I Choose to Write

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Sometimes it is hard to write.  I love to write and put my thoughts on paper.  I love to process my feelings on a computer and articulate the many things that are going on inside my head.  But sometimes it is hard to do what makes us feel good, it is hard to pull yourself out of exhaustion, it is hard to give yourself credit for having anything at all to say.  Today I am choosing to write.  I don’t have much to say, but I am writing because I want to keep writing and sometimes it is so easy to let what makes us feel good slip away.

Starting this blog enabled me to connect with people in a whole new way.  I expose myself through my writing, imperfections and all, and often in response I receive a message from a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger that expresses solidarity, understanding, or thoughtfulness and we both feel less alone.  I worry whether posts seem too dark, too down, or too vulnerable. But every mother feels these ups and downs, none of us are immune to them or perfect even though we may pretend to be.  I love parenthood, but it is hard work.  I wonder when I discuss how hard it is whether people interpret me as unhappy or unappreciative.  I love my girls and my job raising them more than anything in the world, but in becoming a mom (or a dad) there is a lot that is given up.

My days are filled with the yin and the yang – laughter and tears, energy and exhaustion, lightness and darkness, levity and weight, confidence and self-doubt.  Parenthood exacerbates the emotional extremes.  It pushes me beyond myself and my own personal feelings, experiences, and ideas. Toddlers don’t care whether I got enough sleep the night before, I must feed them, play with them, and love them with all my energy and heart, day in and day out.

My daughters bring me joy every day, as they splash in the pool, jump through the waves, and lose themselves in the sheer abandonment of the moment on a beach vacation.  Happiness, as I watch them circle the house, pretending together they are “lost boys” traveling through Neverland.  Pure joy, as we sit outside in the afternoon sun our feet in a baby pool, shooing the dogs, and devouring fruit popsicles.  Golden moments in time, as my big girl proudly walks our pet basset (the first baby) on a leash around the park chasing her dad, her baby sister running by her side.  But, oh there is unadulterated heartache as I suffer their pain, hearing my big girl cry because of the rejection of another child or a lack of friends on the playground.  To live these buried traumas again through my daughters is beyond painful.  My heart shutters at the thought of middle school and high school – literally shutters. I need to toughen up.

So, today I am choosing to write.  I choose to write because it is good for me.  I choose to write because one day I aspire to be a writer.  I choose to write even when inspiration has not hit me.  I choose to write because it has been a hard month.  I choose to write and not question whether anyone cares to read it or what they think (easier said than done).  I choose to write though we’ve been up at 5am for close to three weeks straight.  I choose to write because I haven’t in weeks.  I choose to write and not edit since the girls took shockingly short naps.  I am choosing to write and today that is what is important.

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For the Love of Books

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Big dramatic crocodile tears slid down her round three-year-old cheeks.  I lay in her bed shoved against the wall with her small body curled into my shoulder. Every night we snuggle together and read books, all kinds of book.

That night I read her a chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as I neared the end she sobbed. I groaned, annoyed at the tears, protesting an imminent bedtime. I almost snapped at her, “You know tears won’t get you what you want!” But instead I asked, “What’s wrong honey?”

“Mommy, I’m just so sad, the book is almost done. We’re going to finish it tomorrow.” Sobs shook her body. My insides smiled, recognizing a familiar sentiment. My three-year-old daughter loved books. She loved books like I love books. She listened to chapter after chapter, magically transported to Mr. Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, Narnia, or the foxhole beneath the farms of Bogis, Bunce, and Bean. In our house, the greatest punishment I can dole is “No Books Tonight!” On this night, my daughter felt the grief that comes when a beloved book ends. She cried for the loss of her book.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband felt similarly as he lay beside me, reading the fifth book of the Game of Thrones series, “Babe, I don’t know what I’m going to do, I only have twenty pages left,” he said as he devoured the final pages. A week later, he lamented, “I just can’t get myself to read anything else.”

I shared her grief, as I lay on my bed lost in The Fault in Our Stars. I loved Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. The book pummeled me. Tears and snot soaked my face. My husband unexpectedly entered the room, “It is just so good, I can’t stop crying,” I told him, slightly embarrassed. He looked at me, awed by the strength of my emotion.

 *****

A summer morning, I’m 19-years-old, eating brunch with my grandmother. “What are you studying?” She asked, attempting to glean information about my first semester in college. I told her my favorite class was English Literature.  “What was your favorite book?” she asked because she too loved books and stories.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” I responded without hesitation.

A smile spread across her face.  “You know that was one of my favorites when I was your age.”  Our bond cemented by the shared love and understanding of a book.

*****

A sad spring morning, I’m 33-years-old, standing in my Dad’s kitchen in Palm Springs, CA. My dad died two days before. In my grief I’m drawn to his books. Books, the constant bridge throughout our complex relationship, a thread of understanding when other connections failed. I thumbed through his copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s On Love and Other Difficulties, noticing the highlighted passages shared in his copy as in mine. John Irving novels spotted his shelves.

A note pad lay on the generic white counter by his telephone. My heart stopped at the sight, my latest book recommendations, written in his artful script. The titles scrawled across a notepad, evidence of our last conversation.  Book titles, jotted down, symbolized his love and respect.

*****

My daughter cried for the love of books. I get it, this love of books, I definitely get it.

Do you love books?  What are your all time favorites?  What are the best books you’ve read this year?

The Mean Mommy Monster

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This morning the sign on our door should say BEWARE OF THE MONSTER.  The monster in our house is not in the closet or under the beds.  She doesn’t appear in the dark at night, but sometimes it’s sleepless nights of restless dogs and whiney toddlers that lull her from her cave.

The dreaded Mean Mommy Monster, everyone beware when she raises her fearsome head.  Husbands run, toddlers hide; the She Beast is ruthless.

She appears harmless, hair pulled back in an unwashed ponytail, yoga pants, and a t-shirt. You might notice she needs a pedicure, a pluck, and a wash.  Sometimes she can be appeased with successive cups of coffee or a couple extra hours of sleep, but other times there is no escaping her wrath.

The Mean Mommy Monster likes to sleep until seven a.m., but becomes fierce when she starts the day before six a.m.  She often emerges during the morning rush, clothing two toddlers, packing lunches and attempting to leave the house.  She snaps, biting words “Help Me please… We are late again! Listen! Girls!”  She speaks in cutting phrases.  She is short on patience and her temper is even shorter.

Toddlers beware! Disobedient dogs better scramble.

Today she appeared when the dog started having panic attacks at 3am.  He jumped out of bed and the mommy jumped out after him for fear the dog would wake her daughters.  The mommy tiptoed down the hall, silently shutting her three-year-old’s door and snuck back to bed.  Dog returned to bed too. 30 minutes later the dog was up, click clack nails on the hardwood floors. The mommy was up too – the dog lay down.  Hit repeat, the same scenario every 30 minutes until five a.m. when the dog jumped from bed, click clack down the hall, scratch-scratch on the daughter’s door. The mommy held her breath, praying for more sleep and that her daughter didn’t hear him. But then, “MOMMY”, and the Mommy Monster slowly crept out from under her down comforter.

“Our dog needs Xanax,” she muttered to her husband. “We have two kids under three, why is the dog keeping us up all night?”  She glared at the dog, “BAD DOG!”

Husband nodded in agreement, “We can try to keep him downstairs, but he’ll probably whine.” Quick kiss on the monster’s head and the husband escaped to work.

The Mean Mommy Monster was tired, but she wasn’t ghoulish yet.  Coffee could only do so much.  Swim class at 9am, an insulting email and the baby’s new favorite game of stripping nude after Mommy finished dressing her, unleashed the perfect storm.

The play by play, she dressed her girls, swimsuit for the big girl and a clean outfit for the little one.  She slipped out of the room to dress herself. Shrieks erupted from her children.  The baby tore off her pants, shirt and diaper. Big girl squealed, “She’s naked!” The Mean Mommy Monster emerged from her cave, half naked chasing the baby around the room as the baby screamed, “No Mama! No Diaper! No Mama! No Diaper!”

Around the room they ran, the shirtless monster yelled, “Help me pleeeease. We are late.”  They circled the room, shrieks and giggles further enraging the Monster.

Big girl munched pretend food, “I want to play,” she responded.  The Mean Mommy Monster fumed.  The Mommy Monster pulled on big girls’ clothes as big girl sat limp on the floor.

“Help Me, Please,” the monster snapped repeatedly. “Swimming is for you, it’s supposed to be fun.  We don’t have to go.” The baby pulled off her clothes for the third time and big girl laughed hysterically.

Finally downstairs, the Monster began the arduous task of putting little feet in little shoes, the baby screamed again. “I want crocs,” hysterics, “I want crocs,” at the top of her lungs.  These two-year-old tantrums pushed the monster’s limits.

“Stop,” screamed the Mommy Monster, “No Crocs, snow on the ground… No Crocs.”  Baby screamed and hit the floor in a ball of anger.  “Screaming doesn’t get what you want,” the Mommy Monster screamed back, clearly not listening to her own message.

The Mommy Monster snapped.  She tried to control her fury.  Her yelling made her kids feel bad, but she felt worse.  Her short temper ate at her on these days.  She pleaded, “Help, please, help…” but she knew her expectations were unrealistic for her two kids under four-years-old.

She strapped the baby in her seat as the baby yelled repeatedly – “Stuck, stuck, stuck!”

“That’s the point,” the Mean Mommy Monster muttered, “car seats make you stuck.”  Baby screamed and the Mommy Monster drove.

She wanted to turn around.  She wanted to go home, give up on swim class and the outside world, but she pulled into the YMCA.  They sat in the parked car. The Monster took a deep breath.  She felt bad.  She felt sad.  She felt guilty.  It had been a hard couple of weeks.  She apologized to her little girls strapped into their car seats, “I’m so sorry Mommy was so grumpy.  I was too grouchy this morning.”  She meant it.

In class, the Monster and the baby sat together on the bench, watching the big girl swim happily.  Another mother sitting nearby asked about the morning.

“It’s been rough,” the Monster replied.

“I hate those mornings,” the other mom stated.  “The mornings when you snap and the children should just get out of your way.  My acupuncturist told me that we all have these moments. Moments when we don’t like who we are or how we behave.  She said our moms had these moments too and typically we don’t remember them, so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about them either.”

It struck me – this could be my new friend.

Her words, a relief, like ending a yoga class – Namaste – the divine light in me in me honors the divine light in you.

Or in this case, the Mommy Monster in me honors the mommy monster in you.  We are all okay.

 

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    Grief – an Ocean

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    Grief, ocean waves pummeling you against the shore, pounding you into the sand until you are spun upside down, around and around, directionless with a broken compass, and you no longer know up from down.  Salt stings your eyes, burns your throat and nose until you are choking.  Sometimes grief is like that, tumultuous, but more often it appears to be a placid deep blue ocean with a deadly undercurrent that grabs hold of your limbs and slowly pulls you further and further away from land.

    The current lurks quietly and silently just below the surface. If you are pushed in its quiet strength is unrelenting.  Immediately you start to paddle with your arms, kick with your legs, try to gain control in any way possible, but you are only swept further and further away. It dawns on you that you are helpless to its hidden power.  These placid waters that over centuries have cut ledges into the earth, carved out valleys and canyons, crashed to form mountains, and hollowed out caves.  This ocean is more powerful than we are ourselves.  This ocean is not new, it is as old as the dinosaurs and at some point everyone on earth will be thrown into it.  You realize that your only hope is to relax, so you don’t lose your strength.  Maybe the tide will change, or maybe you’ll be forced to grab the life vests, arms, and bouys thrown to you.  You may need help.  Only a small few can handle the current on their own, the majority of us need to open ourselves up to grabbing hold of whatever we can and let ourselves be rescued.

    *****

    I am four maybe five and I’m on the beach in Cape Cod.  It is a hot day and there is a gaggle of children, playing in the sand and splashing in the shallow water.  Our parents are stretched out on towels drinking beers and sodas, their laughter and chatter carry in the breeze.

    I see a rowboat and a pair of oars.  I am thrilled because I just learned to paddle at summer camp and can’t wait to show everyone my new skills.  I push the boat into the water and climb in, grabbing the oars.  I’m nervous because this goes completely against my nature, as a twin I don’t typically choose to do things on my own.  My dad calls me “fearful” but today I am brave.

    I begin to paddle.  The sun is beating down on my face and I watch the oars cut the glassy surface.  I focus on their rhythm.  Suddenly I look up and my family and friends are now only spots on the shore.  I look around me and there are large boats, sailboats and motorboats, anchored to my left and right.  I am alone and no one has noticed my escape.  I try to move the oars to turn myself around, but I don’t remember how and every move I make pulls me further away.  I feel the lump rising in my throat.

    My family’s voices are blown away in the wind.  The current carried me away.  Will anyone notice that I’m gone?  “Help,” I scream at the top of my lungs, over and over again.  “Help!” I wait, panic setting in, no one hears me.  My skin is roasting, salty and dry, and the glare of the sun is blinding my eyes.

    Suddenly, I see my dad drop his beer.  He points out to me and I see the adults panic.  He runs and dives in the water.  His tan and sinewy body cutting through the current, the dark blue ocean.  As he gets closer, I hear him call, “Peep, paddle towards me.”

    “I can’t, I don’t know how,” I cry as the tears fall from my eyes.  Is he angry?  Am I in trouble?  Eventually he makes it to my boat, he stretches his torso across the bow, catching his breath as best he can.

    “What the hell were you thinking?” he yells. “You scared the shit out of me.” I see terror in his eyes.  He is scared.  He didn’t know if he would make it.  His anger is a mask for his fear.  “You’re lucky I’m a good swimmer, this current is really strong,” he barks.

    “I learned to row in camp,” I whisper, “but I forgot how to turn around.”

    “An important part,” he mutters, “that was so dangerous.”  He grabs hold of the raft with one arm and he sidestrokes back to the beach pulling the raft behind him.  I am safe.

    *****

    A story, one of our shared stories, the story of a father and daughter and a scary day on the beach – “Do you remember when I rowed into the middle of the ocean and you rescued me?” I ask as a young adult.

    “Of course, I was terrified,” he answers.

    A story that now has only one narrator, and one interpretation.

    This is what kills me about death – the lost stories.  Defining moments, snap shots in time, which define the essence of each individual.  We each live these moments and feel them so differently.  The stories my grandparents told repeatedly through a lifetime of family dinners, which captivated me watching them relive them with tears in their eyes.  Lost moments that defined their lives that will never be listed in history books, resumes, or obituaries, these are the stories I crave and wish to relive in their minds.

    The stories that were the essence of my father from childhood and beyond, some that I know and some that I will never know, this is the part of death I detest.  They are his stories that I want to dig for, his defining moments that I long for…  A quest to find more, but more will never be enough.