Sharks or Fog, You Get to Decide

shark following kayak
Where I feel like I am

When I talk to people about my story, I am surprised by how many have similar stories, or at least have close friends or family who have them.

When I talk to people who have children going through similar struggles, I am often taken aback by the desperation in the questions they ask me. It’s usually quiet and controlled, but ever present, as if they are looking for a lifeline of any kind that can save them.

I’m surprised, not that people are desperate, God knows I have spent considerable time trying to turn anything floating by into a life preserver.  I am surprised because they are looking to me as if I may have answers. All I can think is although I may be floating here on this apparently sturdy kayak, I’m also out in the deep ocean with a mess of hungry sharks circling me.

The thought that I have any practical information that may be of real assistance is quite strange to me. And it makes me reflect on where I was 2 years ago and where I am now, how far I have come and how far I still have to go. It brings me face to face with the mother that I was when my son came home from residential treatment, the tentative, scared, scarred women who just needed to know how this was going to end—to know that it was going to end.

The first morning after my son was discharged from his residential program he cut himself. Badly and on purpose.

We knew that 8 weeks of re-feeding and therapy and stable medication wasn’t going to “cure” him, but we were hoping that his discharge was more or less the end of the hardest part. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time musing on how things might have been different if I knew some things then that I know now. There was so much I didn’t know, about what to expect and what to look for. I was just treading water and trying to stay ahead of my emotions. I didn’t have the energy and space to look at any of the lessons that were coming from these types of experiences.

Of course, just because I wasn’t ready for the lessons didn’t mean I didn’t have to learn them, it just made things a bit harder.

And there were a lot of lessons learned in hindsight from this specific incident. The most practical and glaring was that he wasn’t ready to be sent home, and I should have fought harder. I see now it was more of a business decision on the treatment center’s part. There were easier kids on the waiting list who the insurance companies would pay for with less effort on their part. At the time, though, I thought it was something my son had done or not done, or something I had done or not done. But I still wish I had known in that moment. I feel like it would have given me some stability. But maybe not.

I sometimes write a list in my head of these things, the stuff I wish I had known then. It seems this list would have been very useful to me at the time.  I often think about taking pen to paper and writing it all down now, just to have it, kind of a talisman or even tangible evidence of progress. I’m not sure which one, it’s hard sometimes to separate hard work from dumb luck in the recovery process; I guess I should just embrace both. Yet every time I set about writing this list, it feels wrong. Like if I had known it then I wouldn’t have been able to apply it anyway or would have applied it incorrectly.

If I had known that my child’s treatment was a business decision would I have been able to handle that? Would I have been able to move forward and get the benefit we did out of it, or would I have waited and held out for perfect? Would the wait have cost my child his life?

No amount of catastrophizing is too much when I reach this point. These are the questions that spin out of control in my mind when I indulge in what-ifs. If I let them, the what-ifs will consume me, and I risk not being able to see some of the other lessons that were available to me at the time, ones I can apply in the future.

Yet I still feel the desperation of needing something to hold onto in the uncertainty.  I think, and think, and think about how to distill this journey into the one lesson of value beyond my immediate situation, something I can tuck into my kayak and use when the sharks feel closer than they are. My mind will wander around the twists and turns of this thought process for a while before it hits me that I have put this journey in the wrong frame.

I am thinking about it all wrong, I’m using the wrong metaphor.

Because the lesson always come down to one thing: There are no ends in this process, there are only beginnings. Finishing a residential program, a meditation retreat, a skills workshop is not an end. Finishing is not a rescue, I am not being pulled out of the deep. It’s just another beginning, it’s when the real work starts and the work is not your child’s alone. No one will “fix” your child, no one can “repair” your family. You, your family and your child have to do the work. It’s all a beginning.

The cure, if you can call it that, comes over time, by all of you working and working and never giving up. It comes from accepting what is and working toward what is better.

When you know you can’t handle it anymore, you still get up and do the work. Just like you did when he was an infant and needed to eat every 3 hours, just like when he was a toddler and had nightmares at 1 am, just like when he was 6 and his pet died, and again when he was 10 and 15 and 16, and on and on. Every day is a beginning. Every day you feel like you’re starting over. You’re not, it’s what it feels like, but you’re not.

It’s just the beginning. His recovery, and yours, is a series of little steps into the unknown, small yet important course corrections as the path becomes a little clearer to you.

As the fog begins to lift, you can see the trail a little better. The fog will come again and trip you up, so you can’t race blindly ahead with the false confidence that if you can just get to the end it will be okay. You just keep going and listening for clues to where you are and where you are going. Sometimes, when there is no path, you have to cut one out for yourself, hacking away with the tools you have until you get to another moment of clarity.

Those moments of clarity aren’t the end either. They are more beginnings. Hopefully they will lead you to a path that is a bit easier than the one you were on, but they may not, and you have to keep going anyway. And you can, even when you think you can’t, you can.

If you can picture it as a journey to accomplish instead of a place to escape, if you can see your child as he is,  broken and bewildered just like you are, you may be able to find the peace and space to step back and create something good and whole that you can use as a foothold.

It’s easy to fall into cynicism and doubt, and hard to let go of anger and blame.  But as comforting as those tools can sometimes feel, they rarely shine any light on the path ahead and they never help you clear it. You have to hold on to hope, even when it isn’t reasonable, and you have to question your route even as it is clear that you are on the right track. It’s a tricky and convoluted path, you are going to need all your wits about you. As Robertson Davies once wrote: “These matters require what I think of as the Shakespearean cast of thought. That is to say, a fine credulity about everything, kept in check by a lively skepticism about everything…. It keeps you constantly alert to every possibility.”

So stay alert, search for your next foothold, and breathe.

path in fog
Where I probably am.

And know. Know that this journey, as grueling as it may be sometimes, is just another opportunity to create. You can choose the frame, pick your own metaphor.

It’s not what you know going in, but how you use what you know to create your path and open up vistas. It’s okay to rest for a while, you have no end you have to reach. It’s okay to enjoy the view.

Even in the clamor, you can stop for a moment and look at how beautiful what you have created is. It will give you sustenance for the next hill, courage for the next trial, and hope for the beginnings ahead.

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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So I wrote a post yesterday that was pretty close to a rant, for me at least, and my email and phone immediately lit up with so many notes of encouragement and care and concern that I was truly blown away. So I need to do two things. First and most important I need to thank you all for walking with me on this journey. Whether you are near or far, I couldn’t make it without you all. And second, I just wanted to let you know that everything is okay, or at least it is what it is (bleck!). bleck



Shortly after writing my post last night I found this quick blog post that helped me gain some perspective and hope and then I spent the rest of the night looking for more baby elephant videos. Because, adorable! xoxo

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I Need a Book for this Shit

About 18 and a half years ago I found out I was pregnant and immediately went to the book store.

Because there is no event in life so sacred that you don’t need a book to tell you how to get through it, or at least give you a little advice for the trip.

What I found was “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” It was the go to book in 1997 and I dutifully bought my copy and began my investigation into the weirdness that was pregnancy.  I made it all the way to the nutrition section which told me while eggs are not a problem for pregnant women or their babies, we should probably not eat them because, you know, you don’t want to make your spouse and other people in the family jealous.

To be honest, I was never in love with being pregnant, but having some nutrition Nazi tell me, even though my body was on its way to being purloined by a tiny dictator with no appreciation of personal space or the proper placement of feet around a bladder, that I should have any concern whatsoever for a person who is not being assimilated into the pregnancy borg, was more than I could take.  In the trash it went, and I relied on mostly firsthand accounts and a beautifully photographed booklet my sister-in-law sent me that showed in utero pictures of each month of pregnancy.

By the time I was pregnant the second time the “Girlfriend’s Guide” had been written and a friend passed it to me in a plain paper bag like it was some sort of NSFW book or film.  It was funny, irreverent, more honest than WTE, and even though it was filled with some stuff that was just not right for me, it was the right book at the right time.

I find myself thinking about that today because my son hit another rough spot in his recovery and despite my brave face of “two steps forward, one step back is still forward progress,” I’m really not so cool with it.

I feel like I need a book, a book about what to expect when your child is in recovery or better yet a girlfriend’s guide.

I require the nitty gritty of what is going to happen and how I may feel about it.  I need to know if after 6 month of good progress a stumble is the end of the world or just par for the course.  I want to know if my incredibly intelligent child is playing us.  I have to know if I am enabling or being compassionate.

I would like to hear if my husband and I will ever find our way back to the same page again.

I need a girlfriend’s guide to your child’s addiction/eating disorder/mental health issue. Something written and concrete that I can go back and reference when my emotions flare. I want to read about someone else who has been through it and come out on the other side.

This assumption that there is “the other side” is the part that is throwing a wrench in the works.  It is comforting to think that this is something that can be overcome, vanquished, at the very least resolved. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just another stop on the continuum, that mental health is only a journey and not a destination.

And I am so pissed off by that.  So incredibly angry, even as I am spouting my positive bullshit.

I just want it to be okay, as my husband said just one week without drama.  But life is never okay.  It just is.  No judgement, no regret, it just is.  And the powerlessness that this engenders pisses me off to no end.  The what-ifs and no-fairs and all the other judgments race through my head like mini neuron tornadoes, throwing shit around, flattening hopes, razing dreams, and occasionally revealing some far off pinpoints of light.

I am worn down by the journey, by the process, by the fuckupedness of watching my child suffer these slings and arrows.  At the same time, I’m grateful that it is these trials and not others that have been put before us. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that it can always be worse. I want to know what others have done, what their journey looked like, it’s killing me to not know if my response is “normal” or at the very least appropriate.

My husband and I are never farther apart than when we are processing our feelings around this issue. Not because we don’t both feel as intensely or care as much, but because the differences in temperament and perspective that are usually a refreshing breeze in our marriage become obstacles to consensus.  The intensity of the situation inhibits rational thought and positive communication.  These differences in temperament come to the forefront and flash like blinking neon signs in front of us.  Daring us to believe that we are right and they are wrong.  It takes so much energy to put priority on the marriage, but if we don’t we know we won’t have the framework or the energy to support the children.

It’s a huge game of whack a mole.    It’s all fucking smoke and mirrors and I’m having a hard time rising above the futility of it all.  Finding or creating meaning seems impossible.  Touching the hope that was just there yesterday feels like a labor of Sisyphus.  Who can do this, who can bear this burden, who can watch their child bear this burden?

I know I have to.  I know I will; I know I am.  But surely someone has been this way before and has left a description, a road map.  Hell, at this point I would take bread crumbs.

That’s the book I want.  But it hasn’t been written. There is a lot that has been written about situations like mine, but not that book.  I’m skeptical that it can be written, although I am positive that it is a big gaping hole in the cannon of self-help.

There are no pat or comforting answers for this journey.  There is only the less than helpful assurance that it is just another kind of work we do, and we may all come out better for it, or maybe not.

So I guess it means I will have to continue to write my story, even while I’m feeling pissy because I can’t skip to the end or just put it away for a few moments. I’m going to keep slogging through and doing it.  And when I write my book I will add a baby elephant video that I can watch with my daughter (I guess it will be an e-book).  I will include a conversation with my son about nothing important.  I will make sure I write in a respite or two for my husband and myself. Then I will turn the page and see what happens next.

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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The difficulties of practicing what you preach

I always envisioned Giginon as a snapshot of reality, a place where I can stop for a moment and see where I am, one where others who are walking similar journeys can stop and see, somewhere my friends and family can pause and really look.

But in the process of creating it, I find it is becoming a benchmark of sorts, a way to see if I am being consistent and check if I am truly internalizing the progress, or lack thereof, that I’m writing about.  What I write is honest, it’s true, but of course it is filtered.

Every communication to the world is filtered to some extent whether it is written, spoken, or just a shrug.  There is almost always that nanosecond that your brain checks in with your better judgment to make sure you don’t say something you are going to regret.  Or at least, that’s how my brain works.

I think this is one of the reasons I love to see uninhibited joy on my children’s faces.  I love the moments when they are so excited that they forget to worry about what someone else might think or say.

I, myself, am reticent.  I have to work on bringing down some of my walls to get even close to uninhibited.  I have filters that keep me paralyzed, analyzing all the different ways something I say or do can be interpreted.  I’m getting better at it, breaking down the walls.  Writing helps.  It’s so easy to go back and read what you’ve written and see if it is real.

So it was when I went back recently and looked at my first post here that I realized that I may not be as cool with the trip insurance idea as I was when I first wrote it.  I know I believe it, I know I try to act that way.  But I’m not sure I’m always as successful as I would like to be or appear to be at walking that particular walk.   It was making plans to take another trip that made me look at it again.arctic surf adventure

We have an opportunity to take an arctic adventure this summer to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  25 years.  I need to let that sink in a little.  My grandparents made it 70, my parents made it 20.  This summer, we will mark 25.  That’s almost half of my life being married, not just knowing him, but married to him.

It seems an occasion worth celebrating, leaving the work and day to day of relationship maintenance behind and just reveling in the magic of it.

But our life is tumultuous and not only because our son is in active recovery.  The plan at the moment is to take him to college at the end of August then leave on our trip a few days later.  His school is about 13-14 hours away depending on traffic and the closest airport is about 6 hours away.  To say it is inaccessible is an understatement.  If something untoward happens when he’s at school, the absolute fastest that we would be able to make it there would be 13 hours.

From home.

From closer to the arctic circle we are looking at more like 24 hours.  That would give me pause even if we hadn’t entered the world of eating disorders and substance use a few years ago. I sort of have to remind myself to breathe.  We would also be leaving my daughter here near our home with a totally trustworthy so-close-she’s-family friend, and yet we would still be 24 hours away.

My brain starts all this serial, rapid fire risk assessment and what ifs and spinning, spinning.  I need it to stop, and I think that if I really believed all that twaddle I wrote about trip insurance I would just say fuck it and buy the tickets.  Choose joy, even in the tumult, to make me resilient.  But this is hard, so very hard.

And I’m not quite sure if it’s the planning to take our son to school or if it’s planning the trip that seems the biggest risk.  I don’t know if I’m more conflicted about the idea of him off at school than I thought.  It’s exciting and terrifying.  I am so certain it is the right thing, I am overwhelmed at the thought I might be wrong, and resigned to the fact that it is all out of my control.   I need to breathe. I need to think.  Think about whether or not it is feasible for me, emotionally, to be out of the country at the same time he is beginning his college career. I also need to think about if it is feasible for me, emotionally, to have him away at school.

I fall back on the familiar. Transitions have always been hard for him, even when he was tiny.  Major transitions cause major anxiety, major anxiety can cause relapse.

But that’s not good enough.

Anything he does after June is a transition.  Everything he is doing now that he wasn’t doing a moment ago is a transition.  We have come to a point where I have to believe that he has this (I really do), and I have to put my money where my mouth is both literally and metaphorically.   I realize that it’s not so much the idea of trip insurance that I am uncomfortable with, it’s the discomfort inherent in choosing the now.  It’s the giving up control, or at least my illusion of it, that makes me pause.just plain nuts

That brings me up short and sends me back to memories of my father-in-law.  He was a lovely, thoughtful, intelligent, irreverent man. Very much like his son.  I remember our conversations when I was first getting to know him and talking to him about my relationship with my father.  At one point I said, perhaps disingenuously, my father has some control issues.  And he looked me straight in the eye and said,

“Gigi, isn’t everything a control issue?”

Boy how I miss that man, his warmth and trust along with intelligence and insight were something out of my experience at the time.  Of course, he was right.  We spend our entire lives working out our control issues.  I may come to a place where I think I have it, dare I say under control, but I will spend many more days and nights struggling to maintain and then hopefully give up the control.   I wish he was here now, my father-in-law.  I often think about what he would say about our current predicament.  Though, really, he probably wouldn’t say much, he would probably just listen deeply, and ask me again, isn’t everything a control issue?

So, I’m going to continue to think about things from his perspective.  But I’m also going to trust that the boy’s got this. I’m going to believe whatever happens my husband and I are equal to it as long as we tackle it together.  I’m going to buy my version of trip insurance and throw caution to the wind.  I’m saying yes to my arctic adventure and yes to my son’s college adventure.

I’m going to practice some Giginon preaching and know that while things may not always be good they will at the very least be.  Oh, and I’m going to breathe too, cuz I am absolutely terrified!

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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It’s all good, even when it isn’t

There are a lot of people in my life. I like it that way, I like the connection. Some people like less, but I like having a wide net to increase the diversity of opinions crossing my path. To help keep me from stagnating. That being said, my close circle is relatively small. When my son got sick it got smaller. Not only because instead of having time for coffee I was usually taking someone to a doctor or therapist appointment, but also because I didn’t have the emotional strength to answer the question “how are you” over and over and over. Living in the tumult was so exhausting, I needed just a few of my closest friends. The ones who could listen non-judgmentally, and with compassion, and with humor, and with just the right amount of knowing when I needed a hug versus when I needed to escape, and could put up with my incessant whining, and who could tell me nicely when to stop without hurting my raw feelings, and who didn’t need to talk about themselves unless I needed distraction, and, above all else, the ones who did not tell me what to do or how I should feel or how I should process this. That’s kinda a big ask so it’s not surprising that my close circle, the circle that knows all the gory details, is rather small. It’s a miracle, frankly, that it isn’t non-existent.

I didn’t really know that was what I needed until I looked back on it and tried to articulate what kept me sane for the first six months and continues to be a touchstone almost two years into the journey. I also didn’t think about it much until I began sort of picking my life back up and returning to the social engagements that had fallen off the calendar for a couple of years because I just didn’t have the band width to deal. I mean, how can all of these people just be sitting here having fun while my child is so sick? I guess that’s one of the differences between being in crisis and being in recovery. I like recovery better. Crisis sucks.

Now I am reaching out to people I lost along the way and finding myself in the company of those people in the not quite inner circle. You know the ones, the close acquaintances who you truly like and enjoy, but you couldn’t quite keep up with during the crisis, the ones who care, but don’t need the play by play. And when I run into one of them, the first question is always some variation of how are you and how is the boy. This happened last night, it happens almost daily, certainly weekly if I happen to go to church (which frankly is why my church attendance has decreased instead of increased). I’m not talking about the busy bodies and gossips who are just dying to get the inside scoop to share at their next book club, I mean the real honest to God friends and family who weren’t with you daily for the crisis, but want everything to be okay, ’cause, you know, they love you.

For me, how are you is the hardest question to answer. Being raised in the south, I know deep down in my soul that there is only one correct answer, “Oh, just lovely, thank you. How about you?” After I moved out of the south I decided to give authenticity a try, but I still know it’s never appropriate to say, “Oh, just horrible, my son is in a treatment center for anorexia.” Social conventions are important, although it’s okay to be flexible as long as you know that you are doing so and accept the consequences of your actions. Finding the middle ground is hard, and it’s important, because these people care about you and want to support you, and you care about them and don’t want to burden, bore, or shock them.

I think that the reason this question is particularly hard for me is because I never know how things are. I would like to say it’s because of my extensive mindfulness practice and my highly developed DBT skills of looking at things non-judgmentally and being in this moment, but really it’s that I just don’t know. For example, one may go on an exhausting 4 day journey with one’s child, come home changed and write a glowing blog post about it, only to wake up the next day with someone who doesn’t remotely resemble the child one wrote about with such genuineness less than 24 hours before. I hit publish anyway, because that was the truth at the time. Currently the truth is closer to: did my 17 year old really just say you’re not the boss of me-land. And in 24 hours it will be somewhere else again. Because that’s what it’s like to have a 17 year old. Adding in our particular issues just muddies the waters a bit more.

Currently the polite conversation amongst my peers revolves around our child’s accomplishments, where he applied for college, where she was accepted, where they are still waiting to hear and where they are planning to go. And I’m not going to tell you what my son’s recent accomplishments have been. I’m not going to tell you what colleges he is applying to—he didn’t decide until September that he was going to apply anywhere, are you interested in the 30 minute discussion of how far he came to be able to apply and be accepted in those 4 months? I’m not going to tell you any of these things because they have nothing to do with the reality of “how are you” at the moment. They are window dressing made to pretty up the reality, ease the anxiety, dull the ache. Even if I told you everything and it was true, it would be so very far from the truth. I’m certainly not going to tell you about scholarships he may or may not have received, because, who even does that? But I digress.

The reason Facebook has a relationship status “it’s complicated” is because sometimes things are complicated and can’t be answered in one sentence social niceties outside the sushi bar as you are going in and I’m coming out. Sometimes things are so good I can’t help but smile, sometimes things are so bad, I want to believe they can’t get worse (don’t fool yourself, they can always get worse), but most of the time, I just don’t know. I have two teenagers in my house, one of them with serious health issues, it’s pretty much a roller coaster around here, and one without the safety restraints at that. I try to hang on, but sometimes I can’t and I have to pick myself back up and get back on the ride. Other times though, I’m killing it, and am amazed by my awesome parenting Kung-Fu (yeah, so those time are pretty rare). Sometimes recovery is going well, sometimes we hit bumps, sometimes we don’t even think about it at all. I like those times, the times we don’t even think about it at all. Sometimes it’s the girl child who needs some help, other times she is owning the dance floor and learning from mistakes. I just don’t know.

I know it doesn’t make sense that we can still be happy even though we are struggling so hard. I know it doesn’t make sense for me to expect you to share my joy without acknowledging the pain, but that is how it is right now. I don’t think you want to hear the latest report from the dietician, my current worry, or most pressing struggle. I’m fairly certain you don’t want the details on the latest fight I had with my insurance company. It’s complicated, and I don’t know. But I’m calling it good. I’m using all those horrible southern California cliches: It’s all good, It is what it is, No worries. I can’t stand them, but they are how I am right now. So when you see me, know that things are the way they are, and we are dealing with them the way we are dealing with them, which is all anyone can do.
traffic at sunset

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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Made up holiday

From looking at my Facebook feed, I see there was some sort of big holiday last weekend.  I saw lots of pictures of friends with their spouses, their children, their parents, other friends, even their dogs.  Sadly no cat pictures, I guess cats are not cuddly enough for Valentine’s Day.  I was pleased to see that the day is becoming more inclusive, and that we can now interpret it more broadly than lover, partner, or spouse.  It’s nice to no longer be left out of a holiday because you’re single, or because your partner feels that it’s a made up holiday/corporate plot.  But this year I missed it altogether. No chocolates for the kids, no cards, certainly no presents.  I did send my husband a perfunctory text, but it was hardly more than a begrudging acknowledgement.  I’m not sure why it passed this year with so little thought on my part.  It would be easy to say that it was because I was on the last day of a grueling 4 day road trip that included over 26 hours of driving, or maybe because we were so far out in the middle of nowhere that my internet coverage was too sketchy to post the cute picture with my particular valentine.  But neither of those were the reason.  I think the real reason I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day was because I was too busy falling in love.  With my teenager.

Valentine cats with flowers
There should be more Valentine cats!

It happened so slowly I almost missed it.  My son and I were on a long road trip to visit a college he is considering.  It was a 13 hour drive each way, with some additional time added on for looking around and visiting museums and bookstores.  I’m usually game for a road trip but this was long even by my standards, and spending that much time alone with your teenager, wow.  Since I have gotten into the habit of only seeing him at meals and occasional drives to this appointment or that, because our routine has become only glancing conversations unless a therapist was present it felt even more daunting.  What do you talk about for that long?  Recovery was off the table, we are all so run down by recovery.  It’s always there like the elephant in the room, we decided to banish it for the weekend.  That left us with a pretty big void.  At home we are so often adversaries struggling for power or trying to fix things, trying not to let someone else in, trying to avoid being hurt, trying not to hurt while still being honest. Was that what our drive was going to be like? It felt like we would be walking through a 13 hour minefield.  And at the start that’s what it was.  It was first date awkward, trying to come up with a subject that would be compelling to both parties but not touchy. We started out with music taking tentative steps around a safe subject then let the rest just take off from there.

I was surprised that just letting the conversation rise and lull at its own rhythm was easier than I thought.  It seemed since we had such a large space to fill, nothing felt rushed or urgent.  Nothing was too trivial, nothing was too important to let lie there for a while and come back to it.  My first steps to falling in love again centered on the recognition of what an easy traveling companion he is.  We don’t always agree on everything, but he was willing to go out of his comfort zone a bit to make things easier for me.  He put up with my music requests without complaint, didn’t requests stops or breaks, and he seemed comfortable.  This was the way we used to be, how he was as a baby and toddler; a challenge but delightful all the same.  He joked about the last minute-subpar accommodations.  He decided I may be the one person in my family that doesn’t plan everything out and will just let stuff flow.  He told me sometimes he likes it and sometimes it’s annoying.  I thought for a moment things were going back to the way they were, but I stopped myself.  Nothing will ever be the same because everything is always changing.  Good, bad, who am I to judge? I decided to let myself be swept away in the now.

Let me tell you, the now was pretty incredible.  Small talk out of the way during those initial 13 hours, our first dinner out was a gab fest.  I discovered an almost-adult who had thought about the problems of the world with more depth and imagination than most of the already-adults I know.  I found in him a self-awareness that I wish I could manage, and an honesty tinged with enough humor to pull us through to dessert.  I’m pretty sure our individual theories on social mobility and the best way to initiate social interactions in groups vs one on one were not interesting to the couple in the booth behind us eating their blackberry cobbler, but to us they were fascinating.  His description of his decision making process for how he will decide where he goes next fall left me longing for those skills in the decisions I’m making right now.  At 50!  From the looks on our fellow diners’ faces as we left the restaurant it was clear that our discussion was out of the ordinary, we were both amused by the confusion and the odd looks, even wondered briefly if we had cobbler or ice cream on our face.

This falling in love process continued, everything seemed to add to it and it became larger than life.  When he said he would rather go to the bookstore instead of Chinatown, when we both headed to the poetry section independently, when I looked over and he was skipping the postcards to read an esoteric book on poetry and the end of print culture.  That’s when I knew.  He was letting me in on this part of his journey.  I know I can’t be in on the whole thing, like I was when he was two, but I was in on this part. It felt like a warm breeze in the early evening.  Comfortable and right.

In our early years my husband and I talked about the difference between loving someone and being in love.  I remember long earnest conversations about it.  I remember having conversations in the last few years with my son about how you know that you are in love and what it means.  I’ve had conversations about how you fall out of love.   I hope to have conversations with my daughter on these same things in due time.  I wish I had a magic answer for all the questions I have, a viable argument as to how you know, a perfect quote to explain it all.  I know this new love I began to feel was different from the mothering love I feel for him, different from the nurturing and care and worry and responsibility.  It’s different from the romantic love that I feel for my husband and the partnership and journey we are walking together.    Maybe love is the wrong word for it, maybe it’s just a deeper knowing illuminated by listening without judgment and feeling without thought of the consequences.  But it feels like love, it felt like falling in love, and it’s exciting to imagine where it will take us.

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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The Secret Life of My Teenage Daughter

I don’t talk about my daughter much around here.  Partly for her privacy I think, and partly because she is the most innocent participant in our trauma, and we haven’t figured out exactly how this is changing her.  Our house has been in such an uproar, she keeps her head down and flies under the radar.  She’ll be fifteen soon.  I can’t imagine what that means for her.  For me it means equal amounts anxiety and wonder, very much like when she was a toddler.

During the kids early years I worked at their Montessori preschool.  It wasn’t a writing job, per se, but I turned it into a mostly writing job, because that’s what I have done with almost every job or task I’ve ever had.  Most of the writing I was doing during those years was about her in some way.  True it was mostly marketing and parent communications for our school, but she was my touchstone for everything I knew about how Montessori education works.  She was always in the back of my mind whenever I wrote for the school.  I remember writing a marketing piece that claimed “all young children have a rich inner life that adults are rarely privileged to share.”   I still believe that, but not because toddlers keep them hidden, but because as parents we aren’t very good at observing our children.  We have preconceived notions or insider information of how they should grow, when they should reach certain milestones, what is “age appropriate”.  However, we rarely have or take the time to really watch them.  We don’t take the time to discover how she should grow, or when she should reach certain milestones, or what is age appropriate for her.  The simple process of observation opens a window into your young child’s inner life and brings you unexpected insights and delights.

I feel the same way about the teenage years.  Teenagers also have a hidden inner life.  It is hidden from us not because they haven’t honed their expressive language skills like our toddlers, but because they are so busy figuring out their place in the world, their role, that they don’t often articulate their experiences or feelings.  And we are often not in the right place at the right time in the right frame of mind when they do. I’m interested in their secret life.  Not their secrets, but the internal work they are doing to create the adult that they will become.  Toddlers are easy, they are open and transparent, just non-verbal.  Teenagers are a bigger puzzle, but I believe the same lessons apply.  If you want to see their inner world you have to observe them.  You have to take a step back from telling them and teaching them and showing them to just watch them.  It is much more difficult to do this with teens than with our 18 month olds, but still just as important.

Toes on the nose

I feel lucky that one of the ways I can do that with my daughter is through her dance.  She selected Irish dance when she was almost 10 and she loved it from the moment she put on her first pair of ghillies.  At the time I was just happy that she had found a place to focus her abundance of kinetic energy, but I also saw that it sparked her soul.  Like most dance studios, parents are not allowed to watch practices.  This is a standard rule that helps students focus on their teacher and avoids inserting the parent/child relationship into the class.  For me it was hard.  I loved to see what she was doing, what she was learning.  Really, I loved to see the joy on her face when she danced.  She didn’t have an exceptional gift or talent for it, but she had a dancer’s heart and was happiest when she was practicing or performing.  I remember her 1st recital just 5 months after she started, she hadn’t even earned her hard shoes yet, but there she was on stage bursting with joy, enthusiasm, dance. I had never seen her perform an entire dance before that night and it was ethereal.

Irish dancers have a lot of opportunity to dance in their communities, especially in March.  Over the years she has gone to preschools, museums, elementary schools, nursing homes and retirement communities to share her love of dance.  She has danced with her friends on the local news and at weddings.  In fifth grade she gave a solo performance to her entire grade level. And I was privileged to watch all these performances.  Oh, the things I discovered by watching her dance.  She was fearless.  She was poised.  She was nervous, but it never showed.  She always radiated when she danced, glowed.  These were the pre-teen years, but as she stuck with it and got better, I realized that watching her dance was a window into that secret place of her teenage years as well.

I saw her confidence bloom then shrink at school, but on the dance floor she knew where she stood.  She judged herself honestly against others and those internal rankings were born out by competition dancing.  I finally saw that her girly side was real, a part of her not an act she felt she had to put on, and she loved the costumes and the makeup and the sparkles.  But not as much as she loved the dance.  She loved competing, she loved winning, she loved questioning the judges’ decisions and trying to figure out why they placed one dancer above another clearly better dancer.  She loved complaining about a bad score, both hers and others, and she delighted in celebrating her friend’s triumphs.  She looked at herself fairly, she learned from her mistakes, she corrected, corrected, corrected until she got to where she wanted to be.  And through it all the one unifying thread was it was hers.

When she entered middle school, she lost a little of her confidence, a little of her bubbliness.  This new harsh world was harder to navigCRate and she retreated into herself to a great degree.  This showed up in her dance as well.  Whereas in 5th grade if she and her dance friends finished a performance and the children who watched tried to imitate the steps, the dancers would all encourage and work with these children, joining them and showing them.  By 8th grade she and her friends were just watching them, afraid to be the first one to do anything different from the rest.  After a while our 8th grade dancers would make their way over to where the 2nd graders were trying to dance and show them the steps.  After just a little reluctance, there were smiles, laughs and high fives all around.  She was back to who she was.  Who knows what high school will bring.  But I will be there again on St. Patrick ’s Day watching her.

The teen years are hard, the vulnerability is excruciating, but I find if I watch her dance, I can see who she is deep down inside, who she is struggling to bring to the surface.  I see the hyper girly, hyper kinetic girl who is determined to get better and better.  I see the uncertain almost woman who is determined to reach that last highest level in her chosen activity.  She struggles to take off her masks and shed her fears on the dance floor.  She works to find the confidence to believe that who she is will be good enough.  I see her struggles and determination and I am in awe.  And the anxiety lightens ever so slightly.


(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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Hang on, I think there’ll be waves

I heard the sound of a surfboard being waxed today.  It’s been a while since the low pitched rumble of wax over sand has been heard echoing from our garage.  I was surprised how comforted I was by the sound, by the idea that there are still ordinary rhythms to our life of chaos.  Surprised at how a simple sound could bring me promise on an otherwise tough day.  I stopped briefly to figure out why this was, why I was surprised, why I was comforted.  But I don’t think it can be understood outside of the context of the shifting sand beneath our feet—our own personal traumas both little and big.

I know part of it was the security in the knowledge if he was waxing his board it meant he had found hope, at least a bit of it, at least for the moment.  When hope is as thin and tenuous as it has been in our house for the last few years, I find I can cling to even the tiniest glimmer of it with a tenacity of a two year old.  Perhaps another part of my comfort was knowing he would find respite, the happiness of doing what he loves if only for an hour or two.  After almost 25 years of marriage I am unaccountably pleased I can still find peace and sustenance in the simple joy of my husband content.  Despite all the work and drudgery that comes from building a marriage, a family, a life together, I am still profoundly touched by the prospect of his happiness.  It strengthens my sense of hope and purpose, it has meaning even when it is hidden beneath the mounds of laundry, therapist bills, and relentless worry.

My husband is a committed pessimist, there is no situation so bleak it can’t get bleaker and no glass full enough it isn’t half empty.  The whys and hows of his perspective are as hard as they are fascinating.  But it is enough I understand and can help balance that particular quirk.  So if my relentless pessimist has found hope, something simple to help him cope, I can’t help but apply that to myself.  If he can do it, so can I.  I am so optimistic that my rare flights into despair leave me reeling, grasping for any hold to bring me back to solid ground, to the place where I know who I am and what I have built.  I have given up needing to control the future to have it planned or figured out, but I have an intense need to be in the present and to know that I am not wasting this moment, secure that it will morph into another and another.  For me this is hope, it’s all I have sometimes.

I like this idea of an interdependent hope cycle.  The cycle through which if I can find hope it helps you find it, the one where if I’m lacking one day, you will help pick up the slack with yours.  That this has come to me seemingly out of nowhere just a product of love, respect and honor, out of listening and building, and hearing with no real skills, is a cause of wonder and comfort.  It helps me get through the everyday.  I know that if I am doing the dishes it means I think someone will need clean ones in the morning.  That is hope I can grasp.  Another load of laundry signals another day with clean clothes, another day with meaning.  I can bury myself in the ordinary of my day, knowing that it contains all I need to see the promise in tomorrow.

I remember a family therapy session when my son said he was so angry at people who had hope, angry because he was jealous, angry because there must be something wrong with him that he couldn’t find it.  It was one of my saddest moments as a parent.  What a dark, painful place he had to be stuck in at that moment, and there was nothing I could say or do to lift him out.  It was a place he had to find the way out of himself.  He has to an extent, but it has changed him.  Not changed the intensely sensitive compassionate, magical soul of who he is, but changed how he is able to interact with the world.  It took his confidence, his self-worth, his devil may care I’m-all-in way of facing the world.  It stole his trust.  I see him building it back in fits and starts, refining it as he goes.  I see such hope for him in this life he is creating.  So perhaps I can bring him into my hope cycle.  Perhaps he is already absorbing it, little by little.  Perhaps if he sees hope in each small step, in every ordinary task of life it can sustain him.  Just enough to hang on.

sunset surf

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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Life is a roller coaster, buy the trip insurance

A few years ago my husband and I took our 2 children to Turkey.  We couldn’t afford it.  After a couple of layoffs and a few cross country moves we were still in recovery mode, financial and otherwise. But my friend had been inviting us to spend the summer there with her family every year since our son was in 3rd grade.  Of course, each year there was always a really good reason not to go and “maybe next year” became my constant refrain.  But for some reason when she asked that 7th time I paused, and thought, he’s is in high school–if not now, when?  So after minimal reflection and some emotion based rationalization we blithely tossed our “financial plan” aside and bought four tickets to Turkey.

The trip itself was sublime, truly a trip of a lifetime.  The history, culture, food, geography, art and people, especially the people, were a revelation to us all.  It was a stopped moment of time for our family when everything was good and whole- not perfect but whole.  And now, years later it has become a delineating moment as well.  My life now is separated into “before Turkey” and “after Turkey” for reasons that have nothing to do with the trip itself.

Shortly after that idyllic summer our lives unraveled.  My son emerged with an anxiety disorder that became complicated with depression that morphed into bi-polar.  While we were scrambling to keep up with the changing diagnosis and initiating treatment and protecting/supporting/informing our middle school daughter, our son was falling into the abyss of self-medication, self-harm, and disordered eating.  The prognosis was horrible, we were devastated, life was over.  Except it wasn’t.  We are over a year into recovery now. He has his own recovery, of course, but we, as a family, are in recovery as well.  It’s been a bumpy ride with lots of highs and lows along the way, ditches and tar pits along with a fair amount of beautiful vistas and peaceful overlooks.

Recently during a Giginon meeting I talked about buying trip insurance and bemoaned that life in general and parenting in particular doesn’t come with trip insurance (whining is generally encouraged in these meetings). And then, the more I thought about it, I realized that it does, kinda.    Turkey was our trip insurance.  It was capturing a moment of joy in an uncertain world and being able to look back on it with gratitude and hope.  Saying yes to creating joy even in chaos and pain makes me resilient, more secure in my journey, able to breathe. When a recent trip to Ireland was cancelled because our son hit a bump in his recovery, it was sustaining to look back on Turkey and realize that we had that moment and can create more.

Choosing to capture joy and live in this moment is trip insurance for life. But it’s not easy and it’s not cheap–emotionally or financially you have to pay for it (although it doesn’t have to be four tickets to Turkey expensive). Whether it’s a decision to put anger aside, admit you’re wrong, ask for a hug, or throw caution to the wind and say yes, trip insurance is choosing to live now even when we don’t know where we will come up with the resources, external or internal, to survive.  For me it’s equal parts saying yes to good things and working really hard to find peace and gratitude while in the emergency room with my son. It is laughing with my daughter even though we are both beaten down and tired.  Sometimes I manage it pretty well, sometimes not at all.  And I’m good with that.  Recovery is as banal as it is agonizing, it’s a long term, lifetime of work and I won’t always, or even often, get it right. But there are things I can learn, and stuff I can share that makes it worth it– you know, kind of like life in general.

In the end, we shouldn’t have canceled our trip to Ireland.  By the time the date of our cancelled trip came around my son was in a good place and stable for the moment.  Recovery being what it is we should have just trusted we would do our best to make the trip, but if the time came and we couldn’t get on the plane that would be okay too. But just like parenting, there is no manual on how to negotiate a trauma like ours, or yours, or anybody else’s.  You’re just expected to pick it up on the fly, learn as you go.  So now I know, and only a little late.  On the bright side, we just bought tickets to Mexico and the trip insurance for them was only 40 bucks!libray of celsus

(c) 2016 Gigi Quinn

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