The little black kitten of jealousy

kitten

My phone dings and I look to see a dozen pictures of the sweetest little black kitten.

This darling new addition to my friend’s family, which they are calling Faun, causes me to start ahhhing loudly.

The kids come running.

“What is it?” they ask.

I flip the phone around and show them.

My girl immediately starts crying.

Not just little tears either.

Big, fat ugly tears which quickly turn to sobs.

Oh no.

As much as I’m aware of her wish for a kitten, this possibility didn’t occur to me.

I feel mean, as if I’d done something to hurt her on purpose.

The jealousy and anger pulse from her. She tries to calm herself, but the feelings are beyond containment. I let her cry and rage until the intensity ceases a bit.

“You are jealous because you want a kitten,” I say.

She nods and cries a bit more.

“I feel like a bad friend,” she says through her tears. “Have you ever felt jealous?”

Have I ever. I tell her about growing up and being incredibly jealous all the time. My friends got more presents at Christmas, had prettier hair, more boyfriends and took elaborate vacations my family would never be able to afford. I didn’t even fly in an airplane until I was in college.

I know a little about jealousy.

“Did you grow out of it?” she asks.

No. I have to admit that I have moments as an adult where I feel the pang and sting still. More moments that I care to acknowledge.

I want a kitten too. I want a new laptop. I want a real summer vacation. I want to be smarter, more successful and drive a nicer car.  I want to be skinny.

Longing for things you don’t have is as human as it gets.

“What do you do about it?” she asks and hugs me tight.

I can feel the desperation in her voice and I know I have to get this moment right.

I pull back a little and look in her eyes.

There are different kinds of emotions, each balancing the other out, I explain. Like in the movie, “Inside Out,” where Joy can’t exist without Sadness.

She nods.

“When I think about jealousy, I picture purple,” she says. “Like grape jelly. So I picture her being purple with a pale green dress on.”

“Sounds good,” I reply. “Who balances jealousy?”

I ask this question and realize I don’t have an answer. My emotional growth is about the same as her in this department. Well, maybe a bit better. I don’t cry all the time. Not all the time.

“I don’t know,” she says.

We both sit there for a few minutes thinking about it. Jealousy makes you want things other people have. What is a word for being happy with what you got?

“Contentment,” I finally say. “I picture her as wearing all pink and having a sweet voice. She says things like, ‘my room is so beautiful’ and ‘I love my family so much!”

“Yes,” she says. “Contentment tells me ‘I’m lucky to have a mom that rubs my back and talks to me’ and ‘I have awesome red hair.’”

Exactly.

We list off more and more things which make us feel content.

It feels good and the ugliness of the longing for what others have starts to fade for us both.

We cuddle up closer. She points to the picture on her wall of us nursing when she was a baby. She tells me she looks at it every night as she is falling asleep.

“I just pretend you are laying next to me,” she says. “Then I fall right asleep because I know you love me.”

My heart does complicated leaps of joy and sadness.

I tell her jealousy won’t go away and will be with her the rest of her life.

“Just be sure to let contentment have a voice too,” I say.

We agree to keep this conversation going.

“Maybe when I’m in college I can Face Time you,” she says. “Might even have holograms by then and I’ll project you laying right next to me.”

“Absolutely,” I say.

Just a little setback, nothing to see here

It seems appropriate to me the only room they have available for the ultrasound of my heart is in pediatrics.

I feel so much like a little girl.

I follow the woman with my paperwork down the hall and into the elevator. She has kind eyes and blond hair. Her shirt is colorful and I want to hold her hand.

I change into my gown, open in the front, and lay on the table. My aunt is with me and we are talking, keeping the mood light and airy.

The gel, heated for the little ones, feels warm on my skin. There are colorful projections of planets and a smiling moon moving across the ceiling.

As I lay there, occasionally hearing my heart on the monitor, all I could think about are the ultrasounds I had with my babies.

I talk to the nurse about my children and my births. She tells me her son’s birth story. We laugh and make a connection while I ignore the nagging fear and reason I am here.

Something is wrong.

My heart started a few weeks ago fluttering madly in my chest. I ignored it at first, but the feeling persisted and got worse. It started to make it hard to breathe.

I tried to tell myself it was just stress, but fear grabbed a hold and wouldn’t let go.

I drink more coffee than water.

I’ve put on a bunch of weight.

I barely move my body.

I eat too much sugar.

I drink too much alcohol.

Ticking off the ways in which I have neglected myself fed my fear.

It grew and grew until it was a mothering-fucking monster.

What if there is something really wrong with me and I don’t go to the doctor? I might die of a heart attack at 38 years old, my children finding me on the floor. The scars of my death will forever be etched into who they are.

What if it is chemical? Maybe my depression and anxiety are worsening and the time for natural remedies and therapy have past. I have seen how hard it is to get the right treatment and I fear I’m not strong enough.

So I called the doctor and the testing began.

Blood work.

EKG.

Ultrasound.

heartYesterday they attached a monitor to me that I have to wear for 24-hours. It will monitor my heart and give them a clearer understanding of what is going on.

I’m not going to lie.

I’m scared.

I keep telling myself to stay calm and wait for answers. So many people have gone through this and it ends up being nothing. Or it ends up being something and you fight it and get better. Or you don’t get better, but you keep fighting anyway.

I’m in no way unique or special. My very best friend has been dealt the medical roulette of health issues, adding Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia to the list just yesterday. My young sister-in-law faces a hysterectomy and a future without the kids she wants. Another friend is fighting breast cancer, unable to walk from the treatments.

I know all this, yet I am still terrified.

I am the only mother to my children and this all feels heavy and scary.

I want someone to hold me. I want to cry.

School starts tomorrow and it feels like a new year, a new beginning. I always make promises to myself this time of year. I will use the time the kids are in school to exercise, finally tackle my messy house and maybe even keep up on my writing without staying up all night.

All these promises I make, as readily and as fervently as any New Year’s Resolution. They are just as carelessly discarded when they get hard or no longer suit me. Distraction and obligation keep me busy.

Yet, here I sit with this heart monitor and immense fear. Both are screaming to me that I need to make the time for me now.

I need to stop worrying what others think of me, or if I am doing enough.

It is time for me to be strong.

I am not a little girl.

Kissing the playful father goodbye

Driving to the grocery store I see a father in his lawn running madly after a little girl in a pink bathing suit and pigtails. She is squealing with joy as he squirts her with the hose. I smile and the father sees me looking and smiles back.

I turn the corner and the smile fades quickly. Tears fill my eyes and I curse them away, angry with myself for allowing someone else’s moment of happiness to shine a spotlight on the sadness inside me.

I didn’t grow up with a playful father. I don’t remember him chasing us, tickling us or squirting us with the hose. I have no memories of being thrown into a pool, playing catch or giggling madly as he makes silly faces at me.

I’ve searched my memory and those things just aren’t there. I can remember going to museums, day trips and being dropped-off at roller-skating lessons. There are memories of seeing him at his computer, visiting him at work and picking him up at the airport after business trips.

There were Shakespeare plays, discussions about homework and watching TV. He was at all my horse shows, band performances, speech competitions and theater productions. There was never a doubt he was proud of me.

But as hard as I focus, I can’t find any memories where we are laughing and playing together. I can’t remember him hugging me or kissing me goodnight. I don’t remember hearing “I love you” or him holding me as I cry.

This is the source of the tears and the sadness.

There is this picture of me at around my daughter’s age. I’m wearing a pale blue nightgown with a dainty pink ribbon on the front. I’m sitting in my Holly Hobbie bedroom on my dad’s lap. His arms are wrapped around me. I have my hands folded in front of me and I am smiling. Our faces are close and it looks like he might be about to give me a good night kiss.

I’ve studied this picture for years, trying to remember what it felt like to be in my father’s arms. I wish I could feel the sense of warmth and love the picture suggests. I wish I could remember.

As a mother now, I think about my dad. I imagine how lonely he must have been, as he and my mom didn’t have a very loving marriage. He worked all the time at a stressful job and was exhausted at the end of the day.

I get it.

There are days when I can’t muster a board game or even to read a story to my kids. I find them irritating, far too loud and just plain annoying. I just want everyone to shut up and nobody to touch me. I lock myself in my bedroom with a few beers and pray sleep comes soon.

I get it.

My children don’t have a playful father either. He doesn’t chase them, make them giggle or ride bikes with them. There is very little in the way of interaction most days and it makes me feel all the sadness and longing all over again.

I get so upset at my husband and wish he could be the father I wanted growing up. The one my friend’s had. The dad jumping off docks, teaching them to fish, taking them on daddy/daughter dates and always telling them they were beautiful. The dad who made his daughter feel like something special, instead of always feeling not good enough.

I know it is unfair to pin any of this on my husband. He is not my father, but pain and longing are irrational beasts that don’t care about logic. They tear at my gut and whisper unkind things to me about my own kids. They remind me that everything is my fault.

Blame. Guilt. Shame. Repeat.

My issues of feeling unloved, unworthy and unheard make me look at every interaction with a childish sense of injustice. I’m always looking at how my kids are slighted. How I am slighted.

I always feel like I’ve been handed the short stick in the love department.

chessI see my husband talking with our kids. They sit on the couch and have discussions about space and science. They play chess and he talks to them about classical music. There are museum trips, Legoland, Disneyland and one epic trip to the Bahamas. Taco Tuesdays. Go-kart races. Ice cream when mom is away.

Every night, after I read stories, he comes in and tells them goodnight. He kisses them on the forehead and brings them a glass of water. He says he loves them.

Every morning, I see him peek at them sleeping in their beds as he leaves for work at 5 a.m.

These are the ways a quiet man like him loves his children.

These are the memories they will have of their father.

It has nothing to do with me or my dad.

Time to give up the pain.

I am not here to make you feel guilty

tableParent after parent walk to the table and say the same thing.

“I don’t have time to volunteer.”

They spit the words at me like I’m a viper about to attack them.

I smile and hand them a schedule of activities for the year. I offer them a cookie and a cup of coffee.

“If you had your meetings at night I would come, but I work during the day.”

They say this angry too and look at me like I’m trying to sell them a shitty used car.

I smile again and point out the activities we have planned for evenings. They look around agitated and I can see they want to bolt.

My very face seems to make them cringe inside.

I put the gold star on their registration card, the only reason they stopped at my table, and they move away.

I am their guilt personified. They can’t stand me.

I am just a mom who volunteers to coordinate things at the school. I didn’t want this role and I almost burst into tears.

Luckily, this isn’t all the parents. Some are excited to hear about the speakers, crafts and events we have planned for the school year. Others are just grateful.

But the glaring, agitated moms are the one’s that get to me. I turn to my co-chair.

“What can we do to make them not feel guilty,” I say. “I haven’t volunteered every year. This is just our turn.”

She doesn’t know.

I don’t either.

I go from being upset to angry. Stop pushing your guilt onto me. I am not the fucking bad guy. I’m not pushing my religion or trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. I’m a mom at your school telling you about things you can be involved in. I’m giving you options, not obligations.

I am not to blame for the bad feelings you have. Those are all yours. Take them back.

I’m at the verge of losing it when a father walks up and talks to me. He doesn’t shrink away or spit angry excuses at me. He listens, gets his sticker and walks away with a cookie.

I know he won’t be able to attend meetings and so does he, but he isn’t an asshole about it. He doesn’t take my very presence as a personal affront to him. He doesn’t make excuses or make me feel bad. He takes the damn flyer and acts grateful that I brought snacks.

But I get it.

I have been on both ends of this exchange and I know what those moms are feeling.

When my depression was at its worst, walking up to the parent volunteer table felt like a punishment. Go talk to the ladies and tell them you suck, I would tell myself. Tell them you can barely get out of bed. Tell them they can’t count on you for anything.

All my self-hatred bubbled up and I didn’t want to even make eye contact.

I get it.

I just hate it.

I hate it for both of us.

I hate that you look at me and think I have my shit together, which I don’t by the way. I made those flyers last minute and I want to quit. I’m not as excited about the school year as I’m pretending to be, but somebody has be the cheerleader and it’s my turn.

I hate that you see me and it makes you feel all the bad things. All the lies you tell yourself about how inadequate and failing you are as a mother. It’s all so stupid.

So just stop it. Stop feeling bad about not doing enough. Stop punishing yourself and comparing. Stop thinking I am the bad guy.

Please.

Just take a cookie and smile.

You are fine.

No secret handshake for me

The laughter drew me to them from my bedroom, where I was folding laundry with my morning coffee. I walk down the stairs and find them sitting on the living room floor with a paper between them. They are taking turns drawing on it and bursting into hysterics, their entire bodies literally shaking from the power of their giggles.

“What’s going on?” I say.

They don’t hear me at first.

“Hey guys,” I try again, attempting to sound casual and not at all like I’m about to start making them clean up. “Whatcha doin?”

They both look up at me like I’m an alien trying to invade their tiny planet.

“Nothing,” they say together and resume whatever nonsense this is, erupting into new fits of laughter as I walk away.

My children have a club. I’m guessing they call it “CoopLa” as I see it scrawled all over the place, but I’m not privy to the information. It looks like a pretty fun club. Their mission seems to be along the lines of:

*Cut up as many things as possible and use all the tape and aluminum foil in the house.

*Be really loud and make sure to laugh and scream out random words frequently, like Moo and Noodles.

*Move around the furniture often and in a dramatic fashion.

*Name every stuffed animal you can find and cover every surface in the house with fluffy cuteness.

They are enthusiastic about everything they do. They fight sometimes, but generally find resolution without intervention. They are tight, like peas and carrots.

There are days when I try hard to join in their fun, but I will never be in the club. I’m the bouncer and owner, but I’ll never quite belong.

They are exclusively exclusive.

Which is as it should be, I tell myself.

Childhood belongs to children.

Right? It’s how I’m supposed to feel. This is their time, not mine. I didn’t give birth to them so I could have friends and comfort.

But fuck. I miss it.

When they were very little, I was everything to them. Comfort. Food. Friendship. Playmate.

I was the sun, the moon and the stars.

But now I am not the only thing in the world filling those needs. They have each other, friends, grandparents, teachers and themselves. They have discovered inner strength and often find contentment in being alone.

All this is what is supposed to happen. This is the parenting process.

It’s beautiful and natural.

But I fucking hate it.

I feel myself being pushed away and pulled back on a daily basis. Give me space, but you better be there for me when I need you. Ask me what I’m doing, but don’t expect me to answer you. I need to know you care, but I don’t want you with me. Give me what I want, but don’t really because I’ll change my mind in five minutes.

The teenage years are still far away, but I feel them coming. This is the sweet spot of parenting right now and I know it. They are somewhat independent, but not disillusioned yet. They want stuff, but it is not their primary focus. They still ask questions and actually listen to the answers.

This is supposed to be the easy part.

It’s not.

There isn’t one.

I walk into my boy’s room and find him listening to the iPod with earbuds in. He is singing and tapping his toes while flipping through an animal magazine.

“Mom, there is this new song on the radio I think you will like,” he says pulling out just one earbud. “You have to hear this.”

I put the earbud in and sit close to him and my heart feels all kinds of confusing shit.

My girl and I go school shopping, just the two of us. She picks out clothes she likes and goes into the dressing room all by herself. Hanging the sign on the door, like she has seen me do a thousand times, and then coming out and modeling the clothes.

I stand there, outside the door, and I don’t even know what to feel.

I make eye contact with a mother of a teenage girl and she looks exhausted. She smiles at me encouragingly, but it looks forced. It is forced.

This shit is hard.

Not the kind of hard babyhood is. Not the sleep deprived, please don’t choke on something small and die. No. More like, my heart breaks every day to see you figure out how fucked up things can be and please don’t let you have the same depression I have.

That kind of hard.

Sometimes I just wander the house, not knowing what to do with myself. I am drawn to them, but also pulled away by a million things always needing to get done. I rush around cleaning, making plans, paying bills, writing and working. I see them slip by me and I reach out, but then they are gone.

I walk into my daughter’s room to deliver laundry and there they are. My boy is reading to his sister. They are snuggled and happy. My girl looks up and gives me the smile she always does and I want to join them. But I don’t. I smile back and walk out of the room.

kids

Saying goodbye 15 years late

Yesterday, while dancing away in the kitchen to Prince’s “1999,” I was suddenly cleaning my childhood home with my mom. Dancing, spinning and singing at the top of our lungs as we dusted and mopped. Prince, his tight pants and high voice, will forever be synonymous with my mother.

Driving to the coast last week, “In Your Room” by Depeche Mode came on the radio and I had an instant picture of my 16-year-old self. I’m alone, crying in my bedroom, playing that song on repeat and thinking I’d never find true love.

Whenever I hear David Bowie’s voice anywhere, even shopping at the grocery store, I picture him as the Goblin King in “Labyrinth” and I’m suddenly a young girl again. I can feel a surge of hope, as strong as ever, that somewhere out there is a mythical lover waiting for me, busy creating a world for the two of us alone. Bowie brings out the melodramatic romantic in me.

There is a soundtrack to life. A musical memory to accompany all the events, people and emotions that have combined to create the person we are right this minute. It feels like magic to me.

Music, like water and air for my soul, is something I can’t live without. Whenever strong emotions threaten to break me, I need to find music to match my mood and reflect back what I am feeling.

Johnny Cash is for the blues, obviously. There is nothing like the Man in Black when you want to wallow. Nahko and Medicine for the People are for when I’m feeling hopeless, picking me up when I think I can’t take it anymore. I love Emily Kinney for when I want to feel youthful and optimistic. Beastie Boys, Tori Amos, Imagine Dragons, Pixies, Queen. They all have a role to play in my emotional rolodex of music.

For over a decade, there is one CD I have to hear at least once a week. It fits a variety of my moods, but is particularly good for when I just want to sing and be happy.

eye

I found this CD in a free bin at work about 18 years ago. It never had a case and I have always just called it the “eye CD.” As in “where did I put the eye CD?” and “I need to hear me some eye.”

This week I pulled it out again and was singing along when it occurred to me, I have no idea who the singer is.

Seriously.

This voice I have grown to love and cherish is a complete mystery. As a former journalist, I’m shocked at myself. I suddenly had to know what he looked like. I had a million questions. Is he still touring? What other music of his am I missing out on? How old is he? Where does this album fit with his other music? Where did he grow up? What are his musical influences?

In tiny writing under the eye, I find a name.

Josh Clayton-Felt.

Excited, I type his name into Google and within a matter of minutes I have all the answers.

I also have a broken heart.

This beautiful singer, whose voice I adore, whose lyrics I have sung a thousand times, died of testicular cancer is 2000.

He has been gone for 15 years.

I spend the next few hours looking at pictures of his young face, listening to other music he created before he died, reading online interviews, watching videos and tributes.

I discover his mother, a playwright named Marilyn Felt, created an entire musical fable based on his life and his music called “Lightsong.” You can download it for free. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

While my heart is heavy at this loss, fresh and new to me, I’m also filled with gratitude for having stumbled upon “the eye” so many years ago.

His words are a part of my soundtrack and part of who I am. Now I have a little more of him to carry me through.

Thank you Josh Clayton-Felt.

If your road has reached the ocean
But your legs still want to go
And if they taught you how to doubt it
But you know it isn’t so

And if the moments seem to miss you
And if your partner isn’t there
And if you know you could reach the treasure
But you keep coming up for air

If you want to get through
To the other side
Let the dragonfly
Come and give you a ride
Every day you’re born
And every night you die
Let the dragonfly
Come and give you a ride

–lyrics from “Dragon Fly” by Josh Clayton-Felt

My phone makes me lonely

phoneHe sits a few feet away on the couch. I’m in my comfy chair. Lonely, I reach for my phone.

The next hour goes by. He is lost in the world of the History Channel and me into my little box.

I really want connection.

He probably does too.

But we are tired.

Always so tired.

So instead of asking for the hug I really need, I like photos on Facebook.

Instead of telling him how angry I am about the way a friend treated me, I read the news and feel the hopelessness of it all.

I used to think my cellphone was my friend, helping me stay connected with the people I love.

Now I’m not so sure.

The more hours I stare at its little white screen, the more acutely alone and isolated I feel.

I read a friends post and I know they are sad. I want to put my arms around them and let them cry big tears into my neck. I want to hold them tight, feel the warmth of their skin and let them know they are not alone.

Instead I write, “I’m sorry you’re going through a hard time.” I might add, “<<hugs>>” or “I’ll pray for you.”

Lame.

These are not the ways humans find comfort and connection. Our words are powerful, but eye contact and touch are infinitely more.

There is never time though. We are all so busy.

It seems nobody wants real comfort anyway. Not really. That’s a version of intimacy very few, myself included, even know how to handle.

Better to text a friend a sad emoticon with, “I love you. I’m sorry. Things will get better.”

Maybe share a quote of inspiration or a funny picture.

Typing the words is easy. Saying them and following through are completely different and require much more.

How many times have I saw a post of a friend whose pet or family member has died and I’ve typed, “sorry for your loss, let me know if there is anything I can do”?

Far too many times to even recount.

How many have taken me up on my vague offer of help?

None.

They aren’t going to do that. To ask for help in our culture is to admit you are weak. Americans are supposed to be strong. Pull yourself up. Push past it. Get over it.

We assume if they don’t turn to us, they have someone. I’m sure their spouse or close family is offering all the support they need. I’m sure they are fine.

We tell ourselves they would ask if they really needed something.

We stay hidden behind our devices, safe from really being there for them.

I’ve been told to keep things in perspective, be grateful for what I have and to just choose happiness.

I’m trying.

This week my body is telling me to stop it. I can’t just push it away. I can’t will myself to just be fine. There is no way to reframe the pain I feel in my heart.

Pain is pain.

It’s not competitive. It’s not subjective. It’s not a choice.

What I feel does not have to be explained away or pushed away. I can’t take a pill to make it disappear. I can’t bury it with food or drown it with alcohol. I can’t distract myself away from it with movies, TV or my cellphone.

I’ve tried all of that.

The pain keeps returning and it demands to be felt.

So I’m going to allow myself to slow down again, even though the voices in my head call me “weak,” “pathetic” and “crazy.”

I’m going to be gentle with myself. I’m going to try and be open. I’m going to ask for help.