ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Here’s Why OCD Should Not be Reduced to a FB Meme

Each time a meme about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) pops up in my FB feed I cringe, or roll my eyes, sometimes I do both. I try to remind myself that most people haven’t the foggiest idea about what it means to have OCD, I try to remind myself how misunderstood mental illness in general is, sometimes I can shrug it off, more often I can’t. And here’s why–I have some people in my life whom I love with a fierceness who have OCD, so the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround it get under my skin in a special way. I’ve seen these people struggle with what can be such an emotionally tumultuous disorder, I’ve seen them go through painful episodes, I’ve seen them come out the other side, and I’ve been beyond proud of the strength and courage it has taken to deal with having OCD. And, yes, I’ve seen them joke about the quirks of their disorder, it’s a way to cope and to put things in perspective. I’ve also seen them cringe at the memes about OCD because, while people post them without malice, they represent how misunderstood the disorder is, and they make light of something that is a potentially very serious health condition, most of the time without understanding its severity. Think of it this way, we don’t walk around poking fun at people with asthma or brain trauma, it isn’t acceptable to post memes about how funny it is to see someone suffering from diabetes or a heart condition, and we don’t say things like “Geez, I’m feeling SO cancerous today!” So if we don’t treat other medical conditions this way, why is it okay to treat OCD this way?

OCD is a complex medical condition, and shows itself in many different ways. Briefly, think of your reaction to stress, think of how your body feels when you’re stressed, how your emotions react to stress, now think of not being able to turn that off. Think of yourself knowing it’s not rational, that the alarm going off in your head isn’t “real,” but not being able to convince yourself of that truly, so you come up with ways that are meant to soothe this stress. It works for a moment or two, then the anxiety comes back, so you have to do the soothing rituals again, which helps for a moment, and the cycle continues. A person might have ten obsessions/fears or they might have 50, each with a different soothing ritual. Can you imagine how time consuming, on top of everything else, that would be? OCD is listed by the World Health Organization as “one of the 10 most handicapping conditions by lost income and decreased quality of life.” It’s something that can cause so much grief, it can shove a life into chaos, it can push someone to the point where self-harm appears to be better than the alternative.

OCD shouldn’t be the butt of jokes made by people who have no concept of what it is they’re laughing at.. Let’s look at just two reasons why that’s true:

Suicide: People who suffer from OCD are at greater risk for suicide than the general population, between 5-25% of people who have OCD have attempted suicide. Then there is suicidal ideation, or suicidal thoughts, sometimes they show up as the “O” in OCD (I want to emphasize “sometimes,” because there are so many different aspects to OCD, not everyone has every aspect). Can you imagine the pain of your brain focusing itself on suicidal thoughts when, in actuality, you have no desire to kill yourself? Can you imagine being a child with those thoughts? How overwhelming that must be, how incomprehensible? Added to that, can you imagine having to perform a ritual each time you have a thought about suicide in order to “prevent” it happening? It’s not funny.

Self-esteem: Put yourself in the place of someone who, for example, is so fearful of something happening that they are afraid to leave the house, or can’t leave it without touching the door a certain number of times, or turning the light on and off a certain number of times. Now, think of some of the self-talk that might be attached to that–“I’m weak,” “I’m stupid,” “I can’t even leave the house without freaking out” and think of what impact that could have on someone’s self-esteem. And think of the anxiety those thoughts would cause someone with an anxiety disorder, perpetuating an ugly cycle. Think of the things you might not be able to do if you had these anxieties, think of the impact it could have on your relationships, on your job, or your school work. Day after day after day. It’s not funny.

In the case of people I know and love who have OCD, it has been overcome– with a whole lot of determination and focus. It will never go away, it’s symptoms may return now and again, sometimes they will be big and sometimes they will be tiny, but it has been conquered. And, keep this in mind, if you have OCD, it doesn’t define you, it’s just a part of you, when dealt with correctly it can be a footnote in a life full of greatness and joy, it can be something that is looked at with pride because it was beaten, because you learned that as overwhelming and strong as OCD is, YOU are stronger. And, yes, you might get to the point where you can laugh about it, about the quirky ways you have to cope with it, or the ways it pops up in your life. You get to laugh about it because you understand it, because you need to laugh about it in order to deal with it, because you know the hell it can cause and humor helps. But people who don’t understand, people who think you’re a stereotype, or a caricature, or someone who just likes things neat and tidy, they don’t get to laugh, they just don’t. And I know there will be people who think I should lighten up, that’s fine, I’ll shrug that off because I believe it’s wrong to laugh at someone with a potentially debilitating illness, and it’s wrong to belittle an illness that sometimes feels so large you’re worried it will swallow you whole. I can laugh with someone, I can glance into their life and gain empathy, I can appreciate when they try to find humor, even when it’s mixed with profound pain–case in point is this video, which is required watching, in my opinion, for anyone struggling with OCD or for anyone trying to understand it:

And to the people I love who have OCD, I will always try to give you what you need from me–unconditional love, a tireless defender, a hug, a shoulder, time, or laughter. Because I love you fiercely. Every piece of you, even the OCD, because it all makes you who you are, and you are incredible.

My “I’m so Damn Sick of Deer Hunting Season” post ~climbing off my soap box now~

Since I am a Minneapolis native I, of course, have a lot of FB friends and family in Minnesota, and, as much as I love them, I dread my news feed during hunting season. Not to say they’re all hunters, the majority aren’t, but there’s a chunk in there and I do a fair amount of cringing and quickly scrolling over certain posts. Because seeing all the “rah rah hunting!” stuff makes me equal parts sad and pissed off.

I think I’ve just seen one too many smiling faces over dead deer over the past few days and I’ve got a question–why? What joy is found in killing a living creature? I just don’t get it. And some of the people I know who hunt are otherwise incredibly kind and compassionate people. I get that there are people who see a hierarchy on this earth–with humans on the top (by the way, we’re doing a pretty shit job of being alpha, IMO). Even so, why? We know, beyond a doubt, that the animals who are hunted feel pain, terror, joy, a desire to live. So why cause that kind of suffering? This is head scratching for me, I simply do not understand.

Even more, I don’t understand encouraging children to hunt and kill. Why? A lesson we’ve taught our kids is that every life matters, down to the smallest. I’ve seen them carefully pluck worms off a hot sidewalk and deposit them on cool grass, rescue snails from the street, shoo a spider outside (or, in our daughter’s case for many years, run screaming for someone else to shoo a spider outside and, ahem, I don’t know where she learned that habit from). When our oldest was five (maybe six) and we were living in Guinea, he saw classmates throwing stones at some stray kittens on the edge of their school playground and he yelled at them to stop, but they didn’t. So he marched himself over to the office of the director of the school and told him what was going on, the director put a stop to it. I was proud of him, not only for doing the compassionate and kind thing but for going up against his peers in order to do it. I can’t imagine telling my kids that we were going to go out and kill an animal for fun. To find joy in intentionally ending a life? Why? I keep asking it because I just don’t understand. Part of me wishes that I did because maybe then I wouldn’t be so angry about it, part of me is happy that I don’t because, ultimately, I think it’s something that probably cannot really be rationalized. I know all the “reasons” for hunting–spending time in nature (you can do that without killing anyone), food (you can buy that and you don’t even really need to make one of those purchases meat, and let’s not get in to the subject of slaughterhouses), spending time with family (ditto to reason #1), keeping deer population down (a healthy and balanced ecosystem could go a long way to doing that). I’ve heard all the “reasons” but what they sound like are excuses because they’re all, really, false fronts since none of them actually requires killing animals.

One of the people in my life who has always been against hunting, and who helped to form the way I think about animals, is my grandfather, my Da, who was a veteran of both WWII and Korea. For Da, harming an animal was unthinkable. And this was a man who was raised in the South, who spent a nice chunk of time in foster care with a farmer who was very cruel to him. Had he wanted to he could have found a pretty solid list of “reasons” for why hunting and killing animals is acceptable–instead he went in the opposite direction. I’m sure a lot of it is because, having seen so much death and blood in combat, the thought of intentionally taking a life, of intentionally causing pain and suffering, was repulsive to him. It’s not something you do for fun, it’s something you do as a last resort when all other options are gone and life hangs in the balance, even then there is no joy to be found in it. In our family we file Da’s feelings about hunting in our “Why Da is a Hero” file. The thought of one of my children intentionally harming an animal, and finding joy in it, turns my stomach. So, why? Why is this something that is taught to children? Why is it seen as acceptable? Why does it bring joy? And I’m not asking this question so I can scream someone down, I just don’t understand because when I see pictures like this:

12-year old hunting

it makes me ill. I can’t imagine teaching my child to find joy in killing. So, why?

Finding Peace Inside of Chaos (I can’t do it without help)

So I have this obsession, um, tradition. When we visit places I fall in love with I gather pieces of it to bring home, mostly shells and rocks but sometimes other small things; I’ve spent countless hours combing beaches, head bent, until something catches my eye. I keep these collections separate from one another so when I see a bowl of shells and stones in our house I know where they came from and I can pick them up, feel their curves in my hand, be transported back to a beach or a patch of land that I love. When we move I wrap these collections in paper, place them gently in a container, and label it so I’m sure to not mistake one for another, it’s one of the few things I’m organized about. And I collect Buddhas, doesn’t matter if it’s a Chinese Buddha or a Thai Buddha, having them around makes me happy.

I never saw how these two collections were linked until our most recent move. I was wandering around our new house, surrounded by half empty boxes and chaos, feeling a bit overwhelmed, desperately missing our lab who had just passed away that morning. My eyes settled on one of my Buddhas and I smiled to myself, the same way I’d smiled earlier when I’d picked up a shell to admire. I realized both of my collections help me to remember joyful times and to feel peace, things that can be elusive when you’re in the middle of a storm. My stones and shells remind me of places I love, people I love, times when I was so happy that I decided to pick up that moment and carry it with me wherever I went; my Buddhas remind me to slow down enough to take in the things that bring me joy.

I have a favorite beach, Pollan Bay in Donegal, Ireland, which I blogged about here. From the moment I first went there I felt like I belonged on that spot of land, I don’t know why and I’ve stopped trying to figure it out, I just feel blessed to have a place where I feel centered, where life is always in the moment.

Pollan Bay

Pollan Bay

I can’t even begin to guess how many shells and rocks I have from that beach but it’s hundreds upon hundreds and even if I didn’t label the shells I would know where they came from, I’ve never seen shells like them anywhere in Ireland, not even on the bay directly across from Pollan. They look like tiny conch shells only, for the most part, they’re smooth instead of pointy. This is the bowl of them, along with rocks from Pollan, I have on our dining room table

I have others throughout the house

That bit of green on top of the shells in the last photo is a piece of soap from Vista del Valle Plantation Inn, which I’ve blogged about here and here. I put a piece of it in a plastic bag the last time Eric and I went there because they always had the same handmade soap in the rooms, the smell of it takes me there.

I have a bowl of stones that I gathered on a beach just outside of Belmullet, Ireland, where my great-grandparents were from

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a jar of shells from the graves of my great-great grandparents, also from just outside Belmullet

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a jar from Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

a jar with shells from Playas Tamarindo and Langosta, Costa Rica

Then there’s this table, which holds a a bowl of acorns we gathered in Dublin, and hodge podge of shells from Guinea, Costa Rica, Ireland, and Maryland,

including this little bowl, which has shells from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and sea glass from Maine. I mixed them because the sea glass was given to me by one of my best friends and the shells are from the trip we took with her and her family, who we love and miss very much.

There is also a tiny jar of sand from Pollan Bay

Then there are the Buddhas, some of which were gifts and some I bought in various places we’ve lived.

And two little Ganesha

Life can be so chaotic and busy, and the past few months for us have been those things on steroids, as well as filled with grief and loss. But when I look at my collections I am reminded to slow down and notice the details, to admire the things that often get overlooked, to spend time just being. And I remember that while life is hectic now in the future, knock wood, I’ll have time to gather shells and peruse for Buddhas. Until then I can just appreciate the ones I have and cherish the memories they represent.

I Made a Pretty! And I Really Needed to do That.

I’ve been living the perfect storm of “how best to frustrate and paralyze Heather” lately. Since we left Costa Rica, we have been dealing with some pretty jaw dropping monetary charges from our landlord, he gave the bill to the embassy and they, in turn, kindly handed a large portion of it to us. I don’t want to blog about that until it’s done and dusted, some things are best left unwritten until sorted, suffice it to say it’s been stressful.

Add that to the fact that our sweet labrador has been sick for about six months and all the tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood work can’t seem to tell us what is wrong, the only thing we know is that her white blood count is through the roof, despite rounds of different antibiotics, and she has lost a scary amount of weight.

We’re trying to settle into a new country, one we love so far with a fantastic embassy that has been good to us, but there are always hiccups, especially with kids trying to transition into a new school, and especially when they loved their last school. So that’s had some tough aspects.

Then, almost two weeks ago, we got the news that my grandfather passed away, and that was a punch in my gut that sent me into a tailspin, I cannot articulate what he meant to me and how much I love him. I held it together while our daughter and I went home for his funeral, because, at that point, you just put one foot in front of the other and move forward. My saving grace was running, which is even more enjoyable in a place as beautiful and runner friendly as Minneapolis. On my runs I felt cleansed– in the rain, in the cold, just me, the changing leaves, and miles of trails.

Kenilworth Trails, Minneapolis

Kenilworth Trails, Minneapolis

Then, somewhere in the last minutes of my last run, something happened to my right foot, not sure what yet but I’ve been treating it very kindly. I’ve already gone through a stress fracture in my left foot, I’m hoping it’s not that because, been there, done that, it sucked hard. And Heather without the therapy that running provides is not remotely pretty, I’m shocked the kids haven’t taken their chances on the mean streets of Tegucigalpa at this point, poor babies. One of my closest friends put this on my FB wall the other day, she knows me well …



I’ve held it together this week while Eric has been on a really poorly timed business trip (planned months ago and not something he could get out of) but I’ve just been going through the motions, if it wasn’t for the kids and our sick dog I’m thinking the odds are pretty good that some mornings I would have been happier to stay under my fluffy comforter and snuggle with our cats.

We’ve been in a temporary house since we arrived at post in August, which has been a little trying, and yesterday Eric told me we finally have a date for moving into our permanent one. Instead of feeling happy I just didn’t feel much, which is unusual. Then it started to feel overwhelming, just one more thing we had to do, which is also unusual because I love doing the whole making a house a home thing.

This afternoon I was limping around the house, feeling foggy and cranky, when I spotted the swath of fabric that I’d ordered to reupholster our dining room chairs because this is what they look like in their natural state …


No. Just, no.

and I thought “what the hell.” I loaded up my staple gun, very wary of it because I have seen WAY to many horror movies and, also, I’m kind of a klutz. When I’d told Eric that I’d ordered a staple gun he looked a little horrified, I’m sure he thought I was going to end up stapling at least one finger to a chair but … BAM!


Two waterproof, washable, happy chairs AND, total bonus, I still have all my fingers intact, which is pretty exciting! I think sometimes it’s good to get lost in simple things, get out of your brain and just be, and I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in a task. So maybe spending some time cutting and pulling and stapling was exactly what I needed to feel more like Heather, at least for a little bit. All the rest of it will still be there when I’m ready to go back to it but, for now, I’m going to enjoy my pretty chairs. I still have eight more to do, just waiting on the fabric to get here, so safe money is that I will end up in the ER before this project is done, I can nearly guarantee that Eric will start a betting pool if anyone is interested…


Tomorrow we bury my Da, who passed away in his sleep last Saturday. When I found out about his death I crumpled into Eric’s arms, sobs sent my kids running towards us to find out what was wrong, their sobs followed. I want to eulogize him in writing but not tonight, tonight I prepare for tomorrow.

After much discussion Eric and I decided our daughter, Aisleen, should come home with me, while we would have loved for everyone to be here logistics and finances made that impossible but this decision, to bring Aisleen, was good. My Da belonged to a family of women–he was raised by a single mother, he married into a family that had four girls, he and my Nana had two daughters, they each had a daughter, our Liam was the first son in our family for generations. Da, along with my Uncle and Eric, have been men amongst strong, independent women and each thrives. I think that shows their profound respect for women, and their devotion to the women they love. So it’s good, I think, for all of us to be surrounding Da tomorrow.

It’s been healing to be home, wrapped in the nurturing love of family, laughing, remembering, knowing we were so blessed to have had Da’s unconditional love. We wanted it longer, and I don’t feel selfish for wanting that. I’d love to be happy with exactly the time I’ve been given but, right now, I’m not, I wanted him to be with us longer, wanted to hear him laugh more, wanted to hug him more, wanted to see the way he looked at my Nana more because it was a thing of beauty.

I have found solace and catharsis in my early evening runs since I’ve been home, running through the rain, the chill, the beauty of the changing leaves. Minnesota in Fall is something I’ve missed very much and I’m clinging to the healing power my solo runs along the trails, lined with trees of orange and red, are bringing to me. I’ve kept it together for the most part during the day, and I’ve cried on the trails because running, for me, is primal and everything comes to the surface so I can run it off, tiny piece by tiny piece. I know it will take a lot of runs before I can go without tears and I’m okay with that.

Tomorrow I will do my best to hold myself together during the reading I’m doing at Da’s funeral, and I will do my best to comfort my Nana. And, when I get home on Sunday, I will crumple back into Eric’s arms and be grateful for his love, as I always am, and know that it’s safe to collapse again.

The Poetic Nomad: a Flash of Light, a Gift from My Daughter

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

Those words are from a poem that our eleven year old daughter wrote last night for her English class. I think I’ve read it fifty times, the first few times my eyes filled with tears. I’ve been worried about her since we moved here, leaving SEAS, our beloved school in San Jose, was painful, is painful. In SEAS, she was on firm ground. There, she knew everyone, was friends with everyone, adored her teachers, and felt safe and loved. Here, everything is new, it doesn’t feel safe yet, and we’ve had more than a few tear filled conversations that consist of her telling me how much she hates it here and how she just wants to go back. “Please, mommy, can’t we just go back?” On the surface I am steadfast, under it my heart aches for her and wishes I could whisk her off to the place she wants to be.

It is trying to move to a new country, to settle into a new school, to make friends, get to know your teachers, get a new routine down. And she has started middle school, which is a substantial transition in and of itself. She’s straddling two worlds right now–one where she is still a kid and one where she is becoming a young adult, she would prefer to have her feet firmly planted in the place where she is still a kid. She was telling me that part of the difficulty she is having is because “all the girls in my grade act like they’re so grown up! But they’re really just kids! I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in fifth grade, I just want to be a kid!” Yes, be a kid, kid. Please, stay a kid for as long as you can, don’t be in a rush to grow up, this is best for you. But I gently remind her that everyone is different and that those girls are just trying to figure out who they are, we do that by exploring, putting on different masks, trying on different personas. It’s a normal part of growing up, and it exasperates her. She knows who she is, she knows what she likes, she just wants to be Aisleen.

And Aisleen is disorganized, which she comes by honestly–ahem. We’ve been working on different ways to help both of us be more organized, some things are working and that is a relief. But the lack of organization has meant some assignments were not being done or, if done, not being turned in. Which compounded her frustrations and grief, it’s hard enough to do everything she is doing but when you feel like you’re moving backwards frustrations loom larger.

Up until last night Aisleen had yet to truly be sparked by anything at school, but, last night, she sat at the computer and wrote enthusiastically, thinking out loud about words she could use, asking us for meanings and context, and I was thrilled! She loves to learn, she loves the challenge of school, she loves to delve into projects that engage her and help her grow. She had two assignments to finish, one was a poem imagining herself as a willow tree, and one was to write a diary entry from the perspective of a character in a book the class had just read.

When she finished the poem she first showed it to Eric, I could tell from his reaction that it was a special piece of writing. She handed it to me and I read, curled up on our sofa, the incense I had lit drifting past my nose, my glass of wine untouched as I sat completely entranced by her poem. My eyes filled with tears, I read it a second time, then a third. Then I placed the paper in my lap, looked up at my magnificent daughter, and said “wow.” She smiled and replied “did you like it?” I looked at her with complete astonishment and told her it was an incredible piece. Just, wow. Her smile grew larger before she went back to writing her diary entry. Eric and I looked at each other with disbelief on our faces. We have always known she is creatively gifted, she’s been weaving stories since we was old enough to talk, and then to write. She has notebooks full of characters that live in lands she has invented, their lives are rich and adventurous. This poem, and the diary entry that followed, showed us that she is coming into her own.

I Am, by Aisleen

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I wonder if I will be able to graze with the buffalo that live on the plains

I hear the morning birds sing their sweet, calming song

I see the butterflies fluttering around the field of grass that surrounds me

I want to be free like the animals that sleep at my roots during the cold, harsh winter nights

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I pretend to be free with the deer, the grass tickling my feet every step

I feel as if I will leave one day, never to return to the soil that keeps me from my dreams

I touch the wind that hits my face as a gust of wind floods over the farm

I worry that my beliefs of being free with the world will never come true

I cry when I think about being cut down, the advantage of leaving, never coming to be

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

I try to make the dream come true, walking, flying, adventuring with the animals

I hope that I can explore the world, see the countries many miles from where I stand

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

Every parent has doubts; we doubt the disciplines we use, we worry if we shower them with too much praise or too little, we have those nagging thoughts tinkering in the back of our minds–are we doing right by our kids? What if we aren’t? What path are we setting them on? When you are the parent of nomads there is an additional layer of doubt–am I asking too much of them? Should we call an end to this and settle down? Which way is right for them? And then there are those flashes that tell you, yes, they are okay, more than okay, they are thriving, and those flashes are gifts. For me, this poem is one of those flashes. In it I see a girl who is wise beyond her years, a girl with roots who recognizes that there is much more to this world than what is outside her bedroom window, so much beauty to soak in, and she recognizes that the journey she is on is full of endless possibilities. I feel abundantly blessed that I will witness her walk her path and whether she becomes a writer, a teacher, a veterinarian, or a stay at home mom she is bound for greatness and her spirit, full of grace and recognizing no boundaries, will not settle for less.

Gramps: By Aisleen

I miss my Gooseberry. I miss the smell of her every night in bed, and how her sweet voice whispered in my ear telling me how much she loved me. She had the most angelic voice. Her words on our marriage day, “I do” echo around my head. Her pale, wrinkled skin, how my fingers felt when I touched it, I felt like if you offered me to stand there and touch her arm forever, I would accept it in a heartbeat. Her grey hair, oh how it shined all day, it would reflect of the sunlight, and would glisten in the brightness of the moon. Her smell was indescribable, how it would dance through my nostrils. I can still smell it in our marriage bed, in the pillow, in her suitcase. I could smell it whenever I went to her grave. Her eyes, oh how I miss them. Her beautiful eyes would sparkle whenever she looked at me, I could see my reflection, as if they were a stream in an evergreen forest. When we kissed, I could taste her cherry lip-gloss, I would hate to admit, but I put it on at night to make me feel like she is there with me, in bed, her arms wrapped around me. Oh, how I want to have her back with me, enjoying the pleasant breeze on the farm, the sun shining down on us.

I have a new dog named Huzza-Huzza. I named his after Gooseberry. Huzza-Huzza and I sit in the back of the car while my Chickabiddy drives around the fields. Driving over bumps, grass, and dirt. As I sit in the back I pet Huzza-Huzza, his short, silky fur under my fingers as I smoke my pipe. It reminds me of the trip Gooseberry , Chickabiddy, and I took, around the United States when we went to visit Chickabiddy’s mom. Sadly, I could not see her grave, since I had to stay back with Gooseberry.

Chickabiddy’s friends are coming over to stay with us for a little while. I have heard so much about them. They sound like magnificent friends to Salamanca. I have been staying up at night because of the delight. Ben sounds like a wonderful, smart boy, and how I am so happy that he and Salamanca are together, and Phoebe sounds like a blast, her life sounds like a roller coaster, excitement, hilarity, sadness, thoughtfulness, uncertainty, anger, but I shall stop with that for if I kept going it would be as long as a ray of sunshine coming from the rising sun reflecting on a beach. Apparently, her English teacher might also be coming. It warms my heart to see my Chickabiddy ricocheting off the walls of the house. Oh how I wish my Gooseberry could be here for such an exhilarating time.

When the Mighty Fall: Our Family’s Conversation about Ray Rice

We are a Ravens family, my husband is from Baltimore and has always been a Ravens guy, our older two caught football fever and love the Ravens (younger one, not so much, he’s a soccer kid, “American football” doesn’t hold much interest for him). While I’ll sit down and watch a game now and again I fell in love with them because of their Softies, my personal favorite is Torrey Smith who is not only active with the Show Your Soft Side campaign (tough guys speaking out against animal cruelty) but also with BARCS, Baltimore Animal Rescue Care and Shelter; not only have he and his wife adopted a pitbull from them but when they married they asked people to donate to BARCS in lieu of giving them wedding gifts. Good people.

So the news of Ray Rice hitting his then fiancee, now wife, came as a shock to us, especially since we’ve always seen him as a stand up guy (as you can see in my blog that I linked to up there). I’m not going to blog about what we thought of the initial punishment for his abuse, that’s not the point of this, so let’s fast forward to yesterday when the Ravens announced that they were cutting Rice and the NFL indefinitely suspended him from the league. Again, I’m not going to blog about what I personally think of this punishment, what I want to focus on is the conversation we had with our kids about Rice because, for our family, it was an important one.

Shortly after Eric messaged me that Rice had been cut I came across a screen shot in my facebook newsfeed of Janay Rice face down on the floor of an elevator after Rice had hit her, her shoes were askew and her dress looked to be up around her backside. My reaction, right or wrong, was not “how could he have done that?” because I already knew what he had done, my reaction was “what the hell is wrong with the American media?” Janay Rice had already been victimized once, now she was being victimized again by the media. Folks can sugar coat it all they want, claim that it’s important for people to see the violence, but if that was you would you want it plastered all over the place? The best article I’ve read about this second victimization is a blog in The Nation called “The Revictimizing of Janay Rice,” please read it, it’s short and it has been updated to include Janay Rice’s statement about the video being released and about Ray Rice being cut. 

Eric and I talked about how we were going to address this with our kids, in part because they like Rice and in part because we saw this as an opportunity to talk about some bigger issues–domestic abuse, consequences, and how the media is handling this (because they are going to see those screen shots too). Their initial reaction was “WHAT?” Not because they thought Rice was innocent but because they didn’t understand why the Ravens and the NFL had swung so hard in the opposite direction from where they had started. But we wanted them to understand that, regardless of how the NFL has handled this, Rice being cut was ultimately on him–he punched his now wife, he did something nobody should ever do, there are consequences to that and they are life changing. 

And part of their confusion is because the NFL is rife with abusers. Now, so I don’t get flamed, I am not saying Rice shouldn’t be punished because there are so many other abusers in the league, I’m saying the fact that there are (and our kids know this) and that this one, this particular one, has been cut is confusing to our children. It’s hard to explain to your kids why one of their players was tossed when players like the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, accused of rape and sexual assault more than once, is still playing. Or when Greg Hardy, who plays for the Panthers, was found guilty of domestic assault. So the question of “Why Ray? Why not them?” that our kids asked is a fair one and, in my opinion, points to a league that takes money a lot more seriously than it takes conduct. Duh, we all knew this. But, damn, NFL, you’ve taken this step with one player what about the others? They have changed their policy about how domestic abuse will be dealt with, it now will earn players a six game ban for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second. That’s progress, if it actually happens, but we still have all these men who are abusers who will walk on to football fields this week, and hypocrisy is a tough thing to explain to a kid. Ultimately, we fell back on “he did something awful, he’s paying the price” but that doesn’t wash away the inconsistency. So, there’s that.

There’s also the larger plague of domestic abuse and this was something we really wanted our kids to understand–this one famous couple is in the spotlight but there are so many others, every minute of every damn day. It’s important, we think, to teach kids that things like this don’t happen in a vacuum, they are part of a larger problem. The fact that NFL does not take violence against women seriously is a symptom of the greater disease, the disease being, of course, that the US does not take violence against women seriously. I watched Liam’s eyes grow large when I told him that every day women are beaten by their partners and that, often, those beatings ultimately result in murder. He didn’t know, now he does, and I hope it helps him put this whole event into some context. And I hope it gives him an empathy for Janay Rice, who I think gets lost in all of this.

Eric and I told Liam that we didn’t want him watching the video, out of respect for Janay Rice. When Liam asked why it would be disrespectful of her to watch it my question to him was “would you want strangers watching a video where you were abused and humiliated?” He hadn’t thought of it like that and he responded with a resounding “no.” Good, neither would I, neither does she. And the fact that people still are is voyeurism at its nastiest.

Ultimately, our kids are kids and we can only expect so much of them. I don’t expect them to turn against Rice, or disavow any loyalty towards him, or say that they don’t want to watch him play anymore–it’s not that simple. Liam stood in our doorway and said “I can’t believe I’m never going to see him play football again,” that reaction went hand in hand with our daughter’s “what? why?” when Eric said stores were pulling Rice’s jersey. Black and white this situation ain’t and as bad as what Rice did is he’s still someone who has given our kids joy and reasons to cheer, I don’t think my personally verbally flogging him to our children serves any purpose. They don’t need a diatribe about how horrible what he did was, they know it was horrible, and the one thing Eric and I won’t do is tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel.

One thing I am thankful for is that Eric and I have been very careful about teaching our children that elite athletes (or any famous person), while fun to watch and often admirable human beings, should not be placed on pedestals or viewed as heroes and the kids take this to heart. There are exceptions to this rule, people who broke boundaries and fought for equality, like Jackie Robinson and Kathrine Switzer, but they are rare.  So at least we have no broken hearts in our little family, just disappointed kids trying to wrap their heads around some very big things.


My Ice Bucket Challenge Rant

So last night, while chatting with my DH, I realized how much something is bugging me, namely, this new anti-ice bucket challenge stuff I’m seeing and hearing. I know ice bucket challenges are filling up FB newsfeeds, and maybe people are over it but, damn, it’s raised a big buttload of money for the ALS Association so I just don’t get how people can think it’s meaningless or a stunt or any of the other words I’ve seen tossed about. As of August 27, $94.3 million dollars has been raised for ALS! In the same time period last year the amount raised was $2.7 million. Don’t you think that’s worth a little newsfeed clogging? How can you diminish those numbers and the good that is being done? And, more importantly, why would you? People are having fun and doing something good. To me, pushing against that is just cynical. There are WAY more important things to complain about.

I guess the other big pushback I’ve seen from folks is that this is wasting water. Water is scarce in many parts of the world but I’ve seen people who live in some of those parts handle this creatively (like by using a cup instead of a bucket) so it can be done. We live in Honduras, I used the water that came from our cistern (and that’s what I made my ice with as well). Cistern water is what comes out of our taps–apparently it’s fine for bathing and it’s cool to ingest it if you boil it for five minutes but it’s otherwise not supposed to go near your mouth. So it’s a good thing I held my breath when I did it! We’ve also lived in Guinea, West Africa, where our water came from an above ground cistern, including the water we drank. It went through a distiller before that happened so it was, technically, disease free. Which I reminded myself when I made the massive mistake of looking in the cistern and seeing our water with a thick coat of green slime on it. Yes, folks, that’s what we gave the kiddos, no wonder they’re so hearty. So, I’ve got to be honest, I get a little eye rollie (rolly? whatever) about being lectured on water usage by folks who have likely always had all the clean water they need. We’ve gone without water, we’ve lived with chronic water shortages, we’ve stared into empty cisterns and called for the water delivery guy, until the point when it was too dangerous for 18 Wheeler (that was his handle) to deliver water to us because of civil unrest. This, of course, is exactly when our well decided it wanted to throw a temper tantrum, which not only meant we had no water, it also meant that all our neighbors who lived in shacks around our house, for whom we turned on the outside tap twice daily so they wouldn’t have to hike miles for their water, had no water. And, yet, I still think this challenge is worth the water. Because let’s look at the reality of water waste in the US:

According to an article I will link to at the end of the blog (I’m on my iPad and too lazy to figure out the WordPress app bells and whistles in order to insert the link here), about 95% of the water that comes into a home goes down the drain. 95%! Over 1/4 of all drinkable water is used to flush toilets and older toilets can use about 3 gallons of water per flush, which is the amount of water many in other parts of the world survive on daily. We taught our kids the old, if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down saying for a reason. And I would like to know if people screaming about how much water is being wasted by the ice bucket challenge turn off the tap while they brush their teeth because, if not, you’re wasting about 4 gallons of water. How about when you shower? Do you get wet, turn off the taps, lather up, then turn them back on for your rinse? I don’t have the number on how much water you’re wasting if you don’t but I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be moaning about someone who dumped a bucket of water over their head for charity wasting water.

So, in my opinion, if you are really so worried about water being wasted by this massive fund raising effort then you can start making some changes in the way you use water in order to offset this, kind of like planting trees to reduce your carbon footprint. Then, once you’ve done that, you can let go of your cynicism and eye rolliness and have some fun while raising money for a very worthy cause. Problem done and dusted!

PS: Ive been told that some folks doing the challenge are using things like confetti and wine (oh, the humanity), which misses the point of the ice and cold water, which is to mimic, on that moment of impact, the way ALS makes a body feel. Also that some folks aren’t even mentioning ALS. I understand this kind of stuff happening is the nature of the beast, things like this grow arms and legs and whole bodies of their own. But I DO think losing sight of the original challenge diminishes the importance of the challenge, which is too bad.

water waste in the US

ALS Association

My Top 10 List of the Merits of Growing Up Global

I was messaging with one of my dearest friends the other night, an American woman who lives in Costa Rica, and she asked if I’d ever written a blog about the advantages of growing up global. Which I haven’t, and which I thought was a fantastic idea (thank you, M!), so this will be my list. I’d like to preface it by saying my point is not at all that growing up global is superior to growing up local, I could just as easily write a list of the merits of growing up in one place but that’s not our life so, write about what you know, right?

1: So many possibilities for a layered sense of empathy and compassion: By layered I mean talking to them about empathy and compassion, and then immersing them in situations where these things are called for, drives the lessons home hard. I think of the posts we’ve had in countries with a lot of poverty as empathy immersion school, unless you shelter children from what is around them (and that’s not a choice we make) it becomes very real for them what living in poverty really means.

When we lived in Guinea our oldest played street soccer with the neighborhood children and, in our neighborhood, that meant children who lived in shacks and wore tattered flip flops. Liam knew the children he played with lived a very different life from him, he knew their toys were made from recycled rubbish, he knew food was often scarce, he knew their chances of getting sick were far greater than his. So when we were living in Dublin and preparing for his eighth birthday I asked him “what would you think about having your friends bring presents for Guinean children instead of for you?” and he answered “momma, I have so much and they have so little, I don’t need more” so that’s what happened. The look on his face when we boxed everything up and sent it off to a friend to distribute, was priceless–he took such joy and satisfaction in what he and his friends had done, and he knew in a very tangible way the differences these gifts would make.

2: A concrete understanding that the world is a diverse place: It’s hard to live in so many different countries as a child and not know that our world is vast, and has so much incredible and beautiful diversity. Kids growing up global have endless opportunities to experience different languages, cultures, accents, art, music, history, food, religion, and so much more. And, honestly, it makes my job as a parent ten times easier because all I have to do to teach them this stuff is take their hands and walk out the front door so bonus for me.

3: Extra chances to commune with, and gain respect for, our natural world: From the forest regions of Guinea, to the Mediterranean beauty of Malta, the eerie peacefulness of an Irish bog, the serenity of Lake Superior in the Summer, and the wonders of the Costa Rican cloud forest, our kids have had so many chances because of our nomadic lives to experience the natural world. I think it’s sometimes easy to get disconnected from nature, no matter where you live, and being able to take our kids to so many different places has been a gift for them and for us and, I believe, has helped to nurture the respect and love they have for our planet.

4: Extra chances to go to important historical sites: It’s hard to not experience history firsthand when you’re in a country that is steeped in it. A prime example of this for us is when we took the kids to Rome. We spent a week wandering the city, in absolute awe. Our kids, who all love history, were totally blown away by the fact that they were walking in ancient footsteps. At one point we visited a church which was built on top of an older church, which was built on top of an even older church, which was built on top of ancient streets. We wandered down, down, down beneath the the city, until we reached the bottom and were walking through what had been houses in Ancient Rome. There was still a spring-fed aqueduct that ran through the houses, supplying them all with crisp, fresh water. We stood back as our children approached the water, their faces full of wonder, we watched as they slowly immersed their hands, squealing and exclaiming with delight, knowing they were touching history. Now that we’re in Maya country we already have trips to Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico on the burners, I think our kids are going to pop from excitement when they see those ruins.

5: If you’re very lucky, and we were, you’ll get a chance to introduce your kids to their own roots, for us, this was Ireland: One of the challenges of raising nomads is helping them understand that being nomadic doesn’t mean being rootless, and this is something we’ve worked really hard on. This came ten times more easily to us when we drove to Belmullet in County Mayo, where my family is from and where we still have cousins. One of the things we did was all load into the car with my cousin Joe, who is my grandmother’s first cousin. We drove slowly along the wild Atlantic coast, stopping in front of a traditional cottage that had long ago been turned into an outbuilding. Joe told us what it was, I turned to the children, saying “kids, this is where your great-great grandmother was born and raised” and their collective response was “whoa!” We went back to Mayo many times, most recently on a trip from Costa Rica, and each time we go we bring flowers to the graves of their great-great-great grandparents, which is pretty cool. For me to be able to say to our kids “this is it, kiddos, this is where your roots first took hold, this is the land that is inside of you” and for them to be able to bend down, rake their fingers through the sand, walk the land their great-great grandparents, and their parents, and beyond, walked, is nothing short of incredible.

6: Understand that just because a friend is far away doesn’t mean the friendship is over: It’s tough, like really tough, to leave behind friends and family you love or to be the one left behind, the emotional roller coaster ride when dealing with this grief can be nasty. But, at the end of the day, our kids have learned that friendships are not finite, and they do not begin and end with geography.

7: A different way of understanding one’s place in the world: In other words, teaching the lesson “tiny fish, meet endless ocean” is pretty simple to do when kids see just how big our world is. Though they know they are the center of my life, and their father’s life, they are learning that they are not the center of the rest of the world.

8: Developing a very diverse social circle: We have friends spread to the four corners of the earth, American and locals, and we learn so much from their diversity–beyond when Liam proudly announced that he could swear fluently in at least four different languages. From Europe to The Middle East and beyond we love all the perspectives our friends bring to us, and those perspectives only drive home for our kids the vastness of this world.

9: A deep and lasting appreciation of home: The last time we were in DC, which has become home for us in a lot of ways, Liam said to me something along the lines of, yea, all the changes and traveling and moving is tough and jarring but if he didn’t do it then he doesn’t think he would have the same appreciation of his beautiful home country. The kids don’t take the US for granted, they love it and appreciate it in a way that, I think, is different (not better, just different) than someone who has lived there for their entire lives. My kids may not recite the pledge of allegiance, and the only time they sing the national anthem is when we’re at a baseball game in the US, but they are fiercely loyal to their country and bringing them home always feels to them like wrapping them in a warm, fuzzy blanket. And I know that all the insights and experiences they’ve had during their nomadic lives gives them gifts that they will pass on to the US, their perspectives and world views are out of the ordinary and, I think, valuable to our country.

10: Resiliency, because any parent raising nomadic children will tell you teaching those lessons I just wrote about is nearly impossible without it: All this change and flux and transition and starting over requires one thing, resiliency. I have seen my kids move to so many places, take a deep breath, hold their nose, and jump. Or, sometimes, dip a toe in, stand back with folded arms, and sit down to think for a while. No matter how it starts it always ends the same way–two feet planted firmly on the ground. Sometimes there’s adversity, sometimes it’s smooth as glass, but they are always pliable and resilient and I am a proud momma.

This life is full of choices, our choice has been to live as nomads with portable roots, each step we take forward is a conscience decision to continue on this path. And, for now, that’s what we’re doing. So, onward, my little nomads, there is more adventure on the horizon …

The Space Between AKA Crap, I’m Bored

The last few months have been chaotic, stressful, fun, and full of change. I’ve been so busy that it was all I could do to just squeeze everything in, and sometimes I didn’t. Now we’re at post, in our temporary house, living out of our welcome kit (who buys those damn comforters anyway, clearly someone without any nerve function in their skin because those bad boys are like sandpaper!), which means the house is pretty much empty. I feel kind of like a little ball of fur rolling along the tile floors, looking for stuff to do. For the first time in months I have time on my hands. Gobs and gobs of time, in fact. You’d think I’d be happy about this. And I’m not unhappy, I’m just bored. I haven’t reached the level of boredom where I do stupid shit because, as Eric just wrote to me “uh-oh, a bored Heather is like a curious cat!” I’ll force myself to be un-bored before I reach that level but, for now, meh, not so much. Ordinarily I’d set out on foot to explore our new city but that’s a no no in Tegucigalpa–going out would be filed under “stupid shit Heather does when she’s so bored that she’s going to start beating her head against the wall for stimulation”–so that’s out. And we have shiny new maps on our GPS so I can start driving when I work up the courage (I’m the only person I know who can get lost driving around a block so a GPS is a must). My desire to run, even if it has to be on the treadmill, will soon outweigh my cowardice about getting behind the wheel. But, for now I’m here.

This is what I think of as the space between. Between the insanity of an international move, the whirlwind of DC training and home leave, the mad rush of getting settled at post, and truly making this new city our home there exists a no man’s land for me. This is the space where I do a lot of wandering around the house, straightening things that aren’t crooked, talking to our dogs even more then usual, staring off in to space, and writing down all the things I can bake in the one loaf pan I have. I seem to have zero motivation to actually be productive, I’m not sure why and, honestly, I’m not even sure if I care that much. See? No motivation, I tell ya! The kids have started school, Eric has started at the embassy, I keep things rolling along at home and, right now, that doesn’t take much.

This is the part of the roller coaster where you’ve done all the fun twists and turns, felt like you we’re going to hurl a couple of time, maybe screamed a bit, thought “why the hell am I on this thing????” and then BOOM! That hard brake at the end before you pull back onto the platform, moving slowly to the spot where you get off the ride and figure out which one you want to conquer next. For now, I’m just coasting, sitting in my little roller coaster car, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the next bit.

Maybe I’ll read a magazine. Maybe I’ll brush a cat. Oh, look, it’s 11:27, only 6 more hours till I can get dinner started. Maybe I’ll take a nap …

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