The Most Important Thing of All

20140703_144701One day last week I watched casually as my 5-year-old daughter held a thimble-sized sticker in her hand the shape of a triangle. Her eyes squinting and her mouth opened slightly, I could see she was immersed in concentration. She was trying to apply this tiny sticker to Chelsea’s Clubhouse, a new toy we purchased that day. I watched silently as time and again her small hands couldn’t quite arrange the sticker exactly where it needed to go — on a yellow plastic piece the shape of a flag with an indentation the same shape as the sticker. She stuck it on and pulled it off a few times. The last time she pulled it off, it ripped, and she let out a frustrated grunt. Uuurrrgh.

“Do you want some help, sweetie?” I offer, already knowing what she’s going to say.

“I can’t get this on right. I want it to be perfect.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eye because now she knows what I’m going to say. “Don’t tell me that nothing can be perfect Mama, ’cause it can!”

I smile because I appreciate the strength of our bond, that we can read each other’s thoughts.

“Honey, there’s no such thing as perfect.” I say, like I always say when my perfectionist first-born wants to get something just right; her arrangement of stuffed animals, her drawings of rainbows, or her worksheets of practiced letters and numbers. She wants it all to be perfect.

“Perfect isn’t what’s important anyway. Tell me honey, what’s The Most Important Thing?”

She lets out a sigh because I have asked her this question since she learned how to speak and she knows the answer without having to think.

“Trying.” She says like a bored teenager.

I smile. “That’s right baby. Trying is THE Most Important Thing. As long as you try, that’s all that matters.”

I’m divorcing her father. It’s not going well. My soon-to-be ex was a professional contrarian in our marriage. He defended this habit of contradiction as “enjoying debate” or, “I just don’t see it the way you do.” Sure, he was bound not to see things the same way sometimes, but ALL the time? I swear if I said I thought the air was chilly, for him, it was balmy. If I said the dinner was excellent, he’d say the steak was horribly dry and the service atrocious. If I said I wanted to go to the beach, he’d make a case for a hike in the mountains.

If this tendency was strong in marriage, you can imagine how much fervor it has gained during divorce.

In spite of my best laid plans, life has not turned out the way I’d imagined. I suspect this is true for a great many of us. I did try though… to make it perfect. I went to school, got good grades. I went on to get great jobs and promotions. I got married at the average age of 27 to someone who looked great on paper. We saved money, bought a house. I stayed healthy, had 2 children, 2 years a part, before the age of 35… a boy and a girl. Everything was unfolding as planned… until it didn’t.

Until life happened on life’s terms and I was thrown into a turbine of impossible choices such as: Option A. catastrophe, or Option B. oblivion.

No. No ma’am. There is no such thing as perfect. 

Today, my daughter tells me, hands on hips and a look of smug satisfaction, “Guess what? Daddy says you’re wrong. He says there IS such a thing as perfect. And he says that it’s ME. I’m perfect.”

Oh lord.

I get down to her level. My mind spins off into a million directions trying to hide my frustration and think of how to explain this so she understands.

“Honey. No one is perfect. Not me, not you, not your daddy, not your brother, or grandma or grandpa. There’s not a single one of us who is perfect.” I have her attention now. I take her hands. “But, and this is an important part, we are all just fine the way we are.”

She stares at me. “But daddy says… “

“I know what daddy says but listen to what I’m telling you right now, sweetie. No one is perfect, but we are all just FINE the way we are. Repeat that for me, please.”

She repeats it not looking at my eyes, her attention already diverted to other things. I bite my lip and wonder if she understands but I know if I press further I will lose her completely. I know this subject of perfection will come up again, and I will repeat this mantra again until it is committed to her memory, just like The Most Important Thing.

She goes about onto another project and I say a silent prayer; it is for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.

When her father came to pick her up this afternoon I had to carry my son out to the car because he had just woken up from his nap. As I’m strapping him into his car seat my daughter says, “Daddy, tell mommy there IS such a thing as perfect?”

He lets out a quick laugh from his gut that sounds like “ha” with your mouth closed. Of course he says nothing to this request because he won’t even look at me let alone speak to me. I hear her repeat this plea as I shut the car door. “Tell her!”

“I love you, have fun!” I shout as they pull from the drive.

And as I walk back into my empty home I say another silent prayer; for understanding, faith, forgiveness and strength.

Because I am not perfect, and all I can do is…  try. It is The Most Important Thing of All.

 

 

The You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral: Why I’m a Gigantic A-Hole

I don’t know how to write this post without making myself look like a total asshole. So I won’t. Because I am being a total asshole. At least recently.

I have been having the most horrible, mean-spirited and hateful thoughts about another person and no amount of kumbaya positive-thinking is turning them around. Desperate for answers, I went to yoga for the first time in a long time. I haven’t been going to yoga for awhile and just typing that makes me want punch myself in the face because lamenting about my lack of yoga is so flippin’ pretentious and first-world-spoiled it’s sickening. But whatever. While I’m racking up a list of my horrible personality traits as of late… let’s add pretentious to the list. And now, like some asshole narcissist, I’m writing about it on my blog as if anyone really cares. So me?  Narcisistic?… check.

Here’s the deal, I’m being super judgemental. I am Judgy McJudgerson at the Judging Fair.

There is someone specifically in my life that I cannot stop judging. In my eyes, they are making bad, bad life choices. Choices that are affecting their family (and mine) and I can’t stop fantisizing of telling them how I really feel. Like All. The. Time.

Stop doing that! Can’t you see what’s happening? Can’t you see how your hurting your kids? Don’t you understand anything you complete imbicile?!?! Why are you even IN my life? Gah??

I realize how horrible that sounds. I realize it because I don’t normally grapple with these feelings. I’m a hippy at my core — live and let live, Sister — different strokes for different folks — potato, pitato and all that good stuff.  After I think these nasty things I suddenly feel like a dispicable person who should be stabbed in the eyeball with a flaming hot needle, and yet, I can’t stop thinking them. It’s like I’m riding this speeding train on a You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral that leads straight to Self-Loathingville and I can’t find the damn off ramp.

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To make things worse, I’m also struggling with jealousy which adds something special to my heaping pile of self-flaggalation.

As an editor and social media person, each day I read mom blogs and peruse Facebook and Pinterest for work-related items. Everyday I bump up against any number of smart/ wise/ funny/ talented people. These people have all morphed into one conglomerate of the “ideal” mom/wife/friend/human being. An ideal I’ll never embody. This imaginary flawless being looms large over me, tauting me. You should be doing crossfit. You should bake more tarts/ casseroles/ cupcakes in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Why aren’t YOU writing amazing things like that? What’s your problem? You train wreck of a souless sack of fat rolls! 

So I went to yoga to find some breaks for this roller coaster.

My favorite part of yoga is Savasana. It’s typically at the very end of class. It’s the part where you get to lie there and not move. Savasana literally means corpse pose and, naturally, it’s my favorite part. I heard a yoga teacher say once that your true yoga practice begins the moment you enter Shivasana. That’s when you must wrestle your thoughts (aka demons) and strive to quiet those noisy bastards and just be; no thinking, no judgement.

On the surface it appears that I’m lying there motionless but I’m always fighting an epic battle in my head. I often think of monks when I’m in this corpse pose. I wonder how they spend months in silent, contemplative meditation when I can’t even do it for three minutes straight. I imagine them slaying every last dragon and devil known to man and then floating off into some realm closer to heaven. Usually I’m just struggling to get one toe off the ground.

So naturally, since I have been an epic asshole lately inside my head, this Savasana was no different. My thoughts turned to this person that I’ve been vehamently judging. The key to this pose, and meditation, is to let your thoughts come and go. To let go of the thoughts. To recognize them as you would a benign novelty, say a squirrel in the yard, and then let them pass through without attaching to them and thus giving them steam to fuel the engine.

So I let this person pass right on by. I waved. Metaphorically, of course. Nice to see you harmless, clueless, little squirel. Namaste. 

My next thought was of this ideal person that I’m bumping up against daily. Hello there figment of my imagination. Move along little bright-eyed, bushy-tailed wonder. Namaste. 

Then I thought (without thinking, of course) how interesting it was that I would think these two things back-to-back.

Judgement and jealousy.

Judgement because of jealousy.

I’m judging because I’m jealous.

I’m putting someone else down in a feeble attempt to raise myself up.

At this moment, my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my eyes popped open because I remembered the last time I was called out for being this kind of gigantic asshole.

A long time ago, back when I was really young, and reeeeeaaaaalllly insecure, there was this boy who liked me very much. He liked me more than he should have and I took advantage of that. To my ever-lasting shame I treated him horribly. I don’t remember much about this person or our relationship accept this one thing. He called me out like no one ever has.

On New Years day, while standing in his mother’s kitchen that had just been burned floor to ceiling the night before in a house fire wherein no one was injured (thank god), he said something that I’ll never forget. I had just made a snarky, sarcastic remark trying to make light of a difficult situation. A coping mechanism I employ to this day. I don’t remember what it was specifically, but I’m positive it was insensitive considering the cirumstances.

He picked up a blackened coffee cup that had been sitting on the counter revealing a ghost impression underneath. He looked right at me and said,  “You know what my mother says? She says that hurt people, hurt people.”

Hurt People, Hurt People. 

The stinch of char and the sound of dripping water brings me right back to this particular shame. A moment when my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my soul popped wide open. He was right, and I was an asshole.

And once again,  I’m a hurt person, hurting people. I may have learned enough to keep the sarcastic and insenstivie comments to myself, but I’m still thinking them.

I keep telling myself that this person in my life that I’m judging is here to teach me compassion and I always thought it was compassion for them. But now I think it’s compassion for me that I’m lacking.  I’m so horrible to me. I would never let anyone speak to me the way I speak to me. (See paragraph #2… and #6…. and #8.)

I may not have always known better to use kind words, but I do now. I know better than to judge them, you, me, everyone so harshly. I know better… and yet clearly I don’t. Because that’s the thing with self-loathing and self-love. It’s a spiral track. The progress is slow and winding and often times you feel like you’re getting no where, but inch by inch you are moving one direction or another, you just have to know which one.

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The Truth About Constipation and Life

This is about the awful, no-good, terrible night I tried to tell my three-year-old daughter the truth about constipation and life.

It was an impromptu playdate after morning gymnastics. The kind borne out of three stay-at-home-moms who would rather being talking to each other instead of spending the afternoon cleaning, doing laundry and lunch making. It was bathroom cleaning day at my house and sitting around watching my kids play while having a little adult conversation sounded much better than scrubbing toilets. So I quickly eschewed my responsibilities and got on the SUV train toward the mall. There are certain expectations for impromptu playdates and one of them is that it’s completely reasonable to feed your child whatever is immediately available. In this case, it was McDonald’s, Annie’s Pretzel’s and/or Frozen Yogurt because if “yogurt” is in the title, it’s practically health food and acceptable whenever.

We went to Annie’s pretzels. Extra side of unrefrigerated, electric-orange cheese please! When we got home, the tummy rumbles began.

My daughter’s preschool teacher who sees her two days a week for three hours knows her elimination schedule. Her punctuality in the potty department often seems like a miracle to me considering her diet consists of 95% dairy products, but alas, this week was different. After a few days of mild complaints about tummy aches and the lack of productivity, I could sense that today was going to be the day we’d both feel better.

Soon after we got home, I turned my attention toward the procrastinated chores, and turned up the repetitive Momtra every time she said her tummy hurt. “Honey, you need to drink more water, here…” I would say while handing her a sippy cup of said water and holding a scrub brush. Without fail, each time I handed her the cup she took the teensiest sip possible and put it aside. The complaints picked up in frequency and urgency. Fed up because, let’s face it, these toilets weren’t scrubbing themselves, I decided to give her some chocolate milk. I knew she’d drink that down in two gulps and I really wanted the Great Poop Drama of 2013 to be over.

Now, I know that dairy is not good for constipation, but so is a bone-dry digestive system. I reasoned that the injection of liquid would outweigh any effects of calcium… and sugar is a diuretic right? Oh how I would come to regret that decision. Fast forward to those magical hours just before bedtime.

“But Mom, every time I push it hurts!”  I explained to her that she had to push through the pain and when she finally poops, it would feel alllll better. She replied through tears, “Don’t say that Mommy!” Now I’m sitting on the newly cleaned bathroom floor for the 32nd time she has said she has to poop, and for the 32nd time, nothing is happening. Bedtime has come and gone. I’m hand-feeding her grapes, apples and sips of water coaxing her to push harder while she cries in between lower abdominal cramps.

“What honey? I’m just telling you the truth. It’s going to hurt for a second and then it will be over.” Not only advice on constipation, I thought, but on life itself because I never like to miss a “teaching moment.” I consider my most important job to be the bestowing of truth and wisdom onto my three-year-old, particularly in moments of high stress. I’m thoughtful like that.

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Through sobs she says, “Tell me a nicer truth, Mommy!”

I was just about to tell her how many times I’ve cried wanting the very same thing from life, but in the end, after years of experience and hard-earned wisdom under the elastic waistband of these yoga pants, I could share with her the cold, hard truth. The harshest truth. That sometimes life gets constipated and you have to push through the pain until you come out the other side. Only when you’ve done the hard work and endured the pain, will things get better. I wasn’t going to lie to protect her from this simple fact. It was going to hurt for a second, then it would be over.

Two hours, 45 false alarms, 17 grapes, 1/2 an apple, countless sips of water and one warm bath later… she taught me something, too. That just when you think you’ve pushed through the hardest, most painful part… there’s another pile of crap waiting for you and will usually be the result of doing what you want to do, instead of what you need to do.

Imagine, if you will, or don’t because it’s quite grose, the aftermath of a cork finally coming loose on a shaken bottle of champagne and you will have experienced a fraction of what I witnessed with a front row seat. As I sat there with a horrified grimace, all I could think about was the painful irony of the situation. Because of my decision to procrastinate toilet cleaning and because I just didn’t want to make yet ANOTHER peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I fed her unrefrigerated, electric-orange cheese that was now spraying all over the toilet I just cleaned hours before when we finally got home from our playdate all while shewing her away with chocolate milk.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll discuss the importance of hard work and responsibility? Because I’m thoughtful like that.

Parenting. It’s not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach and there is no nicer truth than that.

Then again, perhaps we should all relax… and just let it go. Maybe that’s the real lesson to be learned.

The Undertoad

There’s this great detail in the novel, The World According to Garp by John Irving that describes a misunderstanding of the word “undertow” by the protagonist’s (Garp’s) toddler son. When Garp explains to the boy the qualities and potential dangers of an ocean undertow, the boy thinks his dad says underTOAD. Garp and his wife find their son’s description to be a poignant one, and from that moment on it becomes a part of their marital language. If either one is feeling a particular sort of sadness they will say, “I feel the Undertoad coming again.”

As I write this I am sitting in my parent’s living room on a week-long visit to the place I grew up; a place where all my closest, life-long friends still live. These visits are intense, emotional affairs. It’s always a mad dash to make up for the many months apart, and the ones to follow, by cramming in as many tears as possible (whether from laughter or pain) into the span of a few days. It’s the best form of therapy I know. On this trip in particular, it feels as though the pain-tears are winning. It feels like the Undertoad is here and pulling many of my friends out to sea.

It is with the intimacy of face-to-face conversation that the true nature and depth of the Undertoads are revealed. A couple of friends are struggling with addictions in the family. Another one’s teenage daughter has pushed her away indefinitely. Another is having a hard time paying bills and still another is losing their parent to cancer. I am always surprised at how much I don’t know considering how close we are, and how long many have suffered in relative silence. Lately, it appears that it’s only when someone is already too tired to fight the currents and are lost, that we realize how far they’ve been carried off shore and how close they are to divorce, rehab or worse.

I am often overwhelmed at the depth of pain that is drifting just below the surface when I come home, my own included. We are all so busy in our daily lives, many of us with small children, others with full-time jobs, things that have limited our communication to Facebook and text messages. I love technology for this reason, it’s ease of keeping up, but I also hate it for the very same reason. I hate it because Facebook is like watching someone’s highlight reel. It’s pictures of toes in the sand, clever quips and backdoor brags when really, just off camera, there’s always an Undertoad. It makes sense really. Who wants to be depressing and dramatic on Facebook for everyone to see? Most people are too proud, me included. But ever so often I catch a genuine, desperate plea for help or condolence followed by outpouring of love and support. To me, that’s a nod to our collective Undertoads and the fact that we’re all willing to throw a life-vest to fellow drifter.

Call me grandiose or idealistic but it has been my secret aspiration to fix the whole world (or at least the people I love).  I used to dream about winning the lottery and dolling it out to my friends and family just to watch many of their stresses vanish in an instant… if only for an instant.

But lately, via my own Undertoad, I am realizing that this is a pointless aspiration; that I will never be able to fix the whole world because I can’t even fix me. It is all at once a suffocating, hole-of-a-thought, and also, one ringed with blue-sky freedom. You see, I know that people (including me) will always suffer and I will always feel a tremendous amount of pain because of it. But my only job, my measly, simple, non-grandiose gesture is to be with them, in that moment and share and shed as many tears in laughter and pain as possible… and then pray.

That’s it. No fixing, just loving and praying.

I do wish I lived closer. I still wish I could fix every problem. I wish that people would actually call before they are pulled under and out to sea; before they are already too tired to help themselves; before they are so far out that the only option is a foreign shore. There’s no need to suffer alone because we’re all in this ocean together. Despite what Facebook says it’s not all beaches and sunshine.

I also wish we would all acknowledge the Undertoad more often because my idealistic heart would swim into dangerous waters for you… and I also know there are enough life-vests to go around. All you have to do is ask.

Holding It Together

I want to write. I just can’t. Well I can, just not well. It doesn’t feel important or necessary right now and I’m certainly not connected to any kind of creative force because we’re in No-Man’s Land and there is no inspiration here. It’s a liminal, dank place, full of stark shadows and lots of waiting and angst.

My life is so uplifting lately, isn’t it?

Last week my son went in for his routine, no-biggie, 12-month check up. Only he’s not 12 months, he’s 13 months. Something stupid and completely non-important came up at the last-minute before his actual 12-month check-up when he was actually 12 months old–so instead of going to the “routine” appointment, we rescheduled. In doing so, we pushed his no-big-deal-check-up out a month so we could see our primary pediatrician.

So now he’s 13 months old and our baby boy who looks, acts and seems as healthy as any 1-year-old you could imagine… is waiting for a diagnosis. BAM! JUST LIKE THAT! OUTTA NO WHERE! BECAUSE LIFE WAS GETTIN’ A LITTLE TOO EASY FOR ME LATELY SO WHY NOT ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO PILE OF SHIT! HM? HM? HM!????!!!

Slight correction: Except for the daily needle pokes and blood draws, my son is oblivious to the waiting. WE are waiting for a diagnosis. And by waiting, I mean trying to ignore the whole thing so we don’t bust wide open into a million pieces of what if’s and worst-case scenarios.

I can’t share what’s wrong with him because no one knows. Our doctor calls him “The Mystery Patient” like we’re on some episode of Mystery Diagnosis. I’m not going to list all the reasons he’s being tested because I could not hold my shit together if people started giving me helpful suggestions like,  “it could be this chronic condition”…and… “maybe it’s this terrifying syndrome”…or…”hey, that sounds like XYZ terminal disease!”

No, I’m not going there.

For now, we’re just clock-watching, phone-answering and sleep-walking through the impossibly long gauntlet that is waiting to know what’s wrong with your child. It’s every bit as horrifying as it sounds. Everyday is another test, another guess, another appointment with a specialist. We’re exhausted in every way but mostly from trying to ignore our internal dread, which as it turns out, takes quite a lot of energy.

This week was supposed to be all about my daughter and her first week at gymnastics, dance and preschool. Instead, all those things have been eclipsed by our very own, real-life episode of shitty reality TV. However, all those thing are still going on so it’s been busier than usual and mostly I feel like this…
Part of that meltdown, is holding back a tidal wave of Worst Mother Ever Syndrome. GOD why didn’t I just take him to his appointment a month ago?!? Why wasn’t I more concerned that he’s been wearing the same size clothes for 7 months? Why in the world would I think my son’s slow-motion blinking was his unique way of communicating with me?!? I’M SUCH AN IDIOT!? WHY DIDN’T I SEE?!? WHY DIDN’T I KNOW?!?

See what I mean? A tsunami of guilt just under the surface.
Until then… until I’m allowed to freak-out and break down or (hopefully) fall on my knees awash in grace and gratitude or maybe just reconcile a new reality… here is my perfectly perfect little man. He’s oblivious and adorable and seemingly healthy in every way… Please God. Please let it be every way.

Sorry for all the shitty writing.

The Gift of Six Minutes In Hell

A fuse that led to the fate of the rest of my life was lit and burned for five helpless minutes. In the sixty seconds that followed those five minutes, it reached its target and detonated my heart inside my chest. Now, I will never not know what that feels like.

As mothers, (which is the only side of the parental equation I can speak from) we have a thousand fears for our children. Some speak to us louder than others and they are different for everyone. I’ve got  two specific mother-fears that bully themselves into my brain when I’m preoccupied by how fleeting and fragile this life can be. They are my loudest fears because they render me helpless. I have a hard time feeling helpless.

The first of these fears is witnessing my child get hit by a car. The second, is my daughter being abducted by a pedophile. It’s horrible to write and horrible to think and in my most frightened moments I imagine these two scenarios coming true and just with the thought of it I am ripped down the middle like the pain of a never-ending childbirth. When I think these things, which is usually while I’m trying to fall asleep, I have to stop my thoughts, remind myself to breathe, and push those thoughts from my consciousness for fear that I will summon them into my life with the energy I put forth thinking about them.

As I write this, I am in the midst of one of life’s chaotic transitions. It’s a stressful time and everything is a jumble of confusing, painful circumstances that are out of my hands and that helpless feeling that I hate so much is all around me. I am in transition because I am learning powerful lessons about acceptance and control and I am spending my precious mental energy trying to learn them. At the risk of sounding  new-agey… I’m working hard to stay centered; to find my zen amidst the chaos that is unfolding and to focus only on what I can control which are my own thoughts and emotions. Simply put, I am trying to find joy and peace within.

Yesterday, I took both my kids to the mall. There is a play area on the third floor dedicated to families. The businesses include a well-situated cupcake stand, a Gymboree Gym and a children’s hair salon. Most of the space is an open play area with various things for young kids to climb which is all encircled by a half wall. There is only one way in, and one way out of this encircled play space. On the outskirts are the businesses and there is one back hallway with restrooms, a service elevator, and emergency exit stairs. Standing at any place on this floor, you can see everything else except the back hallway. It’s a petri dish, nice, safe place for kids to play where mothers and fathers can relax a bit. Naturally, we’ve been here dozens of times.

Prior to taking my children to this place, one of those personal issues triggered an emotional reaction in me. I wanted to talk to someone about what was happening because that is how I process, I talk to friends and/or, I write. Since the latter was not an option, I phoned some friends on my drive. Unfortunately, none of them were available.

When I got off the elevator to this play place in the mall, my 3-year-old ran immediately to climb on her favorite things and make friends. My 1-year-old son has just learned to walk so my primary focus was to follow him while he toddled from thing to thing making sure other children didn’t plow him over in the process. Every few minutes I looked up to make sure my daughter was playing nice and being safe. After ten or fifteen minutes of this I looked at my phone and realized that I missed a call from one my friends. I called her back at 1:28pm. During this call my son walked out of the encircled play place toward the cupcake stand, around the half wall, and toward the elevators. I followed behind him with my phone to my ear. I was on the phone with my friend for seven minutes and I had spotted my daughter once during that time. Today she was wearing a bright teal dress with a matching teal bow in her hair. She was easy to see in the sea of children on this busy Saturday.

On the seventh minute of my call I looked up to spot her again, only this time, I did not find her. I picked up my son and walked back into the encircled play area with him on my hip. I hung up with my friend to focus on my search. First, looked behind every climbing apparatus and inside every cubby hole. I moved on to the half walls then outside the walls to the cupcake stand, the hair place and inside the Gymboree Gym. I asked the ladies at the desk if a little girl in a teal dress walked in there and they said no. I asked them what I should do if I can’t find my kid and they dialed security. Five more minutes I looked for her and the panic was rising in me. The fuse was sparking and burning brighter with each passing second. By the end of the fifth minute I have checked the restrooms, over the ledges to the atrium and the elevators. Two security guards in black and white uniforms have arrived and they are asking me questions–How tall? How old? What color this? What color that? Name? I can barely think of those answers, but I get them out.

I know I need to call my husband but I can’t remember how to use my phone. I start to yell her name louder and louder. Brooke! Brooke! People are staring, but I do not care. As I turn to face the security guards again a man is walking up behind them. On the sixth minute he reaches out his hand and in them are my daughter’s silver and pink sandals. He says, “Ma’am, are these her’s?” I think I say yes but I can’t remember. The look on my face conveys that they are her sandals and the look on his face conveys something worse. His brows are furrowed in fear and concern. The next thing he says quakes my world and a bomb explodes inside me gutting me completely.

“I found them in a stall in the men’s restroom.”

I think I screamed. I’m pretty sure I screamed. Everything melted around me. Faces contorted into shock and I couldn’t tell if it was because I screamed or because they are processing what I am processing. My heart was beating from every cell in my body before this minute, but now the whole world pulsed. My body tingled like a limb that’s gone numb. I was holding my one year old son, but I could not feel him on my hip because I was feeling the weight of the world caving in on my head. I felt nothing and everything at the same time. It was both more real than any reality I’ve ever known and a complete out-of-body experience.

Details were flung at me and seared into my brain, things I never wanted to hear were flooding my ears and I was trying to make sense of this sudden sensitivity to chaos while trying to move by body in its numbness.  I remember wanting so badly for the world to just stop for a minute. STOP TURNING SO I CAN FIND MY DAUGHTER! PLEASE GOD FREEZE TIME UNTIL I CAN FIGURE OUT WHAT’S REAL AND WHERE MY BABY GIRL HAS GONE!

I don’t remember how I got there but I was headed to the men’s room. Before that, I figured out how to dial my phone and my husband was on the line but I couldn’t communicate to him exactly what was happening. All I could scream was “Someone’s taken Brooke!” A security guard reminded me that she’s not taken “she’s just missing” so I repeat those words to my husband hoping that his version is the right one.

Suddenly, I am surrounded by a million people and they were all in my way as I tried to make to the men’s bathroom in the back hallway. Now, there were not just two security guards, but what feels like a hundred. Black and white flashes were running here and there. They were asking me basic questions that I can not answer. As I pushed my way through or maybe they were letting me, I don’t know, my brain registers the service elevator, the emergency stairs. I fight back vomit that’s been inched its way up my throat the whole time. My husband is on the phone listening to my screams when all the sudden… there she is.

She bounds through the back door of the Gymboree Gym that leads into another hidden, back hallway with a woman I do not know. At the sight of that teal dress and her round, smiling face my body collapses against the wall and I fall to my knees with my son still in my arms. I’m scream-sobbing. I don’t want to touch her, I’m too scared. She comes to me, she hugs me, not the other way around. My son cries out of fear and my daughter wipes my face of tears saying, “Stop crying Mommy. It’s okay Mommy. You don’t need to be sad, Mommy. I went potty by myself and then I got trapped in that room!” She says trapped in an exaggerated, joyful way, like it’s a fun game she just played. The woman at Gymboree that called the security guards is trying to hand me a glass of water and my daughter says, “Here Mommy, you need some fluids,” and she pushes the glass to my face.

Isn’t that ridiculous!? In that moment my 3-year-old tells me I need some fluids?!? I want to laugh at the absurdity of the thing but I still can’t stop the tears and sobs so I just say, “Yes, baby, yes, you’re right, Mommy needs some fluids”

It took me an hour to stop shaking. It has taken me a day to wrap my head around this event and what God is not-so-subtly trying to tell me because if you’re me… that is the question that runs like an undercurrent through everything that happens in my life. For hours the one thing preoccupied my thoughts. I couldn’t stop thinking about the moment I was handed her shoes. I became obsessed with trying to articulate that moment and what my body went through. I wanted to label that pain, define it, put words to it and understand the power it had over my world in that moment. You would think a normal instinct would be to run from that horror, to numb it. In fact, that is exactly what I did when I got home with a bottle of wine and a pill or two.

In the wee hours of the next morning when I am prone to wake without reasons, when everything around me is quiet once more and my head was clear of booze and medication, something whispered from that space between things and told me that what happened was a gift… a blessing. Huh? Whatevs stupid, quiet, space, shut the ef up before I punch you in the throat you “space between.” That was my first reaction, but I think maybe there was some leftover wine in my liver doing the talking. When I calmed myself and began to drift off again, and the quietness returned, I came to understand what I was being told.

I was preoccupied with understanding the intense pain because it is a feeling I have never known, and now, will never forget. That feeling of white-lightening terror is a part of me now. I will forever know what my worst fear feels like because of those minutes.  I will never not know the sound of my life ripping in two. What a rare gift that is to be given? What an amazing experience to know this level of Hell and then come back from it unharmed? It’s nothing short of a blessing, really.

Just like there can be no light without dark, no tall without short, no here, without there, there can be no joy without pain. This dichotomy is one of life’s grandest Truths.

Because of the depth of pain in these minutes, the joy in my life will always be rimmed with that memory. Like a halo, it will amplify, expand, make brighter, more accessible, more plentiful–it will make my joy more ethereal than before this day, the day I was given the knowledge of how deeply painful life can really be.

I can already feel all of this after just one day. I look at her with new eyes. I look at the chaos that is still unfurling in my personal life with a new perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks, but I know definitively just how much worse it could be, and with that knowledge, I know I can bear the things I think I cannot bear. I know that I can find inner peace among broken pieces.

I was shown through my worst nightmare realized, the meaning, value and accessibility of my joy and I was shown that it is always right here, right now, if only I choose it. It was the lesson I have been trying to learn all along on a grand God scale.

Also, I know that in those five minutes of burning fuse panic and those 60 seconds of soul-crushing explosion inside my chest, there are Life Lessons that I will be deciphering for years to come; good lessons, essential lessons, gifts yet to unwrap. There will be lessons that I don’t even know exist that will come rushing toward me years from now when I see a little girl in a teal dress or spot some lonely toddler sandals on the floor. Depths of empathy, layers of gratitude, rivers of joyful tears and mountains of meaning topped with uncrushable strength will forever flow from these six minutes when my world exploded, disappeared and then returned to me through a hidden back door telling me to drink my fluids.

But today, today my lesson is joy. Real, simple, abundant joy… if only I choose it. That is what I learned today. Today. Today.

And fluids. I will remember to drink my fluids.

Wanting What Doesn’t Exist

Up through Trees

I need space to think. I know this about myself. I need time to reflect, to ponder, to remember over and over and over the reasons why what I’m doing is important. I need time to untangle the thoughts and emotions that twist like vines in my head, and to do this, I need moments to breath and just be.

And then after I get those moments, I need to connect with other people about them. This helps me not to feel alone and/or crazy.

I need these things a lot to feel good about myself.

The pace of my current life is not allowing for this luxury, and I do believe it is a luxury. The pace of my current life is: Hurry up! Stop that! Let’s go! We’re late! I need this! I want that! (And my least favorite) I’m hungry!

Some weeks my mother-in-law comes over and watches the kids for several hours. For this I am eternally grateful. I just “hired” my 12-year-old neighbor to come over for three hours on Tuesday so that I might have a little time to myself. My husband helps out a lot when he gets home from work and of course on weekends but it is always a joint effort. We get the occasional, and very rare, afternoon to ourselves with the help of my in-laws. Most of the time, if I leave the house at all, there are one or two small people strapped into a car seat behind me.

All of this is to say that for the majority of my week, I am in my house and it is a one woman show.

The constant busyness and the inability to just be is causing a big problem in my life. I’m short with my husband. I snap at the slightest provocation and I’m quick to attack the most minor of infractions. I’m impatient with my kids. I’m resentful and unappreciative of gifts I’ve been blessed with and above all, it is that feeling I hate the most. Because I am blessed and I don’t like taking that for granted for one second… and yet I do.

I don’t like any of these things but I’m at a loss for what to do about it? Short of magically extending the 24 hour clock and figuring out a way to operate on no sleep I don’t know if a remedy exists in this moment in time. As I write this it is 11pm and I should be getting ready for bed. But I’m not.

Because I need this.

I also need to show up for my family everyday. Cleaning, cooking and fulfilling every major (and minor) need of these three people are not always what I want to be doing, and yet, it is what I have to do no matter what, and it is that part, the “no matter what” part that is my biggest problem.

It doesn’t matter if I feel disconnected with myself. It doesn’t matter that my head is cluttered with thoughts and emotions I can’t name because I’m too busy to name them. And because I can’t name them, they come out in the form of my de facto emotion, anger. It doesn’t matter that sometimes I want to scream for no reason because the over-growth stifles me. It doesn’t matter that all I want to do is read or write a goddamn paragraph but instead I’m cutting up strawberries into bite-sized pieces. It just doesn’t matter.

I know there’s a deeper lesson in all of this. I know that the discipline, the delayed gratification and the sacrificial dedication has an ultimate purpose. I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life at this very moment and I know there are profound and important reasons for all of it, some of which I do not yet know. I know that my life is intrinsically better for doing all these things but those reasons are buried like roots deep among the bedrock and my head is all too often in the clouds.

I also know that having roots are the most important things.

I know this, but it doesn’t stop me from gazing longingly up to the highest branches and wondering what the view must look like from up there. Is the air sweeter? The sun, warmer? The breeze, light?

And of course, I know too, that it’s not.

In fact, I know that it doesn’t even exist.

This post was linked to The Extraordinary Ordinary blog for Just Write.

Easily Forgotten, Remembered Always

Image credit- aswirly.com

Image credit- aswirly.com

It was just before midnight on that muggy August night.

My windows were down. I took the winding back roads so that I could take my time, turn the radio up, and remember the feeling of the hot wind of my hometown one last time. The back of my year-old SUV contained all the belongings from two years of a desk job. On the seat next to me, a fruit salsa I made for my own going-away party. I was warm from all the things, the air, the love, the beer.

Life was good– an all-time high in fact. The next day was my last day of work for a month. Hours after I would walk out the door one last time, I would be on plane headed toward a month-long adventure that included a mountain wedding, Tahiti, a cross-country road trip, and a new home in a new city with the man I’d been dating for a year.

Floating through those pitch-black back roads, I chose Stevie Nicks to serenade me. A contented smile was scrawled across my face from the simultaneous satisfaction of a job well done and an awesome new chapter just beginning–a rare, transcendent, perfect moment.

I was almost home. One turn into the subdivision and another into my parent’s driveway and I would be there. As I prepared to make that familiar turn an unfamiliar rabbit-shaped missile shot over the hill in front of me. It was the single most paradoxical moment in my life. Never before or since have I free-falled so fast from one state of emotion to another.

If I close my eyes I can still see it under the orange glow of the street lights; steely grey, rabid, wild-eyed. It was coming for me and I knew it. It covered a football field’s distance in less than three seconds. I would learn later that the rate of impact was 86 mph.

I had time for two things; gripping the wheel a little tighter and the realization that my life was about to change forever.

In the time it took me to blink there were shards of metal, glass, plastic, fluid and fruit salsa all around me. I heard the unworldly sound of all these things breaking at once. I was no longer facing the direction I thought I was going; home, work, an airplane. I was facing a darkened road, my car horn stuck in a permanent state of panic and Stevie still singing about Silver Springs in her signature gravel.

My lungs filled with the acrid smoke of the airbags which had slammed into my chest like a 20lb medicine ball dropped from two stories up. My seatbelt had cut deep into my collar-bone and across my lap and in a moment of sheer panic, I suffocated on all of it. My mouth was open, but no sound came.

Then I knew had to get out, but I couldn’t remember how.

Soon, adrenaline became my copilot. It brought air back to my lungs and thought into my brain and I jumped from the critically injured vehicle that was screaming at me in its own kind of pain. In those brief seconds the rabbit had made an erratic turn which slammed its driver’s side into the front of my much larger SUV’s passenger’s side. There was no longer a floor board, only twisted metal and a tan fabric seat smeared with fruit salsa next to me.

The moment my feet touched pavement I felt a sudden and unmistakable weakness in my left leg. It was only a weakness, because adrenaline was in charge and it says that the pain comes later.

I looked to the rabbit sitting there motionless, smoking. It too, was turned toward a direction it hadn’t planned on going. I started to go to it but something about the way the driver’s side was pushed all the way over to the passenger’s side stopped me.

I thought I was brave. There have been many times in my life when I have done brave things. But something distinct cowered inside of me at that sight. It wasn’t adrenaline, it was something else–instinct maybe–that told me not to go. It told me that I would never forget what I would see because forgetting is my survival instinct.

The rest of the night came to me in camera flashes.

FLASH! I am prostrate on the grass, the sky above me is ablaze with urgent lights. My mother is holding my right hand, my father is holding my left. I feel the methodical and hurried rhythm of cold scissors up my leg cutting away my pants.

FLASH! It is just me and an EMT in the back of an ambulance. I am prostrate still. I hear, “blood pressure dropping, heading to a different hospital.”

FLASH! Prostrate on the x-ray table, I am told. “Dead–too disfigured to know the approximate age.”

FLASH! “Miss, have you had anything to drink?”

FLASH! “Hold still, this will only take a second.”

FLASH! “Miss, we’re going to need to take your blood alcohol level.”

FLASH! “You’re free to go.”

Really? Was I really?

I woke the next morning to find out that the disfigured person in the other car was a 22-year-old kid named Andy. He took his father’s sports car without permission and had been wasted on more than one drug. He went to my school. People loved him.

The next day, I didn’t go to work and I didn’t leave on an airplane. But leaving on the airplane was the only thing I wanted to do so I rescheduled my flight for the very next day. I left with my crutches, pain-killers and even more baggage than I had planned on taking. The more distance I could put between myself and those skid marks–the more radically I could change my view–the quicker I could forget.

Because forgetfulness is the best of all coping mechanisms and I use it for all the tragedies in my life.

It’s not that I pretend things haven’t happened. I know they have. Every time I go back to my parent’s house I am reminded of this one by the make-shift memorial two turns from their driveway. But I have developed a calcification process for bad memories and it operates on an involuntary, instinctual level. I harden my true-to-life tragedies and then push them away, outside of myself–into orbit.

If a memory is triggered, for a split-second I will see the event as though it happened to someone else. I see it as though it was not a part of my own life and I am hearing it for the first time. Then I have that strange, surreal, surprised moment when I realize that it actually did happen to me.

This happens every time.

But like the orbital path of the moon commands the tides of the Earth, these things affect an ebb and flow inside of me, too. A silent river flows just below my awareness; an ever-present force brimming with the reality of life’s impermanence and inherent fragility. A reminder that there are no promises in well-made plans and in less than three seconds you can be facing a darker road.

This reality river, it shapes me. It constantly cuts new paths and wears out old ones. Like all rivers, from time to time it floods. Sometimes the rain comes from something in my own life, but more often than not, it is the stories of others that breach my banks; an abducted child, a terminal diagnosis, a freak accident, a tornado.

Like the diligent beaver that I am, I maintain my dams. I stack up everything I own (and some of what I don’t) to shore myself up against what I know will come anyway, inevitably, always–a sadness brought on by things I cannot control and do not understand.

When these times come, I retreat inside myself and onto my raft made of words and I float. I lie prostrate looking at all the things in my orbit, including Andy, and I remind myself that I am that, and they are me, and we are One, and only then do the calmer waters prevail.

Slipping

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I watch her dance barefoot in the grass wearing her block-stripped, cotton dress of fucshia, yellow, orange and purple. It’s one of my favorites. The sunlight glints off the baby-fine, brown hair on her head which is the same color as her daddy’s, and also off the shiny blonde hair on her arms, which are like mine. I resist the urge to take a thousand pictures of it all.

I feel the need to stamp this moment into impenetrable stone; every nuance of her body right down to her double-scraped knees and polka-dotted bruised legs in varying shades of purple. I want to document all the light and colors swirling around me right now, and at the same time, I know it’s not her, or the colors, that I want to remember. It’s this feeling of the sun on my skin and my happy babies with their dancing shadows because at this moment I’m steady…but lately… lately I’ve been slipping into a shadow of my own, and I know it.

I knew it today when I angrily pushed my toddler off me for the one hundredth time in a week. I’ve never minded her close, arms always draped around my neck. If anything, I’m overly affectionate with her. But not lately, because right now I just can’t handle anything that feels like strangulation. I can’t handle it on the outside because on the inside I’m gasping for air. My internal shadow is pacing behind the bars, dragging its claws and barring its teeth into my world. Inside I’m cagey, and when she throws her arms around my neck, the thing growls and snips at her warning her to stay back.

I keep throwing the shape shifter its bones, sleep, food, retail therapy, obsessive organizing, excercise. But its appetite is large and has already surpassed the ability of those things to pacify it. It know now that it needs some space to breathe, to be, and to wreak havoc– hence the melancholy tone around here.

This Lycan-like thing and I are not strangers. We have locked eyes many times in the valleys of my life. But I am older and a wee bit wiser now, and I am no stranger to its favorite games, either. Thus, I will let it be for now and in due time, I will lure it back from whence it came. I will simply breath through this downturn of life’s undulating rhythm and look forward to the view lying just beyond the rise. I imagine it looks something like this…

…and this…

…and I will try to remember that my life is just one sunny afternoon away from perfection.

Do you have powerful moments like these? If so, write them down, and submit them to Just Write like I just did.

Pressure Cooker

mail

I bought this little contraption the other day.

IMAG0942

It’s a single serving vegetable steamer for making baby food. Truthfully, it was an impulse purchase. It was on the discount shelf and I thought it would come in handy and also inspire me to make more fresh baby food. I looked and looked all over the package but I couldn’t find instructions or suggested cooking times for certain vegetables. On my inaugural steam I forgot to open the little pink flip-top and 40 seconds in the top blew off in the microwave from too much internal pressure. That’s how I feel.

Look, there’s no need to sugar-coat things, this week has been tough. Both of my kids are sick and clingy and not sleeping well and all of it has made me irritable. I hate feeling like this; resentful and regretful. I hate walking on the razor’s edge of anger all day letting the littlest things cut me. I feel cagey, constricted, suffocated by lack of choices and options for release.

When I worked outside the home there was a lot of pressure. There were tense meetings, deadlines, tough surgeries all of which created a fair amount of stress. I thought I trained myself to stay calm under pressure but I think I simply trained myself to open the release valve. Back then I took a walk, drove the long way home, stopped for a coffee or just plain stopped working for the day. Those are no longer options. I can’t just leave the house, walk away or stop feeding my children. I must find a way to keep doing my job in spite of reaching a definitive boiling point.

I need to find my little pink flip-top release valve that I can employ at a moment’s notice. I would prefer it to be healthy but I’ve been known to compromise. Any suggestions? How do you keep your cool when cool is the farthest thing you feel because buying isn’t the only area where I lack impulse control. Yelling is another, and I don’t like that option.