Fighting against the clichés of life

For sure I was going to work with animals. My days would be surrounded with puppies, kittens and horses. I would heal them, train them and love them all. People would be astounded by my abilities and would travel from around the world to see me work my magic.

I’d live somewhere in the mountains surrounded by beautiful redwood trees, but just a short horse ride to the beach. I’d have a house filled with children to share my love and we’d be deliriously happy. My mom would have her own house on my ranch and I’d always have visitors coming and going. I’d be surrounded by people at all times and never feel alone. Ever.

This was the vision. My grand plans for my life.

When your 10-years-old, the world is open to you and nothing seems impossible.

When I look at where I am now, my life is nothing like that. In fact, I epitomize every Lifetime movie special about white middle-aged women.

I’m headed toward 40. I have two kids and live in suburbia with two guinea pigs. I drive a carpool in my minivan and embarrass my children. I volunteer at my kids’ school and am the pizza lady. I’m heavier than I used to be. I’m in therapy for my depression. I’m starting to wear an alarming number of necklaces and scarves. I’ve started collecting little glass turtles. I drink wine and go to a book club. I cry at sappy movies and talk a lot about when my kids were really little. I go on Facebook and try to come up with witty comments so my friends will “like” it. I take an absurd amount of selfies.

I am a cliché.

If my kids played soccer, then the picture would be entirely complete. But since they don’t, I’ll just further my image by saying ridiculous old-people things like “I can remember when gas cost $1.75” or “in my day you had to record your favorite song off the radio if you wanted to hear it over and over.”

Even better, I can start complaining about how fast time goes by and how sad it all is. The children of my two very best friends from high school are 18 and 16 now. Seriously? I can’t even understand that. It’s dumb.

When the depression had its hold on me, this line of thinking would have sent me right back to bed. I’d have pulled the covers over my head and wept at how my life has turned out. I’d try to focus on the blessings, but they would slip through my fingers and fall away. I’d be left lying in the debris of my dreams with an intense sense of hopelessness.

Not anymore. Now, even though I’m aware at how completely formulaic my life is, there is still this enormous part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. This quiet whisper that tells me, “yeah, but there is something special about you.” It cries out to me that my life hasn’t even begun yet.

I carve out moments to think and pray now. I dream about what my life could look like and how I can make it happen. I write a lot of poetry and daydream about love and adventure. I’m filled with a hope that I’d lost before.

I spend a fair amount of time now laughing at myself. This morning, I awoke from a dream about a pink kitten named Cotton Candy. I could almost feel her fur and hear her purring next to me. I made up songs about her and sang them to my children at breakfast.

“Pink kitty, how you make my heart sing
You are the reason for everything
Those eyes are so beautiful and bright
And that sweet purr brings me such delight”

My kids laughed and made fun of their silly mother. I love being childish, vulnerable and open. Life is much more fun when I don’t take myself so seriously.

(NOTE: Just so you know, I’m aware that I’m writing in clichés now. It’s OK. All those Facebook memes are right. Life is too short. Dance like nobody is watching. And so on and so forth.)

The darkness is still there, but I don’t surrender to it as often. As my mother would say, “can I get a whoop-whoop!” There are parts of me that are awakening and stretching for the first time in years, and it feels good.

Damn good.

I am not just a series of stats on a piece of paper. I am not just what you see. Nobody is. Chuck Palahniuk was wrong when he wrote in “Fight Club”:

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

There was a time when I believed that whole-heartedly and it almost swallowed me alive. So I now reject that notion. I’m in the “we are all special and unique” camp now. I’m working hard to see the light in everyone and celebrating what I love about people in my life.

I recognize that from the outside, I represent a certain type of white woman in America. You can file me under middle-class, middle-aged, privileged, whining and self-absorbed. I’m not arguing any of that. However, I’m more than that. We are all more than our labels.

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but I haven’t been posting anything here. I think I’m fearful of the types of things I’m writing. Words are flowing, but what is pouring out isn’t focused or even clear. It’s a jumbled puzzle of conflicting emotions and ideas.

Mostly it’s short stories and poems about casting away depression and finding my place. I’m searching for a deeper relationship with God and seeking an understanding of my purpose.

So, with a bit of trepidation and fear, I’m going to share some of that writing with you. Hope you like it.

 

IMG_4624Sky message

I am a child.

I stand in the rain, eyes shut tight, as the drops fall ever faster. Like fingertips pressing down on my head and shoulders, they draw lines down my neck and arms. My clothes become heavy and my body shivers harshly.

I stretch out my arms and try to embrace that which I know I can’t. Tears join the raindrops and at once I can’t stand. My legs give way and I fall to the wet ground. The water pools around me, and the grownup voices yell at me to go inside. Get out of the rain. You look ridiculous.

But I don’t.

I am a child.

I want the rain to grow arms and pick me up. I want it to tell me that I’m beautiful, special and that there is nobody else in the world just like me. I want the words to slip into my ears and run into my brain. The intensity of this longing stabs sharply into my stomach and I wince as the pain spreads and threatens to overtake me.

You are not like everyone else.

These words slosh around me like a living being, vibrating against my head, and I am suddenly lifted. Heavy arms pluck me up like a baby and cradle me in a loving embrace. The rains dripping heartbeat pounds against my back as I bury my face into the bosom of my protector. Soft breath is against my neck and the whispers drip slowly into my ears.

You are safe.

Belief floods me and the shivers cease. The pain runs down my legs onto the ground into a puddle of misery and sadness. I open my eyes to see it reflected below me, the dark and ugly mass of insecurity and loneliness that has clung to me for so long. As I watch, it starts to flow away from me, streaming toward some unknown drain to the depths below.

You are safe.

The words fill me with hope and I cling hard to the arms holding me. Yet even as I try and trust the safety and warmth flooding me, fear creeps in. Am I too heavy? Am I slipping down? How long can this protection possibly last before I am dropped into an even bigger puddle?

I am a child.

The clouds slowly blow away and the sun bursts forward with a strength that takes my breath away. I find myself standing on my own feet, feeling my heartbeat returning to normal. The warm blood of my life courses through my body. I raise my arms to the sky and try to hug that which I know I can’t.

I am not like everyone else.

Nobody is.

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Turning bullshit into strength

My body won’t go fast enough and I’m angry at myself for being so weak. As I crest each dune, I have to stop and catch my breath.

“Please let him be OK. Please.”

Dark thoughts circle and I try to push them away, but they scream out at me.

“What kind of mother are you to let this happen? What is wrong with you?”

My eyes scan constantly looking for him. I call his name occasionally, but that causes the panic to rise too much.

“He is fine. He is fine. He is fine.”

When I finally climb over the last dune, the entire beach stretches out before me.

ocean

My eyes search for signs of him, but he isn’t there.

My heart drops.

I was sure he would be right here.

Certain of it.

The tears that I’ve been holding back begin to flow and I walk as quickly as I can to the first two people I see. It’s an older couple cuddling on a blanket.

“Have you seen a little boy? He has brown hair, orange and black glasses and was wearing his pajamas?”

The words rush out and I fight back a sob in my throat. I search their faces as they look back and forth between each other.

“No englash,” one finally says.

In frustration, I march away from them and pull myself together. There is no reason to panic. Nothing to be gained by that.

Stay calm.

As I walk down the beach, stopping to ask everyone I see, it becomes clear to me that he isn’t here and hasn’t been here.

Where could he be?

I spot two lifeguards at the top of the pier and start walking that direction. It is time for reinforcements and that realization frightens me. As I walk, I replay the entire morning in my head.

I spent about an hour after breakfast writing some poetry and a short story in the tent while the children explored. I did not know exactly where they were, but I knew they were fine. We have been to the Bodega Dunes campground about a dozen times now and I feel very comfortable there. Each time we go, I extend the boundaries a bit more.

Camping is one of the few times I feel my kids get to experience that true feeling of adventure and freedom. But it is a tricky balancing act between trusting they will be fine and knowing that it is my duty to protect them from harm. I might always seem very calm on the outside, but I’m often waging a war in my head.

“He is getting really high in that tree. A fall now might be fatal, but he is a good climber. I should trust that, but I’m scared. I can’t watch.”

“The kids have been gone too long. I know they are having fun and they are together. I’m certain they are fine, but what if they are not? How would I know when to look for them? Maybe I’m trusting them too much.”

“She is swimming pretty far out in the water, if she starts to drown now I won’t be able to make it in time. I should call her back…but I want her to be confident. She is doing really good.”

That morning, they came back on their own to check in and I felt very good about the day. We decided to spend the afternoon at the beach, so I needed to pack up some food, sunscreen and towels. I tell my boy to stay nearby and to get dressed for the beach.

“I don’t want to go to the beach right now,” he says.

“Well, that’s not an option. We are all going together, so don’t go too far.”

I busy myself with packing and then realize he is gone. We wait about 30 minutes for him to return and he does not. That’s when I start circling the campground looking for him.

That was nearly three hours ago, and the calm is fading away. The darkness is taking over.

I reach the pier and walk up to the life guards.

“My son is missing,” I tell them without tears. All business.

One man asks me a series of questions and I answer them. He writes details about my boy on his hand.

9 years old

brown hair

glasses

pajamas

missing 3 hours

It’s all so casual, as if I’m ordering up tacos or making a grocery list.

It’s all so slow and calm.

I want to scream.

I want to cry.

I want my boy.

The other man is scanning the beach as we talk.

“Is that him?” he asks.

“Where?” I say.

“Over there, by the water. Looks to be a nine-year-old boy.”

“I can’t tell this far away, looks like an adult to me.”

“Nope. Definitely a kid.”

He jumps off the pier and runs in the direction of the shadowy figure walking with a stick. When he reaches him, he waves at me. It’s my boy.

Thank you God. Thank you.

We walk toward each other. When I reach him, he has been crying, he is covered in sweat and we both hug each other.

“Don’t you EVER do that again! What where you thinking?” I begin.

He stops crying and explains. While our friends planned to drive all the stuff to the beach, the kids and I were going to make the long hike there. He made the decision to just go on his own, so he could explore and continue the game he was playing. He made it there, but couldn’t find us and tried to hike back. That’s when he got lost. He wandered the dunes for a long time and had just made it back to the beach. His plan was now to get help.

“Did you learn a lesson?” I ask him.

“I’m sorry mommy. I love you.”

I want to be mad and scream, but I can’t. I’m so grateful he is safe that I just want to love on him. While we wait for friends to arrive with food and water for us both, I playfully bury him in the sand with only his head and feet sticking out.

“You’re never leaving my side again,” I tell him.

coopinthesandWe play at the beach for a short time, but we are getting sunburned. All our beach supplies are back at the campground. Our friends are driving back, but my boy wants to take the trail and see where he made the wrong turns. I think it could be good closure, so I agree.

I hold both my children’s hands as we head up the first dune. Right away I know this is a mistake. I almost cry when I get to the top as my lungs scream out in protest. My daughter decides to take this moment to fight with her brother about who is going to be second in line. My son then complains that he is hot. They both then start a barrage of whining that makes me vibrate with anger.

I grab the walking stick my boy has been using and bang it against a rock as hard as I can until it breaks into tiny pieces.

“This day is complete and utter bullshit.”

Silence.

“Mom you just said…” my boy begins.

“I know what I said. It’s true. Today has been a bullshit day. I hate today. This is not how I wanted things to go. It’s BULLSHIT!”

I scream it loud and the kids giggle and look nervously at each other.

“Say it,” I tell them. “Scream it!”

“Really?” they both ask.

“Yes, scream bullshit. I think you will feel better.”

We all yell together.

“BULLSHIT!”

We start hiking in silence and occasionally the kids mutter bullshit under their breath. I start to feel bad about this outburst and realize I need to change it. We have lived with that feeling enough.

I stop and turn to them both.

“You know what?” I say. “Today was bullshit, but let’s change it. We are strong. Do you know how much we hiked today? What we have overcome? We are strong. Let’s say that.”

They have skeptical looks, but we do it.

“I AM STRONG!”

It takes some time to hike back and we get turned around. It really is an impossibly complicated maze of trails. But we laugh, have fun and feel strong together.

We turn bullshit into strength.

It’s not perfect and it might seem insane to some, but I’m feeling proud of myself for how I handled things.

Life is filled with so many moments that will just bury you if you let them. You have to dig deep and find it within yourself to focus on the strength.

I could have chosen to spend that hike yelling at my boy and punishing him. I could have made him feel terrible or filled him with shame and fear. I could have allowed my pain to envelope all of us and cloud everything after that.

But I made another choice and for that I am truly proud.

photo

What to do when your tires hit the dirt

I should have known.

Most people would have figured it out in about 10 seconds, or certainly after a few minutes.

Not me.

I don’t like to brag, but sometimes I can be completely and utterly committed to making a big mistake.

It’s not that I seek out these little life lessons for myself. It’s more like I just ignore all signs of warning and logic and just keep plugging ahead.

It’s dedicated stupidity of the most spectacular sort.

Yesterday was a brilliant example.

I needed to make a road trip to Topaz to pick up my darling summer daughter from her visit with grandma. The kids stayed home with daddy and I had the car blissfully to myself.

I plugged the destination into the maps app on my iPhone, followed the prompts and indulged in a mini-marathon of my favorite podcast, NPR’s Snap Judgment.

For about 3 hours I listened to stories of lost loves reuniting, people overcoming fear and families reunited after centuries apart.

Then my tires hit a dirt road.

road

Uh oh. This can’t be right.

I stopped, turned off the podcast and looked around.

The road was very rocky, dusty and quite deserted.

This is wrong.

I looked at my phone and it showed me driving 5 miles and then turning right. I was only 30 minutes from my destination.

So on I drove.

Windows and sunroof open, I put all doubt aside and focused on enjoying the ride.

After a few minutes I found this:

mine

I pulled over and read all about the Golden Gate Mine. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Look at me. Being all carefree and adventurous.

Then I came to a little stream that I had to cross.

creek

Then the road got really steep and my tires were having trouble keeping up with the demands of the trail.

Still I had seen no cars. The only house I’d come across was abandoned and falling apart.

Fear started creeping in and I kept saying to myself, “this can’t be right.”

But I was committed to this route. I couldn’t make a U-turn, because then I’d have to drive all that again.

No going back

The road became gravel for a bit and my turn was only .5 miles away. Way to go Bridgette! You made it.

“Turn right.”

I looked all around. No turns.

No other roads or paths or anything. Just the same rocky dirt road leading further up the mountain.

Then I lost cell reception.

Now I was scared.

I got out of the car and just stood there.

“What do I do?” I said aloud.

I’m lost and all alone. Tears started in my eyes and I felt a rising panic in my gut.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.

Should I turn around or just keep going? What if the road gets worse and I blow a tire? What if it goes on for so long I run out of gas? What if I lose traction and skid down the hill and crash? I have no food, no water and it’s hot out.

The smart choice was to turn around and head back to the main road.

But that wasn’t fun and I just had to see this through. I’d come too far to turn around.

Dedicated stupidity at it’s finest.

I got back in the car and continued the climb.

Over another stream. Around and around and up and up. I knew I was going to be late now, but I had to see where this went. I kept thinking, the next turn it will become a paved road again.

Nope.

After another 10 minutes of driving I reached the top of the hill. This is what I saw:

mountaintop

I got out of the car and the air was filled with the most gorgeous smell of pine. A breeze blew through my hair and I actually laughed.

Groups of people on horseback were just disappearing into the woods. I walked over to a woman in jeans and a t-shirt that had a surprised look on her face.

“I’m lost,” I told her and realized how funny I must look in my mommy SUV and flip-flops.

“You sure are,” she replied with a little laugh.

She had a beautiful smile and she gave me a big hug.

“You’ve reached Little Antelope Pack Station,” she said. “Welcome.”

sign

She told me about a summer camp they were running for underprivileged kids. The kids get to ride horses, shoot BB guns and learn about nature.

“Want to ride a horse?” she offered. “Something brought you here.”

I used to ride horses all the time and I yearned to take her up on it. The thought actually brought tears to my eyes.

But people were waiting for me.

I have to be responsible.

She told me that I’d have to drive all the way back to the bottom.

No other way out.

I took a few pictures and hugged her goodbye.

“Come back when you have more time,” she said and waved to me as I pulled away.

The drive down the hill was easy and fast.

As I passed all the markers from before, I could remember all the emotions I felt at each spot; fear, excitement, doubt, joy, disappointment and happiness.

Now it all seemed so silly, pointless and wasteful.

I’m very lucky. All that came of my little escapade was a very dirty car and a flat tire (that happened a few hours later).

Things could have been so much worse.

I am tired of moving blindly and innocently forward without questioning things or listening to my instincts.

I’m so stubborn and my craving for adventure and excitement is ridiculous.

It is causing turmoil, pain and regret.

While the beauty I experienced yesterday is something I will always treasure, hopefully this will be a lesson learned.

I am a mother. People are counting on me.

Diversions can be dangerous.