The poise of a Punk Rock Unicorn

Digging through the bag of fabric paint, she knows exactly what she’s looking for. The body of the unicorn gets turquoise blue in swirling dabs, while the mane, tail and tiny hooves are carefully added with small, precise strokes of bright pink. Next, the horn and three music notes are added in dark purple.

Smiling, she dips a slim brush into a glob of sparkly gold and begins adding dots around the large black lettering of her band name, “Punk Rock Unicorn.”

“This looks so good,” she says.

She doesn’t ask what I think.

She doesn’t worry if her bandmates will like it.

She loves it.

“Can you paint my nails?” she asks. “Some blue and some pink. Oh, and with gold tips!”

I say yes, but I struggle to make it happen. The main color doesn’t reach the edge of every nail, and the gold tips are uneven.

“Sorry,” I say.

“They are perfect,” she says while wiggling her fingers in front of her face. “Thank you!”

It’s time to leave for her band’s show, the culmination of a week of Girls Rock Camp. She is wearing her favorite leggings, a faded swirling galaxy of pink and purple with visible holes in the knees. Her hair isn’t brushed and it’s matted in the back where she slept on it wet.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear a sparkly skirt and brush your hair? Maybe add some color?”

“I look fine mom,” she says. “I’m comfortable.”

I want to fight her.

I want her to care more about how she looks.

I want her to look more put together.

But there she is, my Punk Rock Unicorn, smiling at me without any hesitation at all, while I changed my outfit several times and still wasn’t happy with my own reflection in the mirror.

This is all I’ve ever wanted for my girl, to be unapologetically herself, to not shrink for anyone, and to rock everything she does without fear or doubt.

Her confident smile is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

At the show, I watch her and all the girls playing instruments and singing with a reckless joy I don’t know I’ve ever felt in my life.

They are brave, free and strong.

They are working together, not in competition, lifting and rising as one.

I’m so happy for them…until I’m not.

Something inside starts churning up, this voice of perfectionism and criticism.

Why is my girl singing so quietly? She isn’t smiling and doesn’t look as confident as some of the others. Why did she act shy when she was given a compliment? I’m sure it’s my fault, something I’m doing wrong. I’m ruining this perfect girl.

After the show, she runs to me and hugs me hard. She has bright blue eye makeup and sparkly lip gloss her coach put on her backstage. Her arms feel strong and solid.

“Did you have fun?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she says.

“How come you looked so shy up there? Why weren’t you smiling more?”

The words come tumbling out before I can stop them. I recognize this voice, the very same one sabotaging my writing and stopping me from doing anything I might fail it.

Shit.

I don’t want it to be her voice.

I search her face, looking for any trace of damage my words may have caused.

“What do you mean?” she says.

Her face is as radiant as ever.

“I’m very proud of you,” I say. “You really rocked it up there! It looked so fun. I bet you are proud.”

“Thanks,” she says. “I am!”

She melts into me, the warmth of her body like a blanket soothing my critical voices and giving me another chance.

Always another chance.

I remember her plan to have her bandmates and coaches sign her shirt.

“People are starting to leave,” I say. “Did you still want to get signatures?”

“Yes,” she says and runs off to borrow a pen.

I watch her go and make it happen for herself.

Her confidence isn’t loud or boastful, but calm and careful.

She gently taps friends and coaches, asking them to sign her shirt, standing still as they do.

I see many are holding the tiny pink unicorn erasers she spent an hour digging out of the bins in her room, the ones she so thoughtfully brought for them all.

My heart nearly bursts.

This girl is everything.

After the show, we head to dinner and she gives the waitress one of the teeny unicorn erasers, a light pink one with a purple mane and tail.

“Did you see her smile?” she says. “I think she liked it.”

“Yes,” I say. “You make everyone smile, just by being you.”

“Thanks mom.”

*For more information about Girls Rock Sacramento visit http://www.girlsrocksacramento.com

 

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

Searching for something

Almost four years ago, I began this blog to address the feelings of being drowned out and erased by motherhood. It was purely a selfish stab in the darkness.

Hello? Hello? Anybody out there?

Depression’s seed had already sprouted inside, but it would take a year or so before I began to recognize it. By then, the twisting thorny pain had wound itself through every cell, infecting all functions and clouding my vision with inky black lies.

Devouring. Suffocating. Obliterating.

I could not see.

I could not breathe.

I could not move.

This blog became the home for the words I didn’t dare say out loud, my refuge in the darkness. I could type silently the pain and anger I wished would go away, release some of the pressure, and reach my quiet hand up for someone to see.

Some of you read the words and nodded in solidarity, my sisters and brothers of shadow.

Some of you read the words and tossed me tendrils of hope, which I desperately clung to with both hands.

With every word typed and every tear cried, I’ve been ripping and untangling the dense thicket of torment and suffering I’d surrendered to.

Now, with only a few coils still attached, I’m feeling exposed and naked.

Stripped down.

Bare.

I’m free, but lost.

Seen, but scared.

I have no idea what to do next.

Depression became my identity, filling the emptiness up with dark and giving me plenty of lies to ponder and pain to feel. It became my voice; it spoke through me, providing a plethora of excuses to hide behind and inside.

Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again

I want to shed the deceitful sense of purpose depression gave me and embrace something new. I long to find the true voice inside me, the one buried by all the layers of bullshit I’ve let define me for so long.

I feel wobbly in this new space and unsure how to proceed.

So, I come here again, to this space of words and ideas. I come with eyes wide open, my heart engaged and my mind clear.

Do you see me? Will you accept this version? Will I?

Our country is so filled with division, misinformation and lies right now. We have joined the rest of the world, in a global sense of unease and unrest. There are so many things happening, so fast, it would be easier to retreat back into my self-pitying hole of depression and hunker down.

But this is the time for action.

The time to declare a new purpose and to find a new voice.

A time to say, I’m still here.

We are still here.

Now what are we going to do?

img_8553

My attempt at painting this new feeling.

 

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.

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.

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.

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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