{Note - I was cleaning out my draft folder of posts I have started and never finished and found this.  I wish I would have published this one when it was written.  This was about a year and a half ago, when I was still in school, still living in my beloved Portland, and getting ready to marry Shoes.  What a sweet time that was.}

i gave four miniature neighbors ....

and two adult-sized neighbors.

in one house.  there are more, of course, elsewhere, but i don't know them.

two of the four minis are Sophie (5) and Annabelle (3).
the two others are dog #1 and dog#2.

Sophie has told me the dogs' names several times, but i never remember.  they're corgies. or terriers.  or something.  i'm not sure.  they're small and bark-y and usually muddy and i love them.

but this is about Sophie and Annabelle, who race into the backyard to tell me hello and ask me to get the ball they kicked over the fence and ask me where i'm going and tell me about their rock collections and tell me about the afternoon's play dates.  their Mom and Dad usually ask them to stop pestering me, but really, it's ok.

i need to be around kids who don't have traumatic pasts because i need to re-set my definition of normal.  on a regular basis.

the other day i was in the backyard reading article after article for class and their parental units (also therapists) were asking me about school, the job market, etc.  Sophie, who is too smart for her own good, had climbed up the chain link fence and was half hanging off it, listening to the conversation.

she listened about as long as she could and then she sighed impatiently, threw up her hands and said,

"you GUYS?  what about the important stuff??  like ... the WEDDING!  duh!"

i didn't realize children still said "duh."  i haven't heard it from a kid (and i'm a kid therapist!) for a long time.  also, this ranked pretty high on the cute-meter.  just a little below when she and Annabelle told me they made a snowman, in  a rare moment of scant Portland snow, to celebrate Father Christmas' and Jack Frost's birthday.

i'll miss these two if i move away after school.
And honestly, folks, that's just almost unheard of in many social services agencies.

It's pretty easy for the problems of the system and the clients to seep into social service agencies.  You might think an agency of therapists would be a super healthy, nurturing and empowering place to work.

Sometimes it is.  When I interned in NE Portland, I was blessed beyond measure to work with a group of therapists who had a code of honor that included things like:  I'm not going to listen to you complain about another therapist - go talk to that person; and; what do you need to take care of yourself right now?  go do it.  The administrative help in that agency walked around saying things like, I never want to work anywhere but here.  What can I do to help you today?

That takes commitment, folks.  It takes a good daily examining of what's going on inside you and to not get caught up in what some folks call low brain thinking.  And when it works, it is simply fabulous.

I also worked for an agency that was a lot like Survivor.  Only, we all suffered infections in the brain, the production crew and any chance of rational help deserted us, and there was no cash prize at the end. Things like this happened:  therapists covertly took unflattering pictures of other therapists in staff meetings and sent them to other therapists.

I just can't really even think about that job.  It was as if I fell into some hell version of Wonderland.

So now, I work at another healthy agency, where my supervisor says, What do you need from me today?  What can I do to help?  Where are your families at?  Now.  At this agency, we are all currently at risk of being furloughed, indefinitely, because the State hasn't passed a budget yet.  Children's administration and the Attorney General's office have all received layoff notices.  I won't know until Monday, 7/1/13, when I check my email, if I'm going to work that day or not.  Shoes is also at slight risk of being furloughed.

This doesn't sit well with my planning nature.  And the thought of both Shoes AND I going without work makes me queasy.

But I was sitting in this emergency staff meeting this week, and we were all receiving this news, the first words out of my coworkers mouths were, "I can't believe this.  Do they not know how this is going to impact vulnerable children?  What can we do to support our clients during this time if there is a government shut down?"  And today, during my group supervision and team business meeting, one of our agenda items read:

How are you challenging your own unhelpful self talk about the current uncertainty with the budget?

My first thought?  Honestly?  This is ridiculous.  It's not unhelpful self talk.  It's a stinking reality.  Both Shoes and I are going to lose our jobs and how are we going to make our mortgage payments and my student loans are due soon and ...

...oh.  Oh.  So THERE it is.  That's the little bugger I need to challenge.  There's the fear.  The lack of faithfulness.

Not easy.

Then again, 100% of the change I ask my clients for is also not easy.  And those of us in the field tend to believe (although probably not all of us) that we can only take our clients so far as we ourselves have gone.

This job is helping to change me.  Thank.  Goodness.

I have a lot of refining that needs to happen.
Too late to start lying about my age now!

I am 35.  In the past year, I have:

* Graduated with my Master's
* Moved to the middle-of-nowhere
* Gotten married
* Adopted an insane Golden Retriever {who is the second greatest love of my life}
* Started my first therapy job as a community outpatient mental health therapist
* Bought a house
* Started renovating said house
* Quit my job as a community outpatient mental health therapist
* Started a new job as an in home family therapist {contracted with the Children's Administration}

I have:

* Laughed
* Cried
* Wept
* Argued
* Loved
* Been loved
* Threatened to give the Golden Retriever away
* Cried when the Golden Retriever graduated puppy class
* Stepped on home renovation screws
* Cursed because I stepped on home renovation screws
* Been hopeful
* Been despondent
* Been faithful
* Been fearful

In the road to 36, I would like to:

* Rest
* Rest
* Rest
* Learn how to play the violin
* Take a honeymoon
* Rest

I googled "On my 35th year" just now, and what came up was an entire host of personal narrative blogs (hellllo, like minded souls!) that addressed a type of self evaluation that comes with 35 -- what we want to do next, in the next 5 years, before we turn 40.  What our first 35 years has meant.

I don't know what my first 35 years has meant.  Many apologies.

But, I can tell you that it feels long and full, you know?  Like, I was born, and then I was a kid, and then wait, holy cow, a lot of adult things happened to me and now I am married with a house (mortgage), husband, job and yard that needs to be cared for weekly.  I also have a job where sometimes amazing things happen, sometimes truly sad things happen, and sometimes I get threatened with weapons.  A little variety.

This is what I plan to do today:  Practice a little extra gratitude and thankfulness.  Send out a little extra love in the Metta Bhavana.  Take a deep breath.  Slow down slightly.

Today, I am halfway to 70.

Hello, 35!

Last post: listening.

This post:  not listening.

I used to have a lady, whom I loved,  who did my hair.  She was truly a sweet, bubbly soul.  Optimistic.  Loving.  She amused me in many ways.... the least not being that she never stopped talking.  She would ask questions, I would get one word out, and then she would plow on with whatever thought was next in her head.  She would ask me about experiences I'd had in my past, and then, without stopping to take a breath, she'd say things such as, "Weren't you just so mad/angry/frustrated/ecstatic/fill in the blank?"  It truly never stopped.

And then one day she said, "I would be a great counselor, because I am so good at helping people with their problems."

I didn't respond.  Out loud.  I loved her and loved her hair cutting and coloring skills, but there's no way I would have sat in her therapy chair.

It was all I could do to refrain from giggling.

It is not a counselor's responsibility to solve a person's problems.  It is an individual's responsibility to move forward to solving his/her own problems.  It is a counselor's responsibility to listen, listen, listen, validate, re-frame, gently challenge and let the person come to the solution (solution) that is best for him or her.  (There might be a little more to it than that, but that's a good start.)

What happens when we don't feel listened to?  Well.  That's a pretty easy one, right?  Think about the last time you felt that a best friend, partner, parent, sibling, child, etc. wasn't listening to you.  What might have followed?  Misunderstanding.  Frustration.  A sense of shutting down.  Anger.

Maybe an argument ensued.


There is so much that is implied with being truly listened to.  When we're listened to, we feel validated.  We feel understood.  Our defensiveness comes down.  Maybe we feel like now that the problem has been hashed out, we're a little more released to take action.  And when we're not listened to?  Exactly the opposite.

(Before I start this next paragraph, please remember, as is stated in "Legal Issues" above in the pages, that nothing in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat.  The following is merely a couple of anecdotes about how difficult listening can be.)

When I participated in marriage counseling with the former spouse (ooooh, we're getting a little personal now!), we were speaking in session about how critical it is for couples to truly communicate their needs to each other, and how it critical it is for the receiving partner to listen and respond.  Former spouse indicated that the past week had been "exhausting", as he felt I was trying too hard to listen.  He said, "I shouldn't have to tell her what I need.  She should just know."  The marriage counselor tapped his pencil on the desk a few times.  Cleared his throat.  Stated, "I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation."

Former spouse did not listen to that piece of advice.  (That is not why the marriage ended.  But it did not help.)

Today, when I see couples in therapy, I often find that communication is a key problem.  People haven't quite practiced how to be gentle, clear, firm and honest about what they need.  People haven't quite practiced how to actively listen, rephrase and ask for clarification.

These are not skills we are just born with.
It would be easier if they were, maybe.
Actually.  That would definitely be easier.

If you're in couples counseling with me, we'll inevitably do an exercise. This one is not complicated, but it requires a lot of set up. Here it is:  one partner speaks for five minutes while I model active listening.  When that person is finished, I model rephrasing and asking for clarification, and then I ask the person who was speaking how it felt to be listened to.  I then ask the partner who was observing what s/he noticed, and if s/he has any questions.  Then I complete the exercise with the other partner and listen to him/her.  Then I have the couple practice with each other and I elicit and provide feedback.

This can take A Very Long Time.  It takes an entire 50 minute session (usually more than one), and it's usually something that we practice for weeks.  (That's ok by me.  I'm in it to see change, so if it takes awhile, it takes awhile.) It can be a very frustrating thing for couples to go through, and often, I see conflict increase a little while things are getting hashed out.  (Most counselors give a little spiel that things will often get a little worse before they get better ... we're bringing up emotional topics, practicing new skills ... change takes courage.  And sometimes a glass of wine [as long as we're free from addiction issues].)  But then?  After awhile?  I can usually tell when mini breakthroughs happen ... because the couple will come in to my office (or right now, I'll come to their home, as that's my current modality), and there will be a sense of peace and love that wasn't there before.  Not perfect, but something has shifted.  There's even a sense of pride and smugness.  O, how I love that.  They absolutely should be proud of themselves.

Active listening is no easy task.  It can exhaust you.  Sometimes when I come home from work, I need an hour to myself, to just ... not listen.  I love my job (capital L), but I need that slight break.  We do the hard work (I as a counselor and families as family members) because it's worth it.

It should be easy, I know.
If it were so easy, though, the issue wouldn't come up again and again in our personal lives.

This is how this post ends:

"Being heard
is so close to being loved
that for the average person
they are almost indistinguishable."  -- David Augsburger
I'm not done with my posts about listening, but I'm taking a little break today to ramble about Father's Day.

I have been irritable with a capital "I-RRITABLE" these past few days, and I haven't known why.  Man, I hate that.  I mean, I'm pretty in tune with my feelings.  My affective language use is pretty darn high.  And I'm a jerk and I like to know exactly what's going on.

I think, what it is, now that today has come and I'm seeing everybody's loving and devoted posts on FB, is that it is ... Father's Day.

I don't think Father's Day is supposed to make you irritable.  I mean, I'll be calling my step dad today to wish him a Happy Father's Day.  I even bought Shoes a Happy Father's Day Card "from the dog."  They actually make those.  We're horrifically corny like that.

I don't have a relationship with my real dad.  I did, for many, many years (my parents separated when I was in high school), but it wasn't until the last 12 months that things deteroriated to the point of nothing-ness.  I guess I don't really want to tell every sordid detail, but the highlights include not coming to my wedding (and texting the night of the rehearsal dinner to tell me that) to activity on his part that had Shoes and I considering a civil protection order.  And a bunch of stuff in-between.

Is it jealousy that makes me hate this day?
Oh, yes, indeed.  Looking on FB this morning at friends' pictures of themselves with their fathers on their wedding day brought forth a few sad tears.

Is it grief that makes me hate this day?
Absolutely no doubt.  I fought for YEARS for a relationship with my dad.  Letting that go was so painful.  But no less painful than being on the receiving end of a bunch of poop (clinical term).

I have, over the years, had several well meaning friends who have "lent" me their fathers.  And while this has helped, and was a loving and kind gesture, it just can't make up for that sense of loss.  

Big, deep, fat, dark loss.

What I am grateful for?

1.  This sounds bizarre, but I am grateful for the years I did get to spend with my dad.  The early years. The early kid years of remote controlled airplanes and Muppets and gardening and music and smiles.

2.  The hope of restoration.  Every time these sad feelings pop up, I name them and am mindful of them.  That's a very real part of me that will do no good to pretend doesn't exist.  However, I also know that because I know what's going on with me, I have faith that I'll come to a point where it hurts a little less.

3.  A connection with God and the universe - Faith.  Although my faith looks different than it did in my mid 20s, the feeling that I remain held and regarded lingers, as does the sense that I am deeply connected to love.


To Fathers who are there in those fb photos, I say, "job well done."  And I say "thank you."

And now I am going to go download music and paint my living room.  Get ready for the upcoming week.  Move on.

I learned that one in the church.

(This is part I of a few posts on listening.  I have no clue when it will end because I don't know when I'll run out of things to talk about.  Also, I might get bored.  Could go either way ....)

I have a therapist friend I love wholly and dearly.  She is the type of girl to have a glass of wine with, to get ridiculous with and to laugh naughtily with.  Lately, I've had some personal stuff going on and I mentioned something briefly to Friend about it.   Just to put my busy-ness in context.  I wasn't being coy on purpose.

She asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

I said, "Nope."

She asked, "Because it makes it bigger, huh?"

I said, "Yep."

But that wasn't really the truth.  The truth is that I'm extraordinarily picky about with whom I share my stress.  And I am extraordinarily picky  because when I've got Big Stuff, I really need people to listen, really listen, to not try to relate what I'm saying to themselves, and to be empathetic.

Easy right?


(Friend, by the way, is a successful therapist who builds incredible rapport with her clients.  I'm sure she listens well to them.  Maybe it's because we're friends, but I do not like trying to have serious talks with her.  I have just a few people I'm able to voluntarily go to when I have problems.  And this past year?  Ohhhhh, man.  Those poor handful of people!)

Listening is super hard, guys.  It can be incredibly difficult and exhausting to be fully present with someone, especially when you feel like you can relate and want to tell your story, and perhaps even more so when you don't agree with what the person is saying.  In my new job, I have 28 days to work with clients -- Approximately 40 hours of therapy.  That's an incredibly short amount of time, and you know what it's recommended we spend the first 6-10 hours doing?  Active listening.  (Oh my word.  I just asked Shoes what the hardest part of listening for him personally was, and he said, "Not injecting my own narrative into the person's story before they finish."  Somebody's been listening to the therapist in the house!)

It should be easy, right?  I mean, you just use your ears and listen, right?  Maybe it should be ... but it just isn't.  We spent the first several hours of core counseling class in graduate school learning how to listen actively, reframe, ask clarifying questions, etc.    Why?  Because you have to listen intently to start to understand the other person.

Let me tell you what.
That RUINED me.
Once I had a few experiences of genuinely being listened to, I started to get super frustrated when I felt like people weren't listening to me.

And let me tell you what.
That was incredibly VALIDATING for me.
Once I had a few experiences of genuinely being listened to, I realized the sheer power of knowing that I was being held and valued in another person's eyes.  It was deeply humbling and I felt deeply, deeply loved.

So, in this first part of this series on listening, I'm going to tell you two stories of what it feels like to be deeply listened to.  One is my own.  The other is from a past client.  (All identifying information has been changed about this client and the dialogue is re-created - no direct quotes).

My story:

2012.  Second year of graduate school.  I was interning at an inner city community outpatient mental health clinic in Southeast Portland, and I had just started to receive, as clients, families who scored higher on service intensity instruments. One of the families I was assigned was a father and step-mother who had recently regained custody of the father's 15 year old teen.  While in another person's care, the teen had suffered intense trauma, and, when referred for therapy, was engaging in behaviors one might expect from a 15 year old who had suffered intense trauma.  Father and step-mom were at a loss, and their way of dealing with the behavior, before therapy, was to blame and punish.

This hit a nerve with me.

While I understood, fully, that they were doing the best that they could, my heart went out to this teen, who was so thoroughly and utterly lost, lonely and hurting.  I was describing my own counter-transference in group supervision one day, and my group supervisor, who had been listening intently, said, "I think maybe you have a personal experience that is helping you to really understand this teen."

And I did.  In a long, rambling verbal vomit of monologue (ugh - sorry group!), I went on and on about my time working in juvenile detention and the things I had seen:  foster kids who misbehaved so they could get out of foster homes and come to juvie, where they knew the routine, knew they would be fed and warm, and knew we loved them; kids who came from abusive homes and asked us to please not return them back to the same environment; kids who were heavily gang involved on the "outside" who turned into loveable balls of bad body odor (well, they were teens after all) on the "inside".  As I talked, and as the group listened, I was able to tap into this strength I had in me - this experience of working with kids people didn't want anymore - and I was able to gain clarity into what I had to do therapeutically.

I walked away from that group supervision with more confidence and more resolve.
I felt a little more complete.
It was wholly and completely validating.

A client story:

The middle aged man came into the mental health clinic asking to speak with a crisis counselor.  "I need help," the man said, "finding housing."  Finding housing was not considered, by agency standards, a mental health crisis.  And to meet with this person, I had to cancel scheduled ongoing clients.  I could have referred the him to community resources and declined to meet.  He was also, honestly, menacing and rough looking - heavily tattooed and burly.   (That wasn't prejudicial thinking.  That was me thinking about safety.)


But, the person was looking at me like he knew I was going to say no.  And that appeared exhausting.  I will never forget the look in his eyes.  There was no hope.

What if?

I met with the person.  And I heard a long story of medical health issues - bills that couldn't be paid - assets that had to be sold off.  Relationships that were lost.  Complicating effects of the poverty that followed.

It wasn't a crisis by agency standards.
My other clients, who were cancelled, were frustrated the next day.

But here's how this ended.

At the end of 90 minutes, after listening, reaching for emotion, leaning forward and making eye contact, I gave the client a couple of resources that hadn't been tried yet.

And as he staggered painfully to his feet, looked at me and said, "I knew you weren't going to be able to help me."

I nodded.
After all, that sounded true.
And truthfully, I heard that a lot in crisis mental health.

But then he said, "And I will never forget that you chose to listen to me.  And it has been a long ass time [editor's note:  he said something a little more dirty than that] since anybody has done that."  And then tattooed man cried a little and shook my hand.

That was a good decision to make that day.


And you, reader?
Was there a time you were so genuinely listened to that you felt loved in every fiber of your being?

Soldier's new mission:  Finding homes for female vets

I almost re-tweeted this article (linked - please visit and read for yourself).  I've learned to be a little careful, though, with that.  It's my responsibility to think about what re-tweeting says about my viewpoints- and especially what articles might convey (intentionally or unintentionally) about my view of others.

The article broke my heart in many ways.  Women veterans becoming homeless after returning from duty.  Women and children incredibly at-risk:
"While the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that overall veteran homeless rates are going down, female rates are going up. In fact, female veterans are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. homeless population and are more at risk than their male counterparts, according to the report."
It has always been hard for women with dependent children.  The military has not been forward thinking in helping female veterans meet the unique challenge of having children and facing deployment.  Punitive, maybe, even.  (Is that going too far?)

Help comes in the form of a woman, Jaspen Boothe, the article describes, who is helping women veterans access transitional housing.  After facing similar challenges, including cancer, the military referred her to social services.
"They referred her to local social services, which Boothe called probably the most demeaning experience of her life."
Oh Goodness.

I wish I could accurately describe how demeaning it IS to access social services.  Forms are convoluted.  Waiting lines (and times) (even in rural areas) are long.  I've met many front desk staff (definitely not all) and social workers who are rude, judgmental and extremely condescending.  Applying for social services is a long process in which your intelligence, worth and dignity are continually called into question. You are continually asked, "What did YOU do to get to this point and what are YOU going to do to pull yourself out?"

(Sidenote.  Top causes of poverty:  illiteracy, health and income.  Now.  Think about what causes illiteracy, poor health and income.  We must, we must, we must, we must be careful to absolutely divorce the notion of poverty from personal effort/laziness.  I cannot even begin to describe how much more complicated the causes of poverty are.)

So Boothe has my heart in the palm of her hand, right?  And I'm soaking in her story to see how it ends, right?  And then this line pops up,
"  'I'm not a welfare mom, I'm a soldier.' "
Which came after this quote,
"You're treated basically as a baby's mama or a crack head, or some woman who's made a bunch of bad decisions with her life, and the only resources available were welfare," Boothe said.
And the record on the needle scratches and I instantly decide that I'm not re-tweeting this article.

Boothe found herself in the position of needing social services after falling on incredibly hard times.  She found that she needed transitional help.  Well, glory be -- turns out that the purpose of welfare is to help people transitionally.  Turns out that the myth of the welfare mom is rampant and that most people who use cash assistance or food stamps do so .... transitionally.  Turns out that Boothe fits the description of somebody who needs the assistance of ...welfare.

So does that make her a welfare mom?

I guess so.  Technically, right?  And I say that without any judgment or prejudice.  We have to start combating that term and the prejudicial attitude it conveys.  Boothe served her country (and continues to do so as she works with the VA).  I'm so grateful for that.  And I'm so very, very sad and disappointed that when she went to ask the country she so unselfishly served for help, the country made her feel demeaned and demoralized.

What's a welfare mom?

I have friends who, as a result of the recent economy, have used the assistance of food stamps.  WIC.  The cash grant.  I had single friends in undergraduate school (when this was still a possibility) who received food stamps to help them eat through the end of the month.  I have friends who, in the State of Oregon, which as a provision for this, received $1200 in welfare benefits to help flee domestic violence.

Are there people who abuse the system?
Are there people who are dealing with addiction who receive welfare benefits?
Are there MORE people who use welfare transitionally?
If you research academic journals will you find the last statement to be true?
Does this country have large prejudice and misinformation regarding who receives welfare?
I think so.

I commend Boothe for her work with female veterans and I wish her the best as she moves forward in continuing to act selflessly for the sake of others.  I sincerely thank her for her service to this country.  May her journey be blessed beyond belief.

And may we all start to examine the attitudes we have to people who receive federal / state assistance.

(I am proud of the "welfare moms" I know.  Because sometimes asking for help is infinitely harder than it should be.)

(Back on the soap box again ... I've written about this before ... I'd stop, but it keeps popping up ...)

As a social worker / therapist, it's easy to develop pet peeves.  As in, really easy.  As in, it's probably a good thing to watch those immediate reactions you start having to people - OR - you might lose sight as to what's really important:  empathy / respect / appreciation for the journey most of my clients have been on.  (Most people don't just wake up one day and think, Man, today would be a GREAT day to (fill in the blank) ....)

I'm an in home family therapist for families who are at immediate risk of losing their children to foster care.  When Children's Administration (meaning, CPS, or Child Welfare, or the Department of Children and Family Services, or whatever variation your state has) calls me, things have gotten pretty hairy.  That's a euphemism.  I don't really want to detail right now what kinds of things happen in homes that help facilitate my presence, mostly because when I do that, the back story as to why families are going through the hardships they are gets lost.  Most people are not psychopaths.  Most people do not want to hurt their children.  That might be hard to believe, but people's stories are so widely varied and complex.

I mean, really, really complex.  Do I get frustrated?  Sure.  Do I have to call in new CPS reports?   Sometimes.  Do I still have hope?  Absolutely.  Do some families make it?

Do some families make it?  (Not a typo.  I asked that twice.)

Some families stay together, and people have widely varying definitions of success.  I've had to really, really examine my class issues in defining success and have had to really, really examine how comfortable I am with the concept of minimum sufficient level of care.

Oh, my word.  I digress all over the place.  The job is complex, much like many jobs!, and I find myself re-explaining what I do again and again out of habit.

Back to the point.  I have worked with children and families for 12 years.  Not always as a therapist.  Not always at the Master's level.  But I have a lot of experience with kids.  I've seen a lot of kids heal.  I've seen a lot of kids go through some earth shattering,  heart breaking experiences.  I've been around kids.

I've been around kids who have been physically or sexually abused.  I've helped take injury photos of bruises and I've listened to kids disclose physical torture.  I've advocated for them in court.  I've worked with kids in therapy who have PTSD because they've witnessed family members die in gang shootings. I've detained some of them involuntarily to psych beds for their own safety.  In one season of my life, I was a Detention Officer and I physically restrained them for their own safety.  In that same season, I stayed up all night with them when they had nightmares, wet the bed, needed someone to talk to.    I have chosen a life of public service (long hours, terrible pay, etc) because my heart is wrapped up in kid healing.  This is a choice I have made.

(Loop back to the beginning of the post ...)

So I do not take it well when people tell me, "You'll know when you're a mom" - or - "You don't understand because you don't have children."

I was in a training today on cognitive interventions and REBT when a training participant purposefully ignored a statement I made, turned to my co worker and said, "Well, you know about kids, because you're a mom."

Sweetheart, I have been to more dark places with kids than most moms will ever go.  I do not know what it is like to be a mom, but I know about kids, and what I know is that giving birth does not make you an expert on all things child.  (I didn't say that.  I took a drink of water and doodled on my handout.)

Strangely, none of my clients have ever had a problem with me not having kids.  Some of them, in our closing work together, have stated that they had initial concerns that I would not be able to relate because I do not have my own kids, but that those concerns dissipated quickly.  I have only ever received the cold shoulder from some colleagues (not most), conservative Evangelical moms (not all) and some acquaintances (my good friends are generally supportive).  I do not have to have schizophrenia to treat schizophrenia.  I do not have to be suicidal to treat suicide ideation / depression.  I do not have to have kids to be a good kid / family therapist.

Also, strangely, Shoes and I are having long, complicated discussions about when to start our own family, (if we start our own family), with no clear answers as to when, in part  because I am so busy taking care of other people's children.  (Calm. That's not the only reason the discussions are complicated).

So.  In sum.  My uterus is empty.  It might be empty for a good long while. And me and my empty uterus?  We're still a good family therapist.  I can still jump rope, shoot baskets, make a worry box, and depersonalize an issue like nobody's business.  I haven't stayed up all night with a colicky baby, but I've stayed up all night with a suicidal teenager.  I haven't dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten, but I've worked hours and hours and hours to get a child the special education service he desperately needs.

Not a mom.

Still an advocate for all things child.

Funny how that works.
Shoes and I are turning 35 this year.  I don't mind telling you that at all.  Shoes' birthday is today, and we've had a lovely weekend of dinners, golf and spending time together.  Due to not being in the city, this birthday was much harder to plan.  You see, we make a big deal out of birthdays around here.  We don't make a big deal out of presents (we both prefer not to - with any celebration - but that's a story of a different post), but we make a big deal out of the celebration.  The connection.  The ritual.

The ritual ended kind of early last night and we were in bed by 10.

That might have been worth it because I feel pretty fantastic this morning, which is, no doubt, another sign of being another year older.

Last night, when we were out at fancy dinner (kind of - the nicest dinner we could have in this rural town),  I asked Shoes what he had learned over the course of the last year.  He sighed and said, "I've learned to not let Rosie have any more fabric toys."  (Really.  She consumes all of them and then there's Big Trouble in Little Rosie's Stomach later.)

We also talked about 35 being kind of a difficult birthday.  For us, anyway.  We've both been very grateful to have been in the position of being "young professionals" after college and entering into our respective fields.  That part of our identity is slowly slipping away as we approach middle age.  We are no longer the bright, young people at the professional table.  And while that's a bit of an adjustment, there's also a reservoir of treasure that comes with that.  Namely, experience.  Patience.  Wisdom...

I've written many time about here about the long journey I took to find Shoes and be ok with marriage again.  We don't have to talk to about it again.  But it is worth mentioning that he still surprises me.  His wit, his patience, his kindness, his gentleness ... it is immense and all enveloping and there is still a piece of me that is astonished I get to help him celebrate any birthday with him.  He is an incredible partner, which is how I usually prefer to refer to him.  He truly partners with me in every sense of the word.

I do not know how to be more grateful for this human being in my life.
I do not know how I am so lucky to be able to help him celebrate another year of incredible living.
I think I can't love him more, and then, of course, I do.

Cheers to another year of a life very well lived, Shoes.  You're making the absolute most of your time on this earth, and it is humbling to see you not take anything for granted.  Cheers to this next year, too.  I have no doubt that you will find ways to live it even more fully.  Thanks for letting me celebrate with you.  There's nowhere else I'd rather be.