Useful advice for when your kid is losing it in public

He wants to ride the carousel again. No. He wants to ride Brownie the Ostrich again, so nobody else will ride him. His round little face is red with anger and he pulls me with all his 3-year-old might back toward the only thing in the world he cares about in this moment.

I drag him along, quietly reasoning to him, while his baby sister nurses jerkily in my carrier. I’m not fast enough. We both see it at the same time. A little pig-tailed girl is lifted onto Brownie.

It’s over.

He falls on the ground and begins weeping. As I try soothing him and thinking about what I’m willing to promise to get us out of here, his sister unlatches and starts to fuss.

No. No. No.

Within a span of seconds, I have two humans screaming at me. I stand defeated and super sweaty. I can’t carry them both. For some reason I hated the idea of lugging the stroller around, and see clearly now what a mistake it was. I’m on the verge of tears when a woman taps me on the shoulder.

It gets better,” she says.

I turn and look at her. She is smiling and gesturing to her two perfectly dressed school-aged kids who are looking at the spectacle in front of them with a kind of smugness I didn’t know kids could have.

Thanks,” I say.

I’m not sure she heard me over the screams.

She looks down at my breast, which I now realize is hanging completely out of my shirt, and then gives me one last look of pity before walking away.

I watch her go, she is holding hands with her sweet little offspring, and I swear I hear them softly singing kumbaya.

Fuck her,” I say to myself.

I sit down on the carpeted floor, take the baby out of the carrier and begin nursing her, right in the walkway. My boy continues to wail and thrash around on the ground crying and yelling about his beloved Brownie.

Many, many people walk by shaking their heads or sighing loudly. All avoid eye contact and not one person offers to help.

I do my best to pretend they are not killing me with their sideways glares.

But each one hurts.

I am doing my best here people. I’m tired. I’m hot. I just wanted to get out of the house for a few hours. I just wanted to feel like a real adult again.

Eventually the baby is satisfied and the 3-year-old has screamed himself out. He comes in for a hug and I tell him we should go home and paint. He agrees and we walk out holding hands.

I’m certain we sang kumbaya.

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Seriously, how stinking cute are they?

My kids are now 11 and 9.

Gone are the days of tantrums in the store, exploding diapers, car seat refusals and constant nursing. I generally run my errands alone now.

To those of you struggling, this might sound blissful, and sometimes it is. But when I see you in the store with your little ones, I miss it.

All of it.

I see you chasing your toddler through Target because he refused to sit in the cart and now thinks it hilarious to dart in and out of the clothing racks while you slowly lose your patience.

I remember and it is funny.

I see you in tears as your sweet newborn begins to wail right as you make it to the checkout line and you just need to pay.

I can almost feel my milk drop.

I see you struggling to keep up as your toddler darts down the aisle with his own little Trader Joe’s cart filling it with everything he can.

I hate those carts for you, but your kid looks adorable with his cart full of cookies and his huge proud smile.

I know none of this is consolation when you are in it and I’m sorry. But I do see you and I want to tell you something.

I wish I could help you, but I can’t. There is nothing I can do but smile at you in solidarity.

I smile because I was you. I smile because your kids are really cute. And I smile because I miss it.

I promise you, I am not judging you.

I actually wish I could find the words to tell you all the things I think as I watch you.

I want to tell you how much I miss every single moment of my kids being small.

How even the hard times, when I thought we just might not make it, the sweetness of their breath and the weight of their bodies in my arms would bring me back.

I look back at the pictures and I remember all the singing in the car, the snails on the back door, the naked running through the house, the screaming in the bathtub, the tiny clothes and dirty hands.

I miss it all.

I don’t want to diminish the struggle, because I’m sweaty just thinking about it. Nor do I want to repeat the pompous attitude of the woman who told me it will all get better.

Because I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t.

Yes.

It will be easier when they sleep through the night.

It will be easier when they are potty trained.

It will be easier when they are weaned.

It will be easier when they stop throwing fits for no reason.

Some things get easier.

But some get harder.

Yes they will sleep through the night, but they will have bad dreams you can’t protect them from.

Yes they will be potty trained, but some asshole will tell your daughter she has thick thighs and you will hold her as she cries.

Yes they will be weaned, but then you will worry they are eating the right foods and fight them to eat their damn vegetables.

Yes they will stop throwing fits for no reason, but they will throw fits for good reasons and you have to teach them how to be a decent person in a world full of bad, awful, no-good people.

Nothing ever “gets better.”

The struggle is always there, as it is in everything we do as humans, it just changes in complexity and your ability to actually help.

We are trying to raise our kids to understand complex things like empathy, perseverance, patience and fear.

Of course it is hard.

Some days you are all reading books in the same room, sipping hot drinks, and it is calm and beautiful and perfect.

Some days you all say mean things you later regret, you cry and get impatient and doors are slammed and everything is stupidly horrible.

It is always just different.

So I will say this.

I see you.

I know it is hard.

I know you are doing your best.

Remember, sometimes they give you kisses and hug you so tight you can’t breathe.

Remember, sometimes all they need is your arms to feel the world is safe and they can be themselves and you will always love them and protect them.

Remember, they are only tiny humans doing the best they can to figure out a world filled with ugliness and beauty. And you are only the parent doing your best in the moment with what you got.

So if you see me staring at you, it isn’t out of judgment or pity. It isn’t because I want to see how you are going to handle yourself.

I’m just looking back fondly at the struggles behind me and missing when my tiny humans would lose it in the store.

But I am glad it isn’t my boob hanging out this time.

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Man I miss this craziness.

My love affair with the Goblin King

img_7026I can’t imagine sharing this moment with anyone else, so I take the kids out of school early to join me.

The theater lights go out and the first notes swell around us.

“It’s only forever.
Not long at all.
Lost and lonely.”

There are tears in my eyes as the digital owl swoops across the screen. My boy is happily shoving popcorn into his mouth and smiling. My girl grabs my hand and we share a mutual giggle of excitement.

It is a perfect moment.

The film unfolds in front of us, beautifully bright and with amazing sound, and I can’t stop smiling. It feels like sitting Christmas morning next to the twinkling tree surrounded by wrapping paper, warm coffee in my hand and the smell of freshly baking cinnamon rolls in the oven.

Yes, it feels that perfect.

To say I love the movie “Labyrinth” feels like saying I love my hands. It is a part of me in a way I find hard to explain or even separate from myself.

The story of Sarah, Jareth, Ludo and Hoggle has become as real to me as anything else. It feels more like memory than film. Like I can remember the time I fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that was stolen.

I can remember it happening to me as clearly as I can remember the time I crashed my tricycle riding it down the driveway with my best friend. I can feel the black eye and the scrapped elbow, and the hands grabbing me as I plunged into the darkness of the oubliette.

I have similar connections to “Goonies,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original of course), “Princess Bride” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol”.

All of these stories have attached themselves to me in some way and helped shape how I look at the world, myself and my place in it. I find, much like my connection to music, I use these particular films as markers in my life and ways to reconnect with parts of myself whenever I am feeling lost.

“Labyrinth” is the one I turn to the most. Thanks to the talented and beautiful David Bowie (whose death I am not ready to talk about), it works on a visual and musical level to bring me back when nothing else will.

When I was in the dense darkness of depression, there was an intensity about me which I now find hard to fully recall. There was this sense of impending death and destruction which I wore close to me and it clouded every interaction I had.

It was in this place, I really leaned on my childish love of the Goblin King to save me.

***

I’m parked in front of my children’s school sobbing in the backseat of my minivan. Again. I’m crying so hard I can barely breath.

I want to either run away or die. I feel everything I have become is wrong and there is no way out of the darkness.

The Goblin King is sitting in his castle, much older now. There are wrinkles around his eyes, but his gaze is still fierce and intense. He is alone, the goblins no longer under his control because of the choice Sarah/I made. He is wearing layers of white and grey clothes, the silver and gold amulet sitting on his slightly exposed chest, the afternoon light through the castle windows making it appear he is glowing.

He is waiting for me to decide to call upon him again, so he can offer me his gift.

“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In his left hand, he twirls three crystals slowly, a soft clinking sound filling the empty throne room and echoing off the vast stonewalls. In his right hand, he gazes into the crystal and watches me sob and clutch at my stomach.

He longs to wipe the tears from my face and save me.

“Say the words,” he whispers.

He sits on the edge of his seat now.

“Give everything up love. Surrender everything about yourself and I will take complete control. You won’t have to worry anymore.”

I sit up and consider giving myself to him. The words are on my tongue and I can feel his anticipation rising with mine.

Then the sounds of the playground break through and I’m dragged back.

No.

My children.

I want to be here struggling in the real world with my kids, my family, my friends and my problems. I can’t leave them. I can’t give myself to him.

I dry my own tears from my face and stare straight ahead.

I say the words loudly and clear.

“You have no power of me.”

By the time the kids get out of school, I’ve crawled out of the complete darkness and am partially back to myself. I’ve refuted the Goblin King’s offer again to take all my burdens from me and I carry them once again.

I can’t tell you how many times this story has played out in my head as I’ve cried.

Dozens?

Hundreds?

Whenever I’m in the place of utter despair, when I feel abandoned by God and love and everything good and decent in the world, I go there.

I picture him, my Goblin King, sitting there loving me, watching me and waiting for me.

It makes the darkness somehow more bearable and makes me feel special/separate/unique.

I’ve often judged myself harshly for these fantasies and told myself I need to grow up. Life doesn’t contain the magic you pretend it does.

But it does.

I’ve seen it.

My 11-year-old son running from across the playground at school to give me a hug and tell me he loves me, in front of his friends.

My daughter glowing with confidence and joy as she plays her keyboard in the early morning light, her hair looking like spun gold.

The smell of the pine trees after it rains as I walk inside the barn to a job with my best friend I can hardly believe is real.

Watching myself grow and become the person I’ve always wanted to be in ways I could not have predicted or imagined.

Is it really such a stretch to believe the Goblin King is watching me from his castle?

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom is as great.

You have no power of me.”

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Last year I stumbled across this at the EMP Museum in Seattle. I may have cried.

Drink coffee and make shit up

computer

The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. every day. I make a cup of coffee and face the blank screen. I attempt to put words to the pictures inside my head.

It is hard.

The words don’t come quickly or easily and they are often edited by my fears. The layers of resistance I’ve built around me cling tight and bind my arms to my sides.

Nobody is asking me to write this blog.

Nobody is asking me to write my book.

Nobody is begging me to put in the time.

No, that isn’t entirely true. There is a little voice, sometimes barely heard over everything else, which is pushing me to do it in spite of all the reasons I tell myself no.

It’s this fierce little writing warrior nagging at me and reminding me how good it feels to sit and create.

It is me and I it.

It feels both noble and pointless.

It feels both powerful and depleting.

I’m learning I have to fight every day and it may never get easier.

Ever.

I may be fighting for the rest of my life against all the lies and crap I’ve clung to. I may always hide behind the obligations and distractions I use to give myself permission to not do the creative work my heart longs for.

I might never feel brave or bold or fierce.

Yet, I’m still here and my passion and love for writing is too. Every time I get to the moment when the words start to come or a character begins to talk to me, the magic of writing sucks me in and I again remember why I’m not tucked in my warm bed.

Writing my book makes me feel alive like nothing else, yet it is the hardest thing to make myself do.

Playing a game on my phone or folding laundry is so much easier and I get instant payoff, advanced to the next level and clean clothes in the closet.

There is no instant quantifiable payoff for drafting a good sentence. Nobody is reading over my shoulder and patting me on the back for creating a particularly vivid image or getting the tone of my character’s voice just right.

Yet, the feeling is something I crave. It is as if I momentarily tap into some hidden part inside me, usually dormant and buried deep down, but once ignited dances and rejoices openly like a kind of divine freedom.

I want more.

As a mother, I have seen how easily and freely children find this creative high. They draw, paint, sing, dance, sculpt and write with an abundance of carefree joy. They don’t want or need approval. They create because it is as natural as breathing and running.

Then someone comes along and tells them they are doing it wrong or they aren’t any good. Then they begin the painful act of comparing themselves to others.

This is when it becomes hard.

I see it with my daughter. She loves playing the keyboard. She sits at it for hours every day and she is starting to get pretty good. She enjoys creating new songs and learning new chords. There is a passion driving her completely separate from me and perhaps even from herself.

Yet the resistance is coming. I know it. The moment she meets someone better than her or starts comparing herself to the musicians on the radio, she will be confronted with it.

It will be hard.

She will look to me and I will tell her the truth. I’m still trying. I’m still pushing. Once you have a passion for something, it never fully leaves you. You have to keep going through the hard shit, through the tears and frustration and the horrible feeling you are never going to be good enough.

You keep going even if the payoff never comes.

We do it because it feeds our soul. We do it because once we stop moving forward, we allow in depression, loneliness and hopelessness.

She may have to feel all the bad things in order to believe me, but I’m going to be here. I’m going to hold out my hand and tell her to believe and to fight.

The passion driving us needs to be bigger than the forces against us.

We have to find a way to fight, even if the payoff is only a moment of joy.

My desire to create is my reason to get out of bed. Even as the words don’t come and I feel I will never finish this book or any other project, I am happier in the muck of trying than when I don’t try at all.

I’m writing these words because I need to read them and feel them.

I need to declare to myself the truth I know in my heart.

I am a writer.

I am dedicating myself to showing up and putting in the hard work.

I’m exposing all my weakness so I can get stronger.

I’m not allowing myself to succumb to distraction.

I’m acknowledging my fear, but not giving it the power to take me down.

I’m giving myself permission to write thousands of bad sentences in order to have the feeling of creating just one magical one.

I’m accepting it will never get easier, but asserting I will never quit.

I am a writer.

I drink coffee and I make shit up.

Saying goodbye after breakfast

He is bouncing in the back seat as we pull into a dirt driveway. The neighborhood is filled with ranch-style homes and there are horses in every field. He holds my hand tightly as we ring the doorbell, his sister on my hip.

My 4-H leader from when I was a child greets us and hugs me to her. It has been over 20 years since we’ve seen each other and she marvels at how grown-up I am. I introduce her to my children. My boy is 4-years-old and is wearing his favorite long-sleeve t-shirt with a kitty and a heart on it. His sister is 2 and she won’t let me put her down.

This woman I knew so well as a child feels like a stranger. She shows me pictures of her children and grandchildren. I only have vague memories of my time shared with this family and I feel suddenly old and slightly nostalgic.

We follow her through the kitchen and down three stairs to a dimly lit room. All along the back wall are cages, stacked five high, filled with guinea pigs. We can hear some moving around and several wheek a greeting to us. My boy is wide-eyed and bouncing again.

She tells us one of her guinea pigs was flown to Los Angeles to be used by the animators who made “G-Force.” This was the first movie my son saw on the big screen and he looks at me almost in tears from excitement. She takes out two little guinea pigs for him to choose from.

He only takes a moment. He points at the smallest one. She is the Teddy variety, a wiry haired breed known for resembling the stuffed animal they are named after. She is black, white and brown.

He names her Guinea The Pig.

This was seven years ago and she was my Valentine’s Day gift to him.

Since then, she has been featured in hundreds of his drawings, clay figures, short stories and even a few comic strip panels. He has created costumes for her, she has a stocking at Christmas and there isn’t a day he doesn’t pet her or watch her eat.

When I walk down the stairs every morning she greets me with her familiar wheeking sound, calling for veggies from the fridge and a little petting.

Her sound is as familiar to me as the hum of the refrigerator and I didn’t notice its absence until I saw the look on my boy’s face.

“Guinea is dead,” he says.

As he says the words, the reality hits him and he begins to sob.

We sit on the couch and his sister joins us and we all cry together for our sweet little piggy, our Super Guinea, our Steam Punk Unicorn Pig and my son’s favorite thing in the world.

We drive sister to school, but I let him come back home with me.

He sits down at the art table and begins drawing pictures and making pipe cleaner figures of his sweet Guinea. I can see tears come often, but he quickly brushes them away.

I want to comfort him, but something stops me. When he was little, I’d cuddle him in my arms and kiss the tears off his cheeks. He would tell me things and I’d listen.

He is 11 now and things are different. He listens to music with his door closed. He continuously turns the amp up while playing his guitar until I’m forced to tell him to turn it down. He reads books for an entire Sunday morning alone in his bed.

I don’t know what to do.

I try and busy myself around the house, but keep finding him near me.

I finally sit in my big comfy chair and he crawls in next to me.

We sit in silence for a long time and I just feel the weight of him next to me. My boy, whose feet are bigger than mine and who wears deodorant now, feels the same in my arms as always. I rub his head and he purrs into me.

I know exactly what to do.

I kiss his head and listen as he tells me how much he will miss her. We talk about other things too and the morning melts away in my chair.

We eventually make our way to the computer to look at pictures and videos of Guinea. We laugh at the video of him at 4-years-old trying to walk her on a tiny leash in the yard. We marvel at how little she and he both were.

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Then he asks to see pictures of himself as a baby. We start with the painting of the nursery photos, and move through newborn hospital shots, pictures of him in my soft blue baby sling, propped up next to his baby cousin, sleeping on a blanket in front of the fireplace, starting to roll, crawling on all fours, videos of him laughing, food on his face, 1st birthday, playing in the backyard, dressing up, riding the tractor with grandma and on and on.

After an hour of pictures, I tell my boy we’ve had enough and turn off the computer.

We decide to get dressed and go eat lunch at the bookstore. On the way out the door, I point at the giant stack of books next to my chair.

“Don’t let me buy another book,” I tell him. “You don’t need one either. We are just looking.”

We end up buying magazines, because they aren’t books, and sandwiches. We find a cozy place on the patio to read, eat and drink tea.

“Mom,” my boy says.

I look up.

“Do you see that napkin over there?”

He points to a brown napkin stuck on a small rosebush. It is blowing slightly in the breeze.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I’m going to free it,” he says. “It deserves to have an adventure.”

“You should pick it up and throw it in the garbage,” I say.

“That’s no fun,” he says. “It will end up there eventually, why not let it have a little adventure?”

He stands up.

“It is recyclable anyway,” he adds.

He runs over and pulls the napkin loose from the rosebush. It flies through the parking lot and out of sight. He smiles and returns to his magazine.

Adventures in the secret cove

The trail is muddy and mostly slick rocks, so I’m forced to walk slowly and carefully toward the sound of the beach.

The incline down becomes steeper and suddenly I slip and land hard on my right knee. My leg is covered in slimy light brown earth and tiny flecks of rock.

I stand back up and keep going.

The ocean is in view now, crashing loudly against a pocketed black boulder. I’ve stumbled into a little cove straight out of Neverland and I can almost see the mermaids peeking at me when the waves recede.

beachThere is a small and beautiful waterfall to my right, cutting through the rock and trickling down onto a large wooden box covered with giant iron rings and rusty hinges. I scan for pirates.

The smile on my face is wide and full and real.

I am happy again.

This time last year, on this exact same vacation, things were very different.

My depression was wound so tight around me it blocked out everything and everyone.

I tried to hide it. I played cards, laughed and even made it to the beach once.

But inside, I was empty and hollow.

And I was fooling nobody.

The darkness and alcohol kept me locked in a loop of feeling sorry for myself and imagining the many ways I could disappear below the waves forever.

I was so lost.

A seagull lands next to me and squawks loudly.

“Good day,” I say and tip my sunhat.

I chuckle at how silly I am and the smile bursts across my face again.

My mother rents this beach house from a friend of hers every year. We come with my mom, my aunt, her son and my two children.

This is the first year my depression didn’t take center stage. I’m able to control it now, thanks to therapy and medication.

I’m not lost anymore.

I’m fighting.

I hike back to the beach house and burst through the door and begin babbling on about an expedition to the “secret cove.” My kids are ready in a moment and we dash back outside.

As we hike, I fill them in on the mermaids, treasure and the possible pirate danger.

They giggle and play along.

We pick up sticks and sharpen them with rocks.

We talk about what we will buy with the treasure and wonder if the mermaids will let us feel their tails.

But after only a few minutes in this magical cove, it is the waterfall that catches their full attention.

“Let’s climb it,” my boy says and takes off.

Fear grips me in the stomach and I swallow down all the images of broken bones or worse.

He is an excellent climber.

I watch him place each foot carefully and test the handholds.

He looks back and smiles at us.

We follow.

His sister and I copy his movements, making our way slowly up the waterfall. We have to cross back and forth over the water and we are quickly soaked.

Each movement is slow and many times my girl looks back at me with fear and doubt in her eyes.

“I don’t think we can go any further,” she says over and over.

“Go slow,” I answer every time. “Just one movement at a time. You can do this.”

She does.

We do.

When we reach the top, my boy offers his hand to his sister and then me. He helps us up the last little lip and then we all stand, exhausted and soaked. We burst out laughing.

“We just climbed a frickin waterfall!” my boy yells.

“Don’t say frickin,” I reply. “But we really did. We climbed a frickin waterfall.”

The mom bathing suit vs. the hipster pool

swimmingWe get off the elevator, round the corner and I see it.

No. No. No.

I want to turn around, but the kids are skipping ahead.

“Come on mom.”

Before me is the rooftop pool of the young and the hip. It is rectangular shaped with a giant mirror angled down at the end so you can watch yourself swim.

But nobody is swimming.

Oh, no. Not this bunch.

A few are in the pool, but they are only waist deep. The rest sit on couches or are standing in groups. Every girl is model thin and wearing a tiny bikini. Hair and makeup are perfect. I glance around thinking surely we stumbled onto a photo shoot.

Nope.

No cameras.

The boys are model ready too, gathered in various clusters with cut abs and perfect tans, all acting as if this is a completely normal thing to be doing.

This is not fucking normal.

I don’t know what this is.

Every hand is either holding a colorful cocktail or a tall glass of beer.

“This pool is so cool!” my kids yell and quickly take off their shoes and dive in.

All eyes are on us.

I hear a few snickers and endure a malicious stare from a girl drinking something pink from a sparkling glass. She is probably around 23 and I get it. Kids are so annoying when you are young. I smile back.

“Are you kidding?” I hear one of the pretty male peacocks in the shallow end of the pool say to his friends. He follows it up by something I can’t hear. They laugh.

A mother with kids at a hotel pool is apparently the funniest thing they have ever seen.

“What are you looking at freaks,” I want to yell. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

But I don’t.

I look around and find one empty spot left around the pool. It is a big brown couch with several large pillows. I grab a few towels and a glass of the free water. I climb into the oversize couch and find if I scoot all the way to the back with my book, I can almost disappear.

The kids are busy swimming laps back and forth. Their giggles and laughter fills the empty space.

I see my girl kick past a highly groomed beer drinker, splashing his back with a little water.

“What the fuck?” he says and shields his fluffy blond hair from any potential drips.

His friends laugh.

I don’t laugh.

I fucking don’t laugh one bit.

I sit with my black bathing suit cover over my black bathing suit dress and want to throw-up. Or maybe I want to eat. Or maybe I want a cocktail.

The insecurity and anger wrestle inside as I try and just not be here.

I never looked like these people. Never. Not when I was a teen. Not when I was 20. Never.

I hate them.

Then I’m mad for hating them.

I am judging them for youth and beauty, something they can’t help. These are someone’s children. They are just enjoying their vacation by the pool and don’t want to be reminded little human’s share the planet with them.

But they don’t have to be douchbags.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”

My girl is calling my name. I nod her direction and all the lovely little pretties look my way.

“Mom!” she says again. “Come swim with us! You said you would swim with us. Come on mom!”

I sit there and think about all the things I want for my girl.

I never want her to see or feel what I am feeling right now.

I never want her to worry what all these assholes think about her body or mine.

I never want her to let anybody stop her from doing things she enjoys.

I love swimming and this was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip.

I smile at her and climb out of the big couch. I take off the bathing suit cover, put on my goggles and walk right into the pool.

The next hour or so I play a game where I am a water monster. The kids swim from one end of the pool to the other and I try and catch them. If I do, they stand on my legs and jump off while I lift them and push so they fly as far as they can.

It’s fun.

We laugh and taunt each other.

We swim until my arms ache and the sun is starting to set.

Eventually, we get out and dry off. We sit on the big couch together and talk about where we might go for dinner when daddy gets out his business meeting.

An older man with a very dark tan walks by wearing a g-string leopard print Speedo. You can see his…everything.

Both kids look at me and we burst into silent giggles.

Maybe we are assholes too.

‘Ugly, bad and stupid girl’

I see anger and hurt in her little face, but there isn’t time to address it.

I pack her lunch. I make her toast and oatmeal. I put a little watercolor Valentine heart next to her plate.

“You make me proud every day.
Love,
Mom”

She smiles and says thanks, but I can see it didn’t reach her. The place inside where it is hurting is hidden too deep. I can’t reach it with a card or a hug.

It is time for her to leave for school. She moves slowly, layering three jackets over her flower dress.

“Remember,” I tell her. “You control what kind of day you have.”

“Yeah,” she says and gives me a half hug before walking out the front door.

I watch her stomp away with her head down. She doesn’t look back, but I wave from the door anyway.

I drink my coffee and silently pray for her.

The day drains away. Errands. Cleaning. Driving. Driving. Driving.

Carpool reports she screamed on the way to school because she lost a game.

Brother reports she was yelling at some kid on the playground.

She reports everything is unfair.

Great.

The day isn’t over. We have to make a second trip back to school. She brings her knitting and I think maybe this wave is over.

No.

On the drive back home, she starts in on her brother again. It is over nothing at all.

He tries to tell her he doesn’t want to argue, but she clearly does.

She needs to prove her point and won’t stop.

The sound scrapes along the edges of the car and seems to fill every space.

“Stop it,” I say.

She does not. The sound escalates and I try again.

“Just drop it,” I say louder. “I’m serious. I don’t want to hear it anymore.”

I turn on the music, but she continues even louder.

The sound reminds me of arguing with my brother as a kid.

I want to tear my hair out.

I want to tear her hair out.

“I’m fucking sick of this shit,” I blurt out. “Stop fighting. You have been fighting from the second you woke up. I’m over it. STOP. NOW.”

Even as the words come out, I regret them. I want to force them back down my throat, but the damage is done.

She begins to sob.

You fucked up, I tell myself. You really fucked up.

Even so, I am still angry and my heart has turned into a heavy stone.

“Stop crying,” I yell.

“I can’t!” she yells back. “Don’t you understand I can’t?”

“You can and you will,” I say.

She doesn’t.

The rest of the drive home, I fume and she sobs.

We walk in the door and she loudly clomps up to her room. I stomp into mine muttering about respect and how ridiculous she is being.

I put on my pajamas and wash my face. My anger slowly fades and the sound of her sobs reaches me. A stab of guilt and regret does too.

I take a deep breath and walk into her room.

She is hiding under the blankets crying.

“Can I sit down?”

“Yes.”

“Can I hug you?”

“Yes.”

She lunges into my arms and cries into me.

“I’m a ugly, bad and stupid girl,” she cries. “Nobody will ever forgive me.”

I hate every one of these words.

“Oh love,” I start.

“It is true,” she says. “I am so stupid and dumb.”

I hold her and let her tell me all the things. The boy who told her she looked like a pile of garage. The girls who won’t let her play with them at recess. Her fear she will never learn to ride her bike without training wheels. Her anger at being the littlest in the family.

All. The. Things.

With each word her body softens until she is a mushy, soft baby back in my arms. I cradle her to me and rock gently.

“No matter what you do, I will never love you any less fierce,” I say. “You can never, ever do anything I won’t forgive. Ever. You are my girl and nothing will ever change my love for you. Ever.”

The smile on her face radiates and I am bursting with love.

How could I have ever yelled at this precious face? How could I have forgot for even one second how small and beautiful and tender and perfect she is?

“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I should not have yelled at you. I lost my temper and it wasn’t OK.”

“You are the best mommy ever,” she says.

We melt into a mushy pile of love under the blankets and talk and talk and talk.

She really does make me proud.

Every day.

lola