Summer Camp Blues

(or So. Many. Questions.)

The boys went to an overnight summer camp for two weeks.  I’ve had so many questions I’ve been so excited to ask them.  I tried, I really did, to not ask so many questions.  But it was hard.  I wanted to know all about this fabulous experience and understand their new world, even though I probably am not a welcome visitor in that world.  I’ve tried to respect that and honor that, and yet inquiring minds want to know!!  I just can’t help myself.

Did you have fun?
Did you make new friends?
Who is that blonde kid you are always standing next to?  What’s his name?  Where is he from?
What activities did you like best?
What did you learn?

I really think that for the most part, summer camps, especially southern summer camps, are all very much alike.  There is something that can only be called “camp spirit” that is a living part of this magical experience.  Also, all summer camps smell the same – or at least all baggage and dirty clothes smell the same.  This I confirmed as soon as we got home and I opened the duffle bags.  This makes it easy for camp-people to relate to each other, even if they went to different camps.  This is in part how I knew the boys would have a great time, even though they would not be romping through the same forests and streams that I did as a kid.

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Lagniappe

(or Is This My Home?)

This week I find myself in New Orleans, and so naturally, this idea of “home” continues to plague me.  I’m here for a work meeting, and the city is surprisingly quiet.  I went to Café du Monde on the first night in town and I’ve never seen the place so empty.  Sure it was a Monday night, but even so, the French Quarter was all but deserted.  Perhaps it’s because it was a weekday, or because Mardi Gras season, while technically in effect, isn’t nearly in full swing yet.

img_2978I feel conflicted, in a way, being here.  The last time I was in Louisiana was 8 years ago, to say goodbye to the family home before my parents sold it and moved to another state.  I feel drawn to this city, the stomping ground of my youth, and yet also feel very disconnected from it.  But there are triggers for long-forgotten memories everywhere I look, everywhere I walk.  There is the Aquarium of the Americas, destination of many-a-school field trip.  There is the parking lot where we would always park on day trips to the city.  There are the Canal Street shops where my dad would buy his suits from Brooks Brothers.  There is where the Hard Rock Café once stood.  There is Jackson Brewery where we would buy trinkets from souvenir shops.  There is the plaza where the street dancers would perform.  There is the Riverwalk, once the site of the 1984 World’s Fair (which I did attend), and later a boutique shopping mall, and now, after a freightliner slammed into the building, after Katrina flooded it, sadly an Outlet Mall.  There is Café du Monde.  And St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, uncannily devoid of the fortune tellers and street performers.  And Central Grocery.  And Mother’s Po-Boys.  And Court of the Two Sisters with it’s legendary brunch.  And Pat O’Brien’s with it’s legendary dueling everything.

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

(or Caterpillars & Cucumbers, Confusion & Clarity)

I’ve got the idea of home on the brain again.  It’s probably not surprising, given the time of year.  Well-meaning friends and neighbors casually ask “are you going home for the holidays?” to which I can only reply “no, we are staying right here.”  But it is actually fitting because, for all intents and purposes, this is home now.  It’s the place I’ve lived the longest.  It’s the only home my boys have ever known.  Yet this idea of “home” seems to elude me, and gnaw at me, a kind of still unresolved story line.

My wife and I often play the “where should we move to” game?  I actually get unnerved when we do this because we just seem to talk in circles, feeling more unsettled each time we take up the discussion.  “If you don’t like where you are, just picture where you want to be” extols August “Auggie” Pullman in the movie version of Wonder.  It sounds easy enough, but this particular vision seems impossible to see.  Earlier this year we flirted with packing it all up and moving somewhere else, a kind of “anywhere but here” mission.  But in the end, the stars just didn’t align.  Job offers never materialized.  Negotiations stalled.  Dreams and desires and hopes collided.  It was as if the universe was clearly sending us a message.  We are meant to stay put, right here.  For now at least.

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Dream Dream Dream

(or The Ghost of a Therapist Past)

I was awoken the other morning by the most disturbing dream.  It was one of those dreams that felt so very real that it took me a few minutes to realize that it was only, thankfully, just a dream.  So here goes:

I was at my old summer camp, or a place that felt and reminded me of camp.  I was there with a group of cousins and their spouses.  Actually, they are my first cousins once removed, the first cousins of my mother, but due to some wacky birthing patterns on that side of the family, I am closer in age to those cousins than my own actual first cousins.  There was also a group from KAAN – the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network – at this camp-like retreat, and it became clear that the space had been double-booked, and we were forced to share this communal space for our respective gatherings.  We were tolerating each other – and each other’s presence – but only barely.   Suddenly, I said out loud, to no one in particular, “I never thought I’d live long enough to actually feel home-sick, to actually want to go home rather than be a camp.”  To which, the ex-therapist, who was sitting in a rocking chair across the room, replied “but you did” in the most snarky and cruel tone.

Perhaps I should stop and explain.  The ex-therapist has 2 adopted children from Korea, which is why my unconscious put my family gathering in conflict with this KAAN meet-up.  That part makes some sense to me.  What I do not understand, at all, is why the ex-therapist is still showing up in my dreams and what in the world I can do to expel her, once and for all, from my unconsciousness!  And I don’t have any idea of why my unconscious needed to send me this message or what it even means.  Was the ex-therapist making a statement on the length or quality of my life as compared to her own?  Was she a ghost or spirit in the dream?  And why was she and her chosen family intruding upon my own family gathering at my beloved summer camp of all places?

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On Repeat

(or the Stories We Tell)

Almost as soon as I hit the “Publish” button on my last post, I started to have writer’s remorse.  I feared that I had not actually said anything new and was merely restating that which I have said many times before on this very blog.  And maybe that’s partly true, and maybe I’m being unduly harsh on myself.  I nearly added an apology at the end of the last post, to say sorry for saying the same things over and over again.  But then I caught myself.  After all, this is a place for me to try to process and make sense of what is going on in my head.  So, yes, sometimes that same diatribe might need to come out in a few different ways before I am able to fully process the narrative.  Maybe I need to write it and say it several times in order to fully believe it and comprehend it and internalize it.  And I don’t think it’s exactly the same thing.  Maybe some of the facts are different, but my understanding and self-awareness shifts each time.  Maybe not by much, but I take baby steps just the same.

What happened with the ex-therapist was a monumental event in my life.  It was an incredibly intense few years with her, and a terrible, brutal ending.  It is going to take time to unpack it all.

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The Hunt

(or What’s in a Bag?)

I vividly remember the first Kate Spade bag I purchased.  Of course, by the time I discovered her, she had already sold her business to Neiman Marcus, back in 1999, but I only just learned that yesterday in reading her obituary.  Some celebrity deaths catch you off guard and move you in ways you didn’t expect.  Heath Ledger, Robin Williams and George Michael come to mind for me.  It’s the kind of news that stops you in your tracks and makes your heart momentarily stop beating.  I have no idea why, lives cut too short I expect.  I don’t experience this with people I actually know.  And I’m not sure Kate Spade was a “celebrity” but rather just well-known and well-respected.  I could easily have passed her on the streets of New York and been none the wiser.

So when I started to see posts on Facebook last night, I was at first confused.  What do you mean she died?  And a suicide?  That can’t be!

But it was.  It was all true.  Maybe in this day and age of fake news everywhere, it’s natural to hope that this was all just a hoax, some sick joke.  And as I started to realize and process the truth in the story, I, like so many others, immediately thought back to my first bag.

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Cancellation

(or Is It Time to Quit Therapy?)

I did something over the holidays that would have been unthinkable this time a year ago.  I cancelled a therapy appointment simply because I had something better to do with my time.  I chose to spend a day in the city with my wife, taking in an art exhibit followed by lunch and uninterrupted conversation with each other.  If I had kept my appointment, we would not have been able to do both, or we would have done both but would have been rushed and it would not have been as enjoyable or pleasant.  So I cancelled and didn’t feel the least bit of regret or remorse or concern.  I was forthright in my decision and never questioned it or second-guessed it.  It was actually a really easy decision to make.

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This Little Light of Mine

(I’m Gonna Let It Shine?)

Once upon a time I loved to sing.  When I was little, before the age of 6, I would sing out loud, unrestrained, for all to hear.  I have a distinct memory of standing on the over-sized hearth in the family room of our new house in Mississippi, only a few weeks before Christmas when I was 5.  This was my stage, front and center, and I would belt out the new song I had just learned at my new school, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”  There was going to be a Christmas concert soon, and since I had only just arrived, I had to learn all the songs fast if I wanted to be part of the show.  And oh, how I did!  And so I practiced from my new stage, and sang my little heart out, despite the mixed-up feelings I had inside.

It is not lost on me now, as an adult, the irony of this particular choice of song being sung at a school concert in Mississippi.  “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African-American spiritual song, not something that I had even heard of in my native state of Texas.  But it was a Christmas carol staple in my new hometown, one where the public schools were still being forced in integrate in the 1980s and the KKK was a regular fixture on the street corner near our new home.  On our first trip to the grocery store, I wondered out-loud to my mother why those men were in their Halloween costumes when it was clearly Christmastime.  We had only moved 450 miles, but it felt like we moved into an entirely new dimension, backwards in time perhaps.  We were most definitely not in Texas anymore.

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Stitching

(or How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?)

Whenever I need to engage in some emotional self-flagellation, I know exactly where to go.  The ex-therapist still maintains a very active Twitter feed, and if I am stupid enough to look, I am bound to find something there that upsets me and makes me feel bad about myself.  I had stopped lurking altogether, for a time, but as the seasons started to shift and the cooler weather finally arrived, my psyche felt pulled back, still trying to reconcile the events of the past year.  A year ago she first told me she was sick.  In a few more weeks, it will be a year since our last session.  And in a few more weeks after that, it will be a year since she dumped me.  I can still feel it all deep in my bones: the fear, the disruption, the panic.

The ex-therapist has tweeted ad nauseam about how clients have “agency” and don’t have to read or follow any of her postings online.  I find this defense to be ignorant at best, and grandiosely self-justifying in reality.  She probably knows that she should be more careful with her tweets and words, knowing that there are clients and ex-clients out there, but she just can’t help herself.  So she constructs this elaborate justification for her actions, to make it all seem reasonable and okay.  The problem with this outlook is that the relationship between therapist and client can be intimate and intense in a way that is unlike any other relationship.  It’s also imbalanced, with the therapist usually knowing more about the client than vice versa.  So it is only natural that the client will seek out any information available to try to make sense of the person on the other side of the couch.  And the ex-therapist made that information so tantalizingly available, like leading a kid into a candy store.  It is irrational to then expect the kid to not indulge in the candy laid out before them.

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On the Run

(or Left, Right, Left, Right…)

Once upon a time, I fancied myself to be a runner.  Before I had kids, I used to run regularly and it was my exercise of choice.  I preferred running outside, but probably did most of my runs on a treadmill at the gym at work because it was convenient and appealed to my statistics-oriented brain.  I could monitor and track time, distance, speed, calories, all right on the treadmill console.  I kept a running log in a spreadsheet (of course!), charting my progress to run longer and faster and tracking when it was time to buy new running shoes.

I really started running seriously when we lost the baby.  I poured most of my grief onto the treadmill as running felt like something I could actually control.  I could control the speed of the treadmill or how far I wanted to run each day.  I got lost in tracking the numbers and statistics and could therefore avoid dealing with the overwhelming grief I experienced inside but wasn’t able to process.  I loved getting lost in my own head for a while, far away from the torturous real-world.

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