Monthly Archives: November 2014

Do clothes make the (wo)man? Let’s choose substance over style.

I recently came across a post on Facebook that I thought was interesting. A male newscaster wore a particular blue suit for a whole year to see if viewers would notice. Apparently, his female counterparts received fashion “advice” on a regular basis and he wanted to conduct an experiment on sexism and see whether it would register with viewers that he was wearing the same suit every day. Nobody noticed. I shared this on my wall and it caught the eye of my daughter Lucky, an outspoken feminist, as well as another friend who enjoys controversial debates. His comment, “A statement of equality. No men or women noticed.”

hey-girl-feminismI laughed at Mike’s smart-ass reply, but he raised a good point. It’s true that viewers routinely critiqued the women newscasters’ clothing, hair and make-up. But guess who was dishing out the criticism? Only the women viewers.

Why do we do this to each other? I’ve confessed to being a bit of a clothes horse myself and Lord knows I’m not perfect. I’ll admit that catty judgments on newscasters’ fashion choices have crossed my lips. But to be fair, I make equal-opportunity criticisms (“He needs a haircut.” “Look at that tie!”) and I’ve never been under the delusion that my opinion on their personal style reflects their ability to report the news in any way, and it would never enter my mind to send in a letter “correcting” their choices.

One woman who has received more than her fair share of fashion critiques is also one of the most accomplished women in our country: Hillary Clinton. A couple of years back, she created a small media firestorm over the fact that she appeared in public with glasses on and minimal make-up. Really? Why do we call this news? Hillary’s response to this was right on-target:

THIS is news?

THIS is news?

“I feel so relieved to be at the stage I’m at in my life right now,” the secretary of state told CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty in an interview. “Because you know if I want to wear my glasses I’m wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back I’m pulling my hair back. You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.”

Since Hillary will likely be a much talked about (and much criticized) figure in the upcoming US presidential race—by men and women alike—I’d like to ask something of our readers. It’s not to vote for a particular candidate… I really don’t care if you vote for Hillary or not. Politically, I sit in the middle of the spectrum, and although I consider myself a feminist, I don’t think anyone should vote for a woman for president merely because she’s a woman. What I’m asking is this: As we move forward with the 2016 campaign, whether you vote for Hillary or not, please make your choices and your criticisms based on her experience, values and politics—not her hair, clothing or make-up. Ultimately, when you reduce another woman to nothing but her fashion choices, you minimize all of us and sometimes “it takes a village” to change societal perceptions.

Stormy finds her “happy pill”

A couple months ago, KitKat posted a blog whose title caught my eye: Looking for a happy pill. This phrase jumped out at me because I’d been doing the same. But unlike KitKat’s metaphorical search, mine was literal. This wasn’t an overnight decision. As I mentioned in an early post, I was raised by WWII-era parents. One of the legacies of my upbringing is a strong sense of personal responsibility. In other words, if something was bothering me, I should just “quit whining and figure it out.” Therefore, my view of mental illness in general and depression in particular was that the only time medication was warranted was if the individual couldn’t manage to pull things together on his/her own.

dancing_drugsFast-forward to this past year. As readers of this blog, you know I haven’t hidden my struggle with the changing dynamics in my life—my husband’s illness, my kids leaving home, a frequently stressful job, aging parents, etc. But throughout it all I kept trying to will myself to keep a proper perspective (I’m still more fortunate than most of the world’s population, after all) and not dwell on things I can’t change. Despite this, I found myself sinking further into… persistent… unhappiness. It wasn’t full-out “depression” the way I had always thought of it (not being able to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc.) but I found that things I could formerly let roll off my back were bothering me—a lot. Whereas I would normally be driven to tears once or twice a year, I was finding myself crying weekly. And I found myself raging against loved ones at little provocation. Basically, I felt like I was losing it, and I worried that if I couldn’t get a grip, I’d risk my job, my sanity, my friends and my family.

We're all madI explained it to my therapist this way, “I’ve lost my resiliency.” I asked for his opinion on whether he thought anti-depressants would help and when he said yes, I responded that maybe I’d wait until the fall to consider a prescription (thinking I’d really need it when the weather turned cold). He challenged me on that—why would you wait when something could potentially make your life better? We talked through my bias against medication and my general control-freak nature, but at the end of it all, his case was compelling and I made a consultation with someone who could prescribe the required meds. After talking with her and explaining how I reacted to various “triggers,” she commented, “You have a lot of stressors in your life—actually, I’m amazed you made it this long without needing something.” This made me feel better about embracing better living through chemistry. She made a recommendation that she thought would best address the combination depression/anxiety I was experiencing and gave me a low-dose prescription.

At home that night, I read up on the medication and my concerns came creeping back. The drug required a slow ramp up and had a long list of potential side effects. Yet, at that point, the potential gains still outweighed the drawbacks, so I swallowed the pill—both figuratively and literally.

My experience with mind-altering substances is limited to alcohol and caffeine, so I didn’t know what to expect. When you take something that is supposed to affect your brain, it’s natural to analyze every feeling and thought—is this me or is this the medication?—I asked myself a dozen times a day. I felt a bit “spacey,” but knew it may have been my imagination since I was told it would take at least three weeks for the medication to take effect.

Eventually, I determined that I had noticed a subtle improvement in my outlook. It was by no means a “magic pill,” and my biggest concern—that the drugs would alter my core personality—was unfounded. I was the same person and the same things made me upset, only I had my resiliency back. Minor setbacks didn’t drive me to tears. I was able to put things in the proper perspective and deal with things without falling apart.

I wished I had sought treatment months before, instead of buying into the notion that medication would be taking the easy way out. However, I ultimately decided I’d rather seek help and be happy than be self-sustaining and miserable. After all, when I think about my mother (who has been moody and challenging for as long as I can recall) I wonder if maybe she doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance?

Funny-crazy-peopleYet, even after gaining a clear benefit from the drugs, it wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast (after all, it’s one thing to have people think you’re a little crazy and it’s another to give them proof). 😉

Then what has changed? Obviously, if I’m making this a blog topic my perspective has shifted and I can tell you when that happened. In mid-August, I was mourning the death of Robin Williams—along with the millions of other people whose lives he’d touched with his exceptional warmth and humor—when I learned that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A disease my husband has had for more than a decade. I think our thoughts about this news were the same: This disease we live with every day was the thing that tipped his depression over the edge. That was an incredibly sobering thought. It made me realize that it’s impossible to know what other people are dealing with, so I thought if I could admit to a little bit of craziness myself, maybe it would make it easier for someone else to seek treatment if they need it. So there you go. I’m a little bit crazy. Crazy like a fox.

Dear Other Two Moms:

The other night my daughter asked, “Were you happy I was your baby? Was I cute?” Granted, she probably suspected that this question would stall bedtime at least another fifteen minutes as I cuddled her and told her the story, again, about how it felt the first time I saw her. The vivid memory of sitting at the Eastern Orphanage in Korea anxiously waiting to meet my daughter. Finally, the counselor pointing to a woman walking in with the most beautiful baby girl on her back … “That is her.”

fish

They both are still surprised when a stranger can guess one of them is adopted. 🙂

I have told my daughter (by adoption) and my son (by birth) that there isn’t one of their stories about how I came to be their mother that is more special than the other. They are completely different stories, but both include joy; some pain points; worrisome moments; and the delivery of the most incredible gift, unimaginable love, and biggest responsibility of my life. (The toughest part comes in the work and exhaustion of raising them!)

With two children who came to me in very different ways, it is important to me that I celebrate and share with them their individual stories and how it makes them unique. One part of my daughter’s story that I have shared with her is how she has three different moms who each love her very much. This “mom circle” includes her birth mom, her foster mom and me (her mom). In fact, she was told this story from before she was old enough to even understand the words that I was saying. This story also led to her infamous self-introduction: At the age of four, we were at the first day of swimming lessons. A girl walked up to her and said, “Hi, I have a new purple suit.” My daughter responded, “Hi. I have three moms.”

So with the timing of National Adoption Month and soon to be her seventh birthday, I want to attempt to write a note to her other two moms whom I share with the great honor of this title. Since, I have no way to actually get a letter to them, I decided to blog it. Perhaps they will feel the energy of it. Or someday when we go back to Korea as a family, or if Chloe ever seeks them out, it can be shared. Or maybe, it is purely for me to know that I have recognized them and documented something in their honor. So, with that said, here I go.

love

Dear Other Two Moms:

First and foremost, I want both of you to know that you are and always will be important to both her and me. You are not forgotten.

Birth Mom, I didn’t know you at all except through a few forms from the orphanage that you filled out which shared some basic information about your life and the adoption decision you made. I haven’t read these to our daughter yet, but I will as she gets older.

Foster Mom, I did meet you. Our last day in Korea when you passed her to us for the final time and watching you say goodbye is etched in my mind. Our daughter loves to look at the photo album you sent with us that chronicles her nine months in your family. One of her favorite photos is of her 100-day celebration.

Secondly, if either of you ever do actually read this, please know it could never be enough or say enough to acknowledge and thank you for the sacrifices you both made that brought her to my life. So perhaps consider it more of a note in time with an update and a few facts about how she is doing.

braid

Rapunzel makes for a perfect braid model.

If our daughter was writing this, I am sure the first thing she would mention is “I can braid!” At the moment, it is what she sees as the most exciting, self-appointed goal she has reached. It has beat out the excitement of learning to read which happened around the same time. Her dolls, herself and me are always adorned with different braided hairdos. She would also be sure to mention that she is going to have a piñata at her birthday, is one of the fastest runners in her class and is also really good at the monkey bars.

Actually, she would go on and on and on. She talks a lot. There have been multiple times where she finally takes a breath and then notices, and comments, that I am not fully listening anymore. I have told her honestly that sometimes I can’t listen as long as she talks. She can wear me out.

Our daughter is beautiful. (I mentioned this in a past blog that I do work hard to make sure she is recognized for all her wonderful attributes beyond just this.) She is also smart, funny, and extremely flexible … freakishly flexible. She likes to sing and actually can hold a tune. (She wouldn’t get that from my genes). She has lots of friends and is a bit of a tomboy. Though she prefers sparkles and dresses when she races her brother and his friends.

cute

She also has attitude.

She does like to tattle. Her flair for the drama can cause the tiniest touch from her brother to create the loudest wail from her. (Though granted, half of the times the wails are well founded and caused from more than a touch). They have bonded as siblings in the truest form. It is a love/hate relationship. But no one better mess with her but him!

I am working with her on not lying to get out of trouble. “You saw me wrong” or “You heard me wrong” is her usual defense. She does not like anyone to be angry with her. Though it doesn’t stop her from doing things that may make us angry. When she is in trouble, it is usually turned around on us and we are told how we hurt her feelings by being mad.

korea friend

She goes to Korean camp with her friend who we first met in Korea.

She dresses herself in crazy, unmatched outfits and gets really sad if you suggest she or her outfit is anything but super cute. She loves Littlest Pet Shop but is “not that into” Hello Kitty anymore. She is proud of being Korean and loves to make and eat Be Bim Bop and Japchae. And, there is nothing quite like being caught up in one of her laughing attacks.

There are many moments in my life with her during which I think of you both. I want to know more about the stories behind the photos we look at together. I often reread the adoption forms hoping to catch something that I missed last time. When I am filling out her medical forms, I want to ask you about her family history or if she had the same reaction to colds when she was a baby. Sometimes, I just want to ask you both to tell me, in your own words, how you made such brave and selfless choices. One of you to give her a life you couldn’t provide and one of you to make sure she was cared for and loved till we would arrive. Both of you having to say goodbye to her. Once in awhile laying in her bed, I close my eyes and wish I could show you how she is doing and hopefully you would feel proud or content in the choices you made and the path you provided her. If nothing else, make you giggle hearing some of her perspectives and comments.

I am not a perfect mom but I love her. I want you to know that you both helped to create an incredible girl. I also want you to know there is no way to be eloquent enough to express all that I would like, nor anyway me to be able to cover the full spectrum of all that is her.

Thank you both for making the decisions you did which provided me the opportunity to be one of the three moms blessed to play a part in her life. I hope she gains strength by having received all of our love different ways and carries it with her always. Please know, I don’t take it for granted that I am the one who received the most with her as a constant in my life, thanks to both of you.

As I tell her every night, I love you to the moon and back.

Forever,

The Third Mom