I drew this comic last year and thought I would re-post it this week in celebration of the supreme court ruling on the defense of marriage act.
I spent a good portion of my week at the state capitol building protesting a bill that would restrict women’s freedoms in Texas. When you try and explain things like sb5 and doma to a 5 year old boy and he looks at you like you’re crazy… not because you are fighting them… but because they even exist in the first place, it really puts it into perspective. Let’s all stop trying to control each others bodies and hearts. No one loses when we let others pursue happiness.
And if I have to pull out my mom-voice, I will:If you don’t like what he’s doing, then don’t do it. No, I don’t care if it’s bothering you. Just go sit over there then. Why do you care what he’s doing? Is it hurting you? Are you losing anything? Did he make you do it, too? No? Okay, then, now you go do whatever makes you happy and he’s going to do what makes him happy, and I don’t want to have to come in here again.
Most people who have the disorder get it in the winter because it gets dark and they get mopey and are all,
Maaaaaan, I miss summer,
and I’m like,
Whatever losers! Woo Hoo! Dark and cold rocks! Let’s run naked through the woods! – right in their sad faces.
Now, however, it’s summer and I’m sad and moody and the rest of the world is like,
Yay summer! A million degrees! Sweating! Pools! BBQ’s! Mosquitoes trying to eat off our faces! or whatever. (Also, I am very sorry about getting all up in your faces last winter.)
So yes, most people who get SAD get it in the winter, but there is a summer version and it is the more rare form of an already rare disorder: “About 5 percent of adult Americans are thought to have winter seasonal affective disorder; researchers estimate that fewer than 1 percent have its summer variant.” Or so says the New York Times.
I’m one of those less than 1 percenters… because I’m all pale and mysterious so I get cool disorders that make me hide away in my dark house most of the day… and when I do venture out I’m withdrawn and moody, wear big black sunglasses and sigh dramatically.
Researchers are still unsure if it’s the heat or the light or a combination of both, For me, it’s not so much the heat (though omg it sucks), it’s the light… more specifically the WAY the light is shining. It’s too bright, it’s coming in at a weird angle. I feel out of sync with the rhythm of the planet at this time of year. My circadian rhythms are off, I feel out of sorts. My pockets hurt.
It’s like my brain is now cued for sunset instead of sunrise. I feel “weird” all day and fight off melancholy, and then as the day wanes and the light shifts, I feel okay again. Usually around 8 pm every night I start to feel the depression lift and I am suddenly and inexplicably myself again.
Off and on for the next few months I will battle this depression, and it sucks.
On the one hand, at least I know what it is. On the other hand, I hate knowing that it is a real thing and not just my imagination. Honestly, I think that this disorder affects more than one percent of the population. My facebook, twitter, and blog feed are filled with friends talking about feeling down for no reason right now. It almost seems that as a society we’ve become so desensitized to the seasons and nature that maybe we aren’t aware that as the planet moves, as the seasons change, that we, too, are affected.
Unlike the winter variant which involves staring at a lightbulb (or something), there is not a lot to help with summer SAD.
So, I fake it and make myself shower and work and all those normal human things even though I am totally not feeling it. I try to avoid pacing. I try to make myself sleep like a normal human. I watch Doctor Who. We pick our Halloween costumes and start working on them. We begin planning our big fall vacation. And when I feel like I can’t breathe, when I feel like this will never end … I will stop and breathe and try to remember that this will pass. It will take a few months, but it will pass.
Needless to say, our family will be hiding inside most of the summer, at least during the day. And when you invite us to your “It’s a million degrees – Let’s sit in direct sunlight and get sweaty – We love summer extravaganza!” parties… and you will… I will smile politely, thank you enthusiastically, and then silently count the days until fall. Oh, and next winter, when the tables are turned, I promise not to get all up in your sad face again.
“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann
I love being a writer… most of the time. Here’s an excerpt of the type of conversation I have with myself pretty much every time I sit down to write. And, I’m a professional writer. So, this happens… oh, every day.
Me: It’s time to update my blog again. Didn’t I just do this?? I need something to write about….You know what? What’s the point? Why do we even write? Everything that needs to be said has already been said by someone, somewhere, at some point in time.
Brain: Hey. Hey, stop it. You’re doing it again.
Me: Doing what?
Brain: Philosophizing instead of just writing.
Me: Shh, I’m thinking. I mean think about it. Every story has already been told. We just add our own flavor, but is it really necessary? The internet feels like so many people are saying the same thing just to hear their own voices. Like this morning, I went to find a recipe for baked oatmeal and got 9 billion results for what was pretty much the same recipe. The only real difference I could see was that this one was made by a stay at home mom with 3 kids who just had a book published about sock puppets, and the other one was made by a lady with blonde hair who has a fancy food blog.
Brain: How do you know it’s fancy?
Me: Look at the header, that’s a fancy black and white photo of some cheese. Everyone knows that photos taken just from the side – like you’re sneaking up on the food – are fancy. I think there are whole blogs devoted to sneaking up on pancakes. I should probably go look… Wait. That’s not the point. What I’m actually saying is that the internet feels so… noisy. What’s the point of writing a blog post and adding more noise?
Brain: Oh just stop.
Me: Stop? I didn’t start, how can I stop? We are all born into this spiral of life mid-motion, there’s no way to stop anything is there? We are spinning on a planet that we can’t control. Our lungs, hearts, and brains work automatically. I can’t make the wind stop blowing, or my blood cells stop moving. I can’t “stop” anything. What am I anyway? Where did I come from? Why am I even here?
Brain: Omg, no… please, not this again, not another existential crisis.
Me: Don’t be silly. I’m just questioning why I’m even here or the point of my existence.
Me: I think the thing is this… Maybe *not* saying anything is really the way to say something. You know? Like a silent protest against noise. Maybe I should just date a blank page and post that on my blog. Like an anti-blog. By saying nothing, I’m really saying that we should all take a minute to stop saying so much.
Brain: You will do anything to avoid writing, won’t you?
When you’ve been on the internet long enough, you’re eventually going to talk about cats. This is our cat, Athens. We adopted him last September, and he is an unabashed jerkface. We got him while kittens were on sale for $20 and have taken to calling him discount cat. As in, “Oh, he’s pushed his water bowl half way across the house spilling massive amounts of water all along the way that he is now playing in? Well, what do you expect from a discount cat?”
Look, just let me have my coffee and I’ll bite you in a second, okay?
We love him, don’t get me wrong, but he is a pretty lousy cat. He won’t sit on your lap or climb into bed with you. He doesn’t snuggle. He bites. He wakes us up with yowling at 4:30 am every single day even though he has a self feeder full of food. He attacks his water bowl and spills water everywhere. He randomly attacks the walls and is scratching up the molding on our doorways. Oh, and did I mention that he bites us?
Now, he does do some pretty cool stuff, but it’s dog stuff. It’s like he doesn’t really get the whole “being a cat” thing. He loves to play in water and he LOVES fetch. I don’t mean lame cat fetch where you throw the toy and they just look at you or they go get it and never bring it back. Athens plays real fetch… for hours. He wants you to play with him all freaking day, and if you don’t? Biting time. If he drops his toy next to you and you don’t notice, he will nip you on the leg. Because, as I have stated previously, he’s a jerk.
See, Athens? You are a cat.
So, why do we keep him? Well, we love him and our son adores him. And, the feeling seems to be mutual. Athens loves his boy and the two are often inseparable. Kai is gentle, and Athens plays too rough, but they still have fun and look for each other first thing in the morning. It’s like a boy and his really soft, bitey dog.
Sitting in my office writing this essay while hiding from Athens, I started to wonder… why do we even have a cat? Paul and I have always had a cat, never a dog. We say we’re not really dog people, but is there a difference? Apparently, yes. According to Dr. Hal Herzog, a leading anthrozoologist, researchers at The University of Texas found that, “Cat people were more introverted, they were more anxious, they were more interestingly open to new experiences and they were more impulsive.”
Yes, we are anxious because cats are scary.
The other night, Paul and I were in his studio recording some of my poetry for a project. Kai was asleep and I guess the cat was bored so he kept coming in and bothering us. Paul eventually started recording through the outtakes as they got increasingly bizarre. The cat kept sneaking into the room, opening doors, attacking sound foam and falling off of chairs, and eventually biting me because I didn’t know he wanted to play fetch while I was in the middle of recording a poem.
I present to you: Ava being attacked by a cat while reading poetry
I better stop writing and go play with Athens. He dropped his toy next to me a few minutes ago. I’ve tried to ignore him, but he just licked my leg and now I’m scared… Such a discount cat.
Today, I went to use the restroomand through the cracked door I heard my 4 year old saying, “Hey, you’re going potty, but you don’t have a weenie.”
I froze, partially because of my son’s obvious lack of bathroom etiquette, and partially because I could sense there was something serious about this moment. My son was aware that we were different in a fundamental way and that was probably a big deal.
“Yes, you’re right,” I said slowly, trying to decide what to say next. I could hear the mixture of confusion and curiosity in his voice as he pondered the situation and I wanted to help him understand. So, in some delusional moment of over-confidence I decided:
One of the main perks of being a parent (aside from all the love and stuff) is getting a new holiday. In celebration of Mother’s Day on Sunday I thought I’d share my top 3 reasons why I love being a parent:
1. My life is ridiculous and surreal
• I get to start my day with whatever crazy thoughts are stored in a 5 year old’s brain. This morning the first words I heard as I was just waking up were, “Hey, we need that sausage ice tray!”
Let that color your day.
• I get to do what were once mundane tasks like grocery shopping accompanied by Batman.
Oh, and even though I’m dressed like a hobo and have no makeup on, I will be forced to smile and make conversation with every single person in the store as Batman attempts to “rescue” them.
• Lack of sleep causes awesome dreams when you finally get to rest. Like the one dream where I was panicking because my job was to catch cows, especially this one cow named Mrs. Miles Davis, and she kept getting away while I stopped to apply lemon flavored chapstick. When I woke up panicked Paul gently reminded me that catching cows pretty much involved saying, “hey cow” and then putting your hand on it.
• I get to say things like, “Please stop karate chopping me in the head.” There is probably no other opportunity for that outside of parenting.
2. I am a member of an exclusive club
• We have rings (dark, purplish ones below our eyes). They help the members identify each other.
• I now have an opinion on the Diego vs. Dora debate, and will vehemently defend my stance in debates with other parents. [Backpack is a chump, Rescue Pack FTW!]
Oh, and I have my own set of adults-only answers that I mutter under my breath when Dora insists on asking me questions that she clearly already knows the answers to.
• People whom you may never had had anything in common with before will now become part of your tribe as you share stories from the front-lines of parenting. “Why yes, random parent at the playground, that is a disgusting story. Here’s mine…”
3. It’s fun
• I get to play with toys, go neat places, and hang out with the fun guy at the party all day.
• I get to watch a little person grow up right in front of my eyes. I get paid in hugs, kisses, and the assurance that I am doing everything I can to make him a healthy, happy person who can one day make the world a better place.
• I get reminded that life is short and full of excitement and adventure as I see things through his eyes. Sure, no one likes their job all the time, but I have to admit, this one is a pretty sweet gig.
Actually, it was probably something more like mmm mmm mmm, but I totally knew what he meant. Soon, it became a clear ma ma with a cute little pause between the syllables. I loved hearing it.
I remember one time when he was six months old, his grandfather tried to hold him and carry him into another room to watch a football game. This decision was met with screams and tears. I took my baby back into my arms, and then, his little body filled with all the infant indignation he could muster, he looked right at his grandpa and shouted, “MA MA” as though to say, How dare you take me out of sight of my mommy, you crazy man? He put his head on my shoulder, patted my back with his tiny hand, and whispered “ma ma” to me next, reminding both he and I that this is where he belonged.
Ma ma soon turned into Mommy, which is my favorite word in the entire world… and that’s probably a good thing considering I hear it about a million times a day starting at 6:30 am.
It feels so good to be needed, to be loved so completely, to be honored with the title Mommy.
I remember watching the movie Father of the Bride and seeing Steve Martin see his daughter as a literal little girl. I’d heard older adults speak of their adult children and say things like, she’ll always be my baby. Before I became a parent, those things meant nothing to me. I thought, oh I can’t wait. I can’t wait to run and play and ride bikes together. I can’t wait to grow with him, to honor his stages of development.
And now, here we are and the stages are coming so fast… too fast; they are stacked on top of each other. It seems like every time I close my eyes, I open them to a different child.
It feels like yesterday when he was only our “two-bite baby” (we used to track his growth as a fetus by how many bites we thought it would take to eat him, like how they sell brownies…) He was just a gray and white swirl in an ultrasound picture, and now he’s running, talking about kindergarten, and trying to ride a bike with no training wheels.
I’m breathless from trying so hard to catch each moment, to see each new thing… Yes, I tell him, a hundred times a day, Mommy’s watching – and I am, I really really am –
and then… and then… this fetus, this newborn… calls for me from the backseat and says, “hey, mom.”
It went like this:
Kai: Hey, Mom
Me: What did you just call me?
Kai: Mom, it’s the first part of Mommy, I call you Mom sometimes now.
aaaaand that’s all I could hear because the rest was drowned out by the sound of my heart SHATTERING INTO A MILLION PIECES.
I know I’m technically his mother, even his mom. But, I’m his Mommy… there’s so much weight in that word, Mommy. He’s the only person in the world who can call me that. It’s his name for me; it’s who I see myself as now. Five years ago, I was Ava, just Ava. Now, I’m Ava+: I’m Kai’s mommy.
Moms make you dinner, buy you clothes, and drop you off at school.
Mommies are holders and kissers, boo boo healers, adventurers, puppet makers, night-night time story tellers, hand holders, and first loves.
I’m raising him to be independent. I’m raising him to be strong. I’m raising him to not need me so much, and that is harder than I could have ever imagined. It’s so hard to know that if I’ve done this job right that he will call me mom… I just didn’t think it would be so soon.
Inside I’m still ma ma, still mommy whispered in his sweet baby voice as he falls asleep holding my hand. But now, though I’m not ready, he is, and so I’m also his mom as he experiments with being a big boy, as he toys with independence.
Every night after he’s asleep I stare at the boy he has become: I see how tall and strong he is, how defined his chin looks, how big his hands are. And then, I do what I will do every single night that he lives with us, I lean in to kiss his forehead, stroke his hair… and then his mom whispers to him: my sweet baby, mommy loves you.
I’m a poet. Well, I used to be…Well, I still am… I’m just writing more essays and less poetry lately. But, I paid a lot of money to study poetry at a private university, completed a 90 page Master’s thesis chock full of poetry, and my work has been published. So there’s that.
My background is in performance and poetry, so here’s a piece that I’ve done at a few readings. I’ll upload an audio track of it soon.
It’s funny how at parties, those who are parents
will swap stories about their past exploits
and someone will inevitably joke that
life is over when you have a baby –
but, he or she probably isn’t really joking,
and even though all the other parents
in the room laugh, there’s a tiny awkward moment
when every single parent in that room
looks down into his or her drink,
breathes in the acrid breath of mourning,
and grieves for youth,
for lost sleep, for long, hot showers,
and meals that never ever included macaroni and cheese.
Some will remember walking naked through the house,
or drinking too much, or cussing,
or the blissful sound of nothing,
nothing at all, just rare and precious silence.
Then they will catch themselves,
racked with guilt, assume they are
alone in this misery, because everyone
else must love being a parent;
so to make up for it they share stories
about how Brittany did the cutest thing,
or how Michael is reading at a fifth grade level.
Instead of baby showers,
parents should be given funerals
to mourn the death of their freedom,
And there in the face of the impending change
can there finally be brutal honesty:
about how beautiful and horrible it is to be a parent,
about how much energy it takes to grow a person,
about how they will love and hurt, and love and hurt,
that they will feel stronger and
weaker than they ever knew possible,
feel tired, feel old, feel wasted,
feel like this is the most important thing they have ever done,
and how it’s okay to sometimes cry and to miss themselves.
The eulogy will tell them
they are gone, but not forgotten,
and the banner draped across the coffins will read:
their children will be richer for having known them.
It was 6:30 am. 6:30 in. the. morning. It was dark outside. Birds were sleeping. I should have been sleeping… instead I was sitting in bed trying to shake off the delirium from having been awoken suddenly in the middle of a dream and trying to comprehend why I was holding a half transformed Optimus Prime toy. A few inches from my face were the big bright wide awake eyes of my four year old.
“Do it mommy! Transform him back into a truck!”
“I need him to be a truck again. I made him a robot, but now he wants to be a truck.”
I’d been parenting for five years – I wasn’t fazed. Of course my four year old was awake and in my face. Of course I needed to transform this toy right now before the sun came up.
I turned the toy over in my hands. I remember Transformers, I love robots, I can totally do this. I looked Optimus over with my bleary sleep deprived eyes. Hmm. I moved limbs, twisted pieces different directions. He was definitely transforming into something… but he looked less like a truck and more like an unfortunate robot that had had a run-in with a truck.
Oh crap. This was freaking hard. Kai was watching my every move and I could tell he was beginning to suspect the obvious. I could not transform this toy.
For those of you who are unaware: transformers are hard… like ridiculously hard. They are a 3” child’s toy that comes with a full page of instructions. A FULL PAGE. When we bought Optimus the day before, Paul was home. I saw him and Kai playing with it without issue and so I made a terrible mistake, I didn’t read the instructions.
Now, it was Monday and Paul had gone into work early. I was on my own with Kai and Optimus-the mangled truck bot-Prime. I was starting to panic a little. Then, in a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, Kai looked up at me and said encouragingly, “Come on. Daddy can do it.”
What he was actually saying is: Daddy can do it. Why can’t you?
It was then that I realized that my vast amounts of education and advanced degrees from prestigious universities meant nothing. Kai was unimpressed. Knowledge is relative it seems. I may have studied the Didascalicon, and the works of Rousseau and Woolf. I may have written papers on the importance of Mozart’s operas, or wowed literary scholars when I compared Voltaire’s Candide to the plot structure found in a work of Russian literature. It didn’t matter; I now lacked the one skill that my son found valuable: transforming Japanese auto-bots.
I sent Paul a quick text message: “Omg. I can’t transform Optimus. Kai thinks I’m stupid. Please help me” and waited for inevitable “What’s really happening?” response text. I then set out to find the instructions for Optimus’ transformation. If there’s one thing my degrees DID teach me, it was how to look up weird obscure stuff on the internet.
Parenting is teaching me that the world that I thought I knew pre-child, and the skills I had developed based on that idea are vastly different from the ones that are of actual value to me now. Maybe one day I will again spend my time with academics who care about my opinions on which translation of Beowulf is the best, but for now, I need to learn to integrate my education with my actual knowledge. Education is most valuable when it transforms us into something that helps us to advance ourselves and those around us.
Maybe I should have studied the Didascalicon a little more closely. Hugh of St Victor felt that it is the integration of the different areas of knowledge that leads to human perfection. This is where children are the perfect teachers. Everything is one. For Kai, transforming a robot is as important of a skill as feeding him, reading, or writing. He hasn’t applied preconceived values to knowledge. The knowledge that will help him in the present is the most valuable.
And that’s another thing I’m learning from Kai. He is always present. Right here, in this moment, nowhere else. He worries little about the past or the future, but what his feelings and needs are right now. And right now, he needed me to transform his robot.
With a little help from obsessive Transformer fan forums, phone coaching from Paul, and some patient encouragement from my son, I eventually transformed Optimus back into a truck. I won’t lie, when I slid that last piece into place and saw the tiny truck in my hand… it felt freaking awesome.
My son, whom I am tasked with teaching, is teaching me. I’m learning what’s really important, I’m learning to be present, and more importantly I’m learning how to transform myself into what he needs.
Yesterday I was sitting in the living room eating a protein bar. Kai was eyeing it so I asked him if he would like one too. He’s five now, so of course his answer wasn’t just “yes,” instead he told me to wait there and he would go to the kitchen by himself and get his own snack.
Because being five means that you do everything yourself even the things you shouldn’t attempt and of course all of the things that make his father and I think, oh my god why is he trying to do that himself doesn’t he know he’s only five?? Independence is awesome. Bull headed independence with no experience or wisdom to back it up is terrifying. Five might give me a heart attack.
Kai went into the kitchen without turning on the light and headed towards what I thought was the pantry. Instead, I heard him moving along the counter and then a rustling near the bread basket, followed by the sound of shattering glass.
Paul and I had the millisecond look of shared terror before we both instinctively screamed “don’t move! don’t move!” into the dark kitchen while leaping up because we heard movement and gave each other the even more terrified oh my god he’s totally moving isn’t he? face.
Already my mother brain was imagining all of the worst possible scenarios: a shoe-less five year old covered in broken glass, a trip to the ER, stitches, etc. What I didn’t expect to see was my five year old racing out of the dark kitchen… clutching two limes.
He was visibly freaked out and panting, clutching these two limes as those his life depended on it. As we neared him he said, “I saved the limes! I knew this would happen and so I saved the limes!!”
What. the… huh?
I checked him over and fortunately he was wearing shoes. Shoes! Hurray for shoes! I don’t know why he was still wearing them. We had been home for nearly 30 minutes, and normally his clothes explode off of him the second we walk in the door. It’s kind of amazing really. I will be just setting down my keys and somehow he’s in his underwear. For some reason, he was still fully dressed. No cuts, no glass on him, he was okay… but the deal with the limes? I don’t know.
I hugged him to me (still clutching those limes), calmed him down, and told him we didn’t care about the glass, only his safety. He looked into my eyes with all the sincerity in the world and in his proudest voice told me, “I’m so happy I saved those limes.”
I nodded knowingly.
Paul asked him, “why did you get the limes, did you want to eat a lime?”
“No,” he said very matter-of-factly, “I wanted a protein bar, I just saved the limes.”
Right. Yes. The limes needed saving and he saved them.
I hugged him again and reminded him that when a glass breaks he should stand still and never run over it. Then I got him his protein bar (out of the pantry, not the bread basket) and sat him out of the way while we cleaned up.
Paul was sweeping and caught my eye, “limes?” he whispered.
I shrugged and we laughed hysterically.
I still don’t know what the deal is or was with the limes, but they now have a place on honor on the kitchen counter. These aren’t just any limes, these limes were saved.
Five, it seems, is going to be full of over confidence, near misses, and downright weirdness. It feels like when Kai first learned to walk: he charged forward and I scrambled around him clearing the path. He got to do the walking, I got to race around him making sure he didn’t fall and keep him safe. This is five: a big giant baby charging forward and me scrambling just out of sight letting him think he’s doing it all by himself.
I’m still learning about the insanity that is five. In the meantime there is something I do know for sure: in this house, the limes will always be safe.
Ava Love Hanna is a writer, storyteller, and performer living in Austin, Texas. She vividly remembers the night her husband asked her if she wanted to go to Istanbul, but she thought they should have a baby instead. She stands by her choice, but is now very tired and still hasn't had a decent cup of Turkish coffee. Read more about Ava >>