Her success is not your failure.

I work in a job where my time devoted to clients is accounted for in 6 minute increments.  I used to think 6 minutes was nothing.  I took 6 minutes, at least, to decide what to wear in the morning.  Not anymore.  I am a parent of three kids, I am a wife, I work long hours outside the home. I am a daughter, sister and friend. I like trashy television and unbelievable spy novels. I have a dog whose favorite food group is underwear (thankfully after it’s been removed from the body).

6 minutes is a lifetime. In 6 minutes I can rescue a favorite pair of dinosaur-patterned briefs, pack 2 school lunches, apply one band-aid to a non-existent boo boo, and register a kid for softball.

Still, I’ve been feeling a lot lately like I am sucking at all of it.  Like the imposing weight of all my hats is crushing my neck, forcing me to stare constantly down at my scuffed-up shoes. The weight is imposing, but none of the hats can fall. They are all too important and it’s impossible to wear only one at a time.  Where would I store them?

Mid-conference call I have to field an email from the school nurse about a mysterious “fainty” feeling one of the girls is experiencing.  While cooking dinner I need to stir with one hand while answering a text from a client with the other.  While reading one of those cold war era spy novels at midnight I remember the call I was supposed to make to a friend so dear she’s (fingers crossed) forgiven me for not calling in months.  While helping with one’s math homework I have to answer questions from the other two about heaven and angels, and how angels are different than ghosts and the tooth fairy, what happened on September 11th, and why the dog likes to eat underwear.

But I’m doing it.  I’m doing it all with all those hats piled sky-high on my ever more gray hair.  I’m doing it, and watching amazing women (and men) all around me do it like rock stars. 

Some of them are having total Beyoncé moments in front me. They are killing it. Glittering with shiny success, and sometimes causing my intestines to cramp with jealousy.  

But then I remember that their success is not my failure. And I remember that I ate that awful wrap sandwich for lunch, and that the cramps are likely the result of said oddly colored tortilla and its contents. Was it chicken or tuna? Who the fuck knows. Either way, their success should not cause me to feel sick. 

Their success is to be celebrated. Some days you’re Beyoncé. Some days you’re the friend aiming the fan that makes her hair blow just right.  

Today, I’m both. I’m heading out to celebrate the success of a whole band of Beyoncés, including me.  We’re going to spend a lot longer than 6 minutes applauding each other. And I will not be eating a wrap sandwich. 

  

 

Bad dream.

He woke up sobbing just a few hours after he went to bed. I was still up in the living room. I went to his door to listen, unsure if he was still asleep and I was just hearing the soft cries of a bad dream that would pass in a minute or two, or if he was really awake and upset.

“Mama! Maah-maaaah!” 

Definitely awake.

I went in and found him, head buried in his pillow. He looked up at me and the light from the hall made his teary-wet cheeks twinkle.  

“It’s gone, mama. Gone.” 

What’s gone, baby?

“My imagination.”

Oh no, what happened?

“It’s gone. They took it. And now [sniffle, sniffle] I can’t think of anything.”

  

Christmas Crisis

The absurdity hit them before it hit me.

We’re going to EAT them?! But we just made them!

This just seems wrong.

Will the legs grow back like a sea star’s?

They ate them anyway.  What kid can resist cookie covered with frosting and gummy bears?

But the strangeness of it all.  The gleeful consumption of a gingerbread leg or arm got me thinking about the way in which we consume each other, all the time.  We nibble away at hearts, and some times take large bites.  The cruelty of our words and actions is undeniable.  We should feel remorse, but often it’s the opposite.  The celebration of those who take the most ferocious bites, those who stand before cheering audiences sticky with hatred and fear, it is absolutely absurd and downright frightening.

On playgrounds, the bites are small.  Small bits of ego mashed between tiny teeth.  

My 7 year old reported to us a couple months ago that two other girls had commanded that she could not be their friend, could not play with them at recess, unless my girl did “a flip” from the high bar.  She told us about it at bedtime, about how nervous she was to do the flip.  That she had been practicing from the lower bar and thought that she could do it, but she was scared that she’d fail. She was scared that she could be hurt.  My husband and I were dumbfounded.  She was being bullied.  But she didn’t see it that way, she saw it as a test.

We told her that it was test that she could absolutely refuse.  She did not need to play with those girls. She had lots of other friends to play with.  But she said that she wanted these friends, wanted to try the flip.  She said she would do it tomorrow.  

We told her it was her choice, but that she should know that she did not have to do anything that she was scared to do–that she did not have to do anything to prove herself worthy of anyone’s friendship, or attention.  She nodded, and said, “I know.” But then told us that tomorrow was the day.  She felt ready and knew she could do it.

What were we to say? She was focused on the question of her own ability, the physical challenge.  She was not focused on the origin of the test, only whether she had it in her to pass it.  I was proud of her of confidence and bravery, but worried.  Worried that she would be the kind of person who would succumb to bullies.  That this was the beginning of her losing pieces of herself to the cruelty of others.  

I had nightmares that night that are too absurd to repeat here, but I’ll say that they involved a confluence of the mid-90’s style mosh pits (I’m pretty sure it was Lollapalooza in NYC, but my memory–ahem, my dream, was a bit hazy), my children,  a dinner party where the hostess kept sneezing all over the food she was serving, and the cast of 90210 (not all at the same time…that’d be crazy). 

All the following day, my husband and I waited for a call from the school to report that our girl had been transported to the hospital with a broken arm, or worse.  But the call never came.  That night at dinner, we asked how the day went.  We asked her what happened at recess.  She looked at us, fork full of spaghetti hanging in midair, and shrugged.  

“Oh, the flip?…yeah, I didn’t try it.”

That was it.  She didn’t offer any further explanation and we didn’t press. 

In the weeks since, the names of the other girls have been frequently mentioned in re-tellings of classroom events.  They do not seem to have followed through on their threatened denial of friendship.  Maybe they’ve moved on to other targets.  Maybe they’re not bullies at all, just budding life coaches who were attempting to motivate my girl to try something she was afraid to do.  I’m sure that’s how 90210’s Donna Martin would’ve spun it.  She was always so perky and optimistic–only natural given that she shared a fictional birthday with Jesus.

Still, I really wish my kids were not coming of age in a world that claims to abhor schoolyard and workplace bullying, but puts bullies on pedestals (or first in the polls).  I hope that they can survive childhood, and adulthood, intact.  That the pieces of them that may be consumed by life’s inevitable indignities and injustices, will grow back like the limbs of a sea star.  

And I hope that they will not not be the biters. That they will be good friends and lovers and citizens of the human race.

Next Christmas, I’m going to save myself the gingerbread existential crisis–we’re going with houses instead of men.

 

Winning and Losing.

I lost this week. I hate losing. And I had a long drive home to stew about it.
Upon my untriumphant return home I was greeted with the following:

Peanut (7): Did you do your best to convince the judge? Were you nice? Did you practice? If you did those things you should feel good, mommy.

Sassy (6): You need dessert. I’ll have some with you if it will make you feel better.

Mo (3): (holding my face in his advent-calendar-chocolate-covered hands) I like winning, mama. You’re gonna win the next day.

My job is the kind where winning and losing take place daily.  Winning is important.  Clients want to win.  I want to win.  I take it personally when I don’t.  But contrast that with the conversations I have with the little people. I’m constantly telling them that winning is not what matters–that it’s the effort, the hard work, the way you play and how you pick yourself up, that matters.

So there I was, kneeling on the floor just inside my front door, car keys still in hand.  Three little ones in their pajamas, so happy that I made it home before bedtime, surrounding me.  Hearing the messages I’ve sent returned to me.   And turning my disappointment around.

Some moments make crystal clear that these little people are the best thing I ever did.

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The blurry face of winning. She practiced, worked hard, and was kind.  She got a new belt and a brownie sundae to celebrate the win.

Force of nature.

PaliLookout

Today, in my head and heart, my sister and I are feeling the wild winds of the Pali Lookout. Holding hands as we stand at the cliff’s edge. The force of the wind presses against us like a full body hug, giving form to our thoughts of her.  And we’re shouting into the current, Happy Birthday, Mommy. We miss you.

Today she would have been 65.  A milestone year for sure.  There would have been a party, there would have been stories told, there would have been…her, holding us and smelling the napes of our necks and our children’s necks, telling us that the smell of us is for favorite sensory input.  Her smell is my favorite too.  The smell of her kalbi ribs in the oven, of the constantly burning candles in her home, and the smell of her tea rose perfume. I’m wearing it today and it’s just lovely.

4 years ago her sister and best friend, my sister and I, each of our husbands and her grandchildren carried her ashes to the Pali Lookout.  She joined her brother there, and we cried and laughed as the crazy winds blew the ashes down over the valley of a place she loved…and a little bit right back on us.

And as our mostly somber little hiking party filed back toward the rental van to continue the trip down mommy-memory-lane, my two year old daughter stepped in dog shit. Then she spread it like finger paint all over my jacket. And we laughed some more.

One of the best gifts she gave us was the ability, and permission, to laugh through life’s inevitable dog shit.  So cheers and happy birthday, Mommy. I promise I laughed today.

 

 

 

Confidence.

The girls ran in their first cross-country meet yesterday.  It was an elementary school invitational held at the local high school.  Sass, who turns 6 this week, was nervous. I asked what she was worried about. She started crying and said that she didn’t want to get lost. I told her not to worry, that she couldn’t get lost because she would be running with the rest of the kids.

She looked up at me with those huge, drippy green eyes and said, “No, mama. I won’t. I’ll be in the front.”

RunningSass

5 years and it’s still there.

I put the last of her disposable razor heads on my pastel purple razor this morning.  I fished it out of a big plastic bag that once held a ridiculous amount of them, along with some hair combs.  I couldn’t believe it was the last one.  I also couldn’t believe that the supply had lasted so long. I remembered her teaching me how to shave my legs for the first time, and I lost it.  I’m lucky I didn’t injure myself trying to shave my legs through the sobbing.

Soon, maybe too soon, after my mom died my sister and I went through most of her stuff and decided what would be kept, what we’d give away or sell, and what we’d toss.  Much of that time is a haze for me now. Tomorrow, it will have been 5 years.

We kept a lot of things, of course.  Things we would give to our own children, including some clothes that are kept in dress-up boxes in our homes.  It’s really quite fun and not at all sad to see the kids play in her clothes.  There are also her reading glasses, but these we can’t take credit for.  In the weeks before she died, when she could no longer read, she pushed out the lenses on all of them–there were a lot of them–and gave them to us for the girls to wear. We also kept furniture and art that now hangs in our homes, along with jewelry, books, and (for me, for practical rather than sentimental reasons) those razors and combs.

Not long after she was gone, we held a garage sale during which we gave most of my mom’s home furnishings (custom curtains, pillows, etc.) to a single woman for next to nothing.  The woman showed up at my sister’s house in the middle of the sale and fell in love with the curtains.  They were beautiful, of course, ’cause my mom picked them. But I can’t for the life of me remember what they looked like, just that they were made of heavy gorgeous fabric and that this stranger was fawning over them.  

My sister and I had tried to keep any discussion of the origin of the things for sale to a minimum.  We thought it might be too macabre for people to know that the pillows they were holding were left behind when a woman died 50 feet away from where they were standing. Mostly though, we just didn’t want to talk about it.  Talk about her, at all, with these strangers.

The woman with the curtains was different somehow, so we told her.  She then told us how sad she was for us, but that she would take care of the things she was buying.  She told us that she’d recently left her husband after a “really awful time” and needed all new things for her new home.   

That was it.  It was all my sis and I needed to hear. She could have the whole lot. We helped her put our mom’s things in her car.   And later we talked about how fitting it was that a woman starting out on her own again, so bravely, would have our brave mom’s beautiful things surrounding her.

So today I used the last razor.  It’s clear that she liked to buy in bulk, and also clear that I don’t like to shave my legs as often as I probably should.  It’s not so clear how it can feel like her leaving us just happened yesterday. How I can feel like it was just the other night that I was talking to her about a work problem, or a kid issue, or a home decorating dilemma.  How a stupid disposable razor could reduce me to tears in the shower.

Really, though, it is clear.  The loss of someone you love never leaves you.  But more than the loss, it’s the love that doesn’t leave.  It’s not “there” in the art or furniture.  But it’s there in the empty eyeglass frames. It’s there in the faces behind those glasses, and it’s clear as the eyes smiling behind them.  She’s there.

Tutu glasses, May 2013

Tutu glasses in full effect, circa May 2013

Yoga pant mafia.

Today, I want to be part of the yoga pant mafia–a phrase my husband affectionately uses to refer to the moms lingering off to the side of the playground at elementary school drop off and pick up. They stand in packs, wearing aviators like my own, without urgency and with well-toned rears shimmering in their 5% Lycra/95% organic fiber yoga pants.

I see myself in the reflection of their lenses, my cell phone in one hand with a call on mute, hurriedly wiping dried chocolate milk from my girls’ faces with the other and kissing their heads goodbye. [Yes, I let them have chocolate milk with breakfast.] I can’t tell if they’re looking at me, if they can sense my envy. Those lenses are so shiny gold and opaque.  Where are they going after this?  Will there be mimosas?

I’m not in yoga pants. My black suit carries strands of our new puppy’s hair, a toddler-sized thumb smear of yogurt and a dry cleaning tag affixed oddly on the inside seam of the seat of my pants. I haven’t yet removed the pin and stiff paper tag.  It’s my own bit of martyrdom today.  A guilty-feeling working mom’s discreet bit of self-flagellation.

But, I’m heading out now for lunch.  A quiet lunch by myself–that would be impossible if I was home.  There is so much that would be impossible if I was a full-fledged member of the yoga pant mafia.   So, I’m taking the tag out of my pants before I head out.

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That smile.

Her mouth is a jumble of big and small teeth.  When she smiles a single adult front tooth disrupts the upper row, throwing the whole grin adorably off-kilter with its size and slight angle inward.  I was staring at a picture texted to me by my husband of her face and that smile tonight, expanding the image between my finger and thumb until all I could see was that smile.  It’s the first physical manifestation of her transition from my little girl to…not so little.  Sure, there was the whole baby teething time period, but that was still a part of infancy.  A time when I could not wait for those milestones to come and go.  But now, I’m not so eager.

I stared at that tooth and my heart sank.  We are on the march to adolescence, and it’s a fast one.  Rag-time fast and syncopated.

She’s only 7.  Some days she wants to sit on my lap and have me hum a familiar song. She nuzzles in while I comb her hair with my fingers, from her temple around her ear to her neck.  The low hum and repeated path of my fingers along her scalp lulls her to sleep. Other days she’ll talk to me about her little sister and brother in the hushed voice of a wise collaborator in parenting.

Mom, don’t worry.  I told him that sometimes you have to try things that make you a little nervous ’cause that’s when the great stuff happens. I told him it’s okay to be scared, and that you can be brave and scared at the same time.  

I’m nervous, but I know great stuff is about to happen.  All too soon her smile will be uniformly grown-up [please God, without the assistance of orthodonture] and she’ll shudder when I start to hum that slow song.  At times she’ll wish for the 250 miles of distance that lies between us tonight, and roll her eyes when I remember out loud that day when she got her first pair of glasses and how cute her little snaggletooth smile was.  She’ll also be on her way to becoming the amazing adult I get to see glimpses of now.   Sweet and brave and strong. Clever and kind and freckled.

Still, I already miss the little girl she was just last year and I miss her tonight, right now.

Good nigh, sweet girl. Mommy loves you.

Good night, sweet girl. Mommy loves you.

Three things at once.

You can be three things at once. You just have to take turns… ’cause bunnies and cats can’t breathe under water. And whales need to swim deep for food. But they all breathe air.

That’s why the Cat Bunny Whale is all good.

Sass, 5. Found object artist, big (and little) sister, self-help guru.

This mom, wife, lawyer agrees.