Falling snow, bubbly car washes and joy

I am one of only three sophomores on the biology trip to Yosemite. The remaining are seniors and they are not shy about their dislike of me being on the trip.

It hurts, but I don’t care. I am too excited.

We track wolves, sleep in a log cabin, snowshoe and slide on our bellies through a pitch black cave formation called “the birth canal.” These experiences are unlike anything I’ve done before and I feel a joy so big it vibrates my entire body.

“It’s so beautiful, like I’ve fallen into a storybook,” I cry out.

I throw back my head, close my eyes and breathe in the cold piney air.

“You are such a child,” I hear one of the girls say.

A picture from my trip to Yosemite in 1993.

A picture from my trip to Yosemite in 1993.

We venture across a beautiful white meadow on our cross-country skis and it begins to snow hard. The guide decides we need to stop and wait out the storm. We pack down a circle of snow, stick our skis deep into the bank behind us and drape a tarp over the entire group. The snow is coming in sideways and blowing into our sandwiches and trail mix.

Some start complaining about the soggy bread and a few mumble about how tired they are. I am beaming. I’ve never seen it snow like this. The feeling becomes so big and suddenly I am crying, hot tears streaming down my frozen cheeks.

“Seriously,” one of the girls says and rolls her eyes at me.

On the last night, we are given a chance to eat dinner at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel. We dress in the big, shared bathroom. I feel like a princess as we walk to the hotel, my shiny black pumps slipping in the ice and snow.

We walk into the lobby and it’s all wood, chandeliers, comfy chairs and an enormous stone fireplace. I start to laugh as my heels click on the hard floor, the sound echoing all around us.

The restaurant has the biggest windows I’ve ever seen, wood beams crisscrossing over a green ceiling, candles in brackets along the wall, triangular-shaped chandeliers and stones that make me feel like I’ve been transported to a medieval castle.

We sit at a table in the middle of the restaurant and prepare to order.

“What did Queen Elizabeth order when she came here?” I ask the waitress.

She tells me and I order everything the same as her, wiggling in my chair with the pure pleasure of it all. Everything tastes divine and I can’t stop smiling. The rest of the students act as if they eat artisan cheese platters and prime rib every night. They laugh at me, but I am incapable of holding back.

On the return walk to the cabins, my biology teacher takes me aside. I love this man, admire him greatly, and I expect him to tell me more history or something interesting about the cabins.

Instead, he takes both my hands into his and gives me a very stern look.

“You really are naïve,” he says. “Tone it down a notch. OK?”

I nod and feel my cheeks burning hot. I lower my head and dart into my cabin. I cry myself to sleep, suddenly aware at how ridiculous everyone sees me.

What I view as excitement, they see as naïve.

What I see as being myself, they see as wrong.

It has been over 20 years since I heard those words, yet they still bring tears to my eyes.

It was the moment I started to realize what being an adult meant.

It was the moment I started to hear and care what others thought of me.

A few days ago, I went through a car wash with my friend and his 12-year-old son. I have not been through one in years and I could not believe how fun it was.

I point at the vibrant blue and pink bubbles being shot along the side of the truck.

“Did you see that?” I say.

The huge foam rollers smack against us, rocking us back and forth, and I giggle. I know it is just a car wash and my internal voice is yelling at me to “simmer down now,” but it sounds like a huge storm and I close my eyes and laugh.

“No offense,” the boy says. “But you sound like my sister.”

His sister is 6 and it makes me giggle more.

“None taken,” I answer back truthfully.

It felt good to let my joy out, to let the rush of excitement fill me up.

It felt almost like Disneyland.

I am tired of holding back the awe and wonder I feel every day.

I’m tired of drinking to squash my feelings down.

I’m tired of thinking there is something wrong with me.

There is not.

I’m going to take my kids through a car wash today.

Running toward the meadow: One definition of depression and anxiety


Sometimes it is a small shuddering mouse, shaking in the darkness, afraid to come out for fear of death. It darts quickly around, hiding, sneaking, and trying desperately to be unseen. Twitching, sniffing and cowering, it is convinced danger is lurking behind everything and everyone. So it keeps to the shadowy, dark corners and doesn’t let anyone in.

Sometimes it is a hungry tiger, twisting primal urges forcing it to seek some kind of satisfaction. It lurks large, but not without stealth and a need to be sneaky and calculating. Forever unable to quench the desires deep inside, it hunts and roams with a desperation swelling with each passing second. Moments of boldness are followed by a deeper need to hoard away the spoils for fear they will be taken or lost.

Sometimes it is a black hole, feeding on the memories of past disappointments and the future failures lurking just ahead. Self-loathing bubbling always at the edges, it eats through everything else until there is only black and nothingness. It is a great expanse of darkness perfect for hiding in, safe from the colorful world of choices and chaos.

Dreams bring me images of running in a meadow that is free of gnawing animals and hidden dark holes waiting to swallow me. I can almost see the expanse of waving stalks blowing in the gentle breeze. I can almost smell the sweet lavender and honey-scented air filling my lungs. I can almost feel the soft wispy flowers brushing against my bare legs and the squishy earth beneath my toes.


I read a bedtime story to my daughter and she puts her hand on my chest, feeling around and pressing into the skin. She finds comfort in the squishy warmth and her body relaxes preparing for rest and renewal. I kiss her. She embraces me and whispers her love into my ear. It floods me and takes me to the very edge of the meadow where I sit longingly and yearn.

I look at the stack of paper; the manuscript I finally wrote after years of letting the relentless pursuit of perfection slap me and kick me into the ditch of you can’t do it. When I let it go, the words spilled out in a tumble of excitement mixed with promise and joy. I giggled and typed until my neck ached and my family drew me back to them.

Yet pride and accomplishment are glued to qualifiers that I feel I must give you. Don’t think because I wrote all those words, they are something worth reading. The story is nothing remarkable, nothing amazing, nothing life changing for anyone but me. I feel you must know the fear of having my words read is almost greater than actually writing them.

You speak words of encouragement and love to me. I eat them. I crave them more than I should ever admit and even as I swallow them my focus is on all the words you didn’t say. The unspoken truths hidden just behind the door that I am certain I can hear knocking and rattling the handle.

The words ride on the backs of the beasts as they trample me down, sharp teeth tearing into my soft flesh and erasing the kindness you shared. I hear only what isn’t there and twist it into the perverted truth I insist on believing.

I long to have skin built tough and strong, an impenetrable fortress fortified with self-confidence and loving thoughts. Meditation. Affirmations. Love. It is never enough. My skin stays thin and fragile. A small look of disappointment, an intake of breath, an awkward moment of silence; all punch holes that fill quickly and relentlessly with emptying darkness.

Those of you who suffer like I do, we know the truth. We do not choose this path. We don’t consciously run away from the meadow and dive head first into the dark pit that surrounds us.


We are driven there every single day by forces we can’t control and minds that betray the real us. The moat is deep and everywhere we turn it surrounds us. We can try to jump over it and sometimes we almost do.


As I write these words I’m aware my attempt to convey my feelings falls short and might be taken as excessive and trying too hard. I’m so desperate to somehow find the right words to be profound and make you understand. I want it so badly.

If I can reach you then maybe you can reach me. Maybe if we both lean across and stretch our arms and fingers out we can connect and find a moment of solace and peace together.

I am scared and terrified at what you think of me. I feel the judgment before I even hit the publish button, yet some part of me knows I will do it. I will take the leap and let it fall where it may.

I keep doing hard things.

I keep crawling back out of the dark, even with the knowledge I will forever be pursued by it.

I keep running toward the meadow.

I just keep running.

The little black kitten of jealousy


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.’”


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.



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.


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.