Dear People Without Kids…

You know, it truly amazes me the things I hear while out in the wild. Humanity never ceases to astound me with its unintentional ignorance, cluelessness, and constant comic relief. In the wake of another holiday season gone, I find myself reflecting on the utter insanity I’ve witnessed in the last ten or so days. I’ve watched good friends pitied for not having children. I’ve watched other good friends ridiculed for using their pets as surrogates. I’ve watched still others point and laugh at those of us who do have children as if we’ve developed some sort of plague.

I started writing the following awhile back, but never got around to posting it for the simple fact that it didn’t feel right at the time. Now it does, because it perfectly explains everything I want to say to all sides…even if I am saying it to those of the childless persuasion.

Dear People Without Kids:

It’s okay to not have children. Really, it is.

For those of you unable to have children for whatever reason, you do have my sympathy and I completely understand if you’ve attained pet-parent status. It’s wonderful that you’ve opened your home and your life to a critter or three, because critters need love, too.  I was a pet parent until recently as well, and I loved my little furbaby as much as I love my human babies. I miss her so much it hurts, even all these months later.

To those who don’t want children, I applaud you for knowing what you want and making it reality. It takes guts to go against society’s expectations and do your own thing. If we’re perfectly honest, I’m a little jealous of you. I envy your freedom. I miss the days when I could go where I wanted when I wanted and stay out all night. I miss being able to watch what I want on television. I miss not dreaming the Doc McStuffins theme song. I used to be able to do the things you do.

Sure, I have to schedule alone time with my husband and arrange for care of my children just to go to work or take a nap. My days consist of runny noses and sticky fingers instead of hors d’oeuvres and martini glasses; finger paints and sandboxes instead of shopping days and coffee shops, and trips to the playground instead of the bar. I know those things don’t appeal to you, and that’s perfectly okay. I used to be like you, rolling my eyes at the people who would tell me how wonderful motherhood was. Even my own mother used to tell me, “It’s different when they’re yours.”

But now that I’m here, they’re right. It is different. And it’s not all bad. I have the three most beautiful children in the world. I might be biased, but it’s true. I also have unconditional love, hugs and kisses, giggles, snuggles, and the privilege of seeing the world through innocent eyes. For me, those things make giving up my freedom worthwhile.

I’m not saying you have to drop what you’re doing and jump on my bandwagon. Quite the opposite, really. I’m saying there are advantages to both sides, and no matter which side of the argument we end up on, it’s the right side. We can live together in harmony. It doesn’t have to be a battle for superiority.

I do have one request though: please be patient with my girls and me. They’re not always going to be quiet, and they aren’t always going to be clean. They’re going to throw down in public and they’re going to get on your nerves. But I’m doing the best I can, really. I’m still pretty new at this and don’t have all the answers. I don’t need condescending comments vaguely directed at me for daring to have a child who makes noise. Contrary to what you may think, they are people. They can hear you. And they do have feelings. That behavior doesn’t help the cause of the childless, and I’m likely going to rip you a new one for being a d-bag to my kids. I really don’t want to do that, because I know you aren’t always so mean. You’re probably just having a bad day and I’m frazzled and overly sensitive. It’s a toxic combination.

So let’s just agree to disagree on what the best course truly is.

Don’t pity me for having children, and I won’t express sympathy over your lack of children. I’m proud of you for going your own way, and I’d appreciate the occasional pat on the back from you for raising children who aren’t serial killers (yet. The jury may still be out on one of them). Just know it takes all kinds to make this crazy world go ’round.

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In Memoriam

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Last week, the world lost a truly special soul.

I had the good fortune to have Brenda in my life for fourteen years. My only regret is that we didn’t become such good friends sooner than we did. She had the biggest heart, and I am so very honored to be able to call her a friend.

Her funeral was this past Tuesday, and there were so many things I wanted to say – things I wanted to tell her family – but I couldn’t do it. Just the thought of voicing everything in my head and heart brought me to tears. It’s hard to express in words how much I love her and how much I’m going to miss her.

I’m also not much for eulogizing. But these are things that need to be said. So bear with me. I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

*

The first thing I was told when I came to work here was simple: “Don’t trust Brenda.”

But nobody could tell me why. I was young, and at the time we had split factions around here. It was kind of a warzone and I was stuck in the middle, everyone hanging around to see which way I’d fall.

I don’t play those games.

Over the years, Brenda and I became friends. Tentative at first, but friendly toward one another. Most of our conversation was superficial, and then one day we had a real conversation. You know, one of those conversations where you really get to see who someone is.

Then one day not long after that, we were good friends. Somewhere in those light conversations about movies and comic books and music, that trust grew. It happened without my knowledge

One afternoon I took her home – this was before I became her regular ride – and we got into a really heavy discussion. I don’t remember what the context was exactly, but it had to do with some racial issue. I made a comment about fair being fair regardless of what someone looked like or what they believed. Brenda just looked at me, and after a minute she said, “You really believe that, don’t you?”

Something changed that day, and shortly thereafter I stopped thinking about her as a coworker, or even a friend. She became family. She and my mother grew into a very tight friendship. She gave my mother the unconditional love she never had from someone outside our family, and though they only had a couple of years together, I’m thankful for that time.

She had this light about her. You always knew exactly where you stood, but even when she was telling you to get the hell out of her office, she was doing it with a smile. She made everyone’s day better just by being in it.

As it turns out, over the years I found she was one of the very few people up here I could trust, and I did so implicitly. She was my rock at work, a beautiful friend with a big heart and a lot of love to give. It never mattered what was going on with her; she always wanted to know what was wrong with us. She took care of us.

I tried to take care of her. As I write this, I feel like such a failure because she’s gone. I know, logically, there’s nothing I can do for a massive heart attack. But I tried. I wanted her to be here so much longer.

I can never remember a time when Brenda wasn’t here. She’s always been a quiet constant in the next office. She had a true passion for her job, and she loved this place. It’ll definitely be an adjustment, and one I’m not looking forward to.

Give and Take: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post

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I’m a Giver.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t know how to say no, who thrives on making people smile, who will run herself into the ground trying to do everything without asking for something in return. We take care of the unwell. We volunteer for all manner of unsavory tasks. We’re fixers, problem solvers. Nurturers. We’re natural-born victims, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

We do it all at our own expense. We don’t know how to say no. Seriously…if something is asked of me, my first inclination is to say okay, to take on yet another task or project (even if I’m already so backed up I’ll never see light again), and try my hardest to accomplish it not on time, but early. This mentality leads to emotional drainage and breakdowns.

givetakeHence my comment about natural-born victims. We aren’t abused in the standard “you suck and you’ll never accomplish anything” way. We smile and nod and even though we’re dying inside, we continue to take on everything, because we live in fear of letting someone down. We allow ourselves to be abused.

Enter the Takers.

The Takers are the ones who give the orders, who make the requests, who feed on our emotion without returning the investment. They’re predators. Parasites. Many people don’t even know they’re takers. They don’t realize what they’re doing, that even though there’s a “thank you” attached to the back end of the request, it’s still a burden which has been placed on someone else. They don’t realize they aren’t giving back.

Some people are just selfish. Those kinds of Takers are the ones who generally inflict the abuse on the Givers. Takers will take until there’s nothing left, just as Givers will give until they’re empty. Takers – the chronic abusers – don’t care who they have to stomp on to get what they want. Don’t get me wrong, Takers can be generous. They can be extremely generous, but it’s done in such a way that it gets them something in return. They give just enough to get it back tenfold. They know how to work the system, to keep the Givers coming back, even if they do it unconsciously.

Takers feed on the energy of Givers to fuel their own selfish desires, to fill their own souls. Some of the closest friends I’ve ever had have been Takers. Those friendships flare bright and burn out fast.

Over the years I’ve learned to identify the Takers pretty quickly. I’m in a position now in my life where I know I need to distance myself from them, and if someone is only interested in what I can do for him or her, then that person is toxic. I’m learning to say no. I’m learning to balance my emotions with others’ expectations. I’m learning to stop apologizing. I’m learning to just walk away. But it hurts to lose friends, because I genuinely care about people. That’s the rub.

Givers will hold onto a dying situation until their light is fully extinguished. It hurts like hell to see I’ve been unfriended on Facebook, particularly by someone I’ve met in person. I’ve had episodes of emotional drainage that have thrown me into serious depression. I’ve contemplated hurting myself over it. I’ve cried so many tears over people and situations that don’t deserve them. But it’s a long game, and I don’t let it win. I know the rules now and I know I’m better than that, and I know that there are others out there who appreciate what I have to give and are willing to give back.

I love to cook, to test and create recipes, and see the satisfaction on the faces of my test subjects when something is good. I’ve taught myself to make all manner of delicacies and sweet treats because those things bring happiness. Even if it’s fleeting, the taste of a warm, flaky croissant with butter will put a smile on anyone’s face. From time to time I bring hand-made cinnamon rolls to work for everyone for breakfast. I like making people happy.

But I’m a busy woman – I have a day job and two little girls who depend on me for everything. I’m running an administrative office by day and a household by night, so there’s little time for just me. I’m pretty damned tough by anyone’s standards, but I can – and do – break. When writing becomes a chore, I know it’s time to step back and reassess. I’m at that point now.givetake2

Confession: I have not completed and published a new piece of fiction since October 2015, when An Improbable Truth came out. Last year I was very pregnant and very sick for a very long time. Subsequently, I only wrote the two short stories last calendar year, and one of those is currently dying in an anthology that was never really promoted. I love that story, and I’m sad that first publication rights were wasted.

I realized too late I was involved with a Taker. I was invited to submit a story to fill a hole in an anthology he was publishing, and asked to step in as a co-editor for one anthology and the editor of another. I jumped at all three offers, excited to be involved in something again. I solicited work from most of my literary friends. Then when the sickness started, I was offline for long periods of time because if I wasn’t at work, I was either caring for my older daughter or sleeping. I tried to meet my obligations, and for reasons often beyond my control, I failed. I lost touch with a lot of people last summer because of that, but afterward I got nearly every one of them back.

I found out through the grapevine I was blamed for many of the issues surrounding the press. I was used as a scapegoat for a failing business that had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t “pulling my weight”, I was told. Then I discovered one day I’d been unfriended. Now because these anthologies and the press itself have withered away into obscurity, I’m trying to get over the fact that I’ve let my friends down, and I led them into disaster. The unfriending just pissed me off.

Bridge burned.

A little of that guilt has been lifted, though. Another publisher friend has started negotiations on something similar, which gives me new hope and eases the pain in my heart. That offer gave something back to me. This same publisher friend has been a ray of light in my life over the last six months, and he will never, ever know how much I love him for his kind words and off-the-cuff encouragement. I need more friends like him in my life. We have the kind of give-and-take relationship we both need.

In closing, my advice for the Givers is this:

  • Learn to say “no”. It’s okay. It’s your right, and your only method of self-preservation. You don’t need to make the world happy, so stop trying. If you can’t do it, admit it and move on.

  • Stop apologizing when you fail. You’re human. Failure doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re going to lose a friend. And honestly, if it does cause a friendship to end, it means that person wasn’t a friend to begin with and you’re better off without them. It’s hard when it ends, but it’s even harder when you hit bottom and your giving gets gone.

  • Assert yourself. DO NOT LET A TAKER BULLY YOU INTO SEEING THINGS THEIR WAY. It’s unhealthy, and Takers need to be put in their places. Have your own back, because there won’t always be someone there to rescue you.

  • Accept Help. When someone offers, take it. It’s hard, yes, but accepting assistance will help refuel your soul. It puts something back so you can refresh and give more.

  • Just Do You. What we need more than anything is emotional balance. Surround yourself with people who care. Do things that invigorate and inspire you. Put yourself in positive situations with positive people. Enjoy yourself and your life. You are worth it, and you spend so much time making others happy that you deserve your own happiness.

 

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight