Category: articles

Five Sexy Halloween Costumes No Woman Should Ever Wear Be Without

 

It is commonly known that October 31st, for many women, is officially a day to dress like the stripper their parents dreaded they’d become. We’ve all gone to bars and Halloween parties, ready to drink and have fun, only to find ourselves staring into the unleashed taints of normally conservative female acquaintances gone wild.

“What are you supposed to be?” I remember asking one barely-clad-in-lingerie girlfriend.

“I’m a Victoria’s Secret model!” she replied in a chipper drunken slur.

True story.

I’m not even a prude. What bothers me about women who use Halloween as an excuse to walk around in their undies is that it feels contrived. If you want to dress provocatively and show off your body, do that. Work it, girl. But do it more than one day of the year. Own it. Stop turning my happy candy-gettin’ holiday into a spontaneously skanky somebody-needs-attention parade.

In short: If I’ve never seen your cleavage before, yet I’m suddenly being eye-raped by the camel toe portion of your ‘sexy Pikachu’ costume, you might be trying too hard.

 

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Some things truly can’t be unseen.

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In honor of this increasingly titillating trend, or perhaps just to make your shopping easier, I’ve conveniently compiled five classic sexy Halloween costumes for you here.    

 

The Sexy Nurse – 

Does the idea of a sponge bath administered by a medical professional send you into paroxysms of pleasure? Well never fear, because the Sexy Nurse will take good care of you – and all of your friends. She works hard for the money, spending her long shifts tending to the sexual needs of her patients. And forget the comfortable shoes, because the Sexy Nurse wears heels and only heels, as she is a mythical creature with magic feet that defy torturous pain.

 

have-mercy-nurse-costumeIs that a Foley catheter in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

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The Sexy Pirate –   

Watch as the Sexy Pirate heartily puts the “Arrrrrrrr!” into artificial. Because seriously, there is nothing realistic about this costume. Nobody could dress like this and work on a ship. Nobody could dress like this and work anywhere except a strip club. And have you ever heard of a female pirate? I haven’t. And that pretty Pirates of the Caribbean girl Johnny Depp doesn’t count, because she’s in a movie and movies aren’t real life. Plus, no real girl would ever choose to wear that much eyeliner.

 

sexy-plus-spanish-pirate-costumeUmm… keep that sword away from my poop deck, please. 

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The Sexy Schoolgirl – 

Bring me your daddy issues, your insecurities, your huddled assholes yearning to breathe free, because the Sexy Schoolgirl has it all. Got pedophiles? Then this costume is the one for you. If you’ve ever wanted to dress up as a hyper-sexualized child, then the Sexy Schoolgirl will put the barely legal trick in your trick-or-treat. You can even pull this costume out of the closet and wear it for viewings of recorded Toddlers & Tiaras or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo episodes. Play along! Bonus drinking game: Take a drink every time you see a child losing her innocence and self-esteem.

 

sexy-school-girl-costumeSurprise! The apple tastes like sadness and years of therapy. “All dead inside” stare not included.

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The Sexy Butterfly –

Hey, party pupas! It’s a slutterfly! For one night only, this costume wearer has shed the stifling cocoon of business casual, and we can’t stop staring at her metamorphosis into a really attractive flying bug with garters. Because what is sexier than an insect in black stockings? Amirite? Bugs are sooooooo hot. Wait. Where are you going? Aren’t these delicate wings a turn-on? Look! I’M A BEAUTIFUL FAIRY. You guys want to have sex with fairies, right? Guys? Come back!

 

sexy-butterfly-costumeJust like in nature documentaries, the corset means she’s’s ready to pollinate your flower.

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The Sexy Cop – 

You have the right to remain horny. Anything you do may be photographed, placed on the Internet, and held against you by future employers. You have the right to a condom. If you cannot afford a condom, one will be provided for you.* This uniformed girl wants you to know she’ll use those handcuffs on you in a really naughty way. Nope, don’t mess with the Sexy Cop, boys, or you’re gonna get the business end of the baton, and a ticket to appear in sexy court!**

 

plus-mrs-law-cop-costumeDoes that billy club require batteries?

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Happy Halloween, everybody, no matter how you choose to celebrate it.

 

*If I ever become a stripper, I will not be using my real name (Tawni… thanks, Mom) as originally planned, and will instead go by the moniker ‘Miranda Rights.’ I will only wear a police officer outfit onstage. My pepper spray and tits will be real.

**There is no such thing as sexy court, but if there was, it would be presided over by the honorable Judge Miranda Rights, and she would have clever catchphrases like: “Don’t jizz on my leg in the Champagne Room and tell me it’s rain!”

 

 

Be Still My Bleeding Heart

 

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Upon moving into my new home five years ago, I was dismayed to realize that my barren front yard received absolutely no sunshine whatsoever. None. Nada. Zip. Dark as the Grinch’s pre-Cindy Lou Who heart, this yard of mine. I had no idea how to garden in the shade.

I’d lived in Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, California, and now Oklahoma, and never before had I encountered a completely sun-free yard. Knowing that fertile soil, water, and sunshine are what plants need in order to grow, I wondered how I could create my happy, flowery world without the life-giving sun.

Desperately craving color, I soon found myself in the wretched, time-sucking embrace of Google, trying to learn about shade-loving plants. I was pleased to discover a whole new world (Cue: Jasmine and Aladdin) of pretty flowers and gorgeous plants that don’t need direct sunlight to thrive. In fact, many of these babies say, “Pooh to YOU, sunlight! We’ll stick with the shade, thankyouverymuch.” I have been planting a garden and growing things since I was a hippie child running naked and free on a remote Kansas farm, and it had not once occurred to me that plants could grow in total shade. Moss, I thought, maybe, but that’s about it.

In short: the discovery of shade-tolerant plants rocked my world view.

For the first few years, I planted shade annuals in my front landscaping, the trustworthy and dependable flowers known as impatiens. With occasional Miracle-Gro fertilization, my impatiens grew tall and strong without a fleck of sun. But every late fall, that sneaky bastard Old Man Winter would come along overnight and silently kill them all, forcing me to crawl around in my front yard in the cold air, removing the corpses and tidying up the scene of the crime with so much mulch. I grew tired of winter yard work. Yard work is for nice weather. In the winter, I only want to huddle under an electric blanket reading books and drinking red wine until I see the sun again. I needed a new plan.

Enter: shade perennials. Oh, perennials, you give me so much joy. I plant you once, and year after year, with only minor maintenance work from me, you come back. I can’t believe you keep coming back! You like me! You really like me!

I started searching the Internet, and eventually the local nurseries for shade-tolerant perennials. And I found some. Hostas, astilbe, ferns, hydrangea, pulmonaria, brunnera, helleborus, etc. But none have captured my love, all puns intended, like the bleeding heart plant, a.k.a. Dicentra.

Bleeding Heart Plant in My Front Landscaping, you complete me. Because you are me. I, too, am a bleeding heart. Because I cry every time I watch the news. Or one of those inspirational human interest stories on Sportscenter. Or if I visit an animal shelter. Or a pet store. Or when I see something that is just so niiiiiice it’s emotionally overwhelming. Because everything is overwhelming when you’re a freakishly empathetic emotional sponge like me. If you look in the dictionary next to “bleeding heart,” there is a picture of me holding this particular flower while rescuing a shelter kitten and sobbing over a copy of Where the Red Fern Grows. (I know. It’s okay if you want to laugh at me a little right now.)

So despite the fact that when I told my 6-year-old son the name of this flower, he immediately said, “Eeeew, Mom. It’s called a bleeding heart? That’s gross,” I still love it. That’s right! I’ll say it: I love my bleeding heart.

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Look at the ferny, emerald leaves and the gracefully arched branch of tantalizingly bloody flowers. It could be the official plant of Edward Gorey. But despite its grisly name, the bleeding heart plant has the elegance of a thousand orchids. Maybe because the dripping blossoms never actually fall, forever remaining a frozen snapshot of a liquid moment, it seems to epitomize the stillness of nature for me. I always notice this peaceful slowing down of life while gardening, and it is the main reason I love to plant things. Nature can’t be rushed, and it halts my racing mind, reminding me that I am connected to everything as I commune with the elements, digging in the earth and pouring the water, but not feeling the sun. Not this time. My bleeding heart doesn’t need the sun in order to shine.

I bought my bleeding heart in the form of a rhizome, which is a withered, ugly little root-looking thing that resembles a deformed bulb. These are sold in the gardening section of local discount stores for less than $10. It came in a bag, loosely covered with dirt. I dug a small hole in the gigantic clay pot that is my Oklahoma front yard, added some good potting soil, and lightly covered it with mulch. I kept it moist and within weeks was rewarded with a small plant that has grown continuously, hibernating in the winter, but returning bigger and stronger every spring. (I apologize for my use of the word “moist” at the beginning of that last sentence. “Damp” bothers me almost as much, however, and now I’ve gone and used both of those awful words. I’m going to stop talking about it now, before “ointment” and “panty” make it into the discussion.)

If you have a mostly shady spot in your yard where nothing seems to grow, and you want to dress it up with a delicate beauty of a flower, try planting a pretty little bleeding heart. There are many different varieties and sizes, but all of them are deer resistant and easy to grow. You won’t be sorry.

Clematis Is Not a Sexually Transmitted Disease

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At some point during college, I walked into a Planned Parenthood, signed in, sat down, and looked around. My eyes came to rest on a booklet that said in ominous all-caps: CHLAMYDIA IS NOT A FLOWER.

I began to giggle inside. That’s a great title for a pamphlet about venereal disease, because I never forgot it. Whoever thought of that, I owe you a lifetime of high-fives. To this day, if STDs are mentioned in a conversation, I am forced by the power of that Planned Parenthood pamphlet to say, “Hey! Did you know that chlamydia is not a flower?”

I have to say it, you see. Even when it’s insensitive and tacky of me. I can’t help it. Because over the course of my life, “chlamydia is not a flower” has become a verbal tic of sorts, one of those odd personal jokes between me, myself, and I. So be forewarned: if you mention chlamydia in my presence, I’m gonna have to remind you that chlamydia isn’t a flower, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it except roll your eyes and wait for me to stop snickering like a thirteen-year-old boy.

Cut to: ten years later (*cough*Fifteen! Liar!*cough*), and I’m no longer a young college girl on the go. I’m a wife and mother. Now, rather than getting drunk at keggers and puking into my own shoes for a good time, I like to plant flowers and garden. My life is different now. (Well, okay, except for the getting drunk part. I still do that occasionally. But my shoes are totally puke-free, I swear.)

One of my favorite flowers to plant, in this brave new world called adulthood, is clematis. Clematis is an easy to grow, beautiful flowering vine. But best part of all: “clematis” kind of sounds like “chlamydia.” And clematis IS a flower.

So if, like me, you decide to share your personal inside joke with your dear husband… you remember the joke, right? The one in which you ask, “Did you know that chlamydia is not a flower?” That joke? Well, the good man you married will quite possibly run with your not-really-that-funny chlamydia/clematis joke. Pretty soon he might call the clematis you’ve planted all over your yard “chlamydia,” and you will gleefully join him.

This sounds entertaining, yes? But be forewarned, it may get so bad that you will actually find yourself calling it only chlamydia because you’ve forgotten the actual name of the plant. You may even accidentally call it “chlamydia” when discussing it with employees in your local nursery or gardening center, and you will blush hot in the face with shame and embarrassment. So if, in your mushy mommy brain, you have started to lose your words and are now resorting to describing things with adjective-riddled paragraphs like I often do, you may want to skip the funny nickname for this plant, because soon, chlamydia is all you will have.

Yes, you, too, will have chlamydia.

I have chlamydia-clematis plants all over my yard. I love them because they are hardy, which in my part of the world (Tulsa, Oklahoma) means they can tolerate soil that contains so much clay I get to recreate that cheesy scene from the movie Ghost every time I plant something. (Except there’s no hunky Patrick Swayze-type hugging me from behind while I work the clay, and instead of throwing a sexy new pot on that cool spinny thing, I’m throwing out my tired old back.) Clematis is also a perennial vine, which means that once you plant it, it will grow back every year, even after a cold winter, saving you money (and future back strain).

I have clematis in five different areas of my yard, both front and back. This is because the Lowe’s home and garden store down the road from my house had them on clearance a few years ago. It was early summer and the planting season for these lovelies was over, so they were selling them at $2 a pop. I bought 12 clematis vines and hurried home to get them into the ground before the storm presently brewing in the skies above opened up full throttle.

With thunder rumbling over me, I hurried to get these babies planted:

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The raindrops had just started to speckle my face while I frantically got them into the earth, and within minutes of finishing, I watched from inside as the summer thunderstorm gave my new clematis a free post-planting soaking. Perfect.

I have done nothing for the clematis since planting them, and they have continued to thrive. Every spring, they come back bigger and stronger, with more blooms than the year before. It took me thirty hurried-by-threat-of-lightning minutes to slam them into the ground, and these selfless little flowers reward me every year for my haphazard gardening approach with so much purple goodness. I can even call them a name reserved for a ghastly disease, and they still come back pretty for me.

Contrary to some of the things you’ll read about clematis, they do not need full sun. I have clematis planted in partial, and even full shade (I have a north-facing front yard), and they do fine. The only thing I’ve noticed about my shady clematis is that they bloom later than the sunnier placements, but I like the staggering of the flowers. It gives me the bright colors I love for a longer time, rather than all at once.

Another thing I’ve noticed about my clematis plants is that they are not an aggressively clingy, vining plant, in that they don’t necessarily stick to everything I plant them under. I’ve had to use jute/garden rope, and even twisty-ties to hold the plants onto the trellises and drain spouts to encourage clinging. Once they’re growing where you want them, you’re golden, but they may need a little help getting there. (You can do it. You’re supportive, nurturing, and helpful, I can just feel it.)

Different types of clematis bloom at different times, so if you buy and plant them appropriately, you can have constant blooms in your yard. Or you can be like me and buy a bunch of clearance plants that are $2 each because they don’t have labels, put them in the ground, and enjoy the surprise of seeing what pops up. It’s your decision. I would recommend with all new plantings that you amend the dirt in your planting holes by mixing a bit of good store-bought potting soil in with the present soil as you plant. This will raise the nutrient content of your soil, and increase the drainage for the roots of the plant, which are both good things.

Remember to mulch your clematis after planting to hold moisture in, and water them once a week for the first year, or until they seem well-established. Pruning schedules for clematis are different depending on which type you have, but in general, clematis that blooms on this year’s growth should be pruned in the early spring, and clematis that blooms on last year’s growth should be pruned back after blooming.

More than anything, don’t stress out. Just give it a try: flowers are tougher than you think. Remember what we learned from Jurassic Park – nature finds a way – so put it in the ground, water it, and get ready for some pretty.

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Happy Naked New Year

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It was sometime in the mid-nineties, after the last ragged, dying gasps of my foolish decision to marry at nineteen. The disco ball sparkled fragments of light romantically around the floor, where I moved slowly underneath, head pressed against the chest of my new boyfriend. A crowd of equally drunk people swayed around us in the haze. Through the speakers, Whitney Houston was singing “I Will Always Love You” in a time before reality shows would make her a laughingstock. I pushed aside the cynical part of me that was cringing at the drippy song lyrics, and just tried to enjoy the moment. We were young, it was midnight on a New Year’s Eve, and we were naked.

No, not emotionally. That’s not a metaphor or anything. We were actually naked.

He was the bass guitar player in a country-rockabilly band. I was learning to play guitar for an all-girl rock band I was joining, and I’d met him in my crowd of musician friends. His band had a standing New Year’s Eve gig at a nudist colony in Washington, Texas. They would make the drive from where we lived in Warrensburg, Missouri at the end of every year, to ring in the next one at the Live Oak Resort.

I wasn’t a stranger to nudity. When I was a child, my parents’ divorce took my little sister and me from Phoenix, Arizona to a farm outside of Lawrence, Kansas to live with our new stepfather. Our land was completely secluded, and our parents were reformed hippies, so we ran around naked outside in warm weather if we felt like it. Our only neighbors were the proprietors of a lesbian sprout farm that provided alfalfa and bean sprouts to local restaurants and grocery stores. They often walked around topless, and would casually squat to pee in the grass mid-sentence while we chatted with them, so they didn’t mind our nudity. For a couple of city kids, the newfound freedom in the countryside was awesome. Kids love naked time.

When my boyfriend tentatively asked me if I wanted to road trip with his band for the New Year’s Eve gig at the nudist ranch, I didn’t bat an eye. I knew the people watching would be choice. Of course I wanted to go.

As we pulled into the resort and parked the van for load-in, I was surprised to see various stages of clothing on the patrons. Some people wore clothes. Some people were naked. Some were only wearing shorts, but no shirt, as if they were getting dressed and suddenly remembered where they were. Most were wearing shoes, however, which bothered me. There is something inherently off-putting about a fully shod naked person. If you’re going to wear shoes while naked, you might as well strap on a fanny pack, or don a top hat and pair of mittens too. It just looks odd.

During the drive there, I had been briefed by my boyfriend and his band in the etiquette of bare-ass, and what to expect. They told me that nobody would be pressuring us to take off our clothes; nudity was not a requirement. “That’s cool,” I murmured casually, lest they think me uptight.

We got out of the van fully clothed. As promised, no one pointed sternly to the word “nudist” on a sign and demanded that we strip down. The band set up their instruments, sound checked, and we started drinking. Despite the nonchalant attitude we were trying to maintain about the naked people, there was definitely a nervous vibe. I knew I wasn’t the only one whose inner teenager was giggling and pointing.

The large building had been decorated for the occasion in white and silver streamers with rainbow confetti on the tables. There was a disco ball glittering in the middle, and a black velvet-covered deejay booth to one side. The champagne fountain caught my eye immediately. I had only dreamed of such glorious things up to this point in my young life. The sweet alcoholic nectar was flowing expressly for my girl-drink inebriation. Despite my free spirit upbringing, the plethora of casual naked strangers was unnerving, and I knew the champagne fountain and I would become fast friends.

The band got onstage and began to play. Naturally shy, with the boyfriend/social lifesaver now missing from my side, I took up permanent residence near the stream of liquid courage. Through the softening focus of my bubbly-dimmed awareness, I soon realized I was surrounded. The once empty recreation building was slowly filling with people. Naked people.

When you picture a nudist colony, if your mind is like mine, you might mentally hearken back to the sixties, to a time of lax inhibition and free love. You might picture young, unclothed people at one with nature, walking serenely though a field of flowers, holding hands. You might picture throngs of squirming, nubile bodies seeking pleasure from one another. You might even picture yourself in that scenario, if you are feeling sexy. What you do not picture in any imagined dreamscape full of naked people are your grandparents.

But that was what the building was full of: naked grandparents.

I was aghast to discover that my hedonistically carnal vision of what the nudist resort would be like was completely off target. I was expecting Greek gods and goddesses with bodies made of marble and supernatural sexuality on full display. Instead, I was surrounded by elderly people who might have pulled out a hard candy to offer me, if only they had pockets. I didn’t know if I was disappointed, relieved, or repulsed. Probably a combination of the three. The pressure was officially off to be attractive. Anyone with a poor body image would do well to go to a nudist camp.

With the intimidation factor lifted by the sagging skin and alcohol around me, I soon felt comfortable enough to revisit my carefree childhood by taking off my clothes. I stripped down to nothing, leaving my baggy jeans and T-shirt on a chair. Fuck it, I decided. Obviously nobody here cares if I have the body of a Victoria’s Secret model, or even a Lane Bryant model, for that matter.

Standing near the front of the stage drunk and naked, watching my boyfriend’s band play, I was soon asked to dance by one of the older men. It was a fast song, so there was no slow dancing closeness, and I accepted. I was really nervous about the slow songs, though. How would we keep the naughty bits from touching? With visions of Uncle Creepy punch lines dancing in my head, I didn’t want to explore that disturbing riddle any further.

I ended up dancing with many elderly gentlemen. As we talked, most of them seemed to feel obligated to explain to me, the outsider, why they were at the nudist ranch. Even though I never asked, or cared, they seemed determined to give me their reasons for getting naked. They told me they liked the resort because unlike in their normal lives, where they were very wealthy and powerful, nobody could determine one’s financial status without clothing. Everyone was equal when naked.

At the time, this rationalization struck me as noble. My youthfully trusting brain thought they were really neat people for valuing the social equality to be found in nudity. Now that I’m older, I realize they were probably just trying to impress the hot young chick by making sure I knew they were rich. Rather than appreciating the lack of class division, they were actually making certain I was aware of it. Unable to display shiny red sports cars and power suits, all they had left in their arsenal were words of braggadocio. They made sure the cat was out of the bag, or wrinkly old sack, as it were.

The night wore on, and the room full of nudists got more raucous. I noticed there were a few people who stood out as full-fledged extroverts, and many who were more casual. Upon meeting, some women would flirt openly, lasciviously telling me they liked the way I moved my body on the dance floor. Others would politely extend a hand in greeting, as if we were undressed ladies-who-lunch attending a fundraiser for clothing.

One woman was going from table to table, hiking up a leg to show everyone (who didn’t ask) her recent clitoral piercing. I found it interesting that someone could be seeking attention so hard that being naked wasn’t enough; she still needed to perform a labial lambada to stand out. I happened to be close to a few different tables when she did this, each time smiling benignly on the outside, while screaming in horror on the inside. She had managed to do the impossible: making me want to un-see something even more than the wrinkled ocean of senior flesh surrounding us.

There was a younger guy maintaining a constant state of semi-erection as he tried to dance with every woman in the room. People were giggling about this, which surprised me, as I would think any form of bodily mockery would be frowned upon in such a place. I was relieved to discover that even in a room full of nudists, it was still okay to laugh at an errant boner.

One man in particular latched onto me that night, grilling me about the nature of my relationship with the boyfriend. Yet again, the explanation was given that he came to the nudist resort so that he could be naked and not judged for having so much money, blah, blah, blah. Same story as the other men, but he was pushier, shoving a business card into my unwilling hand. “Call me,” he insisted.

The band ended up drinking enough to lose most of their clothing by the end of the night. And there we were: a bunch of naked people rocking out in a Texas warehouse. The show ended before midnight, and a deejay took over, playing all of the grungy songs and romantic ballads the nineties had to offer.

This experience reinforced to me that even in a group of people who consider themselves nonconformists, there will always be the familiar personalities. The archetypes exist with or without clothing: the attention whore, the arrogant rich guy, the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, the criminal… you’ve seen the movie.

Hugging my naked boyfriend on the dance floor at midnight while Whitney serenaded us, I noted the inimitability of the odd evening.This will probably be the most unusual and interesting New Year’s Eve I ever have in my life, I thought. And so far, this has proven to be correct. But I’m not giving up. I remain hopeful that I may someday top it.

Best Actress

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Marijuana. Mary Jane. Reefer. No matter what you choose to call it, I have never been able to smoke pot. What for some people seems to be a relaxed good time has always been for me a paranoid journey to the center of my mind, where I sit shivering in a cerebral corner, wondering if I’ll ever be able to think normally again.

In college, I reluctantly got stoned with the happy party people around me. Most of these attempts ended with me feeling lost, floating in the universe, indefinitely wondering whether or not I had to pee. Time crawled by thick as resin as I tried to decide if I looked as crazy on the outside as I felt on the inside. If I was lucky, I found a bed to pass out in, mercifully ending my hyper-analytical mental anguish.

It seems like a wonderful ride for most, so for years I tried to stay on the bucking bronco of marijuana before permanently passing the reins to the other space cowboys. Abstaining from pot, combined with my love of exercising and rising early, eventually conspired to make me the least rock and roll chick to ever play guitar in a band. I am decidedly not cool; I’ve made my peace with this fact.

Throughout high school, however, I was still trying to smoke the stuff. My older sister and I would sometimes hide behind one of the many outbuildings on our farm to do it. We’d sit in the grass, leaning against the hay barn; two teenage girls smiling into the summery blue Missouri sky, giggling about nothing and everything. When my parents took the family to Disneyland, she and I got stoned in the It’s a Small World ride. It was there I learned that hundreds of creepy animatronic children singing a repetitive song about the world closing in on me do nothing to ease my pot smoking paranoia. Noted.

On family vacation in Las Vegas that summer, my sister and I quickly tired of the little kid games inside of Circus Circus where we were staying. There were only so many stuffed animals a teenager wanted to win. Bored and seeking fresh entertainment, we left the pink ponies and casino to walk the streets of Sin City. Ducking into an alley, we decided to make our stroll more interesting by smoking a joint she had brought along. Standing next to a ten-foot-high concrete block fence for privacy, by the dirt road that ran between buildings on either side of us, we proceeded to smoke marijuana.

We’d taken a few tokes and I was just starting to feel blurry when a car turned quickly into the alley, about fifty feet away. I brought the joint down from my mouth and held it at my side. I was hoping that the person turning into the alley would think I was only smoking a cigarette, stupidly forgetting that as a non-smoker I looked awkward smoking anything I tried. As the dark blue car drove by and I clumsily passed the joint, we realized in our dulled awareness that it was an unmarked police vehicle. So of course we did the worst thing possible. We panicked.

“That was a cop!” she squeaked as he drove past.

Get rid of it. Get rid of it. Get rid of it,” I whisper-screamed at her.

She frantically tried to toss the joint over the wall next to us. It backed up to a neighborhood, so there was no convenient way around to retrieve the contraband. If we could just get it over the wall, it would be out of sight and virtually unreachable.

My sister has always been petite, and she was unable to throw it over the high fence. The joint bounced off of the wall, rolling futilely back toward us on the dusty ground. We jumped away in fear, as if it was a spider. I grabbed it out of the sand where it sat mocking me like a turd in a litter box and tried to clear the concrete wall again. I’m taller at 5’9″ with greater reach, and it went over this time.

This all happened in the span of a few seconds, so before we could feel relief to have ditched the incriminating evidence, we saw brake lights. No doubt tipped off by our frantic chicken-like scrabbling and obviously guilty behavior, the officer turned around and drove back in our direction while we watched in mute terror. There was nowhere to run, as we were trapped in an alley and didn’t know the area. We both turned our nothing-to-see-here knobs up to eleven, and then he was getting out of the car. Meanwhile, the pot we’d smoked was the kind that creeps up on you, and I was feeling exponentially freaked out by the second. I quickly realized an intimidating police officer was even more paranoia-inducing than soulless puppet children singing at me en masse. My world of hope was quickly becoming a world of fear.

“Did I just see you two girls smoking a joint?” the officer demanded.

It was do or die time. Time to sell it like I’d never sold it before. If we got busted by this cop for pot, there would be no end to the trouble we’d get in. We’d be grounded until I started college for this one, and rightly so. We’d fucked up, big time. I summoned every bit of acting ability I had in my dumb fifteen-year-old body, and tried to push the part of me growing fuzzy from the drugs to the back, working hard for a moment of ass-saving clarity. I put on my best shocked and appalled face at the mention of pot, because pot was awful, and oh my gosh, how could anyone think I’d been smoking pot?

“No officer! I would never smoke pot. But I was trying to smoke a cigarette,” I replied, shame dripping from my voice, eyes cast downward in good girl humiliation. “It was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I didn’t even like it. It was so gross!”

“It looked like a joint to me, whatever you threw over that wall, young lady. If I drive both of you around to the other side, are we gonna find marijuana? Do you think your parents are gonna enjoy having to come pick you up from jail today?”

Shit. If I didn’t pull this off, we were going to end up in a cell, the weak teenage bitches of hardened Las Vegas prostitutes. I silently hoped my prison mistress would at least have a heart of gold. In full self-preservation mode, I quickly realized that my best psychological tactic would be to act so distraught about being caught smoking a cigarette that the pot thing would be downplayed. If I seemed truly disgusted about the cigarette, he might believe me innocent of the worse crime.

“Oh no, please, don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette! They’ll be so mad at me because they hate smoking! This was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I thought it was so nasty. I’m never gonna smoke a cigarette again, I swear it,” I pleaded.

He asked again that if he went to the dreaded other side of the wall, would there be marijuana waiting? I repeated the Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Tried a Cigarette monologue, as if he hadn’t mentioned pot at all. I was working it. Totally owning it. I had the big, tear-filled eyes and the quivering lip; I epitomized the scared young girl gone astray. I was a living, breathing After School Special, begging for a second chance. Before I knew it, even I believed my lies. I was the innocent babe trying those yucky gosh darned cigarettes for the first time. And please don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette, yes cigarette, can I say cigarette one more time? Because it was a cigarette and totally not marijuana, you know. Cough-cigarette-cough.

It finally worked. I couldn’t believe it, but it worked. The officer admonished us one last time with some sort of you kids stay out of trouble speech, got in his car, and drove away. Chastened and shaking like rabbits unexpectedly released from a snare trap, we headed back to the hotel, officially ending our stint as teenage streetwalkers. We walked dazed and confused into the pink nightmare of Circus Circus. Sad clowns and desperate elderly gamblers were definitely preferable to horrified flop sweat and handcuffs.

I never really gave myself much credit for my actions that day, always assuming the cop took pity on me, or had bigger fish to fry. But recently my mom mentioned to me that my sister had told her about the incident. I’m old enough now that my mom has heard most of my naughty stories, and I can only be grounded by myself, so this didn’t bother me. What shocked me was that my sister said my performance for the officer was amazing. She was blown away by my acting ability, and gave me full props for getting us out of what might have been the only arrest of our lives.

She also told my mother, “After I saw Tawni lie so convincingly that day, I knew I could never trust her again!”

Oops.

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake

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Smiling, I watched as two kids around the age of seven happily grabbed pieces of the chocolate cake we were trying to unload. I worked in the free sample corner of a California grocery store. Usually my job involved cooking food for this purpose, but whenever we over-ordered a product, it conveniently became that day’s sample. The customers got to try something new and we got rid of our excess goods. Win-win.

The children had run away down an aisle toward the back of the store, presumably in the direction of their legal guardian. I was not yet a mother at the time, but the way people let their little ones run wild in public had always perplexed me. Weren’t they worried about the safety of their offspring? Weren’t they worried about the annoyance of others? Now that I’m a mother, I still don’t understand this lackadaisical approach to childcare, but if you disagree with me we can discuss…wait, what’s that? Oh, sorry. I can’t hear you over the chop-chop-chop of my helicopter parenting. Forgive me.

A woman walked up to my counter with an unpleasant sneer on her face. “What about the kids?” she barked at me. “That was chocolate cake! What about the kids?”

She was obviously angry that I’d given the children sugary food without asking their parents. She was not angry about the fact that the kids were completely without supervision–she was angry at me, the girl who was not allowed to deny anyone a sample, as per the boss’s orders.

If someone stood at the counter eating all of my samples, despite the fact that I got in trouble for an empty tray, I wasn’t allowed to say a thing. When the homeless lady came in daily to eat everything at once (and chug the entire carton of milk supposed to be used as coffee creamer), I had to watch in silence. What this abrasive, snarling soldier in the fight against sugar didn’t realize was that I was not allowed to join her military. I was sugar Switzerland.

But did I say any of this to her? No. Why not? Well, first of all, I needed the job. Arguing with a customer certainly wouldn’t garner me a raise come employee evaluation time.

Secondly, I am non-confrontational to a flaw. I don’t like it. It makes my stomach hurt.

And last of all, and most importantly, she was being rude. I didn’t deserve to be snapped at because somebody didn’t care enough to make sure their kids weren’t taking candy from strangers.

So what did I do? How did I handle the situation? I’m a bit embarrassed to say because it wasn’t very mature of me. In my defense, I had fifteen years of working customer service jobs with the public under my tired belt, and honestly, my patience with mean people was running on empty. I could still fake sincerity with the best of them, but my years of hoping that people are mostly good at heart were long behind me. My jaded inner Pollyanna was sitting firmly on the steps of her imaginary trailer, chain smoking and hollering ignorant invectives at the neighbors.

My temper in absentia, I did the first passive-aggressive thing that popped into my head. I pretended I didn’t understand her. She had a thick Spanish accent, and the way she was saying “the kids” made it sound like “da keys.” So I went with it.

“The keys? Have you lost your keys? The customer service desk is right over there. If someone has turned in your keys, that’s where they’ll be,” I told her kindly, with a beatific smile plastered pleasantly upon my lying jerk face.

“No! The kids! What about the kids?!” she yelled.

I continued to radiate sweetness and innocence, coupled with a not un-dog-like head turn to let her know that I was confused, yet patiently trying to understand her dilemma. I was here to help.

“Oh no. So…your keys? Did you lose your keys? Well, if you go to the customer service center they can help you find your keys, ma’am.” Still smiling. Apologetic nose crinkle. Blank eyes.

She turned beet red. I could practically see the cartoon steam coming from her ears. “No! The KIDS! The KIDS! The KIDS!” she spluttered at me in fury. Except that because of her accent it came out as: “Da KEYS! Da KEYS! Da KEYS!”

So I continued to psychologically poke the crazed woman by acting like I thought she’d lost her keys. Nobody does passive-aggressive like a person working retail. Nobody.

She stormed over to the customer service desk I’d pointed out to her and grabbed a manager. It was Jamie, one of the cooler ones, thank goodness. Her anger really helped my cause, as by the time she dragged him over to my counter she looked completely insane. Meanwhile, I thought about unicorns, emanated rainbows, and adjusted my halo.

“She is so STUPID! She is an IDIOT!” she pointed at me accusingly as I widened my eyes in feigned surprise. I held my hands out at the manager and said, “I’m sorry, Jamie. I thought she lost her keys, but I guess I’m not really understanding what she wants. I was just trying to help.”

“That’s okay. How can I help you, ma’am?” he inquired, turning to her politely.

Behind my manager’s back, I gave her a very different smile from the friendly “eediot” smile I’d been giving as I pretended to not understand for what she was berating me.

This smile knew she’d been saying “kids” and not “keys” all along.

This smile was shotgun-married to the hardened gleam in my eyes, and knew the score.

This smile whispered “Fuck you” as it passed you in a crowd, and kept walking.

It was at that moment she knew I’d been messing with her the whole time, and when she realized she wasn’t going to get me in trouble, she became even more enraged.

Without attempting to further thwart my agenda for the corruption of angelic children via evil chocolate cake, she immediately demanded that he refund her money and take back the bag of groceries she’d purchased.

Because yes, like some sort of sugar police officer noticing a violation while off-duty, she had been walking out of the store when the kids took my samples, and walked back in to yell at me. Now she stormed over to a register with Jamie for the refund, and then flounced out of the building, loudly announcing that she’d never shop in our store again.

(It never fails to amaze me when irate customers say this, as if the employees will take it as an insult. What we’d really like is a promise. Maybe even a legally binding document stating that you will never, ever come back. Please. Do it for the kids.)

The Chocolate Cake Incident happened in Los Angeles, the land of the body-conscious and health-minded. A few years later, I met the man who would become my husband, and we had a baby. To give our child a backyard in which to play, we moved to Oklahoma, the home of the not-so-body-conscious and not-so-health-minded. Sugar flows freely here. Gravy abounds.

In Oklahoma, nobody screams at me for feeding children chocolate cake. In Oklahoma, I am treated like a hippie freak for enjoying vegetables, and not really liking processed foods. I am sometimes appalled on play dates with other kids when their mothers hand them unnatural junk foods like dyed chemicals disguised as yogurt squeezed from plastic tubes, or as I recently witnessed, pull out a bag of marshmallows for them to eat with their Capri Sun high-fructose corn syrup waters.

Because it seems to be everywhere, we try to keep the sugar to a dull roar at home without being weird about it. We figure that if we don’t give our son too much daily sugar, it will be a nice treat when he receives it at school or from his grandparents. I recognize that it is my job as his parent to teach him to eat well so that he won’t become an adult with obesity and poor diet-related health issues. But I’d like to do this without making him feel so deprived he winds up overcompensating for all the desserts he missed once he’s grown up.

You know. Moderation.

My husband took our son with him to run an errand at the DMV this weekend. As they waited in line, a kind stranger bought our boy a gumball from a nearby machine. My husband was perturbed by the presumption that it was okay to give someone’s child sugar without asking. When he told me about it, I was bothered more that they gave an unknown child gum, as it was only months ago we could finally start trusting him to not swallow it.

As we discussed this, it occurred to me that we had become the sugar police. We were now the concerned adults whining about giving too much sugar to children. I immediately remembered the time I was on the non-parent side in Los Angeles, and tried to put myself into the shoes of the woman who’d chewed me out for giving chocolate to children six years ago.

Was she right? Should I have risked losing my job to take the cake away from the unsupervised kids? Had I unknowingly set the obesity and diabetes wheels in motion for them? Should I have explained that my job required me to give samples away to everyone? Had I been too cruel as I pretended I didn’t understand what she was saying to me?

Nah. That lady was a bitch.

 

 

Very Superstitious

 

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Whenever I see a tails-side-up penny on a sidewalk, or in a parking lot, I think of her.

Every time she spotted one, she would kick it as hard as she could.

Everybody knows that only a heads-up penny is good luck, so she kicked the tails-up pennies.

I found this to be terribly endearing, like she was kicking out at the Fates. Take that, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.

Or perhaps by kicking a penny into the heads-up position, she selflessly passed on good luck to an unsuspecting stranger. Numismatic altruism.

Whenever I see a penny on the ground now, I think of her.

I think about what a talented songwriter and musician she was.

I think about my ruined credit from using plastic to pay for our band van repairs, gasoline, and groceries. Trying to survive in a rock band full of rich girls was not easy for a poor kid with no parental parachute.

I remember them coming into the Subway where I worked, alcohol buzzed midday and having fun. They had no idea how badly I wanted to be a carefree twenty-something on a day drunk too, but nobody was paying my way.

I think about all of the time I put into our band: the hours I spent on the phone with A&R reps, booking gigs, mailing music, and hanging show posters. How I quit college one semester from a degree to go on tour, only to be kicked out by her after we finally signed a major label record deal. And how they had to hire a manager to do all the promotional work I’d been doing to get us signed because nobody else in the band could ever wake up before noon.

I think about how she organized it so that the whole band and our label rep from New York kicked me out chickenshit-style as a group, rather than having the human decency to do it one-on-one. I was the fourth person she’d fired from the band in two years, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

I think about how I missed the chance to play at the private R.E.M. end-of-tour party in Athens, Georgia, even though I had everything to do with Mike Mills noticing our band.

I think about the time we got into such a horrible, drunken fight that we threw full beer cans at each other.

I think about the next day, when she asked me how my bathroom mirror got broken and I sarcastically laughed until I realized she really didn’t remember throwing the beer can at my head and missing. (I ducked. Seven years bad luck.)

I think about her annoying rich-kid-with-nothing-real-to-think-about ramblings. “What is the Absolute Truth?” she often pretentiously wondered aloud. “What are we doing here on the planet?” she would toss into a conversation. But most of us were tired from working a job all day here on the planet and just wanted to relax.

It was irritating to be around, to be constantly slapped in the face with someone’s existential angst. Struggling with unanswerable questions is not how I choose to live my life — that’s why I’m not religious. I don’t care who put us here, why we’re here, or where we go when we die. I’ve got bills to pay.

She had no job and her parents bought everything: her college, rent, brand new car, and musical gear. She could spare the brain space, as she had nothing to do but think about such things. Money can make a person crazy that way.

Sometimes I think about the cat she named Abby, short for Absolute Truth. She later abandoned it when she moved into an apartment that wouldn’t allow animals. I wonder what the Absolute Truth was for that poor creature.

I wonder if she’s doing drugs all of the time, and if she still thinks that when she trips on acid she’s getting in touch with her Native American heritage, as if her great, great, great-grandmother being Cherokee makes her drug-induced hallucinations “visions” instead of drug-induced hallucinations.

I think about her insane rages whenever she’d attempt to drink anything stronger than beer — when she’d become violent, uncontrollable, and even piss herself after shots of whiskey.

I wonder if she’s still ruining the lives of the people around her.

Whenever I see a penny on the ground now, I think of her.

And I kick it.

 

 

Five Childhood Books That Traumatized Me

I wrote about 6 childhood books that have haunted me my whole life for The Nervous Breakdown, 5 of which I’ve shared below. Because apparently, if an animal dies a horrible death, you should probably write a children’s book about it.

If you want to view the longer piece:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tfreeland/2011/08/six-childhood-books-that-traumatized-me/

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The following are descriptions of 5 books I read as a kid that still haunt my brain to this day, as interpreted by my child-aged self.

1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Summary: Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy. She gave him leaves to play with, and he climbed her and swung from her branches. He loved her and hugged her a lot.

And then he grew up and forgot about her until he needed something. He took her apples to sell, like a teenager stealing drug money from a purse, and then blew her off again for a few years.

He came back only to cut off her branches and build a house with her severed limbs. This made her happy, even though cutting off all the branches on a tree would nullify its ability to photosynthesize, killing it slowly. But the fact that she’d helped the boy build a house made the tree happy, because she was a kind and selfless tree. And yet he ignored her again for a long, long time.

The boy didn’t come back until he was an old man, and when the tree asked him to play, he said, no sorry, I’m too old and all I want is to get the hell away from you again, you stupid nice tree. So the masochistic tree told him to cut her down and make a boat with which to sail far, far away from her, because apparently giving chunks of herself to this greedy, selfish man would never be enough to make him love her. And the sonofabitch did it. He said, “Thanks for your body parts!” and sailed off into the sunset. But still, the tree was just happy to have helped.

The heartless bastard came back years later to see how else he might destroy the sweetest tree on the planet, which was now only an ugly stump. The codependent tree stump was so happy to see him that she actually asked him if she could do anything else for him. He told her he was too old and tired to torture her in new and exciting ways, so he sat on what was left of her.

The moral: Sometimes no matter how nice you are to people, you’re still going to end up with an ass on your face.

Hidden message: Mom was right. If you give your body to a man, he will leave you.

Bonus trauma: The photograph of Shel Silverstein on the back of the book.

***

 

2. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Summary: An unpopular boy makes friends with an odd new girl at school. They hang out together in the forest and use their imaginations to create a world in which they aren’t losers.

One day, the boy chooses to hang out with a teacher he has a crush on instead of hanging out with the girl in the woods. The girl goes into the woods alone, falls, hits her head on a rock and drowns in the stream. The boy must live with the guilt for the rest of his life.

The moral: Hey, kids. Guess what? Your friends can die.

Hidden message: Hey, kids. Guess what? That means you can die, too.

Bonus trauma: Awareness of your own mortality.

***

 

3. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

Summary: Just in case your parents haven’t yet had the birds and bees talk with you, this book starts off with a cow alone in the woods, failing miserably at giving birth. A wandering boy helps the cow release the calf that is stuck in her vagina like some sort of slimy and bleating mammalian cork by fashioning a crude pulley out of his pants, using a tree as a fulcrum.

The cow rewards him for helping her live by nearly killing him. Her owner then rewards the boy for not suing by giving him a baby pig. He calls the pig Pinky, and she becomes a beloved pet, much like a family dog.

I should probably mention at this point that the boy’s father slaughters pigs for a living. I think you know where this is going now.

They discover that the pig is barren, and therefore worthless. In one of the most horrifying coming-of-age moments ever captured in print, the boy is then forced to help his father murder Pinky. Descriptions of skull-crunching noises and snow-turned-to-red-slush abound. This book holds the distinguished honor of: First Book to Ever Make Me Sob Uncontrollably.

The moral: Living on a farm will make you so lonely that sleeping in a shed with a pig will sound appealing.

Bonus trauma: Highly disturbing pig-on-pig rape scene involving lard.

Quote I still love and should apply to myself more often: “‘Never miss a chance,’ Papa had once said, ‘to keep your mouth shut.’”

***

 

4. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Summary: A young boy saves all the money he makes trapping animals for years to buy two hunting dogs. He names them Old Dan and Little Ann, and the three of them become an inseparable raccoon hunting trio.

Old Dan eventually goes up against a mountain lion and is mortally wounded. Little Ann dies of starvation and a broken heart after dragging her weak dog body to the grave of Old Dan, where the boy finds her stiffened corpse.

He buries her next to Old Dan, and a red fern grows up between their graves. For some reason this ghoulish plant makes the family less sad about the painful deaths of their dogs.

The moral: Your pets will die before you do, leaving you heartbroken and bereft.

Bonus trauma: Learning that there have always been bullies, even back in the peaceful olden days when people had dirt floors and pooped outside.

***

 

5. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

Summary: There is a family of Texas settlers. The dad leaves the farmstead for a few months to travel to Kansas for a cattle drive. His son, a teenager, must temporarily become the man of the house.

A yellow dog comes along and adopts the family. After it saves the younger brother from a bear, they all love it.

After it saves the entire family from a hydrophobic wolf, the boy immediately shoots the dog in the head because it may have possibly caught hydrophobia from the wolf bites.

(It is never mentioned that hydrohobia is old-timey speak for rabies, because creatures with rabies refuse/avoid water. This knowledge might have helped young reader me understand why everyone was killing and burning animals willy-nilly.)

The book jacket explains it all in one sentence: “Travis learns just how much he has come to love that big ugly dog, and he learns something about the pain of life, too.”

Because life is pain, children. Life is pain.

Got it?

Now who wants cookies?

The moral: In order to become a man, you must violently kill something you love.

Bonus trauma: Dogs always die. Seriously. They’re just going to die, kid, no matter what. Why would you get a dog, ever?

***

 

tfreeland

TAWNI FREELAND played guitar and sang for rock bands in Lawrence, Kansas and Los Angeles before settling down in Tulsa. She is working on her first novel. She has no exotic pets.

 

 

Gifted Children: 10 Signs Your Kid is Super Smart

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Gifted children often go unidentified, leading to boredom and frustration in the classroom, which can appear to be ADHD or other behavioral disorders. These improper diagnoses can prevent intelligent kids from reaching their full potential academically, as well as disrupting their emotional growth and well-being.

When smart, sensitive children are treated as troublemakers because they have different needs or require extra mental stimulation, this condemnation from the authority figures in their lives can lead to feelings of rejection and a defiant attitude, turning the negative labels into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This problem makes it very important to recognize gifted children as soon as possible, with many schools now performing intelligence tests (such as the OLSAT) on the entire student population, beginning as early as 1st grade.

Below are 10 signs to help you know if your child may be intellectually or creatively gifted:

 

  1. A Restless Brain—

Gifted kids have trouble focusing on subjects that don’t interest them, and much of the time when this happens in a school setting, this disinterest stems from the fact that they are being forced to sit through and “learn” concepts along with the rest of the class that the gifted child has already mastered.

 

  1. Many Questions— 

When a child asks questions constantly, especially about the way things work, this can be a characteristic of giftedness. If they seek knowledge beyond the basic answers, or want to study very specific concepts, this can also be a sign of an extremely bright young mind.

  

  1. Endless Energy—

A gifted child often has a body that races along in an attempt to keep up with their rapidly moving mind. This constant mental and physical movement can lead to difficulty sleeping, which you may notice during infanthood; or in the form of an early end to daily toddler naps. It can also lead to a misdiagnosis of ADHD in a child not kept intellectually challenged.

 

  1. Super Sensitivity—

Along with advanced intelligence, gifted children may also show sensitivity beyond what a child in their age group normally possesses. These kids may still be of average maturity for their age while empathetically advanced, causing them emotional issues that may incorrectly present as behavioral disorders.

 

  1. Perfectionism, Please—

Gifted children hate making mistakes, and will often set overly high expectations, becoming agitated and upset when they don’t achieve them immediately. If your child gets frustrated, angry or gives up easily when not instantly good at something, this may be the cause.

 

  1. Natural Leaders—

If you’ve noticed your child tries to dominate the situations or manage groups in which he or she is placed, this can be a sign of intelligence. While shy children can be gifted too, it is very common for smart kids to be opinionated and outspoken, causing them to be seen as leaders by their peers.

 

  1. Intense Focus—

The same gifted children who become unfocused and disruptive when bored by topics they’re not interested in will show an amazing power of concentration concerning anything of interest to them.

 

  1. Advanced Language Skills—

Precocious early reading abilities and a large vocabulary for their age are two common signs that a child may be gifted.

  

  1. Challenges Authority—

With a quick-moving, inquisitive mind comes the need for answers, which can directly clash with the “shut up and do what I say” approach of many authority figures. Rather than robotically doing as they’re told, gifted children are often labeled as rebellious because they question how things are done.

While children definitely need to learn to be respectful, and that there is a time and a place to ask questions or challenge the system, many people misinterpret the curiosity and problem solving skills exhibited by gifted kids as disrespect, not realizing the child is simply using the intellect beyond their years with which they’ve been gifted.

 

  1. Unusual Interests—

Gifted children are known for finding something that fascinates or challenges their mind, and wanting to delve deeper into the subject than what would be average for their age. They may also start odd collections of things typically not considered collectible.

 

 

While there is no universally accepted definition of gifted, generally students who score 130 or higher on IQ tests, show consistently high academic achievement, or test 2 or more grade levels above average for their age are considered intellectually gifted. Children who show advanced artistic or musical talent may also be considered creatively gifted.

No matter what the definition may be, it is clear that gifted children have different psychological and educational needs that should be addressed and supported by the parents, teachers and other adult advocates in their lives as early as possible. If you believe you may have a gifted kid, communicate with your school’s administrators to ensure your child receives the academic and emotional encouragement they need to thrive.

Do Better, Henry

I recently read a Spin article discussing the stance Henry Rollins took on the topic of suicide via his website; that it is a selfish act, rather than something depressed and desperate people fighting mental illness do because they can no longer tolerate the pain of being alive.*

I used to be ignorant too, because I was genetically “blessed” with the opposite of depression: I am diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder with associated agoraphobia. So rather than “pick-me-up” pills like anti-depressants, my brain functions better with “calm-the-eff-down” pills, which I take daily, with success.

Because I had never experienced depression growing up, I never understood it. I had always felt happy to be alive, grateful to be given every day I received, and I too, used to think depressed people simply needed an attitude adjustment. Back then, I might have nodded my foolish head along with Henry Rollins as he recently stated: “Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it.”

In my youth, I wasn’t openly dismissive of the depressed, but would privately think, “Why don’t they just get some fresh air and take a walk, exercise, read a book, or go be with nature?” because these were things that comforted or uplifted me if I needed peace.

As if people are all the same. As if what worked for me would magically cheer up other people. As if my particular brain chemistry applied to all.

I was so stupid.

***

My 20s panic attacks were an occasional thing I attributed to either low blood sugar or asthma. I felt humiliated when they happened and lived in denial, because if they weren’t happening for a physiological reason, that made me one of the weak people who couldn’t handle life; one of the people Henry Rollins has spoken out against with his disdain** for depressed people.

What I didn’t yet understand is that anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental illnesses DO happen for physiological reasons, and are as beyond the control of the person experiencing them as any other illnesses.

If I had been experiencing seizures because of a chemical imbalance in my brain, for example, I would have immediately headed to a doctor for anti-seizure medication. But because so many people chastise those with the brain chemical imbalances behind mental illnesses and dismiss them as weak, I’d bought into this theory, too.

So I didn’t seek help, and would instead try to hide when the panic attacks happened in public. When my chest would tighten and I’d begin to gasp for air, when my vision would start to tunnel, when I’d drop my basket in the middle of the store and run for my car, soaked with sweat, my heart-pounding, and when I’d have a panic attack in the car while driving, pulling into the closest parking lot to cry tears of terror, I was bewildered because I had no idea why my body was doing this.

And I was ashamed. So very ashamed. I am weak and pathetic, I’d think to myself.

And I was terrified, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Am I dying?

But then the mean, all-logic, no-emotion voice in my head would chastise me.

“Come on, you wimp. Pull up your big girl pants and move on,” my inner drill sergeant would bark, “You’re lucky to be alive, somebody always has it worse than you, and you have no reason to be crying, so get on with it!”

I’d take deep breaths, finish crying, feel utterly humiliated by my self-perceived weakness… and I’d eventually get on with it.

***

Cut to me at age 34, a book-loving, classic introvert with severe social anxiety. In bars and at parties, I used alcohol as a natural sedative to function amongst people without breaking out in hives. At work with the public, I wore an over-compensatory cloak of extreme friendliness to hide my social fears that employers loved, as an always smiling, non-confrontational employee makes any company look great.

(I waited on Henry Rollins while working at a Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood, by the way. He was always very kind, polite, and really loves cheese popcorn.)

I had been playing in bands for the last 12 years, which people who really know me have trouble understanding, considering my anxiety. The best way I can explain it is that onstage, I got to be someone else, and that girl wasn’t the shy, awkward chick who couldn’t make small talk to save her life. (It felt like an acting role. It was a beautiful escape from The Unbearable Lightness of Being Me.)

Then I got married, pregnant, had a baby at 35, moved from Los Angeles to Tulsa, and was suddenly isolated from all family and friends, no longer playing music, while staying with a lovely and kind member of my husband’s family.

The once-carefree, guitar playing and singing rocker chick was now alone all day in the suburbs with a 2-month-old who didn’t sleep more than 2 hours in a row until his 9th month (and stopped napping at 2-years-old).

We now know his sleep issues were symptoms of his ADHD/gifted neurology, but at the time I just thought I was doing everything wrong, as new parents are wont to believe. I was deliriously tired to the point of hallucinating, and… BAM. I experienced depression for the first time in my generally happy life.

I need 8 hours of sleep a night to function, and I was now going on months without REM. Sleep deprivation is used as torture for very good reason. I think this, combined with roller-coaster-ing postpartum hormones, had everything to do with my depression, and I hazily remember tears pouring down my face as I fed the baby.

I was strung out, wrung dry, beyond exhausted, alone without the support of my family or friends, and for the first time in my usually positive, high-energy life, everything felt pointless.

I logically knew I was the luckiest woman alive, with a healthy (albeit sleepless) new baby, a husband who loved me and treated me well, a roof over my head, and food on the table.

But despite all logic to the contrary, my emotional side simply couldn’t grasp that I had no real problems and nothing about which to complain. Sadness was sitting on my shoulder like an unwanted gargoyle of misery, and I couldn’t shake the ugly bastard off, no matter what I tried. Exercise didn’t work anymore. Nature wasn’t cutting it. I was officially depressed.

Possibly the weirdest thing about my depression was that I didn’t even have the will or desire to complain… I just felt kind of numb. I’m a lot of things, but numb isn’t usually one of them. I’m a fighter of injustices. I’m a complainer. I kvetch. I speak up – like I’m doing right now. The numb feeling was my main clue that things were very, very off inside my brain.

The old me that could look optimistically into the future, the girl who simply appreciated “every day above ground” was gone, and in her place was a drained and empty shell that couldn’t figure out where she’d misplaced her hope. It was so weird to logically know all was okay, yet emotionally feel a huge disconnect. I had no reason to be depressed. Nonetheless, I still was depressed. But logic and emotion, as we all know, are two completely separate things.

I had a new understanding about the physiology of mental illness, and oceans empathy for anyone experiencing depression. I vowed to never be of the callous, unsympathetic “People who commit suicide are selfish!” mindset again. Because I wanted to stop feeling sad more than anything in the world, and there was no way to “choose” happy anymore. I finally realized that for many people, happiness is not a choice.

And it’s insulting and cruel to say this. Are you really telling depressed people they’re choosing to be miserable?

I stopped breastfeeding at 6 months, even though I’d wanted to continue for at least my son’s first year. But I needed sleep. My brain chemistry was obviously imbalanced and I was horrified by the fact that I couldn’t escape the fog of sadness. I never reached the point of suicidal thoughts, but I’d definitely checked into Hotel Hopeless, and that was scary enough.

I started getting more sleep, and very slowly, the fog of depression lifted for me.

Because I got lucky.

***

I was entering my 40s before I finally spoke to a psychiatrist about my anxiety, and the only reason I did this was because my hyperactive son needed a calm mommy, and the panic attacks were now happening on a near-daily basis. Only because I could no longer function as a parent (as “leaving the house” is necessary for that job) was I forced to the doctor.

I got on daily Xanax and the panic attacks stopped immediately. I feel no euphoria on the medication, and only like a calmer version of myself who doesn’t go straight into “fight” mode at every perceived threat. The medication gave me back my life, gave my husband back his wife, and most importantly: it makes me a better mother for my son.

I only wish I’d sought help years ago. I’ve wasted so many years living in fear, and it’s partly because people like Henry Rollins who equate mental illness with selfishness made me feel like the chemical imbalances in my brain were a sign of weakness, and something I could control. Because my life isn’t anything but what I make it, right, Henry?

Wrong. And fuck anyone who thinks so. I now know I’m not weak, as I once believed – I’m actually incredibly strong for dealing with my anxiety alone and without help for so long. And I feel the same way about every depressed person on the planet – yes, even if they kill themselves.

***

Two of my mom’s brothers (my uncles) committed suicide in their 20s. They held onto life as long as they could stand it, and killed themselves because the pain of being alive was unbearable, and I don’t see anything selfish in that. It just makes me feel really, really sad for them. Because I have empathy.

Mental illness is legitimate and real, and it’s time we stop making people feel ashamed and alone for physiology beyond their control by ostracizing them for their “icky” feelings because we’re too uncomfortable to talk openly about them. Everyone has a different life perspective, and everyone is allowed to interpret their experiences any way they will, without shame.

What might be “no big deal” to one person can severely traumatize another, because we’re not fucking robots.

Pain is not a contest.

And showing pain is not a sign of weakness.

You’re not stronger than the person dealing with mental illness because you’re handling rough situations better than they are; you might have simply gotten a luckier roll of the genetic dice.

Or maybe you compartmentalize bad things more efficiently.

Or maybe they’ve been pushed over the edge into darkness, and you haven’t yet. Who knows?

But maybe instead of feeling cocky or stronger than them, you could try feeling grateful or compassionate.

Or shit… feel whatever the hell you want to feel… but please stop shaming others for their feelings, because you’re making them feel too humiliated to seek help, and that’s just mean.

 

What anyone who thinks depression is a “choice” made by people who aren’t “making their lives into what they should” needs to realize is that the one thing in the world depressed people wish they could be more than anything else is happy.

 

Nobody “chooses” depression.

 

All Henry Rollins has done with this ignorant opinion is potentially shame people suffering from depression by making them feel weak and pathetic, and possibly too embarrassed to seek help.

 

Way to go, Henry.

 

 

*I am not linking the website of Henry Rollins because I don’t want to increase website traffic for someone with an intolerant and uncompassionate view of mental illness.

 

**Actually, on his website, Henry Rollins spelled the word disdain as distain, but as an English major and Hall & Oates fan from way back, I can’t go for that. (No can do.) Both are official words, which is probably why he didn’t catch it with spellcheck, but in this context, he was clearly using it to mean “scorn or contempt,” which is the definition for disdain.

 

Also: Here’s an excellent article about suicide I highly recommend:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/theres-nothing-selfish-about-suicide_b_5672519.html