Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

A Sorta Movie Review of “Home”: May Be Spoilers

Today was a bad day. The last few days I’ve been having an email battle with my ex over (what else?) money. It’s ALWAYS about money. My ex makes more money than 99% of Americans and he will dicker with me over $90 for our daughter’s gymnastics. It’s exhausting, and honestly, makes me so angry I can’t think, or should I say, I can’t NOT think. And so with all this thinking, I had a pretty bad day.

I got behind on work while I fixated on the issue of money this morning. As if the email battle wasn’t enough, I talked to mortgage lenders about my impending home refinance. So far, my mortgage will be going UP at least $200 a month. Then, I read articles about cutting the food budget. After that, I came thisclose to dismissing my attorney because I just CANNOT pay one more ginormous bill. Then, because I hate myself, I emailed my accountant to get an update on my taxes which promises a hefty bill in one week due to being self-employed. By the end of this, I wanted to run away. Very literally just put on my running shoes and keep going… forever. (If my ex is reading this he’s doing it with a smile in his face.)

Even though my work went unfinished, I still had to pick up my preschooler by 1pm. He always bring a smile to my face. However, in light of the unfinished work, he played on his iPad until I got a handle on my work. Then, I managed to collect all the used batteries and CFL light bulbs from my house and take them to a hazardous waste collection at Home Depot. I HAD to. I knew it was probably going to be the most productive thing I’d do all day.

Then, I picked up my Kindergartener from the bus. Another smile in my life. And when we got home all she wanted to do was play Minecraft on her iPad, and I had no energy to fight her, so I didn’t. And I got to finish more work.

Then, I made dinner. I say I “made” dinner, but what I really did was will myself to assemble food onto a plate and not cry into it. After that, I needed a change of scenery, but I didn’t want to spend any money, so I talked the kids into seeing a movie with me at a junky theater where I still had a gift card. And when your dates are 3 feet tall or shorter, your options are limited. We saw Disney’s new Pixar movie, “Home.”

Chances are, with a Pixar kid-flick you’re going to get some sort of deep, uplifting message wrapped up in a cute, funny narrative. It was just what I needed and “Home” did not disappoint.

Home3Basically, adorably squishy aliens called “Boov” invade Earth and evacuate all the humans to Humanville which resides in Australia. One, feisty little girl named “Tip” was left behind in New York City while her single mother was taken in the original round-up. At the same time, there is a misfit Boov named “O” who is running from all the other Boovs because he’s done yet another “bad” thing. He accidentally sent a party Evite “reply all” to the whole universe, which in 48 hours will reach their enemy, the Gorg, and alert them to their new planetarian home, which the Gorg will promptly destroy. Calamity ensues.

The Boovs are hopelessly clueless to human nature. By invading the planet, they think they’re doing humans a favor. The Boov do not have friends or families. They look out for only themselves. They do not engage in laughter or dancing or “fun,” and they can’t understand why humans do. Their most redeeming quality, so they believe, is that they are masters at running away and averting danger. Today, I was a Boov.

Tip and O cross paths and Tip convinces O to help her find her mom. This is when the journey and trials begins. At first they are not friends, O is selfish, and just wants to avoid being “eliminated,” while Tip is angry at the Boov for taking her mom. But trial after trial, trust is built between them. Tip teaches O how to be brave and how not to be selfish. Then, there is one poignant montage where they tell each other their fears. Both of them are the same: loneliness. Perhaps loneliness is an organic, not just human affliction? Anywho, just after this montage it shows O lovingly taking care of Tip while she sleeps because now he understands — now, he has a real friend.

Damn. Isn’t that just how this world works? It isn’t until you are brave enough to be vulnerable that you earn real friends? I have not been brave Home2lately. I’ve been pushing people away. Some days, it feels easier to be alone rather than love one more person who can hurt you.

So, Tip eventually finds her mom in a series of scenes which are set to emotional music and the tears flowed down my face like rain as my 3 year old twirled my hair in his fingers on my lap. God, I have never known the meaning or power of love until I had kids. Mother-Love brings me to my emotional knees every time… even in animated Pixar.

Well, O is eventually redeemed and proved the hero when he discovers what their enemy, the Gorg really want from the Boov. It turns out that the Boov’s fearful leader, Captain Smek, ran cowardly away from a meeting with the last remaining Gorg many years ago.  In running away, he inadvertently stole the next generation of Gorg which resided in a nondescript rock; a rock which Captain Smek festooned to a talisman and called it the shusher because he hit Boovs over the head with it and said “shush.”

As it turns out, all along the Gorg never wanted to destroy the Boov, they just wanted a rock that contained the next generation of Gorg. In other words, the Gorg’s entire family.

When O explains this to Tip, he repeats a phrase he said to her in the beginning when he was trying to understand her emotions. He couldn’t understand why she was so angry even though she cried like she was sad. He coined the phrase, sad-mad. And as it turns out, the Gorg was just sad-mad, too.

Sad-mad. That’s me. That’s who I’ve been my whole life. I’m a nondescript rock on the outside, bubbling with life you can’t see on the inside. Instead of opening myself up and showing the world all my great stuff, I harden walls and get mad. I push people away, sometimes hitting them over the head saying “shush” until I’m this lonely, lonely thing. If you read this blog, you might disagree with me considering the amount of vulnerability I display here. But this is the only place I do it. To a computer screen. To (mostly) faceless people. If you meet me in in real life and mention my writing I will immediately and expertly change the subject. This public, digital forum is strangely too personal for real life.

The sad-mad

Anyway, being called out by a Pixar movie put me in a state. I was not sad-mad, I was just sad. I came home and put my kids to bed. I lay with my son first. My thoughts went elsewhere, to scary things, and I struggled to bring them back to his eyelashes. How they blinked slowly. How they half-way opened, then shut, then opened again. I began to cry. I put my head close to his and whispered, “I love you.” He wrapped his arm around my head and said, “me too.” Then one of my tears dropped into his ear and he said, “gross mom!” and put a blanket over his ear to protect it. I laughed because it was funny and ironic.

Then, I lay with my daughter and we talked about sad-mad. She asked me if I’ve ever been sad-mad. Usually, I gloss over the truth about her dad and me because I want to protect her, but inspired by the message of being vulnerable I said yes, I have. She asked me when, and I told her the truth. I was sad-mad over the fact that daddy and I couldn’t stay together. Suddenly, her body tightened and she put her hand to her face. I could tell she was touching her eye. My daughter is stoic. She rarely cries. I felt her face, it was dry. She said, “I’m not crying, Mom. My eyes just watered a little bit.”

My heart shattered into a million pieces right then and there. She hides her tears but I KNOW, because I’m her mother, that our volatile divorce weighs heavy on her little 5 year old heart. Then I told her that it’s okay to cry. That I cry about it sometimes, and it’s okay. I told her I wished she cried more just to let it all out. She asked me why I was crying, because by this time, I was holding back sobs, something I never do in front of them – my sadness is an unfair burden. I told her it was for the same reasons her eyes watered. And that it was okay. I was okay. She was okay. And everyone was going to be okay. We talked about a few other things about her daddy and me, and she seemed relieved. Then she said, “Okay, what now?” as if she was ready to move on to the next subject which might delay her bedtime. And I laughed because how funny and ironic.

She’s right. Okay, what now?

Letting Go of the Shoulds and the Coulds

I didn’t think I was going to cry that much. I thought I’d be stoic and happy and excited, mostly, but I guess sometimes I don’t know my own heart.

I started to tear up as we got in the car to drive to the bus stop. I saw the neighbors outside. Their son is the same age as my daughter, and although he’s going to a different school, he’s also starting Kindergarten today. A threesome, they were taking the obligatory “first day of school” photo. The dad was dancing  trying to make his son smile. The mom was making sure his hair was fixed and his sign was straight. They both got a chance to take a picture (that wasn’t a selfie) with their son. I choked back a knot in my throat as I pulled away.

Then we got to the bus stop. Some other neighbors were there, a foursome, mom, dad, little brother and their daughter who is going into Kindergarten at my daughter’s school. They chatted, played man-to-man while I worked a zone defense with my two. I took a few selfies, only one turned out.

Then I watched her step onto the bus and the tears came hot and fast. He should be here, I thought. He shouldn’t miss this. But he did. Because that’s one of the punishments the ex doles out for divorcing him — refusing to be anywhere I am even if it’s a birthday party, a dance recital or the first day of Kindergarten.

I got in the car and drove to her school to meet the bus. I wanted to be there when she got off to show her where to find her classroom. I wanted to deposit her safely at the door; see her walk in for the first time. As I drove I silently shook my shoulders and stifled my sobs so my son wouldn’t hear me from the back seat. When I parked, I quickly texted him a picture of her going off to school. I have to try, right?

As I pulled up, the school walkway was full of moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas all saying goodbye, wishing the little ones a good day, giving kisses and hugs and taking more pictures. You’d think there were a bunch of rock stars walking into the building with as many cell phones were in the air. I guess there were.

He shouldn’t be missing this, I thought again. How can his hatred overshadow this? I tried to get angry but I couldn’t. I was just overwhelmingly sad. I hurt for her. But of course she wasn’t fazed, or at least it never shows. In 8 months she’s gotten used to the idea that mommy and daddy never talk, and are never in the same place at the same time. She knows this is how it is, and isn’t yet aware that this isn’t how it should be. She doesn’t know that these two adults, her parents, should be able to set aside the hurt and the anger and come together for her sake. She doesn’t know these things yet.Yet.

I don’t get to pick her up from the bus when she arrives home from her first day of Kindergarten. I won’t get to give her a hug and ask her all about her day because it’s her dad’s night. I’m going to try to call later, but there’s no guarantee he’ll answer his phone or respond to my text. This is another punishment he doles out for divorcing him; refusing to let me speak to our children when they are with him.

As I pulled away from her school the tears came still, but they were more in resignation than sadness. Because in her 5-year-old-wisdom I realized she’s right. No matter how much I wish things could be different, they aren’t. Know matter how much I KNOW they should be different, they probably never will be. Because this is how it is, and there is a certain amount of freedom in letting go of the shoulds and the coulds. Maybe she knows that already and it’s ME who is the one who doesn’t know yet. Yet.

As I flipped through the pictures I took of her first day of Kindergarten, I uploaded a few to Facebook and Instagram. Then, as I often do, I lingered over a few and studied her face; the moment she saw the bus coming, the moment her brother pushed me out of the way to give her a kiss and she lifted him from the ground, the moment she walked down the hall and didn’t turn back…

1st day of Kindergarden

The more I looked, the more I wanted to cry. But then I noticed something truly astonishing… I’m an editor by profession and I spelled Kindergarten wrong.

kindergarden

Then I laughed myself silly. I laughed so hard I cried for a whole other reason.

Oh life with your irony and pain and constant changing of the rules. Thank you for reminding me not to take myself too seriously. Seriously. I needed that. 

Have fun at school, sweetie. I know you’re going to come home and teach me so much more than you already have… and I can’t wait.

XOXOXO,

Mom

P.S. This is how your brother feels about you going to Kindergarten… or garden… or whatever… at least I tried!

Brother with sign

P.S.S. Nothing’s perfect, but we do have to try. 

Love you,

Mom

 

 

 

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.

 

 

That Girl vs This Woman: A Mom Going Through Divorce

My divorce didn’t begin the day the paperwork was filed a few months ago. It didn’t even begin the month before that when I KNEW I couldn’t do this another day. My divorce began over a year ago. It was a cold December night. I sat at my children’s bedside, one at a time, and cried telling them Mommy was so, so sorry.

I remember that night as clearly as I’m sitting here typing this now. My daughter was three and a half. She was still in a toddler bed. She was close to the ground and I sat on the floor. I held her small hand which was still tucked under the fleece blanket. “I’m sorry baby.” I cried quietly at first. “I’m so sorry Mommy couldn’t keep this family together. I never wanted this for you.” And then the tears turned to shaking sobs. Next, I went to my son’s crib. The same.

It took more than a year to actually file, but if you’re a mom, and you’re heading toward divorce, the first thing you have to reconcile is what about the kids? There is no greater concern, and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for the sake of their well-being. Of course you’re scared for them. What will they think? How will they react? Adjust? What will this mean for their lives? It’s enough to paralyze you… and I was, for a long time.

Then, at some point, you realize your children will be okay, but only if you’re okay, too. Because you are no good to them depressed, playing small, and living in a shadow. And so at some point you must accept what a divorce will do to them so you can save yourself. It’s an agonizing decision, but you know in your heart that everyone will be better off in time. It takes a mountain of faith.

Your children inform every next decision. Of course there’s the worry over money. Can I do this? What sacrifices will need to be made? Where will I live? What will I do? Only when those HUGE questions are answered do you even begin to contemplate what this means for you; as in you, the woman.

And that’s where I am right now.

What now?

As I begin to sift through a decade’s worth of rubble from my life – ideas, memories, feelings of long, long ago are making their way to the surface like something ancient encrusted in rock. Things I liked to do. Conversations I liked to have. Ideas I entertained a million years ago. The ways I thought as a girl are poking through my consciousness like barbed wire through linen. Remember that time you took off to Chicago in the middle of the night on a whim to see a friend? Remember when you loved to go dancing all night? Remember when you used to dance on the bar? Remember that girl who could talk to anyone, about anything? Remember staying up all night doing just that – talking? 

Right now that girl is running head long into this woman, and there’s a reconciliation going on.

that girl vs this womanThat girl was mighty insecure. That girl was achingly alone and scared. That girl was frightened of intimacy. Yes, that girl was fun, and spontaneous, and threw caution to the wind, but that girl didn’t always land safely on shore. That girl was funny and whimsical and wild to a fault. She has a lot of great memories to show for it. That girl was intelligent and trusting, but she was also needy and naive.

This woman has responsibilities. This woman is no longer insecure, or desperately lonely, or scared of being vulnerable. This woman is cautious, confident and capable. She is witty and wise. This woman wants for many things, but does not need for much. She is no fool.

These two factions are sparing it out in my head — the girl I was, and the woman I am — and it’s causing a bit of a ruckus in my life. That girl is fighting for face-time, and this woman is trying to talk her down with reason.

This woman contemplates that girl, petulantly bouncing her hip in her short skirt and high heels, while sitting back in her cozy sweater and sensible flats. That girl is dying for a chance to strut her stuff. To prove to the world that she still has what it takes, whatever it is.  And this woman is sitting back, with her cup of tea and her books trying to remind that girl that she already does. But this woman does not shout or demand. Because this woman is patient, and kind, and forgiving to a fault. But that girl pouts all the same.

I’m not going to lie. That girl has won a few battles. But this woman is wise enough to know that this life is long, and yet, much too short for war.

So they carry on; circling each other like territorial hens to scratch it out another day knowing that no matter what happens, the one thing that overrides them all, and always will, is being Mom.

Because if you’re a mom going through a divorce, there is nothing of greater importance. Nothing.

Teaching My Child Intuition and Compassion

Yesterday my daughter and I had an exchange that brought me to instant tears. Big, sudden, happy, relieved, awe-inspired tears.

A couple of weeks ago we were in Hawaii. Much of it was a wonderful experience, but there was one particularly poignant and memorable moment with my 4-year-old daughter.

We were standing on a hill just above a short, black, lava rock cliff. The rhythmic crashing and receding of the ocean was soothing and invigorating all at the same time. The sky was filled with cottony clouds and there was a soft breeze lightly swishing my daughters still-wet, short, brown hair in and out of her eyes. She was wearing a hot pink towel dress having just come from the pool. She was skipping along the hillside picking hibiscus flowers and watching the ocean. I reached for my camera, but I forgot it. Instead of snapping pictures, I just stood there, sunglassed, arms folded.

I remember a rush of gratitude washing over me and a sudden, compulsive urge to encapsulate the moment.  I got anxious for my camera because it’s the one thing that helps me remember how to feel. I got anxious, wanting to take a picture. Even though I started out wanting to savor the moment, in my head, I was already regretting something.

Suddenly I noticed there were several Monarch butterflies fluttering about. I’d seen one or two float past our balcony, but now, on this grassy hill next to the shore there were many. They were circling a nearby tree and dancing together on the breeze. Why had I forgot my camera!

“Look Mama! Butterflies. Oh my gosh they are sooo beautiful!” Brooke said pointing up into the air and following their path with her finger.

We watched them. We talked about which ones might be friends, where they lived, and if they were having fun. After the short conversation she began to sing. There were no words, just humming a tune that resembled the flit and flutter of a butterfly’s dance. She was lost in her song and watching the Monarchs. She sang her tune over and over as she danced and followed the paths of the butterflies around the tree.

My eyes filled with tears behind my sunglasses watching her joy. She was so free. So sweet. Filled to the tips of her wet hair with that moment and nothing else. I wanted to be her — little and innocent — lost for minutes at a time in pure joy not caring about memorializing it in digital form.

More than I wanted to be her, I wanted her to STAY that way. I didn’t want to telescope forward in my head and watch her standing there like me, arms crossed, eyes watering, trying to hold on to a moment, already submersed far into regret. I wanted her to always to be dancing and singing an impromptu tune inspired by the beauty of a few butterflies.

My 2-year-old son was running up and down oblivious to the moment. He’s a wild little thing right now; brimming with energy and bursting with love and fury all at the same time. He’s going through a hitting phase. He’s also quite fond of hurling Hotwheels at your head. I have tried all matter of punishment, but he thinks everything I say and do is hilarious. He’s not ready for logic, but my 4-year-old listens to my attempts to curb his violent behavior, and I found myself struggling with the concept of when it’s okay to hit… because sometimes fighting back is necessary.

Sometimes fighting back is the only choice you have to survive. I know that sounds drastic, but I believe anger can be a good thing when channelled properly; particularly when someone is out to hurt you.

Ever since we started watching Disney movies I’ve described the antagonist as “the meanie.” Jafar, Ursula, Gaston, the scary bear in Brave… those are all “the meanies.” We were having a conversation about how we’re never supposed to hit people unless they are “a meanie.”

“But how do we know that someone is a meanie?” Asks the ever inquisitive 4-year-old.

At this point I was stumped because that was a really great question. In real life meanies don’t come with black robes, eight arms and cartoonishly scary eyebrows. Many times, they look like you and me.

Then I remembered something I am trying hard to learn at the age of 35. Something I’d wish I’d known when I was a little girl.

“You listen to your heart, honey.”

“But how do I know what my heart is saying?”

Again, another really great question.

“Well, remember how you felt that day we saw the butterflies? Remember singing and dancing and watching them fly? How did your heart feel?”

“Good! My heart felt good!” She answered immediately.

“Okay, now how does your heart feel when you hear people arguing?”

She turned her head to the side; furrowed her ever inquistive brow. Waited a moment.

“Like something is wrong.” She said.

“Yes. Yes honey. That’s right. To know someone is a meanie, you have to learn to listen to what your heart tells you.”

Fast forward an hour or so and my daughter spies a picture of my husband and I before she was born. Whenever she sees one of these pictures, the ever self-absorbed toddler asks, “Where was I?” My reply is always, “You were with God.”

“Are all babies with God before they are born?”

“Yes.”

“But how can God take care of babies?”

“God can do anything. All things are possible with God.”

“Can God drive a car?”

“Yes, God can probably drive a car.”

“Can I see a picture of a baby with God?”

Okie dokie… Google Search: “Babies in heaven” Viola!

babies in heaven

She studies it closely.

“Can I see a baby in Africa?”

What the…?

Alrighty. Google search: “African babies.”

This one turned up a long stream of pictures of dark-skinned infants. Some looked sick, barely alive. I scrolled quickly clicking on pictures that showed happy babies. Still, I was unable to focus on anything but the images of the malnourished children with swollen bellies and hallow eyes.

“Okay, that’s enough.” I said clicking out of the browser.

“Wait Mama! I want to see more!”

“Well honey, there are some pictures of sick babies I don’t think you should see.”

“But Mama, I want to see them.”

At this point I debated. Should I preserve her idea that all babies are happy little cherubs sitting in the hand of God surrounded by fluffy white clouds? Or should I shatter her innocence?

Just then, something pushed its way to the front of my brain; or perhaps it leaped into my heart. It was a Super Soul Sunday episode with Karen Armstrong, a renowned spiritual teacher and author of the book, “Twelve Steps to Compassion.” She said that compassion is learned not by turning away from another person’s pain while making excuses not to care; but by standing in the pain with them. This lets a person know that you see them, you hear them, they are not forgotten and that they most certainly matter.

“Are you sure you want to see them?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

malnourished african baby compassion

She laughed at first. She thought it was a monkey.

I got real quiet and said, “No honey. That’s a baby. He’s sick and he’s probably hurting.”

“But why Mama?”

“Because he doesn’t have enough food. He’s hungry and this makes him very sick.”

She was real quiet for what felt like an eternity. She stared at the picture. Closely scrutinizing.

“Honey, how does that make your heart feel?” I said nervously.

<quiet> Then she lifts her hand to to her chest and says,  “Sad. That makes my heart feel sad.”

Big, fat, uncontrollable tears fell from my eyes. Yes. I thought. She’s got it. She can hear her heart.

“Mommy, can we go get them and bring them back to our house? Because we have a lot of food.”

After I explained the logistics of plane travel and refrigeration I asked if it was okay if we could send them some money so they could buy some food. She said yes.

Meet Catherine M. from Zambia.

Catherine M. of Zambia

Catherine is the 5-year-old girl my daughter and I will be sponsoring all year through SaveTheChildren.org.

Tomorrow, Brooke and I will send Catherine her first email. We will tell her how beautiful she is; hopefully she will know that we see her, that we want to hear from her, and that she certainly, certainly… matters.

Why Feminist Mothers are Destined to Have Stripper Daughters

I bought my 2-year-old son a raincoat that looks like a firefighter’s jacket. For my 4-year-old daughter, I bought a cute hot-pink, cinch-waisted number with a black piping an a bow. I bought them a couple of months ago at Costco and brought them out of the closet this week for Seattle’s most recent, unseasonably cold and  monsoon-y weather. (Yes, even for Seattle it’s been a freezing, soggy mess.)

feminist mothers daughtersMy son was so excited to be firefighter. Pride beamed from his face when I buttoned him up. Then my daughter promptly asked what her coat made her. Unbelievably, these words almost left my lips, “Just a cute little girl.”

But no, no, no way Jose Gloria Steinem! Since I have been enlightened to the plight of feminism, I know better than to absentmindedly (albeit innocently) limit my daughter’s world view of what she thinks she can be. Instead, I said, “You are a powerful business woman — a CEO!” This sparked all kinds of questions about what business women do and wear.

Not five minutes later she opened a “shop” to sell jewels in exchange for cotton ball money. The first step of the game was to fill a small zippered pouch with mommy’s jewelry. Next, my daughter scrutinized the selection for quality and appropriateness (setting aside the marbles I had surreptitiously placed inside claiming “those aren’t jewels!”) When she was pleased with the goods, she dispensed as many cotton balls as she felt necessary.

A pawn shop owner wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned when I said “business woman,” but whatever. She’s being entrepreneurial. We’ll go with it.

Since then, she’s been telling anyone who will listen that her coat is, in fact, her  “business woman coat.” And then pride beams from my face as I mentally pat myself on the back for being so open-minded and all Girl Power Hear Us ROWR!

Then last night as she got out of the bath, still naked, she wanted to play her jewelry pawn shop game. In lieu of wearing the coat, she said she was going to be a “naked business woman.” I am a terribly immature person so I immediately busted up laughing. I said, “No way! Business women wear clothes in this house!” Which launched a whole flurry of “but why’s?”

But why can’t I be a naked business women? But what do naked business women do?

Not wanting to explain the economics and moral implications of being a prostitute, I did what I normally do in these situations — I punted to Daddy. Daddy is even worse at answering difficult questions but his answers are usually funny which provide a nice segue onto other topics. Plus, I couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say to our naked little pawn shop owner.

“Daad-dy, why can’t I be a naked business woman?” Apparently there isn’t a mature parent between us because he busted up laughing too and said something very patriarchal like “Not in my house young lady!”

And you know what she said? Hand to G.O.D. she said… “Fine. But naked business women always shake their booties.”

And then she danced. Naked.

And this is why feminists mothers are destined to raise pawn shop owning, stripping daughters.

The end.

In the Crook of My Right Arm

My son is 22 months and he loves his Mama somethin’ fierce. He is much more attached to me than my daughter was at this age. If he loses track of me in the house I can hear him from the other room saying, “Where’s Mama? Mama!” I always answer back. “I’m right here Buddy!”

When he finds me he climbs on my lap and says, “What doing Mommy?”

His favorite place to fall asleep is in the crook of my right arm. When he wakes up alone in his crib he cries, “Mama! Come get me. Your bed.” He’s my youngest (and probably my last) and of course he gets most of what he wants.

There have been some significant changes in our house in the last couple of weeks and because of it, my anxiety has been on Level Red High Alert. Coinciding with these changes was a rash of attempted child-abductions in Seattle where I live. On three different occasions, three different people tried to snatch a young child in broad daylight. It appears the incidences are unrelated.

But what is related, is that the only time I left my house for a week was for school and gymnastics class. I was so paranoid. For a whole week I wouldn’t even take my eyes off my children in our fenced-in backyard. Then one night, while lying in bed with my son tucked into my right side, I suppressed a panic attack. I looked up the sexual predators in my neighborhood (again). I left the outside lights on all night. I double-checked the window locks and I had to take medication to fall asleep. For a straight week I could not stop thinking about the possibility of my children being abducted.

Eventually, the anxiety abated. I became calm(er) once again. I thought back to the night with my son when I was clearly unhinged and I couldn’t understand how I let my thoughts whip me into such a frenzied state? Normally, I am a rationale person. I know the child abduction statistics. I mean, I don’t even live in Seattle proper.

But this is how anxiety works. Panic attacks are the activation of the body’s most primal fight or flight response. But the reaction is not from actual danger, but a perceived, imagined danger. Danger you fabricate with your thoughts.

I thought about that night a lot – laying next to my son trying mightily to slow my breathing and trembling heart as he slept in the crook of my right arm. Eventually, I uncovered the parallels; the hidden meanings of my fabricated thoughts and my real life, and I came to a conclusion. You see, for a week or so this recent big, family change had me feeling out-of-control, and the more uncertain I am of the future, the easier my anxiety latches onto any reason to illicit a response, in this case, it latched onto the recent attempted child-abductions.

The new, big change in my life is that two weeks ago I reentered the workforce for the first time in almost three years. In fact, as I write this, I am on a plane—my first business trip in as many years.

I’d been thinking about going back to work lately, but I hadn’t planned on doing it this soon. An opportunity presented itself to me out of nowhere and I could NOT say no. It is the “perfect” job for me right now. I get to work from home with flexible hours. I will be able to be there for my kids when they need me. I’ll be doing things I enjoy doing. I get to write and read other people’s writing. I get to use social media and interact with mothers on a daily basis. I get to create and use my business acumen. I get to help people. You.

One of the best parts is that this job found me through this blog. They know that I write openly here and that is not a negative, but a positive.

After weighing all the positives and negatives there was only one answer. I had to take it. More than that, I wanted to take it. But… and there’s always a but.

I know myself well enough to know (or at least figure out) what’s been happening in my mind and body for the last two weeks. I know that when life starts spinning in all directions I get nervous. I start wishing for eyes in the back of my head, more hours to the days, and a crystal ball to tell me what’s going to happen tomorrow. All are impossible things to have, and it makes me start to worry that I’m doing something wrong. Missing some crucial piece of information. That if only I can stay one step ahead, I may never fall.

I want to succeed at work, but I’m not scared of failing either. I’m also not scared of making mistakes or not having this position work out in the long run. I know I will give it my all and that will be good enough, and at this stage, work can’t scare me anymore anyway. Not after what I’ve been through. I’ve got a firm grasp on what’s important every night in the crook of my right arm.

What’s got panic rising in my chest is thinking of that little boy walking around the house crying, “Where’s Mama?” and his Mama is not there to answer him.

My true, repressed fear is that my children will flounder–get metaphorically lost–at least in the short-term. For this reason I have fixated on the near impossibility that they will get really lost. Forever.

I put my career on pause and stayed home for the last three years for a reason. I wanted to be with them when they were babies. I wanted to have that experience with them, for them, because I love them so very much and I never wanted to regret not being there for the most dependent years. It’s not the right decision for everyone but it was the right one for me. It was also an opportunity I was fortunate enough to have, and also one that was handed to me by The Universe due to circumstances beyond my control.

But now my daughter is four and my son is almost two, while they still need me a great deal, The Universe has handed me another sign that it’s time to go. It might just be to my office to do some work for a couple of hours, or away for one night on a business trip, but still, it’s time to go.

But Buddy, don’t you worry because I’ll always be right here. Right here. I promise.

A Lingering Vegas Hangover

I went to Vegas with some girlfriends last weekend. The three of us are stay-at-home-moms and each week we meet behind the plexiglass of our 3-year-old daughters’ gymnastics class. A couple of months ago, we decided a Moms Only trip to Vegas was in order. It’s been three years since I spent more than 24 hours away from my children, so I was more than game.

We danced, we drank, we stayed out late and laid by the pool. We ate when, and what we wanted. We got foot massages and I laughed so hard my abdominals still hurt three days later. We put on pretty clothes and spent at least an hour getting ready. I wore heels and Spanx and glittery eye-liner. We went to loud clubs where the music pounded in my chest and it felt good.

Moms in Vegas

We had so much fun that we had TOO much fun. When Monday rolled around and it was time to go home, reality came spinning at me faster than the sevens on those money-sucking slot machines. Ding!

Over those three days I remembered what it was like to take care of only one person… myself. I remembered how electric the nightlife can feel pulsing through my body. I remembered what it was like to sleep until I woke up on my own. I remembered what not having to be anywhere felt like. I remembered the freedom of having choices.

Compared to the rote and often mindless cleaning, cooking, scolding, bickering and cartoon Disney movies of my present-day life, it was like being transported to the Technicolor world of Oz complete with shiny heels, short dresses and good music. I truly hadn’t realized how drastically my life had morphed in ten years until I was suddenly standing in the middle of my 20’s again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking to be single. I’m not even looking for the ability to binge drink and stay up until 3am. Been there, loved it, over it. What I realized is that freedom and choices are in drastic short supply in my life and I had no idea how much I missed them until I had them back for three, short days in Vegas.

When I became a mother almost four years ago, my obligations burst from the asphalt like a flashy hotel on expensive Las Vegas Strip real estate. Subtract a career, add another child and my choices shrank to the size of a perpetually full laundry basket. It took awhile for the shock of my tethered life to sink in, but what other choice is there when you have children? You just do it. All of it. Over the course of four years, this life became quite natural and I hardly remembered anything else. At some point I found it pointless to think about all the things I CANNOT do because that’s just masochistic. But what I hadn’t realized is that because of this lack of freedom and choices, somewhere inside me there was building a low-grade hum of discontent like the buzz of neon lights.

I came home in a funk. My husband was expecting a different result. He thought I’d be rejuvenated–happy! with my three-day vacation. But I wasn’t. I almost wished I hadn’t gone. I wished I hadn’t tasted the freedom because now I’m in withdrawal, and if I learned anything from my 20’s it’s that no matter how good the high… the crash is always worse.

It’s taken me three days to get my head out of the fog and it is only with distance, perspective and a practiced (if not forced) gratitude, that I can remember the point of going to Oz… to find the way back home.

Brooke & Brady Glam

And I brought some glam and shiny shoes back with me.

The Beauty of Surrender

Today, I went to a second yoga session on my trip to Nicaragua. It will likely be my last here as we leave for home in a couple of days. It has been an illuminating, exciting and utterly exhausting trip. Caring for two toddlers is a lot of work in perfect conditions with all the tools in place like diaper pales, level sidewalks and regulatory high chairs with seat belts. All things for which I have a new appreciation. Doing all of the same day-to-day tasks here in the remote Third World without these luxuries has been a challenge for sure. A challenge that has stretched my coping abilities to their max.

I’ve yelled at my children more than I would like. I’ve been short with my husband for no reason. I have been too tired to enjoy some of the fun things because there’s just so much damn work to be done everyday. I’m not proud of it, but even on vacation surrounded by immense beauty I can be pissed off.

I needed yoga today to bring me back to myself. To remind me of the important things.

The wind was whipping my hair in the open-air studio. My dingy, borrowed mat flipped up on the edges from time to time. The pigeons congregated and cooed somewhere above me while the sounds of small-town Nicaragua swirled around me in cries, hollers, motors and horns. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was part of the soundtrack to the practice and somewhere around “…with every breath we drew a hallelujah” I let it all go and I sank into the beautiful space of surrender.

Surrender is beautiful, isn’t it? When we fall on our knees and crumple from the strain of life? When we’re brave enough to admit that we don’t have it all together, that we struggle, that we need help, that even on vacation in paradise we can get pissed off? When we stretch out our arms or join our hands in prayer asking, often begging for love, for peace, for a moment of grace in a hectic world–it is nothing short of a beauty-filled miracle. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to a controlling, anxiety-ridden, yeller… like me.

But it came. It came with the strength of a thousand wind storms.

I was in the zone, or in yoga speak, “on my edge” in every pose. My leg went up in wheel. I held crow. I got closer to a head stand than ever before and I stretched farther and deeper than usual… I chatuaronga’d the shit out of that mat. The hour and a half felt like mere moments in time. I was in my breath. I was humbled yet confident; filled with a strong weakness that transformed me from one inhalation to the next. I have been in many yoga classes in the last 10 years but this one will stay with me forever. It shifted me–left an indelible impression on my soul.

The teacher said, “Every breath brings an opportunity for change.” Like a gong this struck a chord deep inside. She is right. With every breath, I can change. With every minute, I can be better– I can come back to myself and all I have to do is surrender… “with every breath a hallelujah.”