Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Racism

I'm on the verge of offending all 5 of my regular readers...
  So hold on!

     I've thought about writing this post more than once, but believe it or not, I actually worry that I may offend some of you. See, it's easy to spill my guts out here and tell you every horrible little detail about me, but voicing my opinions on things that are at best controversial, and at their very worst, horribly offensive, is a difficult task to take on. That said, I had an incident that prompted me to proceed.

    The difference in demographics between Barrington and Alameda is pretty substantial. Let me Google this for accuracy.


Alameda, Ca: Population 74,142 (But we made it 74,153)

Latino
13.4% of residents in Alameda, CA are Latino 13.4%
White
49.1% of residents in Alameda, CA are Caucasian 49.1%
Black
5.5% of residents in Alameda, CA are of African descent 5.5%
Asian
29.2% of residents in Alameda, CA are of Asian descent 29.2%
Other
2.6% of residents in Alameda, CA are of undetermined descent 2.6%



Barrington, IL: Population 10,168 (10,157 as of May 21)

Latino
2.33% of residents in Barrington, IL are Latino 2.3%
White
94.12% of residents in Barrington, IL are Caucasian 94.1%
Asian
2% of residents in Barrington, IL are of Asian descent 2%


     Wow, it looks even worse with the charts! It's really irrelevant to me that Barrington was predominately white as I do try and raise my children to be accepting of everyone; black, white, latino, gay straight, bisexual, transgender, even Republican. I don't care who you are, you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which, in my opinion, includes the right to marry- but as usual, I digress.) But I will say this. My family totally makes what others could view as inappropriate, racist (I prefer politically incorrect) jokes. And so, here I go, trying to explain (defend?) myself for your amusement.

     A little background here. About 5 years ago, I was the most politically correct person you've ever known. I used terms like "African American" and "Latino" because it never occurred to me to say "Black" or "Mexican". We pay so much damn attention to renaming everyone every few years that we are only drawing more lines between us as time goes on. I think this is a new, almost blind sort of racism; a racism being brought on by government and media, or the really annoying voice of one person who has decided that being called Mexican (even if that sure is shit is where you are from) is somehow offensive. It breeds an element of fear in people that if they don't use the right terminology they are, in fact, racist. But now you've created this air around things that simply doesn't need to be there; an air in which otherwise normal human beings become passively, ignorantly racist because they are now thinking way too hard about how not to be racist. I was totally one of those people. I constantly corrected my children if they used a term like "black" to describe someone. Looking back, it seems so silly. I was only teaching them to identify and focus on our differences in a very intense and serious way rather than raising them to just be accepting of people for exactly how they are. Fast forward to the spring of 2007 and enter into my life the thing that would take the fear of being racist away, replacing it with a wicked sense of humor for the factual differences between all types of human beings: The Chicago Improv.

An example of what others might deem an inappropriate conversation in my home:

Winnie- "I wish we celebrated Hannakuh."

Me-  "Why?"

Winnie- "I don't know. I am a little Jewy. Seems like the right thing to do."


     When my 3 years at the Improv were up, I can promise you that I had heard every single racist joke ever told. When a black comic came in, the 'N' word was said more often than words like "and" or "the". Illegal immigrants, midgets (I know, I know- little people) middle easterners (I really can't use the terminology I heard most often on this group of people) and anyone in the political spotlight was fair game. The taunting was often relentless and, dare I say, funny as hell. And it doesn't stop short of white people. Jeff Dunham draws an audience that a monster truck rally would envy. I've never seen so many water-ordering, 10% tipping, mullet wearing, toothless idiots in my life. WTF is the deal with in-breeders and puppets?? Wow. That was pretty racist.

     Now, I'm not going to bother defending any of these people (or myself for that matter). If you don't know their work then youtube it and decide how you feel about it for yourself. All I can tell you is the more funny people put into our differences, the less I really seemed to notice them and the more I realized we're all a little quirky in our own ways. Some of it is based on how and where we grew up, and yes, the race we come from.

    I do need to say this here. There is a definite difference between making fun of the races and true hatred toward another group of people. And here's where it gets sticky. What is funny and what isn't? Well, I can tell you that it is rare to hear a really hurtful racist joke, even in a comedy club, unless the comic is huge. Tommy Davidson has a pretty damn racist act. He sells out when he comes to town. He pushes the envelope a little too far for me because he seems angry about a lot of things rather than just poking fun. But people love him and I'm not going to tell someone else what's funny and what isn't. For me, jokes about middle easterners bombing America are pretty out there, while jokes about middle easterners being stopped at checkpoints for fear from Americans who think they're here to bomb us can be pretty damn funny. And so maybe the thing that makes a joke funny is:

A) if it isn't blatantly hurtful and has an element of truth to it.
I.E. When Carlos Mencia (hack that he is) makes jokes about Mexicans crossing the border in a van full of 30+ people.
Or
B) when we are poking fun at the ignorance of others surrounding a specific race of people.
I.E. My example above regarding middle easterners being racially profiled.

     So now the big question. Are those of us not considered a minority allowed to laugh? And don't pull the glass ceiling "I'm a woman therefore a minority" shit into this conversation. Hillary Clinton was almost president. Oprah is a gazillionaire. The plight of women may exist, but for the purposes of this conversation, let's not try and equate it with the plight of a descendant of slavery, ok? As a white woman, I always felt like laughing at anything other than a joke about a white woman was racist. But The Improv taught me that everyone is poked at and everyone gets their turn. Bobby Lee and his jokes about Koreans, Tommy Davidson on whites vs blacks, Lynn Koplitz and her man-bashing (priceless, btw) and yes, a lot of jokes about women are out there as well. None of which I find offensive because a lot of it is TRUE! I cry when I get my period, I want my husband to communicate more, I am emotional and crazy and clingy. I like flowers and candy and if my man forgets my birthday I will tear his eyes out. I am barefoot and pregnant 90% of my life.. the list goes on. And as for my man? My husband likes... hmmm. Well this isn't fun. I married a fucking metrosexual so I really can't gender stereotype him. What I can do, is make fun of his metrosexuality!

     My husband likes lotion, candles and hair cuts. His hands are softer than a baby's ass. He dresses better than 90% of the Backstreet Boys and shaves his balls. (Too much? Damn, I really might want to rethink this blogging thing) And just because you laughed at this doesn't mean you don't like women or are a metrophobe. (Coined.)  It just means that stereotypes can be funny because sometimes they are true. My hair dresser is gay. My daughter's PE teacher is a lesbian (I actually think this is a mandatory requirement.) And if you drive down the street to the Home Depot, there are tons of Mexicans looking for work. Is this racist? Factual? Both? I have no idea. I just know there is a lot of funny to be found in it. Why people get hung up on debunking certain stereotypes is beyond me. Sure, I understand the debunking of things such as "All Muslims are anti-American". It's hateful and breeds unnecessary fear into people; fear that could result in violence against someone's constitutional right to freedom of religion. It also happens to be inaccurate. But "the owner of my 7-11 is Indian" is not only true, but kinda makes me chuckle. Especially if you have had a conversation like the following:


I walked into my local 7-11 (while still living in Barrington) donning a sweatshirt which read "Bono is God"

Owner- (insert thick Indian accent) "Who is this Bono?" (Bone-oh, as in Sonny and Cher)

Me- "What? Oh. Bono. (Pronounced correctly) He's the, uh, lead singer of a band.

Owner- "Well, I do not know who this Bono is (once again, Sunny and Cher) but I can certainly tell you he is not God."

Me- "Yes. I realize he isn't God. It's a joke."

Owner- "Well, this joke? It is not funny."

Comedic gold, right there.

     
     And so now, the reason I wanted to finally write this post.

 The incident: 

     Taren had a friend over who is half black, half white and they were having a dance-off. Taren's friend was dancing like Michael Jackson. It was awesome. When her white mom came over and sat on the couch watching them with me, I asked her in my funniest tone "Can I assume where she got her dancing abilities from?" Racist? Now, I don't know that she got offended, I barely know this woman. What I do know is that this was not funny to her whatsoever. Wow. I just Googled "Why do black people dance better than white people?" and got a ton of Q and A forums where people are SERIOUSLY pissed off at this generalization. I might need to shut this post down to comments. 

     But that's the thing.There are differences between races. DUH! There are differences between genders, differences between west coasters and east coasters, and lets not even get started on religious differences, right?? So why is it such a bad and negative thing to say? Black people are better at athletics. Is this not true? I can't remember the last time a white person won the Chicago marathon. Or even an American, for that matter. Is that a racist comment? If I were married to a black man and someone asked me if my daughter could dance like that because of my husband, I would say "Absolutely. She gets her line dancing from my side." I guess what I'm trying to say is that we're all way to fucking sensitive these days. At least in public. There are plenty of us out there laughing in the privacy of our own homes because, as I'm sure you know, there are loads of immensely popular shows on TV that have racist jokes in them. The Office pokes fun at Mexicans, gay people, black people, Jews and so on. South Park has a black character named "Token" as in the token black character. Tosh.0.. well, he could be the king of racist comedy at the moment. And people are watching. Maybe only quietly, maybe a little fearfully, but they are watching. 

     So, yes. I asked a white woman if her half black daughter dances so well because of her father. But please, folks. Keep in mind that the question came from a 38 year old grandmother with 8 children piled into a 4 bedroom home who left college shy of getting her degree and drives a beat up minivan full of petrified chicken nuggets and empty bottles of wine. So go ahead, have a field day on me. 

     And in case you have never had a taste of the kind of jokes I'm talking about, here is my friend Gabriel telling a story about how he gave a black friend of his a "Racist gift basket":






Monday, December 6, 2010

Date Night Shmate Night

  I'm on the verge of hooking an IV full of coffee into my arm...

     It's irrelevant to my post. It just happens to be way too early on a Monday morning for much of anything. So where was I? Ah, yes. I am going to tell you the tale of two lovers who wanted to discover the city by the bay...

     Making time to "date" is challenging when you have children. Quite often, the idea of taking 2 Tylenol PMs and calling it a night sounds like the best date you could ever have. Mark and I try and get out a couple times a week, usually locally so that if anyone needs us back at home getting there is a snap. But with the recent re-addition of our eldest daughter to our household, we feel a little more confident venturing out into the city and further away from our nest. One of the things I think is so important in having a good relationship is nurturing it just as much as you nurture your relationship with your kids. I once heard Dr. Phil say "The foundation on which the entire family is built is the love affair between the mother and the father." Really soak that in. Without Mark and I being in love, there is nothing. I came frighteningly close to discovering this first hand. So for us, dating is a must.

     So let's go back a little bit here. 

     It's been nearly a week since I hit what I think may be the bottom of the bottom, (fingers crossed) and I can finally see why the switch was turned off. My life is utterly exhausting. Just to give you an idea of what I mean, I will highlight some of the finer events: I became a Cub Scout leader, I took 6 children to a book store, we cooked, made crafts, walked into town and got face painting, I lost Shaylon, I found Shaylon, we entered a hula hoop contest. I replaced old shoes, bought new clothes, signed Declan up for tutoring. I walked to and from school several times, cleaned out closets, drawers and cabinets. I gave 2 haircuts, bathed bodies 16 times, started solids (not me- the baby) put away 10 or so loads of laundry, went to a 7:30 am girl scout event on a Saturday (shoot me), scrubbed my tile, got into therapy, had a dance-off, a singing contest, a sleep-over, a knock-down-drag-out fight with a teenager, and made 25 gift boxes for Taren's gingerbread house fund raiser at school. And that's just a portion of my life over the past 5 days since you heard from me. Oh, and I managed to get the stomach flu for 2 days in there, rendering  me completely useless. On the up side, this did allow me to finally start watching How I Met Your Mother which, I must say, is a super cute show! But I digress. Back to date night.

     So as part of my own personal therapy, I have decided to get myself out and into the world once more. I bought a few travel books, and am essentially going to become a tourist in my own city. No more feeling sad, no more anger or guilt. This is the start of a new adventure for me; a new life for us. I spent 11 years in Chicago without really getting to know the city and all of it's wonderful charm. I am not going to let NorCal pass me by so easily. So after a brief history lesson, the first stop in Fodor's San Francisco 2011 was Union Square. 

     It would start with a trip to Oakland. Yes, Oakland. For those of you who don't know, Alameda is an island on the east bay of San Francisco right next to Oakland. Like right next to Oakland. I think if I spit in the wind it would land on a bum on the other side of the bridge. Yet for all its proximital (my computer does not like this word) issues, Alameda remains unscathed; basking in it's reputation for a strong police force and low crime level. Quite simply, they just don't let it bleed over. The bridges that connect the island to the mainland are truly the end of the line for crime. Island living = good. On the other hand, traveling outside of the city via BART = Oakland. I was leaving at 8:29 pm on a train that would reach Mark by 8:50. Dinner reservations were at 9. A failure of parenting 102. However long you think things will take, double it

     I made Taylor accompany me to the station where the most infamous shooting in Oakland took place only 1 year ago. Good times. Things turned out not be quite as scary as I pictured. There was a 50 year old whore trying to get some action, a totally drunk old man singing into a can, and several people who have apparently been told different things by Jesus himself vying for my attention, but overall, the Fruitvale station is harmless. The train was crowded, but this turned out to be a perk since the empty seat I took up happened to be next to a hot young environmentalist from San Jose. He was drinking something alcoholic out of a Sprite bottle which I was happy for, since I am quite sure the beer goggles were the only reason conversation was striking. Turns out he's from the Midwest so we even shared common ground. I was just about to laugh heartily and bat my eyes at one of his jokes when the first of many phone calls came through. 

"Mom, this is Ashley. The car just died. Like everything just turned off." 
"Where are you?"
"On the side of the road somewhere."

     And so it begins. 

     I would spend the duration of the trip, save for the final stretch where BART goes under water and I lose phone service, talking to her about how to handle the situation. She and my son had dropped me off at Fruitvale. Thankfully, they made it back on the island before things went bad. They were now close to home, but the car wasn't exactly parked in a legal space, and further instructions were required. As I lost service, I told her to call her Dad and fill him in. The remaining 4 minutes of my ride would be devoted to listening about some stupid bird that needs a specific kind of tree which apparently some assholes are chopping down. Blah blah blah. But it didn't matter what he said. He was pretty.) 

     When I arrived at Montgomery station, I didn't know where my ticket was (first time ever riding BART. Someone might have mentioned to me you need your ticket to get both on and off.) I ended up having to dump out my purse in order to find it while all the locals walked past me with that "Tourist" scowl across their faces. I used the wrong escalator to get up to the street level and Mark was nowhere to be found. It took me about 10 minutes to decide to go back in a look for another set of stairs on the opposite side of the tunnel. There he was. Duh. He is on the phone with Ashley. It's 9pm. We still have a bus to take. 

     The miracle in all of this is that somewhere, somehow, back in our days apart, Mark actually listened to me when I told him to add road side emergency to my insurance policy. We called Geico and help for Ashley was finally on the way. 

     The bus was thankfully running late, and as the conversation about our idiot kids got heated, Mark looked at me with that "Done" look in his eye. It was time to focus on us. I changed the conversation to housework. Is there even a "me" in here anymore? 9:10. Where is this bus?? My phone rang again. Between Mark and I this must have been about the 9th call we received so far that evening. As I looked at the screen I was surprised not to see Ashley displayed, but rather Winne. 

"Hi Winnie."
"Mom? Where's Ashley?"
"The car broke down. They will be home shortly."

     I completely forgot to call Win and let her know that her brother and sister were delayed. The last thing we said at 8:15 when we left the house was that they would return in just a few minutes. Here were were an hour later. I can hear Avion screaming in the background.

"I can't find a bottle." 
"Well, look for it."
"I did."
"Well look harder!"
"I DID!"
"I don't know what you want me to do, Winnie. He needs a bottle and to be put to bed. You're just going to have to find it. I couldn't come home in the next few minutes even if I wanted to." 
(Did I now want to?)
"Fine. Whatever, Mom."  Click.

     So let's recap. My car is broken down somewhere in Alameda and my 2 teenagers are in charge of somehow fixing this situation. My infant is screaming and the tween in charge of him cannot locate anything to feed him with. Oh, and we were beginning to run ridiculously late for our reservations. Maybe the whole night was a mistake. But we pressed forward.

     Mark missed our stop by a few which put us in a pretty seedy part of town. We would have to walk back through a herd of drug dealers and prostitutes. A bum across the street was yelling obscenities at everyone passing him by. I actually found this funny. I kept my purse under my coat, and chose not to make another call to check in at home until we got to our destination. 

"Hi. Welcome to Le Colonial."
"Hi. We have a reservation. Smith. 2."
"Smith... Smiiiiiiiiiith. Hmmmmm. Smith, Smith, Smith. I'm sorry. No Smith."

     Well this just fucking figures.

"I made reservations a couple of hours ago online." 
(Breathe. Don't punch her in the throat.)
"Oh it's fine. We can squeeze you in."

     Finally. Aside from the hottie little bird man on the train, this was the first thing to go right that evening. We called Winnie, she had found the bottle. We called Ashley, Geico was taking care of her.  The Universe was at last aligning with us, and just to say she was sorry for our evening thus far, said Universe took away phone service at Le Colonial. Thank you. 

     Dinner was amazing and afterward we walked to Union Square to see the Christmas lights and ice rink. By 11pm we were both exhausted and headed back to BART where Mark fell asleep and almost missed our stop. We had to take a cab home, but that wasn't too bad as I convinced my husband to stop briefly at our friend's 80's prom themed birthday party (she's 28) just to say hello before walking the final few blocks home.

     Overall, despite our rocky start, the evening was great. I'm looking forward to this weekend when my best friend from Chicago is coming to town. Already on the to-do list is a walk through the beatnik section of North Beach, a hair raising trolley ride down the steepest side of the city, and a visit to the Castro for a photo op in Harvey Milk Plaza under the rainbow flag. Oh yes! For more on my adventures of city discovery, I have started a new blog:


     This is strictly my travels in and around San Francisco. There won't be any swearing, or gut spilling. No sob stories or pregnancy scares. This is just a nuts and bolts "travel" blog with much focus on eating since I love food! If you want to visit SF it could be entertaining and informative once I really get going.

     And on that note, I have a house to clean, lunch to make, a pine box derby car to design, 25 gifts to paint and a toddler to play with. 

Hear that? It's the sound of me being happy.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Falling in love with life part 4

An Unexpected Arrival

There I was, on the verge of going into labor...

     This isn't just a story of life making its grand entrance into the world, though that in itself is enough to write whole chapters about. No, this is a story of people coming together for the love of a child and the support of one very lucky woman. Me. 

     I have this little sidebar from parenting that revolves entirely around women and birth. If I were to pinpoint my life altering moment that thrust me onto this path, it would have to be the birth of my darling Gwenyth Christian, better known by most of you as Winnie. After 2 horrifying hospital experiences where I endured everything from being shaved, to having my vagina cut open in order to make more room for a baby (if you haven't had the pleasure of an episiotomy, you haven't lived) to being whisked out a mere 12 hours after delivering without once being taught how to breastfeed my child, I turned my attention to home birthing. I'm not sure why, but there was a hole in my life from not having experienced birth the way I truly wanted to. Completely naturally. It was May 8 1998 when Winnie made her way (painfully) into the word at 12:22 am in my house in Burbank, California, and my life would never be the same. 

     Aside from the obvious wonderment of having a new baby, something inside of me had completely changed. I felt like a warrior; like the most powerful amazing human being that ever walked the planet. It was pure euphoria and it lasted for weeks after her birth. It was as if someone removed the fog from the lens and I was seeing myself with raw clarity. There were several people in my life who supported me in that incredible moment. The midwives from Home Birth Services and our childbirth educator, Julie, are at the top of that list. Apart from the surge of emotions running through me, another thing happened in the weeks following Winnie's entrance; I realized that I wanted to help women who were on, or wanted to be on, that very same journey. And so began my life as a childbirth educator/doula and lactation specialist. Though I haven't yet had the opportunity to put my skills to use in the way I really want to, I hope to one day open a business here in the bay area solely for the support of a woman's journey through birth. A place you can go to find classes, massage, photography and friendship, but alas, I am getting sidetracked. This story is about Avion Blue and the incredible people that stood by my side as I brought him into this world more than 2 weeks before he was expected.

     Note. You need to know here that I have never delivered early. Not one day. In fact, Taren thought it was so nice and cozy in my belly that she stuck around a whole 3 weeks beyond her due date.
    
     Ugh- Camber just got into a jar of peanut butter and painted the baby with it. Why do I blog during the day???

     Ok- all clean. Where was I? Ah yes, the beginning, I believe. Let's review.

     I had moved from Chicago Friday, the 21st of May and was now literally homeless and stuffed into my parents 2 bedroom house in Lake Elsinore (about 75 miles outside of Los Angeles) with 6 of my kids and an enormous belly. I had a game plan, though, and that game plan involved making it to San Francisco on the 6th of June (4 days prior to my due date) with a yet undelivered baby Blue still inside. We had a midwife from Alameda on call from the 6th of June until I delivered and I felt extremely confident that we would make it to that date just fine. In addition, just for added protection, I had a midwife near my parents ready to go just in case. But I wasn't going to have a "just in case." I was making it to San Francisco, dammit! On Monday, the 24th of May, the kids (minus Ashley who was now living in Biloxi with Nick and minus Taylor who was still acting like a piece of shit from being forced to move) and I went down to Redondo Beach to stay with one of my best friends, Jeff, for a couple of days. I love southern California with a passion. In particular, Redondo Beach. I grew up there, and everything about it still feels like home. It was a very welcome feeling during a time when everything was unsettled and home no longer existed for me. I spent the following few days running around the South Bay, visiting friends, and introducing my kids to the magnificence that is the Pacific Ocean. 









And of course, Mama and her big belly...


     I remember feeling slightly out of sorts and contracting a lot during this time, but mostly Braxton Hicks (practice) contractions and nothing too painful. I figured I was dehydrated and just started increasing my water intake. That evening, I met another best friend of mine, Darren, and his wife for dinner at Islands (yum yum yum, try the teriyaki burger. Vegetarian? Just ask for a meatless patty!) in Manhattan Beach. I remember really feeling out of sorts now. I think I even mentioned to him that I was concerned about "making it" much longer. We cut our night short, due in part to how I was feeling, but mostly because the kids were acting like completely unruly little assholes and the entire restaurant was giving me that "You're a shitty Mom" face. As we left, Darren said "If you need anything, I'm not working tomorrow. Anything at all." Let's pause at this moment, friends. These are things we say to each other all the time, but here I was... about to need this man more than I think I ever have in my life. I don't know that I would have called him if he hadn't said this. It's nice just to reflect. It makes me smile. 

     Ok- TMI- but then again this post is about a birth so if you've gotten this far you must know what you're in for. I got back to Jeff's by about 8pm and got the kids settled in for the night. I would be going back to my parents place the following day and Jeff was headed to Texas with his cousin. Once the house was quiet, I hopped in the shower and noticed that I was beginning to bleed a little bit. Uh-oh. Now, I never knew what kind of denial I was capable of, but even at this moment I was thinking "I could still have weeks" which, in general, can be true. But not for me. The only time I see anything like that is when labor begins. I decided that just in case, I would go online and find a baby friendly hospital nearby. I tried contacting the midwife near my parents. She never returned my calls. 

     So... where's Mark? At this point I hadn't seen Mark in over a month. He was still living in the Bay Area, and even though he had plans to come fetch us in SoCal, it wouldn't be for another 2 weeks. Instead, Mark had traveled to Chicago on Saturday, May 22 to oversee the move. He had just returned to San Francisco the evening of the 25th right around the time I was getting out of the shower at Jeff's. It was at that point that I texted him to say that I wasn't too sure I was going to be pregnant much longer. He brushed it off telling me to get more rest. After all, we have never had a baby early. Not one day.

     It was about 6am the morning of the 26th when I knew it. Real labor is one of those feelings you just never replicate in life. I always tell people that if they have to ask "Is this it?" it's not. I remember trying to force myself to sleep more because it was going to be a long day. One of the unfortunate things for me is that despite my enormous family, labor tends to be long. In fact, it seems the more I have the longer it lasts. Days usually. Never really kicking into gear, so to speak. My wonderful midwife in Chicago, Sarah, once said to me that labor is like a marathon. The last month is the steady running, while labor is just the final sprint. I like that analogy. This was feeling a little different, though. By 9am I was starting to panic. It seemed pretty obvious to me now that getting back to Lake Elsinore to have a home birth at my parents place was going to be out of the question. Furthermore, the midwife in that area still had yet to return my calls. I now needed to actively look for a hospital. There was one nearby that I trusted, but without a shred of paperwork on me (labs, prenatal visits, ultrasounds etc.) I was going to be treated like I had the plague and not given many options in terms of low intervention. I was gearing up mentally to fight the system when I had an idea of who I could turn to. My childbirth educator, Julie. She would know where I should go. 

     Julie and I had been in touch on and off over the 12 years since Winnie's birth. By this time she had become more of a mentor to me, helping me make decisions on where to study childbirth and how to teach a class. I leaned on her from time to time for advice and support as I continued my education toward becoming a professional. We talked for a brief moment that morning about hospitals in the area, doctors we both knew, and people who might allow me to be drug free in birth. We were both concerned. Julie settled on Cedars as my best choice. Even though they weren't technically a baby friendly hospital (hospitals that believe in the mother/child bonding experience - for more- http://www.babyfriendlyusa.org/) they did have many doctors on staff who supported natural childbirth and mother/infant bonding. Then Julie paused. 


"Dia, you can have your baby here.
If you can find a midwife, you can have your baby in my home."

Did someone just offer me her home to give birth in? Yes. That just happened. There was only one midwife I knew. Leslie Stewart. 

      "Good morning, Home Birth Services, Cheryl speaking."
"Hi Cheryl. I'm not sure if you remember me. This is Dia Smith."
"Who?"
"Dia Smith. Oh, I think you had me in your files as Dia O'Brien."
"DIA! How funny. We were JUST talking about you a week or so ago and the video you made for us of children at birth. How are you?"
"Well, actually, I'm in labor." 

     It took Cheryl (lay midwife) and Leslie about 15 questions and 15 minutes to say yes, citing the amount of home births I had since last seeing them, the fact that I was a previous client, and most importantly, Julie's willingness to allow me to use her home. If she was on board, so were they. Now I needed to ditch the kids and hitch a ride 25 miles north to Hollywood in labor. 

The very next phone call I made was to Mark. 

"You need to get on a plane to Los Angeles."
"What? I haven't even gone to work yet."
"Mark, this is happening."
"Ok- tell me how long we have. In terms of days."
"DAYS? Are you crazy!! Get your ass on a plane NOW!"

The next call was to Darren.

"Hello?"
"Hey. Remember how you said that if I needed anything I could call?"
"Yes."
"I need you."
"Anything!"
"I need you to go sit on the tarmac at LAX and wait for my husband. He may not make his son's birth."

     I spent the next few hours getting things in order. My parents were driving in to pick up Declan, Shaylon and Camber. Winnie and Taren would be going to Julie's with me to be at the birth. My girlfriend, Sam, was driving in from Los Angeles to pick me up and get me out to Valley Village. And I was progressing. Fast. 

     Mark had booked a 3:30pm flight. I don't think he quite understood because he said he needed to go into the office to talk to his team. Thankfully, when he got there and told them he would be cutting out early due to his wife being in labor, one of the designers said "What the hell are you doing here?" This seemed to knock some sense into him. He booked a 12:30pm flight. He was due to arrive at 1:45. 

     By 11am my parents had arrived, the kids were packed into their car, and Sam was on hand loading my bags and girls into hers. Getting down the stairs was difficult. I said goodbye to Jeff and thanked him for his hospitality. We laughed. Only me The drive was thankfully uneventful save for a few really hard contractions that sent me spinning. Los Angeles was being kind and saving its traffic jams for some other pour soul that day. 

     We arrived at Julie's at 12:30. After 12 years, she looked exactly as I remembered her. We embraced and laughed a little, then she took me into the bedroom she had now set up for giving birth. It was incredible. I literally had everything I needed from supplies and diapers to blankets and outfits for avion. The only thing I had with me for this moment was a hat I purchased in Barrington with a little airplane on it which I had been carrying with me since I left. But Julie had the rest. The room I was to give birth in was special. It had seen birth some 20 odd years prior when Julie herself brought her daughter, Jennifer, into the world. Everything was perfect. And so now, we waited.

     Cheryl arrived at 1pm and checked me. 4cm. For those of you who don't know, you need to get to 10. Usually 4 means you have a long wait, but I could tell. Things were moving. The contractions were monsters. It wasn't going to be long.

 
Cheryl

Julie

     I couldn't have been more right. By 1:30 when Mark checked in from the airport, I was 8cm. He wasn't going to make it. It was at this moment that I laid down on my left side and didn't move. I wasn't going to have this baby without Mark. Period. So I stopped "working". I became very still and kept my body as relaxed as possible, thinking to myself that Mark would make it; willing Avion to slow down.

     What I didn't know was that while I was busy holding that baby in, Darren and Mark were busy getting lost. Even with a GPS, these two managed to not find the house. It seems that Julie's address exists in 2 separate parts of Los Angeles. One being the Wilshire district and the other being Valley Village. They chose to follow Darren's GPS which directed them to Wilshire rather than Mark's which would have taken them to Valley Village, and subsequently...me. Time was ticking by.

     My efforts were working. After dilating 4 cm in one hour, I had managed to slow it down to only 1 cm between 2:15 and 3:15. I was now at 9. Everything was challenging. The fast and furious nature of the contractions were wearing me out. I wanted to get up, to walk, to let my body do what it knows how to do and get this baby out! Only 1 thing was missing. Mark.

     He landed at 1:32 and it was now 3:15. What the hell? Every few minutes I would hear someone update me. "He's almost here." "They're 3 miles away." And yet, nothing. Leslie was allowing me to lie there in pain as long as I wanted, but it was beginning to get the best of me. Finally, I had had enough. It was time to get this baby out.

     Mark walked in the door at 3:40, just as my resolve was made to start pushing. Julie and a few other people had waved them in like a 747 coming in for a landing from a few blocks away. It was a sigh of relief to see him.

"You beat the baby!"






     10 Minutes later...



Avion Blue 3:52pm 5lbs 13oz

Cheryl

So glad he made it!

The man who got him there

The woman who got ME there

The women who got Blue there

And of course, the woman who so generously gave me the opportunity to have a home birth, who took us in for 3 days, cooking and cleaning and never once asking for anything in return.. 
Julie.

     It just so happens that Avion arrived in her home during what would have otherwise been a very difficult time for Julie. 11 years ago her son was taken from her brutally and she has missed him terribly since. Avion would arrive on Terry's birthday making Julie's home a happier place than it may have otherwise been. The universe rocks!

     And there lies the story of 5 beautiful people who rallied to our sides the afternoon of May 26, making Avion's birth a reunion, a gathering, an a true homecoming. In a way I never imagined, my life had come full circle. I left Los Angeles months after giving birth to Winnie and came home to have Avion. Chicago and the 2 years of darkness were behind me. Almost.

     As it so happens, the 2 years of living apart would make it more challenging to put "us" back together than I could have imagined...

     


     

    

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Falling in love with life part 3

The In between Days

I'm on the verge of falling in love with life... again...

     And right now "on the verge" feels very appropriate. Today started off so well. I felt rested and got a lot of my housework done before 11am. I had just finished cleaning up after lunch and was about to sit down to continue this part of my blog when the doorbell rang. A man I do not know stood there with two huge stacks of paper. "Mark or Dia Smith?" He asked. I knew it instantly. I was being served my foreclosure papers. 

     The weight of this moment is enormous. It is sad, and helpless. It's really going to be gone. A waterfall of tears just ran down my face and I can hardly see as I type right now. My home. Gone. The birth place of Shaylon and Camber. Gone. Our life's work. Gone. I have few words at the moment. Just sadness. I know we did the right thing. I know a home is where these people are, but any words of comfort you may have for me are lost. This is real, and part of me is ok with just being in this sadness and really grieving what is happening to us. 

     So right now, as was oringinally planned but has now become a very welcome distraction, I am going to continue with this post and tell you all about the in between days. I suppose I am in the right mood for this, the very last of my darkness before the world finally turned, giving way to a sunshine I had almost forgotten existed.

     May 20th was a clusterfuck. We were to leave our house at 5pm and fly out of O'hare somewhere around 7:30 if memory serves. I left Ashley behind in what I can only describe as a mix of joy and sadness. Joy that she would be starting her new adventure which would soon land her across the world, and sadness that I had no real idea as to when I might see her or my grandson again. 6 humans, one human on board, 2 dogs, 3 car seats, 1 pack and play, one Nintendo Wii system, and a thousand bags took up all of 2 minivan cabs we ordered. Traffic was terrible. I should have left earlier. But the real ordeal came at O'hare when we tried to check the dogs in. I have no clue what my $500 paid for, but no one seemed to know what to do with these animals. It took forever just to get someone at the counter. When it came time to pay, Bank of America decided someone had stolen my card and was on the run, thus disallowing the charge to go through. Another 30 minutes on the phone with them to get it approved and now, the lovely people at United Airlines refuse to process our dogs stating that it is too late to get them on the flight. 2 choices arise. Leave Taylor with the dogs to get on a flight the following morning or go back to Barrinton with everyone and try again tomorrow. I should have chosen the latter. 

     Now you have to run this part of the story in fast motion in your mind in order to understand how chaotic it was. 15 minutes til take off. Our flight is in concourse 'C' which is a half mile away. 

Aaaaaand GO! 

     Run through security, shoes flying everywhere. Unstrap Camber, take Camber out, fold his stroller, run it through the machine, unfold, re-insert child. Turn on my computer, turn it off. Shoes back on (almost) all of the kids and running through the terminal. Down an escalator. Count the kids. 1, 2, 3, 4... 4??? I left Taylor behind with the dogs, Ashley has moved with Nick.. I know I have 7 kids. Shit!!! Shaylon is crying at the top of the escalator because he is too scared to come down. Now people are staring with my very favorite stare. "Oh my God. Stop breeding. These poor kids. Look at that asshole Mom." Some stranger brings Shay down. I don't care. A quick thank you and we're off again. Running. Remember, I am 9 months pregnant. 3 of the 5 kids are now crying. The car seat meant for Camber to sit in during the flight weighs about 15lbs. It's starting to suck as it bangs hard against my shins. Up a flight of stairs because I can't risk Shay getting stuck again and around a corner. Almost there. Car seat slips, I trip, dumping the stroller with Cam in it. Luckily he is ok. I am going to have a bruise. Brush it off. Running again. Round the final corner to find....... no plane. No passengers. No moving on May 20th. Plop my tired, pregnant, sweaty self on the floor and begin to sob. People are really staring now and I think I snapped at someone at that moment. I waited 2 years to get on that fucking plane. I was going to feel sorry for myself and have a little cry right then and there. Ok. Breathe.Composure comes and we make our way back; slowly this time. I find Taylor who has already booked us on the 6:30am flight and we go through the process of finding a cab home. I now only have 1 of my 3 car seats as the other two actually made the flight along with Camber's bed which meant I had nowhere to sleep him. I decide to only pay for 1 minivan ($150) which really doesn't have enough room for us, but since I lack car seats, I double up a couple kids in the back and proceed to head back to Barrington in a completely unsafe and illegal fashion. 11pm. It takes an hour to get Camber to bed without his pack n play. Unable to find my phone from earlier that day, which is my only source for an alarm, I would end up pulling an all nighter watching repeats of Glee on Hulu in order to ensure we made our 4am cab. 

     4am. no sleep. Pack up another cab (this is our 3rd in 12 hours) Wake up sleeping kids who are now screaming and load them up. It's cold, it's black, and it's raining. I've never craved straight whiskey before in my life. Dogs, check. Kids 1-2-3-4-5-6, check. 

Aaaaaand GO!

     A second round of issues with checking the dogs in, and we barely make the 6:30 am flight. After so diligently choosing our seats for the flight the night before, our family had become subject to whatever was available that morning. Camber and I were together. The woman next to me refused to give up her aisle seat so that Taren could sit with us, so she got stuck in the middle of two huge men in the seat in front of me and was now crying her eyes out. The two boys were directly behind me, and the man next to them refused to give up his window for Taren as well. (What is with people?) Turned out to be a wrong move. I wouldn't sit next to Declan and Shaylon on a plane if it weren't for the fact that some law somewhere says I have to. The man would later find an empty seat somewhere else on the flight. Winnie and Taylor are nowhere near us, but instead, ended up in single seats somewhere nearer the front of the aircraft. They are big kids. I didn't sweat it.

     We finally made it to Los Angeles somewhere around 10 am where my parents met us and took us 65 miles away to their beautiful home in Lake Elsinore. Since I had last seen my Mom 2.5 years prior, she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. I worried about how she would look, but it turns out she was doing better than I thought. The plan was to stay with them until the movers packed our house, loaded the van and hauled our stuff 2,127 miles from Barrington to Alameda; somewhere in the vicinity of 2 weeks. Mark would be traveling to Chicago for the weekend to oversee the move. Our reunion would have to wait. 

     And so there we were. A very pregnant me, Taylor (who is extremely rebelious and hates me for making him move) Winnie (who is homesick and cries a lot) Taren (who is missing her friends) Declan, Shaylon and Camber (who really don't care. They just want to chase the lizards outside my parents house) all packed into my mother and father's tiny 2 bedroom home. We were literally homeless. And just in case things weren't interesting enough, we were about to get an early arrival...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beam me up, Scotty!


     Before I continue with my semi-depressing yet swear-on-my-life-it-will-have-a-happy-ending post titled "Falling in love with life again", I want to interject with my rant on some recent events.  

I'm on the verge of never leaving the house again... 


     Having just returned from another glorious 14 hour road trip (both ways) to Los Angeles, I can honestly say that traveling with even just 6 of them totally sucks. Someone needs to invent that thing on Star Trek so we can beam ourselves everywhere we want to go. Travel would be fast, and we could even check in on our left-behind teenagers from time to time. But, alas, it's me and a car full of whiners.

     Now, I have to interject with something because I can already hear you saying "If life is so hard with this many, then why did you have them?" Fair question. We did this to ourselves. We aren't like Jon and Kate who got thrown 6 at once. We could have stopped this nonsense many humans ago. So for the record, I adore these people and my life absolutely rocks because of them. I would have it no other way. That said, if you have kids and don't think they are a total pain in the ass at times, then you're doing something wrong; have them tested for lithium abuse. I come here to vent about the moments of pure chaos, not the in between times when they are perfect angels and doing everything right. Let's face it. it's just not that interesting, and no one gives a rat's ass about a child getting an 'A' on her spelling test. It's moments like being flipped off by your tween as you drop her off for school this morning that are entertaining. (Oh, yes. that happened.)

     But where was I? Ah, yes. Traveling. Having lived for so long away from the place I truly call home, I am trying to get out to the real South Bay as often as I can. My best friends live there and my Mom and Dad are a stone's throw away. We've managed to make the trip about once a month and this last weekend was the October installment. The plan was to leave at 9am on Thursday getting us to our hotel in Torrance by check-in time at 4pm. Reality-11:45am we got on the road. This was a failure of parenting 101- lower your expectations. We did manage our best time yet of 6.5 hours door to door due in part to a gadget which allowed me to plug my electric breast pump into the cigarette lighter. Side effect of doing so? Every trucker on route 5 has seen my boobs. And not a pretty version of them either (does that exist after 8 kids?), but rather them being contorted into the shape of a cone as they are sucked into a vacuum. Serves those boys right for looking. We stopped once for food which was In-N-Out and gave Declan a tummy ache. There would be many more stops from this point on. 

     Check in is never easy. Even without the dogs, who were supposedly being watched by my idiot 17 year old (more on this in a bit), our car was brimming with stuff. How many things does Avion need to be carried in or sit upon? Apparently quite a few. We got a pretty decent room on the 2nd floor overlooking the pool. This would prove to be a negative, however, when the 3rd noise complaint came through on day 2 and we were forced to move to a ground-floor room in a different building. The woman below us didn't seem to appreciate the drum beats the boys were making with their feet. Go figure. 

     Thursday night was perfect. Sushi and karaoke with some nearby friends and a trip out to Hermosa 2nd street, where I basically lived every summer of high school. There's something about being on the beaches of the Pacific; the vast empty grey stretching out as far as your eye can see while the wind force feeds you its salty perfume. Almost heaven. ( I totally want to write: "West Virginia. Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River" If you're under 35, just copy and Google.) 

     Now, for some reason the kids have started to really use what every parent obnoxiously calls "Potty mouth". So a good portion of the weekend was trying to curb things like:

     Taren to me- "Shaylon won't stop grabbing his junk" 

     Ok. The first time I heard it, I laughed, too. But after the 4th or 5th time, it was getting a little too white trash for me and time to call it quits. Declan said the 'F' word and then tried to tell me it was the other F word, quickly making up a random series of "ffffffhiieehrr" noises. He took a time out. Now I know what you're thinking. How can I expect them not to use bad language when I have my moments right in front of them? Simple. I am the Mom. It's not an equal world and somewhere along the line we as parents forgot this. They can't do the things you do because they are kids! One of the perks about being an adult is that you get to do whatever you want and they don't. Didn't you wait all your life for this moment? Don't you remember when you thought you would eat cake and ice cream all day and night once you were the grown up because you could? Well, saying fuck is my cake. And they can't have any. It's not like I use it on a regular basis. I don't pick them up from school and ask "How the f**k was your day?" But I don't deny myself the occasional slip. They totally understand that you can't say those words and for the most part, the don't. Declan prefers the all annoying "Uuuuuuuuuuuuugh" (Insert rolling eyes and crossed arms here) and Shay just likes to whine. 

    So overall, despite a few typical set backs, the actual time in Torrance went off without a hitch. As usual, we robbed the hotel blind on their free breakfast and spent a lot of time at the pool. And then came the dreaded repacking and drive back up to San Francisco. 

     Sidebar- Are handicapped stalls only for the handicapped? It says "Handicap accessible" on the outside, not "Handicap only". Are you with me? We stopped at McDonald's somewhere in the God forsaken San Juaquin Valley because Taren and I really needed to go. There were 3 stalls and one was occupied so she and I took the other two; hers just happened to be the handicapped stall. When we got out, there was a small line which included an elderly woman with absolutely no upper teeth. This is irrelevant to the story, but kind of funny for visual imagery. She isn't in a wheelchair, she's just waning toward decrepit. So there we are drying our hands under the air blaster when I notice she's talking in my direction. I then wait for the blower to cease only to be bombarded by her complaints regarding my daughter's use of the handicap stall. I kindly said "It's ok to use them when there is no one else here." She kept going. I told her for a second time that there was no one in the bathroom when we arrived and that my 8 year old really had to pee. More complaining. If she had no bottom teeth would her gums actually make a flapping sound? I finally told her that she could have been done going to the bathroom by now and happily munching away at her Big Mac (It's ok. I think it's soft enough for her) back at her table with whatever pour soul brought her here. She then begins to rummage through her purse telling me she has her sticker with her like I actually give two shits. When did I become the bathroom police? And when did they start requiring you to present a sticker in order to pee? Finally, she looks at me and with all sincerity and says "Well, you made me wait!" To which I replied "Yes. It's called real life." Slap me if I act this when when I'm 90.

     Dinner on the way home was at some odd pea soup place with a windmill and a bathroom larger than my whole house. The kids got spaghetti and ice cream sundaes. We found two hairs in them. Time to leave. Tipped 15% for the first time in quite a while.

     Ok. New segment. Lesson- Tipping is a standard 20% and should go either up or down from there based on performance. Yes, folks. 20%. If the service is over the moon, go up to 25. If it is so-so (i.e. hair in your ice cream, no discount on said ice cream, but otherwise decent service) down to 15%. And for those of you that don't tip. You suck. You should work in the service industry at least once in your life. Done.

     Now the fun part of the trip actually came when we got home. Teenagers are assholes. Period. Ashley has outgrown her assholishness, but Taylor is livin large in the thick of it. Out of either hope or sheer stupidity, we allowed him to stay home alone for the weekend and take care of the dogs. Win-win. He gets to prove himself and we get our dogs looked after. He had a few chores he needed to do (clean the kitchen, empty the garbage and then maintain things), but otherwise, the house was his. I was about 2 feet in the door when the smell hit me. It was a sickening combination of Axe body spray and rotten food making my eyes actually water as I held back the urge to gag. The kitchen was destroyed. The unemptied garbage still contained raw sausage from Thursday morning. I knew where the rotting part of the stench came from. The Axe, on the other hand, was coming from the living room where he attempted to use it to spray what I can only describe as a North Korean-sized army of ants into demise. When this didn't work, he turned to Pledge. The floors are now 1/2 inch thick with oily lemony ant carcasses. Shaylon slipped on his butt. And where's Taylor? Oh, he's sleeping. Wake him up, tell him to help unload the car which he does quickly in order to return to his room and get on his computer. Mark notices that said computer, bought for him as a gift by another family member quite recently, is different. Douchy tells him he sold that one. BTW- it isn't even paid off yet. By now I'm growing furious at the condition of my kitchen and tell Mark to just make Taylor come up and deal with it. Taylor refuses, citing stress. The talking turns into yelling and Winnie and I can make out words like "I don't care" and "Asshole" coming from his room. I opened the Barefoot sauvignon blanc. Mark and I decide that it doesn't matter. We will clean it up and never leave him alone again. This morning I found a used condom on my bathroom floor.

     Well, at least he didn't make me a grandma again.

     
     

     

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Falling in love with life part 2

     You know, the downside to raising your kids to handle hearing the word "penis" without freaking out is that said child will use the word penis any and every chance he gets. Yesterday:

Declan at 8am looking out the car window- "That dog's penis is bouncing."
4pm at Trader Joes- "Mom, if I have an itchy penis do I need cream?"
6pm at home. Singing at the dinner table. "Penis penis penis."
Time to ban the word penis.


     I am still on the verge of falling in love with life...again...

     When I ended my last blog by saying I've never looked back, I wasn't entirely accurate in that statement. Aside from obvious connections to friends in Chicago, the only even remotely sad part about walking away from my old life and putting my family back together is the loss of our beautiful home. (God knows I won't miss the weather.) Foreclosure sucks. I try not to think about the damage my credit score (once 750) has taken from all of this. Perspective, Dia. We are all together. But 614 Division St. in Barrington, Illinois is a little slice of architectural heaven. The saving grace in this is that we decided to leave. Unlike so many unfortunate Americans, the foreclosure is not a decision the bank made for us. But the outcome remains the same.

     2 weekends ago we had a yard sale. Having moved a 5 bedroom with a full basement into a 4 bedroom with no basement had left us a little cramped, and so it was time to shed the layers. It was also time to let go of some of the things that were holding me to that house more than I needed to be. After all it is just stuff, right?

     We started unpacking the final boxes crammed into our currently unusable laundry room Friday evening. Since we had been here for more than 4 months, the basics for living had already been unloaded. These boxes held the magical nick-nacks and miscellaneous items that turn one's house into a home: Plaques that read "Dream" or "Believe", shelves that once held tiny pictures of a first kiss, or a first bath. Countless Polynesian pieces painstakingly acquired over several years to create the perfect island paradise in my girls' room. Initially, everything went into the "keep" pile. It felt good to put them there. But even I knew the time was coming, and when Mark finally said we had to whittle it down, I reluctantly dived in. The thing about my house in Illinois is that it was 100% me. Not only in terms of style, but I mean literally, I built every cornice, sewed every curtain, painted every wall. I even built the ornate wainscoting in my bed and dining rooms, and installed 2 toilets, 2 sinks, 2 floors, a dishwasher and a water line. And when I say I did this... I mean I did this. Often while PREGNANT! Don't ever let Mark tell you he's the handy one :) I can use a miter saw, a circular saw, a jigsaw, a nail gun, I know what Teflon tape is for, I understand how to install crown molding. Properly. I built the planters under our outside windows and painted the shutters the periwinkle blue I became so fond of. I planted a garden, built and installed a children's playset and helped my dad add our 5th bedroom to the basement. It was my baby and I loved it. Just typing this makes me miss it so much. If I could have one wish right now, it would be to transplant it right where I am sitting so that I don't have to lose it. But it's not to be, and very soon, the foreclosure process will begin. 

The small umbrella cherry blossom tree is planted over 3 of our kids' placentas. It blooms the same time of year they were born.

It only took me 11 times to paint this room. Yes, I said 11. Apparently I don't like green.

My bedroom where both Shaylon and Camber were born.

The girls' room.

Dining room

Boys' room

Mark and I had several fights building that thing! LOL!

My favorite time of year in our home.

     It's weird. Just looking at these pictures makes me feel like that is my home. I have yet to feel that way about the actual building I currently live in. After all, it isn't mine. In any sense of the word. 

     But for a long time, this house was my enemy. I hated it with a passion because it was the thing keeping us apart; my life's burden, my shoulder weight, my fall from grace. And on May 21st 2010, I didn't even shed a single tear leaving it behind in the rainy blackness of a cold Chicago morning. Good fucking riddance. (Maybe I do like the "F" bombs??) But I immediately missed it when the vastness that is San Francisco began to swallow me whole. 

     There was still a place of darkness between O'Hare and Alameda; a lingering depression I just couldn't shake. Years of being beaten down pressing against me and the sadness of picking up what little life I had and relocating it was more permeable than I had imagined. Saying goodbye is never easy and there are some incredibly beautiful people living in Chicago this very moment. People I found it almost unbearable to be apart from during those first couple of months in my new home. Pulling through it was going to be harder than expected...