Being Meghan Markle

Sometimes when my son has a seizure-related accident or when I’m extraordinarily worried about another person, place, or thing I have to “take to the bed.” It doesn’t matter what time of day or night it is. After an unfortunate event my ears start ringing and I suddenly feel exhausted or nauseated from anxiety.

Lately, I’ve been playing a trick on myself when attempting sleep. I will literally put myself in someone else’s shoes. No, not like an empath, but more like a person practicing an imagination game. Occasionally, I’ll even embody my high school self and roam the halls at school. I morph into a silly girl who hasn’t yet experienced the varied menu life offers unsuspecting adults.

The other night after my son suffered a face plant from a swinging incident at the park, I couldn’t function. I was so stressed about how he might wake up in the morning, (agitated, concussive, etc.) that I was a hyperactive, hand-wringing mess one minute, and then a defeated, absent-minded monad the next.

It would be easier if my son could talk and tell us how he was feeling, but he can’t. And when my husband came home later that evening and continued the same neurological checks on him that I’d performed, I pretended he would be okay. He was unwilling or unable to move from the couch in his therapy room, but he correctly identified how many fingers we held up to his face. He was groggy, but intact.

At an unspeakably early 9:00 pm I had to crawl in bed and try to control all the ringing and wringing. My mind was “squirming like a toad,” (The Doors) but it finally settled on someone. Meghan Markle, who had just gotten married.

It must’ve been around 2:30 am her time. She’s sleeping now, I thought–or trying to sleep, cuddled next to her new spouse. And eventually, magically, I became Princess Meghan, or Duchess Markle, or whatever. I awaken from my slumber to the faint smell of lavender, disoriented and confused. Who am I? Where am I? Look at all these fluffy pillows, and fluffy bedspreads, and fluffy everything. Oh my God—gasp–I’m a royal. What have I done? What have I sacrificed to marry this prince of a man next to me? I know I’ve already sacrificed my taste, opting for a designer wedding outfit that made me look like a cross between Queen Victoria and Mother Teresa, but what else have I sacrificed?

“I can’t write my lifestyle blog anymore! And, and I have to give up acting!” I actually laugh at that, at her– I mean, me. Girl, you’re thirty six, your acting days are numbered anyway. And besides, an actor never gives up acting. You’ll be using it now more than ever, trust me. (As a former thespian I know this.) Hmmm, what else have I cut out of my life?  At this point Harry awakens and senses my discomfort and benign thrashing. He throws a big freckled arm over me and I cling to it for reassurance.

In the lavender-scented darkness I almost feel sorry for me. I mean, the Duchess. She’s embarking on an adventure that is foreign and bizarre. Intimidating and scary. Unexpected. I feel badly that she might have to give up her privacy, her individualism. Nah, she’s a princess. I finally roll over and fall asleep.

 

 

All Too Aware

It’s easy to feel jaded about Autism Awareness Month when your child is 21. It’s redundant. You’ve lived, breathed, and been consumed by autism for years, so when your special month rolls around you just feel numb. At least that’s what you tell yourself.

I’ve dodged the blue lightbulbs and puzzle pieces for a while now. I celebrate new research, but eschew the activities that accompany this special time of year. It reminds me of Christmas. Some people are gleeful when it finally arrives, others are depressed or feel pressured to enjoy it.

I’m crazy about my son just not about awareness month. I thought I would remain indifferent about all of it until recently. I gave a TED talk a few weeks ago where I took material from a play I wrote in 2008 inspired by my child, and mashed it up with material from Driving Miss Daisy. The talk addressed racism, ableism, discrimination, empathy–The Other—and I presented it with three other actors. I had to stop performing the full-length years ago because it was emotionally draining. I knew I wouldn’t have a problem with this talk however, because it was short and similar to one I gave in 2010. Save for a brief monologue at the end.

I started writing the original play when my son was seven. We were busy “fixing” him at the time, and even though I was overwhelmed and insecure I had faith he would get better and lead a healthy, independent life. But I’ve learned to manage my expectations at this point. Josh is still severe. Without the benefit of a medical breakthrough, or a miraculous stem cell operation, or extreme advances in the way I pray, he won’t experience the life I’d envisioned. It never occurred to me how prescient my writing would be. Many of my fears about his future have come to fruition. I used to joke that I needed to live to a hundred to ensure his well-being and safety. Today I am just relieved and blessed that Josh is happy and he senses how much we love him.

I typically bring that love with me when I perform. On the evening of the talk, when it was nearing its end, it was finally time for my character to recite the final monologue. I had relaxed into the piece and started breathing. I looked away from the audience like I typically do to deliver the mother’s lines. She’s pretending to whisper to her young son, trying to guess what’s in his head. Suddenly, when I was looking down and speaking to this imaginary boy, every memory of Josh and his childhood exploded in my brain. Flashes, momentary eruptions, of Josh at the pool, Josh having a rage, Josh having a seizure, Josh at his work table, Josh in the bathtub, my husband and I fighting, my daughter swinging with him, me crying with him, me lying next to him in his car bed, Josh having an EEG, a blood transfusion, a brain surgery. I could feel my throat tightening and my eyes burning. I was used to channeling my son onstage but this was different. This mother was still craving normal.

Then the monologue was over. I had to tuck myself back in. I pressed my lips together for a minute so they wouldn’t quiver. I felt my nose running. After we took our bows I stepped offstage for a moment to release the pressure.

I was tired after the conference, but sometimes exhaustion bares secrets you’d rather not admit to yourself. It hurts that it doesn’t matter what day, week, or special month it is I still have the gnawing desire for my son to hug me back when I put my arms around him. I still wish he could tell me what he was thinking. “And I dream that one day he will look me in the eyes and say, I love you.” I am not indifferent or numb. The longing will always be there, and I’m all too aware of it.

My Daughter, I Will Miss You, But I’m Glad You’re Going Away

When my husband and I dropped our little girl off at sleep-away camp the first time, I remember lying next to her brother in his car bed gripped by something I hadn’t experienced before. My son wasn’t feeling it, my husband wasn’t feeling it, but there I lay, frozen, thawing out only from brief spasms of grief and its accompanying tears. Yes, it was that dramatic.

My son has special needs, and it took a long time for him to fall asleep that night. Finally, when I able to exit the room I called my mother, who had been a child therapist for several years. “Mom!” I wept, “Oh my God, what’s happening to me?” “It’s just separation anxiety, my darling. It will pass, trust me.” “No, no it won’t!”  My poor brain had conjured up too many images of creeping snakes and camp food dysentery to believe her. “She’s going to have a wonderful time without you–a fantastic time–and you will feel better knowing that.” A fantastic time without me? How counterintuitive.

My daughter had a fantastic time without me. And I did recover a few days after she left. Her lack of homesickness was refreshing. Of course, when I was eight-years-old and went away to summer camp I wasn’t homesick at all. I just missed my cat. And I was gone for a month, (a gift for both my mother and me). Still, my initial reaction to her departure concerned me. If I’m this bad off now how am I ever going to handle it when she goes off to college?

Not very well, actually. The day she left I hunkered down in a dark room with nothing but my sorrow and a huge box of Kleenex. The kind with lotion. After two days I called my mother. “Will this ever go away, Mom?” I can’t keep circling the cul-de-sac with a handful of Kleenex reviewing every wonderful thing she ever said or did for me.” “Yes, this too shall pass. You’ve officially cut the apron strings and it hurts a little.” My mother was right, the pain eventually subsided to the point where I could pass by my daughter’s room without sniffling. Getting her phone calls helped. Learning about what she was learning helped. So did remembering some of the things she’d said and done in the past that weren’t so angelic.

Now, it’s her junior year and she’s leaving soon to study abroad in Scotland. The holidays and last-minute logistics have kept me safely distracted from her departure. Predictably though, in the wee hours of the morning, it hit me that she was leaving. This time for six months. I assumed the frozen position once again when I realized she wouldn’t be a town away, or a city away, or a state away. She would be an ocean away. And even though we had “separated and individuated” when she went to college, I felt that familiar separation anxiety burning in my chest.

“Mom! She looks so young, and the city’s so big—will she be able to navigate it safely? What if it intimidates her? And it’s cold there—a wet cold– what if she gets sick?” My mother reminded me that when I went off to London 35 years ago for a post-graduate program—for a six-month program–I stayed there for almost two years. And when it was absolutely necessary to come home for my sister’s wedding, my friends had to pry me off of a column in Heathrow airport to get me on the plane.

I’m glad my daughter won’t arrive in cowboy boots the way I did so many years ago, but she might arrive with the same trepidation. Mine only lasted about a day or two. Of course I wasn’t leaving a boyfriend behind, or a twin brother, or a job working with special kids. I never worried about what was behind me, I just anticipated the adventures ahead. Thankfully, I kept most of them to myself. (Except a toga party that practically killed me. Running around in sheets with a bunch of drunken Brits in January was fun/dumb.) Good thing my mother had ESP. Extra Sensory Pneumonia. She always sensed when I needed her.

If my daughter needs me I’m only a phone call or FB message away. Yes, we are close, but I’m not going to visit her. Some parents do that. But this is her adventure. Her time to break free and experience a different culture, and to get perspective on her life. She’s routinely put others first. I told her, “Be selfish! This is your time. Study your books, but study what’s around you too. Eat pub grub. (But not haggis.) Enjoy bagpipe rock. (The Red Hot Chili Pipers’ version of Smoke on the Water is quite original.) Develop a brogue that Shrek would envy. Challenge yourself always, but have fun. And I quoted my late father, “These are your golden years, take advantage of them. Be a citizen of the world.” Her self-discovery will be invaluable, whether she listens to me or not.

I’m praying my excitement over her journey will supersede the burning tears I’m sure to shed at the airport, and on the way home, and in the cul-de-sac. And I will be calling my mother. “Doesn’t this ever ease up? What the hell is it going to be like when she gets married?” And my mother will say something like, “Yes, it hurts, but consider the alternative.” And she’ll be right. I will be blessed to miss my daughter. And blessed to know she’ll be having her own adventures, and learning the world her way. All that broadening should be enough to keep the tissues in the box.

 

*I wrote this a few weeks ago and never gave it to Jordan. But she’s doing just fine. And my eyes are dry.

The Naked Truth About Iceland

A friend of mine just returned from Iceland. She knew I’d been there last year and asked me if I had any advice for her before she left. I plucked some tips from the following essay. I wrote it when Jeff and I returned to Noth Carolina and thawed out. Mind you, we went in April; her trip might have been warmer. Anyway, I’m hoping my (mis)adventures helped her. Particularly my experience at one of the public baths . . .

I never planned on visiting Iceland. I’d been accustomed to saying no when my husband, Jeff, asked me to take any trip with him. It didn’t matter if it was a full-on vacation, or a two-day junket. “Shell, do you want to go to Vegas with me for a meeting?” Um, no. “Do you want to join me in Colorado for–” No. “Do you want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with me next summer? Double no.
I don’t dislike my husband, it’s just my fear of flying is intense, and so is my anxiety over leaving my son. I have to admit though, that as the months went by last year I regretted passing up a “trip of a lifetime” to Africa. I knew I couldn’t let this trip to Iceland go. Which is ironic because after lining up help for my child I proceeded to dismiss it completely.
I didn’t think about what to pack, where to tour, or how to manage the cold. I didn’t have a coat because my daughter had taken them all, and I ignored Jeff’s warnings about dressing in layers. (Please, I’m a middle-aged woman. The mere thought of layers makes me sweat.) All I thought about was getting enough Xanax for each leg of the journey.
After a knuckle-biting flight we landed in Reykjavik. I could tell from glancing out the window that I was an idiot for only bringing a sweater. It didn’t matter that it was April—springtime to me—it was called Ice-Land for a reason. Jeff said it would be chilly, but he forgot the part about the wind. There are no trees in Iceland. None. The Vikings cut them all down, (bastards) and they didn’t even plant any conifers on the way out. It didn’t look like Sweden with its perky pine trees, it looked more like Mars, but grey. “This is a God-forsaken place,” I thought to myself as the plane lurched to the ground. However, the beauty of our flight attendants compensated for the naked landscape.
My first real Icelandic experience, (other than being knocked over by 30 mph winds) was thawing out in a hotel room warmed naturally by geothermal heating. It felt like you were sitting on a volcano. Which you were because the country is still rocked by lava. This is wonderful unless you’re someone like me who can’t sleep at night even in the most ideal situation. I’m like a bat. I need my room to be cold, dark, and damp. I fixed my problem by sleeping naked with a wet towel on me every night. (The front desk just stared at me when I asked for a fan.)
My husband slept like a baby. He powered through his jet lag and got up at 6:00 am the first morning to make a dry-suited scuba dive. He’d been to Iceland twice before but never had time to experience the Silfra fissure. It’s a crack between North America and Europe that was formed by the constant pulling apart of two tectonic plates. It’s a “geological wonder” and one of the world’s most popular diving destinations because in some of the really narrow openings you can touch both continents at the same time. Big deal. I had my own underwater adventure that day. I went to a fish spa and had my feet nibbled on for twenty minutes.
Our first outing together was significant. To me anyway. Jeff and I went to a public, geothermal bath. This is the way Icelanders relax, socialize, and ground themselves. No question, when you live in Iceland you go to the pool. Naturally I didn’t bring a bathing suit. When Jeff informed me the day before we left town that we were going to bathe outdoors my mind wasn’t on fashion. I packed a grey and black ensemble made up of a pair of his old running shorts and one of my faded black sports bras. I looked like something out of an Eastern Bloc travel magazine.
Jeff chose the same pool he’d visited earlier called the Laugardalslaug. (Don’t bother.) I felt a little uneasy as we went to our separate locker rooms. He was a veteran and understood the customs. Not me. When I entered the ladies locker room, which was large and completely full, I understood what my gut had been trying to tell me. I practically had to pick up my jaw from the floor when I saw that everyone—and I mean everyone–was buck naked. Pregnant women, old women, young girls, teenagers—everyone. And they were everywhere. I could barely stifle a gasp. I just stood there gaping like a Puritan who had just landed in a nudist colony. Not that there was anything prurient about it—quite the opposite. But my prudish Southern self wasn’t used to such complete nudity. “No way,” I whispered. “No way, no way.”
I proceeded to slink on all fours to the furthest region of the room and fix my eyes on the locker in front of me. There I was able to practice every slumber party trick I’d ever learned in Junior High. I pulled my skirt up around my neck, removing and added clothing as deftly as possible. I peeked over my shoulder every now and then to see if anyone was laughing at me. No one noticed, no one cared. And then I felt self-conscious about feeling self-conscious.
When I finally untangled myself from my clothing I snuck around trying not to look at anyone or anything. What I didn’t realize until later—and this is the truth—is that you’re required to shower before entering the pools. That’s why you got naked. You are to practice good hygiene before dipping in the natural, unchlorinated water. Jeff, being a man, left out this detail. In one of those I Love Lucy moments I crept behind the showers to avoid stripping down. This is a serious no no. I can’t believe I didn’t get caught by the guard. At least I’d showered that morning.
When I tiptoed outside there were hot tubs and pools everywhere. I saw Jeff and I beamed myself over to him because it was freezing. He chose what was supposed to be the coolest tub. Of course it was way too hot for my neurotic body so I just bit my lip and bobbed at the waist and pretended to enjoy the water. “Wow, it really is miraculously hot in here!” Jeff kept popping out of the tub to try different pools, so I was alone for a while. Finally, I started chatting with people. There were two Vikings to my right, a small group of Kiwis in front of me, and a consistent flow of natives bubbling about at all times. I heard some great Danish jokes and learned how to order beer in Icelandic. Not easy. Our Garmin couldn’t even pronounce the words. I left the tub only when my heart started doing flip flops.
Our final outing was designated for a different type of outdoor adventure. Geysers and waterfalls. I don’t really care much for scenery, but even I couldn’t help filming the barren, volcanic wasteland on our way to the country’s most famous and powerful waterfall, Gullfloss. I was practically blown away by its force, and I cursed myself for the 100th time for not bringing the right clothing. By the end of the day I was wearing Jeff’s orange Men-At-Work windbreaker, my black nylon sweater, a shtetl scarf over my head, (I definitely did not look like Grace Kelly in a convertible) some Icelandic wool mittens, leggings, and boots. And I was still cold.
By the end of a trip filled with waterfalls and geysers, public baths and fishcakes I didn’t want to go home. Yes, I froze my ass off in the wind, but the country’s naked beauty was well worth the head cold I earned a few days later. And I was blown away by something else as well–Iceland’s quirkiness. I’m sure we’ll go back, and when we do I’m going to bring a coat and a small fan. And I’ll be on my best, most compliant behavior in the locker rooms. I’m working on my nudity right now. Good thing because a trip to Finland–and its saunas—is just around the corner.

The South Pole, Does She or Doesn’t She?

My husband wants to go to the South Pole. With me. And no, not just because Anthony Bourdain went there and ate God knows what. He’s been bugging me about a trip like this for years. The first thing I thought of when he mentioned it to me was Love and Death, one of DH Lawrence’s principal themes in Women in Love. The snow was “deathlike” and it represented mortality. I must say the image of numbing white expanse spooks me. Funny, because I have no reservations, (literally or otherwise) about making a trip to the deepest nether regions of the ocean to experience the Titanic. What a bittersweet wonder. In fact, the mere thought of bobbing around the rusticles in an aquatic ladybug gives me the good kind of shivers. Not the kind you get by panting through primordial slush.
That kind kept me off of Mount Kilimanjaro two years ago when I had the opportunity to take another Trip of a Lifetime with my husband and daughter. Yes, I turned it down. Not that either of them thought I was up to it, so to speak. The anxiety I felt over the number of shots I would need to get before the trip, the number of hours I would spend in the air, and the eternity it would take me to train for it, was overwhelming. But what unsealed the deal for me was leaving my special needs son behind. The adventure seemed risky and rather self-indulgent to me at the time. At the time.
I’ve been thinking about the number of years I have left on the earth, though. Experiences. When you get older it’s natural for your values to change. Love for family remains steadfast, but accumulation loses its glow. The desire to “buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like” wanes, if it existed at all. I have a museum-quality collection of artifacts, oddities, and antique toys, etc., that I’ve been amassing since I was twelve. I’m done now. No need for anything else. No, really. I mean, what with am I supposed to do with my 18th century enema pump and my Victorian shock boxes at this point except dust them? I just want to share my collectibles with others. And one day, if anyone has the patience to show me how to post photos, (yes, I’m ashamed of myself) I will post them on this blog, and create a virtual museum, and hopefully stimulate conversation with like-minded people. But for now, at my age, it’s time to obsess over my thriving bucket list. Experiences over stuff.
Yet, I didn’t go to Africa, and I’m about to not go to the South Pole. I have below zero interest in that frigid, God-forsaken place. It never has and never will earn a spot on my bucket list. But is it right to dismiss another Trip of a Lifetime simply because it’s not a “Hell Yeah?” One tiny part of me would like to know why the people who research there find it irresistible. (Okay, I guess that counts as above zero interest.) I’m just a little curious about why scientists, nerds, adventurers, and other audacious individuals choose that lifestyle. Why do they prefer to expend their time and intellect inside of a titanic igloo? The whole thing reminds me of TED on ice.
I’ll always regret that I never made it to Egypt to explore the pyramids. But I’m grateful I got to explore a few tunnels in Jerusalem and some Roman/Greco playgrounds. I might not make it to the South Pole but I did live in Terre Haute, IN for six years. I did get to experience bitter cold in spectacular Midwestern fashion. There’s some equivalency, you know. Terre Haute. The South Pole. Both are at the ends of the earth.
I just need to overcome that gnawing anxiety about leaving my son. Maybe I could bring him along. And his dog. Why blow another opportunity? Why miss another Trip of a Lifetime? If I could score a swing for my child all would be well. Does she, or doesn’t she? I don’t know. I’m not getting any younger though, that’s for damn sure. Sometimes I just wish my husband’s big ideas could be less taxing and more relaxing. This one gives me goosebumps.