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.

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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.

The light and the dark of my friend

It can happen in just a second.

We are chatting happily about nothing in particular and the light suddenly shifts. Something I said either sparked a memory or struck an exposed wound that I didn’t see, and the darkness descends.

It’s always in the eyes first. I see the color shift slightly and then his gaze drops. Hoping it wasn’t noticed, eye contact is resumed. Yet the wrinkles on his forehead deepen and I can see the truth just under the surface bubbling.

His voice is his biggest betrayer. The tone, volume and speed all drop and I can actually hear the sadness seeping in. It’s subtle, but so noticeable once you pay attention. Like a siren broadcasting the approaching storm, it’s unmistakable.

Defenses shoot up fast, as only someone as experienced in living with pain knows how to do, and I prepare myself for the protective show.

Smiling way too big.

Telling a joke far too exuberantly.

Twisting the conversation away.

Diversionary tactics honed from years of experience.

He is a master at hiding.

He has perfected the art of subtly pushing friends away and protecting them from his demons. Thwarting real conversations with jokes meant to make you uncomfortable and to push your limits. If you’re off balance than you won’t look deeper at him.

handI watch as he pours himself into his creative outlets. His music, writing and art are filled with darkness and light. They are brilliant and help keep him from descending deeper down.

All of this hiding, covering up and creativity do work…most of the time.

Yet after experiencing and battling the darkness myself, the terrible monster that is depression, those moments when I see it happen can’t be ignored. I can’t just let them go without notice.

Nobody should have to go it alone.

True darkness isn’t something you can wish away or just “get over.” It’s as personal as your fingerprint, yet universal in its ability to destroy you. Everyone has experience with it, yet not everyone is pulled completely down.

I know that I am lucky. I have support, love and therapy. I strive to stay in the light most of the time, yet I know the dark intimately and slip down more than I care to admit.

There is no fix for depression.

It makes you feel alone and isolated. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to go there with you. It’s too uncomfortable and you have to be willing to expose your own darkness.

It is not for the faint of heart.

I want to be there for him, for my mother and for many others that I see struggle. All I can offer is an acknowledgement of the pain, my sincere love and a listening ear.

I can’t turn away from them.

For me, when I feel that heaviness start to take me over, I get busy. Super busy. I focus on each task throughout my day, making myself check lists and fretting over tiny details that have little real significance. I pour myself into my children and others and hope it’s enough.

But inevitably it happens.

I break.

Retreating into my hole with tears streaming down my face, I push everyone away and wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and fear.

The Machine

There is something in the tonal change
subtle, barely perceptible
enough to pull the lever

Chain winds around and tightens
breath becomes harder, thoughts unclear
belt moves, screeches its familiar tune

Never enough, constantly trying and failing
can’t let go, things will break
turning, tightening, hurting

Unrelenting it whines and chugs
painful pitch vibrates deep inside
sweet relief, release forever inches away

Intensity, fear wrapped in network of pain
turn it up, always threatening to break
shuddering, pulsing, trembling within

Gears slip, yet won’t fully snap apart
unbalanced it eternally churns uneven song
never the same, lever won’t be pushed back

I can see this pattern, this machine, work itself on me and many others that I love. I see it wind us up and spit us out. I wish I could shake us all free of its grasp and live fully in the light. Yet, deep down I suspect that isn’t something that can happen. The dark is always there.

Yet I am trying.

And I am praying.

I’m a tiny baby Christian just barely blooming. I read the Bible as a teenager, but never really embraced it. I was cynical, questioning and goal focused. There was no time to ponder my soul; I had papers to write, bills to pay and expectations to fulfill.

A few nights ago I read this:

1 John 2:6-7: If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The darkness has been such a big part of my adult life; it’s hard to imagine fully letting it go. Yet I want to. I wonder what it would be like to let go of all the pain that I hold tight to my chest? I wonder what it would feel like to live each day embracing the light and never fearing the dark?

I take another stumbling step forward, but I am no longer alone.

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.

‘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

 

 

 

Walking with baby Logan

His chubby little hands clench up into fists and he begins to rub his eyes.

“You getting sleepy,” I say to him.

He responds with a tiny whine. His body curls up and his head, suddenly way to heavy for his body, drops on my shoulder.

I grab my well-worn baby carrier and strap him in. I can feel the tension release immediately. He knows what is coming.

Stepping into my shoes we head outside. It’s fairly crisp and the air smells like logs burning. I cradle his head with one hand and we begin to walk.

We stop under my neighbor’s tree and both look up. A bird is chirping loudly, but I can’t find him in the tangle of yellow and brown leaves. After a moment, my sweet little baby nephew begins to whimper. He looks away from the tree and rubs his face against my chest.

Time to walk on.

I used to know every tree, bush, flower and house in my neighborhood. It was as familiar to me as my own backyard.

The enormous plum-tree that exploded pink flowers all over the sidewalk in the spring followed by loads of squishy plums that my kids loved to collect.

The tiny stone turtle that could only be seen under the rose bushes in the winter after the neighbors cut them back.

The crazy, barking dog that would run at the fence if you didn’t remember to cross to the other side of the street.

The grove of twisty trees that dropped plenty of sticks and little red balls just right for children’s hands and imaginations.

The giant black bees that favored the climbing morning-glory that grew along the fence of the house with the giant trampoline in the backyard.

The house with an abundance of pomegranates growing so far over the fence that you’d be able to pick some in the fall without them noticing.

The brick house that grows giant sunflowers in the summer that we just had to stop and measure ourselves against every time.

The house with several towering pine trees that always provided us with pinecones for our nature table.

As I walk around my neighborhood now, with my nephew sleeping soundly on my chest, I suddenly feel lost.

It all looks so foreign and bizarre.

It’s all so different.

Where did that grove of palm trees come from?

When did that retaining wall go in?

Where are all my memories?

It seems that my neighborhood has continued to grow, just like my kids. While I stay tucked inside, living with sadness and longing for the past, time just keeps moving forward.

It’s all so different.

My babies are giant kids who no longer enjoy walks in the neighborhood with their mother, certainly not strapped to my chest. They are smart, creative, intelligent children who love to play board games, read books, create art and make things out of string. They spend hours away at school each day and hardly seem to need me when I pick them up.

It’s all so different.

photoAs I walk home, I am suddenly struck by everything.

The beauty of the clouds and the vastness of the sky above.

A mass of deep, dark purple flowers growing next to a small ceramic snail.

An arch covered in a rich green tangle of ivy.

A lawn of dark, thick grass that is dotted with five baby pine trees in a star pattern.

A square garden box made of redwood that is growing pumpkins, squash and kale.

I feel like a small child out on my walk in the big, wide world.

I’m amazed at everything.

I pick up a golden leaf that I can’t bare to leave behind; stuck by how soft and cool it feels as I trace the vein pattern with my finger.

I stop and watch a group of blue jays fight in a bird bath and laugh at them.

I see sparks in my neighbor’s garage as he solders something together and I’m excited by what it might be.

When I get home I lay my nephew down to finish his nap and I pick up my Bible. I’m finding my way back to God and I can feel him speaking to me.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

I pray for peace and for God to open my eyes to the beauty around me every day. I pray for forgiveness and strength.

Before I know it, little baby Logan awakes. He stirs sweetly and I quickly go to him. He smiles up at me with his entire body.

I return the smile with mine.