The middle chapters are usually like this, aren’t they?

I tear open the candy bar wrapper and take a little bite. Just one bite I tell myself. Just enough to shove down the tears.

The most perfectly fit couple is getting into the car next to me. They have on workout gear and a bag of new golf balls. They are smiling and he opens the door for her. I think they kiss, but I look away before seeing it.

Shame and jealousy overwhelms me. My face burns as I sink down from the judgment I feel through the glass.

I wait until they drive away and then I eat the whole thing.

I don’t even taste it.

The tears come again.

Fuck.

I hear voices and dry my eyes. A woman is ushering a few kids into the van parked next to me. The exact same van as mine. Grey. Plain. Completely practical. The official vehicle of women like us. She makes eye contact with me and I know she sees the tears and the chocolate pooled in the corners of my mouth. She looks away.

I do too.

I keep having these epiphanies, but they fade. Like a dog being fooled by the same trick of throwing the ball, I keep running ahead just in case it was really thrown this time.

Next time I’ll get it.

This part of my life is boring. The monotony and responsibility of being an adult is such a huge letdown from the optimism and hope of youth.

If I am to believe Facebook, I’m alone in this feeling. Yet I know better. I know the truth.

All those memes about changing perspective and living in the moment aren’t just for my benefit. All those pictures of our kids that we post, the one’s where they are smiling and happy, aren’t just to make others think we are so great.

We are all trying to shift focus. Stay in the light. Find the good.

It’s not a lie.

Not really.

It’s just not the whole truth. It’s a version of the truth we all tell ourselves.

FullSizeRenderIt’s the middle of the story and not much is happening.

It’s the boring part of the book you skim, the endless paragraphs of bullshit self-reflection.

It’s the part when the main character wallows in self-pity until you want to punch her in the face and tell her to wake up.

Yeah. That’s where I am.

My story isn’t over.

I think about Abdi, this Somali refugee I heard about on This American Life. He won the U.S. visa lottery, but still had to go through some ridiculous shit to make his American dream come true. He had some real reasons to cry and shove sugar into his veins. Yet his is a story of endurance and patience.

I think about my mom. A few weeks ago, I hugged her goodbye and put her on a plane destined to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption before I was born. She has waited decades for this time, the pain never really going away, and now she got to hug her and look into her eyes and tell her all the things she’d whispered quietly to herself.

I think about waking up in a tent and having my two children climb into my sleeping bag with me to get warm. They giggle and jostle closer, elbows and knees and mangled hair and wet kisses. They love this broken-down woman they call mamma and don’t care she is extra squishy and cries quickly.

I think about this cashier at the grocery store by my home. She is always smiling. Always. Not the fake “can’t wait to get of her look” either. Real. Genuine. I ask her how she is and she always says, “Blessed, thank you.” She means it. It’s not bullshit. I’ve seen customers be rude and throw fits. She handles herself with grace and ease.

I think about this place I’m stuck in. This self-imposed crazy whirlpool spinning me around until I’m disorientated and I want to just sink down in defeat. Happy. Sad. Up. Down. Defeated. Motivated.

Here I am. Right here. I’m at the part of the story when the character has to decide to do something. The time has come for action.

My story isn’t over.

Sometimes being a mother breaks my heart

Today wasn’t a good one. I can’t and shouldn’t measure my mothering skills by what happens in one day or even one moment. However, I can’t help but feel I’ve let them down. Again.

I know tomorrow I will wake up and all the pain of today will have lost its luster. The tears we cried a memory getting fainter as the days go on.

But tonight I hurt.

I ache.

I bleed.

My heart breaks for the pain you felt today. The pain WE felt today.

When I saw you both all packed up and ready to go ride bikes, I could tell there was more.

I felt it.

You said the food you packed was in case you got hungry. But I saw the look you gave each other and I knew it.

I let you go anyway.

I stood at the window and watched you go. I prayed you’d be safe and knew you’d come back.

I didn’t really know. Couldn’t really know what you’d been plotting while you sat on the swing last night together. I thought it was something like hunting for fairies or looking for magic doors.

When you came back less than 10 minutes later, hot and defeated, I could sense it was so much more.

You both started crying within seconds of coming through the door and my heart dropped. It took some time to get it out of you. The plan. The secret. The wish.

Your plan is adorable and heartbreaking at the same time. Ride your bikes to Pet Smart. You’d wave at a stranger, pretending they are your parent, fool the staff. You’d adopt a kitten and a puppy. Ride home with the pets in your backpacks. You’d keep your little babies in the playhouse in the backyard. You’d feed and care for them when we aren’t looking.

You’d have the pets you so long for.

My heart breaks.

I hold you both as your tears flow and mine join in with yours.

You’re probably wondering why I don’t run out and buy seventeen kittens and puppies.

I want to.

My husband is allergic to cats and refuses to get a dog. Its been an ongoing topic of discussion and every few months it rears its painful head again.

I support him in front of them, but argue with him about it frequently. His list of reasons is short, but he will not budge.

My heart breaks.

We leave the house and go shopping to break the moment. I try and distract with humor, new books and a shared cookie.

It helps for the moment.

Later in the day though, it surfaces again. More tears. This time rage and anger. You fight with each other and get violent. You hit me. Hit each other. You scratch me. You tell me I am awful. You shake with frustration.

I listen. I hold you. I talk to you.

We talk about better ways to vent our anger so it doesn’t hurt others. You ask why I’m crying too, and I tell you I hurt when you do.

You cry more and I apologize.

I should not have cried.

I should be stronger.

We make it to the end of the day and when daddy comes home we try and hold it together. I want to rage and scream and scratch, like you. I want to make him feel the pain you do.

I don’t.

Of course I don’t.

Someday you will see I am protecting you. Marriage isn’t easy and being an adult is about compromises and sacrifice.

Or maybe you will be in therapy someday telling them you wished your mother were a stronger person.

I don’t know.

We snuggled before bedtime and I told you I loved you more than you could ever imagine. I read to you and kissed you. Tomorrow will be a better day, I say. Tomorrow we will do something fun.

You look up at me with wounded eyes and I want to cry again.

Sometimes being a mother breaks my heart.

Let’s go take a hike in the heat

weedsThe sun just rose, but the heat is already too much. My body feels heavy and weak as I trudge up another hill.

My boy is dragging his feet along the ground kicking up clouds of dust. His sister is making exaggerated coughing noises.

This hike is taking forever.

We come to the part of the trail blocked by a fallen tree.

Halfway marker.

I almost cry in exhaustion. There is no way I can climb over. My hip hurts.

I take the long way around, leaving the monsters to climb it without me.

Alone, I try to appreciate the beauty of the trail. I love the green trees, but I mostly see dead wildflowers, brown grass and sharp weeds. It is a million degrees out, and the air smells of fire. A few quail scurry out and I jump. Why did I read about how bad rattlesnakes are this season? Please don’t let me see one.

My mind starts doing what it does best, making lists and pointing out mistakes. I need to do dishes, laundry, clean the guinea pig cage, run to the grocery store and vacuum. Kids need new shoes. I should stop eating sugar. I need to start packing for camping. I think my mom is mad at me.

“Do you need help?” I hear my boy say.

“I don’t want to tear my dress,” comes the reply.

Of course they are going to start fighting. I stop and peek through the trees at them, annoyed and angry. I lecture them in my head. Do not make me hike back to help you both. It is far too hot and I’m in no mood. I’m serious. Figure it out.

My boy is dressed in white skinny jeans, wand shoved down the back, wearing my brother’s old ratty brown sweatshirt. It almost fits him now. His fedora is slipping off his head as he attempts to lift his sister onto the tree. It is not working.

My girl, all legs, is flaying about in a fit of giggles. She is wearing a fancy overpriced dress her grandmother bought for her birthday, ruffled socks and her nicest shoes. Dressed for a morning hike in the woods. Her matted hair is covering her face.

Soon the laughter is replaced with frustrated sighs and grunts. I start walking back toward them, watching them through the trees, rehearsing all the threats and punishments I’m about to unleash on them. It is so hot I swear my sweat is turning to steam.

I watch as they start whispering, heads close. My boy bends down, folds his hands together in front of him and holds them out to his sister. She steps on and lets him push her upwards. Careful to not tear her dress on the sharp bark, she climbs over the top. He climbs up next to her.

Reaching out, he takes his sister’s hand and they interlace fingers.

They stand for a moment, brother and sister, hand in hand, looking at the trail ahead.

I stop.

I’m always braced for conflict, but never the tender moments.

I take in every detail. My girl is almost as tall as her brother now. She tilts her head toward him, nuzzling his shoulder. Their fingers stay connected, strong and tight. They both look ahead in silence. My boy adjusts his hat with his other hand and then turns to smile at this sister. They let their hands drop and he pushes her away with both hands.

“Don’t make me fall,” she screams at him.

He laughs and jumps down landing hard. She follows. I hurry to catch up with them.

“That’s my wand!” my girl yells with hands on her hips. “I found it first!”

“You dropped it and it is not a wand,” my boy says launching at his sister. “It’s my sword!”

He pokes it at her and takes off running. She looks around for a new stick, finds one and is off. I can hear them both laughing. I follow.

Sorry nobody clapped for you, people suck

It is pretty much always the same. Lines of kids in caps and gowns, flowers, balloons, crying moms and fussy babies, speeches about the meaning of life, scattered bursts of applause and snapping cameras (mostly cell phones now).

Every time I attend a graduation, I’m proud and happy for the graduates. I never get tired of seeing all that hopefulness.

But it comes with equally strong feelings of hate for the human race.

I try to suppress it.

I focus on the mom with the tissues in front of me that screams out, “I love you baby!” as her boy walks across the stage.

I focus on the dad beaming two rows down who is videotaping the entire thing with due diligence.

I focus on the grandmother who is overcome with such joy that tears run down her face.

Then it happens again, another name is called that is met with silence.

This kid has no cords around his neck. No awards to speak of.

I clap in my quiet, lame way, but it’s nothing. It isn’t heard because the next kid, the one with 50 family members and tons of his peers screaming his name, is now walking across the stage.

That’s when the anger starts and I think about how fucked up this whole thing is.

I was one of the “good kids.” I worked hard, understood the game, and had lots of family members to cheer me on.

I wasn’t that kid that nobody clapped for.

But I see you.

I know that your life is harder than these spoiled kids with two loving parents and a hundred relatives that flew in from around the country to support them.

I see you.

I know that you barely graduated because you had to juggle taking care of your siblings because your mom has to work. She couldn’t come to your graduation because of work. She works hard. You do to.

I see you.

I’m fucking pissed on your behalf.

You’re the 302nd kid to walk across the stage and I know you feel alone. I can see it in the way you walk and the way you don’t make eye contact with the staff that is shaking your hand. From way up here in the stands, I can feel the pain of your life.

I see you.

This doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of the other kids. The ones that are dripping in awards that they earned, the ones who are famous around campus for their sports achievements, the ones who didn’t miss a day of school. Yes, they absolutely 100% deserve the recognition, praise and love.

But so do you.

I wish you could have heard my clap.

I see you.

The inequity of the hand that you were dealt makes me want to do something. I want to hug you and tell you that it gets better. That everything will change now. That you will be that American success story, rising out of the ashes like the phoenix, and you will get everything you’ve always dreamed of having.

But that’s a lie.

The truth is, you have to keep working. You have a lot of hard work ahead of you.

You have to show up and do stuff.

Every. Single. Day.

Life is not easy for anyone.

The kids that have a million fans in high school are not exempt. Everyone has work to do.

They might also have to face a hard fall from the high of being on top. They may spend a long time recovering from the ego blow coming their way.

They may also be so hard on themselves, a perfectionist bred from parental/societal/internal pressure, that nothing they ever do will make them happy.

We all suffer in some way.

We all have to work hard.

The thing I really want to tell you isn’t far from the silly stuff your classmates said in their commencement speeches. All that shit about “your life is what you make it” and “you can do it.” I know you rolled your eyes. I did too. But it’s true.

One minute you will feel overwhelmed with regret and sadness.

Then your 8-year-old daughter comes up behind you and gently rubs your temples and kisses the top of your head.

You will have a list of stuff to do that never seems to get smaller and you’ll scream at how meaningless it all seems.

Then your 10-year-old boy brings you coffee while your writing and it’s the right amount of cream and sugar. He sets it down and quietly whispers, “I love you.”

So, yah, life is hard. It’s not going to get easier or simpler.

But there is coffee, soft touches and moments that lift you back up and flood you with hope again.

Now get to work.

Just call me ‘one-eyed mommy’

I can’t really see out of my left eye.

Never have.

Never will.

It’s not a huge deal. Used to suck that I couldn’t see 3D movies, but the technology changed and now I can. Turns out I wasn’t missing much.

I’m lucky that my eye tracks, looks fairly normal and doesn’t bother me. I can tell when I look in the mirror and in photographs of myself, but it’s not super noticeable.

Not really a big deal.

Well, it wasn’t a big deal.

Last month my driver’s license came up for renewal. I haven’t been into the DMV since my teen years, just always renewed online. This time they required me to come in. Super annoying, but that’s bureaucracy.

After failing the eye exam with my bum eye, as I knew I would, the lady says I need to get my eye doctor to fill out a special form that allows me to drive. I did that years ago, but they have no record of it. Another annoyance, but I smile and move forward.

After all, I am a ridiculous rule follower at heart and I know how to play the game. Smile. Nod. Jump through the hoops.

I drop the form off for my doctor and wait the 7-10 days it takes for it to be filled out. Once ready, I pick up the form, wait for just under an hour at the DMV with my kids in tow, and finally hand it over.

“Not good enough,” the woman says without looking up.

“Excuse me?” I say with a smile.

Clearly I heard her wrong.

“We are going to need you to take a behind the wheel test,” she says. She follows this with a big exhausted sigh.

“Say that again?” I say.

She finally looks up and explains that for “people like you we need proof that you are a safe driver.” I make an appointment to come back in two weeks to prove I can drive with one eye.

“Might have to give you a provisional license.”

“Might need you to take the test every time you renew now.”

Tears come and I am pissed. I swallow hard and brush them away. Don’t cry Bridgette. Don’t make a scene. It’s not her fault.

“The DMV is black and white,” she says. “I’m sorry. There is no gray area.”

I look in her eyes and decide she probably is sorry. Her job sucks, but in that moment I don’t care. I want to smash her face.

I gather my form up and walk to the car. The second the van door shuts I start to sob. Big, holy shit sobs.

What the fuck am I going to do if they take my license?

“Mommy, are you OK?” my girl says from the backseat. “I’ve never seen you this upset.”

“No,” I said. “I am not. I will be, but right now I am upset.”

She unbuckles her seatbelt and touches my shoulder. My boy follows her example. We sit there like that for a few minutes, me sobbing while my children comfort me.

Eventually I snap to it, wipe away my tears and move forward. I think we got ice cream.

It’s been almost two weeks and my test is tomorrow.

I am not good.

My anxiety is at Threat Level Orange, and I’m really not being nice to anyone in my path today.

It is completely ridiculous.

Ludicrous.

Of course it’s going to be OK. I know how to drive. I’m certainly a better driver than when I was 16. I have nothing to worry about.

Yet…

The fear is so great that I’m finding it hard to move today. I want to crawl back in bed and sob into my pillow and it really has nothing to do with the actual test.

It has everything to do with losing my freedom.

My entire ability to care for my family is wrapped up in my car. We live 25 minutes from school. We live 20 minutes away from my nearest friend. Without wheels I am trapped.

No car=no life.

I know that seems melodramatic. It is.

But I’m scared to death of going blind and being dependent on others.

I don’t like to ask people for help. I don’t want someone having to help me with anything. Ever.

So tomorrow is a big deal for me.

And then there is my grandma Kate.

I keep flashing to the day we had to take my grandmother’s license away. She was in her late 80s and had started having dementia. She had got lost several times and drove onto a curb. It wasn’t safe for her to drive anymore. I knew it. She knew it. But actually going through with taking away her car was horrible.

I still remember her crying.

She knew that was the end of her freedom.

She knew it meant she had to rely on someone to do everything for her now.

She knew it meant defeat.

I felt her pain then, but I feel it even more now. I keep seeing that look on her face and I want to go back in time and hug her even tighter. I want to hold her and say, “I love you grandma. I’m sorry.”

I was in my 20s at the time and I was exhausted at taking care of her. I was frustrated that she wouldn’t see that she was being unsafe and selfish. I became impatient with her. I tried to understand, but how could I?

Getting old sucks.

Losing your freedom at any age sucks.

I think about friends I have right now that have to rely on others to do things for them either because they are battling cancer or because they have a disability. I think about how much freedom they have lost and I feel like an ass, a selfish and stupid ass.

Even so, I’m still scared shitless about tomorrow.

My husband suggested going in whistling, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Not likely.

A friend suggested dressing and acting like a teenager from the 90s.

That would be fun, but I’m too chicken.

Oh, I got it!

When the fear starts to grip me, I’m going to remember this picture of my crazy, pirate of a son.

piratecooper

“Me eyes….oh not me eyes!!”

Yes. That will do.

You can always reach for me

My husband wakes me up.

“Lola is calling for you,” he says.

Instantly, I’m annoyed. I mutter under my breath about wanting more sleep and stumble out of bed. The clock says 12:35 a.m.

“Mommy,” she cries out again.

I stumble down the hall, and the second I smell it, I know what has happened. Instantly, my entire body and mind are awake.

“Oh poor baby,” I say.

There is a big pile of throw up on the bedspread and she is crying.

“I was trying to figure out how to clean it myself,“ she says. “I’ve ruined Mother’s Day. I’m sorry mom.”

No. This is motherhood my love. This is exactly what it is.

I grab a clean blanket from the hall, strip her and put her in it. I clean everything up, put her in some clean pajamas, remake the bed, grab the sick bowl and make myself a place next to her on the floor. I settle in for the routine that I know so well.

Every time she throws up, I rub her back, wash her face and comfort her.

Drink this water.

You will be OK.

I’m right here.

I love you.

When she falls asleep, I rest on the floor and worry.

This is motherhood.

I still get my avocado toast and coffee in bed, but today I’m next to my sick girl who likes to keep her hand on my chest because it comforts her.

I feel her little body tremble with excitement as I open the gifts she crafted herself; a tissue paper flower, a little dog and a large cat created out of paper, a card with a heart wearing a sombrero and guitar (because she knows I like things that are funny) and a beeswax rose.

“You like it?” she asks.

Of course I do.

My boy delivers his gift and it is so perfectly him that I can’t help but swoon.

 gift

This is motherhood.

We decide to cuddle in bed and watch our favorite episodes of “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.” Both kids inch in as close as they can to me. I can feel their breath and warmth as we talk about puppetry, mechanism and our favorite designers. We vow to someday make our own puppet and giggle as we discuss the silly details and features our creature will have.

My mom comes over with hugs and kisses for us all. I make her coffee and she gives me a piece of paper with my “Letter A” on it. She snuggles in with us for an episode or two. I give her the bench we crafted for her and she loves it.

After she leaves, my girl’s fever spikes up and I hold her as she cries and whimpers.

“I hate being sick,” she says.

“I know love,” I tell her.

lolaI make her peppermint tea. I braid her hair so it won’t get in her face. She rubs my chest as she falls asleep in my arms, a little furnace fighting off the virus in her body.

This, of course, was not the plan for my day. I was supposed to go swimming, play cards, drink mimosas and be outdoors. It was to be chore-free, stress-free and full of sweet things to eat.

But that wasn’t what happened.

There was a time, quite recent in fact, that this setback would have sent me spiraling down into a place of sadness and loneliness. I’d have let myself be swallowed up.

Surprisingly, I’m good.

My heart is filled with so much love for my children that it feels like it just might burst. These not-so-little beings that I get to spend so much time with are my life.

They are my Mother’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not happy my girl is sick, far from it. But I’m making a choice to savor the moments of care and comfort I can give her, instead of focusing in on what I missed.

Today, my arms showed her my love.

Today, my voice was her sense of peace.

I am her safe place.

I am her feel better soon.

I am her mommy.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Can someone just give me an A so I can go to bed already?

Today I did four loads of laundry, including folding them and putting them away. I did two loads of dishes. My kitchen is clean and I cooked a delicious dinner for my family. I watched a puppet show my daughter put on and then sat and talked Minecraft with my boy.

Where is my report card?

Where is my A?

Who is going to say to me “way to go,” “thank you” and “you’re the best”?

Nobody.

That’s the answer.

I NEED a report card.

It’s ridiculous. Don’t you think I know that? Crazy even.

Don’t care. I still want one.

Need one.

I need someone, anyone, to tell me that I’m doing a good job. I need that passing grade as mother and homemaker.

Please, just give it to me.

I’ve worked for it.

I’ve earned it.

***

Growing up, I was the teacher’s pet (big surprise). I got straight A’s. I was that kid that always raised her hand, was excited for tests, and loved homework. I was a regular Hermione Granger.

The older I got, the more I craved that approval. I would seek it out anyway I could. Please notice me teacher. Tell me I’m good. Tell me I’m smart. Tell me I am pleasing you.

Praise became necessary for me to move forward in my day. It didn’t matter what I thought about what I did, only if I got the approval.

This didn’t stop in college and continued even when I started working for a major newspaper. I would actually look forward to my reviews.

The funny thing is, I knew I was a good employee. I worked hard and showed up every day. But it wasn’t enough to know it.

Nope.

I needed to be told it. Better yet, I needed to see it in writing.

So I am asking you again…where is my report card? Where is my written affirmation that I am doing a good job?

Good mom.

Good wife.

Good daughter.

Good friend.

Is there somebody who can provide me this service? Come to my house with your clipboard and follow me around. Give me a daily grade. Please?

I grade myself every day, but I’m not doing so well at that.

I am a very harsh, judgmental grader with very little empathy or patience.

Yes I did four loads of laundry, but you know what? One of those loads was put into the washer on Friday. FRIDAY! It sat in the washer all weekend so I had to rewash it.

Fail.

Yes I cooked a great dinner for my family; it was tilapia with an almond crust, asparagus and rice pilaf. But my husband cooked the fish and he did it better than I would have.

Certainly not an A.

Yes I watched my daughter’s puppet show, but I was bored and spent most of the time praying for it to be over.

That’s a C grade at best.

Yes I talked Minecraft with my boy, but this is after he has been asking for months to play the game and I finally relented. I’m as overprotective as they come and as we talked about it I felt sad instead of excited for him.

Fail.

I wonder if someone else graded me if they would be more…forgiving. Maybe they would be more generous with their approval, because I am not.

***

Over the last few weeks I’ve read two books by SARK. If you haven’t heard of her or seen any of her work, prepare yourself for something amazing. I’m in love with her and it got me thinking.

It’s time I make myself a report card. Not a daily one, but one that I can hang up that says all the things that I need to hear. A reminder of my need for praise, but also recognition that self-praise is the most powerful of all.

I need to say these things to myself, because they are true.

So, here it is.

tree

Please, if you find yourself identifying with me, print this out or make your own. Hang it on your wall and read it every morning.

Let’s be kinder to ourselves.

There is no reason not to.

The pressure to be the best at everything is exhausting.

Maybe we can just be ourselves and know it’s enough.