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Finding Hope

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. As I am a terrible introvert, sites like Facebook do wonders for breaking me out of my shell, allowing me to share a little of myself without sharing all of myself. Social media has helped me become friends with people who might not otherwise get to know me, because my shyness and resting bitch face often interfere with my ability to open up to people.

But we all know there's a dark side to social media, particularly in today's political climate. The anonymity of the computer screen allows people to say truly terrible things that they would never say to one another's faces. We see it in school children, otherwise decent adults, and our president. Some days, the vitriol I see online is enough to make me want to break all of my electronic gadgets.

I was in the middle of a social media funk, wanting to delete everything and live in a cave, when my niece went missing on Saturday. This complicated teenager, the family's first grandchild, who memorized the Animaniacs "Nations of the World" song as a grade schooler, who as a 9-year-old insisted I take a video of her reciting all 50 states in alphabetical order from memory, who as a teenager has taught herself several foreign languages, who has so many talents and so many challenges ... this beautiful girl was nowhere to be found. The details are many and nuanced, and I'm not going to get into them. I'm not going to tell you how she got lost or where she ended up, but I will tell you how she was found.

When we were running out of ideas, when we were realizing there was no way to check every nook and cranny of the city, even with the police on the job, because there was no way to guess where my niece's beautiful, unique brain would lead her -- that's when we appealed to everyone else. A couple members of my family, including myself, wrote Facebook posts pleading for help finding my niece. Within a few minutes, the posts were being shared. Within a couple hours, they had been shared hundreds of times. People came out of nowhere offering to walk the streets in search of her. Friends I haven't seen in years jumped in their cars and started driving the neighborhoods. Strangers combed the streets and trails nearby -- I ran into one man who had tears in his eyes thinking of his friend's daughters who are of the same age. People we've never met were praying for her safety.

Then we started hearing from people who had seen her. Each time we got a message from someone who thought they'd seen her, we'd pass the information on to the police, and eventually we were developing a picture of where she had gone. My brother said that, when they found her, dozens of police and citizens were combing the neighborhood they'd zeroed in on, searching for her. And then there she was, cold and scared, and the police returned her to us. All because a bunch of people saw a post online, or took note of a reverse 911 call, or saw a news report, and took the time to notice, to care, and to say something.

Thank you, Colorado Springs. You gave my niece back to us. And you showed us that people are generally good, and they care, and they step up and help when it matters.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.




When I was nearing graduation from nursing school three years ago, Rob gave me a book called “I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse.” The book is filled with essays written by nurses about their experiences when they began their careers, and I was inspired by it three years ago as I considered the daunting prospect of finding my first nursing job.  It resonated with me because, as a new nurse, there was a built-in feeling of inadequacy -- at least for me.  Maybe other people graduate from nursing school feeling like they have it all figured out, but I don’t know any of those people.

Three years later, I am a few months into my first acute-care job at a medical hospital.  A prestigious one.  One that little community hospitals send their patients to when they need a higher level of care.  One that you probably want to send your family to if they ever get really, really sick.

So, ya know, it’s not intimidating or anything for someone who constantly worries that she’s not good enough for this.

I’ve learned a lot at this hospital.  I know how to stick people for labs and start IVs, how to do wound care on a stage four pressure ulcer, how to manage a feeding tube.  I’ve seen more urine and feces than I care to talk about.  I’ve looked at a living person’s brain, and I’ve touched a person’s bone while it’s still in their body.

And yet, I don’t feel strong enough.

A few weeks ago, I started re-reading that book Rob gave me, looking for some magical formula for feeling “strong” -- or at least a glimpse of myself in these other nurses’ stories.  And it just … wasn’t there.  The book is still good.  I can identify with some of the moments these other nurses describe, and a couple of the stories have made me tear up.  But the “aha” moment I wanted didn’t appear.

My biggest fear is, now and always, that I will make a mistake that harms someone.

Emergencies have happened on my watch.  I’ve had to call a “rapid response” -- which is when you call in reinforcements because something is going very wrong with your patient but s/he still has a pulse and is breathing -- on a few people.  And every single time, I have agonized for days afterward.  Did I do something wrong?  Could I have intervened sooner?  Did I call for help fast enough?  Once I called for help, did I carry out the doctor’s orders fast enough?  Would this patient have fared better if s/he had had a stronger nurse?

After every rapid response, I have an intense stress reaction in which I cry in front of coworkers and then feel stupid for crying in front of coworkers.  And every time, I have to take a few minutes to pull myself together.  I drink some water.  I pace in the break room.  I take some deep breaths.  Then I get back to work.

I still need that recovery time after every rapid response.  But I’ve noticed that I recover a little faster each time.  I'm not strong yet, but I’m working on it. 



“I am good at this.”

“Well, maybe not good.  … Decent.  I’m decent at this.”

“Ok, I’m kind of mediocre.  Like, I don’t really know why I’m trusted to do this at all.”

“Actually, I suck.  I can’t believe I ever convinced someone that I’m competent.  I wonder how long it’ll take before they figure out I’m a fraud.”

This train of thought works its way through my mind at least twice a week.  It always has.  When I worked at the mental hospital, I didn’t understand why I was allowed comfort people when they were on the edge.  When I worked at the newspaper, I could never figure out why realtors kept letting me write about their houses.  When I was in high school, even as I was preparing to give a speech at graduation, I suspected the whole lot of my peers would soon realize that I was, in fact, quite stupid.  They might even boo.

How could they not notice that I have no idea what I’m doing?

This is a topic of conversation every single week in my meetings with my boss.  I tell her that I don’t know what I’m doing, and she reassures me that no one does when they first start.  “I don’t know what I’m doing either,” she jokes, laughing.

And I laugh too, and I feel better.

Last week, some coworkers and I went to a seminar on domestic violence, and one of the breakout sessions was about how regular trauma can have an actual, physical impact on the brain.  Even chronic depression leaves physical signs, like a slightly smaller hypothalamus.  But, said this enthusiastic psychiatrist, we can reverse these effects.  We can activate the happy side of our brains (she used bigger words here, and I forgot them so I’m using “happy” instead of something that sounds smart -- remember, I am a fraud) and avoid some of the damaging effects of the vicarious trauma we experience working in a field that can be, honestly, pretty depressing.

The ways we exercise the happy part?  It’s so simple as to sound ridiculous.  Meditation.  Body scans (closing your eyes and focusing on each area of your body in turn).  Taking a minute to be thankful about a few things.  (Interestingly, even if you’re determined to be pissy and can’t think of anything, the simple act of trying to come up with something to be grateful for activates the happy area.)

I will never make the time to meditate, so instead I’ve been sending Rob texts about things I’m grateful for.

“I am thankful traffic was light on the way to work.”

“I am thankful the kids got themselves dressed today without whining.”

“I am thankful that pepperoni exists.”

I’ve been surprised by how much this simple act of thinking happy thoughts has improved my outlook.  I may feel like a fraud today, but I am thankful that my boss has a bucket of Reese’s peanut butter cups on her desk -- and other candy, but Reese’s peanut butter cups are the best, duh -- and I am thankful that she shares.

For now, that’s enough.


The things I do are not always smart

Up until fairly recently, my kids would have panic attacks whenever they encountered bugs.  You probably think I’m exaggerating, but a moth would throw Kaylee into hysterics -- crying, screaming, clinging to any adult within grasping distance.  And Robbie followed her lead.

And yet, I still made the questionable parenting decision to take my children to the May Natural History Museum just south of town a few weeks ago.

I vaguely remember having visited this place when I was a child.  My memory consists entirely of seeing a few butterflies pinned in a display case.  I thought my kids could probably handle that, especially since by the beginning of this summer they could exist in the same room with a bug without totally losing their minds.

We arrived around noon on a Friday and paid our nine dollar admission fee, then walked into a room full of bugs -- ranging from “that’s kind of pretty” to “oh my god, we must flee now.”  (By the way, I never want to see another giant moth -- even if it’s dead -- because they always, always make me think of this book, in which giant moths eat people’s faces.  Fuck that.)

The kids were kind of intrigued, but it turns out there’s a limit to how many gigantic bugs they can see in one place before they start to whimper.  Honestly, I couldn’t blame them.

How many of these can you look at before you start to hallucinate that you have bugs crawling around under your clothes?  And then the kids saw a living moth (of normal Miller-type variety) flying around the room and that. was. it.  They were no longer having any of this shit, and I had to concede that we’d gotten our $9 worth and it was time to go.

We made a half-hearted attempt at watching an educational video before calling it a day.  However, since my kiddos don’t go anywhere without begging me to buy them a souvenir, and I couldn’t get out of this one by saying “we’ll just get something next time” because we all knew there would be no next time, they each chose something to bring home with them.

Kaylee bought a silly gag gift, and Robbie bought what has become the bane of my existence:

Robbie now keeps moths as pets.  A couple days after we got this little house, Rob helped Robbie catch a moth at Target, and then Robbie proceeded to clutch it in his fist for the entire car ride home so he could put it in his bug house.  He has also been known to catch a moth and then jam it in his pocket until he can get home and put it in the house -- only to find that it somehow disintegrated into random moth body parts during the journey.  (It’s even better when I forget he did that and do a load of laundry, later finding moth parts in the dryer.)

The biggest problem I have with Robbie’s new acquisition is that he doesn’t generally want to catch the bugs by himself.  Which means I often hear him shouting, “Mommy!  There’s a moth!  Help me catch it!”

So, I don’t know if you all know this about me, but I’d rather do just about anything else than catch a moth with my hands.  I am 35 years old, and I still remember a time about 20 years ago when I woke up to find a moth fluttering around under the covers with me.  This was somewhat traumatic.  I can tone down my disgust when my kids are around because I don’t want them to share my irrational fears, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

It’s just that I’d rather pretend I’m not actually drawing a line, and that really Mommy is an incredibly incompetent bug catcher.  So I get a piece of paper and hold it near the moth, telling Robbie that maybe the moth will walk onto the paper and we can dump him into the bug house.  And then (surprise!), the moth flies away as soon as the paper gets near him.  “Oh darn,” I say with as much sympathy as I can muster, “I don’t see him now.  Maybe Daddy can help you catch him later.”

Despite my raging ineptitude, Robbie has managed to catch a series of bugs, including several moths and a roly poly that he gave to the moths as “dinner.”  He also likes to have the house near him as he sleeps, which is unfortunate because he’s usually sleeping near me.  And so I spend most nights sleeping with annoyed moths flapping within a couple feet of my face.  Until, of course, they die from lack of food and water, and then I sleep a little more soundly.


Let it go

I’ve always had this philosophy -- especially with regard to my posts on social media -- that I can get past any obstacle if I can find a way to laugh at it.  Thus I find myself accentuating the absurd when I explain things like a flooded basement or the difficulties of dealing with a potty-training two-year-old.  “Ok,” I tell myself, “this event was pretty rough, but I managed to write something funny about it on my blog, so I think I can feel better about it now.”  Every difficult situation is blog fodder.  And once I’ve written about it, I can get it out of my head -- with the added bonus that things you say on the internet often immediately cease to be true. 

So please bear with me as I try to get this past year out of my head.  I don’t think I can make it funny, which is a large part of why I haven’t written about any of it. 

(Disclaimer: I know that it could always be worse.  I know that there are babies who are homeless and toddlers battling cancer in the world.  I’m not competing against them, I swear.  I’m also not fishing for a bunch of sympathetic comments, so don’t feel obligated to write any.)

Um … ok, I think a list is the best way to handle this.  And so I present “A List of Shitty Things That Happened (Abridged)”:

1.  My dog Bella somehow injured her knee in January of 2013, and when I took her to the vet we learned that her kidneys were beginning to fail and she couldn’t handle the anesthesia that would be required to surgically correct the problem.  All we could do was put her on pain medication and watch her health deteriorate.

2.  Bella died in May, during my finals week.  We made the decision to put her down after she’d lost about 15 pounds (almost half her body weight) and could no longer keep food down.  She was the first dog I’d ever owned as an adult.  She pre-dated Rob’s and my marriage.  She followed me around the house all the time because she just wanted to be around me.  Even though she was our dog, she was my dog.

3.  On the Fourth of July, we went to watch a baseball game and the after-game fireworks show and had a wonderful time.  (Other than Robbie getting really tired and becoming inconsolable at not being able to go down the giant inflatable slide.  That doesn’t really count on this list, though, because it’s just part of being a parent.)  We got home really late to learn that our house had been burglarized while we were gone.  All that joy I’d experienced as I watched my kids stare in amazement at the fireworks just vanished, because my kids were now terrified.  Ever since, they have been scared that some faceless, nameless “bad guy” will sneak into their house and take their things.  Kaylee is particularly concerned about Wocket, while Robbie is worried about Bear.  The last time we watched fireworks together, out an upstairs window, Kaylee said she preferred watching them from home because that meant no one would rob our house while we enjoyed them.

4.  Around the same time, we had some unexpected expenses like a broken washing machine and a power outage that took out at least a couple hundred dollars worth of food that was in our freezer.  This one seems silly to include on the list, but it was a big deal at the time.

5.  We decided to sell our house and move in with Rob’s mom.  We marketed this to ourselves as a strategic move to save money during my last year in nursing school.  We marketed this to her as a way to save her money because we would be able to help her with expenses.  So we began the process of getting our house ready to go on the market.

6.  In August, exactly one week before my birthday, I took our second corgi, Kody, to the vet because he’d gotten really sluggish over the previous few days.  There, I learned that he had a massive tumor on his spleen and was likely to bleed out at any time.  We put him down that day.  The kids were with me.  They now approach vet visits with a certain wariness because they’re not sure we’ll get to bring our pet back home.  Kody had also been with us since before we were married, be he always felt like Rob's dog, and Rob didn't even get to say goodbye to him.

7.  The Tuesday after that, my car was rear-ended at a red light.  Another minor inclusion, as no one was hurt and ultimately the other driver’s insurance had to pay for the damages.

8.  The day after my birthday, we moved in with Rob’s mom.  This is not a shitty thing in and of itself, because Rob’s mom is actually pretty awesome and we really like her house.  It’s on this list because we never fulfilled the marketing promises we made to her and to ourselves in number 5, for reasons that will be discussed soon.

9.  A week or two later, I started the most stressful and difficult semester I had in nursing school.  I would go into the details, but that would be even more boring than this post already is.  I’ll just say it was busy and stressful and frustrating. 

10.  Within a few weeks of the start of my semester, Rob lost his job.

11.  During the semester from hell and Rob’s job hunt, we were also trying to do some painting and fixing up of our house so we could put it on the market.  Somewhere in here, the basement of that house flooded and set us back at least a month.  Because we were busy, it took until mid-November before we finally listed it.  Luckily, it sold within three days and closed in December.

12.  Rob was out of work for a little over three months, and we never contributed a dime to the household expenses.  (The check from the house covered some past-due bills and Christmas presents, and that was pretty much it.)

13.  At the very end of 2013, Rob started a new job.  We have spent all of our time playing catch-up on the bills that we racked up during the various bouts of unemployment, and still couldn’t contribute to the household expenses.  This summer, when we stopped having to pay for daycare while I’m looking for a nursing job, we were finally about to reach a point where we could help out instead of being carried by someone else.  And then …

14.  Last Thursday, Rob lost his job again.  In both of the two incidents on this list, Rob was part of an entire department that was let go, but he still sometimes believes these job losses were a result of his own failures.

So, I haven’t written about these things because even now, a year later in most cases, I can’t find the humor in them.  I need the universe to let the hell up and allow us to get our feet under us again.  I’m really looking forward to the day when I can look back at this period in our lives and chuckle.  I’m sure it’ll make a great story.  Eventually.