Wednesday, December 30, 2015


2015 is rapidly coming to a close and the internet is filled with advice and reflections on New Year's resolutions. In addition to looking forward many are looking back on this past year, remembering both the good and the bad and all the lessons in between.

This past year has been a whirlwind of change for the Grey/Cristy household. Starting with hitting a wall, making difficult decisions about career and life-goals (the big one for me was making the decision to work at the Beats' daycare) and ending with a cross-country move that has strained us financially and emotionally (both Grey and I are missing Seattle more than we imagined). All of it taxing and yet filled with hope as we're beginning to see some paths forward.

Over the holidays, a theme of "thankful/grateful" emerged. Sure, there's lots to worry about. We still have a long journey ahead that is filled with so many more obstacles. But honestly, after living through infertility and all that was lost all of this seems very doable.

In 2012, Keiko Zoll published a radical post about being thankful for infertility. The timing of her words was a shock to me, as I was cursing this disease for all the grief and pain it had caused in my life. I remember reading Keiko's words and thinking that I was happy she can see the goodness, but that there was no possible way I ever would.

And yet, over the last 3 years, I've begun to be thankful and grateful too. Realizing that so much self-doubt was shed during that journey. Realizing that I learned what hitting bottom felt like, what being an object of pity meant and what it truly meant to be living as one who was left. That as much as I feared all those things, that the fear was far worse.

I learned that hitting bottom, though scary as all hell, meant a chance to start over, shed all fears and doubts and to start again. I learned that uncertainty opened doors I never knew existed as I was too focused on a certain path. I learned, also, how much stronger I was than I gave myself credit for. That the image I had held in my head for so long of being less and unworthy was not who I really was. I learned the motivational power of anger and the importance of asking "why." But most importantly, I learned that I deserved to love and be loved. All with so much help and guidance from the amazing people I've meant while on this journey.

Looking back, Grey refers to 2012 as the "year of the black." And yet I also remember all the rainbows. Something similar happened in 2015. There were certainly some dark moments, with us wondering how we would even survive (literally). But there are also those insane high points, like the first day I walked onto campus to start my postdoc and hugged my advisor E. And there were also the insane moments like sitting on the plane as a family of (2 cats, 2 kids and 4 suitcases that we would all live out of for the next 7 days) after somehow making it through security with the whole crew.

I guess my point is that 3 years later, I realize I too am grateful. Grateful for infertility and all it taught me. Grateful for all the lessons I continue to learn. Grateful to my family and that we have one another. And grateful to still be a part of this community.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let it snow!

For my 21st birthday, all I wanted was for it to snow. I had just gotten back to my apartment at college and was preparing for a road-trip to the West Coast for the Rose bowl. My friend and I had made plans to meet up later in the evening to celebrate me hitting this milestone and he asked me if there was anything special I wanted.

"Just for it to snow," I told him.

And that night it did. Big, fat flakes that rained softly down from the sky, covering the world in white. I remember giggling like a small child and forcing my friend to dance with me in it. It is still one of my most treasured memories.

Two days ago, I turned 37 yrs old. The day was a quiet one, just the way I like them. But secretly I've been wishing for snow. Ever since we moved to Boston, I've been hearing about all the snow from last year and boy was I in for it as they assumed someone from Seattle had never seen snow. (The ribbing all stopped when they learned I was raised in Minnesota, as Minnesota snow removal crews had to be called in last year)

This morning, as He-Beat and I began our usual morning routine, I noticed it wasn't as dark outside. Despite hearing the sounds of frozen rain hit the sides of the apartment, I held my breath as I raised the shades hoping the illumination was due to a white ground cover. As I let out a squeak of delight, He-Beat came running up to me, looking very curious. It's not the first time he's seen snow, but it is definitely the first time he'll remember.

As I type, the snow is melting due to ongoing rain (which is suppose to freeze tonight). But the memory of this morning, watching He-Beat play in the snow with unbridled joy (She-Beat wasn't too sure about it, unfortunately) has left me smiling for most of the morning.

Monday, December 28, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Explaining actions

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

"I just want an explanation," he said softly. I could hear the pleading in his voice, an attempt to understand what had happened to result in over 4 yrs of radio silence. 

My mom had just turned the phone over to my dad, after spending 30 mins filling me in on their Christmas celebration and updating me on all things family. She had asked about the Beats, gleaning information about their size and weight, wanting to know what they liked to do and liked to eat. All of it fluffy conversation with me purposefully skimming the surface the whole time.

My dad started our conversation asking how I was, how we were and what we were up to. It becoming clear he was waiting for my mom to be out of earshot when we asked me the question I knew had been on his mind for all these years. What happened?

During my last conversation with my folks my mom asked a similar question, but it was immediately clear she was picking for a fight. In that case I immediately felt myself tense and began nervously evading an answer, knowing full well she wouldn't take it well. With my dad, it was a different story. Taking a deep breath, I immediately relaxed as I let the truth flow out of me, telling him about how my mom's push for Grey and me to adopt my cousin's son had been the final straw. 

My dad and I have always been close. So close that when I cut off contact with my family, I heavily grieved losing him. All the hurt came rushing back as we talked, as it became clear how much he was hurting from that severance. But unlike my mom, he was trying to understand. Though he reminded me he didn't agree with what I did, he was trying to empathize.

I'm still process all that happened during our 30 mins on the phone. All mixed up with a lifetime of memories and emotions. The feeling that with this reconnection is also a metamorphosis for our relationship from parent and child to something more fitting. But also finally recognizing that I indeed hurt someone I love dearly while recognizing that he too hurt me.  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Finding our "perfect"

In December 2012, following a full year for failed fertility treatments, adoption falling through and so much heartache, I found myself sobbing into my dinner. We were days away from final round of IVF and I was hopped up on Lupron. My in-laws were out visiting Lucus's family to meet Grey's new niece and between the stress of this upcoming cycle and the knowledge that we were once again going to be alone for the holidays, I broke down.

Sitting across from me at the table while I cried into my chicken, something in Grey broke. Something broke in both of us as we were so exhausted from all the pain and the loneliness that came with this journey. And so in that moment, a decision was made. Somehow we had to make Christmas as tear-free and relaxing as possible.

The next day, Grey purchased a Legos Millenium Falcon (the set he has wanted since he was a child) and a good bottle of scotch. The plan for Christmas eve was to drink heavily while watching the Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) and assembling those Legos.

The end result, outside of a model of the Falcon sitting on our coffee table fighting off attacks from two curious felines, was also a Christmas were the gloom and uncertainty caused by infertility was kicked out the door. At least for a little while. We didn't know what was going to happen within the next few days or even within the next few years, but we were determined to find some peace and merriment despite the uncertainty.

Fast forward 3 years and a completely opposite situation. Upon first discovering the Christmas tree on our landlord's porch, the Beats are overwhelmingly excited about celebrating Christmas. Christmas eve is spent making sugar cookies, singing Christmas carols and reading stories about Santa's pending visit.

The next morning is spent unwrapping gifts, with the Beats excitedly flipping through books, building with next blocks and struggling to share the lone Daniel Tiger troller gifted to them by family friends. After breakfast, the whole family is loaded into the car to visit a local park where they spend an hour playing with other kids as other parents are on a similar mission of burning off any extra energy due to sugar. And then it was home for lunch followed by a much needed nap for all.

Later in the evening, after the Beats were asleep for the night and Grey and I were cleaning up, I reflected on how different this holiday was from ones in the past. The easy joy that came in every moment, even the less than perfect ones. And yet, I remembered too the Christmas from 2012 and the perfection that came when we needed it most.

Sitting in the coffee shop this morning working on a manuscript, I overheard a conversation between two women complaining about the misery in their holiday due to certain details being less than perfect. Either an in-law saying something that threw them off their game or a child melting down over not getting a certain gift. And I realized that our society has put too much emphasis on being "perfect." That if you don't do certain things or meet certain standards, somehow your holiday can be ruined. But the truth is, the we also play a part in allowing the "ruined."

Over the past month, I've had two close friends announce they were stopping their pursuits to expand their families. Both are rightly heartbroken. And both are grieving during the holiday season. I've thought about both of them throughout the last week, remembering how difficult this time of year is while grieving and imagining the pain they are experiencing during this time. Knowing that there are many who will attempt to minimize their pain as they are both parenting a small child and there's added pressure to "be merry."

And yet, even though they are grieving, I have every confidence that they created their "perfect" Christmas. I don't know exactly what that may have looked like as I've yet to connect with either of them and it is very likely there were less-than-perfect moments. But my hope is that there were moments of peace; moments where they could hold their beloved children and smile. And that though it may not have been perfect in the eyes of others, it was perfect for them.

Where ever you are in your journey this holiday season, whether newly diagnosed or resolving, my hope is that reflecting back you can find your perfect moments. Be it a moment you laughed your ass off, did something insane or even took some time to find peace. My hope is you can recognize those perfect moments you created and that those are the memories you carry with you for a life time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Of ears, teeth and peanuts

Last week was an appointment filled week for She-Beat and me. Following our relocation to Boston, one of the first bits of business once getting health insurance established locally was setting up appointments to follow up with ENT on She-Beat's cholesteotoma surgery and to get her in to see an allergist. In addition, I was very overdue for seeing the dentist for a cleaning due to my previous dentist having both limited hours and such frequent turn-overs in staff that resulted in incorrectly canceled appointments (one receptionist canceled, then another called to inform me that they were charging me $60 for a missed appointment. Quickly corrected, but still not good).

First up was the ENT. Following dropping both He-Beat and Grey off at their respective locations, She-Beat and I traveled into Boston proper to have her ears looked at. The hour we spent waiting to see the doctor passed quickly as she entertained the staff by pointing out all the different types of fish in the waiting room aquarium and commented on story after story that we read together. Finally the doctor was ready to see her and we found ourselves in a room filled with cotton balls, tongue depressors and all sort of shiny metal instruments. The ENT staff made note of all the mischief a toddler can get into in under 2 minutes when they finally came into the room and somehow managed to convince She-Beat that the pack of crayons they had located was far more interesting then all the instruments that were at eye-level.

The long and the short of it is that outside of some very minor scarring on her ear drum, She-Beats ears are normal. They look normal and her hearing is in the normal range. We have a final follow-up appointment for both her and He-Beat in June to see how their ears are doing following ear tube placement, but to get this news that all is moving in the right direction was a great relief. That and the knowledge that we now need to plan art projects with cotton balls and popsicle sticks.

On Thursday, I spent my lunch break getting my teeth cleaned and checked out. Since moving, I've noticed that one of my front teeth seems to be lowering, which is now affecting my bite, and that the gum is receding a bit. The hygenist insisted on x-rays as she was having difficulty getting ahold of my previous dentist for this information. What we learned is that overall things seem normal, my one front tooth seems to be lowering and I also have a bone spur on my upper gum that needs to be looked at. So in the new year, I have an appointment with the endodontist to determine if that tooth is even still alive and from there we'll for a plan of attack. Needless to say, when he began talking about a root canal I was far from happy, but we'll cross that bridge when we need to.

Finally on Friday, Grey and I packed up the whole family for a trip to the allergist. Due to unpredictable traffic, we arrived early than expected. This resulted in both Beats entertaining most of the floor as they played chase and ran up-and-down some empty hallways to burn off energy. One older gentleman asked if he could take He-Beat home after he saw what he described as a "giggling blonde blur" fly by him.

Prior to the appointment, Grey did some reading about allergy testing. Given what we know about the immune system, both of us are not enthused about skin testing due to the high false positive response and the potential to cause an adverse reaction solely by introducing a concentrated amount of the antigen. So when the allergist offered doing a blood test, looking for peanut as well as cashew and pistachio antibody levels, we jumped at it. This morning the results appeared in my inbox with completely unexpected news: She-Beat tested negative for all three allergies. The allergist immediately sent an email warning us that it didn't rule out a potential for a reaction, hence we need to follow up with a feeding study at the office, but the news offers so much hope.

The long and the short of all of this is that after almost a year of ER visits for chronic ear infections and an allergic reaction followed by 5 separate surgeries, physical therapy and constant fear about exposure that could trigger an allergic reaction, we may finally be in the clear. Sitting in the bathroom this morning with Grey as I read those test results, it was clear both of us were breathing sighs of hope. That all the advocating we've done may have finally paid off.

Beginning of January is when the feeding study happens. Around that time I'll be seeing the endodontist. And if the worst news we get from all of this is that I need a root canal, I'll take it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: not a creature was stirring

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Winter break is looming for many academic institutions in the northern hemisphere. Though there are students who still have final exams to complete, most have fled campus and are making there way by plane, train or automobile to their respective destinations. 

I'm currently sitting in one of these deserted buildings taking a break from writing and experiments to revel in the quiet. It's strange how these moments of silence, which bring to attention noises we normally fail to notice during the normal hustle and bustle, also recall memories and moments one may have not focused on for a very long time. Or remind us of how much has truly changed, even when we felt like the world was passing us by.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Letting it all out

It's 5 am. He-Beat and I are snuggling on the couch, with me attempting to convince him an extra hour of sleep is a good thing. Without warning, the light on our fire escape next to the couch comes on. A motion sensor light that is easily tripped by gust of wind. And yet my heart is in my throat and I feel the fear wash over me. Carefully I look outside, making sure that there is nothing and no one there. Yet there's a chill that remains.

Since yesterday's post and following my friend's advice about writer's block, I've been spending more time analyzing other areas in my life that are giving me pause or creating anxiety. Not surprisingly, the theme of fear has come up again and again. Fear of failure, fear of fighting unnecessary battles and even fear of seeing harm to my family. Fear has been manifesting itself time and again. Part of this theme is coming from reconnecting with my family and, specifically, dealing with my mother. I'm so tired of being baited into fights or being blamed for the rift that exists between us. I can't be truthful with her on my own thoughts and feelings as I know all too well that any hint that her actions in this will result in a massive explosion. Still, there's an additional element I haven't ever talked about openly. Solely out of shame and guilt that we were even part of this.

For 8 years, home was not safe. The condo Grey and I lived in was in a building with neighbors who were mentally ill. I've talked before about Fleur, an older woman who's poor grasp on reality was ripe conversation as most could not believe half of what we lived with. But I haven't talked about the two neighbors who shared walls with our unit. On the left side of us lived Cyrus, an older man who hinted he had OCD and certainly suffered from narcissistic personality disorder. Our introduction upon moving in was him asking if we were certain the sale had actually gone through (suggesting strongly that we were trespassing) and then informing us that he regularly listened to all conversations in our unit by pressing his ear to the walls. Cyrus struggled with me in particular as he learned I was in graduate school, which was something he believed no woman should ever do. This belief was regularly demonstrated by regular rants against neighbor women followed by poor attempts to flirt. A lot of what kept Cyrus's rage and envy in check was Grey, as it was clear he was absolutely terrified of him physically and in complete awe of him psychologically and professionally.

The other neighbor who lived on our right was a man who was only a few years older than us. Overly friendly from the start, he struggled with boundaries and was easy to offend if there was a difference in opinion. About two years following moving into the building, he knocked on our door and asked to speak with Grey. During that conversation he confessed  that he was about to be arrested as he had raped his 16 yr old daughter. Despite all of this, we were both counseled that it was unlikely he was violent and following his release from prison were encouraged to help promote his re-entry into society. Initially he seemed to be taking steps to do just this, with many in the building working with him to help him establish a business and keep him away from temptations. But after awhile, he regressed back to old patterns and habits of drug use and drinking. He pushed the limits of his parole and found ways around safe-guards. In the end he burned everyone who was supporting him. And when called on it and a lawsuit followed due to actions he was pleaded not to do, his reaction was violent, with blame and hatred cast to anyone who dared question him.

It's been over a year since both of these individuals sold their units. Both of them blaming me specifically for having to sell and move on. The neighbors that now flank our unit are so completely opposite from these two that there were days Grey and I were in awe over not having to whisper during conversations or worry about our home being broken into. And honestly I thought that all of that was in the past. That we could move on.

And yet, on the heels of recent shootings and responses from certain political figures, I find myself increasingly upset and struggling. As people who are fast to point fingers and gleefully preach hate, I find my heart in a not-so-peaceful place.

The problem is I know that meeting violence and ignorance with the same fixes nothing. Yelling at those who preach this hatred and ignorance never does if not results in them screaming that much louder, claiming they're not afraid to fight when it is clear that are absolutely terrified. But sitting back and allowing them to spew lies and hatred in an effort to understand is getting to be too much. I'm still nursing wounds from such efforts and dealing with the fallout of getting on their radar.

So, in an effort to finally come to some resolution, I'm sucking it up and putting all of this out there. I'm ashamed that I ever had dealings with a convicted sex-offender or believed that I could help this person re-integrate into society. I feel afraid after living next door to a narcissist who harassed both me and Grey and made home an unsafe place to be. And I'm angry because the few times we talked about all of this with others in hopes of finding help, most responded with silence or looks of shock. And the long term affects have become where I still worry about finding one of these assholes at my doorstep, pointing a gun through the window.

I don't expect anyone to fix this, because the reality is that no one person can. Nor do I expect pity for what we've lived through. What I want more than anything is to stop having to live in fear. Worrying that what I say, do or how I live my life will somehow result in my family being harmed. Because no one should have to endure that. And I'm so tried of fighting it.

Monday, December 14, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Writer's block

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

I've been finding myself pulling away from this space. Posts drafted in my head are going unwritten and comments unanswered. Too often, when I sit down to write, the cursor key sits blinking back at me. It's been frustrating and there's been many times I've wondered if the best thing is for me to close up shop and wish everyone well.

Last week, after a particularly bad presentation in lab meeting and frustration over the fact that writer's block has also seeped into my work (I have a review due in January that I have yet to generate a good solid draft for), I wrote a friend who is in the middle of writing a science fiction novel. I honestly expected some general tips, such as drafting an outline, creating a space to write and even setting a schedule. All good bits of advice and things he did suggest. But what I didn't expect was for him to identify something I wasn't even being honest with myself about.
Many people say that writers block, or procrastination in general, is all about fear (and I think that's sort of right). For me, anyway, it's about the discomfort or despair, even, that comes from knowing I need to do something, but not having a sense of what will get me there or how to know if what I've done is good enough. This is distinct from being unable to do something (as) being unable to know, or perhaps believe, you are making the right first steps or being unable to visualize the steps from where you are to completion can make it very hard because there's a little voice there that says this is pointless, you're not doing the right thing, it's all a waste of time.
For awhile now, I've been trying to determine what my place is in this community. The Beats will be 2 1/2 yrs old at the end of this month and it will be 3 yrs since that finally round of treatment that lead to them coming home. Our family is complete, hence there will be no more rollercoaster rides. So I'm struggling with quilt as I watch those I previous sat in the trenches with reenter in order to continue to expand their families. There are many days where I worry I'm causing more harm than good.

There's also fear in putting my thoughts out there. There are now some serious scars from being attacked by those I believed I could trust and cut down because my experiences or life choices differed from others. It's easy to talk about having a thick hide or being resilient until one is attacked. And, quite frankly, though I respect others' opinions or viewpoints, I really don't want to be engage in fights where one party is intent on winning at all costs.

So instead, I've found myself labeling posts as "pointless" or "a waste of time." I've allowed myself to be silenced as I'm burnt out on potential drama.

But maybe, just maybe, I need to stop worrying about all of that. Take chances again with writing from the heart. Because those I've met and loved in this community have done just that. Trolls be damned and all.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Breaking the rules

From a young age, I've been one to strictly adhere to rules. From walking in a straight line, waiting my turn, obeying traffic laws and even not cutting tags off mattresses. Being the eldest child and grandchild didn't help, as it was firmly engrained in me that it was my job to set a good example for both my siblings and younger cousins. Hence I was the "good" child, excelling academically, obeying curfew, going to college and avoiding any situation that could potentially bring shame upon me and my family. I did what I was told and believed firmly that there was a natural order that should be followed.

That all changed when I found myself diagnosed with infertility and watching my family fawn over teenage cousins who found themselves pregnant. My world was rocked as I found myself shunned and discarded, with my mother emphasizing that attention needed to focused solely on them. As time has gone on, more examples have surfaced where breaking the "rules" or ignoring a beneficial order has hurt us while helping those who take advantage. From hanging onto our condo through the financial crisis (we learned recently that others who went through foreclosure have recovered financially and are now purchasing houses), to following advice of mentors (the fields I've been discouraged from are now very lucrative and hiring) to even advice on career transitions (don't get me started). The long and the short of it is that despite what others advise and attest to, there are many examples where cheating the system can actually be more rewarding.

This past week things came to a head. With She-Beat being sick, I've been home with her meaning I've been missing more work than I care for. Granted the bonding that has happened has been priceless, but considering I have a limited amount of time to do my postdoc, I've been feeling rushed. What doesn't help either is that I'm still not sure what the next step is after this. E and I have began this conversation (finally got brave) and she still believes there's a lot of opportunity in academia, particularly within our field. The thing is I'm still uncertain if this is even the right path. On top of this, Grey hasn't been happy at work. Though only 3 months in to this position, it's already clear that the environment he's in is not engaging enough and he's frustrated with the culture that values punching a clock and billable hour over quality and insightfulness.

Yesterday evening, we had a heart-to-heart. We talked about being tired of following the rules and doing what others suggest. About how those who admittedly insist on procedure do so without having to live with the consequences we face. And a decision was made to start breaking some rules. To start reaching out and looking for opportunities. So Grey is warming up his networking again and I've scheduled a meeting with one someone in upper management at one of the big 3. In addition, I've started leaning more on others about their viewpoints by asking "why." Why do you believe this? Why are you so opposed? And what is your motivation for advising us so?

Already I'm facing some pushback. It's truly amazing how angry some people will get when advice is not immediately followed or adhered to. As if somehow it's a direct affront to do otherwise. Still, staying where we are and following the rules is hurting us. It's time to break them.

Monday, December 7, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: New traditions

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Last week, I came home to find our landlord has set up a Christmas tree on her front porch. Glowing beautifully in the night, I smiled and wondered what the response would be when the Beats got home with Grey after he picked them up from daycare. 30 mins later I got my answer, when both toddlers swiftly ran by me (not even stopping for their usual hug hello) and began excitedly point to and chattering about the "yellow, blue, green and red strawberry tree." After explaining that the lights (shaped like strawberries) where instead Christmas tree lights, they spent the rest of the evening talking about the Christmas tree and even insisted on saying good-night.

Given all of this, next weekend Grey and I are planning on getting a tree. To prepare, we began preparations by continuing a tradition from last year of making ornaments. This year we made salt dough ornaments, which both Beats were so excited about. Outside of remembering the importance of sharing cookie cutters and taking turns, each toddler did really well with this project and were easily entertained for over 30 mins. 

And the end result is fitting given all that has happened this year.

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