Does it have to be the one who screams the loudest?

Sugarhouse, Utah

Moments ago I sat in the orthodontist’s office.  My oldest son was getting his braces off. His braces came off easily. 

“Do you plan on keeping your wisdom teeth?” The dental assistant asked him.

“Yes.” We both replied.

“Well, they are coming in straight. So I say why not.” She responded and continued, “I just want to make sure we get this right and it is hard to get impressions of wisdom teeth. They are so far back.”

After five tries, they were (finally) able to get the right teeth impressions retainer molds. I was impressed with her care and her fortitude. Soon we would be on our way.  We just needed orthodontist to polish my son’s teeth. We sat. We waited. And we waited some more. As we waited, a woman holding a notebook, (who I later found out was a new employee). With her walked in the lovely dental assistant. Shortly after that, a mother and daughter came in. The girl (probably around twelve years old) sat in the dental chair next to my son’s. My mind drifted as I remembered the days of individual dental rooms. The newer, assembly-line-style orthodontia surely makes appointments faster and enables the orthodontist to move swiftly from chair to chair. Consequently, I imagine it also makes things more cost effective. My sons definitely seem to enjoy seeing that they are not the only ones who have to wear like sixty different rubber bands in their mouth.

As my son and I waited, we watched as the assistant readied the girl’s station.  At once the girl’s mom stood up and warmly said,

“My daughter does better if you tell her what you will be doing first. She likes it if you walk her through the process.”

“Of course.” The assistant responded and then sweetly explained the next step.

I was amazed.  She was the same assistant who had just taken five impressions of my sons’ teeth.

“We use this sand to make it easier for the braces to adhere…” she continued.

It was now 11:00 a.m. My son had been at the orthodontist since 8:00 a.m. I saw his anxiety. He had an AP test at noon. He looked at his watch. He needed to leave.

As my son’s face grew pale, I could not ignore what was happening next to us. The girl was screaming. Her mom was standing with her fists clenched. The woman with the notebook sat silent.  The assistant calmly and gently continued,

“Now we are going to place these trays in. I have not seen this process hurt anyone. I do not think it will hurt you.”  

“Hey honey. They are going to tell you what is going to happen. You can do this.” The mother said.

My son sat silent and wide eyed.

The girl began to weep. Then sob. Now she was wailing. That is when I saw the mother cry.  She stood up, turned her back and looked like she was making a call.

“My tooth. My tooth. My tooth hurts.” The girl shrieked as other assistants gathered to help.

Another assistant walked up and slowly walked back. The girl loudly pleaded,

“I can’t! I can’t! I can’t! This is going to hurt. It is going to hurt. I can’t!”

The mother turned back, looked at her daughter and said,

“This is so embarrassing. I am so embarrassed.”

I looked at my son. He reminded me that it was now 11:15 a.m.

“I know.” I whispered and continued, “We will make sure you are out of here in time. I promise.”

Then I stood up and walked to the assistant who had walked back. She was standing behind a wall.

“Hey there. My son has an AP test at noon. When will the doctor be ready?” I asked and continued,  “His day is so busy. He does not have time to polish his teeth later.” 

“I could stand by his door and usher him to you when he is done.” She kindly said.

As she walked toward his office, the doctor’s door opened and he walked out. Together the three of us walked into the treatment room.

The assistant began to advocate for us. Before she could finish her sentence, the three of us were in a wash of the young girl’s screams.  The doctor pushed past her words and sprinted to the girl, who was now surrounded by all available staff.

My son sat quietly.

I sat down. As the doctor huddled around the girl, I made eye contact with the assistant. I smiled. I pointed at my son and I pointed at my watch.

Now touching the girl’s shoulder, the doctor said, “Let’s give her a minute. Let’s have her sit up.”

As I listened, I thought, “they haven’t even started. No. Really. They have not even started working on her.”

Athens, Greece

I remembered all those tantrum days, specifically in grocery stores. My sons were two and four and then three and five years old.  I remember leaving full shopping carts. I would ask my sons to calm down. I would tell them it would be ok. I would tell them,

“We are going to leave. I need you to calm down.”  

Often they would. And often their screams only intensified. Then, as my sons shrieked, I would try to collectedly lift them out of the shopping cart. Then we would leave the store.

It was less than easy. Often I had no energy to go back to the store. I resented going back to the store. I also knew it would be easier in the moment to bribe them. Sometimes I did that too.

I acutely know anxiety.  I was raised to fear and to think bad things would happen. I was raised to think things would not be ok. I also know how it feels as the stares of judging eyes wash over you.  I have no idea what was really going on with this girl. I do not know if she has a severe mental health issue, if she has PTSD, or if she was being indulged. I do not know if it is my place to know her story. All I can do is have compassion for her, the staff and my son. I do.

Ultimately, my son is my responsibility. And in this moment, even though my son was not screaming, he was in distress.

Sugarhouse, Utah

He is graduating in four weeks. He leaves for college at the end of the summer. This is his second AP test in two days. True story: Yesterday during his Chemistry AP Test over the loud speaker the school announced that a student had committed suicide on school grounds. Shortly after that, the school counselor stopped the exam to explain. She left. Then completely shocked and broken-hearted, the kids continued their exams. We are still processing this extreme and confusing sorrow.

So, yes, as my son sat silent in that orthodontist’s office, I felt protective:

“Why can’t this be easier for him? Why won’t the screaming girl leave? Can’t her mom take her away until she gets it together?”  

I do not know.

The orthodontist eventually came over. He put on his gloves and began to work. We actually really like him. As he polished my son’s teeth, I saw blood oozing. My son did not react.

The girl continued to scream. He face was purple and choked. She was hyperventilating. Her mom was crying.

As I looked at my son’s bleeding mouth, I kept thinking,

“It is bleeding everywhere. Man, that has to hurt.” I asked the doctor, “Does that swelling get better?”

“It does.” He thoughtfully said.

The doctor was done.

I remembered watching other kids get their braces off. Usually they celebrate. Today my son heard screams. I asked another assistant if there was anything else. She seemed distracted. I think we all were.

She quickly recovered and asked, “Did they give you a bag of candy?  Kids like the bag of candy.”

“No.”  I said.

She ran away and came back with a bag filled with Kit-Kats.

“Does he like Kit-Kats?” She asked.

“Yes.” I said.

She handed me the bag and I handed it to him.

“Thank you.” I said as my son and I left. He drove his car. I drove mine.

At home he could not find his keys.

“Mom, mom. I can’t find my keys. I need to go.” He screamed and continued to scream, “I have my test. I need to go.”

We rushed. We looked upstairs. We looked downstairs. We looked everywhere.

“Did they fall out of your pocket it?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but mom I have to go.”

Bordeaux, France

Then I looked outside. I found the keys in the ignition of his car as my other son quietly waiting for me to take him to school. (He also has an AP test at noon).


Tagged :

Be A Better Mom By Making Peace With Your Mom

The other day I took both boys to the orthodontist. Kyle usually drives himself, but his car was in the shop. I had just returned from the dentist. I had two fillings — both related to clenching my teeth. It was lunchtime and the waiting room was clearing out. As I sat in the orthodontist’s office all numb-mouthed, the orthodontist’s wife, who also manages the offices, came up to talk with me.

The Day the Boys Got Braces, Salt Lake City, Utah, October, 2016

“Beth, you Adams’ have had quite a year. How are you all doing?” She asked.
“Yes. We have. With Eli’s broken jaw, Dave’s bad concussion and my broken hand, you would think we were accident prone. I like to say we are active.” I laughed and then explained why I was  also talking funny. She said I didn’t have to talk, but then continued the conversation. After telling me about her six kids and telling me,

“The last one to leave home is the hardest.”

“I have the two. Kyle and Eli,” I said.
“Wow!” she said, and continued, “I just assumed you had more.”
Ok. I never hesitate to mention the truth anytime anyone, I mean anyone, including the sweet wife of my sons’ orthodontist, says anything about how I should have more children,  which is,

“Yes. I wanted more. I tried for years.”

She was silent. And sure, that particular sentence usually does  stop people in their tracks. My guess is within about ten seconds, she had done the math, and realized that Kyle will quickly be followed by Eli. Meaning, I am also at the end.

I am sure she was relieved when I was suddenly called back to talk to talk the orthodontist. Wait. Maybe she just #911s him when things get uncomfortable.

Anyway, with Kyle graduating from high school in two months and Eli graduating in two years, of course I have found myself extra reflective and totally weepy. My mom was right when she said,

“It will go by fast. Enjoy every moment.”

Us, Park City, Utah, December, 2007

Honestly, I think I have. Nevertheless, I still cannot believe we are here. In fact, I am shocked! Wasn’t  Eli just practicing his pogo stick moves for the elementary school talent show? Didn’t Kyle just get bitten by a snake? Wasn’t Eli just learning to ride a bike? Ay-yi-yi!

Instead, here is where we are. I am surrounded by two giant and amazing man-children. Kyle is trying to figure out how he can he bleed every last moment out of high school. While he is making all the minutes count, he is also trying to decide which college to attend, how he can order a tux for prom, can he will handle life away from his girlfriend if he goes away for college. Then there is the huge concern regarding his braces. The question: will he have them off in time for graduation? We are doing everything possible to make that happen and we also understand why Kyle keeps complaining of these pounding headaches that hurt above his eyes and along his jaw.

“You might be clenching your teeth. We get it. Dude, life is stressful.”

Eli is not far behind. Not only is he planning his cross country running career, he is pining for the day his braces to come off, waiting for the snow to melt so he and the dudes can go mountain bike riding, and wondering if his dad will help him upgrade his gaming computer. Eli also thinks that college away from home might be very cool. What? Eli, man, you are my bestie. I thought you would stay close. In truth, I am certain Eli will soar near or far. We imagine he will write for Saturday Night Live or for Seth Meyers, or even the next Bob’s Burgers’ franchise.

The Boys, Avebury World Heritage Site, Avebury, Wiltshire, England

Ultimately, my love for my boys has always been and will always be fierce, protective, long winded and powerful. I will cut anyone who crosses their path. Ask the ones I have cut. They will tell you that I do not mess around. I will also do my best to give them the space they need to carve their own path. I want them to follow their dreams. I want them to fly — wherever they want to fly to. Of course I also want them to make good choices, be kind, thoughtful and gracious.

Alas, how do I transition from fiercely dedicated day-to-day mom to the mom who wants help them spread their wings? I have been worried about this moment since Dave and I started making babies. In fact, I always believed that if I modeled healthy boundaries and relationships that the boys and I would find healthy ways to ebb and flow. I always thought it was about maintaining a dedicated relationship with them. I like my sons, so that is easy to do. I also think Kyle and Eli know I am always there for them. I am loyal and I have been their strongest advocate. For them, I have and I will fight fire, monsters, bullies, or stupid people. I also see the importance and the need for them to live their own life, even if it is a life that I cannot imagine. I truly believe that they need to stand in their space, not mine.

Further, I was convinced that if I modeled a healthy and reciprocal relationship with my mom and my mother-in-law, that my relationship with my boys would remain strong. It was not hard. Dave’s mom and my mom are good people and are important to me. What they both do not realize (and do not need to realize) is that I spent way too much time trying to make sure they were happy, or better, I spent way too much time trying not to hurt their feelings, get along with them, and to accommodate them.  But then, I began to see that maybe I missed the most significant lesson of all.  In my attempt to show them my sons that I love my mom and mother-in-law, I forgot to stand in my own space, or better, I made accommodations and concessions for the women in my own life thinking it would reflect on how my sons treat me (kind of selfish really).

The boys back in my blogging days, Salt Lake City, Utah

For my mom, I stopped blogging. Ha ha, any of you early bloggers out there may think I stopped blogging because Heather Armstrong ( and I had a fight a million years ago. I wish it were that easy. I stopped blogging because it hurt my mom’s feelings. Again and again she told me how my words hurt her. Then I let her feedback dictate the terms of what I wrote. Ultimately, I did not how to reconcile integrity in my writing with breaking my mom’s heart so I stopped blogging.  Sure, in her defense, maybe I could have been more mature about how I shared. I think if I had trusted myself, I would have gained that maturity. I think I have. I bet if I had kept writing, I would have arrived at a place where my mom would feel less pain and more pride regarding the words I put out to the world. If not, at least I would have learned to stand in my own space, not hers. At least I would have the confidence to know that I am not trying to hurt her. Instead I was weak and I did not have faith in either of us to grow. As a result, I  was careful. I went out of my way not to hurt my mom’s feelings.  And of course, by trying not to hurt her feelings, I always managed to hurt them anyway. My guess is that writing this will may hurt her feelings now.

In the end, our relationship did evolve. Instead of sharing myself, I closed myself off. Now I simply avoid any sort of complicated interaction. I sincerely try to agree with and support  her. I respect her perspective and try to reassure her that things are ok. Upon reflection, I only wish I would have seen that had I continued blogging, we would have been ok. And actually, I think my mom and I were much closer way back when we were dialoguing about how I was hurting her online.

So in attempt to learn from my own experiences, I want to give that openness to my sons, even when it stings. Wish me luck.

My mother-in-law near the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Now onto my mother-in-law. I value her opinion probably to a crazy fault. She feels very differently about blogging than my mom. Instead of wanting things private, she is outspoken, often conveying how broken-hearted she is that I do not write about her online.

Here is a little story to illustrate why writing about family is difficult gymnastics routine at best, and why I understood my mom’s needs for privacy. Truth and perspective are messy:

…There we were. We were at the end of a long trip. My mother-in-law still insists she paid for all of it. She didn’t.  I know even the suggestion that she did not pay for our entire trip infuriates her. My guess is the fact that I am writing that she did not pay for everything will bother her more than anything else I write.

Here is the thing.  She takes both Dave’s brother and sister on trips, Mediterranean cruises, and more trips. She also helps them out a ton financially. We have always been grateful that she has been a position to lend Dave’s siblings a hand. That is a gift in of itself. We are also glad she can take Dave’s brother and sister on these fun adventures. In fact, we have always been cool with the generosity she shows them. This trip was her gift.

This trip was her gift.We are grateful for her gift. It was thoughtful.  She was thoughtful. Unfortunately, I think she undermines her generosity. For instance, often when she takes say Dave’s brother to Spain, or his sister on another Alaskan cruise, she brings up that this one trip as a justification as to why everything is equal among the siblings. First. Let me be clear.  We do not care that she takes Dave’s siblings on adventures. Second, No. It is not equitable. And third, it will never be equitable. And fourth, we do not care. We are happy she can do this for Dave’s siblings. Ok. I sound a little bitchy. I feel a little bitchy. And actually to move beyond my bitchy and to give her gift credibility, I think it is ok to be honest and acknowledge that we paid for part of it ourselves. Like for starters, we paid for our airfare to get on said trip [wink, wink].  And just because we paid for some of the trip in no way undermines that she was generous. She was. And being honest about the parameters, keeps it real, keeps it valid, and allows us to hold space not only for her gift, but what we did too. Does that make any sense? And do you understand why writing publicly about my mother-in-law may not be the best plan? Throwing caution and common sense to the wind, I will take an even deeper dive, and continue our story (and yes, it includes her).

Dave, his mom and the boys, Hampton Court Palace, Molesey, East Molesey, England, July 2014

It was July, 2014 and we were staying in Killarney, Ireland. It was our last day at our quirky bed and breakfast. We were sitting at breakfast in a room full of hotel guests. I suggested we stay at this bed and breakfast because I know my mother in law loves quaint bed and breakfasts. As breakfast finished, my mother-in-law looked up at me and proclaimed,

“Beth, everyday I read your blog. Everyday you write about Davy and the boys. You never say anything about me. You never post any pictures of me.  I feel invisible.” (If you have read up until here, can you see why?)

I felt embarrassed that she publicly called me out this way. I felt sad that I had made her sad. Then she sat there quietly glaring at me.

I responded. “I do not write about friends or family. It is kind of my rule. I tend to hurt people when I convey my perspective.”

I paused and followed with, “This has been a complicated trip. I am tired and edgy. And I do not want to write anything that will hurt you.”

She assured,

“You already have!” I wanted to say, (but didn’t),

“Seriously. I know where opening my mouth gets me.”

Dave and his mom at the Cliffs of Moher, Lislorkan North, Liscannor, Co. Clare, Ireland

I wanted to show her what I had privately journaled (and why I try to follow the don’t-publicly-hurt-people rule).  I should have shown her all the pictures I had quietly taken of her and her son. I refrained back then. I will share our story now:

Dave, Easy E and his mom in York, England, July, 2014

We were at a little family owned pub restaurant in Eastern Wales a few miles from Tintern Abbey. My mother-in-law asked that we order three desserts to share. The yummy desserts arrived. My mother-in-law sat at the table while Dave and the boys first stood and then eventually sat around her. She took a few large bites. Abruptly she swatted at Eli.

“Stop. Stop. STOP!” she proclaimed.

She decided Eli had taken too much of the mutually shared desserts and told him as much. I was watching. Regardless, reality had no impact. She looked at Eli, who was standing there holding a clean spoon, and assumed he was the one stealing all of her precious dessert. Both Dave and Kyle had taken a few bites. Still Eli had not had taken any. After she started scolding Eli (again), Dave and Kyle stopped eating. Undeterred, like a fast move train, she was convinced so she scolded and berated Eli (age 11), the youngest person in our group. Dave, snapped, asking her to stop.

“Mom, he is not eating your dessert! He has not had any dessert. I thought you suggested we all share. Mom. Leave him alone.”

She would not stop yelling at Eli. Dave circled her and demanded she leave Eli alone, urging,

“Mom, knock it off! Eli is not eating your dessert! Really! You need to stop this now!”

She ignored Dave.

Us and Dave’s mom, The Fountain Inn, Trelleck Grange, Llanishen, Chepstow, Wales (near Tintern Abbey) (Notice Eli’s clean spoon)

Steadfast, she persisted, gobbling up her dessert and reprimanding Eli (who was now terrified and standing a few feet from the table). I honestly thought my head would explode. I wanted to jump across the table and throttle her. I wanted to scream, “LEAVE MY SON ALONE!”

In that exact moment, a story she often tells ran through my mind. It goes like this. When Dave was very young his aunt rebuked him for eating popsicle in her living room. I remember how upset my mother-in-law was as she recalled this story to me. Dave does not remember the story. Maybe Eli will forget this moment.  I hope so. My mother-in-law never forgets. She shares it with me almost every time I see her. Surely she would correlate, right? No. In this moment she was all tunnel vision. Someone was eating her dessert and she was going to fight til the death. In this moment, she was unable to see how her tunnel vision was hurting her grandson.

 As tears quietly fell down Eli’s cheeks, he motioned to me. Even though I see her as an authority figure and the mother of my husband,I needed to rescue Eli. I needed to resist my polite inclinations and fight. I needed to set a boundary. Angry, heartbroken and frustrated, I firmly asked her to stop. She swatted back,

“Well. Then. Beth. Eli needs to stop eating ALL of my dessert.”

“He is not eating ALL of your dessert!” I firmly said.

At that, Dave and I immediately stood up and asked the boys to follow us.  We walked over to the backside of the little Welsh restaurant. In his traumatized frustration, Eli said,

“I keep trying to be grandma’s friend. She never listens. She wants it her way. I don’t understand. I am done.”

We took this photo behind the inn after leaving the table. Us. The Fountain Inn, Trelleck Grange, Llanishen, Chepstow (Tintern, Wales)

Last summer (June 2017) Dave, the boys and I found our way back in Eastern Wales.  We made our way to Tintern Abbey and decided we would find our way to that little inn.  

“Hey Eli let’s find that little inn.  You can have all the dessert you want. You can have it all to yourself.”

We found the inn. We had built this place up in our memory, imagining the little farm in the back,  the great food and the welcoming innkeeper. As luck would have it (or not), we arrived too early for dinner, which meant we were also too early for dessert. The dispassionate owner could not care less about our pilgrimage. Dinner would be served in two hours. He told us we could wait or we could leave. We decided to pass, and probably ate dinner from food that was purchased at a grocery store. Nevertheless, we were there for Eli. And Eli knew it. Eli still wants his dessert.  We oblige regularly.

The Fountain Inn, Trelleck Grange, Llanishen, Chepstow (Tintern, Wales), June 2017
The Fountain Inn, Trelleck Grange, Llanishen, Chepstow (Tintern, Wales), June 2017

Here is why I am sharing this story now. Since that moment in Killarney, I realized that holding it all in or letting it all out publicly has no impact on the health of my relationships. I cannot control wether my mom likes what I write, wether my mother-in-law is happy with me, or wether Kyle and Eli’s future loves are cool with me.  Now taking a huge breath I see that what impacts my relationships is communication, trust, a willingness to listen, accept, heal, and to forgive (on all sides). 

Us, Northern Italy driving along Lake Maggiore, April, 2018

Just like my mom and Dave’s mom are responsible for their relationships with their children, I am the mom of these two boys. I am responsible to them. Meaning, my relationship with them is not dependent on how I do or don’t get along with my mom and mother-in-law. And as far as my relationship with Dave’s mom goes, I think my mother-in-law is pretty thick skinned and I should trust her. Things are not black and white. If she wants me to write about her, then I should. Hey, she might even be amused by her hoarding-desserts story or she may hate what I say. (Oh and yes, Plural hoarding desserts stories. We discovered hoarding desserts was kind of her thing. ). Maybe if I am brave enough to write, she might soften when she remembers that at the end of this trip I asked Dave to give her his first class upgrade so she could have a special flight home.

The boys and Dave’s mom at the Belfast Airport, July, 2014
Dave, Easy E and I on the plane from Belfast to Newark. Dave not only gave up his first class upgrade (to his mom), he sat in the middle. He is also wearing Kyle’s shirt because we were out of clothes. Love him!

Now back to my stuffing my stories way down my brain hole. See, what I also did by keeping this story and all the other stories hidden, is hide a part of myself, which is totally counter to what I want to teach my boys. I have encouraged them to stand in who they are. I have encouraged them to give me feedback, even the shitty feedback that either breaks my heart or calls me out. On several occasions, for instance, both boys (and Dave) have suggested that I talk (explain) way too much. We may disagree on this point, but not only should they be able to give me this feedback, I should be willing to listen and consider their perspective. Guess what? They are teaching me to be more succinct. Yay them.

And here is the big one. Along the way both boys have pleaded with Dave and me to stop fighting. (Dave and I are robust and impassioned, expletive-laden communicators, by the way). Recently, it was Eli who said to both of us,

“You need to knock it off. You are acting like bickering children.”

Eli was right.

Me and Easy I am sure this is another moment after he told Dave & I to chill out. The Tate Modern, London, England, August, 2017

But because I have been in a pattern of hiding who I am, I hid an opportunity to publicly share the fact that marriage is super hard, but marriage can also be really good. I have hidden the growth we have made as a family.  Man, I love them. I have hidden so much like. And really, I am very sorry for hiding.

Ultimately, what I realize is getting along with Kyle’s girlfriend or Eli’s future wife is not dependent on how Dave’s mom gets along with me. Just like I want my sons to carve their own path, I need to trust my own path too. I adore my sons and hope we will figure out how to stay close around all of life’s turns. I hope do not annoy Kyle’s girlfriend. I probably will. But I also get it and I do not mind. Because the people they love are important to me!

NOW I hope it is ok that I end by leaving a personal message to Kyle and Eli here.

Barafundle Bay, Wales (near Stackpole Quay)

Boys, you are my heart!

In the end and moving forward, I apologize for hiding me. There is no shame in my past or in your future. I think it is ok that I miss those days of yesteryear. Dudes, you were very cute with all of your sweet dance moves and late night jokes. I also LOVE the men you are becoming. You are both very cool.

A little about me: personally, I think it is ok that I voted for Obama and that it took a very long time to finish college. It is also ok that I am still sad that I did not live in the dorms and it is ok to say that I wish had gone to a small Midwestern liberal arts college. Ok. Sure. That means I probably would not have met Dad. And maybe that implies that yes, there would not be you. So really, because I am saying it (writing it) out loud, I am also able to come full circle and see (and say) that I ended up absolutely where I wanted to be — with you (and dad).

Please know that if you end up going to BYU, or voting for Mike Lee, not only will I still love and accept you, I will listen to you — always.

Me, Ville de Cahors, France, August, 2018

Mostly, please learn from me. I do not want to let my fear of losing you force me to hide myself anymore. My moms are strong women. Moving forward, my mom can deal with stories about our life, or she can tell me she hates my writing voice and how much pain I cause her. Nevertheless, we will both be ok. My mother-in-law and your grandma can continue to think Eli is a dessert thief, and that I am the Second-Amendment-repealing, antifa, liberal, atheist woman-who-stole-her-best-friend, your dad. But guess what? She will also be ok. I love them and I love you. And if I want you guys to be ok and feel safe being yourselves, and if I want to maintain my relationship with you, then I need to stop being so afraid of losing my mom and Dad’s mom, or mostly, I need to not be afraid of losing you.

Get it? Be you! Trust yourselves. Remember that life is a journey. No one expects you to be perfect ever  (especially not out of the gate).

I love you!
Love, Mom

Tagged : / /

Sexual Abuse Did Not Start In A Vacuum

Me in France

[Trigger Warning: authority abuse, brief mention of sexual abuse]

I specifically chose not to include the more profound abuse I have experienced. Unfortunately the experiences I included here are quietly commonplace. When I am all alone and safe, the phrase I think of are “culturally insidious, misuse of power and epidemic abuses.” In fact, I think the small acts of petty domination, verbal threatening, and entitled abuses of power have become (almost) ordinary. As a society we are not just guilty of re-victimizing women who have suffered horrific sexual assault. We are guilty of letting casual dominance slide until it is commonplace. My guess is most men who commit sexual misconduct do not start off by raping women. In fact, I would argue that sexual assault may actually be an outgrowth of entitled people throwing their weight around and misusing their power.

…There I was.
In a Brigham Young University classroom.

After the professor asked for feedback and promised he was open to whatever we had to say, I spoke up. Class finished. Two classmates and I stood in the hallway talking. My professor walked up. I asked him a question about my upcoming paper. Instead of answering, he asked me to follow him onto the elevator — alone. Obediently I followed. The doors shut. We stood in silence. Several long seconds later, we arrived on his floor. He stepped out and I followed him into his office. He shut the door behind me. I sat down across from him. Before I could ask my question, he interrupted. Assuming he forgot why we were there, I gave him the benefit when he began berating me for speaking up in class. Nevertheless, I was blindsided. He told me it was not my place to give feedback and that I should know better than to challenge him. Several times he admonished making claims such as,  “Beth, your words are unacceptable. Do not embarrass me in public again.” On and on he went until his words blurred into one powerful message:

“Beth, you are bad. I am good. Do not challenge my power!”

With my sense of right and wrong knocked off its axis, tears screamed down my face. I needed this to end. Defending myself only incited him further. I was breathless, frustrated and needed him to stop telling me how bad I was. I needed to get out of the room. Instead of realizing I could just get up and leave, I found myself apologizing. My apologies only made things worse. I was trapped. He was angry. I don’t know if it was my wet face or my silence. Eventually he finished. I left. We never talked about my assignment. A month or so later, I sent him an apology.

…Years earlier I was working on the very same Brigham Young University campus at a job I loved. My boss at the time was giving a tour to some outside visitors. I had no idea I was in his way. Regardless, he forcefully grabbed me by the upper arm and held it tight. Then he abruptly yanked me from where I was standing. As I stood there stunned, he looked back and admonished:

“Next, time you are in my way. I need you to move.”

I knew what he did was not right, but I had no idea what he did was criminal battery. I did nothing. Later that semester I withdrew from some of my classes. The secretary at the time asked me to fill in for her for a few hours when her father-in-law passed away. Of course I said yes. A week or so later that same boss sat me down in his office. He asked me not to speak. Here is what he said,

“Beth, by working for the secretary you were deceitful and are unworthy. I could fire you. Instead, I will ask you not to return next semester.”

I make no excuses, yet had no idea that I could not work if I was not a full time student.

…Around the same time, I was dating someone I thought I would marry. Even though we were not having sex, we crossed a lot of lines. According to Brigham Young University professor Brian Willoghby, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ stance on premarital sex is the following:

“Although the church discourages ‘any kind of sexual behavior’ before marriage, sex is considered a ‘bonding experience’ once the couple has entered a committed union.”

As a practicing Mormon (at the time), I understandably felt guilty, so I did what LDS members are encouraged to do: I went to my ecclesiastical leader to confess. My Mormon bishop said it would not be easy and that he may excommunicate me. He asked me to make a chart of my repentance progress and then to show him my chart progress during our weekly visits. He said my forgiveness was contingent on how I filled out my chart. He also said that under no uncertain terms that my forgiveness was also contingent on me NOT SEEING my boyfriend, (which he asked me to keep track of on my progress chart). That bishop and I met for several months. One week I was five minutes late for my appointment. He stated, and I quote,

“Because you are late, you are showing God that you do not want to be forgiven. Do you even want to repent? I need to know! I need to know now!” I assured him that I did want to repent. He paused for what seemed like forever. He continued, “Beth, I am not sure. I will have to think about your behavior today. Honestly, I can see you are not taking your repentance process seriously. You may need to be disfellowshipped. When I figure it out, I will let you know what I decide.”

(In Mormonism, “disfellowship” means a disciplinary action less severe than excommunication.) We continued our visits for a few months. I was terrified and began to think I was evil.

After my boyfriend and I broke up I was casually dating a few people. One of them was very well liked member of the Provo, Utah community. One day I stopped by his work to say hello. He said,

“Beth, sit here. I will be right back.”

I was a little confused when he asked the few remaining customers to leave. Then he locked the door. I tried to leave. He insisted I remain where I was sitting. He walked up to the table and sat across from me. As the abuse started, a sort of twisted negotiation began. If I let him do what he wanted to do and told him it I liked it, then he would let me leave. I was frozen, afraid to move. This man is much bigger than I am. I am not comfortable saying what happened next. At the time, I also did not want to upset the community by getting this very well liked individual in trouble. Consequently, I did not go to the police. Instead, I told a couple of our mutual friends. One of those friends told some of this man’s co-workers. Instead of offering me help, validation, or just staying out of it, these co-workers told me I was no longer welcome at their place of business, and if they saw me, they would ask me to leave.

Upon reflection, I can say I noticed red flags in all of these situations. I asked for help and was often asked what I had done to mislead these men. I was also told that I should let it go or just go along with it. As a result, I kept my head down and thought if I were a better person, these things would not happen. After many years and many experiences, it finally hit me: I did not cause the abuse or cause someone to misuse their authority. It was not my fault. Nevertheless, I remained silent.

Regarding the news of: this moments sexual abuse issue, why did it take so much effort to bring awareness, and ultimately action, to the situation? Is it because of silence? Or is it that popular, powerful or even patriarchal people get a pass? Are we the enablers? Is that why pleas for help fall on deaf ears? Because of the sorrow my own silence has caused, I would suggest that our collective conversation can help break these culturally baked-in patterns.

And yes, what the news of  [insert latest Sexual Abuse issue here] has done this week is (again) open a dialog. And now we have an opportunity to be different. We can chose to stop reacting off of sound bytes and social media outbursts. In contrast, I think we need talk and keep talking. We need all the voices. (I also recognize that getting people to listen is not always easy.) As I mentioned, I have tried a thousand different ways to begin this conversation myself. Something always stops me. Usually that something is my fear of embarrassing those closest to me. Ultimately, I stop talking, slow down my own healing, and pretend that everything is ok. Usually I realize that my need not to embarrass those I love only serves to enable the abuser. Then something like [insert current Sexual Abuse issue here], wakes me up and I ask myself,

“Why did it take so long for people to speak up?”

Obviously I have already internalized the answer: Embarrassment, shame, fear, or complacency. All of these things kept me silent. I also know that my silence perpetuates the abuse cycle.

I have a lot of rationalizations. I live in a culture where a man is the man and for me to scream is a sign of disrespect, which again enables the cycle: silence. And to fight the silence, I know I need to keep talking, but then the fear of upsetting my loved ones takes over. Even though I know that talking will protect us and that our conversations will teach us balance and discernment. Why I am speaking up now is that I recognize that words are also power. Our conversations will only serve to help us teach our children that they deserve respect; that our daughters do not have to compromise their integrity; and that our sons must be good men, even when society is telling men that they have a role: predator, (a.k.a. teenage boy who wants to touch a teenage girl’s boobs).

I also recognize that patterns are hard to break. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister. I want to be better. I want to do better. I think we all do. I want my boys to be transparent. I want to model boundaries and I want my boys to have boundaries. And that is why we dialog. I drill consent and talk about the things that are uncomfortable. I think it is also fair to mention that parenting alongside other parents can be muddy. We have dealt with other parents and their reactions to my sons, like the dad who asserted,

“I know how teenage boys think. I was one.”

As a mother, I wanted to disagree (because I do) and scream,

“Why can’t we do better?”

I remained silent. And really I am not always sure how, but I think we can do better. My initial step was to get comfortable with me (not easy still) and next to have a healthy relationship (with a man). And that is why I cannonballed myself into the deep end and dated a lot top notch guys [insert heavy sarcasm here].  First, there was the guy from church who told me I would never get married if I didn’t marry him (I was 19). At some point there was the “upstanding guy” who wanted me to reimburse his expenses after the date because I would not have sex with him; the dude who took his clothes off while I was not looking and insisted on walking to the car naked (even after I insisted he put his clothes back on); oh and the guy who said,

“Beth, you would be so much more comfortable if you took your pants off.”

Then there was the guy who dated me while engaged (he lied to both of us), the guy who liked to come to the door in a towel. As soon as I walked into his apartment, his towel would drop to the floor, and the guy I had a huge crush on. When we finally were alone. He asked me to give him a hand job, but not kiss him. He told me.

“I just broke up with my girlfriend. Kissing you is too intimate and makes me think of her.”

At least he eventually apologized — I guess [insert me shrugging my shoulders]. Finally, there was the seemingly gentle guy who in a firm voice said there was something wrong with me because I did not like Disney movies. What? (He also freaked out and berated me when I tried to end our relationship).

“You will not find anyone better than me.” he insisted.

Dave and I in Castres, France

Thank goodness he was wrong and double thank goodness for Dave. I chose him specifically because he was different than the others. He had boundaries and he respected mine. And here is the good nudge: I chose. I did not sell myself or settle (even though I was encouraged to settle every single day). Instead, I literally decided that I was tired of dating men who treated me poorly. And seriously, by the time Dave and I found one another, most people thought I was not worth someone like Dave (and told me as much). I found my worth from within. And that is what I want to say out loud:

“Learn from me. You get to chose who you love. You deserve a healthy relationship. You get to hold your boundaries. You are not bad if you say no.”

Society does not make self worth easy either. Ultimately, I told myself that I was worthy of a healthy relationship. And maybe that is a first. Consequently, I deliberately turned a corner and there he was. It was not magic. It was so fucking hard. I  reminded myself that I was not Dave’s property. Our relationship was not solely based on our sexual connection or manipulation. I did not have to entice him sexually to get him to like me, nor did he ever coerce me to do anything I did not want to do. He did not humiliate me. He respected my boundaries. He liked me, and was delightfully amused that I did not want to watch “The Little Mermaid,” or any Disney animated film, for that matter. Dave talked to me. He held my hand, and he was honest (even when he wanted to break up with me — like all the time).

Even though our marriage can help stop the cycle of abuse, Dave cannot heal my pain or break the patterns, and sometimes he even crosses them. (He is learning.) He also supports me speaking up and healing. As a parent, he does not want to perpetuate unhealthy societal patterns either. That is why he wants his sons to treat others with the respect he treats me with. Again, learn from me, even though you speak up, the pain may remain close and awkward. It is ok. Mine does. I think it always will. Maybe I can use my pain to effect change in a culture that patterns abuse. That is what I am (trying) to do now.

And what happens when we take our conversation beyond this moment?
Answer: a lot

Such as, what if your abuser is a relative, a close friend, an ecclesiastical leader, a professor, or your boss? What if the abuser is someone in a position of power or authority? What if he or she is someone you have been taught to respect or revere? What about people who are wrongly accused of abuse? Does that happen? What about the under-reactions, over-reactions, misdirections and inappropriate responses? I know how people freak out over minor issues and how others will take the secret of being raped to their death. I also know that people who actually have been abused do not trust they will be heard. How do we make it stop?

I do not have a perfect answer. Nevertheless, and from whatever lens you are viewing my words, I think the conversation is key to healing. So maybe the answer is to keep it simple. Trust that we will figure it out. Know that you are not alone. Just keep opening your mouth and using your voice. The more we use it, the easier it will become.

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We are not friends and that is ok.  

Hands down, Dave is a my Best Friend. Here we are at Dyrham Park National Trust Site, Gloucestershire, England
Hands down, Dave is a my Best Friend. Here we are at Dyrham Park National Trust Site, Gloucestershire, England

Please do not take it personally. First, and foremost, I LOVE people and my relationships with them. Through years of practice, I have also learned that friendship is not an exact science. Thankfully, I have awesome friends; friends who are cool with who I am (or are super awesome at pretending).  And because I am a huge sucker for connection, especially the connection that the word “friendship” or “best friend” implies, I take my role as friend very seriously (like in a for-real blood oath kind of way).  I sincerely believe (again, in like in a freakish, overachiever sort of way) that love, loyalty, honesty, transparency, responsibility, integrity and follow-through are friendship’s core values. And like some sort of super-earnest, albeit a little sarcastic, Joan-of-Arc (or just like a very devoted pet) I completely commit to my friends.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I also commit to those who insist I am their friend, even those who literally have no clue how to be a friend, like those “friends” who are only “friendly” when they need a favor. And of course I have also found myself sucked into the blackhole of friendship with the occasional narcissist, stridently co-dependent, gaslight-er, sociopath and life-bloodsucker.

Hey and most relationship are cool and balanced, right?  It does not take much for me to heed the charge or enable an imbalanced connection.  Whereas, when the plane is going down and I should be putting my oxygen mask on first, all you have to do is show me your tangled cord and in the name of “friendship,” I will suffocate. If it means you can breathe, I will lose consciousness. All the while ignoring the fact that had I actually put my mask on first we both would be breathing. My dysfunction is on me.  And believe me, the dysfunction goes deep and is probably baked right into my DNA. I love the rush of helping others — sometimes even conflating help (being used) with true and connection friendship. I get it. Feeling needed feels good. Feeling needed, or better, helping is a great avoidance technique.  

I really like my kids. And yes, I will go against so conventions and say that I am so glad they are my friends. This is Kyle & I at Levant Mine and Beam Engine National Trust Site, Trewellard, Cornwall, England
I really like my kids. And yes, I will go against so conventions and say that I am so glad they are my friends. This is Kyle & I at Levant Mine and Beam Engine National Trust Site, Trewellard, Penzance, England
I love these boys! Land's End, Cornwall, England
I love these boys! Land’s End, Cornwall, England

The other day I needed to put my oxygen mask on. I was trying to sleep. I should have been sleeping. I was very tired. My back hurt. I was exhausted and catching a cold. The night before I was up past 1AM and then up again at 6AM. I wanted to say goodbye to Kyle. He was leaving for his Varsity Cross Country team run. As luck would have it, Kyle left his cellphone on the kitchen counter. And so it began… Every nine minutes I heard the beep, beep, beep of his cell phone alarm. Because I could not figure out his password, the only thing I could do is hit snooze, which meant I was also up every nine minutes. It never occurred to me to bring his phone into my room, hide it outside, or guess the password (which I actually knew). I was supposed to go walking with my friend Rita shortly.  Because I trusted she would kind and empathetic, I knew she would be cool if I canceled. She was. In her text filled with a bunch of heart emojis she said,

“No problem. Let’s go Friday.”

My friend, Rita & I after we finished the SLC Half Marathon. (It was epic.)
My friend, Rita & I after we finished the SLC Half Marathon. (It was epic.)

Feeling relieved, I went back to sleep. Within minutes I heard my phone beep. I was mad at myself for not putting my phone on “do not disturb.” I felt the obligation to look. Someone did need me.  I felt compelled to “be a friend.” It was only going to be a few minutes, but those few minutes also meant I needed to get up, brush my teeth, brush my hair and locate what this person needed. It also meant that I was up. So, Instead of sleeping I said,

“Sure. Come on over.”

Me & Easy E. He puts up with me & is a super considerate human. Man, I love this kid! Snowdownia National Park, Wales
Me & Easy E. He puts up with me & is a super considerate human. Man, I love this kid! Snowdownia National Park, Wales

I do not think I am the only one who feels compelled to be a “good friend.” I do not think it is bad to help someone in need either. What I am truly suggesting is balance.

Culturally, I think women are taught to put everyone’s needs before their own, especially in the culture I was raised in. I think this baked-in, I-must-serve behavior complicates true, bonded friendship even further. Many people feel such an urge to please others, even their own friends, that they forget to take care of themselves, or to have boundaries, like I did that morning.  Sure, our commitments and obligations are distracting. Time is short. Oh yes, and then there is the whole part about having our “me” time versus our guilt about being a good friend, or at least being seen as a good friend.  What complicates the concept of friendship even more is that from my experience, we are all different. And because we are different, there is a no roadmap to perfect friendship.

My friends, Emily, Andi & I, Galilee Grill & Bakery, Lindon, Utah
My friends, Emily, Andi & I, Galilee Grill & Bakery, Lindon, Utah
Moe & I, Red Iguana, Salt Lake City, Utah
Moe & I, Red Iguana, Salt Lake City, Utah

Because I have made many wrong turns, I hope I can help you avoid the detour by offering you a few directions.  I will start with the idea that friendship is not a one-sided service project. Meaning, friends are not a box to check or a badge to earn, someone to possess or a crazy, co-dependent feedback loop. Friendship should definitely not be a status or hierarchical-based relationship. (You can save that relationship for your boss, as a super-fan, or when you move to North Korea.)

In contrast, I would suggest that friendship really is mutual affection. Meaning, we both get to equally dictate the terms of our relationship (high fives to that). Friendship is boundaries and support (even when either is uncomfortable). We do not have to text everyday, talk every week, or even see each other every year. And because we stand by each other’s side, when we are together, our friendship has integrity. We mean what we say. We apologize when we are wrong. We are honest, (even when truth adjusting would be way more comfortable). We are loyal (even when it is not cool). Mostly, we forgive.

It took me a long time to fully digest the concept that for me to be a good and committed friend I cannot possibly be friends with everyone. Ok. Wait. I will push back here to say that Facebook and Facebook friendship is not what I am referring too. So in the Facebook realm, yes, I believe you and Mark Zuckerberg can friend the entire world. In support of my friend-the-world claim, Dave often observes:

“You have a super liberal Facebook friend policy.”

“Yes. Yes I do. I love people.” I respond.

Me & Big Daddy at Levant Mine and Beam Engine, National Trust Site, Trewellard, Penzance , England
Me & Big Daddy at Levant Mine and Beam Engine, National Trust Site, Trewellard, Penzance, England

Alas, Dave is correct and also proves the fact that the people you acquaint with are not all friends. See, a few years ago, a high-profile-on-the-internet guy friended me. Obviously liberal-Facebook-friend-policy-me accepted his request, even though (once again), we had not met. Of course, like I suspect many people do, I checked out his Facebook page before I actually accepted his request. When I saw his friend total, the smart-ass in me was like,

“Seriously, you 4,999 personal friends? You mean to tell me you know every single one of these people — by name?”  And because I am bubbling with dry sarcasm, I continued my internal discussion and said, “How do you have time for all of those relationships [long pause] and your family [even longer pause] especially your wife?”

Well, you don’t. For example, I saw this same dude recently at a Cross Country meet. I literally ran into him. By his long, perplexed stare, I assumed he thought he knew me. His wife looked similarly bewildered.  Dave was half way across the race course, so alone, I said “Hello.”

He paused and stared at me for a really long time. That is when I impatiently thought (because I needed to find Kyle & Eli),

“Wait for it. Wait for it.”

“Hi Barb.” He said.

Ok. I am kidding.  In truth he said, “Hi Beth,” as I began to lift my hand to give him a high five. Realizing he was not going to make the connection, I quickly & nervously brushed my hand into my hair as if I meant to do that.

Alas, even though he remembered my name, the uncomfortable moment would not end. As I answered, his wife, in sort of a stunned and freaked out way quickly asked,

“well, how do you know him?”

And that is when I gave her the name of one our mutual real-life friends.  I know they are real friends because tagged pictures of them spending time together always roll through my Facebook feed. His wife seemed to relax, which was good.

Easy E, Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah
Easy E, Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah
Kyle a t the Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah
Kyle a t the Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah

Here is the deal. This dude (bless his heart), despite having met me in person a dozen times since we became Facebook friends, never knows my name. When he stumbles with any sort of recognition, I wonder if he thinks I am a super-fan or a stalker.  And because he is the one who friended me, his incongruous reaction always fascinates me.  Obviously we are not friends. We are barely acquaintances.

Doug, Dave & Easy E, Buffalo Bayou Walk, Houston, Texas, January, 2017
Doug, Dave & Easy E, Buffalo Bayou Walk, Houston, Texas, January, 2017
Dave & Ryan Raddon, SLC, Utah
Dave & Ryan Raddon, SLC, Utah

His incongruous reaction, like many others, got me thinking. Has Facebook eviscerated the connection of real friendship? Do we know some people way more than we should? And is there any real-life correlation between Facebook friend totals, real world relationships and imbalanced obligation?  I do not know. I think we all Facebook friend differently. Nevertheless, I do belive Facebook and social media are influencing how we friend. Just last week, because a woman who friended me seemed so cool and is a friend of a friend, I accepted her friend request.  And guess what? She is cool. And yes, you read that correctly. I accepted the friend request of someone I have never met, or at least do not remember meeting. I know I am not the only one. And because she now owns the title of my friend, should I give her the same friend benefits? Am I obligated to wake up for her when I should be sleeping?  I was friended by my friend Letti after knowing her for twenty minutes (and I really like her in real life). (Fun Fact:  twenty minutes was the same amount of time I knew my friend Mike’s brother before making out with him.) Moving way beyond my fun fact, I also have friends who I have met once (in person), only to become really great friends via Facebook. Doug Vandiford, we are talking to you. On the other hand, Dave Facebook friends only those he really really knows. In contrast to my interaction, Dave actually knew Doug Vandiford way back when they were in the BYU dorms together (with Ryan Raddon (DJ Kaskade namedrop). And guess what? These three dudes are still real life friends. Ok. I would also argue that there are many sides to non-discriminatory Facebook friend requests (which have absolutely nothing to do with the concept of friendship I began with).  That is why I would suggest is that bonded friendship goes well beyond today’s Facebook friendship friending rituals, and that the mutual affection of friendship actually takes effort. I would also suggest that having only a handful of friends is a very good thing.  Considering the effort it takes to be a friend, I would like to offer that we may only have healthy space for a handful of friends. Meaning, that the other 4,988 relationships may fall into the category of acquaintance. (I think that is ok, by the way.)

Me & Big Daddy, Venice Beach, California
Me & Big Daddy, Venice Beach, California

Think of it this way.  An acquaintance can be an ally without all the strings or obligations.  I would also argue that if you put most people into the acquaintance category, your disappointment will decrease, your awkward moments at your boys’ cross country meet will not feel like rejection, and that your expectations of reciprocity may soften. And if you see relationships through the acquaintance lens I would argue that your relationships with these people may actually be healthier, more fun, and more fulfilling (or even an serendipitous networking opportunity).  I would to think about it this way: An acquaintance is a friend without the loyalty and expectation. Do I care if an acquaintance blows off dinner plans? Do I care if an acquaintance makes up a lame ass excuse for not including me? Do I care if an acquaintance tells everyone I am high maintenance (dude, I have food allergies, get over it). Do I mind if an acquaintance tells everyone I  have social anxiety, or that I am too religious, or that I am not religious enough? Nope. Do I care if an acquaintance needs a favor, even though I have not heard from them in years? No. I am happy to help — always (even when I would rather be sleeping).

Our feet, Venice Beach, California
Our feet, Venice Beach, California

Bottom line: I say learn from me.  Figure out how you want to friend, and then trust it — (as long as you are not being a tool and are being transparent).

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CrazyUS 4.0: Exposing My Vulnerability

Kyle, Eli & Dave, Sugarhouse Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, August, 2006
Kyle, Eli & Dave, Sugarhouse Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, August, 2006

A little over ten years ago I blogged daily.  With an an average of 20,000 daily readers, I was on my way to becoming a well known public voice.  I loved it. In truth, I have always written. Sometimes my writing is sloppy and less polished and other times extensively edited. Regardless, I need to get my words out — always. I journaled as a young girl.  I spent hours talking and processing and eventually pouring those thoughts onto the page. In high school, I sought out creative writing classes.

“Write out the garbage.”  My teacher, Roman Borgerding, would say, and followed with, “then you will find the beauty.”

Us, Laird Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, July 30, 2006
Us, Laird Park, Salt Lake City, Utah, July 30, 2006

In college I majored in English, where deconstructing and analyzing poetry and prose was my jam. In fact, I found that I am oddly great at deconstructing poetry.  Seriously. I was a little shocked as well. And when I went back to college years later, I eagerly and painfully embraced literary critical theory. At first I thought deconstructing Jane Austen, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an extremely self-indulgent endeavor. How can literature change the world? I wondered. Of course my assessment was wrong. Because I am stubborn, it took me a minute to correlate that Jane Austen wrote a template for understanding social class, which I would argue we all try to navigate and make sense of. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o addresses language in how it affects culture, even making some cultures go extinct. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “The Runaway Slave Girl at Pilgrim’s Point,”  the concept of sacrifice, articulating what a mother will do to protect their child. The more I read, wrote, analyzed and deconstructed, the more I saw myself in their words. It was exhilarating and painful. Nevertheless, because I am addicted to the human narrative, I did my senior seminar in memoir writing, which I thought would lead me into perhaps writing a self-indulgent memoir. Nope. Instead, I connected. And through connection, I learned that good stories happen when people allow themselves to be vulnerable. In Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” it was her ability to connect and to show courage when her only daughter died. Her vulnerability was beautiful. Those were the words I wanted to write. She gave me a template for making the uncomfortable beautiful, relatable and clear. Further, then I learned to break down these personal stories and push back with my own. It was invigorating.

Me on the North Shore of Oahu, January, 2014 right before I started classes back at BYU
Me on the North Shore of Oahu, January, 2014 right before I started classes back at BYU (that’s another awesome story)

Tonight I found one of the first papers I wrote when I returned to school a few years after I took offline. The paper is on Ted Hughes’s poem, “Daffodils,” a response to his wife Sylvia Plath’s suicide. Here is first paragraph of my paper:

“As I considered the compilation, “Birthday Letters,” which was released in October, 1998, months before Ted Hughes’ death. As I read the poem, I was also distracted by the noise, and found it easy to get lost in the salacious biographical details of Ted Hughes’ and Sylvia Plath’s life. Instead of doing a close reading of the poem, “Daffodils,” I found it hard not to psychoanalyze the doomed couple, which admittedly made the poet’s literary voice challenging to hear. Whether it is Hughes’ own confused and complicated internal voice creating the noise, or the fascinating biographical details, I would move beyond the critics and argue that a solid literary voice exists, and because the voice is a messy grey, not a solid black and white, it is no less real. I will show that these very details when embraced enable a concrete, informed, and close textual reading of Hughes’ complicated love poem, “Daffodils.’”

Me doing college in 2014, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me doing college in 2014, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me on BYU Campus with one of my favorite college buddies, the beautiful, Maddie, Provo, Utah
Me on BYU Campus with one of my favorite college buddies, the beautiful, Maddie, Provo, Utah

Yes. Messy and grey. That is one-hundred million percent me. You know what is funny? It never occurred to me at the time that going to back to school and writing all those papers was in fact a search for my own voice. In fact the title of my paper is,

“Ted Hughes, “Daffodils:” Is the Poet’s Voice Lost in The Noise?”  

And I would argue that the title of my life could be the same: “Beth Rodgers Adams, “” Is the Blogger’s Voice in Lost in The Noise?”

Um and the answer is, “Yes.”

And since August, 2006 (and really since way before that), I have been trying to be a tree instead of the wind. That being said, do not underestimate the power of the wind. 

Us driving through Kalamata, Greece, March, 2016
Us driving through Kalamata, Greece, March, 2016

So here it is: Back in 2006, Dave and I were also in the throes of parenting two extremely entertaining and active little boys. Whether it was telling the world how a two and and a half year old Eli could not go to bed until he told us a joke first, or how a three and a half year old Kyle found a screwdriver and unlocked our bedroom door while yes, Dave and I were having mommy and daddy time [wink, wink]. Children are excellent at giving their parents plenty of material, and Kyle and Eli were no different. And really, whatever the story was, in the early to mid 2000s, I could not wait to tell my internet friends about my new highs and lows, including, but not limited to adventure, heartbreak or hilarious crisis. I love human connections and sharing my life experience online was another most valued outlet.

On an emotional level, I loved seeing my words reflected back through the very personal and insightful experiences others were willing to share. Our online conversations lifted me through the day. The online communities we were creating were a natural progression of in-person relationships. And I was experiencing these connections from my kitchen table. Looking back, those relationships and online communities grew faster than the speed of sound travels. We, the early blog adopters, were navigating and creating a new language and space of our own. It was crazy, terrifying, uncertain and exhilarating.

Kyle behind the 15th & 15th Einstein Bagels, Salt Lake City, Utah, March, 2005
Kyle behind the 15th & 15th Einstein Bagels, Salt Lake City, Utah, March, 2005
Easy E, Maryland, June, 2005
Easy E, Maryland, June, 2005

Because the word, “blog,” was still in beta in our collective consciousness, when people asked what I did for a living, I would unsteadily answer,

“I am a writer.”

When they pushed further, I would say,

“I have a blog,” which would inevitably be followed by their long eye roll and my self doubt.

I would try to authorize my space by sharing my credentials such as how Dave and I met in our high tech internet careers. I would always follow with the fact that and even had a blog for our wedding. And,

“We were married in 1998. Crazy!”

Me and Big Daddy, Scotland, July, 2016
Me and Big Daddy, Kellie Castle & Garden, Fife, Scotland, July, 2016

In August 2006, I took my blog down. I went completely dark and walked away from a space I worked very hard to stand in.  

There is no other reason than this: I took my blog down because I was afraid.

Kyle & I, The Main Square in Liechtenstein, April, 2017
Kyle & I, The Main Square in Liechtenstein, April, 2017

It took me a long time to see that I did not feel worthy of that space. I did not feel like I earned it. I felt shame. I felt less than. I believed I was unworthy. It took me an even longer time to see that I was not allowing myself to be vulnerable. Sure, I had no problem sharing my stories online. I could talk about other moms and how much they suck. With great and specific detail, I could talk about the bad and sad things that were happening around me. What I could not do is be vulnerable. Simply put, I was terrified committing to the uncomfortable and of standing in my truth. As a result, I felt shame. As a result, I will never know what could have happened. Most of my friends who blogged at the time did make some money and did find careers that were birthed via their blogs. Me, well, I was afraid and I walked away.

Forgiveness and healing took me really far. Standing in my own space was a great push. Ultimately, I truly believe vulnerability is the piece I was missing. I am ten years late, but I am here and I am standing. I am willing to invest and I am committed to sitting in this space, even when it is less than awesome, or no one is here. I reject the wind and will be the tree. I will even try to throw in some courage, authenticity, but mostly I really miss connecting in a space I helped create, and for that, I am sorry.

I am sorry I ran away.

Ran-Tong Save & Rescue Elephant Center, Chiang Mai, Thailand, June, 2016
Ran-Tong Save & Rescue Elephant Center, Chiang Mai, Thailand, June, 2016



Remember how we picked the daffodils?
Nobody else remembers, but I remember.
Your daughter came with her armfuls, eager and happy,
Helping the harvest. She has forgotten.
She cannot even remember you. And we sold them.
It sounds like sacrilege, but we sold them.
Were we so poor? Old Stoneman, the grocer,
Boss-eyed, his blood-pressure purpling to beetroot
(It was his last chance,
He would die in the same great freeze as you) ,
He persuaded us. Every Spring
He always bought them, sevenpence a dozen,
‘A custom of the house’.

Besides, we still weren’t sure we wanted to own
Anything. Mainly we were hungry
To convert everything to profit.
Still nomads-still strangers
To our whole possession. The daffodils
Were incidental gilding of the deeds,
Treasure trove. They simply came,
And they kept on coming.
As if not from the sod but falling from heaven.
Our lives were still a raid on our own good luck.
We knew we’d live forever. We had not learned
What a fleeting glance of the everlasting
Daffodils are. Never identified
The nuptial flight of the rarest epherma-
Our own days!
We thought they were a windfall.
Never guessed they were a last blessing.
So we sold them. We worked at selling them
As if employed on somebody else’s
Flower-farm. You bent at it
In the rain of that April-your last April.
We bent there together, among the soft shrieks
Of their jostled stems, the wet shocks shaken
Of their girlish dance-frocks-
Fresh-opened dragonflies, wet and flimsy,
Opened too early.

We piled their frailty lights on a carpenter’s bench,
Distributed leaves among the dozens-
Buckling blade-leaves, limber, groping for air, zinc-silvered-
Propped their raw butts in bucket water,
Their oval, meaty butts,
And sold them, sevenpence a bunch-

Wind-wounds, spasms from the dark earth,
With their odourless metals,
A flamy purification of the deep grave’s stony cold
As if ice had a breath-

We sold them, to wither.
The crop thickened faster than we could thin it.
Finally, we were overwhelmed
And we lost our wedding-present scissors.

Every March since they have lifted again
Out of the same bulbs, the same
Baby-cries from the thaw,
Ballerinas too early for music, shiverers
In the draughty wings of the year.
On that same groundswell of memory, fluttering
They return to forget you stooping there
Behind the rainy curtains of a dark April,
Snipping their stems.

But somewhere your scissors remember. Wherever they are.
Here somewhere, blades wide open,
April by April
Sinking deeper
Through the sod-an anchor, a cross of rust.

The poem is to Sylvia, about cutting and selling flowers in spring with their daughter, who no longer remembers her mother. The collection broke a 35 year silence on Hughes’ part. It is a response to Wordsworth’s daffodils as well – the kinds of memories the flowers conjure here are less those of solace than treasured, fragile moments. The scissors form a beautiful image of violence and vulnerability.”

I Was Blind But Now I See — Literally

Near Interlaken, Switzerland
Near Interlaken, Switzerland
Kyle, Bern-Gurten Park, Bern, Switzerland with the Alps in the background
Kyle, Bern-Gurten Park, Bern, Switzerland with the Alps in the background

I had no idea. Sure, I kind of knew I was depressed. I just thought it was my typical Seasonal Affected Disorder. Winter grey is no fun every single year. As a result of my malaise, I was not correlating that the darkness I was feeling was because of my eyes. And because I am pretty farsighted, I figured my bad eyesight was a result of my inability to read tiny ingredient labels. And for some reason I attached my tiny label issue to my utter inability to read larger font restaurant menus. I gave up and Dave always pitched in. I neglected the constant blur in the center of my vision field and we adjusted. Still, I was not connecting that not being able to read up close had nothing to do with my world going dark. Again, I adjusted. I turned all my electronic screens to their brightest setting, read under very vibrant lights, and dealt with the daily fact that I literally could not see my left eyelid as I tried to apply mascara and eyeshadow (even with a magnifying mirror in the morning sun). Further, I did not think twice that my freckles were fading out of view.

“I am getting older and that is what happens.”

Me and Big Daddy, The Moran Eye Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me and Big Daddy, The Moran Eye Center, Salt Lake City, Utah

I also thought that the infamous Utah winter smog caused by temperature inversions is what caused the mountains and my background to blur, and it never occurred to me that writing was becoming a task and that images are not supposed to disappear when you look toward the light. It all seemed normal. In all truth, in spite of the profound loss of my once very clear vision, I had no idea I was going blind.

Snowbird Ski Resort, Park City, Utah
Eli after his crash, Snowbird Ski Resort, Salt Lake City, Utah

The only reason I did something is because we met our deductible. In January Eli had a horrible ski accident, which resulted in a seriously fractured jaw, which required a titanium plate, tooth extraction, and having his jaw wired shut. He could not chew food for two months and lost thirty-five pounds. With our deductible met, Dave suggested we see the doctor for anything we thought we might want to take care of. I knew I had not had my eyes tested in a while and the blur was a little bothersome. With risk of pre-existing conditions soon counting against me, I decided to get my eyes checked out. Mind blown. I have a traumatic cataract. And understandably, my diagnosis caused some confusion, especially with me. See, several years ago I thought it was strange when a cornea specialist said that I had cataracts, or better, said that he could see my cataracts. He suggested it would be a several years before I needed to address “them.” Herein lies the confusion. The specialist was expert in corneas, not cataracts. There is not a “them.” There is a,  “one.” And one blinding cataract may have a different diagnosis. In my case, it does. Still I was caught off guard, he explained my scans and explained my diagnosis. Still did not make sense.

“Don’t cataracts come in two?” I thought.

Thankfully the surgeon realized that my processing speed needed a minute as I absorbed the shock. That is when he asked me to come back before surgery.

“Seriously. Look it up. Think of questions. Research. I can answer any of your concerns. And yes, the diagnosis is a classic traumatic cataract. Oh and by the way, when did you hit your head?”

Information on Traumatic Cataract from Google
Information on Traumatic Cataract from Google

I did hit my head, and hard. Nearly ten years ago I went airborne and fell down my friend’s stairs. It was an unfamiliar house and completely dark. I went over a baby gate and landed on my face. I broke my nose, ruptured a cyst in my wrist, and damaged my optic nerve. In fact, even now the skin sensation on the left side of my forehead feels different than the right. And no, I was not drinking. Crazy!

Easy E long boarding at the house where I broke my nose, Park City, Utah, November, 2007
Easy E long boarding at the house where I broke my nose, Park City, Utah, November, 2007

You still may doubt or have questions. I did too. So before I go any further, let me clear some things up. Yes. It is true: everyone will eventually develop cataracts. If you’re reading this, you probably have them this very minute, and if you live long enough, you’ll probably need surgery to address them. Normal cataracts tend to affect both eyes. When vision is bad enough, surgery is performed on one eye and after that eye heals, surgery is performed on the other. My mom recently had cataract surgery and her mom, mom grandma, had cataract surgery too. And it is possible that one eye may need surgery a year or two before the other, but they are close.

The boys and Wawa (my mom), May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah
The boys and Wawa (my mom), May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah

It is my understanding the cataracts are a natural product of the aging eye. My doctor put it this way:

“It is like every year someone puts a dropper of milk in a glass of water. Eventually the water becomes too foggy. And because the glass is yours, you get to decide when has become too foggy.”

Ultimately, it is our ability to see through foggy-water combined with the speed in which the fogginess impedes our vision that dictates when we are ready. As a result of these factors, not all of us will have surgery. We may die first (for real).

In my case, my left eye has a barely noticeable and typical cataract. It will probably be many years before it gets bad enough to fix. On the other hand, my right eye looked like a firework exploded in my lens. When given a glare test, I was completely blind. I would get my questions answered, yet surgery needed to happen regardless. Deep breath!

Even though it was confirmed that I could not see, I was crazy terrified the week before surgery. I was anxious. The risk of losing my eyesight altogether weighed heavily on me. I tried talking myself out of the surgery so many times, and I tried to cancel the day of. I convinced myself that I needed to be at the boys’ track meet. I even told the nurse,

“I should reschedule. They both run today. I do not want to be a bad mom.”

Image from
Image from the 1985 movie, “Cocoon.”

The nurse was kind and accommodating and told me that I had until 1PM to let them know. I waited until 12:50 PM to give them go ahead and I needed to be at the hospital by 2:15 PM. At that time, I walked onto the set of the 1980s movie, “Cocoon.” That is, I walked into the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. In a sea of delightful old people facing the same surgery, I waited. Because I barf 100 percent of the time after having morphine, the anesthesiologist opted not to give me pain medicine. Instead she used topical numbing and anti-nausea medicine. Of course they give you anti-anxiety medicine too, considering the fact that you’ll be awake while they poke your eye with sharp things. At approximately 3:30 PM MST, the surgeon began. He and the male nurse covered my head in a big white sheet with a hole. As the sticky parts around the eyehole adhered to my top lashes, I heard the doctor say,

“Let’s do this again. We don’t want to hurt those lashes.”

They lifted the sheet off of my face and repositioned the big white cover. Then they attached something to hold my eye open.

“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.

“I am good. This is so weird. Really weird.” I responded.

He cut into my right eye. I was awake. No. Really. I was awake for the entire surgery. And I remember it. About five minutes in, the doctor asked me,

“Beth, can you feel anything?”
“Yes.” I said and followed, “Is it supposed to hurt like this?”
“No.” he responded and then asked the anesthesiologist to give me more numbing medicine.

I could see colors. I heard the surgeon as he worked my busted cataract out of my eye.

“We are ready to put the new lens in.” the doctor said.

As he placed in my new lens it became stuck at the edge. “
“We need to fix this part. It is getting stuck on the edge.”

We were at minute ten. The doctor asked again, “Beth, can you feel that?”
As I looked at the bright whites, reds, blacks and blues reflected in the mirror above I said, “Really, is it still supposed to hurt?”
“No. It is not.” He responded and continued. “Please give her more medicine.” He instructed.

Me, post surgery, wearing my "Hannibal Lecter" Eye Mask, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me, post surgery, wearing my “Hannibal Lecter” Eye Mask, Salt Lake City, Utah

In twelve minutes my surgery was complete. The average time for cataract surgery is ten minutes. I’ll give the extra two minutes to the snag in my lens. When I came back for a follow-up the next day the doctor asked me about my experience. I asked him,

“Is it normal that I remember the surgery?”
“Yes.” He responded.
“Even all that pain.” I asked.

“The numbing medicine is supposed to last 15 – 20 minutes. Yours lasted five. Some people metabolize medicine really fast. You are one of those people.”

After surgery I was traumatized. I could remember the pain and remember the procedure. I could not get over the fact that I was awake while the doctor sliced into my eye. As a result of my processing overload, I asked Dave to drop me off at home so I could catch my breath. I assured him I would be ready to go to the boys’ track meet after he returned with my prescriptions. Yes, I was still trying to make the track meet. Three hours later I woke up. The track meet was over and the boys were on their way home.

Me, post surgery, May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me, post surgery, May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah

As I kept opening and closing my right eye, my blind spot was gone. My vision is crystal clear in my right eye and a bit duller in my left. The boys were back home. They were kind and grateful I was ok.

Before I left for my check up appointment the next day, after about half of the way in, I realized as I put on my eyeshadow that I could actually see my left eyelid. I looked closer and kept thinking about all the freckles on my face.

“Wow! I love my freckles. Man, I have a lot of them.” It honestly took me a few minutes to connect the dots as I thought to myself, “It is my new robot eye. It is allowing me to see. My freckles have always been this bright. Wow!”

The boys and I on our Mothers Day Adventure, Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Utah
The boys and I on our Mothers Day Adventure, Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Uta

Later that day Kyle and I went on a walk. I kept staring at the mountains to the east. I saw contrast. I saw peaks. I saw canyons. I have not seen the mountains like this in years. Then I saw the leaves on the trees. No longer were they a blend of greens. In high contrast I saw each leaf. From blur to high definition in twelve minutes, I still cannot believe it. By the way, I also noticed my bathroom is much dustier than I imagined and that I have a lot of wrinkles. Nevertheless, I am grateful.