Category Archives: Mental Health

Stop Breathing. Now Breathe.

Before I even tell this story–I’m fine. It’s all fine.


Today was such a stupid day to cap off a long long string of stupid days. G had a horrible toothache and had found a dentist who could see him at noon. I’ve been out sick for a couple of days but was finally starting to feel better. Then Carlos said, “My tummy hurts” at bedtime last night.

You know how that sentence turns out. Lots of laundry and not much sleep. So when G and I were deciding how to manage today with a sick kid, we stood over our phones and hashed through the calendars.

“OK,” I said, “I can stay home this morning but I have two things this afternoon that I can’t move or miss–at 1 and 2:30.” He checked his phone. “That will work. I’ve got a few things this morning then dentist at 12:30.” We’d hand off Carlos at noon (Lord willing and the breakfast doesn’t rise).

Everything worked out fine. I logged in to work from the love seat while Carlos had some yogurt and screen time. Carlos got to play in a warm bubble bath until he was wrinkly so that I had time to diagnose form submission problems, send mass emails, post news stories, reschedule appointments. I kept the wheels on the bus and the boy hydrated and the laundry going. Like moms do.

By the time G got home, Carlos was dressed and fed and ready for an uhventure (to the dentist’s office!). I got myself dressed and fed and ready for a follow-up diagnostic mammogram.

The regular one I had on Monday didn’t get the thumbs up from the radiologist. Instead of getting the thin pink envelope in the mail that says, “All good!” I got the call from a very neutral sounding scheduling secretary to come back in for another look. OK. No big deal. Hooray for good insurance and 3D imaging and all of that. All of that stuff I never ever ever want to think about.

It’s weird when you work at the place where you get your healthcare. It’s not anonymous. It’s Monita taking my insurance card and Odessa printing forms and Cathy doing the scheduling. Vickie walks by and Connie is the boss and everyone knows my name. Even in the waiting room, I sat next to the mother of Carlos’ kindergarten teacher. It’s another day at work, except I’m remembering that sometimes it’s not good news.

She positioned my right breast and compressed the plastic plates. I watched the digital pressure reading–30 lbs. I stood calmly, doing as I was told. It’s not that bad, the squeezing. It’s better than not knowing. She steps behind the clear screen and as the imaging arm moves and clicks and whirrs, she says, “Hold your chin up high and breathe….stop breathing.” Three clicks.

As I’m holding it all together and focusing my eyes on a screw on a conduit clamp near the ceiling, everything stops.

Stop breathing. What if this is the first paragraph in the story where I stop breathing? I don’t want to stop breathing.

I tell myself that I’m being dramatic. That this is normal. That every time we upgrade the machinery, I need a new baseline. That I have about a 20% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime.

“And breathe.” She comes out from behind the screen and we move on to the next series of images. She spends more time on my right breast and I start to get suspicious. I let my eyes move to the screen where the digital image is displayed and a giant white constellation burns its way into my heart.

I’m held fast in the machine again and I don’t want to cry but I saw what I saw.

“And (whirr) stop breathing…(three clicks)…and breathe.”

She assured me that the images were going straight to the radiologist, and if he wanted to get an ultrasound they would do that right away, today. This was starting to sound serious. I sat in the waiting room with a copy of Oprah’s gift list that smelled too much like Elizabeth Taylor perfume. And I tried not to think about Christmas next year or this year and what it might look like for my little boy, who loves the tiny tree in his room so much that he falls asleep in its soft glow every night.

Then Molly stuck her head in a different door and called my name. Out in the hall, she said, “We’re going to go ahead and do an ultrasound today.”

As I lay on the table, the computer behind Molly cycled through the screensaver of slides that I publish for the hospital–meetings, recognitions, announcements, reminders. All that stuff I spend so much energy on. All that stuff that fills up my days. I stared at the mural on the wall, a hexagonal window with a white orchid resting on the sill. Molly began clicking and tapping Enter and clicking and dragging and tapping again. Taking the measure of things. That sound that I hadn’t heard since my babies were growing inside.

Then I waited for the doctor to look at whatever Molly had marked. I stared at the picture of an orchid in the picture of a window in a quiet room so that I wouldn’t think about the white constellation inside.

I hadn’t even told G where I was going–he had a toothache. I had a 2:30 meeting to get to. Would I go there, relieved? Would I go there knowing that I had a biopsy scheduled in a few days? Would I not even show up because it’s really hard to care about a meeting when you might have cancer?

Cancer. I started thinking about that quiet wait when I sat in one room while Richard sat in the other to hear The News. I laughed at those old cancer pants (that are still in my closet). I looked down at my plain black pants and then said, “Stop this. You’re being stupid.”

Or you’re not. OK, fine. If this is it and everything in my life is about to be flipped upside down, I’m not giving up. Little Gay will be the first person that I call. It’s her awful job in our family–being the doctor.

I wouldn’t be alone. I started naming all the women I know who are years and years and years past this quiet room where you wait on the doctor. Jo and Chris and Debbie and the other Debbie and Susan and the other Susan and Dominique.

And Gleam. And that friend’s mom and the other friend’s mom. Wait wait wait, don’t think about them. I cry. I cry for the tiny red and white elf Christmas ornament that Gleam brought me from Europe, that last trip she got to take with her daughter.

Don’t worry about things that aren’t true. Don’t. Just breathe.

And stop breathing.

Because the doctor walks in. Molly is with him and I brace myself.

He waves the wand and studies the screen. He declares it nothing to be concerned about. It’s dense tissue and some kind of cyst something something and I can’t hear because all I can feel is the breathing going in and out and my breathing sounds like laughing. I say, “Are you sure sure? Can we do a biopsy just to be sure?” He tells me to come back in six months and quit worrying about it.

Then I tell him that I’ll need to explain this to my sister and he rattles off so many Latinish words that I get lost in the glory of it. Words are breath and laughter is breath and I am breathing until I stop breathing.

And breathe.

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Coming Back to My Senses

G caught me flapping my hands and muttering to myself this morning so he asked what was up.

“Carlos needs to get dressed, Vivi’s lunchbox is missing, I need to get the house organized because the cleaning lady is coming today, oh and the guys are coming to stain the deck, so Huck needs to be cooped up in the basement, which reminds me the pool is turning green but I don’t have time to take a water sample in at lunch today because I have an all-day class and we are out of groceries.”

G went back to getting dressed. I added “carry around a big load of resentment” to the list. Then, like most every other day, I got all that taken care of and managed to get myself ready for work.

By 3:30 p.m., I was in the office restroom crying into a paper towel and trying not to make any noise. This time of the day, this time of the week, I’m getting overwhelmed with feelings. Orlando. Senate filibuster. Cheeto Jesus. Father’s Day.

Father’s Day. At lunch, a friend had asked, “What are y’all doing for Father’s Day?” and before I could brace myself, I thought, “Nothing–I don’t have a father anymore.”

By 5:00 p.m., I was sitting in my car trying to remember what I did last Father’s Day for Daddy and all I could be sure of was that it wasn’t enough.

Back at home, there was the green pool and the deck guys who never showed and the groceries to unpack and the and and the and and the and.

I stood at the kitchen sink trying not to cry while getting dinner together. I couldn’t find one happy thought to hold on to, not one safe and still place to let my heart rest.

I rinsed the potatoes that came in the produce share from Collective Harvest. I was reminded of the first time I watched Daddy dig up potatoes in his garden. I’d never seen them growing and was delighted by how they hung down in a crowd from the plant that he’d lifted out of the soil with a wide-toothed hay fork.

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I pulled from the block the little paring knife that Daddy and Big Gay gave me for Christmas that year after Fartbuster and I split up. I had asked for a sky diving certificate or some good knives. They decided the knives were less dangerous. I carefully cut into the small purple potatoes without using a cutting board, the way I had been taught. The jeweled inside of each potato reminded me of a fig. I’ve never been one for figs, but that reminded me of Daddy laughing about how Grandmama Eunice loved figs so much that she would stop the car and climb over a three-strand barbed wire fence if she came across a fig tree standing in a pasture. It wasn’t stealing, because that fig tree had to have been planted by some farm family long ago. Even if the house just a memory, the fig tree deserved to be loved and Grandmama Eunice wasn’t about to let figs be wasted on cows.

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With the purple potatoes cooking in a little oil, I turned to snapping two handfuls of green beans. The texture of fresh green beans takes me right back to being a kid with an afternoon’s worth of beans to snap or purple hull peas to shell or corn to shuck. We had BIG gardens. The scratchy green surface of the bean, like a kitten’s tongue. The rewarding crisp ripeness of some and the floppy meh of others. The distinctive SNAP. The summer smell. The clatter as the pieces fall back into the collander and dinner grows step by step. When we were kids, the worst possible thing to hear was “Y’all get in the car–we’re going to the garden.” Now I ache for a peck basket and a row of green beans to work my way down.

 

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A pretty pint of blueberries and the rest of the strawberries from the fridge. I scoop a handful of the blueberries gently into my fingers and pour them into my mouth. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. Farm fresh blueberries take me back to a late June trip to Maine with Richard. We ate breakfast on the hill overlooking Bar Harbor. He ate a cinnamon roll as big as his head (I have the photo to prove it) and I devoured a blueberry muffin made with the biggest blueberries I had ever seen. We took our traditional “feet picture” with the sailboats and bay in the background. That photo turned out to be the last one of a long series. Memories. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. I ate another handful of blueberries then stirred the supper.

I can’t say I suddenly felt happy at that moment and all was right, but I felt more solid. When my brain is racing far ahead and my heart is twisted and panting with the struggle to keep up, I have to come back to my senses. Sight. Touch. Sound. Smell. Taste. Memory.

My Life As a Drab Queen: Thoughts on Makeup

I sat in my car a few minutes before 11 a.m. this morning and watched one of those wonderfully Athens scenes: on one side of Hancock Street, tidy white families hurried up the hill to the Methodist church service while on the other side of Hancock, two glamorous drag queens welcomed guests to brunch at The National. Jacqueline Daniels and Yasmine Alexander serve on the board of the Boybutante AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $800,000 for AIDS services in Northeast Georgia. My kind of people, plus brunch.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Even though I spent all day in bed with a stomach ache yesterday, I wasn’t about to miss brunch with Bryn and Jill. So I slapped on some stretchy clothes and put my hair in a pony tail…as usual. But as I sat there in the car, knowing that these queens had been painting up for HOURS to get ready for the show, I figured I could at least put in a teensy effort to look festive.

I reached in my purse and unzipped the makeup pocket. I’m surprised there weren’t cobwebs blocking the zipper. I haven’t worn makeup for months. I put on a little bit in the car on the way to Daddy’s memorial service, and when I turned around to speak to the kids, Carlos grinned in wonder and asked, “Mama, what you do to your face?”

I drew a narrow black line across my upper lids then skooshed the corners a bit with the tip of my finger. I considered the “Wine With Everything” lipstick but thought that might be a bit too steep of a leap, so I dug around in the bottom of the bag to find a Burt’s Bees with a little bordeaux tint to it. Two lines across my eyes and a swipe across the lips and I made my way down the sidewalk. There are drag queens…and then there are drab queens, like me.

Most of my rebellion against makeup is that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to draw lines above my eyes or color my lips to be considered “finished” or “dressed” in this world. In the words of writer Erin McKean:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.

But some of my disuse of makeup has come from seeking out invisibility. I’ve been depressed lately and my therapist has pointed out before that I recede into black clothes, pony tails, and blank face when I want to disappear. That’s my Drab Queen attire.

I don’t know if it was hanging out with drag queens, or with my friends, or the mimosas, but I got in a really good place this morning. Jill and I talked about writing, Bryn smooched everyone in the house. I clutched my pearls while Lacie Bruce proved that she’s got all the right junk in all the right places:

Lacie Bruce gettin' all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Lacie Bruce gettin’ all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Looking around that room, I realized that nobody there gave a shit about whether I painted my face or didn’t paint my face. Not my old friends, not the strangers, not the artists who had been painting for hours. Nobody cared whether I had more junk in the trunk than I did twenty years ago. People were there to enjoy themselves–having some fun for a great cause while Peter Dale served brunch. And all I had to do to participate was….participate.

After the show, we hung around on the sidewalk so the restaurant crew could prepare for the afternoon seating. We talked about 80s hair and Aqua Net. We talked about the vagaries of boobs and gravity. That led to talking about our grandmothers. The delightful Lori Divine told how her grandmother could roll a Virginia Slim’s 120 from one side of her mouth to the other as she painted on her blood red lipstick. Then Jacqueline said, “One thing I love about drag is the Coty powder. It reminds me of my grandmother.”

Oh. My. Goodness.

Just the other day, I was thinking about Grandmama Eunice and that little round cardboard box of Coty powder that she kept on the edge of the mantle in the dining room, right next to the makeup mirror and the good light from the tall window. She wouldn’t have left the house without her lipstick on straight and a little dusting of powder. I wanted to smell that powder again because that’s what she smelled like when I hugged her.

That moment on the sidewalk was beautiful, because of the makeup. I love how if you talk to anyone and tell stories long enough, there’s always that moment of connection. Where your story and my story cross paths and we learn that we have something in common, even if it’s the smell of our grandmothers’ face powder.

I might just draw two lines across my eyelids tomorrow in homage to these queens. I might be ready for the world to look at me again.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Depression

Newton’s First Law of Motion: “A body in motion will stay in motion, and a body at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an external force.”

Once you’re up and moving, it’s easier to stay moving. But you’re not going to get moving without a good shove.

Once you’re at rest, it’s so easy to stay at rest. This is what we call “inertia.”

And this is what’s so hard to remember when depression pulls me down. It’s so easy to stay stuck. So easy to sit down on the couch after the kids are in bed and stare at my phone until midnight, then wake up tired the next day.

Newton's 1st Law of Motion, also known as Galileo's Law

Newton’s 1st Law of Motion, also known as Galileo’s Law

This morning, after I took Carlos to school in the rain, I pulled into my garage and turned off the car. The sadness wasn’t too close to me at that moment–I didn’t feel like crying. I wanted to be still. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the seat. The quiet of solitude settled around me. It only took a few seconds for my monkey mind to start jumping around. Need to fill out benefits forms. Carlos left his jacket at school. I should take the dog for a walk, get the deck refinished, call a tree guy, check on my neighbor. I should quit saying should. I wrote about that..right? I gotta learn how to do SEO. It’s time for breakfast. What’s for breakfast? How many Diet Cokes are left in the fridge? Oh wait, I’m supposed to be meditating. What was that meditation app that Casey mentioned? What’s my data limit? I need a new phone. Well, I don’t need one, I want one. I wrote about that too a while back. And this car needs power steering fluid. On and on and on.

I tried to nod to each thought with loving kindness then lead it off to the side. Focused on breathing until I couldn’t get a deep breath. Two minutes, sitting there in my car. I couldn’t quiet my mind for two minutes, even as my ass became one with the warmed leather seat.

That’s when I realized the vast difference between stillness and inertia. Inertia is being stuck. I’ve mastered inertia and the couch has the ass-groove to prove it. My body is at rest and it will stay at rest until I give it an equal and opposite shove in the direction I want to go. But my mind is in motion and will stay in motion.

Stillness isn’t just sitting on the couch staring at my phone. Stillness is a generative state, a place to grow. When I am still–if I ever reach that place again–I will be fully present in my stillness, with quiet mind and some space to just BE.

So I gave my body a shove today. More stairs, no elevator. More steps, less sitting. Use the incline on the treadmill…shoot, even use the treadmill. At the same time I’m focusing on moving my body, I’m also learning to quiet my mind. I stared out the window some instead of surfing websites. I put on headphones to listen to the hum. I went for a massage and made a point of not talking. I let the therapist work on my ears, my neck, my face. I sat still and breathing came easy.

Thus ends today’s lesson in Newtonian physics. Move your body; quiet your mind. And here’s a puppy to recap:

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Start With a Good Shove

The previous owner had neglected the yard for years, so when Richard and I bought this house, there were plenty of projects to keep us busy. He was happier than a pig in slop because his project-loving self had been cooped up in an apartment for many years.

One of the first projects he settled on was taking out a dead dogwood tree. It sat near the corner of the house, too close to the power lines for his reckoning.

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“I think we should call a tree surgeon.” He rolled his eyes at my suggestion. It wasn’t THAT big of a tree. But it was too big for a hand saw, so we went over to Home Depot and bought a little chain saw.

I made him buy eye protection too and he laughed at me.

Back in the front yard, he yanked ivy away from the base of the tree while I watched from the safety of the front steps.

“Have you ever used one of these before?”

“For cryin’ out loud, Ashley–yes, I know how to use a chain saw. We used one every summer at Camp Greenbriar.” When I still didn’t look convinced, he reminded me that the army allowed him to blow stuff up for many years, way bigger stuff than a dead tree. Still.

Before he pulled the cord to crank it, I yelled, “WAIT!” I ran inside the house and came back with the phone, so I could call 911 if anything horrible happened. Again with the eye rolling.

Richard studied the space between the tree limbs and the power lines and decided on the angle he needed to cut to get the tree to fall in the right direction. I clutched the phone and braced myself. He placed his hand on the crumbling bark gave it a little shove to make sure none of the branches were ready to fall right on his head.

The tree moved a good three inches. He looked up at me on the porch and grinned.

He put both hands on the trunk and gave it a good shove.

The tree fell flat over onto the lawn with a whump.

The trunk was so rotten that the ivy had been holding it up.

We laughed. God, how we laughed.

“Well, I’m glad we didn’t call the tree surgeon.” Then I went back inside and put the phone on the charger.

So much of my life has been like that episode with the tree–the hours spent in worry and planning, buying safety goggles and wondering if I shouldn’t leave it to a professional. When I finally get around to attacking the thing, it’s a whole lot easier than my mind has made it out to be.

I haven’t written in eleven days, because I didn’t know how to begin. How can I stop writing about my grief when I’ve barely scratched the surface? But how can I write again about grief when last night was Halloween and it was lovely to see my tiny Iron Man run from house to house? Today is All Souls’ Day or All Saints or Dia de los Muertos, depending on where you grew up. Terri is walking the labyrinth; Brantley and Luis built an altar in their home. The picture of our friend Spencer is right next to the photo of Lola the pup rescued from Taiwan. But I don’t want to write about that–I don’t even want to think about the ones who have passed through the door.

This little story about the tree seemed as good a way as any to get my fingers moving again. To get myself off the porch. To start with a good shove.

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Hello, Friend. I Am Afraid of You.

Me on Day One of my first BlogHer!

Me on Day One of my first BlogHer!

Two years ago, when I went to BlogHer for the first time, I didn’t expect much. I’d only been writing for a few months and I knew that I knew pea turkey squat about the world of blogging. I met this one really cool woman, Heather, who was starting a blog, too. When I asked her what she wrote about, she said, “Well, I’m not really sure what my niche will be…” I looked at her with my gob hanging open and replied, “You’re a lesbian vegan parent of multiples, one of whom has special needs…and YOU can’t find a niche? I’m screwed.” Heather and I were standing on the Expo floor, surrounded by sponsors who wanted to establish relationships with bloggers–maybe like us?– who could generate content about their products. Air freshening candles, tapioca pudding, car seats, vibrators, seltzer water, hair care products from Best Buy…what the ever lovin hell?

I couldn’t figure out where I fit in. Then on Friday night, the Voice of the Year keynote blew me away. In the midst of all the expo noise and the SEO tips and the social media optimization strategies, these women were recognized for getting up on stage with a microphone and telling stories. I had found my niche. Telling stories.

20140725_210343So last year, I went for it. And I got a spot on that stage with that microphone. The entire trip to BlogHer14 in San Jose centered around that seven minutes on the stage. By that time, I knew I could sustain my blog. I knew I could tweek widgets and self-host and run ad code and learned even more about those things at the conference. But the whole conference was pre-VOTY nerves and post-VOTY high.

Something different happened after last summer’s conference. I kept my place at the blogger table on social media. I friended other writers and I followed people so I can learn from them. My friend, Dee, said, “Why are you liking stuff on a site about natural hair for Black women?” Because Patrice at Afrobella is a pro. I’ve been watching how these women build community by participating in their communities on line.

In the days leading up to BlogHer15 in NYC, I’ve found myself more anxious than I have been at the previous trips. And that’s completely weird because I know far more about blogging and branding than I ever have before. I’m not looking for a niche, or the spotlight this year.

I’m looking to meet my friends.

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I want to hug A’Driane’s neck because for a year I’ve been learning from her about how to raise boys with quirks. I want to see what shoes Luvvie will be wearing and I want to vote for her Red Pump Project HIV charity to win The Pitch. I can’t wait to see the dress that Alexandra ordered from China–it’s a gem of a clustercuss. I want to talk happiness with August and books with Thien-Kim and parenting with Vikki. I’ll listen and learn from women who aren’t like me. I’ll go to the Queerosphere party and I’m going to dance at killer karaoke like a white woman who learned her moves from Molly Ringwald sometime in the mid-80s. I want to hug the ones who are hurting and promise them that they will be OK.

All of those connections that we’ve been building over the interwebz for 12 months will have to step out into the light of day. I don’t know what anyone’s voice sounds like. I don’t recall who is tall (well, Arnebya is) and who is short (Queen of Side Eye…ahem). I know Casey is handsome and her daughter is fancy. I’ll find these dear people in a crowd and then…

I’ll be me. Simply me. And I’ll be present. And I’ll be OK, too.

Because what I realized today is that this anxiety stems from some whack idea that when I am seen in the light, I will be revealed as that awful person that the voice inside my head sometimes tells me that I am. Even if that person isn’t real, if they don’t exist anywhere except inside my head. I might be the sum total of the worst parts of me instead of the best parts of me.

Hello friends. I am afraid of you because of how I might judge myself in your presence. But I have found my niche among this band of storytellers and I am thankful for the place at the table.

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The good fortune I took to San Jose

 

The Space Between Things

Last weekend, the Cool Kids were hanging out in the deep end of my pool. Floating there on foam noodles and drinking wine out of plastic cups with girlfriends–a little hour in heaven. Wise Heather shared the news that her new job was pretty much a done deal. Good for her, but sad for us who were hoping that she would work someplace close enough to meet for lunch.

I asked, “Is the drive going to bother you?” and she dropped a truth bomb: “It’s nice to have 30 minutes in between BAM and BA BOOM to think my own thoughts.” Ain’t that the truth?

She got me to thinking about the space between things, the moment when we’re going from Point A to Point B (and if you’re like me, using that time to anticipate out all possible problems that might arise between Points C – ZZ). I think my days have left me short of breath lately because I’ve shoved more and more work and worry into the space between things.

This little gem floated into my Facebook feed last week: tumblr_n74fyou6W81r0sn0fo1_1280

Well, hell. I haven’t observed Items 1-4 since my kids were born. Trying to, but…damn. I pride myself on answering emails while I’m on the phone and checking Facebook while I’m walking the long way to a meeting so that my Fitbit will approve of me. Multitasking is supposed to be a good thing, right?

Not so much. Not when it’s ALL THE TIME.

Today at 4:55 p.m., while I adjusted user permissions on a site and posted news stories and sent an optimization idea to the developer and questioned the life choices that have led me to use words like “optimization,” I also texted G to see who was picking up Vivi from day camp. Ding! He was already on the way. OK, I could get a feeeeeeew more things done before fetching Carlos.

But I made the mistake of glancing at my desk calendar and seeing BLOGHER in big yellow letters next week. NEXT WEEK? Shit, I need business cards. So I flip over to a website to design and order something fresh and amazing that’s going to be The Ticket To Next….but the logo I want to use isn’t the right dimension and the website warns me that my design will have “possible white space.” No worries. I can fix it with some clever cropping in this other application over here…

Next thing I knew, I looked up and it was 5:25 p.m. and the Mom Guilt kicked in. “Please don’t let my baby be the last one waiting in the room, sitting over in the book corner while the teacher mops the floor.” I grabbed phone off the charger, chugged down the last of my 100 oz of filtered water, slapped the Fitbit to see how many blinky dots I racked up, sighed in disappointment, shoved the stack of bills that I meant to pay on my lunch break back in my purse for another day, I turned to the whiteboard behind my desk and crossed of ONE DAMN THING from the long list, even though I kept the hammer down for the last seven hours, since I got to work after my early morning dentist appointment for a filling.

I turned out the lights and locked up the office, Mom Guilt squeezing my chest until there’s no room for breath. Turned left to take the stairs and walked past the scale that stands in the hall. Checked the Fitbit again. In the stairwell, I held on to the railing because no one would find me there if I slipped and fell. Last one leaving. Then the “You’re going to die alone!” fears stop in to say hello because why not? All my kids will remember is that they were the last ones picked up from daycare and the smell of mop water will trigger depression for the rest of their lives. As I stepped out into the sunlight, I tallied all the phone calls I need to make…that I never seem to have time to do. Like to check on my own parents.

Two minute walk to the car. Just enough time to catalog all the things I meant to achieve between last year’s BlogHer and this year’s. And I forgot to lose fifty pounds. AGAIN.

Got in the car and the gas light came on. I need to find a way tomorrow to drive across town to the place where I can save 50 cents a gallon on gas with my fuel points. That’s like eight bucks. That matters.

It’s a three minute drive to get Carlos. The first thing I see is a note taped on his cubby, and it’s not just a note, it’s a note with a STAPLE in the corner, a multi-page record of his transgressions. He’s been fine for months…now this shit AGAIN in the last month before he starts Pre-K.

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He beams to see me and gives me a gigantic hug. Four other kids line up to get hugs, because I make time for that. As we make our way to the car, the weight of the note makes me think that I should start the “Good Choice/Bad Choice” speech and break it to Carlos that he’s not going to have screen time tonight, but part of me just wants to have a few minutes of happy with my happy kid while he’s actually happy instead of immediately talking about that time six hours ago when he was angry.

Where is the space between things for a working mother? In music, it’s called a rest. In painting, it’s the negative space. In graphic design, white space. Where is the space between things that gives me room to breathe? That, in its emptiness, gives the heart a place to stand in order to see the life as I’m living it?

Sometimes when I find myself standing in front of the refrigerator, foraging for junk, I realize that what I’m really hungry for is a big gulp of breath. A heaping plate of rest. A space. A pause.

Know what I’m saying? What do you do to maintain the space between things?

IRONIC POST SCRIPT: I looked up the principle of “the space between things” in art. The Japanese have a word for it, and that word is…………..”Ma.” I guess my kids have been yelling at me about theories of Japanese spatial design for all these years.