‘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

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Date night with a side of righteousness

MoviesFor the first time in months, my husband and I make it to a grown-up movie.

We grab our yummy snacks and settle in for “The Revenant.”

This isn’t a feel good movie, but it is Leonardo DiCaprio and nature and pretty snow.

So, yep, I’m in.

I put my feet up on the railing in front of me, dig into the popcorn bag and prepare to get lost.

A minute before the theater goes fully dark and the trailers begin, a guy walks in with his four-year-old little boy. He has a blonde skater hair cut, “Star Wars” t-shirt and the sweetest little squeaky voice.

As adorable as he is, I am instantly upset.

This has to be a mistake, I think. He is in the wrong theater.

Nope.

They are here to stay.

Another baby at a rated R movie.

Not cool.

So not cool.

My blood starts to boil and I want to go over and ring the neck of this “dad.”

What the hell man? Are you serious?

“It is none of your business,” my husband whispers to me and grabs my hand in an attempt to bring me back to date night.

I can see he already knows I will not have fun. I will not enjoy the movie. I will fume the entire time.

He throws a piece of licorice my way and silently hopes for the best.

It is too late.

I spend the majority of the film acutely aware a baby is seeing the same bloody images I am seeing. I can hear his little voice asking questions and each time it stabs at me.

Like the damn mother bear ripping apart Leo, I want to maul this kid’s father right here in front of everyone.

I’m sure people would applaud.

I mean, come on man. Are you for real?

The movie is over and luckily the dad escapes before I can reach him, because I have my self-righteous speech rehearsed and I am ready to unleash it.

I hold onto the anger the entire ride home.

I hold onto the anger as I climb into bed.

I hold onto the anger in my dreams…a mix of bloody gore and motherly instincts fusing into disturbing images of human hearts and dead babies.

I hold onto it the next morning as I drink my coffee.

In truth, I’ve been holding onto it for three days now.

Ugh.

I wrote three versions of this blog, with various approaches. From the sanctimonious, “I would NEVER let my kids see a movie like this” to the all-encompassing, “this is what is wrong with our country.”

Then it occurs to me…I just need to get over it.

Now.

The only person I am hurting is me.

No amount of fucking mothering martyrdom will change the images the kid saw. No amount of anger will either.

I hate feeling helpless and I want to mother the shit out of every kid I see.

But the only power I have is over my family.

I can’t protect other kids and holding onto the pain of it does nothing for them or myself.

I have to move on.

So I am going to watercolor paint, clean my house and work on my favorite new writing project.

I’m going to listen to David Bowie and dance in the kitchen.

I’m going to make homemade cappuccinos and hug my friends.

But next time I go to a rated R movie and I see a small child, I might not be able to hold back my anger.

Then again, maybe I will just leave.

Because all I can control is me.

And I don’t want to feel angry and helpless anymore.

 

Movies

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.

Fear, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing

She is screaming in terror again. Afraid to walk into her own bedroom, she cowers and shakes her legs. As I push her to go through the door, face her fear, her anger turns on me.

“You just don’t understand me,” she screams.

I know she believes that with every ounce of her little body.

Yet, I do get it, my darling daughter.

Fear is something I understand intimately.

This week I had a car accident. I escaped with a few injuries, but my car did not. The events are on a loop in my brain, robbing me of sleep and keeping me quite tightly wound in fear.

Driving down a country road at 40 mph, a white van tried to cross right in front of me. I had no time to stop. I screamed and slammed on my brakes, but it wasn’t good enough. I hit the side of the van, the airbag opened and I just sat there in a cloud of smoke. I had been talking on my hands-free to a friend. I was on my way to deliver chocolate milk to his sick child. He heard it all.

Fear.

I stumbled out of the car and sat on the curb. Police officers were everywhere and I was very confused. Someone put a blanket on my shoulders and my hand hurt bad enough for me to scream and cry. I looked down and it was burned. Some chemical from the airbag was burning my skin.

Fear.

My friend arrives and so does an ambulance. The driver of the van was a parole officer and that’s why there are police everywhere. I sign forms, answer questions and do what I am told. It’s all a blur. My hand throbs whenever ice is removed and all I keep thinking about is my children, my friends and my family.

Fear.

It could have been so much worse. That morning could have been the last time my children saw me. My friend could have heard my death while on the phone with me. My husband, mother and brother would be left with nothing but memories of me. Someday my children would read the journals I’d left behind and wonder at this mother that was so consumed with pain, anger and depression.

I would be leaving a legacy of fear.

That is not what I want.

I sit on my daughter’s floor and we are looking at each other. She is shaking again as she retells the story she heard at school that has been the cause of her anxiety and fear for about three weeks now.

A mother and daughter are playing a game in their house. The daughter’s eyes are blindfolded and she reaches her arms out in front of her. The mother claps and the girl follows it. At some point the mother goes into the kitchen to cook, but the girl is still playing. Clapping comes from the closet. The girl walks toward it, thinking it is her mother. Red eyes and hands appear and grab her. She disappears.

Tears stream down her face again at the retelling. I hold her and let her cry. I’m out of tricks and I’m so tried.

Stupid fear.

I have tried everything in my mommy arsenal to combat this for her. I have rubbed her back, let her follow me around like a shadow, slept with her, used natural calming oils, woken up all hours of the night to comfort her and talked endlessly about fear.

Nothing is working. She is jumpy, quick to tears and still as scared as ever.

“You just don’t understand me,” she says again in an exasperated tone. “You have never been this afraid.”

As I hold her, all the stupid fears that I live with daily swirl around me. They are all so limiting, debilitating and so ridiculously boring.

Suddenly I am angry.

Stop acting like your mother.

Be stronger.

Be tougher.

Be more.

She is looking at me and I see so much of myself reflected back. All my imperfections and insecurity just mirrored back at me in this little concentrated form.

I do understand you, my love, and I am sorry.

“I can’t fight your fears for you,” I say while I stroke her cheek with my injured hand. “You have to do it. You have the power.”

“I can’t mommy,” she says. “I just can’t.”

“You can, my love. You will. There is no other option. You are tougher than you think.”

We lock eyes and she smiles a teeny bit.

Brother walks over. He has been fighting his fear too, but he has found a way to conquer it. No longer is he shadowing me or refusing to sleep in his room.

“Pretend you are a puppy,” he tells his sister. “You are learning and you might not always get it the first time, but you keep trying.”

He barks and licks her hand.

They both laugh.

Yes, my boy, we are puppies.

Sometimes we bark and chase our tail in the pure joy of the moment. Sometimes we chew up the couch and sit back and wonder at the destruction we caused.

We deserve instant forgiveness, endless chances and boundless love.

We all do.

Battling giants and stomping the floor

10274147753_73b9312e43_cThe children were playing on the edge of the woods when then heard loud sobbing. Although frightened by the sound, the children gathered their courage and found a lonely dragon crying. Each tear turned into a precious stone as it hit the ground. The children befriended the dragon and he no longer was lonely.

For years the children would return each Autumn to the woods and visit the dragon. He would give them one of his tears to keep. As the children entered the darkness of winter, these precious stones would serve to remind them of the love, light and friendship they share.

But this year something dreadful happened. A horrible, mean giant stole all the tears. This giant prefers darkness, fear and loneliness and he loves to scare little children. You must sneak into the giants home while he sleeps and steal back the dragon tears one by one. You will need to gather your inner-strength, courage and light to lead you through the task. Good luck.

This is the story that I and others read to the children on Saturday at our school’s annual Harvest Festival. The children would then sneak into the giant’s house and grab a stone.

I watched as one by one they did, indeed, gather their courage and enter the house. The giant was making sounds and shifting in his sleep. He would occasionally wake or say something scary. The children did it. They loved it. Some came back multiple times to conquer their fear.

As I watched this play out over and over, I realized how much I am running from my own fears. My giant is my fear of rejection. My fear that when people get to know me they will leave. My fear that when I speak my truth I will be laughed at. My fear that allowing myself this space and time to heal is selfish. My fear that I will never be happy because I don’t really deserve it.

So I’m facing these fears. I’m walking right up to them. The giant is making lots of sounds but I’m moving forward anyway. Inner-strength, love and light are my weapons.

Sunday was another dancing morning for me and I went thinking about fear. I went with the intention of releasing some of it. What came out was anger. Lots and lots of anger.

At times I stomped the floor so hard that my feet hurt. My hands kept clenching into fists. I realized that I was holding so much anger and resentment. After several hours it started to release its hold. I could feel the anger melting off. By the end of the session I was smiling. Really smiling.

There is still so much work to be done, but I’m feeling lighter.

I spent the rest of the day yesterday with my family. We went to the park. I played catch with my husband. I’m so afraid of baseballs. I saw my mom get her lip split open as a kid and the balls scare me. But I got to the point of actually catching some with my eyes open.

“You are not rooted to one spot,” my husband said. “You can move your feet to meet the ball.”

I watched my daughter try over and over to conquer the monkey bars. Her determination is wonderful to see. She is no longer afraid of falling and can make it halfway before losing her grip. No frustration or tears. I’m in awe of her.

My boy spent his time building with sticks and leaves and floating his creations down the creek. He would throw it off one side of the bridge and then watch it come out the other side. Over and over.

After the park, we all went bowling and then out to dinner. Laughter. Silliness. Balloon animals. Ice cream. Kisses.

Best of all, I was there. Really there.