20140318-203241.jpg

Go shortay…it’s ya birthday…we gon party like its ya birthday

20140318-203004.jpg

Well, it was my birthday. And it was fabulous. Baseball game with kids and fellow 30-something’s in the backyard. I was obviously the MVP — got on base at every at bat. Then followed by karaoke at what I thought was going to be a happening bar but what turned out to be a little sad. Misfits and me and my friends. I don’t know what that says about us.

I sang “Let It Go,” dedicated to my daughter, even though I got totally lost in the middle. And “Ni**as In Paris,” dedicated to me and my girls as we are on our dissertating grinds. There’s just something about that song, the hype that comes over me as I hear these words:

You are now watching the throne
Don’t let me get in my zone
Don’t let me get in my zone
Don’t let me get in my zone

I’m in my zone. I’m doing what I love, even though dissertation writing sucks. Hard. But this is my zone. When I’m in it, I’m alive. It’s not easy. God is forcing me to live my values, and while it doesn’t feel so good right now, I know that it’s all good. I got disappointing news over the weekend, but that’s all it was — disappointing. Not catastrophic. Not unbearable. The worst case is still a good case.

And my children are healthy and happy. Some days I think they are straight up nuts, but beautiful anyway. My husband is a gem. A diamond not in the rough. Just sparkling for everyone to see.

I’m 33. Jesus was 33 when he died. I think God wants me to remember that. Jesus did his job. I need to do mine. I’m here to do my job. Five years ago today, the day after my 28th birthday, I checked myself into Stanford Hospital’s psychiatric ward. I was despondent and felt so lonely. I believed in God and Jesus as my savior but I didn’t have a relationship with him. I was floating — really fighting — through life alone. My illness had me.

It’s been up and down since then. But I’m still here. That is a victory. I am victorious. Because five years ago I didn’t think I would be here. Standing. Thriving. Worrying, but trying not to. Confused, but reassured. Down but hopeful. Knowing every day is not going to feel like this. Not taking how I feel today as indicating how I will feel tomorrow. I’m stressed out. No doubt. But I’m in my zone. Watch.

It’s the final stretch on this part of my life. And right now, at this moment, I have a smile on my face.

20140318-203013.jpg

I Had To Write This Down.

This morning I work up and decided I wanted to be a writer. Not a sociologist or a lawyer or an academic. Just a writer.

I  went downstairs, had my two cups of coffee, took my kids to school, and proceeded to clean my kitchen cabinets while my toddler took all the pots and pans out. The babysitter came, and I was alone, and I kept at it. Sorted and labelled tea bags. Gathered paper bag full of breastfeeding supplies. Rearranged the small appliances in the now empty cabinet. Organized the pots and pans. Threw away a bunch of shit.

Then decided I needed to go to Costco. Searched for my rebate coupon. Made a list. Went to Costco, wandered the aisles. Bought diapers, paper towels, toilet paper, ziploc bags, ham, cereal, waffles, syrup, juice, two bottles of wine.

And I struggled to hold back the tears as I walked the aisles. Because yesterday, I literally sat on my hands for 45 minutes until I knew I couldn’t leave my house and get back in time for the babysitter to leave at her regular time.

Because all I wanted to do was go to an expensive-ass store and spend $300 I didn’t have on clothes I don’t need. I bought stuff online instead.

Because last night I asked my husband to take my children out for dinner because I simply could not stand to have them all around me. We didn’t read our book. I just couldn’t wait for them to go to sleep. And I wanted to just be alone.

Because I worried last night as I was going to sleep about going to sleep. Because I couldn’t sleep, was drenched in a cold sweat, and got up to take a shower at 6 am. And then made pancakes and bacon and drank two cups of coffee and prayed my children didn’t act crazy. And when the neighbor boy who sometimes goes to school with us said that we needed to clean our car, I told him he could walk. He’s six.

I shouldn’t be drinking wine, or coffee for that matter. I take three drugs that are supposed to help my mental health and I shouldn’t be drinking with any of them. And I know this, but I don’t care. They are rituals, how I start and end my day. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have them.

I just had to write this down. I left my groceries in the middle of the living room floor, and came upstairs to write this. And listen to Maxwell. And E. Badu. And Tony Toni Tone. And feel the music pulse through my body and move and exit as tears. And I turn it up as loud as I possibly can without getting a headache.

Everywhere I look, I see mess. Mess that needs to be cleaned. Mess that needs to be cleaned by me. Right now. I haven’t eaten today. And I’m not fasting. I’m struggling right now to even want to give anything up for Lent. Because I am so fucking angry that I can’t control this no matter how hard I try no matter what I do no matter how good I’ve been I still have this. I sill have bipolar disorder. And it scares me.

Most people don’t even believe me, don’t believe I have bipolar. I’m accomplished. I’m friendly. I laugh. I joke. It’s not full-blown mania. My thoughts are all over the place. The words tumble faster than I want them to.  I literally cannot sit still. Overabundance of energy, but not directed. Haywire. I take anti-anxiety meds to take naps. To slow things down.

And it makes me worry. You can’t see worry. You can’t see anxiety. You can’t see the panic. Only I can. And my husband can. And he says you’re really hyped right now. What can we do about this? And I don’t know.

I don’t even know if this makes sense. I just needed to write it down. I just needed to make a record of this. I just need to know that I’m not…I don’t know.

I’m going to finish my cabinets. And sing along.

Before

There is nothing like being in the presence of those who knew you before. Before the husband, before the children, before the move. Before the JD, before the phd, before the dissertation. Before kindergarten, or first grade, or second grade, or third babies. Before losing baby teeth. Before you even remember you.

When you are in the presence of those who knew you before, all pretense falls away. Who you are is who you’ve always been. Not “LaToya Baldwin Clark,” but “Toya,” “Toy,” and my parents pet name of “Boop.” How good it feels to have to be no one other than who you are — a Baldwin, a Noble. A big sister. A little cousin. A big cousin. A daughter. But loved still as a mother and a wife and a friend.

And a welcome accomplice to foolishness and nonsense. To be celebrated for staying out after 10. For shutting down the club at 3 a.m.

There is simply nothing like being with folks who knew you before. Who loved you then and love you now. People who don’t care about your degrees. People who are simply happy to see your face and the reflection of you in your children’s faces.

I feel grounded after my weekend in Philly. I know who I am and where I come from and that I am enough just being Toy. Toya. I love being where I am. But I needed to feel whole with the idea that even if I did nothing more in my life besides take care of my children and be a decent person, I’d be more than loved. I’d be cherished. I’d be wanted. I’d still be me.

2014: I Think I Can

2014 will close a chapter in my life and open another. By the end of 2014, and at the age of 33, I will have been married for 9 years, have 3 children, have a JD/PhD from Stanford University. I know people think I’m nuts, but really it’s just that I don’t believe in limits. I never intentionally set out to do this, but I did it because I believed I could. And surrounded myself with people who believed in me.

I thought I could. I think I can. And I will.

By God’s grace, I will!

Note to Self: Pay Attention When Walking Down Steps. The Cookie Will Still Be There At The Bottom.

So sorry I’ve been gone so long. I was ready to get back into my work…and then the unbelievable happened.

I sprained my ankle.

I’d like to be able to say that I sprained it running, or doing something incredibly altruistic. But that would be a lie.

I sprained it reaching for a cookie.

“A cookie?!?” you said? Right, because I’m supposed to be gluten-free (yeah, that’s why you said it.) But these were homemade chocolate sugar cookies with icing and awesome decorations.

The story: I’m walking out of our dissertation writing space, going down the steps to get in my car. My friend had made these cookies, in all their sugary goodness, and we were walking down the steps, and I had a cookie already in my hand, but we were about to split up, and I wanted another cookie for later, so I reached…and missed the last step.

And I’m all kinds of tore up because I had on my back my bookbag on with my laptop inside, and a heavy shoulder bag with my dissertation binder and a file-folder thingy with my interviews in it. So when I fell, I went all the way down. I heard a pop and then that was all she wrote.

I feel a bit better about myself because at least they were homemade cookies. If I was reaching for an Oreo, y’all probably wouldn’t be reading this story right now. ‘Cause I might have told you I sprained it running.

In any case, it’s now been a week and I have been performing at a diminished capacity and lower than usual motivation, and today I went back to the doctor because it was still hurting. Now all the ligaments around my ankle are messed up because I am hardheaded and have been doing too much, so I’m wearing a fancy airbrace which makes me feel like my pain is legitimate. It will probably be another 2-3 weeks before I run again, which is disappointing because I planned to run on Thanksgiving. But I will use this time to be home with my family, having movie nights and doing Rainbow Loom, cooking and baking. And of course, some dissertation work. (Right? Right.)

Progress Report

Prayer works. I talked to God, I meditated in stillness, I listened for His still, small whisper. And He moved through me, and through the advice of others.

During my ten days, I cancelled all kid’s evening activities going forward, and consolidated all our credit card debt with our credit union. Saving money + saving time = just a little bit of sanity. A lot of bit of sanity required a little more: running, prayer, yoga, prayer, meditation, prayer, art, and prayer. A whole lotta prayer. Both by me, and by my friends. And by some of you. Thank you.

I’m back on the writing schedule. (I’ve abandoned the count down. Other said, and I agree, that it’s nothing but anxiety producing.) I started today with 2.5 hours. That felt like enough. An hour of it was going back and forth in my head and on my laptop about whether or not to use qualitative data analysis software. The only one that is reasonable and can run on a Mac is Dedoose, an internet-based platform. But it is SO ssssllllloooowwwww and actually crashed on me today. My paper, highlighters, and scissors never crash. Guess I’m keeping it old school. But that made me anxious, because I know old-school is also inefficient. So as soon as I felt that anxiety, I knew it was time to stop. I don’t want to be back where I was 10 days ago.

But life kept going even when I was stopping. My little girl came home with her progress report today. I already knew some of the issues were about her emotional regulation, her “shutting down” suddenly, her inability to let things go. But today I saw a new word: “argumentative.” And I’m like….

One of my interview respondents, in talking about their child who struggles in school, said something like as parents we have to take responsibility for the kids we made. We have to realize that when we, as parents, came together to mix our genes, we would create a kid that is like us in some ways. And those ways might be the ways that we don’t like about ourselves.

I’ve been told I’m argumentative my whole life.

Honestly, I’ve always taken that word “argumentative” to be more about the person making the assessment than about me. I don’t think I’m:  contentiouscontroversialdisputatiouspolemical,  quarrelsome, or scrappy. What I know about me is that I have a very honed sense of justice, and I always have. I don’t go along with just anything. If it doesn’t seem right to me, I’ll probably let you know, if you’ve asked my opinion.

I also am very curious, and I’m not one to believe just anything. If you say the sky is blue, I want to know how and why you’ve come to that conclusion. I don’t think it’s “argumentative” to ask people to justify the things they say and things (they say) they believe. I don’t like to argue, because I don’t really care for anger or contentiousness, but I do enjoy a healthy debate which to me is a conversation in which we have a difference of opinion. I’m the person that wants to talk to atheists and Republicans and pro-lifers and racists to understand why they think the way they do and understand better why I don’t think the way they do. I realize that all most of us have are opinions, including myself. I can’t argue with your opinion, but I can debate the propositions that lie underneath. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. I’ve always had a keen sense of what I consider to be just (which is different from what I consider to be wrong) and yes, I will argue over that.

So when the teacher says my little girl is “argumentative” I’m struggling a bit with keeping an open mind about what that means. And what it means to call a six-year-old argumentative. And what it means to call a black six-year-old girl argumentative (angry black woman, anybody?)

Sigh. I don’t need this right now. But I’ll take it.

All things. All good.

 

The Kids Will Be All Right

The kids will be all right.

The kids will be alright.

The kids will be all right.

I’m trying to convince myself of this sentence. This short sentence of five or six words, depending on how you spell “alright” (are they two different words/phrases ‘alright’ vs. ‘all right’?) It is these five or six words that have been nagging at me the last two days as I struggle to bring more calm to my life so I can finish my dissertation.

I had a talk with the older two yesterday morning at breakfast. As they ate their waffles and I sipped my coffee, I pointed to our schedule chart, and I said, “Mommy can’t do that anymore.” I explained that I had eight months to write a book so we could leave here and I could start a new job. I reminded them of the things we want as a family, like to go on vacations and to buy a house. I have to write my book to do those things. But with an activity every single evening, I couldn’t write my book.

I also explained that our family couldn’t be the type of family we want to be RIGHT NOW either, where we can watch movies together, play games together, and eat dinner together. For the last two months, we were not doing any of those things, all five of us (well four, after we put Destructo, otherwise known as Baby A, 18 months old, to bed). And the weekends — activities on the weekends were killing any down time I thought I had. I explained to them that in addition to wanting to write this book, I also wanted to be healthy. I told them that both my mind and my body get too exhausted with all the activities. I hate when I’m depressed and my kids see me in the bed all the time, labeled with “sick.”

So we discussed it. Big A was all too happy to be stopping martial arts. Little A was disappointed to be stopping soccer. But we told her coach and her team and she seemed okay with it. She’ll play one last game on Saturday and that’s that.

It feels nice, tonight, to have been able to put my Baby A to bed tonight. Usually, I am not here, chauffeuring one child to an activity, sitting through said activity, and then driving home.

But I feel bad about them not being able to do something they wanted to do.

But just now I hear the squeals of laughter between the two older ones, when usually on a Wednesday night we’d still be driving home from somewhere. And I am so grateful to the advice from friends that lead me to this decision. God-given advice, I am sure. Because I asked for clarity, and I received it. I asked for a way, and now I see the way. I asked for calm and simplicity, and now I’m getting it. I asked for my kids to be all right, and they are.

These are hard choices, but good decisions. But not just because I’m writing a dissertation. I don’t want my kids over-scheduled any time and I want to have family time always. I want to be able to put my toddler to bed.

In the darkness, there are treasures.

But something is still picking at me and worrying me and the anxiety is still there and I’m still grieving SOMETHING. So as I pray, in addition to “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” and in addition to Romans 8:28, I am also praying “may my kids be all right.”

Amen.