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.