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. 

  

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.

Triethanolamine and me.

I stabbed myself in the eye with a mascara wand yesterday as I was texting and applying said mascara at the same time. The mascara was a super-powerful polymer type that bonds and builds eyelashes like those of baby giraffe. It stuck to my eyeball, then stuck to my lids. Actually stuck my lids together. It’s the kind that requires its own brand of mascara remover (because of the super-powerful patented properties). So I had to feel around blindly–one eye glued shut, the other obscured by my tears–in the medicine cabinet to find the remover. I rubbed it all over my fused and smudged eye, and finally my lids opened. I did this all with one hand–because, texting.

I put the phone down, cleaned up and reapplied makeup to the left side of my face, including the super-powerful polymer mascara.

I then finished getting dressed in natural fibers. Reminded the babysitter to only use the new sunblock on the kids because that other stuff is full of chemicals. Poured myself a BPA-free to-go mug of organic coffee and headed out the door.

I sat in my car for a minute and Googled the ingredients of my mascara.

WATER (AQUA), PARAFFIN, POLYBUTENE, STYRENE/ACRYLATES/AMMONIUM METHACRYLATE COPOLYMER, BEESWAX (CERA ALBA), BIS-DIGLYCERYL POLYACYLADIPATE-2, C18-36 ACID TRIGLYCERIDE, PALMITIC ACID, STEARIC ACID, TRIETHANOLAMINE, VP/EICOSENE COPOLYMER, ACACIA SENEGAL GUM, HYDROXYETHYLCELLULOSE, PHENOXYETHANOL, TETRASODIUM EDTA, BUTYLENE GLYCOL, CAPRYLYL GLYCOL, TOCOPHERYL ACETATE, SODIUM LAURETH-12 SULFATE, GLYCERIN, POTASSIUM SORBATE, SERICIN, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, SODIUM HYALURONATE, TILIA TOMENTOSA BUD EXTRACT, CITRIC ACID, BHT, SORBIC ACID. [+/-: IRON OXIDES (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), ULTRAMARINES (CI 77007), CHROMIUM OXIDE GREENS (CI 77288), CHROMIUM HYDROXIDE GREEN (CI 77289), TITANIUM DIOXIDE (CI 77891)].

I read chemical Safety Data Sheets for a living. Some of that stuff is not good. But it’s really all about the dosage.

And my eyelashes. Seriously. They look like a baby giraffe’s.

I decided not to Google what was in the remover.

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Love.

I didn’t think I would cry about this, but I did.  I was. [I still am.]

I was sitting in my car furiously updating the live feed from the SCOTUSblog, waiting for news on the marriage equality ruling. Then, with my umpteenth down swipe, it was official.  Dissents notwithstanding, the highest court, and ultimate arbiters of all-things-legal, in this amazing country of ours has ruled that everyone is free to marry the person they love and no state may refuse to recognize that choice.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority:

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”

Justice Kennedy is 78 years old. He was appointed by President Reagan to the Court in the 80s. He is decidedly not a millennial. But he is part of this new generation, as we all are. The country is not the same as it was 200 years ago. And how awful would life be if it was? No toilet paper, no Starbucks, no Google, and no freedom–for so many. Justice Kennedy and the other four Justices who joined him are right. This is about liberty, so basic and so material for so many of us. And so easy to understand for the youngest among us.

My kids were attendants in their first wedding two years ago. At 5, 3 and 1.5 they wore the fanciest clothes of their lives and walked down the aisle with their cousins, throwing dinosaur stickers instead of flower petals. Never once did it occur to them to ask why there were two brides.

It was a wedding and a wedding to them was, and still is, about love–about a commitment to love and build a life with another person.

So, it feels pretty amazing to sit here in my office [where I’m supposed to be working…sorry clients] and pour over the words of the Supreme Court. To be nodding along with joy in my heart and a smile on my face, the same way I used to feel when my mom read Shel Silverstein poems to my sister and me.

The battle for equality is far from over. There are still so many wrongs to be fixed, and hearts to be changed and healed. But this morning, I’m awash with happiness and optimism.

God [or whatever higher or inner power you choose to believe in] Bless America!

***

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

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Soggy metaphors for loss and love on the second day of summer camp.

It tends to comes out of nowhere, when it is the furthest thing from my mind. And then it is there, my frontal lobe sending mom-soaked dopamine compounds throughout my brain. Making me stop for a moment in my tracks, just long enough to pass through a sidewalk sprinkler of memories and emotion. The moisture is barely noticeable, quickly evaporating on a summer day. I can choose to stand still and let the sprinkler hit me again, or walk on. Usually I walk on, the shock of it quickly passing. Sometimes it leaves me chilled, but mostly it feels good. Cool and warm at the same time. Like her.

When my mom’s death was fresh, raw and recent, it felt like I was standing at the shore break after a storm. Unevenly spaced waves were crashing around me, carrying tangles of seaweed and other harsh matter dredged from the ocean bottom. It was hard to breathe. I couldn’t move as the sand gripped tighter and higher around my ankles with each wave. My eyes stung too much to open, making it impossible for me to know when the next wave would break over me.

It sucked.

Now, almost 5 years later, it sucks less. I can breathe. My eyes are open and I am no longer stuck in the sand and waves.

Still sometimes, I am drenched by loss of her.

Today was the second day of summer camp for my 3 year old son.  Yesterday’s drop off was easy, but by pick up time he was sobbing.  This morning he was refusing to enter the classroom.  Asking for a new camp, asking to go home, yelling for “one more minute of talking.”

I was late for work already, my mind racing with thoughts of the thousand things that [still] need to get done.  I was tired from his mid-night calls for trips to the bathroom, sips of water, made-up songs about tall towers, and blanket adjustments.  I wanted to pick him up and drop him in the middle of room and run.  I wanted to scream.

I closed my eyes for a second and was hit by the sprinkler. Confusing and cool, the thoughts rained down. I felt her. I felt her perpetual calmness and infinite patience in all child-related matters. I sat down on the bench outside the classroom and looked at his tear-soaked face. I asked if he wanted to play with me for a while and he nodded. We played with imaginary cars and jet planes. Then we zoomed those cars into the classroom and I asked if he wanted to see where his sister sat when this was her classroom. He nodded, then audibly “ooh”-ed as he sat in the chair that was his sister’s. A minute later he waved me off with a quick goodbye and I left.

It was comforting to him to think that his sister once sat where he sat. It is comforting to me to think that my mom was once where I am. I am not her. I don’t have the tolerance that she had; but I still have her.

I have the ability to call upon her, or to have my subconscious call upon her. To splash myself with the memory of her, and let those thoughts work their sometimes sad but, now, mostly wonderful magic. To remind me to stop rushing, to breathe. To let my kid find his way in his time–just like she did for all of hers.  And to abuse oceanic and neuropsychological metaphors–just as she would have done.  Love and miss you, Mommy.

All smiles on the first day. Not so much on the second.

Magic.

We started Harry Potter a few weeks ago. The girls are 7 and 5. They want me to read with the lights on because they think the light of the kindle on my face as I read makes the story too scary.

They want to talk about each paragraph. One empathizes and wonders out loud what could have happened to Voldemort that made him so angry and mean. One stops the reading so that she can describe the vision in her head of Hogwarts from the train, with details vibrant and wholly absent from the text. In her mind, there is a gold roof and a battalion of owls are swooping with balloons in their beaks.

We took a break from the action after reading that Dudley was heading to the hospital to have his tail removed, and talked about what we would do if we had tails. Pig tails would be removed. They’re cute but would get in the way when we sit and wear pants. A prehensile monkey tail is a different story. While it poses the same apparel and seat challenges, such a thing would be so useful to climb and swing at the playground. Yes, a monkey tail is a keeper.

Reading with them is magical. Each chapter takes twice as long as it should as a consequence of their commentary. But it is fun. And when it’s time to call it a night, because one or the other is yawning and having trouble fighting the magnetic pull of her eyelids to one another, I feel sad.

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired too. Or it’s that I feel guilty because we don’t get to read like this every night. Some nights I’m not there. Some nights there is just no time. But really it’s more than that. I’m sad because I don’t want it to end.

I know that this time is short-lived. That they won’t always let me read to them. They won’t always share their opinions, and questions, and visions with me. They won’t always think that having a prehensile tail would be cool.

Tonight I’ll be home. Tonight we’ll read some more, talk some more, and when they stop interrupting I’ll know that they are tired and it’s time to call it a night. Time to let them drift off to dreams of owls and powers of transfiguration. And I’ll try very hard not to be sad, and to appreciate that the magic of this time is a factor of its fleeting nature.

And when they begin to refuse my offers to read, and refuse to think that animal appendages are cool, I’ll look back on nights like these and remember their magic.