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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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. …

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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…

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A few months ago, I stumbled across my report card from first grade. I squinted at the fading ink that my teacher, Mr. Opitz, had handwritten: Lynn has a knack for creative writing.

I was shocked.

I remember penning poems, generously shellacked with rainbow and ice cream-laden imagery in late elementary school. But I hadn’t realized that even in first grade, hints about the vocation I’d later choose were visible.

Much later.

Like many creative people, I have ADHD. My brain often brews wild, spontaneous ideas. But ADHD also presents some serious challenges when it comes to the more left-brained…

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As an aspiring writer in my 20s, I used to scrawl out a few pages in my journal every morning. Journaling helped me process my life, clear the top layer of sludge and complaints from my brain, and maintain a record of moments I’d otherwise forget.

But when my brother died unexpectedly when I was 24, I dropped my pen. My journal lay closed, unfinished. I couldn’t bring myself to commit the words to the page: my brother is dead from heroin.

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This morning I turned on the sink and there you were, soaking my thoughts.

How long has it been since I’ve really thought of you? Wondered where you’d be, what you’d be doing, if you’d be settled or restless? How long since I’ve pondered how I might bridge the gap between us, between the worlds of the living and the gone, between who we were and who we are now? What an impossible chasm, and perhaps this is why I don’t think of you all the time, but sometimes you rise up in me and the tears come gushing out…

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You’re almost there. You’re in the home stretch. There’s an end in sight.

Soon, you will be able to write more. You will reclaim your life.

I whisper these little maybe-lies to my worn-down self. I catch glimpses in the mirror, then turn away. My reflection is haggard, drained, a perimenopausal pandemic zombie, a stranger.

If you’d told me last March, when Covid-19 first swept through our lives, shutting down schools and turning me into my children’s teacher, or at least full-time snack fetcher — jobs I never would have asked for and am entirely unqualified for — that the…

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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…

Lynn Shattuck

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

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