Making deals with myself or how I’m not entirely sure I’m a grownup

IMG_8709.JPGThis morning I woke up early to make steel-cut oatmeal with homemade applesauce. I spooned it into pretty bowls, played the “Moana” soundtrack and tried hard to listen to my kids for the entire drive to school.

Yesterday, I made pink homemade bubble solution and watched all the “tricks” the kids wanted to show me; a bubble stacked on a bubble, a bubble inside another bubble and “look there’s a mosquito inside a bubble!” (That one was impressive).

These were premeditated mothering moments.

I don’t dislike doing these things for my kiddos. Not at all. I’m just finding I must “manufacture” them more than I used to. I don’t have the kind of mental and emotional energy I had for entertaining my kids. It’s not “spontaneous” anymore.

I plan these moments out now and make deals with myself.

Be a patient, good mother all morning and when you get back home you can stare out the window for 30 minutes.

Play three games of Sorry! after homework, then you can make the kids play outside and listen to your audiobook while cooking dinner.

These deals keep me going, because motherhood is hard and I don’t want to share my candy or my blanket.

I don’t want to hear how unfair everything in the world is, how blobfish are the ugliest creatures on earth, every detail of a dream which includes the phrase “and for some random reason” about a thousand times, how adorable sugar gliders are and the life-changing effect a giant pogo stick would have on our family.

I just want to sit in silence and do what I want.

Without guilt.

So, I do extra things when I can muster it up and make deals to push myself. I cut sandwiches into hearts. I fill hot water bottles up before bed. I massage their feet. I listen to the same story over and over.

Sometimes I’m rewarded with moments of pure motherhood bliss.

When my girl puts her hand on my chest because, “I can feel the warmth of your heart momma.” Swoon.

When my boy curls up in my chair, and I rub his head, and he coos the same sound he has made since he was an infant. Nothing better.

But then there are the moments when they are so loud, I can’t even breath. When the sound of their voices, even in play, makes me want to scream.

Yesterday, I read the same paragraph 15 times because the kids were laughing so loud I couldn’t comprehend the words in front of me.

They run by as squirrels, bears, monsters, quickly morphing from one to the next effortlessly with a kind of unhinged glee I can’t ever remember feeling.

They tear things out of every cupboard to make elaborate costumes, forts and lands, in an endless game of pretend which leaves me feeling dizzy with the speed and ferocity of it all.

Don’t you guys want to watch some TV?

Did I just say that?

Yes, I did.

Ugh.

I am turning 40 years old in April and I think I’m having a stereotypical freak-out. I don’t want to. I keep telling myself, it’s a number and it means nothing.

But, shit, I still have so much stuff to do.

I was supposed to have written lots of books by now, have tons of friends, explored castles and be a serious grownup.

I still sneak candy, forget to brush my teeth and don’t like vegetables (I only pretend to so my kids will eat them). I wear all black like a moody teenager, love Harry Potter, cry when I’m disappointed and don’t know what I’m doing.

When I pay bills and taxes I feel my age. When my back hurts after scrubbing the tub or my hand hurts from sleeping on it wrong, I think maybe this is adult life.

But, I don’t feel like an adult.

Maybe I never well.

I’m just Bridgette, and maybe accepting all my contradictions is the most grownup thing I can do.

Useful advice for when your kid is losing it in public

He wants to ride the carousel again. No. He wants to ride Brownie the Ostrich again, so nobody else will ride him. His round little face is red with anger and he pulls me with all his 3-year-old might back toward the only thing in the world he cares about in this moment.

I drag him along, quietly reasoning to him, while his baby sister nurses jerkily in my carrier. I’m not fast enough. We both see it at the same time. A little pig-tailed girl is lifted onto Brownie.

It’s over.

He falls on the ground and begins weeping. As I try soothing him and thinking about what I’m willing to promise to get us out of here, his sister unlatches and starts to fuss.

No. No. No.

Within a span of seconds, I have two humans screaming at me. I stand defeated and super sweaty. I can’t carry them both. For some reason I hated the idea of lugging the stroller around, and see clearly now what a mistake it was. I’m on the verge of tears when a woman taps me on the shoulder.

It gets better,” she says.

I turn and look at her. She is smiling and gesturing to her two perfectly dressed school-aged kids who are looking at the spectacle in front of them with a kind of smugness I didn’t know kids could have.

Thanks,” I say.

I’m not sure she heard me over the screams.

She looks down at my breast, which I now realize is hanging completely out of my shirt, and then gives me one last look of pity before walking away.

I watch her go, she is holding hands with her sweet little offspring, and I swear I hear them softly singing kumbaya.

Fuck her,” I say to myself.

I sit down on the carpeted floor, take the baby out of the carrier and begin nursing her, right in the walkway. My boy continues to wail and thrash around on the ground crying and yelling about his beloved Brownie.

Many, many people walk by shaking their heads or sighing loudly. All avoid eye contact and not one person offers to help.

I do my best to pretend they are not killing me with their sideways glares.

But each one hurts.

I am doing my best here people. I’m tired. I’m hot. I just wanted to get out of the house for a few hours. I just wanted to feel like a real adult again.

Eventually the baby is satisfied and the 3-year-old has screamed himself out. He comes in for a hug and I tell him we should go home and paint. He agrees and we walk out holding hands.

I’m certain we sang kumbaya.

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Seriously, how stinking cute are they?

My kids are now 11 and 9.

Gone are the days of tantrums in the store, exploding diapers, car seat refusals and constant nursing. I generally run my errands alone now.

To those of you struggling, this might sound blissful, and sometimes it is. But when I see you in the store with your little ones, I miss it.

All of it.

I see you chasing your toddler through Target because he refused to sit in the cart and now thinks it hilarious to dart in and out of the clothing racks while you slowly lose your patience.

I remember and it is funny.

I see you in tears as your sweet newborn begins to wail right as you make it to the checkout line and you just need to pay.

I can almost feel my milk drop.

I see you struggling to keep up as your toddler darts down the aisle with his own little Trader Joe’s cart filling it with everything he can.

I hate those carts for you, but your kid looks adorable with his cart full of cookies and his huge proud smile.

I know none of this is consolation when you are in it and I’m sorry. But I do see you and I want to tell you something.

I wish I could help you, but I can’t. There is nothing I can do but smile at you in solidarity.

I smile because I was you. I smile because your kids are really cute. And I smile because I miss it.

I promise you, I am not judging you.

I actually wish I could find the words to tell you all the things I think as I watch you.

I want to tell you how much I miss every single moment of my kids being small.

How even the hard times, when I thought we just might not make it, the sweetness of their breath and the weight of their bodies in my arms would bring me back.

I look back at the pictures and I remember all the singing in the car, the snails on the back door, the naked running through the house, the screaming in the bathtub, the tiny clothes and dirty hands.

I miss it all.

I don’t want to diminish the struggle, because I’m sweaty just thinking about it. Nor do I want to repeat the pompous attitude of the woman who told me it will all get better.

Because I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t.

Yes.

It will be easier when they sleep through the night.

It will be easier when they are potty trained.

It will be easier when they are weaned.

It will be easier when they stop throwing fits for no reason.

Some things get easier.

But some get harder.

Yes they will sleep through the night, but they will have bad dreams you can’t protect them from.

Yes they will be potty trained, but some asshole will tell your daughter she has thick thighs and you will hold her as she cries.

Yes they will be weaned, but then you will worry they are eating the right foods and fight them to eat their damn vegetables.

Yes they will stop throwing fits for no reason, but they will throw fits for good reasons and you have to teach them how to be a decent person in a world full of bad, awful, no-good people.

Nothing ever “gets better.”

The struggle is always there, as it is in everything we do as humans, it just changes in complexity and your ability to actually help.

We are trying to raise our kids to understand complex things like empathy, perseverance, patience and fear.

Of course it is hard.

Some days you are all reading books in the same room, sipping hot drinks, and it is calm and beautiful and perfect.

Some days you all say mean things you later regret, you cry and get impatient and doors are slammed and everything is stupidly horrible.

It is always just different.

So I will say this.

I see you.

I know it is hard.

I know you are doing your best.

Remember, sometimes they give you kisses and hug you so tight you can’t breathe.

Remember, sometimes all they need is your arms to feel the world is safe and they can be themselves and you will always love them and protect them.

Remember, they are only tiny humans doing the best they can to figure out a world filled with ugliness and beauty. And you are only the parent doing your best in the moment with what you got.

So if you see me staring at you, it isn’t out of judgment or pity. It isn’t because I want to see how you are going to handle yourself.

I’m just looking back fondly at the struggles behind me and missing when my tiny humans would lose it in the store.

But I am glad it isn’t my boob hanging out this time.

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Man I miss this craziness.

‘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

Date night with a side of righteousness

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

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

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

So, yep, I’m in.

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

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

As adorable as he is, I am instantly upset.

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

Nope.

They are here to stay.

Another baby at a rated R movie.

Not cool.

So not cool.

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

What the hell man? Are you serious?

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

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

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

It is too late.

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

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

I’m sure people would applaud.

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

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

I hold onto the anger the entire ride home.

I hold onto the anger as I climb into bed.

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

Now.

The only person I am hurting is me.

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

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

But the only power I have is over my family.

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

I have to move on.

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

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

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

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

Then again, maybe I will just leave.

Because all I can control is me.

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

 

Movies

I am not here to make you feel guilty

tableParent after parent walk to the table and say the same thing.

“I don’t have time to volunteer.”

They spit the words at me like I’m a viper about to attack them.

I smile and hand them a schedule of activities for the year. I offer them a cookie and a cup of coffee.

“If you had your meetings at night I would come, but I work during the day.”

They say this angry too and look at me like I’m trying to sell them a shitty used car.

I smile again and point out the activities we have planned for evenings. They look around agitated and I can see they want to bolt.

My very face seems to make them cringe inside.

I put the gold star on their registration card, the only reason they stopped at my table, and they move away.

I am their guilt personified. They can’t stand me.

I am just a mom who volunteers to coordinate things at the school. I didn’t want this role and I almost burst into tears.

Luckily, this isn’t all the parents. Some are excited to hear about the speakers, crafts and events we have planned for the school year. Others are just grateful.

But the glaring, agitated moms are the one’s that get to me. I turn to my co-chair.

“What can we do to make them not feel guilty,” I say. “I haven’t volunteered every year. This is just our turn.”

She doesn’t know.

I don’t either.

I go from being upset to angry. Stop pushing your guilt onto me. I am not the fucking bad guy. I’m not pushing my religion or trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. I’m a mom at your school telling you about things you can be involved in. I’m giving you options, not obligations.

I am not to blame for the bad feelings you have. Those are all yours. Take them back.

I’m at the verge of losing it when a father walks up and talks to me. He doesn’t shrink away or spit angry excuses at me. He listens, gets his sticker and walks away with a cookie.

I know he won’t be able to attend meetings and so does he, but he isn’t an asshole about it. He doesn’t take my very presence as a personal affront to him. He doesn’t make excuses or make me feel bad. He takes the damn flyer and acts grateful that I brought snacks.

But I get it.

I have been on both ends of this exchange and I know what those moms are feeling.

When my depression was at its worst, walking up to the parent volunteer table felt like a punishment. Go talk to the ladies and tell them you suck, I would tell myself. Tell them you can barely get out of bed. Tell them they can’t count on you for anything.

All my self-hatred bubbled up and I didn’t want to even make eye contact.

I get it.

I just hate it.

I hate it for both of us.

I hate that you look at me and think I have my shit together, which I don’t by the way. I made those flyers last minute and I want to quit. I’m not as excited about the school year as I’m pretending to be, but somebody has be the cheerleader and it’s my turn.

I hate that you see me and it makes you feel all the bad things. All the lies you tell yourself about how inadequate and failing you are as a mother. It’s all so stupid.

So just stop it. Stop feeling bad about not doing enough. Stop punishing yourself and comparing. Stop thinking I am the bad guy.

Please.

Just take a cookie and smile.

You are fine.

Sometimes being a mother breaks my heart

Today wasn’t a good one. I can’t and shouldn’t measure my mothering skills by what happens in one day or even one moment. However, I can’t help but feel I’ve let them down. Again.

I know tomorrow I will wake up and all the pain of today will have lost its luster. The tears we cried a memory getting fainter as the days go on.

But tonight I hurt.

I ache.

I bleed.

My heart breaks for the pain you felt today. The pain WE felt today.

When I saw you both all packed up and ready to go ride bikes, I could tell there was more.

I felt it.

You said the food you packed was in case you got hungry. But I saw the look you gave each other and I knew it.

I let you go anyway.

I stood at the window and watched you go. I prayed you’d be safe and knew you’d come back.

I didn’t really know. Couldn’t really know what you’d been plotting while you sat on the swing last night together. I thought it was something like hunting for fairies or looking for magic doors.

When you came back less than 10 minutes later, hot and defeated, I could sense it was so much more.

You both started crying within seconds of coming through the door and my heart dropped. It took some time to get it out of you. The plan. The secret. The wish.

Your plan is adorable and heartbreaking at the same time. Ride your bikes to Pet Smart. You’d wave at a stranger, pretending they are your parent, fool the staff. You’d adopt a kitten and a puppy. Ride home with the pets in your backpacks. You’d keep your little babies in the playhouse in the backyard. You’d feed and care for them when we aren’t looking.

You’d have the pets you so long for.

My heart breaks.

I hold you both as your tears flow and mine join in with yours.

You’re probably wondering why I don’t run out and buy seventeen kittens and puppies.

I want to.

My husband is allergic to cats and refuses to get a dog. Its been an ongoing topic of discussion and every few months it rears its painful head again.

I support him in front of them, but argue with him about it frequently. His list of reasons is short, but he will not budge.

My heart breaks.

We leave the house and go shopping to break the moment. I try and distract with humor, new books and a shared cookie.

It helps for the moment.

Later in the day though, it surfaces again. More tears. This time rage and anger. You fight with each other and get violent. You hit me. Hit each other. You scratch me. You tell me I am awful. You shake with frustration.

I listen. I hold you. I talk to you.

We talk about better ways to vent our anger so it doesn’t hurt others. You ask why I’m crying too, and I tell you I hurt when you do.

You cry more and I apologize.

I should not have cried.

I should be stronger.

We make it to the end of the day and when daddy comes home we try and hold it together. I want to rage and scream and scratch, like you. I want to make him feel the pain you do.

I don’t.

Of course I don’t.

Someday you will see I am protecting you. Marriage isn’t easy and being an adult is about compromises and sacrifice.

Or maybe you will be in therapy someday telling them you wished your mother were a stronger person.

I don’t know.

We snuggled before bedtime and I told you I loved you more than you could ever imagine. I read to you and kissed you. Tomorrow will be a better day, I say. Tomorrow we will do something fun.

You look up at me with wounded eyes and I want to cry again.

Sometimes being a mother breaks my heart.

Fear, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing

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

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

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

Yet, I do get it, my darling daughter.

Fear is something I understand intimately.

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

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

Fear.

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

Fear.

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

Fear.

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

I would be leaving a legacy of fear.

That is not what I want.

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

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

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

Stupid fear.

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

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

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

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

Suddenly I am angry.

Stop acting like your mother.

Be stronger.

Be tougher.

Be more.

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

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

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

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

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

We lock eyes and she smiles a teeny bit.

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

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

He barks and licks her hand.

They both laugh.

Yes, my boy, we are puppies.

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

We deserve instant forgiveness, endless chances and boundless love.

We all do.

Then again, sometimes things are just bullshit

His hands and feet have always been filthy.

When he was just a few days old, I would look at his tiny nails and wonder at how it was they were always in need of cleaning and cutting. I’d use my teeth to carefully trim them and then gently soak them in water to release the dirt.

As he lay in the hospital bed, I keep looking at his feet. When was the last time I cut those toenails? I need to teach him to take better care of himself.

Guilt courses through me like ice and I lean forward to touch his shoulder. He shudders and frowns at me.

“Stop trying to help me mom. You can’t do anything!”

I hate those words and I frown back.

That can’t be true. I refuse to accept that. I am his mother and I am responsible for everything that happens to him. This is my fault and now I have to fix it. I NEED to make it better.

“Let me rub your head.”

“Your lips look dry, let me put some chap stick on.”

“How about I sing you a song or tell you a story?”

“I love you.”

He screams out in pain again and his body starts to shake.

“Just stop mom! STOP IT! You can’t do anything!!!”

I swallow hard and force myself to keep it together. He needs me to be tough.

All I can do is sit here with him and listen to him cry.

I hate it.

This whole situation is complete bullshit.

Anger bubbles up at the hospital staff and the impossibly slow way they are moving. I hear the nurses discussing another patient and I want to slap them across the face. How can they endure his cries of pain? Why are they not running around helping us? Why are they so calm?

Hours go by and we move through the motions.

X-rays.

IV in the arm.

Painkillers that barely touch the pain.

Confirmation that his wrist is indeed broke in two places.

Crying, shaking and begging for water.

Waiting to be put under.

Heart monitors.

Nurses come and go.

Papers to sign.

Drugs given that I don’t fully understand.

Bones reset by what the doctor calls “barbaric procedure.”

Waking up and wanting all the “tubes out.”

More x-rays.

Waiting to be released.

Paying.

When we finally get into the car, it feels as if we’d been gone for days. We are hungry, tired and emotionally drained. As we cue up in the drive-through for some well-earned milkshakes, I look at my boy in the mirror.

“You know I really wish I could have done something to help you,” I tell him. “I hated seeing you in so much pain.”

“You couldn’t mom,” he says. “There was nothing you could do.”

There it is again.

Bullshit.

It has been a week and he is on the mend. He will get his regular cast on Friday and the pain is under control now.

But I’m stuck. I’ve written and erased this blog post a dozen times. The truth is, I am struggling to understand all the emotions that this event has evoked.

Guilt: I keep replaying his fall off the play structure in my head and I can’t stop blaming myself. After all, it happened after school on my watch. I have told him to not stand on top of the monkey bars about 30,000 times, and I was about to yell at him again when he fell. If only I had.

Fear: My body keeps flooding with the memory of how completely and utterly incompetent I felt as I saw his clearly broken arm. I didn’t know what to do and I am fearful of all the ways it could have been so much worse.

Weakness: Not being able to fix my sons pain or even comfort him made me feel like a very inadequate mother. I don’t recognize this pathetic, uncertain and full of worry mom I am turning into.

Embarrassment: The school is looking at playground safety closer and sent out a note about how parents need to watch their kids after school. Clearly, if I had been a better parent none of this would have happened. Right?

Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to shake all this crap away and turn it into something positive.

“He learned his lesson,” falls flat and I’m not even sure it’s true.

“I learned my lesson,” puts too much blame on me and it feels icky and wrong.

Really, it was an accident. Kids get hurt all the time and it just happened. There is no lesson or getting over it.

I guess sometimes bullshit is just that.

Bullshit.

Cooper with cast

But at least he is cute.

Turning bullshit into strength

My body won’t go fast enough and I’m angry at myself for being so weak. As I crest each dune, I have to stop and catch my breath.

“Please let him be OK. Please.”

Dark thoughts circle and I try to push them away, but they scream out at me.

“What kind of mother are you to let this happen? What is wrong with you?”

My eyes scan constantly looking for him. I call his name occasionally, but that causes the panic to rise too much.

“He is fine. He is fine. He is fine.”

When I finally climb over the last dune, the entire beach stretches out before me.

ocean

My eyes search for signs of him, but he isn’t there.

My heart drops.

I was sure he would be right here.

Certain of it.

The tears that I’ve been holding back begin to flow and I walk as quickly as I can to the first two people I see. It’s an older couple cuddling on a blanket.

“Have you seen a little boy? He has brown hair, orange and black glasses and was wearing his pajamas?”

The words rush out and I fight back a sob in my throat. I search their faces as they look back and forth between each other.

“No englash,” one finally says.

In frustration, I march away from them and pull myself together. There is no reason to panic. Nothing to be gained by that.

Stay calm.

As I walk down the beach, stopping to ask everyone I see, it becomes clear to me that he isn’t here and hasn’t been here.

Where could he be?

I spot two lifeguards at the top of the pier and start walking that direction. It is time for reinforcements and that realization frightens me. As I walk, I replay the entire morning in my head.

I spent about an hour after breakfast writing some poetry and a short story in the tent while the children explored. I did not know exactly where they were, but I knew they were fine. We have been to the Bodega Dunes campground about a dozen times now and I feel very comfortable there. Each time we go, I extend the boundaries a bit more.

Camping is one of the few times I feel my kids get to experience that true feeling of adventure and freedom. But it is a tricky balancing act between trusting they will be fine and knowing that it is my duty to protect them from harm. I might always seem very calm on the outside, but I’m often waging a war in my head.

“He is getting really high in that tree. A fall now might be fatal, but he is a good climber. I should trust that, but I’m scared. I can’t watch.”

“The kids have been gone too long. I know they are having fun and they are together. I’m certain they are fine, but what if they are not? How would I know when to look for them? Maybe I’m trusting them too much.”

“She is swimming pretty far out in the water, if she starts to drown now I won’t be able to make it in time. I should call her back…but I want her to be confident. She is doing really good.”

That morning, they came back on their own to check in and I felt very good about the day. We decided to spend the afternoon at the beach, so I needed to pack up some food, sunscreen and towels. I tell my boy to stay nearby and to get dressed for the beach.

“I don’t want to go to the beach right now,” he says.

“Well, that’s not an option. We are all going together, so don’t go too far.”

I busy myself with packing and then realize he is gone. We wait about 30 minutes for him to return and he does not. That’s when I start circling the campground looking for him.

That was nearly three hours ago, and the calm is fading away. The darkness is taking over.

I reach the pier and walk up to the life guards.

“My son is missing,” I tell them without tears. All business.

One man asks me a series of questions and I answer them. He writes details about my boy on his hand.

9 years old

brown hair

glasses

pajamas

missing 3 hours

It’s all so casual, as if I’m ordering up tacos or making a grocery list.

It’s all so slow and calm.

I want to scream.

I want to cry.

I want my boy.

The other man is scanning the beach as we talk.

“Is that him?” he asks.

“Where?” I say.

“Over there, by the water. Looks to be a nine-year-old boy.”

“I can’t tell this far away, looks like an adult to me.”

“Nope. Definitely a kid.”

He jumps off the pier and runs in the direction of the shadowy figure walking with a stick. When he reaches him, he waves at me. It’s my boy.

Thank you God. Thank you.

We walk toward each other. When I reach him, he has been crying, he is covered in sweat and we both hug each other.

“Don’t you EVER do that again! What where you thinking?” I begin.

He stops crying and explains. While our friends planned to drive all the stuff to the beach, the kids and I were going to make the long hike there. He made the decision to just go on his own, so he could explore and continue the game he was playing. He made it there, but couldn’t find us and tried to hike back. That’s when he got lost. He wandered the dunes for a long time and had just made it back to the beach. His plan was now to get help.

“Did you learn a lesson?” I ask him.

“I’m sorry mommy. I love you.”

I want to be mad and scream, but I can’t. I’m so grateful he is safe that I just want to love on him. While we wait for friends to arrive with food and water for us both, I playfully bury him in the sand with only his head and feet sticking out.

“You’re never leaving my side again,” I tell him.

coopinthesandWe play at the beach for a short time, but we are getting sunburned. All our beach supplies are back at the campground. Our friends are driving back, but my boy wants to take the trail and see where he made the wrong turns. I think it could be good closure, so I agree.

I hold both my children’s hands as we head up the first dune. Right away I know this is a mistake. I almost cry when I get to the top as my lungs scream out in protest. My daughter decides to take this moment to fight with her brother about who is going to be second in line. My son then complains that he is hot. They both then start a barrage of whining that makes me vibrate with anger.

I grab the walking stick my boy has been using and bang it against a rock as hard as I can until it breaks into tiny pieces.

“This day is complete and utter bullshit.”

Silence.

“Mom you just said…” my boy begins.

“I know what I said. It’s true. Today has been a bullshit day. I hate today. This is not how I wanted things to go. It’s BULLSHIT!”

I scream it loud and the kids giggle and look nervously at each other.

“Say it,” I tell them. “Scream it!”

“Really?” they both ask.

“Yes, scream bullshit. I think you will feel better.”

We all yell together.

“BULLSHIT!”

We start hiking in silence and occasionally the kids mutter bullshit under their breath. I start to feel bad about this outburst and realize I need to change it. We have lived with that feeling enough.

I stop and turn to them both.

“You know what?” I say. “Today was bullshit, but let’s change it. We are strong. Do you know how much we hiked today? What we have overcome? We are strong. Let’s say that.”

They have skeptical looks, but we do it.

“I AM STRONG!”

It takes some time to hike back and we get turned around. It really is an impossibly complicated maze of trails. But we laugh, have fun and feel strong together.

We turn bullshit into strength.

It’s not perfect and it might seem insane to some, but I’m feeling proud of myself for how I handled things.

Life is filled with so many moments that will just bury you if you let them. You have to dig deep and find it within yourself to focus on the strength.

I could have chosen to spend that hike yelling at my boy and punishing him. I could have made him feel terrible or filled him with shame and fear. I could have allowed my pain to envelope all of us and cloud everything after that.

But I made another choice and for that I am truly proud.

photo

Sometimes things are as beautiful as a rose

RoseAs we walk around the blacktop, her little hand in mine, I can feel her body tense up.

She was fine all morning, but the reality is here.

We stop and she looks at me. Her new haircut frames her face in the light perfectly and it hits me how completely I know her, how intimate we are without words.

Her eyes tell me all the fears she carries right below the surface.

“I’m scared.”

“Nobody will be my friend.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“I don’t like this.”

I smile at her and then squeeze her hand gently three times in mine.

“I love you.”

She squeezes back four.

“I love you too.”

We walk more. Both of us look forward, lost in our own thoughts and emotions.

Does she know how I feel, I wonder? Are my eyes telling her all the fears I carry close?

“I’m scared.”

“I don’t want to be alone all day.”

“I’m going to miss you.”

“I don’t like this.”

Before I know it, her teacher is playing a harmonica and signaling it is time to lineup. I stand back with all the other parents.

She stares at me from the line and I ask if she wants a kiss. She makes fishy lips and we both laugh.

I walk over, give her a quick hug and kiss, and then stand back to watch her walk to her new classroom.

I follow her like a lost puppy and then I’m temporarily struck.

My little sidekick is going away.

She won’t be with me most of the day anymore.

I’m going to be alone.

I really, really don’t like this.

When we get to the door, I watch her teacher. He stands on his knees so he is at eye level, he takes her hand into his and he welcomes her with so much kindness and genuine love.

His words from an e-mail the night before pop into my head: “I will do my best to take good care of your hearts, and then you will come and pick them up at the end of day.”

Yes.

I take a deep breath and I let it go slowly.

I don’t cry. I don’t even feel sad anymore.

Before I have time to really examine my feelings, this wonderful teacher invites all the parents to walk in and see the children at their desks.

My girl is in the front row, paying attention to him talking and she is perfectly at home there. The classroom is warm, inviting and feels so right.

This is good.

If you’re unfamiliar with Waldorf school, entering first grade is huge. This class will be together until they leave the school in eighth grade. I really couldn’t have asked for a better environment for my sweet, sensitive girl.

This is going to be wonderful.

I walk out and actually feel excited.

For us both.

She will learn to read.

I will learn to run.

She will learn to knit.

I will learn to write a book.

She will learn how to be out in the world and make friends.

I will learn how to have goals and reach for them again.

It’s going to be a good year for us both and I’m really happy.

The first day of Waldorf school includes an opening day ceremony where the eighth graders welcome the first graders with a rose. We are at a new campus this year that only goes up to fourth grade, my son’s class.

When I found out my boy would be handing his sister a rose, it was as if the universe was giving me a gigantic hug.

We all head to the tiny outdoor amphitheater. So many familiar faces, hugs and smiles. The ceremony begins with the teachers and staff singing a lovely song about harmony and unity.

Then my son’s gorgeous teacher, who I adore beyond words, strums the guitar and leads the entire school in singing:

“From you I receive

To you I give

Together we share

By this we live”

rose2

As we all sing, my sweet boy hands his sister a beautiful white rose and they walk together across the stage. I feel giddy, silly and almost break into hysterical laughter.

My life is shifting in so many ways right now and this one moment, one rose given to another, seems to symbolize all that is good and wonderful in my life.

The ceremony is over and I get in my car. I have friends to see, errands to run and freedom to feel.

Yes, freedom.

I’m opening myself up to what might be. I’m saying yes to opportunities, allowing myself to be vulnerable and releasing all the anxieties that hold me back.

This is scary, but it is going to be amazing.