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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thank You For The Shit

Do you dare to tell the truth, or do you lie?

When you open your eyes in the morning, wiggle your toes, feel your brain pulsating in the rear of your skull, do you hear the pain that burrows there? The discontent aching from when your daughter tearfully told you she felt lonely on the playground; the hole in your chest leftover from the hurtful words of your angry, pre-teen child or that mean woman's glare? Additionally, do you take time to notice the murmurs of joy bubbling under your skin from yesterday? The lightness you felt when you spied your son with his nose hidden in a book in a sunny corner; the warm rush in your hand lead by your 6-year-old to her room for a tea party with bunny rabbits. Do you feel this?

And then do you rise up, prepared to answer the cells that have spoken to you on this morning. Do you push on to share your truth, your experience with the world? Heck, do you even think any shred of YOU is important enough to share?

Or do you lie?

Sometimes I lie.

Sometimes I open my hazel eyes and all I feel is beaten up. Like the earth has been chewing on me and spewing me into the atmosphere and then sucking me back in again to live another day as a cheerful mom. I hastily rise. I paste on my smile. I cake on mascara. I brush my long dried-out locks, and I fling myself out there in hopes of being something worthwhile. I try to be somebody else.

On these poker face days, I might talk to my friends or my family and say, “Oh yes, life is GREAT. All is well. My pipes froze and my husband just left his job (that we moved across the country for) because it was causing him enough stress to kill three men twice his size. Seeing his pain has been such a great learning experience. I fell down the stairs too, a couple of weeks ago. And I’ve been wheezing for some reason. But I am alive. Isn’t it all just an enormous blessing!”

Sometimes, when I don’t feel like sharing the faithless fear and uncertainty that lurks down there, I just knit that crooked frozen upside down arc beneath my nose. My needle punctures my flesh, burying the truth. I lie. I wear my fakeness, that I sewed in ever-so-carefully, with pride. I highlight the good news, and I don’t share the real stuff.

I mean, why would I want to burden you with all of my trash, as though I were important enough to warrant a conversation? Jeez. “Get a life,” I tell myself. And I look at you imagining you have so much going on in your life, anyhow. Plus my crap could make you look down on me, make you feel sorry for me. (Not that!) Worse, I might share my dirt, and you might dismiss me. What if you change the subject saying, “I’m so sorry. Really. You should write a book about this!” you say with a chuckle. “And I’ll read it.” (Second chuckle.) “But I REALLY have to go pick up Joey at soccer right NOW.” And you dash off wondering why the F*$K Amy thinks her problems are so important. Drama queen.

That is how my imagination works.

Sometimes I lie. I think you lie too. And I HATE that.

Lies hide the dirty, moldy, decomposing truth about me, and about you. The shit. (Yes, you might think, that’s the great thing about them.) But wait just a second. Isn’t mold (and shit) good? According to my fairly limited knowledge of science, mold (and shit) allows new life to form. So could it be true that my darkness is there to feed your roots, bringing you sweeter, healthier, richer fruit. And maybe your dead leaves feed me, too? Maybe we don't have to fix each other's shit, but simply absorb it. I believe your true story helps me grow.

So no more lies. No more even wishing to show you, my friend, my reader, my sister— anybody rosy and simple. That person never lived in this body, anyway. No more banging my head against the wall for burdening you with me. My light doesn’t come from any (attempted) portrayal of somebody beautiful, perfect, and burden-free. That kind of light is artificial, missing the scratchy, freckly strokes of me altogether. My light enters your atmosphere by peeling back the layers of the faulty, colorful woman who I honestly am. I’m beginning to think that my treasures and yours exist for all of us. Perhaps gifts from above.

Finally, today I’m NOT going to try to be the best, cutest mom. Not the award-winning novelist (that would be nice though…first must get published.) Not the most “liked” artist (oh yea!) Nor the most popular friend.

Today I’m simply going to try to be honest.

And if I am honest, maybe my teeny tiny light will penetrate the cold chill of an East Coast winter.  Maybe my truth will ignite that of another, and the empty lonely wind swirling around me will transform to a warm breeze. I’ll patiently listen to someone’s story— someone who is bold enough to tell it. And then maybe my words, and my actions, and my experiences will truly make a difference.

Thank you God for the darkness and the brightness of the truth. Thank you for the shit.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Someone Always Shows Up

When parenthood pounds me into the dark rocky ground, and I feel like I’m suffocating under the soil— well somehow, someone, always shows up. That somebody carries a flashlight, and shines it in my face with words or actions, mercifully lifting me back to the surface, brushing the soil off my limbs. And each time I am picked up again, I grow into a slightly different mom. It is like I’m being pulled into a web of interconnected life, weaving an intricate lace blanket with edges that extend and comfort the farthest edges of humanity. And in the end, I am left with a bottomless certainty that I am not alone.

Today, I imagine the light came like this— A voice called to my old friend, “Yo, Hilary? It’s me… Yup, that’s right, the big G! So, when you have a minute could you please message your long lost friend Amy from third grade and tell her what you think of her?” Then I bet he added, “She is looking pretty crappy. Hilary, I know you’re a single working mom, and you just mailed Amy's kids that surprise gift last week because you are that kind of ridiculously kind friend. But I think she would love to hear from ya, again, Hil."

I imagine this conversation was going on, just as I was stumbling along frantically tracking my children, while attempting to recall why I had earlier ignored my gut. My husband had suggested it would be fun and efficient to take the Subway to see the U.S. Capitol Building from our hotel in Arlington. I had feared taking our three kids, one with severe anxiety, into an unfamiliar city without the safety of our oversized vehicle. But I had ignored my own concerns. I had wanted to believe that we could be like that family. Maybe I could be the cool city mom with kids dressed in dark urban woolen hats and coats who could calmly follow subway maps and hail taxi cabs when called upon. So I had half-heartedly agreed to the plan. But as soon as we started our journey, the truth snickered at me. I felt like we had entered the city scene buck-naked.  No more hiding in the car. We were a mess.

The kids were all a tangle of down jackets and straggly hair, and they jumped from bench to curb to wall, often splashing in wet something, (that may very well have been pee) before taking short sit-down rests on the pavement to open up an IPAD or cuddle with a valentine stuffy. My eyes twitched as I fondled my hand sanitizer waiting for the opportunity to spray it on every part of their little bodies. My oldest typically becomes unwound without some type of home-base to draw comfort from: a car, a home, a bedroom, are needed. Congested city streets, crowded subways and museums will not do. And so he was acting like a wild beast as we headed down, down, down into a dark subway tunnel that resembled the jaws of hell. He was running back up the dirty escalator, pulling on his siblings’ coats and shoes as they cawed at him like angry seagulls.

You may be laughing, but I wasn’t. I was petrified. Would I lose him among the crowded platform? Would he fall off the tracks? Would one of the other kids tumble down the escalator?

Then I decided to look at my phone for perhaps a sign of something…it was a light, after all, in the dim subway tunnel. And then I read this way-beyond-nice text from my friend Hilary. She had just sent me a gift last week, and now she was texting me the kindest compliment I had heard for a while. She said thoughtful things about my mom skills that I won't include here, as they will make me look better than I really am. After reading her message, I looked up, lifting my head a little higher and thought, “If Hilary thinks I can do it, then I can do this.” (But I was still scared.) And off I ran to split up the next scuffle...

Then, I imagine God rang up Beatrice, the security guard, who was on duty at this particular subway station. “Yea, Beatrice? How ya doin? Haven’t heard from you lately. It’s me, (the one who made you) and there is this mom and dad about to come round the corner with their hands full…Yea, that’s right. They don’t know where they are going and their oldest son is hitting the other kids who are crying and whining, and I’m afraid they’re gonna end up wasting a lot of money and getting nowhere but lost or mugged. Could you help em out, Beatrice?”

And as I rounded the corner this woman Beatrice in a security hat walked right up to us like she had been waiting for our arrival. She was our new best friend. “How many of ya are there?” she asked. We answered, five. “And where are ya goin?" We told her The Capitol Building. “Well ya gotta go upstairs to get the day pass for each one of ya, otherwise you’ll spend a fortune on tickets back and forth today.” And then she bent down, hands on hips, big smile on her black face with hot pink lipstick, and explained to each of my kids that if they didn’t behave, she would be babysitting each one of them while their parents went off to sightsee. And, furthermore she said, through a kind grin, that she was very much in favor of timeouts.

As I stood back watching her, in amazement, I realized that though we didn’t have the Suburban, we did have a whole sea of people...everywhere. And sometimes people can be really, really good. Too often, I miss the fact that I'm taken care of, despite my messed-up plans. The day continued with a cab driver who behaved like an enthusiastic tour guide, a lunch waiter who treated me like he was my personal valet, and another security guard at the Capitol Building who appeared to think he was our long, lost uncle. 

To be honest, the afternoon was still hard. My son’s difficulties only became worse as the hours passed. But I’m grateful, and perhaps wiser, because of those who made space for us, who were extraordinarily kind, and who accepted our "yuckiness."

At the end of our adventure, I listened, eyes closed in the Capitol Building auditorium, to a slightly boring recorded presentation. But the last statement (taken from our national seal) made me sit up straighter as it vibrated in my tired head. A faint chill may have even run down the nape of my tense neck as I heard,

“One from many… E pluribus unum.”

Yes. Today, I’m thankful for many. I am grateful for connections to old friends and to strangers, and to the enormous design that binds us all together, giving me the strength to be a better mom, tomorrow.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dragons and Motherhood

I am so tired tonight. 
Do you ever look at your mothering and feel like gagging? Because you think you are doing a darned crappy job? I do. How could I possibly be given the honor of raising these three little beings down the hall from me, softly snoring through closed eyelids dreaming of smiling kitty cats and ice cream Sundays? Kids who want only seamless shirts, waffles and whipped cream to make them happy. Their innocence scares me sometimes, and I wonder if I’m strong enough and good enough to lead them to adulthood.

The amount that my precious three rely on my health and stability is daunting on nights like tonight. I feel unorganized, exhausted and selfish. Things have been hard at my house… Job stress, school stress, home stress, money stress. I mean, I just want to go eat some cookies, stay up late working on my novel, and then fall asleep in my clothes. I want to sleep in, eventually wake in the morning when I feel hungry, roll out of bed, have a cup of tea alone, and be a selfish brat. But I have the honor of being a mom and a wife...being something better than my very worst self, and so there is no room for lazy brattiness. Plus a great thing happened to me this morning which has caused me to stay up later than I should, so that I can share it with you...

Last night I slept on the couch with my husband because my oldest son fell asleep in our giant king-sized bed. Right in the middle. We didn’t have the heart to move him, since generally he has sleep trouble, so we retreated to the sectional next to the dwindling fire downstairs. A substitute bed. Kind of romantic, but really just the result of pure exhaustion. It was OK. We got to be together, quietly for a little while.

So this morning I woke halfway, wondering where I was, and in the darkness I heard whispers of tiny voices followed by a pitter-patter of feet coming down the stairs. “Why are they here? What are they doing?” tinkled the tiny voice of my 6-year-old girl.

“I don’t know. Maybe they were just tired. Should we wake them up?" my 8-year-old replied. At least, that is what I remember him saying, since my eyes were still sealed shut, under a large fluffy blanket. I was half-fantasizing that they would return to their beds and go back to sleep.

And then I felt it. I felt my daughter’s thin pencil arms embracing me. They could only reach halfway around my top half. I thought about how she had enough goodness in her to want to quietly hug a smelly mom sleeping on a couch, and part of me felt completely confused about how it could be true. Could a tired lump like me deserve such grace? Her gentle breathing in my hair felt perfect enough to last a lifetime. The heaviness in my head, and the weight of all my limbs departed. The problems of the days, weeks, and months flew up the chimney, disappearing into the night sky. An unsolicited morning hug from my little girl had started my day and ignited my hope for all of the possibilities that lay ahead. Maybe I could be a good mom, after all. Her soft voice in my ear whispered something about breakfast and a special fort that I must see at 6:00AM. I asked her if we could just hang out for a bit and chat.

We lay there and talked about whether dragons really can fly and if I’ve actually seen a real dragon. Was it striped or polka dot? Did it have wings? Did I ride on it, or is riding on dragons just a made-up idea?
That was it. So simple, but really, really big. Big as a dragon. I was a tired mom with little motivation to care, to do anything very good. But my child lifted me up. She showed me the enormous opportunity I have to connect with her and my boys in ways richer and more beautiful than any parenting book could ever illustrate. I just listened, I felt, and the blessing of motherhood took over.