this laugh. It is a wonderful, infectious laugh. Dr. Mentor has wisdom, but is not flashy with it (though has every right to be). Dr. Mentor has gone through tremendous heartache and modeled vulnerability, faith, strength, humility, grace, and through it all, how to keep dreaming.
Dr. Mentor likes my dream world and makes it feel safe to express it. I would even say that Dr. Mentor nurtures my dreams. Then dreams turn into action and I’m living in a world of possibilities instead of limitations.
I hope everyone gets to have a Dr. Mentor and then eventually gets to become one to someone else. It’s a game changer.
We have a lot of accidental traditions in my family. We may eat Chinese food off paper plates while playing Monopoly one 4th of July and the next year one of the kids says, “What do you mean we’re having salmon and salad….we always have Chinese food on paper plates with Monopoly on the 4th….it’s tradition.” Truth be told, I’m always in favor of happenstance tradition over salmon.
Some of our traditions are just silly. Every Christmas Eve the kids open one gift. It’s always pajamas. They know it’s going to be pajamas. And they say so. We do a song and dance where we pretend this year could be the one deviating year and then they open the pajamas. I don’t know why we do this, but our world seems to find its balance when we exercise such patterns.
There is one tradition that I have grown to love above all others. On New Year’s Day, we conduct our annual summer vacation pitch meeting. It’s like Mad Men without the booze and sexism. Everyone secretly researches possible vacation destinations (after a budget is established) and we spend the afternoon in negotiations. One by one, everyone lays out his or her arguments for the trip of choice. Then there is a ludicrous round of balloting with blind and weighted choice sheets. It gets complicated and we love it. The winning destination is revealed and then we nap to recover the mental exhaustion of it all.
You really get to see the personality of each family member in the locale choice, pitch style, and definitely in the method of preparation. My wife is last minute but thorough. I steer toward the unusual and difficult to pronounce. The kids each show what makes them truly brilliant.
My son chooses extravagant settings that he is literally googling while presenting. Not much forethought, but plenty of conviction. He passionately argues the virtue of his chosen city like he’s been pondering it since birth.
My daughter begins her choice selection weeks ahead of time and sends us all meeting reminders. She is organized without being obsessive and thoughtful of how everyone could enjoy the trip. Without show, she presents a contemplative and quiet set of well-designed slides.
We have had some great trips and have thousands of unsorted, digital images to back it up. The greatness, though, is less about the destination and mostly about the process of getting there. I wish I could claim pre-determined parental brilliance in establishing the New Year’s Day pitch meeting tradition, but it was an accident (like the anti-salmon movement). Through this yearly adventure, we have come to trust our kids’ judgment more and more and to hear their voices. As a result, they are invested and begin to celebrate the trip in advance of its coming (regardless of who chose it) because they were included. Because they were heard. Because they were respected.
Now, January 1 is my favorite day of summer vacation.
I get myself into all kinds of messes. All the time. For the few of you who know of this specific incident, prepare yourselves because I’m now going public with the banana story. This is only for the hope it might offer others.
A couple of years ago, I uncomfortably attended a large, professional conference. The conference was great and the people seemed generally lovely, so the issue was with me and not with the seeming billions of people intruding upon my introverted soul. I just become so awkward in these settings and then do ridiculous things.
Arriving early, I took the escalator down from the conference ballroom to the coffee shop. Bought a coffee. At the last second I grabbed a banana and then headed back to the conference room to establish a nest in the back corner of the room. This gives me a vantage point that reduces the number of spontaneous conversations or least allows me to see them coming. Anyhow, back to the banana.
As I am precariously balancing my coffee, conference materials, and the aforementioned banana, I began to panic at the prospect of navigating the upward escalator without a free hand. Knowing me makes this part self-explanatory. So I naturally stuck the banana in my pants pocket and boarded the elevating escalator. I stumbled, unsurprisingly, and did not spill the coffee, surprisingly. However, the stumble caused the banana pocket leg to be a rung above the non-banana leg. And the banana began to squeeze and smush and spread, creating a sensation impossible to adequately recreate in words.
I get to my corner to assess the situation. I insert my hand into my pocket to try and extricate the mostly flattened banana. It turns out that smushed banana and panic-induced leg sweat make quite a paste. Now I can’t get my hand out and am realizing I should have attempted this part of the rescue mission in the bathroom. With a not so swift motion, I yank and banana paints the conference wall, creating a fruit graffiti situation. My hand is disgusting; the table is a wreck; banana is dripping from the wall; I smell like laffy taffy.
Fast forward a few minutes and I simply must settle in to hearing someone teach about something profoundly professional. At this point, I see a friend sitting three tables in front of me. She is a lovely and expressive extrovert who tolerates well my quirks. In a moment of verbal vomit, I text her my best effort at explaining this self-created situation. It was an impulsive attempt at seeking some removal of my aloneness. I don’t even know what I needed other than someone to be in this with me. I watch her pick up her phone, place her head on the table, and begin to laugh in that way that shakes your shoulders. Her attempt to control laughter brought me to laughter. I cracked up at the absurdity of it all.
Her laughter spoke acceptance, and even appreciation, of my quirks. I didn’t feel judged by her enjoyment because everything about my prior conversations with her had informed that she was safe enough to know about banana-induced problems. This now shared experience shaped my perception of the experience.
In my first blog article, I mentioned I wanted my posts to reflect on the lessons learned from interactions with people I enjoy in the world. That day, I learned from my shoulder-shaking conference-mate what helps me move from self-judgment to self-acceptance--the acceptance of another. However, I couldn’t experience acceptance without first risking vulnerability. Thanks to my friend for the lesson…and honorable mention goes to the banana.
Reflections on lessons learned from being a therapist and adoptive dad.