Tag Archives: relationships

Real Mom Talk– What I Think vs. What I Actually Say and How it Enables Toxic Masculinity

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Emily is in first grade now and the mean girl club has started with a vengeance. This has been a seriously rude awakening for both of us. For whatever lucky ducky reasons, my son (who is four years older and five grades ahead of Em), did not go through social crap in the same toxic, manipulative ways my seven year old daughter is already navigating with her peers.

Emily is a sensitive and empathic child, which makes the whole issue all the more heartbreaking. I’ve addressed it with parents, her teacher, and the principal and we’ve come up with some supportive ways to help Em cope with the stress of being a sweet little lamb in a lion’s den.

This week she went back to school after the holiday recess, and happily applied herself to her studies. She loves to read and is thrilled by participating in art. This morning, as I was in the bathroom getting ready for work, she approached me.

“Mama, when you go up to dress, can we have a talk?”

“Of course. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just need to do some talking about my feelings.” She said with a serious little face.

So, here’s another difference between Em and Jack. Both of them have the same goopy, social worker mom, but my son rarely willingly divulges his emotional space to me. Em on the other hand is all about the deep, emotional bonding.

As I pulled myself into my undies and leggings I asked her what was up. She disclosed to me that after school, when she was playing in the school yard, under the watchful eye of her babysitter, one kid had stolen her hat off her head and her special new toy, and run off with them,  and threw them over a fence.

She told me this calmly and clearly as if recounting the forensics of a crime scene.

My heart sped up and it was all I could do to keep the steam inside my head. I hugged her. Her glossy curls brushed against my cheek and I felt the little bones of her back under my hands.  We talked about how it made her feel and how she solved the problem and what she thought we should do next.

Then she wanted to play on the iPad.

She moved on, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I was pissed.

Had it been an isolated incident, maybe I could have let it go a little easier, but dude, I’ve been dealing with this social crap for the past four months now and I don’t understand why it isn’t getting any easier. It also seemed to suck and confound me because the bully this time had been an older boy.

So, at pickup, I approached the kid’s mom and mentioned to her that her son (who is four years older than my first grader) had been physically aggressive to my daughter. I let her know that Em is just super sensitive right now and I’m trying to keep tabs on things, and I knew her kid probably didn’t mean to hurt her hat, toy, body, or feelings, but that was the end result. I told her directly, but politely.

She told me it was inappropriate to mention it in front of her son and that she would talk to him and get back to me…….

Here’s what I REALLY wanted to say, “Heya bitch face, tell your poorly socialized excuse for a spawn to keep his grimy paws off my precious little baby and while you’re at it, maybe you want to have a convo with him about consent and how to treat women because clearly you are training him to be an abusive little shit! Boys will be boys after all!”

I didn’t tell her that at all. I smiled and thanked her for her time and then I went and privately had an anxiety attack that I had confronted this woman who was clearly pissed with me and didn’t have a grasp on where I was coming from.

TBH, I’m pretty much still shaking, even after texting and talking to several friends who validated that I was advocating for my daughter and did the right thing.

It is hard to address these issues with other moms. I appreciate that. Furthermore, I get that the other mom was also advocating for and protecting her son, but oh man, in this day and age, maybe we all wanna double down on those discussions with our sons about respecting the physical space of female bodies and set some good examples for future generations.

IDK. It got me thinking about all the things I sorta wanna say as a mom, but don’t.

Smile and nod. Smile and nod. . .

When does my politeness become complicit? When do I actually enable the abuse of my daughter on the playground by saying what is polite instead of saying what I really mean and feel?

What do you think?

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For the Record: I Didn’t Yell at the Vacuum

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Hubs had tried twice to unclog the vacuum.  Unsuccessfully.  He and Jack had gone out to get planting supplies for our flower garden and the stupid vacuum was sitting in the middle of the filthy living room rug.

The damn thing had been clogged for like a month and every time I tried to vacuum, it spit out more dust than it picked up.  I’d once again implored the Hubs to take a peek at it, but he hadn’t gotten around to it.

Long story short, I took the thing apart, with the cheerful support of my six year old daughter, and plucked out a huge wedge of dust and fur along with a broken clothes pin that had been horizontally blocking the hole.  It took me a couple tries to put the thing back together, but I got it set straight and was happily sucking up a month’s worth of decrepitude.

Hubs and Jack got home and I proudly announced that I’d fixed the vacuum.

“How’d you do that?” Hubs asked incredulously.

“I exerted my domestic goddess nature on it,” I smiled.

“Mama,” Jack chimed in.  “Did you yell at it?”

“No, Punk,” I said, mildly annoyed by the smirks on the three other faces of my family.  “I did not yell at the vacuum.  Why would you even say that?”

“Well, you are really good at yelling,” Jack laughed.

“Very funny,” I said and dragged the vacuum upstairs to do the master bedroom.

It was actually pretty funny.  Jack’s timing was totally on point and we were all able to have a chuckle at my expense.  I don’t know if I would categorize myself as a yeller.  I do raise my voice on occasion, out of frustration, and truth be told I am not the world’s most patient person.

But it is always interesting to get a little glimpse of how my kids see me as a human.  And of course they do not see that for the one time I yell, there are about 47 other times where I take a deep breath and remind myself to go slow.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure the time that Mama (did not) yell(ed) at the vacuum to make it work again will go down in my family’s mythology.

Sweet Spot

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It really was a good week.

I’m contemplating that it really had been just a great week.  I was happy.  I felt genuine, uncomplicated, happiness.

Both of the kids had been relaxed and pleasant.  There was a random, late-winter snow storm and we all got stuck at home.  But instead of contracting cabin fever, we lounged blissfully in our jammies, snuggled, and watched TV.  I even snoozed.  We baked muffins. We ate muffins.  It was a day of cozy comfort.

Then Jack found out a piece of his art had been chosen to be in the district art show.  It was a totally unexpected accomplishment, and we were absolutely thrilled to celebrate it with him.  He was proud and humble as he reluctantly posed in front of his drawing at the local library where the exhibit was held.

The very next day, Emily picked up a book and started reading it to me.  She is having a pretty great year in kindergarten, and all of a sudden, a switch has been turned on in her brain and all she wants to do is read.  She tenaciously sounded out words and struggled through page after page of Dr. Seuss as I cheered her on.

It felt almost too good to be true.

Things almost never go this smoothly.

We were getting out of the house in the morning in one piece without any drama, on time, and with cheerful attitudes. The kids were not bickering with each other as much.  I made a French Toast Bake that Jack (my super picky eater) declared was so good it should be on a cooking show.  Emily slept through each night without coming up to our bed and waking us up.  They said “thank you” for random things that they normally overlook as crap that I just do on the daily because I’m their mom.

Part of me was tempted to break into song and dance, because surely this sort of delightful existence only happened in musicals.

Honestly, I just felt like I was nailing it.  I was totally rocking the working mom gig.  I wasn’t even doing anything different or extraordinary.

I didn’t post about it on any social media for fear of seeming braggy, although I did put up pictures of Jack’s art and a video of Emily reading.  But the larger, greater sense of the motherhood machine running just right- I did not post about that.

It isn’t often that I feel this way; like all is well, and all will be well.

Much more often I am beating myself up for letting the kids watch too much TV, not serving as much veggie as I should, and forgetting to check if Emily has remembered to change her underpants.

I so easily fill with self loathing because I lack energy to force my kids to write thank you notes.  I convince myself I am a failure because my kids’ rooms are pits of despair and I’d rather not deal with them.

And then there are all the times I wonder what the hell I am doing wrong when I can’t seem to get places on time, or when I burn dinner, or when I forget to sign a field trip permission slip.

Even worse are the times when Jack is having a sensory meltdown because his anxiety has gotten the best of him and I am completely helpless to assist him in regulating his emotional state.  Or when Emily is annoyed and frustrated and she tells me she hates me.

This stuff is so hard.  I had no clue that the hard stuff would be so hard, nor that by contrast, that the amazing stuff would be so amazing.

I also had no clue that motherhood would frequently and chronically consist of so much more of the hard stuff.

So, that’s why I’m writing about the little sweet spot we shared that nice week.

It’s important to acknowledge and remember what it feels like to nail it in this gig.  It’s good to write it all down so when times are tough we can remind ourselves what it feels like to know and hold happiness, to do it right.  It’s important to remember that we are doing so, so great, even when we think we aren’t, or when we feel like we are struggling to even put milk in our coffee.

There are good moments if we look for them.  We create them, like we create life, like we create last-minute, haphazard recipes from the last four random things in our fridge at the end of the week.  It doesn’t have to be anything earth shattering.  There can be joy.

And that’s the other important thing to remember in this parenting game:  that there will be joy again.  Even when it feels like the rough patch is going to go on forever, there is still a potential for change.

When was your last parenting sweet spot?  How did you nail it as a mom?  Are you going through a rough patch now?  Talk to me in the comments!  

Grief and Motherhood– Lessons Learned While Grieving as a Mom

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If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.

E. died in October.  She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me.  Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden.  She’d been ill.  I’d been in denial.  Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.

Sometimes I don’t make the time I should.  While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card.  I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people.  It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.

I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy.  And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”

I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.

E. was my first major loss.  It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma.  When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience.  I’m bumbling  through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.

Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.

When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin.  I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package.  We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled.  We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.

In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks.  As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves.  It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments.  I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”

It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.

Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me.  I’ll share what I came up with so far:

1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps.  A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.

2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been.  E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever.  There are ways we still connect and touch one another.  It is a time rich in wonder and affection.

The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.

I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom.  I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death.  Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it.  Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .

3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away.  In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable.  When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them.  I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.

These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.

Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain.  Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for.  It’s an apt analogy.  And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.

My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death.  I worry people won’t see the connection.

But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.

Being a mom is my most important role in life.  I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive.  But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need.  My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do.  It helps me integrate and  consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.

I have faith in myself and in the process.  Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process.  We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream.  Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff.  In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness.  Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.

 

In the Dream. . .

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. . .  Jack is in the back seat and I’m driving.  My car dies at the entrance of the cemetery.  I ram my foot down on the pedal and turn the key over and over, but my car won’t start.  It does however float off to the side of the cemetery gate.

We’re walking among the graves. There is a train, a small one, like in an amusement park. It’s dusk.

E.’s casket is unearthed, or maybe it has never been buried.  It is open and we can see her.  She is on a little hill of green, grassy earth and even though it is shadowy, there is a sort of fairy tale cheer about the place.

Someone approaches her and runs their fingers through her short, gray hair.  This does not seem weird to me, but also it does seem weird to me.  At her wake, I remember, we all remarked how they had not done her hair quite right.  It was too spiky, too piecey.  It looked like they had used too much product.  We all sat and laughed, but it was a loving and fond laugh, about how she used to sit in her office and brush that short hair into a fluffy little puff.  Oh, how we loved her.

Wait, I think.  We’ve already done this.  Why are we doing this again?  

Someone bends down to get a closer look at E.  Someone strokes her cheek.  Someone kisses her forehead.  I like seeing people touch and love on her.  It comforts me.  I want to touch her again too.  I want to kiss her too.

But then we are all sitting in chairs.  E. is sitting there too.  She’s wearing her wedding dress, the royal blue suit in which she was buried.  She’s there.  She’s talking to us.  She’s reading things from a paper in her hand.  That seems right.  That seems normal.  She’s a born orator, even though it makes her nervous.

“I won’t be around forever,” she tells us.  Part of my brain is wondering what this means because she is already gone, but she is also here.  “I’d like to have one more party,” she says.  We start talking about what we are going to wear.  I get excited about the idea of digging up my pink tutu.  We all laugh.  “I might only be here for another ten years.  We will have a party, and then you will have to live with whatever happens.”  She says this and she looks right at me.

I’d love ten more years I think.  

I’ll be good, I think.  I won’t put pressure on you or try to change you.  I’ll let you be. Just stay with me.  I’m thinking all this and she’s looking right at me.  I think maybe she is thinking that I need to let go.

Her face is changed.  It’s her, but it’s not. I’m strangely mute.  I can’t say any of the stuff I want to say.

We walk away to prepare for the party.  I remember that my car is dead and I will have to call for a tow truck.  My friend agrees to give me a ride, but she’s walking far ahead of me and I’m nervous that she will leave without me.

I walk past E.’s grave.  It’s a big hole.  I look down into it and the earth is deep and brown, but it is empty.  I look up, and a little ways off, I see her casket.  I look and it is open.  I look and it is closed.  I look and it is open and she is not in it.  It all makes sense, and I’m more nervous about my car now.

And my kids.

Jack is with me, but Emily has gone off.  We need to board the train.  I yell for Emily to come.  She comes.  There’s not a lot of space on the little, amusement park train, but we cram into it.  I am squished on the seat next to my friend. My kids are with me.

I’m nervous about my car.  I’m excited about the party.  I can’t wait to see E.  I’ll be so happy to see E.  There’s so much I’ve got to tell her.

I’m so excited to see E. . .

. . .  and so sad to wake.

Walking and Waiting for the Answers to Grief

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My friend died.

Over the past week, I have been walking down a shadowy hall.  It is dark and tight.  The walls press on me.  It makes me want to scream in claustrophobic panic.  I believe it is called grief and loss.

Every once in a while lights flash, startle me, and make me nauseous.  My heart races.  I think that’s trauma.

There are doors that open into little waiting rooms with chairs.  Films of memory play on vast, white walls.  But it hurts to go in and watch, so I keep walking down the narrow corridor.

I walk at a really slow pace.  My husband might call it moving at the speed of cheese.

How I’d love to call her up and talk about cheese.  She loved food.

See how that works?  I start to have a thought and then circle back around to her.   My head is so full.  Overloaded.  People are left staring and waiting around me, because my brain can’t move any faster.  It’s a slow computer.  God, that woman could not use a computer to save herself. . .  There.  I did it again.

As a clinical social worker (which by the way my friend also was), I know all about the stages of grief:  Denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance.  It sounds so tidy, laid out like that, and yet it is more of a mangled wreck than anyone could imagine.  On one level, I understand that the so-called stages are more circuitous than linear.

I know it was normal after I kissed her cold forehead to feel a surge of anger well up inside me as I left the funeral parlor.

Anger at her.  Anger at myself.  Anger at the universe.

Why couldn’t she have taken better care of herself?  Why did she have to go and deprive the world of herself?  Why did I not know sooner how truly ill and tired she was?

In addition to knowing it is normal, friends have assured me it is normal.  So a part of me can accept this anger for what it is.

But there is another part of me that is just her friend, a mere mortal who is still alive, and doesn’t know what to do with the thread of anger in this tapestry of pain I clutch at my throat as I walk down this hall.

Her head was so hard under my lips.  Like marble.

I know it is totally understandable to feel rational and accepting one moment, and then to circle back to denial and depression the next.

Bargaining is another “stage,” but it doesn’t seem necessary to bargain. Dead is dead.  But oh god (who by the way I don’t believe in), if I could just get one more minute. . .

And what would I do with that minute?

I’d ask her what to think.  I’d ask her what she would say to me upon learning of her death.  I’d ask her if she loved me as much as I loved her.

I’d ask her if she had given up, if the taste of death she’d had a month ago had made her want the real thing.  I would ask her why she didn’t call me back when I called her a week before she died.  Was it because I had been so adamant about her following the doctor’s instructions, and she didn’t want to?  Did she not want me to harp?  Had she accepted a fate that she knew would be too difficult for me to support?

Was I a bad friend for nagging her, for not being ready to be in the world without her?

At some point, I recognize, my heart will probably tell me the answers to these questions.  That after I get through the dark passageway and back to the land of the living, I’ll be able to see more clearly.

I’d spent so many hours sitting and chatting with that woman.  She listened endlessly to the minutia of my existence.  Birds in my yard. The fox. My children.

She looked at my pictures.

She kept my secrets.

She always took my side. Always.

Her patience and wisdom were never ending.  I’m sure at some point during those many times, she gave me all I needed to know, but until it is clear, I am left waiting, scowling, tapping my toe impatiently, for answers.

One more minute couldn’t scratch the surface. . .  but I’d give some teeth for it anyway.  One more minute to thank her for championing me when I felt like I had no one else.  One more minute to tell her I love her.  One more minute to ask her if she is ready, if she feels okay about this transition, if there is anything she wants me to do for her widow.

My friend had dozens of friends to whom she was close.  She was amazing that way.  She didn’t have casual acquaintances.  If you made it into her circle, you were under her wing of family.

I am sure they would all wish for another minute or three, not to mention her beloved of over 30 years, or her BFF of 54 years. . .  what makes me so special that I should feel hypothetically entitled to be granted one more imaginary minute?

Was I special?

What is it about death that makes me doubt my special-ness.  Does it die with the one who was loved?  Does it disappear behind the veil with their persistence and laughter?

Or is it, perhaps, if I believe I wasn’t special, then it won’t hurt as much because it didn’t mean so much?

I believe in love, and I think I believe that love is a bond that cannot die.  I think I have to believe this about love, because if it is not portable to the great beyond, then I don’t think I could really get out of bed again.

Enduring love is the only “afterlife” in which I believe.

My friend was elderly, and yet, there must have been a rather foolish part of me that thought she would live forever, that believed I’d never have to face a world without her zany humor.

Somehow, her voice continues to fill my head.  I hear her make those noises she’d make when she was amazed or delighted by something, the oooohhhs, and gasps of wonder.  Despite seeing over 75 years of the world, she never ceased to be amazed by the smallest gestures of tenderness, by the beauty of nature, by the majesty of animals.

I did the stuff you’re supposed to do.

I cried.  I brought food to her wife.  I went to the services.  I cried more.  I got piss drunk and fell down.  I collected all the cards and little treasures she had ever given me and looked at her sloppy handwriting and laughed.

I walked in the woods.  I sat at her grave and talked to her.  I patted the freshly rolled out sod, crumpled into a ball, and cried again.

I started to feel better, as though the hallway were lit with skylights.

Then I felt like shit again, and it was dark and I was bumping into stuff.

At the burial, one of the funereal directors plucked roses off of the arrangement on the casket and passed them around.  She said we could place the rose with a prayer on the top of the casket to go down with my friend, or we could keep it in memory of her.  I clutched at mine while everyone else kissed theirs and placed them on the casket.

I thought of the red rose corsage I wore a year ago at her wedding, how I’ve kept it tucked into my mirror in my bedroom.

How could it be?  How could all of this be real?

It’s confusing how my brain is trying to fold around this information and digest it like a carnivorous plant.  I suppose the good news is that I don’t have to completely get over my grief for her today.  It’ll take time.  One minute at a time; one breath at a time.

I’ve never cried such fat, wet tears.

If I were sitting with her, she wouldn’t hug me.  I know that sounds weird and kind of cold, but it isn’t at all.  It’s perfect.

She listens to me with her hands on her thighs, fingers curled in towards her thumbs.  She breathes and nods slightly while I cry.  She gives my space and lets me have my feeling, my dignity, my rage.  

Then she pushes a box of tissues toward me.  She tells me with a wry grin that she has examined the woman before her, and she does not find her lacking.  She hands me a candle.

I dry my face, and plod forward.

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