Home, broken, home

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Our house in the 1970s

It doesn’t look like my childhood home anymore. It hasn’t looked like it in a long time.

The effects of depression hang in the air, tangibly thick, like the layers of neglect and random things. Peeling back each one we find plenty that’s broken, unusable, forgotten or discarded. There are cords, cigarette butts, bottles, worn-out blankets, unmatched shoes and boxes of stuff bought for a purpose or plan long since abandoned. As we shovel it all away, pile it to be taken to the dump, my heart is breaking for what is at the very bottom of it all, the thing left when you peel everything away.

My childhood home.

My childhood.

Skating in the garage. Homework at the dinner table. Christmas mornings. Biking around the court. Neighborhood friends. Mudpies. A summer wedding in the front yard. Nursing a possum back to health. Hiding in my closet. Buried pets. Ewok battles. Midnight Jane Fonda workouts. My dad at his computer. Microwave popcorn. Goodnight kisses. My purple room. First day of school pictures. Our pig running through the back and front screen door. Slumber parties. Dancing on my bed. Rosanne on the TV. Mom sewing at the kitchen table. Sandbags. Doves. Playing shipwreck. Daycare kids. Charles Chips tins. Yellow flowered wallpaper. Spacecat peeing in the entryway. Piles of leaves. Brown carpet.

None of these memories will be erased by this move. I get to keep them. They are mine.

Yet there is something profoundly sad about the way this place I grew up, this place I learned about myself and the world, became. It didn’t just get sold. There isn’t just a new family moving in.

The house was broken.

Then taken (foreclosure).

It’s violating. It’s as if a part of my childhood was left to rot and spoil in the sun, a dead fish in a pile of debris. It’s ugly and raw.

I don’t blame my parents. There is no blame to place anywhere. Sometimes families fall apart and ours did so at an excruciatingly slow pace. It’s been decades and there are still casualties. Piles of them.

Although it would be easiest to only look forward, to face away from what was, I find myself drawn back by the little pieces of history unearthed. I want to remember, to honor these feelings, to touch all the creases and cracks of the walls before they are no longer mine to feel.

This weekend we must say our final goodbye. We will take the last things off the walls. I’ll open the hallway cupboards and run my hands over the place the board games used to live. I’ll walk into my closet and shut the door and sit in the dark one last time. I’ll stare at the door to my parent’s bedroom, the one I couldn’t enter without knocking. I’ll look out my bedroom window.

I was lucky to have grown up in this middle-class suburban neighborhood. I know that. My brother and I had friends to play with, we swam in the gutters, got into fights, babysat, borrowed sugar, trick-or-treated, sold candy bars door-to-door, walked the dogs and slowly changed into the people we are today.

The home of those memories, however, has been gone for a long time. It was fractured by divorce, mental illness and time. Things broke and didn’t get fixed. Weeds became impossible to combat. Cracks too big to mend.

The park we played at has been fenced off, permanently closed due to gangs and violence. My car was stolen when I was visiting and pregnant with my first child. Most of the neighbors have moved and the new ones are not friendly. It isn’t the neighborhood of my youth, it’s as crumbling as the roof and as ugly as the butchered tree in the front yard.

Things don’t stay frozen in time. Erosion. Evolution. Transformation.

Leaving this home behind will be a new start for my mother and brother, a chance to wipe clean the wounds of the past that lay bare and bleeding. They can shed the guilt, the pain and the reality of a space no longer serving the purpose it once did. They can outrun the ghosts and the echoes of a life lived.

This is an opportunity to make things better.

It’s for the best.

I know all this, yet it doesn’t make it any easier.

I’ve never liked the end of a book or the goodbyes when someone leaves. I wish I could skip ahead to the time when the pain is a memory, but that isn’t how things work.

The pain is here right now, whether I acknowledge it or not. This is the hard part.

Once we pull away with the last load of things on Sunday, maybe looking back for one last glance of myself riding my big wheel around the court, the real healing can begin.

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Oh, the messes we make

There is a pile of cut yarn outside my bedroom door, and five stuffed animals hang from the bannister having “flying lessons.” Every box from Christmas I put in the garage to break down, is back in the house in various stages of transformation, surrounded by tape, scissors and markers.

The dining room table is home to a puzzle on week three of progress, and a half-completed robot model. Stacks of books fill every flattish surface, teeny-tiny scraps of paper are cut up and have been thrown confetti-style down the halls, and two tiny plants appear to be in the process of being repotted by someone in the bathroom sink.

The state of my house is not good, folks. It is a cluttered mess of intentions and creation. We are a family who likes to do things, make things, get lost in the “thing,” and what we seem to hate the most is admitting the thing is over.

If the puzzle is put away, it means we didn’t finish it.

If the books are on a shelf, they may not get read.

If we clean up the boxes, the fort will never be completed.

We are a family of potential.

I have been fighting this for a long time.

I would walk around the house picking up all the messes, bitching as I do, and feeling the overwhelming sense of futility as I turn around to see several new “projects” erupting behind me.

It was driving me crazy. Ask my kids. I had become the Cleaning Dictator often yelling “take this shit to your room” and “what the hell is this mess?” and “are you kidding me?”

I’d march around in full martyr-mode, always feeling a sense of being overwhelmed or buried by ALL THE STUFF. I’d throw projects away because I’d get tired of seeing them or throw everything into a closet and slam the door to have ONE EMPTY SPACE.

Part of this battle was because my insides were in turmoil and I needed my space to not be. I needed everything organized, because I couldn’t categorize all the messy, dirty feelings which weighed me down and made it impossible for me to move.

Another part was embarrassment, of imaging what people would think if they stumbled into our “in progress” home on a day I didn’t frantically shove things into closets or drawers. They might think I am lazy or I don’t give a shit about my family.

I was losing my mind over it.

I was on the verge of completely squashing my kid’s creativity, because I could not contain it.

I could not stand it.

Then I started writing again.

My writing is a mess; the characters are unformed, stumbling along trying to become real and struggling with the half-story I’ve placed them in. I’m having to slowly uncover the pieces and letting it be a jumble for now, while I figure out how it all fits together.

It almost stopped me completely.

Twice.

I’m still writing.

I’m accepting this mess is part of the creative process, and I’m trying to explore it with patience and curiosity. It’s hard to ignore the unease it brings, but it is necessary. I am not going to just sit down and write a novel. It is a chaotic, disorganized and jumbled process which requires both ignoring my fears and embracing them.

It’s fucking hard guys.

But doing this, being in the trenches, has made me look at the mess of my house, and even my kids, in a different way.

I’ve always been supportive of open play and creativity, actively fighting to provide them the space and time for it; we drive 25 minutes so they can attend a Waldorf school which is in line with these ideals. But at the same time, I’ve been a nagging bitch about the messes which come along with it.

Contradictions are apparently my thing.

There is a big part of me which would love my house to look like Restoration Hardware; seriously, everything in that store is gleaming and beautiful and fucking rad.

But it never will.

People don’t live there.

Duh, right?

I can’t remove the mess, because WE are the mess. I’d be replacing all the little stories they create with their stuffed animals, all the pictures they draw, all the badges and houses and forts…for some idealistic version of a home I’d probably hate.

I want my kids being loud and crazy and wild.

I want them making shit out of everything.

I want my kids to know their ideas are worth exploring fully.

The dishes and laundry are done. There isn’t anything rotting or smelling bad in the house. It is just projects, crafts and imagination exploding out in all directions.

It is the chaos of a creative life.

There is an important lesson for us all to learn about finishing things, cleaning up after ourselves and respecting the space of others. I’m not throwing up my hands in defeat. There is plenty of work to do still, and I’m sure we can get there.

For now, though, I want to stop yelling and allow more space and time for the messy creativity to happen. I want to stop struggling so hard against it, and learn to give things the time they need.

Maybe I can even learn to love the mess as much as I love the kids who create it.

Probably not.

But I can stop how I react and realize how temporary this all is.

So, bring on the Styrofoam sinks:img_8435The random piles of coins:img_8437Whatever this is:img_8439Bring it on.

Because we live here and this is what we do.

‘Twas the night before the night

photo 1‘Twas the night before the night
Head bent low in the fading light
I cut all paper and ribbon in sight
Being careful to get it all just right

Anticipation starting to build up high
I went over my list and heaved a sigh
Do I have everything I need to buy?
Will anyone see how hard I try?

Weeks of worry, stress and fuss
All to make sure it’s perfect for us
Really, the whole thing is ridiculous
Let’s just take a minute to discuss

Why we rush around at such a pace
Trying to keep a super cheerful face
Like it’s some great big Christmas race
Isn’t it about time for a little grace?

So on this night before the night
As we prepare for Santa’s flight
Know my heart is shining so bright
Because I know everything is alright

His royal birth the reason I feel so tall
Sacrifice made so we don’t just fall
Grateful my heart has heard His call
Mercy, peace and love for all

 

 

 

The soup needs to be cooked

Earlier this week I made some chicken broth with the intention of making soup.

This is something I do weekly. Coming back from two vacations, it seemed extra important to jump back into routine and do something normal.

It has been seven days now and still the broth sits.

Seems that normal was not to be this week.

***

It wasn’t until after a few hours that I started to lose hope and a little bit of my sanity. It was around this time that I decided to write a song that included an awesome drum solo (by which I mean me hitting the steering wheel with two pens I found under the seat).

The cars scream past and nobody sees you
Their music is loud and they cannot hear you
The screams in your head do nothing to calm you
The danger you feel is real only to you
You are all alone
You are all alone
Nobody sees you, sees you
Nobody cares
You are all alone
You are all alone
Nobody is going to save you, save you
Nobody cares

You might say that I lost some perspective.

No. This was not a zombie apocalypse, my friends.

Not even close.

My car broke down.

Everything started blinking, all power shut-off and I just barely made it to the side of the road.

At first I was all business. I called my husband.

“Call the tow truck,” he said.

OK. So I called the towing number on my insurance card.

“Stay with your vehicle and someone will be there shortly,” the woman said.

Then my cell phone screen went black and it refused to turn back on.

It was as dead as my car.

No biggie. Help is on the way. I will just get a loaner car and be at school in time to pick up the kids.

I rummage the car looking for something to read.

I find nothing.

Two geese fly by honking loudly.

A drug deal takes place.

Maybe nobody is coming? What if they are trying to call me? How long should I wait?

Several lizards sunning themselves next to my car are startled when I stage an impromptu rock concert.

Another drug deal takes place.

Hope lost, I climb into the back of the car and cry like a 5-year-old. Who am I kidding? It was way more like that end-of-the-world cry that darling 2-year-olds make.

A homeless man opens the car door and asks if I need help.

I start considering walking for it, but the woman said to stay with my car. What if they come the second I start walking?

I count 30 trucks carrying dead trees before that makes me sad and I stop.

Finally a CHP officer drives by and I flag him down.

It was noon.

I’d been sitting in my car for almost 4 hours.

He calls me a new tow truck and tells me it will be $210.

“Sorry,” he says. “You can’t stay on the road.”

He lets me call my husband and I find out he is on route to pick up our boy. Apparently he got something in his eye while gardening and they had been trying to call me all morning to pick him up.

“Pick up the girl too,” I say.

The CHP officer leaves and I fear that the new tow truck will never show either.

Luckily, this one comes in 15 minutes. $210 is a strong motivator.

Family reunites at the car dealership.

The day ends with double karate lessons, a fixed car and a massive bill.

***

It was to be a perfect day. The sun was warm, there was a light breeze and I felt optimistic and happy.

May Day Festival.

I had a new white dress that my mom bought me. The children looked angelic in their white clothes. We cut clippings from our yard and made beautiful crowns to wear.

My phone is still broke, so I took the big camera to document the day.

I took tons of pictures of this most photogenic of days – the colorful ribbons, the blur of dancers, sibling hugs, grandma and the kids with big smiles, our annual sitting in the May Queen’s chair photo and a darling shot of my son with his beautiful teacher.

The pictures were gorgeous.

I could not wait to download them and see them in all their splendid detail.

These are pictures that will be used for our annual calendar and the kids’ birthday books. These are always some of my favorite pictures of the year.

But something happened.

I messed up the download.

The program crashed.

All the pictures are gone.

Forever.

I tried to brush it off.

They are just pictures.

It’s not the end of the world.

Then I collapsed on the bed and sobbed. The kind of cry that leaves your pillow wet, your eyes red and puffy and snot smeared across your face.

I was mad, angry and regretful.

It brought up all the disappointment I feel about everything in my life right now: my home, my parenting, my writing and my weight.

***

This week it hit me that summer is almost here. Only a month left.

That terrifies me.

I love the freedom, flexibility and opportunity that summer offers. Swimming, play dates, camping, late dinners with friends, cherries, sleeping in, cuddles, movies, peaches and day trips.

There is so much to look forward to.

Yet, last summer that freedom provided me too much time to get lost in the chaos of my thoughts.

I don’t want that again.

I’m also very sad that I’m not better. I thought I’d enter this summer healthy, both in mind and body. Not heavier and with less ability to cope with daily stress.

I’m scared of the madness of my depression swallowing me again.

***

The chicken broth is still in that bowl in the fridge.

The family is waiting for me to stop letting little things like a broke car, changed plans or deleted photos end in my inability to move forward.

Tonight I will boil the broth on the stove and fill the pot with squash, onion, sweet potato, carrots, celery and quinoa.

I will let that task anchor me and bring me back from this sense of oblivion and “nothing matters.”

Soup does matter.

My family matters.

Health matters.

Time to stop thinking so much and just move forward.

Some days suck. That will always be true.

But the soup needs to get cooked.

And then I lost my mind…

Walking to my car I was so engrossed with my phone that I didn’t even realize I had arrived until I bumped into it. I unlocked the door and continued my texting conversation without missing a beat.

That’s when I saw a shadow.

It was just a moment of darkness and then the light returned.

Immediately I locked the doors and started my car. I set down my phone and returned to reality.

I was in a parking garage.

Downtown.

Alone.

Late.

As I drove down the ramp toward the exit, a tiny little whisper entered my mind.

“What if that shadow was someone in the parking garage about to rob me?”

Good thing I locked the doors.

I’m safe.

Inserting the parking ticket into the machine, I exit the garage and wind my way through downtown to the freeway.

Time to get my dance on.

“If you feel like happiness is the truth…”

Not this song AGAIN! I snap off the radio in frustration and enter the freeway.

Some quiet is a good idea.

“What if that shadow was someone in my car?”

Wait…WHAT? Stop it.

“What if they are waiting until we get far away from the city to stick a knife to my throat?”

NO! Stop it.

“What if I never see my children again?”

AHHH!!!! Stop it!!!

The thoughts start spiraling down into a deep, dark place filled with regret, fear and panic.

Sneaking looks into my rearview mirror becomes too scary and I almost pull over on the freeway and run away from my car.

Stories I’ve heard of women being raped and left mutilated on the side of the road start playing in my head. Every image of abuse and death that I’ve tried to suppress start playing like some absurd, grotesque slide show of my impending demise.

“How could you be so stupid to not check the car?”

There it is.

The reason it all started.

I didn’t check the car. I paid no attention to my surroundings.

STUPID PHONE.

I almost roll down the window to chuck it, but realize it might save me if I am indeed sharing the car with a murderer hiding in the third row. He could easily be under that giant karate duffel bag back there.

Don’t look back. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

I look back and it seems the duffel bag has been moved from where I remember seeing it last.

Panic time.

I turn the music on and off for several minutes trying to decide which is worse, hearing my attacker or being surprised when he jumps up to kill me.

Every passing car I search their faces to see if they are signaling me that they see someone in the back.

I swear I can feel pressure in my back, like someone leaning on my seat.

Now I’m crying.

My poor kids…would they know how much I loved them? Would they remember all the little things I did for them? Would they forever be haunted by the memory of me leaving them to see a play?

How could I be so selfish to go see a play without my family?

What is wrong with me?

The freeway exit is ahead and I’m now convinced this is the moment my attacker is waiting to pounce. He has enjoyed watching me panic. I can almost hear his breath.

I exit and stop at a red light.

Should I run? I could just leave the car right here and run for it. The gas station is right there…

STOP THIS.

I turn on the interior lights and look around the car.

I’m alone.

The duffel bag is against the back door and nobody is behind it.

Light turns green and I drive the rest of the way home in a daze.

***
In just two days I am flying on an airplane without my family.

I am headed to Florida to stay with a very dear friend and her beautiful family. It is an early birthday present from her and I’m so grateful.

Yet…

The fears that spiral in my mind have gone into hyper drive. Untruths are being yelled in a voice so loud that it’s hard to hear anything else. I’ve been tempted to cancel…to crumble and fall into a heap so I can feel safe.

Yet…

I am going. When I am quiet I can picture the beach. I can see their happy faces and almost feel their hugs. The break from my life that I so desperately crave is just within my reach.

Yet…

Fear feels like such a part of my skin that I can’t seem to shake it.

It is following me as I count down the days and is clouding everything I do this week. I’m not going to share all the horrible, ugly things that keep surfacing.

Trust me. It’s stupidly dreadful.

Yet…

I am going.

Yesterday my sister heard my panic and did something amazing. As an early birthday present, she took me shopping and bought me a heap of adorable clothes that fit. I’m more grateful to her than I can even express. Feeling better about how I look is helping me to shake some of the fear loose.

My kids are going to be fine. Daddy and grandma have fun things planned. They will be loved up and safe. This is their chance to miss me and I them.

Fear and guilt are my two favorite punishments that I live in daily.

They are making me so tired.

My body and mind are craving this trip.

Sun.

Sand.

Friends.

Change.

Rest.

I am going.

See you soon.

What makes you happy?

I can remember the conversation very clearly.

“What makes you happy?” a friend asked me.

“My family” I responded automatically.

“What else?” she asked with a smile.

I had nothing. My mind was completely blank. I tried to change the subject, but she wasn’t letting it go so easily.

“What do you like to do?” she asked. “When the kids are not with you, what is it that brings you joy?”

I felt cornered and my defenses went up. What was she getting at? Was my life terrible or something? Isn’t being a mom enough?

“I don’t know,” I said.

The words hung in the air and I started to marvel at them.

I really DID NOT know. I had lost myself and I had no idea it had even happened. I remember feeling a sense of complete awe at the notion that I had nothing separate from my children. How had I let motherhood be everything? How could I have not?

That was a year ago. Since that time I have found some answers.

What makes me happy?

Family. My children continue to be a huge source of my happiness. They make things interesting, fun and challenging. They constantly test my patience, tug at my heart and show me things that I would never have seen without them. They are my inspiration.

Writing. The very act of sitting down and composing my thoughts fills me with indescribable joy. This blog has allowed me an outlet for working things out and just expressing the things I hold inside so tightly. It’s like a coil has been unwound and the words often pour out quicker than I can type.

Friends. Being open has allowed me to really meet some amazing people over the last year. I have been given permission to be myself and it has created space for some incredible connections. The feeling that I am alone is slowing being replaced by that of community, love and support.

Dance. How had I ever forgotten how wonderful it feels to just let your body move to music? There is nothing like letting my entire being be moved by a beating drum. Forgetting everything and just swaying, jumping, prancing and feeling. I can’t live without it again.

Service. I had the opportunity this year to help several friends in times of crisis. I allowed myself to be in a forgiving, open and vulnerable position. What I received was a feeling of self-worth and love that I had forgotten about. “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” — Albert Einstein

It is a New Year. I told myself that I would not write a resolution or reflection blog.

Shit.

Looks like I just did.

I guess pulling out that new calendar makes us reflect, even if we don’t want to.

My kids are obsessed with looking at pictures of the past year and talking about the year to come.

Did you know I will be 10 this year mom? Yes, son. I hate it.

Did you know I will start first grade this year mom? Yes, daughter. I hate it.

So, following in the footsteps of the brilliant Renegade Mothering, I will make an Honest Resolution.

I will not forget what makes me happy.

That’s it.

I think I can do it.

Ever have that feeling?

We are seated in the dark theater listening to someone introduce the play. My boy is on my right. His nice button-up shirt and tie are hidden under the slightly stained sweatshirt he refuses to take off right now. I pull his hood off his head and he gives me a little smile. My daughter sits to my left with a rather sparkly dress on and a stuffed puppy on her lap. As the stage goes dark they both grab my hands and I feel it.

The actors take their marks and the lights come on. The harmony of voices, the costumes, the decorations and my two children’s faces proves too much for me again. The feeling starts low and creeps up into my chest. My heart beats faster and before I know it I’m slightly gasping. Then the tears start forming. I quickly let go of their hands.

“Get it together,” I tell myself. I focus on breath and push the feeling down. I am successful for the moment and watch the story unfold in front of me.

Ever since I was a little girl the theater has done this to me. I can remember seeing my first play. It was outdoors and was Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I remember having that feeling and not understanding it. I thought maybe I was scared. My heart beat quickly and the tears came. I hid my face in embarrassment. At the end of the play I silently cried happy tears and knew I was hooked.

Since then I see theater as much as I can. I have taken my kids to see productions since they could walk. The magic of the theater is so real and powerful to me. I have seen a few productions that were, to put it kindly, unfortunate. But the majority of time I am so transfixed and emotionally invested that I leave the theater changed.

The first Broadway show I saw was the traveling cast of “Aida.” I was an adult and had taken my mother-in-law for her birthday. I didn’t know what I was in for. The power of that show blew me away. I literally could not talk afterward.

Since then I have been to New York twice and seen four shows. The first show I saw was “42nd Street.” It opens with the curtain pulled up to revel only the dancers feet. I can still feel the rush of excitement at the sight and sound of that line of dancers tapping away.

For years I have tried to figure out why theater creates this feeling of “losing it” within me. Even silly plays, like “Urinetown” (which is one of my favorites), creates a swelling of emotion that I find challenging to control.

For me, I think it’s a combination of lots of things. First, not having many opportunities to just let loose and feel things fully. A dark theater is a perfect place to think and feel. Secondly, a complete awe of the talent that God has given these actors, dancers, singers, writers, costume designers and musicians. All that goes into a production is not lost on me.

This leads me back to the theater last weekend. My father and stepmother had bought our family tickets to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Sacramento Theater Company. The movie is a classic that many are familiar with. I had not seen it in years and had forgotten most of the storyline. My children had never seen it. So we were able to experience it without comparison or expectations – the best way in my opinion.

The production is amazing. The two leads have incredible voices and the story is just perfect for this time of year. When George Bailey yells at his family, I was shaking and had to swallow lots to calm myself. When he lost all hope on the bridge, I swear he looked right at me as he belted out the most amazing song. The tears flowed freely down my face off and on the entire play. At the finale, I sneaked a glance at my kids and was not surprised to see tears in both their eyes as well.

When we left the theater my daughter pulled me down to her. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled wide.

“The moral of that story is that you should be happy with what you have,” she says very cheerfully. “I am.”

Holding both my children’s hands we walk outside together.