This Is Us

This was my inner voice

Photo: Andrew Neel/Unsplash

If I just tried harder, I’d be more successful.

If I could just figure out what’s wrong with me, maybe I could fix it.

Life seems so much easier for everyone else. I must be doing it wrong.

These harsh words were my inner voice, my unwelcome mantras, for decades. They were the fallout from hearing, over and over again throughout my adolescence, “You’re just not living up to your potential.” If only my teachers had known that I couldn’t claw my way to my “full potential” by sheer will alone. If only I’d had the words to tell them.

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Photo by Jonatan Pie, via Unsplash

In my darkest moments, I imagined an alternate life in which I’d never chosen motherhood.

“What was the hardest age for you to parent?” I asked my mom one afternoon when my son was a baby. We were strolling through the cemetery near our house, past cracked, moss-smothered headstones, past old, forgotten lives.

She thought for a moment. “Middle school was pretty hard,” she said. I nodded, peering down at my son in his baby carrier, kissed the small head that rested against my chest.

But inside, I wilted. I wanted her to say that infancy was hard. That right now — this minefield of exhaustion, this constant overwhelm, was the hardest part. …

Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

How many hours of screen time does your child get per day?

From nearly the first time I took my infant son to his pediatrician — back when my worries spiraled around breastfeeding and diaper-monitoring and the holy grail of sleep — the questions, and the underlying negative messaging about screen time, began.

As my son grew, our doctor’s receptionist handed us questionnaires at every appointment asking how many hours of screen time our kids had per day. The screen-related questions sat alongside inquiries about how many fruits, vegetables and hours of exercise our child got each day, as well as whether any guns we might have owned were stored safely. As…

Image by Erik Mclean via Unsplash

I had a vision in the early moments after learning of my brother’s death. I sat on the concrete stoop outside my home, vibrating with shock, waiting for friends to come and pick me up. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned an empty space between two worlds — Before and After.

I could still glimpse the shore of Before: my life a mere hour earlier, before my mom called to tell me my 21-year-old brother Will had been found dead.

Somewhere in the distance hung the world of After — a place where my brother’s death might feel real, less…

Photo by Debby Hudson via Unsplash

In the Maine suburb where I live, the hours of sunlight are stretching. The light crust of snow from winter is melting. Each day, when I check the local online newspaper, the percentage of people who’ve received Covid-19 vaccinations nudges up. If I squint my eyes, I can see a hazy, lingering future that looks more like our collective, pre-Covid normal. I can envision mask-less trips to the grocery store, driving my kids to sports practice and coffee with friends. A future, with any luck, in which my kids attend in-person school five days a week.

This lurch towards spring…

This Is Us

Maybe menopause is our body’s way of remembering who we used to be

Photo: Sean Payne/Flickr

Waning gibbous: the moon phase between full moon and third-quarter moon. A diminishment of light.

The worst part of perimenopause is the rage.

It starts as a slight edge, a bite that creeps into my voice. An irritated tone, a generalized impatience with my kids. I check the app on my phone with the little pink flower on it. Sure enough, it’s somewhere between 10 and 12 days until my next period is due.

I trade jokey texts with friends about my desire to build a PMS pod. A modern-day version of the red tent — where hormonal women can…

Image by Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

“Is that good?” a gray-haired woman asks me, pointing to my book.

“Oh, it’s okay,” I say.

I don’t tell her that I can’t really concentrate, that my eyes are just grazing the shapes of ink across the page, and not absorbing any of it. That I’m too tired and worried to tune in to whatever story awaits. That as we sit in these uncomfortable airport seats waiting to hear if our already delayed flight will be delayed longer, the base of my scalp is tingling, the harbinger of a migraine.

How very much we don’t say.

I notice the…

Thanks Lacy! I went to Evergreen State College, which is a bit of an alternative school that allows you to immerse yourself in a program on particular topics, and at least when I attended, didn't have prerequisites-- so I was able to transfer all the credits I'd amassed at other schools and get my bachelor's degree in just over a year. I got my masters at a similar school, Goddard college. I wish I'd started at Evergreen earlier-- I do so much better when I'm interested in the subject I'm studying!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash

The phone rings. There’s a rap at the door. The doctor urges, “Sit down.” A policeman or surgeon or mother hands you the news.

You don’t even have time to wave goodbye to your old life, to claw and scurry for it as you’re thrust into this new, unwished for world.

At first, the loss is everything — a hot, swirling sun that churns through the core of you. You see nothing but this glaring sun; try to close your eyes to it, and the scorched spots still blaze against your eyelids. You cannot forget; your brain is on fire…

Image by Debby Hudson via Unsplash

I first laid eyes on Portland, Maine on Valentine’s Day.

I was 23, a near-child with burgundy-tinted hair and an alarming restlessness. I’d been road-tripping across America with a friend, and on a whim, I decided to visit the city I’d read about in Stephen King novels.

We arrived in the evening, coasted Congress Street to the ocean-overlooking East End, then looped back into downtown. The sidewalks were bucketed with snow, and the lights from restaurants and shops glowed like beacons. Just a month earlier, the famous ice storm had assaulted the town, leaving power lines and branches encased in…

Lynn Shattuck

Writer on sibling loss, grief, parenting, wellness and mental health. Voracious reader.

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