Saturday, December 18, 2010

The ABCs of Christmas

Why haven't I been blogging? Christmas. It's all about Christmas. Christmas takes me several months to prepare for. So what, right? Who doesn't take ages to prepare for Christmas (well, my husband for one, but you get what I mean).

The last few years for our family have been different at Christmas. We are doing everything we can to take the focus off gifts and put it on spending time together and creating memories (instead of spending money we don't have and creating debt). So it's my parenting mission, starting late October, to lower expectations, and believe me, it's a full time job. 

 Thus I find myself, 10 days after my 43rd birthday, finally getting to my blog. But sadly my friends, instead of some thorough scouring of some insane moment of my parenting life--like getting my hair cut without informing my 8-year old and his extreme (did I say extreme?!) reaction: he ran away screaming, "You're not my Mom! You're not my Mom!!"; or my 6-year old spying her half-way hidden Christmas present from Santa in the garage and having the mother-of-all-meltdowns when I told her to get her skinny butt in the house, and that what ever she saw (as if I didn't know) wasn't for her to see, damn it, so GET IN THE HOUSE! (really, bad reactionary parenting at it's best)--you are going to get a sample of what I've been filling my time with:

I'm writing and illustrating an alphabet book for my kids and my nieces and nephews. I've been obsessed. I draw, paint, and write poems 22 hours a day (I'm rhyming in my sleep). So I thought I would share. Enjoy:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Zippidy Do Daw, Zippidy Day

My oh my, what a wonderful day.

My house is a mess, my hair is a rat's nest, my children are scruffy, my husband is nerdy, my teenager is sleeping, still, and my legs are shockingly hairy. But, today, I'm happy.

I dunno why. It's one of those singularly strange occurrences of life--chaos reigns down, winter's approaching, the dishwasher leaves crusty brown grunge in the mugs, yet in the midst of it all, a small sliver of peace.

I'm happy to take it. This definitely calls for cake.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Morning After

It's the morning after and the hangovers are palpable. Twitchy, tired and headachey, mung-mouthy kids wandering around in a daze, snapping at me while not-so-subtlety squirrelling away their next fix.

Sally Launder
It's November 1st. The morning after the night before and my house, always untidy (see previous post) is liberally sprinkled in candy wrappers, chip bags, half-chewed toffees, and semi-sucked lollies. It's the day after Hallowe'en--the day I turn into a full-blown witch of MacBethian proportions.

I used to love Hallowe'en (and mostly I still do--mostly). When I was a kid, and even when my kids were young. I loved dressing up and dressing them up. I loved carving a pumpkin, creating elaborate decorations for the house and yard, and passing out candy after encouraging the little princesses, clowns, and pirates to sing a song or perform a cute dance.

I used to hand-make all my kids costumes, planning sometimes months in advance. And I would make elaborate costumes for myself and my mostly unwilling husband--we were Fred and Wilma, Bugs and Elmer Fudd, and my best favorite, Elvis and Priscilla.

These days? I'm lucky if I can make it to Wal-Mart by the 30th of October to scrabble through the last of the costumes scattered on the floor to find something that might fit if we grease one of the kids with butter and wedge them into it. Most of the candy gets eaten before it ever makes it to a trick-or-treater's bag, and I never dress up anymore. In fact, it's a close thing if I get dressed at all (you'd be surprised how many people think my slippers and ratty old bathrobe are a costume--especially when I don't comb my hair).

But really, it's the post-Hallowe'ening that sprouts warts on my nose. It's the age old battle of the candy. They want it and are willing to resort to any means possible to get it (in fact, the CIA could take lessons on covert operations from my kids). I want some semblance of sanity (and moderately healthy kids who get at least one green piece of food per week) in our house, and am willing to do almost anything to get it, so a heavy battle with occasional casualties ensues.

My resolve to remain strong this year (like every other) will, most likely, be eroded away by heavy and persistent whining, crying, stomping, sneaking, whaling, and door-slamming. My will to live and desire for healthy well-balanced children will be completely subsumed by candy-madness.

I know I need to be a strong parent who sets a solid example of healthy living and moderation for my children. I know I need to be the hand that guides. I know I need to set the boundaries my children are looking for. I know. I know!

Chances are though, I won't. Chances are pretty good that they'll eat candy 'til they're ill, be too full of crap to eat supper, go to bed sticky and stomach-achey, and wake up cranky. But in the hours they toss and turn, with their teeth stuck together with jelly beans, I will practice my own lack of moderation while I sip several Brandy and sodas while saving them from themselves by eating the candy myself.

I'll share with my husband, of course. I mean, I'm not that much of a witch!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our Lady of Perpetual Mess

I am, I freely admit, a disastrous housekeeper. My house is a shambles. Which causes no end of anxiety for me. I mean, my house is such a disaster, I sincerely fear play dates. Not because I know that nicely turned-out parents in their tidy vehicles will arrive at our door to pick up their darlings only to be shocked at the overflowing laundry bins and Lego underfoot, but because I won't be able to locate their precious, but oh-so-easily misplaced progeny.

Now, don't get me wrong, we aren't depraved. We don't share our home with cockroaches, mice, or assorted vermin (that we can see), and we're certainly not candidates for Hoarders (God forbid!), but we're so deeply mired in stuff you have to wade through the hip-deep detritus to find the couch.

I'm not proud of this, and I certainly don't relish having to shovel a path to the bathroom each morning--in fact, sometimes I become so claustrophobic I go on a rampage filling plastic bin bags with any and all toys, clothes, shoes, bedding, and assorted small appliances within reach and hoof it off to the Sally Ann--but I'm sufficiently uninterested to make a permanent change.

So I've decided to find and extol the virtues of living in a mess. It's my new mission, maybe even my new religion. I will convert at least 3 people a decade. It'll be a small congregation, but a lazy one. We'll call ourselves Our Lady of Perpetual Mess and some of our hymns will include, Go Throw it Off the Mountain and Amazing Glaze (on the Bathroom Counter). Of course the backbone of my new faith will be the Five Virtues:

: Avoid extremes of housekeeping. Forebear resenting injuries caused by tripping over your husband's shoes so much as you think they deserve.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, like a strawberry stuck to the kitchen floor for two weeks, or at accidents common or unavoidable from stepping and sliding on said strawberry.

Order: Let all your things have their places, and when they don't, let the places they lie be their new places. 

Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought, when you're not tired or to busy blogging. Perform without fail what you resolve, when your in-laws are coming for the weekend.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or wine glasses, but in habitation, give yourself ample leeway.

I feel a great weight lifted off my shoulders at this decision (mostly because I shrugged off my wool coat on to the floor). It's freeing to aim for the middle. No more battles. No more weeping. No more renting of clothes. No more shouting down the hall to get kids to pick up their backpacks, or threatening life and limb when I find a 4-day old bowl of mushroom soup in the laundry room, or frantically flipping through the Yellow Pages to find a divorce lawyer after discovering toenail clippings on the kitchen table...again!

And when Our Lady descends to finally bring me to that tidy, quiet, peaceful place in the sky, I'll know I did my job. I'll know that my family is safe from pestilence and disease because my conversion has enabled them to be exposed to every known virus on the planet, that, and the fact that they'll probably find enough money (and popcorn kernels and Barbie shoes and crayons and underwear) under the cushions of the couch to hire a house-keeper.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blogging, Narcissism, and my Grandma

God I love blogging. I love looking back at snapshots of my life and my relationship with myself and my kids.

Is that narcissistic?

Yeah, actually. I think it might be. Just a little. But perhaps not more so than journaling (except perhaps that journaling is a private, meditative act and blogging is a public, dirty-laundry-airing act, at which I excel, thankyouverymuch).

My Grandma--Clara was her name--was a faithful journaler. Every day she'd write a little of what went on in her day:

October 18, 1946,

Cloudy today. Feels like more snows coming. John went into Munson today and wasn't back until after supper. Bought Karen boots. Shot a coyote sneaking around the chickens. Repair chicken coop tomorrow. 

She wrote for years like that, most of her adult life. We found them, the stack of diaries she'd carefully kept, in a small credenza in her sewing room after she died. Reading them now is fantastic, like unearthing some glimpse into a foreign, ancient life. I feel strangely close to her reading her tiny bird-like scrawl across the page, suspecting that she wrote small to conserve paper (she was a fabulous conserver, she'd have put Al Gore to shame).

In fact, I feel closer to her now than I did when she was alive (and I loved her enormously before she died)--now that I'm a mother, and not unlike her, a sometimes frustrated, sometimes unfulfilled mother. My grandmother was an artist in her heart and in her soul, but in her life she was a small-town, lonely, disappointed farm-wife and mother. I think she lived, and died, resentful of how she lived. I think she wanted and needed more. She didn't get it. Perhaps because of the time, perhaps because she didn't know how, perhaps because she was denied it.  She lived out her resentment, often shown in the harsh, fierce entries in her journals. She felt cold, and that's the way she wrote.

So I follow in her footsteps and write about myself and my life. Why? I don't know. What compels me to take what small, precious time I have to spare and put my thoughts down? Maybe it's a genetic compulsion. Maybe, fearing, knowing, we're mortal, we try--from cave paintings to blogging--we try to preserve a part of ourselves, our history, to pass on who we are, not just what we've done or how to do it, to our children and the future.

Everywhere I go, everything I write or say, I take a part of Clara and Karen with me. These often troubled women and mothers who were and are my role models. They prop me up and, just because they were and are, make it possible for me to write and speak my mind. Yes, I'm just as often frustrated and unfulfilled as I am the opposite, but I write and rant and rave and scream above the din, and I love to do it. It makes me happy.

So am I a narcissist? or is this genetic?

What does it matter? My grandma would be glad that I'm finding joy (though it would probably piss her off a little too). I am, as she did, leaving my own small, sometimes crazy record, of who I am. And, like her own small message to the future, maybe, someday, this too will matter.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm a Teenage Medusa

MMMmmmmm HHhmmmmmm,

It's cocktail time. Time to crack open a nice, medium-bodied (by this I mean medium-priced) bottle of red wine. With a twist off cap for easy access, of course. None of those pesky corks to slow me down.

I love this time of day. My house is as close to quiet as it ever gets. The ankle-biters are in bed. The teenager is out (it's Friday after all). The husbands in the shower. And I'm curled like a pretzel on a red leather Ikea couch with my bottle of red handy, and I'm relishing it.

I've been ridiculously moody lately (which might account for why Bart is in the shower much longer than usual--either that or he's got some "personal business" to attend to). More moody that usual, though I personally know some individuals who would dispute my ability to be "more moody." I always find that ignoring these people, or the occasional well timed tongue-lashing helps sort them out--of course, withholding cookies and sex (depending on the audience) helps too.

Perhaps it's the weather--it actually snowed here this morning, or perhaps it's nearing a full moon, or perhaps it's that I've been trying to wean myself off my antidepressants, but all I know is that I'm a terrible bitch.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not all that fun being a bitch. In fact, it lacks most any kind of appeal. My family looks at me as if I'm going to grow snakes for hair to turn them all to stone. My inability to sustain a reasonable conversation without significant eye rolling and snorting has kept me from seeing or speaking to any friends (after all, I'd like to keep them). And even my reflection finds my sour-puss distasteful.

So today, after my kids carefully skirted the filthy kitchen, where I was aggressively preparing myself, and only myself, something to eat, while purposefully ignoring the sink overflowing with dishes, and my husband hastily tripped over the back doorstep terrified he was getting home hairy-eyeball late, I had an epiphany. I had reverted to my 15-year old self. I was behaving like a self-obsessed, unbearable, nauseating teenager.

Good God! What a sickening revelation! I'm my own worst nightmare. All I need is a bottle of gin hidden under my bed and it may as well be 25 years ago.

I swiftly and firmly decided not to indulge myself. I promptly took a shower (the first in 3 days), sterilized the kitchen, made a reasonably healthy bedtime snack for the nose-miners, with only 3 marshmallows each (so stop judging!), then tucked them in, popped a Wellbutrin, and without further delay, unscrewed my bottle of wine.

Thank God for age. I wouldn't go back to high school for a billion dollars--gin gives me heartburn.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Deep, Dark Secret

She had a deep, dark secret. One she couldn't share with her friends, her family, her husband, or her kids. Was it shame that kept her locked in this emotional prison? Was it shame?

To carry such a weight was nearly unbearable. To keep this secret for so long. To long to tell. The overwhelming need. She felt it rise in her throat, inexorably creeping. She wanted so desperately to tell. Anyone. Just share and not feel judged. But she knew judgment was inevitable. And what came with the judgment, she wondered. Would she be worthy anymore? Would her children be unable to respect her? Love her? Could she love herself?

So she wore her secret like an old bandage needing to be removed. Greying and fraying at the edges. Losing it's stick. But she was too frightened of the pain she knew she'd feel in tearing it off.

What did it mean to be a mother? Surely, even a mother is an individual who's entitled to secrets. If our past forms our present, and if who we are is defined by who we've been, then, surely, surely, we are all patchwork people of truths, lies, successes, failures, and secrets.

So why did she feel so duplicitous keeping secrets? Why did she feel that her failures were not just failures, her secrets not just secrets, but were somehow untellable, unthinkable, unknowable? Suddenly, she felt becoming and being a mother had erased her past? Erased everything that she'd made and lost of herself in the years she was before they were born? It all started to feel so surreal, so unreal, like her life was merely an old film she'd seen once. Was anything she'd done or said or been or felt real?  Had any of it actually happened? Or did she begin when her son took his first breath?

Perhaps giving birth takes our own lives, she thought. Perhaps, what we barter for the life of a child, our child, our children, is ourselves.

No one tells you. No one says that you sell your soul to the future to have a child. That your past is buried, but not mourned for no one grieves you when you're still there. And, she thought, that is the darkest secret of them all--one she'd just come to understand. Did she want to grieve for herself? Could she say goodbye?

How do you say goodbye, especially to yourself. How can you think of yourself, and the person you'd planned to become, as gone?

Then her son laughed, the sound rising up above the din of the house. It was some TV show from the other room--Grover or Little Bear. Suddenly, in that moment, she knew she could say good bye and mourn, and she allowed slow tears to drop into her coffee. She knew then that it was okay to let go of her secrets too. That her secrets, that secret, had died with who she was, who she might have been. And she knew, as the tears fell, that everything she had been was a treasure, an inheritance she'd left herself. She was a new woman--of new hopes, new possibilities, new depth for pain and for joy--that was born when he was born.

And, she knew, her inheritance was more valuable than gold.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning

It's dark in my head. Deep, dark hazy black. Driving water beats and prickles my scalp. The walls are closing in. I bang my shoulder--I should be warm, but it's cold, very cold. Pound, pound, pound. Why is there always pounding?

Blood. Blood, then pain. Why does my body know what's happening before my brain can register?  I can feel the sharp sting of warm blood run down my leg. It just begins to pool between my toes before it gets washed, swirled away. I open my eyes and watch my essence trickle away.


"MOM!!! Where's my home-reading? MOOMMM!!! MOOOOOMMMM!!!!!!!!!


Not Armageddon. Not the Apocalypse. Not even the Second Coming. It's my morning shower: shaving my legs (read: aggressively, though inadvertently, removing a 2-inch strip of skin off my left shin) with my eyes closed (because I'm too damn tired to open them) while the no-account-nose-miners hammer on the door screaming inane questions their father could answer were he not entirely and purposefully engrossed in his book and Bran Flakes.

Oh morning. How sweet you are.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Got a What?!

I have 3 daughters. All amazing, and exhausting, in their own ways.

Emma's 20: tall, lanky, intense, funny, deeply intelligent, elegant, somewhat-nerdy, burbling with talent, and gratefully, away at university (I love her so much....when she's at school....and I send up a little prayer of thanks daily when she's away, "God? Thank you for creating universities in other cities. Thank you Lord. Amen.")

Bronwyn's 6: tall, sturdy, bright as a new penny, happy-go-lucky, and an accomplished's a regular occurrence in our house to hear, "Bronwyyyyynnnnnnn, quiiit it!!!!"

Then there's Isabelle. 17-year old Isabelle. If there were a prize for the World's Best Teenager, Isabelle would be in the top ten. She's, quite frankly, amazing. She is smart, funny, beautiful, sensitive, thoughtful, and she keeps the snide back-chat to a low roar. She's serious and sincere. And she's got the work ethic of a Trojan (warrior not condom). Isabelle's one significant weakness? She's got Woody Allen-sized anxiety and self-doubt. It's of epic proportions. When, in the fourth grade, the class was examining enhanced photos of dust mites, she went into a 2-day obsessive scratching-twitching-skin-scorching-showering-insomniac frenzy that nearly had us wrap her in plastic wrap and drop her on the curb. Or, the absolute tail-spin terror that accompanies each and every hair cut. So when September rolled around and her final year of high school was imminent the stress began to build.

The first couple of days seemed to go fairly well, but as the pressure started to build, Isabelle started to waver and quake. I shouldn't have been surprised when she walked through the back door 2 hours before school ended one day....but being me, I was. One look at her face told me something was dreadfully wrong. One word and she burst into tears.

She got to school that morning and her world literally began to turn upside down. As she lay on the bed in the spare room, sobbing and holding her pounding head, she told me: first, she'd lost her ability to understand what her friends and teachers were saying--everything was gibberish. Then she lost her ability to write, her normal tidy scrawl, becoming a indecipherable line-drifting mess. Finally, she lost her ability to form words. She bailed out of school, walked home, and fell apart.

So after I'd listened and internally fallen apart, I took her to the only place I could think of....the Emergency room.

We sat together waiting to see a doctor and Woody began to show his grizzled head. Isabelle began to stress about her homework....she had a Chemistry assignment, an English assignment, and an Art assignment. All due the next day. She rang her hands, and began to vibrate with anxiety. So I did what any decent, right-thinking parent would do......I did her homework.

Alright, I didn't do all her homework. I did her English homework (she blew off her Chemistry and Art homework with a note from me).

I wrote a great piece of work! 200 carefully chosen words. All painstakingly arranged into a grade 12 English assignment that rivalled some of my university writing. I loved it.....I mean, how could you not, right? I've been paid to write. I made a moderately unsuccessful career doing it.

So just after I'd finished Isabelle's English homework, and her CAT scan was complete, diagnosing a stress-related migraine (rather than the paralyzing stroke or brain tumour I'd been imagining) I was elated. We went home with a handful of Percocet, a plan for mediation classes, and what I knew to be a piece of grade 12 English homework that would go down in the annals of high school writing. They would frame it and ask if it could be used as a classic how-to-write example for generations to come. I tucked Isabelle in and all was well with the world.

Until she got her assignment back. I got an 8 out of 10. I got an 8 out of 10!!! 

I got an 8 out of 10--from a Social Studies teacher, a Social Studies teacher, mind, assigned to teach English--because, ..."while it was certainly the funniest, it lacked substance."

No framing, no gilding, no using my writing as an example for ripe, young minds yet to come, because, well, because I lack substance. And now my sweet, earnest daughter want me to attend parent-teacher interviews to meet my nemesis. To sit face to face, across a library table with the clearly uneducated, unappreciative, illiterate boob and make nice (okay, perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, but 8 out of 10??!!).

Nope. I'm going to take a pass on PT Interviews. I'm going to take the low road to sit home and sip scotch and ponder my skills--as a feeble parent, as a substance-less writer, and as a long-term grudge-holder. And just possibly, if I perform well enough, I'll give myself a 10 out of 10.

Friday, October 8, 2010


It's harvest time here in Canada: farmers are working their land and filling their elevators, geese are fattening up for the long trip south, sweaters are being pulled from the top of cupboards, and turkeys are quaking and lamenting their no-fly status. This Monday is every Canadians Government-given right to give thanks.

Today, I feel grateful. I have healthy, bright, gorgeous kids who manage to get into reasonably manageable amounts of trouble (no crack, prostitution, human-trafficking, or teen pregnancies. Yet). A sweet, somewhat dense husband, who though losing his hair still has a great bum and enormous patience with me. A nice, albeit shockingly untidy house. And an extended family that I love (from a distance).

It's great to be thankful. I kinda like it. It feels good to feel good and for that alone I'm, well, I'm thankful. It's especially sweet because it's taken me so long to get here.

I had one of those childhoods. You know, one of those childhoods that is horrifying at the time (and a future financial boon for therapists), but comical in retrospect: young mother, skirt-chasing-embezzling-absent father, divorce, welfare and living in an 2-bedroom apartment, with my mother and 2 brothers, furnished with cardboard boxes, and a mattress on the living-room floor. Then remarriage and a new "father" who, though not a skirt-chasing embezzler, was a wife and child beater--ahhhh, the good old days.

What?!! Ghastly!! you say. What a terrible ghastly childhood! How can you make light of it? What kind of cold-hearted villain could say such things are comical! I know....I know, but if you can't laugh you're gonna cry, right? And as the original funny lady Carol Burnett said, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." And my own small tragedies have had enough time to adequately percolate to full blown belly laughs.

Then, I had one of those marriages. I married young, very young, as a direct result (so my therapist has helpfully and expensively pointed out) of my childhood. And I married the wrong man. Oh, did I choose badly: a controlling, angry, demanding, demeaning man. Well, 3 kids, some severely devastated self-esteem, a disastrously messy divorce, and a handful of years as a poor single-mom later I'm here in a thankful place.

And today I'm thankful for so many things: for family, for friends, for love, for joy, for warmth, for comfort, for safety. But believe it or not, I'm truly thankful for all the above. For all the heart ache and hardship. For all the loss and pain. For everything I learned and lived.

I am a woman tattered at the edges from life and age, but maybe, just possibly, there's a little bit of beauty in being care-worn. A small bit of grace in coming out alive and intact. Some small bit of refinement in hardship. I want my children to see that. To carry with them the small bit of knowledge that even through their bleakest moments, thankfulness can and does wait on the other side.

So happy Thanksgiving everyone. And when you stop to give thanks this weekend, don't forget to send up a small thought for the troubled-spots, and certainly, don't forget to giggle.

Never Let Them Tell You Complaining Doesn't Pay!

Evidently 2 years of whining, whinging, moaning, complaining, and writing about how down right hard and dirty (albeit rewarding) it is to be a mother has paid off. My little bitty blog has been nominated for a 2010 Canadian Blog Award!!!

Thanks Nominator, who ever you are! I'm honestly flattered and honoured!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Simple Days of Summer

Oh I'm suffering. I'm a sad, suffering soul. I'm a mother on the edge. And why? Why so bleak? Why so grey? I'm mired in the post-back-to-school blues.

All my kids are back to their day jobs and just like every September, I'm blue. Do I miss them? Do I long for their moist little bodies to be pressed against me whining for a Freezie as I try to make a pot of coffee? Do I want more than anything to hear those 3 special words that ring out round the Western world during summer vacation--Mom, I'm bored!? Or yet, do I miss Popsicle sticks stuck to the carpet? Or the shock of the water bill from the hose being left on all day? Or the scent of wet puppy that assaults my senses as pre-adolescent boy brushes past me--why, oh why do boys smell like wet dogs? Or, or, or, do I miss the sound of Mario Cart blaring through the house at 7:00 A.M.?

Well my friends my answer is plain: Yes. Yes I do. I miss all these things and more. All the irritating, frustrating, nose-picking, sibling-scraping, knee-scrapeing misery of 2 months with my kids. I miss it because, honestly, it's easier and far, far preferable than the agonizing, soul-twisting back-to-school angst.

Maybe it's just me. I mean, some kids seem happy to go back to school. Some kids look forward to it. Not mine though. My kids torture themselves, and me.

My oldest daughter moves away to university during the year, so 2 weeks preceding her going back to school is fraught with drama. She's a wreck, and her coping mechanism is to whine, whinge, stomp, and storm, typically at me, and typically ramping up to a good old strop by 11 P.M. at which time she wants me to have all the answers. But any answer I produce, good, bad, terrible or drunken (which is more regular in the lead up to school) is shot down like the Red Baron. And I suffer the ignominious defeat of the vanquished (in other words, I snap, tell her I don't have any answers for my own feeble life, let alone hers, and march off to bed!)

But does the excitement stop there? On no my friends, it's only just begun. There also lives in my house the worlds only tortured existentialist 8-year old. His worries go far beyond which Lego set he wants to save up for, or whether his sister got a bigger cookie than he did--he spends late in to the night obsessing.  Particularly when the anxiety of back-to-school sets in. Like, leaving the hallway light on when he's falling asleep. He needs the light on in the hall to feel calm and safe enough to fall asleep, but leaving the light on uses power and using power is polluting our planet which is melting the Arctic ice which will result in the death of all the Polar Bears, so he can't sleep without the light, but he can't sleep with the light! Or the other day, from the back of the minivan, he was deeply disappointed when I couldn't explain how our souls animate our bodies and what feature of our souls is it that makes us unique. And who does he come to when he needs answers to these existential crises? Me. ME?  Poor little poo. Man alive! I can barely keep him in matching socks.

So I dread September. I dread the exhaustion of dragging the barge filled with my progeny's back-to-school fears, angst, and insecurities. Give me the simple days of the hysterical teenage antics after her brother pantses her in the front yard, or my 6-year olds 17 damp changes of clothes, per day, lying on the floor (any floor in the house, in fact, any horizontal surface in the house), or the perpetually sticky, perpetually syrupy nature of the kitchen table after a Captain-Crunch-salt-and-vinegar-chip-Monopoly marathon (that resulted in near fatal amounts of blood loss), or the constant noise, the constant chaos, the constant kids.

Yeah. Just give me the simple days of summer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So Here I Am Again

Not so very long ago, two years past give or take, I started a blog with two wonderful friends. We wrote about being mothers, what it meant to us, and how much it gave us, and how much it took out of us. Sadly, one of my writing companions wouldn't (doesn't, won't) call herself my friend anymore and our blog has dried up and died.

So I took a rare few moments, between sending kids off on play dates, and comforting an emotional teenager, to create a new blog about my mothering. I copied and pasted all my writing from our joint blog until my fingers hurt, but here now is over a year of my writing, lamenting, celebrating, laughing, and whinging.

But not only have my friendships changed, but my life has as well, and I'm excited to start writing about my life as a parent, a partner, a daughter, a sister, and a friend--successes and failure included.

So here I go, ready to dish the dirt, bake the cookies, hunt for my slippers, and annoy my kids. Hop on board if you can.....this train is leaving the station again!

P.S. If you're interested in what my blogging compatriots had to say, you can visit


The Gift

In those absolutely rare flashes of clarity, that occur too few and far between, it's an amazing marvel to see my children. Life is filled with so much noise--white noise, background noise, fulsome noise, outside noise--that my life, and how it intersects with my children, is seldom quiet. But recently, the din has lessened (I know it won't last long, so I'm grasping the moments), and I found myself seeing these people I helped create.

I stand, sit, lie, and gawk in awe. 

Seeing them this way, in this brighter light (or with the veil lifted) is like being in a nature film, where, through time-lapsed photography, we watch a seed grow into a stalk, then into a bud, then into a flower, then, finally, but in a matter of moments, into full bloom. The remarkable beauty takes your breath away, yet makes you laugh at the impossibility of it. There's this sense of seeing something rare and special and forbidden, almost voyeuristic. 

How can you possibly explain to them, or someone who has never raised a child, that regardless of their age you see them as they were--with puff-ball hair, small, clutching hands, soft cheeks, and voices to wake the dead? 

My oldest son is 20. And, honestly, we struggle to find a way to communicate. I continue to be his mother, utterly flawed, yet with expectations and requirements, and he's pushing away from being my son--he's bursting out of his skin to be an adult, but he's confined by my rules, my way. So we tread carefully, and often clumsily around each other. We toss out barbs and occasionally wound each other. He's developed a protective skin to cover his sensitivities and vulnerabilities, and I hate it. I desperately miss the warm, sweet, thoughtful, gentle little boy he was, before he began to protect himself from the world, but mostly from the nasty, vitriolic divorce his father and I went through. 

still see the slim 8 year old, worry filling his face, as he pressed one of his special, treasured keepsakes into his sister's hand as I flew out the door racing her to the Emergency room, not the tall, hairy man he's becoming.

We have constant and regular conflict. Up, down, in, out, back, forth--"we don't respect him, his needs, or his privacy." "He doesn't help out the way he should, drinks our last beer, every time, and has no direction." But, then, as things always do, something changed the other day: a shock to our family that registered on the Richter scale. And as I braced for the shaking and trembling the shock would cause, I also braced for his reaction and what it would do to him, and us. I expected the worst. I actually thought I might lose him.

But as I steeled myself, my life was thrown into the slow-but-double-time motion of that nature film, and I saw my son begin to bloom. He's beautiful, just as I always suspected he would be. 

I know that this moment suspended in time will end and that we'll go back to our see-saw of strife. It's life. But for right now I'm staring in wonder and holding my breath. The seeds of who my children are, and who they will be, were always there. That tall, hairy man is the sweet, gentle boy.

My children are beautiful. And for this brief moment, when bills and groceries and lessons and housework and cooking and scrambling to make a life fades to the background, I'm deeply grateful for this glimpse of their possibility, and their radiance. And today, to be their mother, is a gift. 

It Hurts to be Beautiful

I am going to tell you a harrowing tale. One that makes my blood run cold, and makes me wonder what we're we making of our daughters? 

Every Monday night my 20 year old son plays poker with friends. These are, for the most part, good kids (yeah, there's a little pot, a little more beer, and a lotta bad language, but there's no crack or handguns or plotting to overthrow the Man), they're intelligent, respectful young men. 

They always play in the same place: in the basement at Jeremy's* house (*names changed to protect the innocent, or not so innocent--really, I'm only protecting myself, my son would kill me in my sleep if I revealed any real names). At 22 or 23 years old, Jeremy has managed to pull himself up by his boot straps (or in this case, by his keyboard) find work in an exciting, challenging career he excels at, and buy his own house, which he shares with his girlfriend. By most standards, it's impressive for a 42 year old to excel at their career and buy a house, but at 22 it's jaw-dropping. 

Well, as I reclined after supper on Monday night, after a indulgent repast, patting my growing girth, it occurred to me that my son wasn't performing his careful preparations for poker night (throwing on his favorite crumpled t-shirt from the bottom of a laundry basket and attempting to find at least one sock that didn't expose his big toe). When I asked him why he wasn't going to the game, he told me that the game was cancelled for the next couple of weeks. Why? I inquire. His answer shocked and saddened me: 

"Well, Jeremy's girlfriend is recovering from surgery."

"Oh my God, is she okay?" I say, alarmed enough to sit up straight (which caused an immediate cramp).

"Yeah, she's okay. She's just recovering from her boob-job." 

"What? She had breast implants!! Why? How old is she?!" Let me tell you, I, who am not easily shocked, was shocked. 

Evidently, Jeremy's 20 year old girlfriend, Laura* (*names changed to protect the recently up-cupped) has been dreaming of breast implants for years. She worked through high school and full-time when she graduated, saving and saving, not for university or a trip abroad, but for bigger breasts. 

"Why did she get breast implants? Were her boobs really small? Why would she do that?" I say, becoming increasingly agitated, to my increasingly uncomfortable son. 

"Well, no," he says, "she had nice boobs, you know, regular size. She's a really pretty girl. She wasn't flat-chested. Jeremy said she's just always wanted bigger boobs."

"How big did she go, like a C-cup, or something? And how does Jeremy feel about it?" I'm not naive, in fact, just the opposite, but this was something I was having trouble wrapping my head around. 

"Well, actually, she went for a Double-D, and..."

"What!!!! What the hell!!! Holy shit!!!! Why would she do that? Why would she do that to herself!!!!?????" I rudely interrupt.

"I dunno. I guess she just wanted bigger boobs," shrugs my son.

"Oh my God. What does Jeremy think?"

"Actually," says my son, "He's not very happy about it. He didn't want her to do it. But it was her dream, and he loves her and he said he'd support her." 

"Yeah, your damn right he's going to need to support her....him and WonderBra, for the rest of her back-pain filled life." 

As a woman and as a mother I'm saddened and confused. What are we telling our daughters about their worth? What are we telling them about their value as people? What kind of world is this where a beautiful, young woman is entirely motivated by bigger breasts? What kind of world does she need to feel safe enough, special enough, good enough, attractive enough? What kind of world makes it's young women feel so imperfect? What kind of world are we making for our daughters? 

And how did we come to a place that places more value on your waist to hip ratio then on your brain to stupidity ratio? 

I feel mute. I'm so filled with rage and frustration that I'm unable to articulate how enraged I am. But the next moment, I'm so saddened that I feel weak. 

I suppose, by the standards society sets, so consequently by our standards, it's pretty simple for our daughters to figure out where they fit and where they belong. Their achievements, self-respect, and strength is sitting in their bras, their noses, their haircut and highlights, or the seat of their jeans. 

I'm not wagging my finger at others. I'm not blameless. I've created the same atmosphere in my house, around my girls. I have and do constantly critique myself, my shape, my flaws. I was getting ready for work the other day and one of my daughters said, "You look nice mom." I could have been graceful and accept the compliment. But I didn't, and I wasn't. My answer was, "Yeah, nice for a fat girl." All she said was, "Ahhh, mom, you're not fat. " Then she walked away. And she's right. I'm not fat. But I'm plagued with doubt about my 40 year old curves. I'm uncomfortable in my less than perfect frame. But it's not me that I damaged with those 6 careless words (though I certainly didn't do myself any favors). It was my bright, beautiful daughter. 

How can she learn to grow into the kind of woman who's confident in her self, her beauty, her intelligence, her capabilities, when she sees me, her role model, so unable to be comfortable in mine. 

This is hard. And I don't know how to fix it. I just know that I need to, at least in my world. I know sex sells, I know that attractive people get farther, faster. I know that there's power in beauty. But I also know that that doesn't have to be all. I know that I want more for my girls. I want their power to come from inside of them, rather than inside their bras. I want them to recognize how beautiful and smart they are. And for my sons? I want them to see women for everything they are, not for everything they show

Maybe I can't achieve this. Possibly, my daughters are contemplating implants. But when my son and his friends tell me they feel bad that Laura felt she needed breast implants, I can hope a little. 

The Motherhood Gene

Oh my God

I've just had a bone-clattering revelation. I'm sitting here, with my mouth hanging just slightly open, eyes glazed like donuts, with the slightest sweat beading on my brow. I've become the one and only thing I was determined never, ever, ever, in infinity, ever to become. It's a shock, and a little hard to say out loud, but, I've become my mother. 

The transformation was so creeping and insidious that I didn't recognize it until it was too late. I didn't see it happening--and now, (insert high pitched, quavering scream here) it's done. 

When I was a teenager, and then a new mom, being anything at all like my mother was my greatest fear (next to being abducted by aliens and anally probed). I mean, come on--she always looked tired and in need of a haircut, she didn't ever take the time to paint her toenails or try new makeup styles, she'd fall asleep, upright at the table, after supper, she constantly had a pencil behind her ear and a never-ending list of things to do, sure she spent more money than she could afford on nice jeans for me, but did she really expect me to go to the mall with her in the pair she'd been wearing since the 70s? She was forever worried about where my brothers and I were going and who we were going with, and, geesh, just try to leave home to back pack around Europe, and she was a burbling, snotty mess. It was down-right embarrassing. Didn't she have any self-respect?!

I vowed to be the exact opposite of womanhood and motherhood. I was going to be liberal, cool, calm, unrushed, and sophisticated. My philosophy was simple, intuitive, and intelligent--every person has their own path to walk, and their feet are firmly planted on that path the second they're born, so all I had to do was give the people I brought into the world a place to live and grow, spread a little love and warmth around, and the rest was up to them. If they made mistakes, it was part of their growth, important to where their path was taking them, not my concern. I was free to live my life while they lived theirs, and yeah, our lives would intersect, but sometimes that might be kinda nice and fun. In fact, after my first child was born, and I was moving with his father to a small town, where I likely couldn't work, I asked my mom (and this is a direct quote), "What am I going to do all day? I'm going to be so bored. It'll only take an hour to clean the house, and then what?"

Well, I know you suspect what I'm going to tell you next.Mmmhhmmm. My philosophy imploded about a week after I had to put it into practice. And it wasn't pretty. 

I was a bloody mess. 

Twenty years later? Still a mess. I constantly have a pencil tucked behind my ear, dirt under my fingernails, I still manage to wear t-shirts with breast milk stains on them (my last child stopped nursing 3 and a half years ago), my hair occasionally looks like I've dragged a brush through it, and as for the lists, I can't keep them organized. I keep losing them, so consequently I can't keep track of what I've done, what I'm doing, or what I'm suppose to do (in fact, before I owned a cell phone, I actually lost one of my kids because I misplaced the field trip notice that told me where I had to pick him up. It was a harry couple of hours!) When I wear toenail polish, it looks chipped about 15 minutes after I've applied it, and worst of all, I spend every waking (and often sleeping) moment of my life in a state of perpetual worry about my kids--I'm a snotty, burbly mess. In short....I'm my mom. I'm starting to look like her--my small, perky boobs seem to be getting bigger every bloody day, and sound like her. I find her voice coming out of my body at a startlingly regular rate. Just the other day, in a fit of frustration, I inadvertently used one of the well-know gems I heard regularly throughout my youth--"If you keep acting like that, I'm going to drop kick you in the crotch." 

The transformation is complete. And now, after the shock has worn off, I realize it's not as bad as I imagined it would be. She wasn't perfect. She blew it sometimes (lotsa times). But age is the great equalizer and I see things differently. She wasn't deplorable. She was a mom and woman doing everything she could to make our lives, and her life, work. She encountered struggles, successes, joy, vomit, and interminable Christmas concerts, just like me, just like you. 

From here, where I sit, right now, it seems to me that the things I reviled in her are the things I've become (though honestly, I'll never be as organized or tidy as she is--I mean, she never once lost one of us). As it turns out, the reality is nothing like the fear. It took me alotta years to figure this out. 

And what about her? What about my mom? Twenty years later, she'sbecome everything I intended to be--well put together, sophisticated, cool, calm, and unrushed. 

Maybe if I'm really, really lucky, someday, I'll get to grow into that part of her too. 

Stellar and Stupid Moments of the Week

My Stellar and Stupid Parenting Moments of the Week

By all that is sensible and logical in the universe, I should have introduced this on Friday, or Sunday--those being the typical end of the week days, but being the madly irrational woman I feel confident I have proven myself to be, I've left it 'til a Monday. And as the creator of this column, I figured it was only right that I kick things off, and really, since none of my compatriots even suspect I've invented it, I have no choice. So here goes. Here are my monumentally stellar and stupid parenting moments of the week:

Going for Gold: This week, I went in to work at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. so I could work nearly a full day and then pull a fast-excape. I wanted to spend the warm, sweet, sticky afternoon with my kids. It was worth it.

Supreme Underachiever: My 6 year old son has never been in organized sports. I have lots of excuses--he's too young to even get what's going on, he's an artist not an athlete, all the poor little buggers do out there on the soccer pitch is chase the ball like a bunch of lemmings--and we can do that in the backyard (and the backyard doesn't have a registration fee). Really, I'm just lazy. Well, the other day, as we were playing a miniature game of baseball in our registration-free backyard, he got fed up, threw himself down on the patio with his legs splayed and his arms hanging limply at his sides, and shouted, "You NEVER register me for sports!!! I just wanna play sports! You never let me play!!!!!"

Job well done, Sloth-Girl! Job well done. 

But after baring my parenting faux-pas, I thought you should hear a real doozy, courtesy of

The reputation of the Japanese for being humble is falling to Western norms among primary-school parents, according to a June dispatch from Tokyo in The Times of London. "Across Japan, teachers are reporting an astonishing change in the character of parents" as they push for their children's "rights." In one school's performance of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, "there were 25 Snow Whites after "monster parents" bullied officials into admitting that it was not fair to have just one kid in the title role. [The Times (London), 6-7-08] 

Have a moderately sane, occasionally indulgent parenting week!

It's a Perfect Day for Bananafish

I have a confession to make. Yes, another one. Another shameful, dirty, secret, secret. It's the reason I've been so remiss in writing (it's been plaguing my thoughts and making me about as fun to be around as a pube-speckled bar of soap):

I don't know who I am. 

That's it. That's all there is to it. I know--big fat stinkin' deal. You were hoping for a salacious shameful, dirty, secret, secret. A great fat juicy one, like, maybe, I slyly channel Mrs. Robinson and exploit my own Ben Braddock on the third Thursday of every month, or that I have a clitoral piercing that tickles when I walk, or that when I say I'm just running out to Home Depot to get a washer for the drippy tap, I'm really getting away from the house to conduct my side-business as the Madam of a high-cost escort service (politicians and professionals only, naturally).

Sorry to disappoint. But I'm not that fun. The best and most revealing thing I can tell you about myself is, I don't know who I am. Who does, really, other than Seymour Glass, Arjuna, or the Dalai Lama?

But I can't really model myself on one of them: one's fictional (and dead), one's mythological (and dead), and one is fully booked up into my next life giving keynote speeches (after which time, I'll be dead). So, outside of saying: this is how many kids I have, or this is how many times I've been married, or this is the job I go to every day, or this is how old I am, or this is my astrological sign, or this is what color my hair is, really, I have no way to define myself. Except, that I'm a desperate, confused, conflicted, raging maniac. 

And so I smile--most of the time. I pretend I am what I imagine other people see in me: smart, attractive, brave, kind, snide, flippant, standoffish, and haughty.  And I pretend to be the person other people see me being: a mother, a wife, a writer, an editor, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Sometimes. Today. The weight of these things is, at one time, heavy and ethereal. All at once, I feel the full weight on gravity pushing me deeper and deeper into myself and the ground, and then in an instant, I feel like smoke, formless and drifting and unable to grab hold of anything, anyone, myself. Sometimes, I want so desperately to throw this, them, everything off, and disappear so that I might discover who I am, what I am, why I am.

But what does this have to do with you? For that matter, what does this have to do with me? It's just philosophical navel-gazing, right? Yet everything I touch is touched by this, every person in my life grazes up against this crazy black hole. And what does that do to the people I love? These are people I chose or got stuck with, and people who chose or got stuck with me. I want so desperately, like most parents, for my children to have a better life than I have. I sometimes desperately wish that I could restrict that desire for them to having a bigger house, a nicer car, a fatter bank account, or a slimmer ass, but I'm saddled with this constant searching that makes me almost obsessively crave completeness for my kids. To have the real, true gift of knowing themselves. But now the crux: how do I teach them, or model for them, how to be whole when I'm so unsure myself. 

So where does this leave me? No where new. No where different. Where does this leave them? Sadly, but honestly, on their own. It's crazy really. I love them madly, insanely, and often, madly wish they'd leave me alone--maybe so I could find a way to just be with them. Maybe so I could find a way to just be with myself. See, what I tell you about being a desperate, confused, conflicted, raging maniac. I've been here before. It'll pass. But right now, it's sad. I want so much to be so much more than the person who buys their groceries, cooks their meals, goes to their parent-teacher interview, hold their hands. I want to be the woman and mother they deserve (and the woman and mother I deserve too). But for right now, I'll just keep pretending. Fake it til you make it, right? 

I suppose we really are, at the end of the day, only a light unto ourselves. We are what we come into the world with, and the only thing we leave the world with, but it doesn't stop me thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking and wishing and wanting to be more. 

My grandmother used to say, "If ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise." Sweet Jesus, what I wouldn't give for a nice dose of ignorance right now. 

I'll just have to settle for a Scotch.