Falling in love by the sea

beachShe sits with her back against me, both of us watching the sea in silence. Our breath and hearts remembering the synchronization, falling into pace again.

The black rocks bob up and down in the murky grey waves, like seals playing, like we just were; hand in hand darting from the cold foam, testing our footing on crumbling rocks and watching the sand create light circles around our feet as we step together.

The deep, grey clouds mute the color of everything, making even the stark whitecaps of the waves seem wiped away of color.

I put my hand on top of hers, and breathe in the scent of salt caught in the gilded strands.

She’s talking about life, her philosophical nature equally captivated by the waves as my own; motivations, dreams, memories, fears and ambitions.

Our voices match in pace, harmonized.

The clouds gradually shift, the wind gently pushing away the platinum grey, allowing tiny patches of bright blue to appear. With the blue comes white, brown, green and gold. It’s as if nothing is truly a color without the sun’s rays to warm it to life.

Shapes appear far out in the sea, hidden before in the dreariness of grey; black triangular rocks topped with white splashes, golden strips of land carved smooth like rising waves, royal green hills and shiny black birds suspended like kites on a string.

Our tummies growl and I know the moment must end, but I stretch it, savoring the vast warmth as if I may never feel it again.

My baby will be 10 this summer and, as cliché as it is, all those moms who stopped me in Target when my kids were little are right, it does go by so fast.

Chubby pink babies with soft folds you must lift to wash are suddenly explaining why they feel empathy for the mean girl at school with shocking insight and depth.

I feel confused; like I’m Alice shaking my head as the Mad Hatter explains the nature of time, only I’m watching my little baby perform mock episodes of both “Elmo’s World” and “Dance Moms” and wondering where her wit and timing comes from.

She has a feisty resistance to people who don’t listen to her and a sweet devotion to those who do. I see so much of myself in her, but also recognize a strength and determination which is entirely hers alone.

I trace the freckles on her arms as we talk a few more minutes. The sound of the waves, crashing and retracting, the soundtrack to our love.

I know she can’t understand the intensity of my emotions, my devotion. She doesn’t understand why I get irate so quickly when she whines; undone thinking she will have the same negative soundtrack locked in a loop inside her head. I want to shake the pain away from her, make her see only light, only good.

I vow again, silently, like every mother does, to try and be more patient and to do my best to build her up so she can handle the weight of everything to come.

I whisper I love you into her head, and it doesn’t feel like enough. Adore, admire, cherish, treasure; each word like a piece of the puzzle. She can’t know the weight of it, I decide.

She eases off my lap, so I can cook us grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. She begins to sing and my heart is as full as the moon, pulling the waves back and forth, pulling us closer together again.

foam

If you need me, I’ll be in my love apartment

I circle the same three blocks, looking for a parking spot my minivan can fit into, feeling a sense of apprehension and anticipation. I pass the stark white walls of the 1800s fort-turned-museum and the ornate catholic church with its tiny monk statues.

These buildings are markers and judges, watching as I cry, sometimes before, and always after. I find their presence either comforting and protective, or mocking and dangerous. I’m the sinner or the saint. The settler or the native.

I’ve been making this weekly trek for several years. It has become a sort of personal pilgrimage, one I either appreciate or resent, depending on where I am in my cycle of emotions.

Up and down.

Round and round.

The fucking never-ending ferris wheel of my feelings.

Some days, walking up the steep steps of the Victorian house feel impossible, my broken heart not able to pump enough energy into my body. Other times, like this week, I fly up the stairs eager for my time with my very own listener.

“I’m not in chaos.”

I proclaim it to my therapist boldly, as I take my seat on the couch and face him. He smiles back at me in the quiet, thoughtful way he always does.

I try and expand on my declaration, but as I do, I feel the truth of the words slipping away from me.

No, I don’t want to run away from my family or hurt myself anymore. I don’t spend hours curled up crying until my stomach burns like acid. I am not drinking myself to sleep every night.

In those ways, I am not in chaos.

Yet, I see the patterns in my life I still can’t break. I feel the familiar panic, simmering under my skin, ready to first whisper, and then scream, the lies which tear me down. It’s a demon, and it will devour me if I don’t keep fighting.

I fear I’m only at the top of the ferris wheel again and I’ll come crashing back down any second. I want off. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m so tired.

The walk back to the van is silent, as it always is. I hold my keys in my hand, the longest key sticking out between my index and middle finger, prepared to defend myself.

I didn’t cry on the couch tonight. I held it in, standing fast to my assertion I’m not in chaos, even as the doubts swirled inside. I faked feeling good.

I climb into the empty van and lock the door behind me. I sit until the interior lights turn off and I’m alone in the dark. The paper bird, Leonard, in his soft blue paper cage, hangs from the rearview mirror watching me.

I reach into the little compartment below the radio, past the mints, the earbuds and two kazoos, to the seashell and the dried leaf I know are there. I don’t take them out, I just feel them. I let my finger trace over them both, gently, as I release all I’ve held in, even from my paid listener.

I’m not in chaos.

I start home, the monks winking at me tonight and the white walls looking small and easily penetrable.

I walk into my dark house full of my sleeping family. There is a line of plastic geckos on the living room table, a stack of books, an opened bottle of glue, colored pencils and the “love drawing” my daughter did earlier in the week.

img_8497I sit on the couch and stare at the drawing, thinking of our conversation before I left.

“Do you want to move into the Love Apartments?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“What floor?”

“You pick.”

“We don’t have an elevator, so you might want a lower one, that’s a lot of stairs to walk up. But not the first floor, because the views are better higher up and you’ll want a good view when you write.”

“Whatever you think.”

“You have to decide mom, and I’d act quick. There gonna sell fast.”

I barley glance at her.

“3rd floor.”

“OK.”

I can’t remember hugging her goodbye or saying I love you.

There’s a second picture on the table, a new interior view of the apartments. She must have created this while I was gone, using the big table because of the size of the paper.

img_8496I see “sold” and “BKW” on my new 3rd floor apartment.

I smile and picture myself sitting in a big comfy chair, licking an ice cream from the shop next door and looking out the window at the perfect view for writing. A grocery store, the “Bank of a Heart” and music lessons all within walking distance.

No tall white walls.

No judgmental monks.

No plunging ferris wheels.

I kiss my sleeping children gently, slip into my pajamas and cuddle up next to my husband.

“You OK?” he asks and sleepily puts his arm over me.

“Yes,” I whisper.

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.”

img_1441

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

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.

100_6470100_6397

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

‘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

The blanket

This was written for a dear friend who is looking for some way to reach her sister in the darkness. May it touch you as well. 

The blanket

I stand still and try to disappear into the darkness around me. The cold is unbearable and soon my body begins to shake in search of some warmth or light.

Finding none, I curse everything and everyone. In desperation, I gather up all my pain and begin to knit together a blanket. Weaving in every insult, every punch, the horrible unspeakable things, the shame and the evil I know all too intimately.

I step back and look at my blanket. It is beautiful, a complex knit filled with all the colors of sorrow and despair. I fling it around my shoulders, and like a superhero, it gives me the identity I so crave.

Now I am someone special because of my pain. I am a survivor. I am not numb anymore and I am alive. The blanket makes me think and feel. I spit in the face of everyone who has hurt me.

No longer shivering, I parade around in my blanket for all to see.

“Look at me!” I cry out in joy. “Look at how beautiful I am now.”

I sleep curled up in my blanket, the softness making me feel comfortable and safe. I never let it out of my sight. When others try to get near me, snap, I fling the stitches in their face. Only I know the truth of my pain. Only my blanket can protect me.

Over time though, the blanket becomes worn, heavy and the stitches start to unravel. I desperately cling to it, but the power seems to be fading and the cold and darkness reaches me again.

Huddling under the blanket with tears streaming down my face, the blanket refuses to comfort me anymore. It mocks me now and I get angry.

I look until I find something else to give me comfort.

Then something else.

Then something else.

They all offer a moment of warmth.

Just a moment.

I lay down and now the blanket is so heavy I cannot move. My body is being pushed into the earth and the fabric is cutting into my skin. I pray for death to take me away.

Then I hear a voice quietly whispering my name over and over. I recognize this voice instantly and recoil from it.

No. Go away. I’m too damaged. Too broken. Just leave me.

But the voice continues to whisper over and over and then gently tugs at my blanket.

“I don’t need help,” I yell and pull the suffocating blanket so tight around my face that I can barely breathe.

He whispers my name again and I feel the blanket slowly peeling away from my body. I tug against it one more time and then let go.

All at once He takes the blanket and flings it onto His own shoulders. Through tears I roll over and see Him smiling down at me.

“I will carry this now,” He says.

He reaches His arms out to me and without thinking I leap into them.

He puts a robe around my shoulders and it is the warmest, softest thing I have ever felt.

“Walk with me,” He says.

I do.

I feel so light and free. The air is fresh, the colors bright and everything feels different.

I am no longer alone.

I never really was.

He tells me this walk will never be easy and I will be tempted to weave a new blanket over and over again. The pain, darkness and cold will forever chase me, but I don’t have to live in fear anymore.

He has my blanket. He has my hand.

I am not alone.

I am a child of God and He loves me.

Although I feel unworthy, I accept this love and this gift.

Now, I proudly wear my robe for all to see and remind myself daily to let Him carry my blanket.

I don’t need it.

I am free.

A journey with my son

He won’t look at me anymore. I twist my head all around trying to find some angle to reach him, but he is allusive and quick. I don’t know when I lost him, but I feel the separation as sharp and painful as a knife wound. I bleed out silently, letting the anguish take me further and further away.

His feet shuffle slightly and I hear his breathing quicken. The tears are right there. I can almost feel them as if they were forming in my own eyes. He squints hard, fighting them and looks in the direction of the clouds.

“Do you see that?” he says pointing his entire hand upward.

“Yes,” I say without following his gaze.

“I want to go there,” he says.

“So let’s go,” I say.

His breath quickens even more and I look away. I don’t want to break the spell, so I count my intake and outtake of breath.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

“Really?” he says.

“Yes,” I say.

Six.

Seven.

Eight.

“Good,” he says.

I can feel him shift next to me and I stop breathing. I hold everything perfectly still, afraid to shatter this moment or even to crack it a little. It feels like the most fragile thing on the planet and I’m worried that even my thoughts will cause it to flee.

His hand reaches for mine and I stay limp and let him grab it. He squeezes it hard and I match his firmness without moving anything else in my body. My breath is as quiet as I can get it and I’m willing my mind to stay blank.

I feel our feet lift off the ground and I’m terrified. Now I squint my eyes closed, the tears pooling quickly as I feel the air become colder around me. His grip stays tight and I want to look at him. I want to see his face and read all the emotions I know are there.

I don’t risk it. The wind is getting stronger and I feel my hair blowing all around my head, as if it is trying to pull itself free of my scalp. My shoes fall off of my feet and my dress begins flapping loudly in the breeze. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.

“I got you,” he says.

His voice is almost lost in all the sound around us, but I somehow hear it. My body, all tense and tight in fear, loosens at his words. I open my eyes and look at him.

“I love you mom,” he says.

This time his words are loud and seem to echo around us, bouncing off the clouds and air. His glasses have fallen from his face and his blue eyes have brightened to match the sky around us. His shabby brown hair, always in need of a haircut, looks somewhat perfect up here.

Sunlight is bouncing off his tan face, giving him the glowing effect the leaves in the tree of our backyard get in the early morning light. He is searching my face and seems pleased by what he sees reflecting back at him.

The air is suddenly still and quiet. We stop and he reaches for my other hand. He looks into my face as we circle slowly, the clouds wrapping themselves around us like golden blankets of light. The magic within him, the power I’ve always seen, swirling around us in bursts and bubbles. He giggles and smiles.

“I love you,” I say.

My voice echoes too, bouncing around and coming back in every pitch and tone. Like a chorus of my voices, high and low, singing the words over and over. The words seem alive and powerful, filling up every part of the space around us with great warmth.

We start to descend, the sounds of flapping clothes and wind rushing forward again in a great gust. He lets go of one of my hands and for a moment I fear I will fall, but his other hand is strong and reassuring. I close my eyes to stop them from burning in the wind and don’t open them again until my feet land back in my shoes. His hand drops from mine at the exact same moment.

I turn to look at him, but he is already looking away. I feel the space between us become heavy again, as if a wall was being quickly rebuilt in the span of 10 seconds. He angles away more and more until his back is facing me. I follow his gaze and see he is still staring up at the sky.

clouds

There is a massive cloud taking up the entire span of the sky directly in front of him. The cloud is made up of hundreds of textured layers, each varying in color from the palest of pink to the darkest of gold. It is glorious and we both stand still and look at it.

I want to reach for him, to yell and sing out my love in all the voices of the sky, but I don’t move. He knows, I tell myself and nod my head. He begins to walk away without turning around and a smile bursts across my face and fills my soul with the knowledge of it all.

He knows.

Kissing the playful father goodbye

Driving to the grocery store I see a father in his lawn running madly after a little girl in a pink bathing suit and pigtails. She is squealing with joy as he squirts her with the hose. I smile and the father sees me looking and smiles back.

I turn the corner and the smile fades quickly. Tears fill my eyes and I curse them away, angry with myself for allowing someone else’s moment of happiness to shine a spotlight on the sadness inside me.

I didn’t grow up with a playful father. I don’t remember him chasing us, tickling us or squirting us with the hose. I have no memories of being thrown into a pool, playing catch or giggling madly as he makes silly faces at me.

I’ve searched my memory and those things just aren’t there. I can remember going to museums, day trips and being dropped-off at roller-skating lessons. There are memories of seeing him at his computer, visiting him at work and picking him up at the airport after business trips.

There were Shakespeare plays, discussions about homework and watching TV. He was at all my horse shows, band performances, speech competitions and theater productions. There was never a doubt he was proud of me.

But as hard as I focus, I can’t find any memories where we are laughing and playing together. I can’t remember him hugging me or kissing me goodnight. I don’t remember hearing “I love you” or him holding me as I cry.

This is the source of the tears and the sadness.

There is this picture of me at around my daughter’s age. I’m wearing a pale blue nightgown with a dainty pink ribbon on the front. I’m sitting in my Holly Hobbie bedroom on my dad’s lap. His arms are wrapped around me. I have my hands folded in front of me and I am smiling. Our faces are close and it looks like he might be about to give me a good night kiss.

I’ve studied this picture for years, trying to remember what it felt like to be in my father’s arms. I wish I could feel the sense of warmth and love the picture suggests. I wish I could remember.

As a mother now, I think about my dad. I imagine how lonely he must have been, as he and my mom didn’t have a very loving marriage. He worked all the time at a stressful job and was exhausted at the end of the day.

I get it.

There are days when I can’t muster a board game or even to read a story to my kids. I find them irritating, far too loud and just plain annoying. I just want everyone to shut up and nobody to touch me. I lock myself in my bedroom with a few beers and pray sleep comes soon.

I get it.

My children don’t have a playful father either. He doesn’t chase them, make them giggle or ride bikes with them. There is very little in the way of interaction most days and it makes me feel all the sadness and longing all over again.

I get so upset at my husband and wish he could be the father I wanted growing up. The one my friend’s had. The dad jumping off docks, teaching them to fish, taking them on daddy/daughter dates and always telling them they were beautiful. The dad who made his daughter feel like something special, instead of always feeling not good enough.

I know it is unfair to pin any of this on my husband. He is not my father, but pain and longing are irrational beasts that don’t care about logic. They tear at my gut and whisper unkind things to me about my own kids. They remind me that everything is my fault.

Blame. Guilt. Shame. Repeat.

My issues of feeling unloved, unworthy and unheard make me look at every interaction with a childish sense of injustice. I’m always looking at how my kids are slighted. How I am slighted.

I always feel like I’ve been handed the short stick in the love department.

chessI see my husband talking with our kids. They sit on the couch and have discussions about space and science. They play chess and he talks to them about classical music. There are museum trips, Legoland, Disneyland and one epic trip to the Bahamas. Taco Tuesdays. Go-kart races. Ice cream when mom is away.

Every night, after I read stories, he comes in and tells them goodnight. He kisses them on the forehead and brings them a glass of water. He says he loves them.

Every morning, I see him peek at them sleeping in their beds as he leaves for work at 5 a.m.

These are the ways a quiet man like him loves his children.

These are the memories they will have of their father.

It has nothing to do with me or my dad.

Time to give up the pain.

You can always reach for me

My husband wakes me up.

“Lola is calling for you,” he says.

Instantly, I’m annoyed. I mutter under my breath about wanting more sleep and stumble out of bed. The clock says 12:35 a.m.

“Mommy,” she cries out again.

I stumble down the hall, and the second I smell it, I know what has happened. Instantly, my entire body and mind are awake.

“Oh poor baby,” I say.

There is a big pile of throw up on the bedspread and she is crying.

“I was trying to figure out how to clean it myself,“ she says. “I’ve ruined Mother’s Day. I’m sorry mom.”

No. This is motherhood my love. This is exactly what it is.

I grab a clean blanket from the hall, strip her and put her in it. I clean everything up, put her in some clean pajamas, remake the bed, grab the sick bowl and make myself a place next to her on the floor. I settle in for the routine that I know so well.

Every time she throws up, I rub her back, wash her face and comfort her.

Drink this water.

You will be OK.

I’m right here.

I love you.

When she falls asleep, I rest on the floor and worry.

This is motherhood.

I still get my avocado toast and coffee in bed, but today I’m next to my sick girl who likes to keep her hand on my chest because it comforts her.

I feel her little body tremble with excitement as I open the gifts she crafted herself; a tissue paper flower, a little dog and a large cat created out of paper, a card with a heart wearing a sombrero and guitar (because she knows I like things that are funny) and a beeswax rose.

“You like it?” she asks.

Of course I do.

My boy delivers his gift and it is so perfectly him that I can’t help but swoon.

 gift

This is motherhood.

We decide to cuddle in bed and watch our favorite episodes of “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.” Both kids inch in as close as they can to me. I can feel their breath and warmth as we talk about puppetry, mechanism and our favorite designers. We vow to someday make our own puppet and giggle as we discuss the silly details and features our creature will have.

My mom comes over with hugs and kisses for us all. I make her coffee and she gives me a piece of paper with my “Letter A” on it. She snuggles in with us for an episode or two. I give her the bench we crafted for her and she loves it.

After she leaves, my girl’s fever spikes up and I hold her as she cries and whimpers.

“I hate being sick,” she says.

“I know love,” I tell her.

lolaI make her peppermint tea. I braid her hair so it won’t get in her face. She rubs my chest as she falls asleep in my arms, a little furnace fighting off the virus in her body.

This, of course, was not the plan for my day. I was supposed to go swimming, play cards, drink mimosas and be outdoors. It was to be chore-free, stress-free and full of sweet things to eat.

But that wasn’t what happened.

There was a time, quite recent in fact, that this setback would have sent me spiraling down into a place of sadness and loneliness. I’d have let myself be swallowed up.

Surprisingly, I’m good.

My heart is filled with so much love for my children that it feels like it just might burst. These not-so-little beings that I get to spend so much time with are my life.

They are my Mother’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not happy my girl is sick, far from it. But I’m making a choice to savor the moments of care and comfort I can give her, instead of focusing in on what I missed.

Today, my arms showed her my love.

Today, my voice was her sense of peace.

I am her safe place.

I am her feel better soon.

I am her mommy.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Can someone just give me an A so I can go to bed already?

Today I did four loads of laundry, including folding them and putting them away. I did two loads of dishes. My kitchen is clean and I cooked a delicious dinner for my family. I watched a puppet show my daughter put on and then sat and talked Minecraft with my boy.

Where is my report card?

Where is my A?

Who is going to say to me “way to go,” “thank you” and “you’re the best”?

Nobody.

That’s the answer.

I NEED a report card.

It’s ridiculous. Don’t you think I know that? Crazy even.

Don’t care. I still want one.

Need one.

I need someone, anyone, to tell me that I’m doing a good job. I need that passing grade as mother and homemaker.

Please, just give it to me.

I’ve worked for it.

I’ve earned it.

***

Growing up, I was the teacher’s pet (big surprise). I got straight A’s. I was that kid that always raised her hand, was excited for tests, and loved homework. I was a regular Hermione Granger.

The older I got, the more I craved that approval. I would seek it out anyway I could. Please notice me teacher. Tell me I’m good. Tell me I’m smart. Tell me I am pleasing you.

Praise became necessary for me to move forward in my day. It didn’t matter what I thought about what I did, only if I got the approval.

This didn’t stop in college and continued even when I started working for a major newspaper. I would actually look forward to my reviews.

The funny thing is, I knew I was a good employee. I worked hard and showed up every day. But it wasn’t enough to know it.

Nope.

I needed to be told it. Better yet, I needed to see it in writing.

So I am asking you again…where is my report card? Where is my written affirmation that I am doing a good job?

Good mom.

Good wife.

Good daughter.

Good friend.

Is there somebody who can provide me this service? Come to my house with your clipboard and follow me around. Give me a daily grade. Please?

I grade myself every day, but I’m not doing so well at that.

I am a very harsh, judgmental grader with very little empathy or patience.

Yes I did four loads of laundry, but you know what? One of those loads was put into the washer on Friday. FRIDAY! It sat in the washer all weekend so I had to rewash it.

Fail.

Yes I cooked a great dinner for my family; it was tilapia with an almond crust, asparagus and rice pilaf. But my husband cooked the fish and he did it better than I would have.

Certainly not an A.

Yes I watched my daughter’s puppet show, but I was bored and spent most of the time praying for it to be over.

That’s a C grade at best.

Yes I talked Minecraft with my boy, but this is after he has been asking for months to play the game and I finally relented. I’m as overprotective as they come and as we talked about it I felt sad instead of excited for him.

Fail.

I wonder if someone else graded me if they would be more…forgiving. Maybe they would be more generous with their approval, because I am not.

***

Over the last few weeks I’ve read two books by SARK. If you haven’t heard of her or seen any of her work, prepare yourself for something amazing. I’m in love with her and it got me thinking.

It’s time I make myself a report card. Not a daily one, but one that I can hang up that says all the things that I need to hear. A reminder of my need for praise, but also recognition that self-praise is the most powerful of all.

I need to say these things to myself, because they are true.

So, here it is.

tree

Please, if you find yourself identifying with me, print this out or make your own. Hang it on your wall and read it every morning.

Let’s be kinder to ourselves.

There is no reason not to.

The pressure to be the best at everything is exhausting.

Maybe we can just be ourselves and know it’s enough.