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.

Dead rosebushes keep you busy

They had to go.

They were all dead and no amount of water would bring them back to life.

As I started pulling the first one apart, breaking off the dead limbs of the once beautiful rosebush, the tears came.

Stupid. Weak. Tears.

I was transported back to the very day it was planted. My boy was only a few months old and we had a wonderful gardener. He was a young veteran trying to find his way back into civilian life. His excitement about my yard was contagious and he was so hopeful and filled with joy.

I remember holding baby Cooper in my arms as I watched him dig the holes and plant the rosebushes around our tiny tree. Red. White. Red. White. Red. White. All in a circle.

A new baby. A new yard. A new start.

That was a long time ago.

The white bushes died years ago, a casualty of broken sprinklers and neglect. They have been waiting for me to do something, a nice visual symbol of regret and guilt right in the center of my front yard.

I decided this week it was time.

They had to go.

The first two bushes came up easy, but the third one decided to give me a fight. When pulling didn’t work, I resorted to kicking and shoving, sweating, crying, filling more and more with rage and sadness.

Give. Up. You. Stupid. Dead. Plant.

I finally cut the roots one at a time with hand clippers until it released its hold on the ground. Shaking, I threw it into the bucket and stood up.

It was done.

***

For over a month now, I’ve been burying myself deep.

I’ve taken on a multitude of new tasks/roles at my children’s school. I challenged myself to crochet an enormous number of shamrocks. I cleaned and organized every closet and cupboard in my house. I’m learning to watercolor paint and play ukulele.

Waking up each morning I make myself a list of things I need to get done. I check them off all day, but never get to the end. Every night I go to bed feeling upset that I didn’t do some task I set for myself.

I know it is crazy.

I see it.

I feel it.

I’m avoiding doing the things that I need to do like write, exercise and pray. Those things are hard and require me to face what I am avoiding.

So I keep moving and focusing on all the things I have to get done. I ignore the sadness that tugs at my sleeve by giving it jobs to do.

There is always something more to be done.

Then there are nights like tonight. My body is exhausted, yet sadness ripped me out of bed and is tormenting me. It repeatedly whispers its familiar tune.

You aren’t good enough.

Everyone thinks you’re a joke.

You’re such a big disappointment.

Today was a great day. I helped with my son’s dress rehearsal, had a delicious lunch with a friend as we brainstormed ideas for the next school year, cooked a healthy dinner for my family, watched my son’s class play and even had ice cream.

Yet tonight the sadness is big.

Glacier size actually.

I am longing for things that can’t be.

I am mourning my own weakness.

I am wallowing in my childish wish that I can make everyone happy.

No amount of tasks in the world will ever erase the way I feel. It is a hurt that is deep in my soul and all I can do is feel it when it comes and let it wash over me.

I can also write. I can turn to you and tell you that I am broken, yet I love you. I am weak, but I am still here. I don’t have much to offer, but I will give you what I have.

I will get up tomorrow and I might have to bury myself again to make it through, but it really is OK.

I am not alone and neither are you.

The light and the dark of my friend

It can happen in just a second.

We are chatting happily about nothing in particular and the light suddenly shifts. Something I said either sparked a memory or struck an exposed wound that I didn’t see, and the darkness descends.

It’s always in the eyes first. I see the color shift slightly and then his gaze drops. Hoping it wasn’t noticed, eye contact is resumed. Yet the wrinkles on his forehead deepen and I can see the truth just under the surface bubbling.

His voice is his biggest betrayer. The tone, volume and speed all drop and I can actually hear the sadness seeping in. It’s subtle, but so noticeable once you pay attention. Like a siren broadcasting the approaching storm, it’s unmistakable.

Defenses shoot up fast, as only someone as experienced in living with pain knows how to do, and I prepare myself for the protective show.

Smiling way too big.

Telling a joke far too exuberantly.

Twisting the conversation away.

Diversionary tactics honed from years of experience.

He is a master at hiding.

He has perfected the art of subtly pushing friends away and protecting them from his demons. Thwarting real conversations with jokes meant to make you uncomfortable and to push your limits. If you’re off balance than you won’t look deeper at him.

handI watch as he pours himself into his creative outlets. His music, writing and art are filled with darkness and light. They are brilliant and help keep him from descending deeper down.

All of this hiding, covering up and creativity do work…most of the time.

Yet after experiencing and battling the darkness myself, the terrible monster that is depression, those moments when I see it happen can’t be ignored. I can’t just let them go without notice.

Nobody should have to go it alone.

True darkness isn’t something you can wish away or just “get over.” It’s as personal as your fingerprint, yet universal in its ability to destroy you. Everyone has experience with it, yet not everyone is pulled completely down.

I know that I am lucky. I have support, love and therapy. I strive to stay in the light most of the time, yet I know the dark intimately and slip down more than I care to admit.

There is no fix for depression.

It makes you feel alone and isolated. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to go there with you. It’s too uncomfortable and you have to be willing to expose your own darkness.

It is not for the faint of heart.

I want to be there for him, for my mother and for many others that I see struggle. All I can offer is an acknowledgement of the pain, my sincere love and a listening ear.

I can’t turn away from them.

For me, when I feel that heaviness start to take me over, I get busy. Super busy. I focus on each task throughout my day, making myself check lists and fretting over tiny details that have little real significance. I pour myself into my children and others and hope it’s enough.

But inevitably it happens.

I break.

Retreating into my hole with tears streaming down my face, I push everyone away and wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and fear.

The Machine

There is something in the tonal change
subtle, barely perceptible
enough to pull the lever

Chain winds around and tightens
breath becomes harder, thoughts unclear
belt moves, screeches its familiar tune

Never enough, constantly trying and failing
can’t let go, things will break
turning, tightening, hurting

Unrelenting it whines and chugs
painful pitch vibrates deep inside
sweet relief, release forever inches away

Intensity, fear wrapped in network of pain
turn it up, always threatening to break
shuddering, pulsing, trembling within

Gears slip, yet won’t fully snap apart
unbalanced it eternally churns uneven song
never the same, lever won’t be pushed back

I can see this pattern, this machine, work itself on me and many others that I love. I see it wind us up and spit us out. I wish I could shake us all free of its grasp and live fully in the light. Yet, deep down I suspect that isn’t something that can happen. The dark is always there.

Yet I am trying.

And I am praying.

I’m a tiny baby Christian just barely blooming. I read the Bible as a teenager, but never really embraced it. I was cynical, questioning and goal focused. There was no time to ponder my soul; I had papers to write, bills to pay and expectations to fulfill.

A few nights ago I read this:

1 John 2:6-7: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The darkness has been such a big part of my adult life; it’s hard to imagine fully letting it go. Yet I want to. I wonder what it would be like to let go of all the pain that I hold tight to my chest? I wonder what it would feel like to live each day embracing the light and never fearing the dark?

I take another stumbling step forward, but I am no longer alone.