Black Sheep



In the 18th and 19th centuries, when a black sheep was born into a flock of white sheep, farmers professed that it was the mark of the devil.  In reality, it was a recessive gene that produced the black sheep about 25 percent of the time. The truth behind the mythicism of the “evil sheep” was that wool workers couldn’t dye the dark wool, so it was less desirable for sale. A black sheep was simply an extra mouth to feed, and although common enough, it was a nuisance to the Shepard, and therefore a lie was concocted around the sheep’s worth.

With people it’s not so different. We don’t come into the world with a sign of the devil imprinted on us to mark our difference, but with the passage of time, people love to sort one another out and assign worth. We create our own myths to justify the othering of people. Even still, it’s hard to tell who, in fact, is the more desirable sheep amongst us, even as they are "assigned."

During my childhood, I had heard my mom classify herself as the black sheep of her nuclear family. It was something I became accustomed to hearing about, but never gave much weight to, until I was 12 years old,  and I found out why. Finding out why my mom felt this way happened quite by accident, but the accident would lead to incident, and it would change all our lives...

One unassuming weekend, I picked up the phone to make a call to one of my friends. This was the 90s, when, if you had multiple receivers in the home and if someone else was on the phone, you were suddenly privy to their conversation. My mom was on the phone in what I recognized as an emotional conversation with her elder brother. She wasn’t quite yelling as she said, “Yes —you do remember. You do.” She said his name. I covered the speaker on the phone, listening intently. He tried to overtake her. She stopped him with, “We were in mom’s bedroom and you were on top of me, and you started to undress me…”

A fog went up around me, like a sudden pierce in the cloud of childhood, and the fog became thick, filling in all the gaps, sucking out the air in the room.  Even at 12,  I understood what my mom was explaining. There was something distinct: the level of upset in my mother’s voice. I quietly hung up the phone as the fog began to settle into me where the air had once been. I understood what I heard.

I knew what she meant, and there was a reason why I knew. The same thing had happened to me. I experienced what it was like to have an older sibling direct my own body, sexually. It had happened over several years, and though it had ceased a year or two prior, I had never told anyone. There was a part of me that must’ve known that what was happening to me, and with me, at the hands of my own elder sibling was wrong, but more than wanting to get her in trouble, or even wanting to make it stop, I wanted to her to love me. Silence, therefore, felt like love.

Now, confronted with my mother’s frantic emotion on the phone with her brother, the truth smacked me all at once. It was wrong what happened. Perhaps it was even upsetting. Maybe I didn’t need to keep it in. Maybe an adult should know. The prospect of telling my mom, which was becoming an imposing inevitability, suddenly brought me to tears. I was overwhelmed by the amount of truth I was being confronted with. It would also mark the beginning of a personal and familial reckoning that would take several decades.

There we were, my mom and I….divided in time by 29 years, yet both facing new realities, as two confrontations around childhood sexual abuse unfolded in literal parallel. That day, I told her about my own abuse. I told her about what I heard on the phone, and how the same thing had happened to me. Her voice bought me the ability to come forward. In this regard, her bravery and struggle was worth it. It also kicked off a chapter of my youth that followed me into my adulthood, just as it had for my own mother.

Ultimately, our own fragile, nuclear family could not withstand the strain… my parents could not possibly shoulder the pressure of taking sides for or against their children. It became the catalyst that eventually ended their marriage.

Through all the years of our family being in turmoil over this issue, no one ever said to me (directly) that they didn’t believe me. By contrast, my mother’s mother, as well as other family members, were vocal about the fact that they didn’t believe her, or that she should simply “get over it.” If she thought that she was alienated from the family before, unearthing her truth increased this with disgusting ferocity.

I rarely saw my cousins after that day on the phone when I was 12, and when I did, it was clear that they had been poisoned against us. They looked at me in wide-eyed curiosity, though they weren’t sure why. Whenever we had the experience of being with my uncle, at family reunions or funerals, I could never look at him without thinking in my head, “I know what you did.” Yet my mom and I continued to function in the family culture of shame and silence.

I was always incredulous that he walked around with his head held abnormally high, while my mom struggled with a sense of belonging. That she saw herself as somehow outside of these people was not incorrect, but it was because she was functioning in the light of truth and they were denying it.

Years later, I was unpacking boxes in the dusty attic of one of our former houses, and came across a Xerox box of my mom’s things. In it I found a letter to her older brother, who shares a name with my dad. Initially, I thought the letter was meant for my dad, so I mistook it for a love note. As I began reading it, though,  I realized, it was anything but. It was a letter my mom had written, pleading with her older brother to “please apologize and acknowledge what happened,” so they could be a family again. Even after all that... she just wanted to be a part of her family. To have his love and an apology. It made me so angry to see multiple pages of handwritten desperation and love laid out so clearly. I tucked the letter back into the box, and back in the recesses of my memory and never spoke about it to anyone. I don’t know if it was ever sent.

Whether over the phone, or in written form, I never got that moment of summation with my own sibling. She passed away before we had the chance to confront our childhoods…but who knows if we ever would have. When she died at the age of 27, I wrote a note to her on college ruled notebook paper and folded it into a neat square, like we used to do when we were kids. I carefully placed it in her coffin. It read, “I was only so mad at you because I still loved you.” And I signed it, “Your sister, Billie.” When someone is gone, there is a finality to the story. It has become, for me, a closed account that I no longer have to pay for with my silence.

Movements like "Me Too" have ushered in more conversation around assault, rape, and other sexual violence and misconduct, and I'm happy about that... But I also feel that sexual abuse, especially in families, is still kept undercover, despite the fact that it's being actively experienced by so many people--male and female. The shame and the silence is ingrained in family culture, and in society. There is a ton of fear around talking about these themes even though it's necessary and true. We spend so much time talking about how a stranger can victimize a person, but I have to say, I have never been victimized by a stranger--only by people I knew. And I was forced not only to pay in the moments it happened, but later on with my silence, which costed me far more than the events themselves.

The sum of my personal experience, as well as the experience of watching the way my mom's family treated her, is this:  if you have to pay for a status in any system, including a family, and the currency is silence, the debt will be perpetual, and the suffering endless.

Families tend to have a particular, individual type of economy when it comes to love, but fictitious labels once assigned to denote an economic value to a sheep should never apply to people. If using your voice rather than submitting to silence makes you a family pariah, that's bullshit. Maybe black sheep are really truth warriors... a carefully curated percentage of us, present by genetic design, who call out the shame rather than inhaling it into our ecosystems. That doesn’t mean the truth isn’t scary, or that there won’t be consequences…to quote Brene Brown, "The price is high, but the reward is great."

I will no longer exchange my truth for love. Ever. And if that makes me a black sheep, I willingly accept the title and wear it as a crown. Now, I am a queen.

Dear White Parents:

My darling, fellow well-intentioned white folks, we need to talk. It's about a big ass fail that happened around here last Spring centering around the conversation about race. It's uncomfortable for me because I, probably like you, consider myself to be racially aware and abreast of sensitive topics. But you know what? Those things don't count for much unless you're being active about what you believe... and that counts in big and small ways, as I learned. 

One unassuming Sunday,  I was playing with my daughter and she suggested that we make a list of "playdates" she would like to have over the upcoming summer. She loves to make lists, and I thought that this was adorable, so immediately said, "yes!" Then she dropped my jaw when she added, "We can only put white skin people on the list because white skin people can only play with other white skin people, not brown skin people." I was crushed. Utterly crushed.

This is hard for me to admit--that she said this. My reaction went to immediate white-hot rage, with an over-the-top, "WHO SAID THIS TO YOU?" Which immediately clammed her up because she didn't know that what she was saying was bad, but she got the message real quick. Let me repeat: she didn't know what she was saying was bad. 

Firstly, she was only four at the time. Additionally, my child has some social deficits. Given those things, this language coming from her devastated me.  I knew immediately that I was now going to have to work to undo a thing and get it out of her... why? Because I didn't do the work on the front end. 

After I pulled it back a little, my daughter and I were able to talk a bit and she told me a classmate of hers had said it. We had a big talk about how brown is beautiful, and we talked about all the friends and family members we have who are racially different than us, and how we love them. We parlayed this into reading books that include diversity and furthered the conversation, which, honestly, I should have been doing all along. I also told her that what that student (whoever it was) said was really bad--"worse than the F word"--and that next time she should tell the teacher right away. But the reality of this happening was only slight because The Bird has trouble with asserting these types of things to her teachers. I'm honestly grateful that she told me about it at all...

The next day when I told her caregiver at daycare, she was amazing. She immediately said she would address this to the whole class, and we agreed that I would bring in some books on diversity to read to the class. She also said she would have a one-on-one with my child about being able to tell the teacher when someone says something like that. Those things were all wonderful, and I'm glad that the daycare responded strongly and swiftly to my concerns.

The thing is, though, that as mad as I was about what that kid said to my daughter, I also have to take some personal responsibility here. I'm just as mad about what I didn't say to her when I had the chance.... this was a deep failure on my part, as a parent. In that moment between my daughter and I, I was working to undo something someone else said, when all along, I should have been proactive in talking about race and diversity in personally meaningful ways. I lost the luxury of being able to talk to her in our own time about diversity in the ways that are fundamental and important to me. As a person who considers myself to be an ally to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), I did a piss poor job of living into the values that I believe about race. It's embarrassing, but frankly, I would rather be embarrassed and honest with myself than ignorant. 

I learned:
KIDS WILL NOT LEARN VALUES ABOUT RACE BY OSMOSIS. 

Maybe this should have been apparent to me. Maybe this should have be clear, but you know, it wasn't. I mistakenly figured that she would pick up on our values because ...we have lots of diverse dolls... we have friends of different races or.... we talk about the true story of Thanksgiving... or because we just believe in equality and talk about it *some.* Or even because I have taken Layla F. Saad's White Supremacy and Me program (which you can now purchase!)  

I was wrong. 

As I was feverishly ordering children's books from Amazon about diversity to read with my daughter, it occurred to me that while I was busy not talking about race with my child, some other asshole was busy imparting to their child that races can't play together AT FUCKING PRESCHOOL. I was literally facepalming myself. Because, of course they were. And this is exactly why we--as white parents-- NEED to be talking about race with our children in age-appropriate and comprehensive ways... because if we don't, then Jonny at preschool will be telling your kid exactly what his parents believe, and your kid won't be armed with the tools he or she needs to combat that message. So they absorb it somewhere in their minds with all the confusion that a four or five year old possesses. Maybe you will hear about it from them, and maybe you won't.

When there is an issue of safety like with pools or crossing the street, we tend toward being explicit with our children and honest about the impacts. I believe this is the same, and the stakes are just as high. These are PEOPLE we are talking about, and the issue of race could not be of more timely importance. We have to do better and stop consenting with our silence or resting on our apathy, and I see that differently now. We have got to be proactive and open and educated about these things. 

Maybe you have heard the phrase "White Silence = White Consent." This kept ringing in my head. The sum total of this situation is what happens when white privilege (ie- not thinking about talking openly about race with my child) collides with clear cut white supremacy (the kid in the daycare parroting racist values). And why is it white privilege? Because Black, Native American, Hispanic, Muslim, and Jewish people do NOT have the luxury of "opting out" of these conversations with their kids. But this time, I want to rise up with more awareness, and I don't want other parents to make the same mistakes that I made in either their assumptions or their actions. Because awareness just isn't enough. We have to be active about these things. Lesson learned.

All the love,

Billie
Bossy Italian Wife 



Quick & Easy Pasta Sauce

I am a busy gal, as you might imagine. So there are times when I need to throw something together, and sometimes that something is pasta sauce. It is a rare life moment when I will buy a can of sauce. I am Italian American, I just can't. So this is the quickest, most yummy version of quick red sauce this side of the Mississippi.

Also, isn't it just fun to say "This side of the Mississippi?" What would I do if I ever lived right on the Mississippi River? I would probably still say it, but instead, I would walk out of my house and shout it to the other side of the river. You know, for dramatic effect. But I digress...

Do you have 20 minutes? Then you, my friend, can have pasta sauce! This is a super-simple, absolutely delicious, FAST sauce that everyone will love. Yes, you can complicate your life by making any number of other sauces, but WHY? I'm talking 8 ingredients you probably have in your pantry right now...and, like, under $7 dollars.  You're welcome.

And you know what else? I'm not even going to kill you with a bunch of story leading up to the recipe because I know you are busy... so here it is!

(Additional recipe notes at the bottom, if you want 'em!)


Quick & Easy Pasta Sauce 


Time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hr cook time | Serves 6 | Difficulty: Can you open a can? Ok, we good. 

You will need:

1 large onion
9-10 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6-ounce can tomato paste
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
Olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Pepper to taste

Method:

Give a good glug of olive oil twice around pan. Dice your onion and mince the garlic. Add them to pan, and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. And if you're wondering about the garlic... YAS: 9-10 cloves of garlic. I love garlic.  If you must reduce the amount of garlic to suit your tastes, fine, but honestly, just don't tell me. It will break my garlic-loving heart.

When the onions are becoming translucent, add in all the remaining ingredients. Stir and bring to a boil. Your sauce will probably start popping off, and when it does, reduce heat to low, and cover. When I say "cover" it's more like "duck and cover" because the sauce is jumping out of the pot and it's obnoxious. But you know...

Then simmer for at least an hour, but longer if ya got it. I like to let mine go all day, and sometimes (if I think of it) make it a day ahead and let it sit in the fridge overnight. But I KNOW, it's supposed to fast... so if you only have 30 minutes, there are no sauce police that are lurking to see if you are following these directions. Just make sure you taste it and adjust seasonings. Add a little pepper, or a little more salt if you like.

The sauce will be chunky. For a smoother sauce, you can use all crushed tomatoes or use an immersion blender at the end. The immersion blender will make your sauce more silky, which is nice!! If you don't have an immersion blender, you can also use a traditional blender, but isn't that kind of a pain in the ass? Just eat the chunky sauce at that point, honestly.

Additional notes:
This is a vegan recipe, and it's SUPER versatile. I serve mine a million different ways. My daughter's favorite is with meatballs and a Caesar salad. My husband likes ground meat in the sauce itself. I like sweet Italian sausage. My grandma used to add hard boiled eggs to her sauce! This would also be amazing with veggies added to it!

We do gluten free pasta in my home, but this is a great sauce to go on just about anything you can cook up. So Mangia with your familia however you like best!

"HIGH FUNCTIONING"

If you have any manner of disorder and have been labeled as “high functioning” then I probably don’t need to explain to you what a misnomer this label is… Whether it’s autism or anxiety or fill-in-the-blank, the “high functioning” label is never assigned in the interest of the individual who has the need, but rather in the interest of normative society. And hear me out because this is important.

As a person who has functioned, highly, with anxiety for my whole life and who is currently coming into new understandings of my neurological makeup, I can tell you that in the grip of anxiety or a full blown panic attack, I have never—not once—felt high functioning, despite appearances. What the world experiences and what I experience are separate and distinct, and honestly, very upsetting for me.

For as long as I have experienced any sort of abnormal mental episodes, I have heard it all, from “you seem fine,” to “it can’t be that bad.” And every. Single. Fucking. Time. It guts me. While I may appear completely placid on the outside, I am experiencing a complete, internal collapse. The walls of my nervous system are caving in… while the physical world around me moves like unstable jello. I’m hot. I’m cold. The room is spinning. I may run. I may disintegrate… It feels like is trying to do an obstacle course hopped up on psychedelics while simultaneously trying to act completely sober. But you experience me as…. Totally fine.

Which is cool for you, but paralyzing for me. Add in a dash of self actualization, and it’s hard for even great therapists and professionals to treat me because, what the heck can they do about my neurological wiring?! There is only so much talking I can do about what I cannot change, so in some ways, being “high functioning” has been a barrier to treatment for me.

And it’s all so hard to explain… why I’ve set my life up this way, and why planning is such huge thing for me. Why I my first inclination is to say “no,” or why I cannot return items I hate at the store. Why I smell my food to see if it’s still good, and wonder if it’s going to poison me… Why, if I don’t sleep, I feel dizzy and I wonder if I will actually pass out, and WILL THIS HAPPEN WHILE I AM DRIVING MY CHILD SOMEWHERE?

And yet… I can give awe-inspiring presentations to rooms full of people. I can communicate with such ease in written form. I am creative and bright and, under the right circumstances, illuminating. I am a complicated, spiritual being. And none of this is really “bad” or “good” it’s just a part of who I am.

The way it appears to me is that we are a society so completely obsessed with being normative that we assign this label in an effort to normalize our differences at the expense of ourselves. It grates on me. And it’s not that I want to be malfunctioning or anything… The truth is, I don’t actually believe that any of this makes me any “less” than anyone else. But trying to explain that in any given moment can be so flowery in nature that I am reduced to sounding like some idealist, granola munching, fringe scientist … when in reality,  I want to be seen for what I am. I want to FUNCTION in the light of my own truth, and not someone else’s idea of what I am. Isn’t that the real point of a diagnosis, anyway? To self identify in meaningful ways that ultimately help you?

I believe that anxiety and anything else that can be labeled under the neurodiverse umbrella, is like a superpower…. We all have our kryptonite, just like our traditional superheroes, but they never dwell on the darkness, they dwell in the light. My anxiety and my other neurodiversities are like hidden talents. My ability to over empathize and see all sides of a situation give me a super unique ability to analyze. My anxiety is a superhuman alarm bell system that tells me to get R&R right away so I don’t burn out—and FYI, I tell my friends the same thing! I am the “take care of yourself” preacher AND I am my own choir, too!

I have a super human algorithm built into me that if I haven’t talked to a person in a specific number of days, I will remember to text them and see how they are doing. I write letters. REAL FUCKING LETTERS. I am abnormally grateful, genuinely, because I feel like life is so fleeting and random. And I am fiercely loyal. I love without limits… arguably, maybe there should be more limits. So, yes, I have my downsides… I am intense AF. If you love me, prepare for a level of intensity that you may not have met before. I struggle to leave the house sometimes (read: all the damn time). I don’t like to go outside my routine. I sometimes have to cancel plans because the anticipation makes me feel physically ill,  and I am afraid more than I am not afraid… but I overcome these things daily and sometimes hourly, and isn’t that amazing?

However, there is little credit given to a person who never seems to have a problem in the first place. And that is the misnomer of the high functioning label. I am working really hard to seem normative and it’s exhausting. As I get older, I try to break this barrier down as much I can. I’m beginning to get more comfortable doing what DOES serve me best… like wearing headphones in the grocery store, or explaining that I have depth perception issues (I'm not trying to park like an asshole, I swear!), or that facial recognition and recalling names is a particular challenge for me… or practicing my improv skills so I can be more flexible in everyday life. But I will never be “normal,” even if the world does see me as “high functioning.”

The people who love me best understand these things about me. They know that when I show up, maybe it took me three days of internal battle to get there because it was THAT important. They likewise understand that if I don’t show up, it was never personal. They will humor me as I talk about the same thing 10 different ways, and when they finally tell me to shut up about it, I get it. As the world becomes a better, hopefully more progressive place for the neurodiverse amongst us, I hope that everyone will learn to come to center a little more. I hope that typical people will be changed by their interactions with neurodivergent individuals and vice versa.

Because what it really takes to be high functioning in today’s world, typical or divergent, is a group of people behind you with undying love who lift you up and are a little bit changed by your you-ness. 

As a Millennial Mom...

Being a millennial mom is a "special" experience... and I don't mean "special" in terms of what my generation of kids was told about ourselves, I mean "special" as in fucking paradoxical and weird.  I am almost 35 years old, and yet, there are times when the world treats me like I am an entitled thumbsucker, and it's.... frustrating. I know that I am not the only one in my generation that feels this way.

I am not entirely certain how my generation became the world's punching bag, but somehow, the people who raised us feel the constant need to shout about how we won't grow up, while literally saying we are idealist and unrealistic when we try to fix the shit they fucked up.



What's wrong, boomers? You don't the harvest from your crotch fruit crop? 

Now, of course, I don't mean to over-generalize the boomers and other generally older (mostly white) people who keep bashing my generation as the "most entitled generation ever," because I know (I KNOW) there are lots of great human adults who know millennials have the potential to change the world. I guess.

As a millennial mom, there are SO many things that I have to worry about that my parents' generation cannot fathom. I am tasked with navigating the perils of parenting in the digital age where we don't just compete with the people in our proximity, but you know, globally we gotta stay on our toes. NBD. So, here's a tidy little list of a *few things* we have to worry about as millennial parents that didn't exist in our parent's worlds. Not to be entitled about it, or whatever.

The environment 
Driving a car. Eating palm oil (which, by the way, kills orangutans and the rain forests.) Beach erosion--is it a thing and should we be replenishing beaches? Will my house be beach front in a few years thanks to sea level rise? Will it swallow us whole? Thank god my kid is a good swimmer...But there is goddamn flesh eating bacteria in the water because it's too damn hot. Mass extinctions.  And IS recycling a sham now that China won't buy our trash? Why haven't we figured that out, already?

Why the actual fuck are we fighting over whether or not to make a switch to green energy? It could create so many jobs. And don't even get me started on corporate greed. And jobs. Anything bad about the world today can basically be traced back to the fact that for compounding generations, we treated the world like our personal candy bucket. We gorged on the candy and piled up the wrappers. But god forbid we stress over having a planet to live on or anything.

Food 
Can I go to the grocery store and shop or should I order online? What causes more carbon emissions? What do I even have time for?  Is it okay for me to buy chicken nuggets or do they have to be organic, and gluten free? Cow's milk is disgusting and I don't want my daughter having it... but then I watched that documentary about how the dairy industry is tanking, and that poor family in Pennsylvania! I feel bad now. Can we eat anything that comes in a box? Too processed? Everyone is so judgy these days about the quality of our lettuce. Not to mention food recalls. Fuck it. I should grow this shit myself because that's the only way to know if it's really good... however, soil depletion. So how do I fix that because what is the point of eating healthy if the food doesn't really contain nutrients... mushroom compost?

Social media
If you're happy and you know it, post online! Actually, just post online and pretend to be happy because we don't want to see your sorry ass sack of shit complaints. Like, you know, about the environment. Also, if you didn't check in somewhere, did it even happen? But also, if you disappear from social media, no one will notice. How depressing--kind of the like the entire experience of being online sometimes. And yet, CAT VIDEOS! But also... MOMO! (Seriously, that bitch was terrifying.) Paradoxically, media isn't social. And we're curating ourselves into these weird images that are soooo reductive. And we are constantly being told to "go outside and have some human interaction" which is hard, since the whole world is on fire. Or flooded. AND, seriously, people on the internet are so mean while simultaneously being offended by everything. Barf.

Education
For. The. Love.

Did I choose the right school? IEP meetings... don't even get me started. I hope she's up to par, educationally... but honestly, shouldn't she just be playing outside at her age? Social skills are way more important. Unless she's falling behind. Should we opt out of standardized tests? Teachers are so overworked. We haven't saved a dime for college... what's the current cost of a year of college? Should we point her toward a trade instead? Is coding a trade?  She should definitely explore coding since the whole world is going digital and there is a huge bias in coding. They need more women in coding, especially once we live in the matrix. We don't need a virtual world controlled by men, we already screwed that up IRL. Maybe I'll think about this more once we get past Kindergarten, we have time, right?

And for some dumb reason, we can't protect them from gun violence and those lockdown drills are normal, so shaddup about it. It's not traumatizing. 

Too Much Parenting Info 
Access to information. YAY. Sort of. I mean, there are so many schools of thought on how you should parent your kid that you cannot do anything right. Give them chores. Don't give them chores. If your kid is an asshole, it's your fault. We should simultaneously teach them to stand up to bullies but never condone violence. Give them hugs, but not too many. Let them play outside, but only under strict supervision or your neighbor might call the cops because YOUR KIDS WERE ALONE! Tell them not to do drugs, but then give them drugs to calm them down in school. Make them aware of strangers (even though they are legit more likely to be victimized by someone they already know) and DO NOT SHAME THEM. Do not yell. Be a saint. You chose parenting, so be happy because not everyone can have kids. You're basically never allowed to complain-- especially if you are a stay at home mom because: what a gift you privileged jerk!

And if you work outside the home, congrats, you are setting the best example, but obviously, when you get home, you need to do all the things the stay at home mom does because you don't, you'll never prove your love. Oh, and breastfeed right after you have a natural birth without screaming a peep because MOTHERHOOD IS BEAUTIFUL, dammit!

Mental-fucking-health
We are a depressed, anxious mess of a generation because--DUH!-- see above. And yet, we are creative, innovative, and increasingly focused on self care and stigma breaking. But somehow all of this translates into us being whinny and wanting too many "safe spaces." Yeah, no. I don't buy that.

We are the generation who was in high school and elementary school when 9/11 happened. We've lived under a cloud of perpetual war, increased political division, the complete and utter breakdown of the college system, and an increasingly digital world that NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. And our parents told us if we just work hard, we'll be rewarded because that was their experience. But that is not what what it's all about these days.

We have to teach our kids a whole different thing which we are currently trying to navigate without any kind of road map. So yeah, enter yoga, acupuncture, meditation, smudging, rain dancing, and whatever else might give us a snowball's chance in hell to break through the noise and just be OKAY. And all of this is to say that Millennials have a lot on their plates. Most can't afford homes, and are struggling to find or switch careers. It's a jungle out there... well, er, it's a rapidly depleting jungle with mass extinction, but you get the idea.

We are basically a bridge generation between the age of the internet and all that came before. As an elder millennial, born in 1985, I grew up without CGI, without the Internet, but I was on the cutting edge of the glory days of dial up. I remember when you couldn't talk on the telephone during a thunderstorm because you might get electrocuted, AND playing in the streets of a neighborhood without the fear that some nosey neighbor would call CPS. In the short 30-something years I've been alive, we've experienced huge technological leaps that have redefined the world, globalized markets, and changed our everyday lives. So stop giving us a bunch of shit and give us a little more credit. Being a millennial is like walking a tightrope, and we are legit doing our best, all while trying to raise kids who hopefully aren't assholes in a world that will hopefully still be here when they come of age.

**And I know I missed some things in my list, so fellow millennials, please add to the list below in the comments section! 

The Happy Bits

I am currently sitting in my brand new office, in my new home, on a blissfully rainy Sunday evening. For two years, my husband and I envisioned and dreamed and from those musings, built a home with the help of a ton of people. From two visions, we carved a solitary, concrete reality and now, I'm sitting in it wearing my oversized, mid-drift length sweater, high wasted jeans, and uggs. Somehow, my clothing seemed an important sidetone because... I feel amazing in these clothes and this house.

I feel amazing when I wake up, and when I go to bed. Of course not every moment of every day, but overwhelmingly, this how I generally feel.

The thing is, it's hard to characterize and articulate the happy bits. It can be hard to put a finger on or admit to the moments where we just feel... happy. For me, it's probably some deeply ingrained sense of Italian-American guilt that nags at the senses and screams "NO! Don't admit it... there will be impending doom if you admit to the utter contentment you are experiencing!"


But you know what? There will be impending doom, either way. So fuck it.

I'm happy!!

I am standing a world of my own creation and, you guys, it's gorgeous! But I'm not here to brag or even humble brag about the great things that are coming into my life because... yuck. No. What I really want to implore you to do is to admit your own happiness. Or at the least, admit to yourself that you may not be as comfortable being happy as you think you are.

The truth is, I often opt for wrapping myself in sarcasm, apologies, or down playing the good things in my life so that I don't seem full of myself. Or, I do it so that someone else in a less than desirable situation will feel less bad, but is that even how any of this works?

I am a huge fan of Brene Brown, and she talks about how comparative suffering is not a thing. All suffering is important and relative. What if the same thing were true about happiness? The same way we try to equate suffering as relative is, well, relative when it comes to the way we share our joy. And we read about this stuff every day... some dumb meme on FaceBook will tell us "Don't dull your sparkle," but then you run into Karen at the grocery store and you totally dull your sparkle when she asks how you are. You say, "Um, yeah, you know, good.. I guess." Because why? Because it's somehow NOT okay to say, "I am so happy! I'm in a great place!" It's unacceptable in the same way that when someone asks you how you are, and you're feeling like shit, you shrug and say, "I'm great, thanks."

What IS that?! Is this symptomatic of our society? Could it be possible that we are now becoming uncomfortable with being unhappy AND happy while paradoxically presenting ourselves on social media as living our best lives 110% of the time? Jesus Christ... what is humanity coming to?

The happy bits are so important, and I was reminded of this today when I told my friend Susan, "I wish I could bottle this moment and open it at some point in the future when, inevitably, there will be a less happy moment." And she suggested writing about it... and I was like, "but that is so hard." And suddenly, Elizabeth Gilbert was ringing in my ears saying "NO, BILLIE! You are so wrong... art is NOT about suffering." Art is not about suffering, Liz Gilbert, and you know what? Neither is life.

So here we are at the intersection of blog-post-as-art-medium and a happy moment. Probably this is the closest I can get to bottling a feeling--using my words to create a memory and send out a call to you, Dear Reader, who will perhaps come away from this feeling empowered to embrace the joyful places within yourself.

The overarching concepts that strike me in this moment are two fold. The first is how very much I love the people in my life, and all the strangers who have come together in various capacities to help build my happiness. Think about it... in any given moment where we are happy, where we have joy, there are thousands of tiny things that have built up to that moment. Tangible or intangible, we are a tangled web of moments strung together. There is no better metaphor than our new house...

In my new home, how many hands touched these walls? From the foundation to the windows, to the painters, the tradesmen, the salesmen, the bankers, and more... maybe hundreds of people in all.  These people were basically strangers to me, many of them doing their jobs, but usually going above and beyond to be sure that everything was just so.

And then there are the people  who helped me--physically and mentally--to move my life. My friends and family who showed up on moving day, gloves on, and hearts full. My friends who ASSURED me that moving was the right choice. My friend, who donated his architecture skills and literally designed my dream home. The people who tolerated me at my worst while I was building, and told me I was great, when in fact, I was not great to be around.

This thought of all the things that came together to foster my dream, overwhelms me and makes me so grateful. This is life. It is an overwhelming orchestra of people playing a multitude of instruments to make one unified, beautiful sound. THINK about that awesomeness... doesn't that just fill you with joy?

The second thing is how you have to grab these moments with both hands and sit in it, like a meditation. I remember the last time I felt like this. It was after I got married. I felt so top-full with joy that I could barely speak. It was like there was nothing left to say. I felt like I had it all. So what does one DO with that feeling? First of all, celebrate the living fuck out of that feeling. Second of all, radiate that shit.

Radiate. Don't dull the sparkle.

Celebrate this by taking time for others (and yourself). Be happy, and spread like wildfire. If someone else is feeling down, shoulder it. You're happy, you can afford to. Cook for someone. Invite people into your orbit of joy. Check in with others. Write cards of thanks. Tell people positive things about themselves. Pay for someone's coffee. (Or tank of gas if you have more money than me.) Be a goddamn lighthouse and let them come to you and then share your smile.

And above all, please, don't be afraid to admit that you are in a moment of feeling terrific. The world needs us to share our happy bits because it is how we share the best parts of ourselves and shine light in the dark places. I wish you many, many happy moments, but more than that, I wish you the satisfaction of recognizing those moments and fully enjoying them. You deserve to be thrilled with life on several occasions.

Embrace the happy bits, my friends. <3 

Headphones Are My Sunglasses

Wendy Williams says that if you don't want to talk to people out in public you should throw on sunglasses and move about your day. Apparently sunglasses, when worn indoors, are the international symbol for "don't talk to me."  When it comes to wearing sunglasses, I know it's unconventional, but I have trouble with the way the world looks through them. Like, literally. So, instead of sunglasses, I throw on a pair on conspicuous headphones, and blast music into my ears to shut out the world. It may seem, on the surface, to be isolating, or even rude, but the reason I do it has more to do with mental health than being a dick. (Even though there very much a dick version of me, and her name is "Angry Billie.")

Anxiety and I have been well acquainted ever since my early 20s, when, for no reason in particular, I started suffering from intense and constant panic attacks. Those ebbed into occasional panic attacks, and then general anxiety, and then, after I went off of birth control, WHOOSH, it seemed to all but vanish. Until...and, of course, there was an until...I had my daughter.

Along with welcoming my beautiful, very spirited daughter, The Bird, I also got a heaping helping of postpartum anxiety which consistently kicked my ever-loving ass on and off for more than two years. Since then, I have overhauled myself in an effort to kick anxiety's ever-loving ass, and (mostly) won. And as my own problems cleared, I realized The Bird had some of her own issues, one of which is that she hates when strangers looked at her in public.

One day I said to her, "Don't look at them. You can just pretend they don't exist." Sound advice, I thought, and it seemed to help. Another time, I handed her a pair of headphones so she could do just that. It made her more comfortable, and everyone was happy. AMEN.

Then, on New Years Eve this year, for some stupid reason, I thought that the grocery store wouldn't be busy and planned a week's worth of shopping for that moment in time. GAR. It was so crowded that I had a sudden, familiar flush of anxiety. The volume of people in the store, for me, was like absorbing an energy bomb. It was frenetic, and I could feel the movement of all the people in their frantic states of trying to just get out and fast. The thought in my head was, "I am never going to make it through this trip without getting a panic attack."

In an effort to calm myself, I took a deep breath, and between the exhalation and inhalation I had a moment of divine clarity. I thought, "If I were The Bird,  what would I tell me to do?" And I reached into my purse, grabbed my headphones, put on my favorite playlist, and I ROCKED THAT MOTHERFUCKER OUT. I mean, realllllly. I got all my shopping done, and I noticed, miraculously, that my music kept my vibe in check. It prevented me absorbing the collective energy and instead, created my own. In fact, by the time I left the store, I actually felt better than when I went it.

It was a revelation.

Sometimes being in public is just hard for me. Interacting with people when I am buzzing and ripe with anxiety is challenging. While sunglasses work well for resting bitch face and puffy eyes, they don't shut out the world the way a set of headphones does. So when you see me, rocking through the aisles of the local grocery, and I smile at you with my wireless headphones blaring music, it's my way of vibe-checking myself and getting through my day. I will offer you a smile, but the headphones say clearly, "I am not down to talk today." They are my proverbial sunglasses.