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Mary J. Blidge Take Me As I Am became my anthem for many years during my frustration with my marriage, family, friends, job, and just life I would crank it up in the car and sing it loud through tears.  

 It wasn't until I began writing a journal, of my journey through the next chapter of life; empty nesting, which I began with a vengeance.  When within a week of my baby daughter's graduation, I had set a date to get a full set of dentures!  At 47, is this it?  Am I old and wore out now.  I was having a lot of internal turmoil and after a cry for help to those closest to me my mom suggested I journal this journey.  This song immediately came to mind and right after, an epiphany followed.  

 I hadn't been singing this song loudly for the world to hear and pay attention to, as I thought I had while I was doing it.  I was singing it to me!  "Take me as I am" has to begin with ME!  While the words imply belief in self, for me there are two "me's" the external me and the internal me.  While the external me could cite the song line and verse; and say it with conviction.  I can tell my story like a movie I've watched with much reflection and little emotion.  The external me treats my life's journey exactly as the words to this song.  All that I have been through has made me the success I am.
The internal me criticizes, judges and shames me for my past, my troubles, my mistakes, my weaknesses and flaws. I am cruel, unyielding, unforgiving and judgmental. And no matter what my success I find the flaw and the deficit. Those loud tearful whaling's in the car were from the external me to the internal me and it wasn't until today, July 28, 2009 that I had even an inkling of understanding that. I hope it doesn't fade because this is deep. This is big. This will take some exploring, and this is the venue I will use to explore it.
This is a true story and it's my story. It is not my interpretation of other people's intent or shortfalls or a blaming of what others have done to me. This is my understanding of what I have done to myself. I will tell you about the players in my life but there won't be a lot of finger pointing in how they've done me wrong. This is about the choices I made and the internal dialogue I had throughout numerous scenarios that led me to feel the way I felt and respond the way I responded. I am documenting my journey so I am not even sure where we will end up. I do know this is the key to the beginning:
Take me as I am by Mary J Blidge:

She’s been down and out
She’s been wrote about
She’s been talked about, constantly
She’s been up and down
She’s been pushed around
But they held her down, NYC
She has no regrets
She accepts the past
All these things they
helped make to make she
She’s been lost and found
And she’s still around
There’s a reason for everything

You know I’ve been holdin on.
Try to make me weak,
But I still stay strong.
Put my life all up in these songs
Jus so you can feel me.

So take me as I am,
or have nothing at all.
Just take me as I am,
or have nothing at all.

[Verse 2:]
Now she’s older now
Yes, she’s wiser now
Can’t disguise her now
She don’t need
No one tellin her
What to do and say
No one tellin her
Who to be
She’s on solid ground
She’s been lost and found
Now, she answers to G-O-D
And she’s confident
This is not the end
Ask me how I know
Cause she is me.

You know I’ve been holdin on.
Try to make me weak,
But I still stay strong.
Put my life all up in these songs
Jus so you can feel me.

So take me as I am,
or have nothing at all.
Just take me as I am,
or have nothing at all.

[Bridge: 2x]
So it’s all or nothing at all,
All or nothing at all
Don’t you know I can only be me.
(I can only be me, yeah)

So take me as I am,
or have nothing at all.
Just take me as I am,
or have nothing at all.

Take me as I am.
Take me as I am.
Said it’s all or nothing at all
Said it’s all or nothing at all

Just take me as I am,
or have nothing at all. (This is me)
Just take me as I am, (take me as I am)
or have nothing at all.
Just take me as I am, (take me as I am)
or have nothing, nothing at all.
Take me as I am

  • "Take me as I am" starts with me!*
    May 27, 2009
    For most people on the bus, to Disneyland for my daughter's senior trip, finding the perfect position to sleep was probably the most awkward part of the evening. For me it was the culmination of days of worry about whether or not I was about to lose my front bottom tooth. Front may not be totally accurate as my front four teeth had already been gone for 17 years.
    June 1992
    The space, that once housed my four intermingled lower front teeth, was replaced by a partial after the "Queen of Duct Tape", me, met her match. I could fix or create anything out of duct tape. Until one day, while living in Cheyenne WY, as I ripped off the grey tape with my teeth, one tooth went with the tape. Well not literally. Though it didn't come all the way out it warranted a trip to the dreaded dentist because it was definitely loose. The dentist took x-rays of, what had always been the reason for my protective smile, my entwined four front teeth. The roots were in the same shape as the teeth and were so entangled that to lose one meant to lose all four. I was not given any other option and I definitely had lost the one to the duct tape. So I agreed to have all four extracted.
    So at 30, I was given four fake teeth. At the time it wasn't completely bad news, because at least the partial would give me the straight teeth I had been too afraid to get, when offered braces at age 21. It was only when I over thought things, which for me happens more often than not, that I took stock of myself and was disappointed. At thirty I was still in college, on my second marriage, had 4 kids (ages 12-1 year), just told by DMV I needed glasses and now had false teeth. This was not every girls dream. I had eaten up my youth becoming a parent too soon and in bad relationships. I had finally gotten to an age where it was okay to be a mom of young children (because my oldest is a quadriplegic he was often thought, unless you knew us, to be much younger than 12) and, I was married. So outside appearances were that I was on track. But in true Cathy fashion I now had skipped "age appropriate" and jumped head first into old age. My partial was my little secret for the most part, and since it was a secret, it felt bad or wrong or like something I should be ashamed of.
    Now in life, generally, I am a glass half full kind of girl. When it comes to ambition, goals, etc., I am optimistic. When it comes to looking at my own personal attributes however, I am a half empty girl. The flaws always outweigh the assets. And maybe that's normal, but just because something is normal doesn't make it right and this emphasis on internal negativity towards me has left me insecure and defeated more often than not. Though if you knew me I think that may surprise you because to my little piece of the world I present myself as strong and confident.
    January 1997
    It was when we moved to California (from Albuquerque NM, from Cheyenne WY). That this negativity took a dive, which is very odd because California is also where I found my calling, regarding my career and experienced great success. My life has been at polar opposites more often than not; which again brings out the optimist for the external me and the pessimist for the internal me. Arriving in California I hadn't been to the dentist since getting my partial in Cheyenne, in part because of money, in part because of fear and mainly because of shame because it had been so long.
    You see five years before, when I had gotten the partial it was temporary and I was suppose to go back and get a permanent one. But two things happened, I couldn't afford it and I had a really bad trip on Nitrous Oxide that scared the crap out of me. Basically I thought that the dentist thought they had killed me and were trying to hide my body; but I knew I wasn't dead and had to sneak out before they learned the truth. I know crazy, but I was scared to death and drove all the way home making sure I wasn't being followed. The problem with this was that Nitrous had been the only way to get me in a dental chair, so without that what would I do? And how would I explain I couldn't take Nitrous because I had paranoid delusions that they were going to kill me? So, as I have handled far too many other medical procedures, I decided avoidance was the best course of action. And if it wasn't a problem now we would wait until it was and deal with it then. As a side note, that thought process is how I ended up with four kids at 30, but I will tell that story another time I have already taken one major deviation from this initial story.
    July 1997
    So avoidance worked for six years; out of Cheyenne, through Albuquerque until one day at a youth football game in Wheatland CA. I bit into a hot dog and my partial snapped in two. The four front teeth snapped off of the frame of wire and fake gum that held it in place. Oh my God! I am at the football field, my husband Brian is on the field coaching David our 9 years old, Makayla 6, and Mike 10 were with their cheerleading and football teams getting ready for their game. I was with Jay, my 15 year old son that is a quadriplegic ( due to Cerebral Palsy after being born 3 months premature), and I am holding a hot dog in one hand and my four front teeth in the other! The football field is filled with all of my new friends, my entire social group that I have met in just the last 6 months since we moved here. Luckily I find my friend Janet, she did know I had a partial because she had one too, and had called me on it a few months earlier. I explain to her in a panic, as I throw the hot dog away and grab her with my free hand, and pull her out of the stands (careful to talk in a way that does not reveal my secret to the entire stadium). I rush her and Jay to my van. We put Jay and his wheelchair in the van and assess the damage. It is snapped in two, no ifs, and, or buts about it. It's Saturday, I have no dentist and I am suppose to be watching my kid's game. We go to the store and Janet is sure Superglue will hold it at least until I can get to a dentist on Monday. She goes in and buys it. I wait in the car, sunken down so no one will approach, that I may have to talk to. I am totally humiliated and no one even knows what happened, except for Janet. Imagine how I would feel if someone actually knew? She comes out and we glue it together. We wait about 15 minutes, I do wonder for a minute if this is safe to put in my mouth. And then I decide I don't care. I put it in and it works. We go back to the game and I spend the rest of the day a paranoid mess, but it holds. On the way home I tell Brian what happened and he insists I go in Monday to the dentist.
    I treat the teeth very gingerly for the weekend and am surprised I can eat; sleep, brush, them and they are as good as new. Well sort of. But here we are again, no harm no foul. No need to address the situation if I can fix it myself. No one has to know it will all be okay. So needless to say I don't go to the dentist. And yes they do break again, usually when I am eating something and I have to hobble my way back home to the bathroom to fix it. My denial of the problem is so strong that I am not traveling with Superglue or an emergency plan of any kind. Though I have adjusted my eating to only bite from the side, stay away from hamburgers, pizza and sandwiches unless they are cut on the diagonal in half so I can bite from the side. This leads to all sorts of near catastrophes! Like the time in McDonalds parking lot when they snapped biting into a French fries with a van full of teenagers, my kids friends, coming back from a basketball game. I have to try and balance them in my mouth in position, while not talking but still trying to drive. Or with my mom in Costco eating a Chicken Bake when they break, she has to go buy the Superglue, and I have to go hide in the bathroom stall and hope a 5 minute fix will last long enough to get home. I swear there are moments I feel like a junkie shooting up in hiding.
    February 1998
    My mom is in town and while we are having lunch at Red Robin my top tooth next to my eye tooth broke on an onion ring. Being my mom she made me go to the dentist. She went with me and helped me man the courage to inform the dentist of my fears and take control of my experience as a consumer. They fixed my tooth and sent me for other work. I'm not sure why they never noticed my partial was broken but they didn't for a while. They sent me to have a tooth extracted and this new dentist was the one that noticed my broken partial and that my gums were in bad shape. He had a talk with me and let me know that I need to get dentures. He explained that they could do it in stages by removing the back teeth first and up until we were ready, leave the front in place. He said while I still had a few sturdy teeth they would be used as anchors to stabilize the dentures. Dentures!! I am only 35 years old! All my back teeth removed and leave the front teeth for a few months until we are ready for the dentures?!? I don't have front teeth! My kids play sports all summer long. I am constantly at their school, at games, I can't' disappear for three months and hide in my house! My mom convinces me I can and she agrees to take David and Makayla for the summer so I can get started with the denture plan. Well, Mike made All Stars in Little League and though my mom took Makayla and David. I chickened out and couldn't do it. So, I fell back to by trusty friend, avoidance, and kept patching my way along.
    The untimely breaks continued, in the midst of a meal when I would have to excuse myself to the bathroom. A couple of times in my sleep, when I was so thankful I hadn't swallowed them. In February of 1999 I got a job with the school district administering a mentoring grant. Some of my worst moments were at work, during lunch when I take that dreadful bite and hear the worse sound ever, letting me know they have snapped and I have to flee the building, run home, make the repair, return in about an hour and act as if I never disappeared. I can go, anywhere from 3 to 6 months, without an incident. Sometimes the fixes are better than others or they may break again within a week or so. But as I would make these adjustments they weren't always aligned and they would loosen the anchoring teeth.
    July 2000
    The worst however was when I was going to Stanford with David's friend's (Keith) mom (Sue), to pick the boys up from Basketball Camp about a 2 hour drive. Forty-five minutes in, my partial breaks at a rest stop. I had to ride the entire way with my hand over my face making minimum small talk trying to balance the teeth with my tongue while I tried to figure out how to find Superglue. Again, if you know me you would know this is extremely awkward because I am a talker. I talk and talk and talk, so for me to suddenly be quiet is very strange. So I would talk as much as I could without looking at Sue. Luckily she had to watch the road. But I had to avoid words with the s or t sounds. As I write this I see how totally ridiculous the whole thing is and at this point I have no rational idea about why I continued to go through this without fixing it. I couldn't think of any good reason to stop and then she stopped to get gas. I decided to, get Superglue, go to the bathroom and fix it. The gas station had no Superglue and the next stop was Stanford. I spent two hours at Stanford, watching games, checking David out of camp and at lunch before making the long journey home while still covering up the fact I was missing my four front teeth. I have no idea how! My feelings of panic and shame were about as low as anyone could feel. And I was absolutely horrified that I was going to embarrass David. I convinced myself that neither Sue nor anyone at Stanford saw that I had no teeth; they may have thought I was odd but even if that was the case I rarely saw Sue and I would never see the people at Stanford again. Once again I made it through and minimize any acknowledgment of the effects of this on my psyche. With no time to take off and hide out for dentures I continue on, over the next several years, making emergency repairs. I plan more carefully and have Superglue in my car, my purse, my desk drawer, and my bathroom.
    2000 through 2009
    The horrifying moments continue at the ballpark as I bite into a plum and then have to scurry to the car in the parking lot, fix them, dry them through the air conditioner, throw them back in my mouth and return to the scene of the crime, with no one the wiser.
    Meanwhile I am rising through the ranks in the school district I have administered over $5 million worth of grants; help develop a grant services system within the district and written $2.5 million in grants personally. My professional reputation is through the roof. And my confidence is sky high, until once every three months or so when my partial breaks or I catch a glimpse of my smile in the window or in a picture and I see that I have gained 50 pounds, my thin fine hair is as limp as ever and my smile is deteriorating. Basically I look like the crazy aunt.
    Brian, my husband, retired from the Air Force and we moved into Winters, in 2002. A town where everyone knows everyone, especially if you work in the schools, we both do; or have kids in sports, we do; or coach football, George does. I went back to school to get my Masters Degree in August 2007 and David and I separated in February 2008. In these last couple of years my teeth are slowly falling out, mainly the lower back ones, and I convince myself no one notices. When I am in the process of losing one speech and eating become next to impossible, the pain can be unbearable. All of it somehow is better than going to the dentist, however, hindsight being 20/20 I have no idea why that made any sense! As the teeth fall out I know that soon I will have to take action or show up to work toothless. I am sure though that I have lost all chances of any accommodations my gums are probably shot and my jaw has probably deteriorated and that is why they are all loose and or falling out. As they fall out I have to be creative in how I cut or manipulate the wire that holds the partial in place. Again, I don't know why this worked because on one side of my mouth it wasn't even hooked on a tooth. I am reminded of 3 times or more a day, of my secret mouth disaster, at every meal. As I navigate feeding my face while mastering techniques in chewing lettuce or steak without molars I slowly start caring about my looks or femininity. I don't know when I quit wearing makeup; I started cutting my own hair in 2001. I did try and lose weight on and off and would ear pressed clothing though often very casual. But it made no sense to continue the battle with my fine thin lifeless hair or put on makeup when a smile undid the whole look. I think the true denial about my appearance was maintained because my ultimate goal was not to have my partial break publicly, well it had broken publicly, but not to have it exposed publicly. So anything else on my part was ignored. And because I live in Northern CA there are a lot of toothless jokes about people in the area either because they're Meth heads or poor or I don't know what. And since friends would make these comments and jokes in my presence I figured that they may not really know how many teeth I am missing. Because friends wouldn't deliberately do that if they thought I was one of the toothless. Friends don't tell fat jokes in front of their fat friends, unless they are also fat.
    May 3, 2009
    I started doing research on the internet and found dentures that can be screwed into your jaw and can be a permanent replacement for your teeth, Nobel Teeth-in an Hour™ implants. It doesn't really happen in an hour. They do a scan of your mouth, without taking anything out; send it to Sweden to make the model, and the surgery takes an hour. So you don't have a prolonged time toothless. Though, truth be told, I had already been living "the 1998 denture plan", unintentionally of having the back teeth removed (the plan I had refused in 1998). But shhhhhh I was not acknowledging that was happening, and even if I did briefly I would rationalize it with the fact that, at least now I was 47 and closer to old enough to have dentures. Not to mention I looked like the crazy aunt, and was treated like the town mom. So who cared what I looked like? No one and that unfortunately was a bigger point than I ever acknowledged.
    I decide the summer of 2009 will be the time. I will begin my empty nesting with new teeth. Well not complete empty nest since Jay still lives with me. Makayla will be off to college, no more sports to attend; I will have the summer free. I will have graduated so no summer classes, money may be an issue, but isn't it always?
    I have seven front lower teeth concealing the fact that I have lost all my molars and remaining lower teeth. Four of the front teeth are those in my partial. One of my "real" teeth is located on the left of the partial and two are on the right. The one on the left begins to be really loose in about January. My daily prayer is that I make it until the end of the school year before it falls out. On the top I have eleven teeth, with a gap on the right, three teeth over from the front and on the left a tooth that has been loose for over a year that I have been avoiding so has not to make it worse. This house of cards is about to fall and I am just praying I can make it until the summer and continue without being publically exposed.
    May 26, 2009
    The 1-800-dentist commercials have been very funny and have spoken to me recently. I decide to look to them for a dentist in my area that can do the Nobel Teeth-in an Hour™. I find a dentist in Davis, 15 miles away. There is an on line interest form that I can send directly to the dentist office. I write:
    "I am interested in finding out more about Nobel Teeth-in an Hour™. I am a professional woman that has let my teeth go. Through numerous horrific dental experiences and being shamed and berated into dental compliance I haven't seen a dentist in 10 years. I have a partial and 5 of my 14 remaining teeth are loose. I work in education and have the summer to take care of this. I can't not, go to work; nor go to work more toothless than I already am. No one knows better than I the damage I have done so I would appreciate not having to be lectured about the past. I am a solution focused person and would like a solution focused dentist. Please let me know if you think you would be a good fit.
    Thank you in advance for your response,  

I submitted the form and hoped for the best.  This was to be a hectic couple of weeks.  Due to recent budget cuts our district was facing major lay-offs and merging of the middle school I worked in, with the k-5 school behind it.  The town was in an uproar at having a k-8 school.  This only gave me more determination at getting my teeth done this summer because little kids can be brutally honest.  Middle Schoolers have always loved me, and me them, and if they noticed my teeth they never made comment.  K-3rd graders are quick to point out discrepancies in what they believe to be normal.  This summer may not be the best time for me to take off because of all the changes, but I really don't have a choice.  This will be totally out of character for me, not giving 200% to the district, and instead taking time for myself?  Little would anyone know it isn't so much "me time" as it is, I have painted myself into a corner and have no other options.
Add to that my baby is graduating and I have told everyone that I will be taking the last week of school off, as I did with my boys in 2003 and 2006, while I entertain my parents, and siblings for a graduation reunion. My 2,700 square feet, 4 bedroom, 3 bath house will soon be home to 14 for a week. I have been preparing for this all year; new patio furniture the pool in tip top shape. But before any of that I am going to Disneyland, Knots Berry Farm, Knight at the Round Table and Universal Studios for three days with Makayla’s senior class. I have loved this class and worked with many of them since 5th grade and nearly all of them since 7th grade. I am looking forward to it. I am a little nervous about sharing the hotel room with Cat, the high school counselor. I have known her for years and most recently she has been my mentor during my internships for my Masters and Credential in School Counseling. But this is even more the reason that sharing a hotel bathroom may not be ideal. And Cat is definitely not familiar with personal boundaries. But I will find a way around it. The trip will be good. But I am not a "ride" person so I am not sure what I will be doing other than holding everyone's things while they ride.
My loose tooth is really becoming troublesome and a problem while I sleep.  My tongue is pushing it forward when I am relaxed and making it more loose.  Once it goes, there is no hiding the fact that I have no teeth on my lower left side.  If I can get to June 6th then all the kids will be out of school, and I will only be left with my immediate staff and my family until August 19th when school starts again.  

I will continue this blog if there is an interest in my journey.


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