Fretting

Helicopter parenting refers to “a style of parents who are over focused on their children,” says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide (via Parents Magazine).

Define “over focused.”

In recent months I have felt myself “focused” on the kids more that usual. I would not consider myself a full-blown helicopter parent, but moving -as we did again in August – brings out my hovering tendencies. I know we are asking a lot of the kids to adjust to a change in place, a different school, new friends. So I am constantly watching them, checking in: Are they feeling adjusted? Are they happy? What do they need to feel at home?

IMG_7769I have noticed that it takes my kids about 4-5 months to really settle in after a move. It is at this point that the veil of anxiety seems to lift and they find their groove, their comfort zone, their routine. They morph back into their carefree, confident, snarky selves. Read: They don’t need me to hold their hand anymore.

Unfortunately once I am in helicopter mode, it is hard to turn it off. My blades are going too fast. For me, worrying is a bit of an addiction – once I start I can’t stop. My grandmother used to call it “fretting.” I get drunk on fretting and sometimes do stupid things I will second guess in the morning.

For example:

Episode #1:

It is the afternoon of Emma’s holiday chorus concert and we are scrambling to get ready. Emma has a cold. She is tired and nervous and indecisive about what to wear. She wants my opinion on her outfit but only if my opinion matches the decision she has already made in her mind but refuses to share. Because I am supposed to guess. I guess wrong. Twice.

She is very congested and demands tissues. I hand her a roll of toilet paper because I forgot to buy tissues. She blows her nose and it is impressive. She is a fountain of snot. How is she going to sing through all that snot? My OCD train has left the station. I have appointed myself the Mucus Manager.

We load up in the car and bring the toilet paper. She can’t bring toilet paper on stage – how will she blow her nose? I dig through my bottomless bag in search of tissues and my hand finds a travel pack I stole from my mother’s bathroom. It’s a Christmas miracle. Suddenly I am Mom of the Year.

I turn in my seat, victorious, arm extended, passing the tissues to Emma like the Olympic torch. “Look what I found!”

“I don’t want them.”

“But you said you can’t stop blowing your nose.”

“I don’t want the tissues, Mom.

“But you could just stick them in your pocket….”

“MOM.”

“Ok, ok fine, no tissues.”

I turn back around in my seat. A minute passes.

“Fine, just give me the tissues.”

I pass them back to her. We get out of the car and walk toward the school. As we open the double doors and she spots a group of her friends, she spins around and tosses me the packet of tissues.

“I don’t want the tissues.”

And with that, she takes off down the hall toward the chorus room.

But how is she going to sing through all that snot?

I am not proud of what happens next.

I should have just gone to my seat. But I don’t. I follow her down the hall and slip into the chorus room. I slink against the back wall, creeping behind the risers where the kids are finding their spots. What the hell am I doing in here, I think but it is too late, I am in the middle of the room. One of Emma’s friends spots me. Shit. She taps Emma on the shoulder and points. Shit. Emma looks at me with eyes that say “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. HERE.”

I hold up the packet of tissues and point to them. I mouth to her “I WILL LEAVE THESE RIGHT HERE,” pointing to the chair that holds her jacket. Then I gave her a thumbs up. Emma’s eyes get wide. Her friend snickers. This ship is sinking and I can’t save myself. The music stands feel embarrassed for me.

I find Phil in the auditorium and slink into my seat. I text my friend Julie and give her a play by play of what just went down. She replies with helicopter emojis.

Episode #2

Phoebe lands the role of Sally in a local stage production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. For seven Sundays she rehearses from 3:00-6:00; a big commitment for a six year old. We practice her lines in the car, before bed, while she brushes her teeth. She has two big scenes: one with Charlie Brown and one with Linus.

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thumb_IMG_8225_1024The big night arrives. I drop Phoebe backstage and we settle into our seats.

I try to be patient but I am counting the scenes until Phoebe’s stage debut, when she dictates her Santa letter to Charlie Brown. After what feels like an eternity she and Charlie Brown take the stage:

Sally: Dear Santa Claus: How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your wife? I have been extra good this year so I have a long list of presents that I want.

Charlie Brown: Oh, brother.

Sally: Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems to complicated, makes things easy on yourself. Just send money. How about tens and twenties?

Charlie Brown: Tens and twenties! Oh, even my baby sister!

Sally: All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

She nails it. My smile threatens to break my face.

I can relax – the hard part is over. She only has one line in her next scene with Linus and it’s an easy one. I sit back and in my chair and let my butt cheeks de-clench.

But then the scene with Linus begins and Phoebe is not on stage. I check the program. I check the program again. There is her name, clearly listed.

Oh my God where is she.

I turn to Phil and hiss, “Where is she???” Like he knows. Like he somehow telepathically received some inside information while sitting right next to me rifling through my bag for gum.

He looks concerned which freaks me out. Then he shrugs his shoulders.

Did she puke? Is she in the bathroom and missed the entrance? Phoebe has a habit of pooping at inopportune moments.

But what if she’s sick? What if she’s crying? Do I go back there?

I turn to Phil. “Do I go back there?”

We look around us and realize we are smack in the middle of the row. “Do I text Amy?” Amy is the director of the show and conveniently a good friend. Phil shrugs again.

With my index finger poised over the keyboard, a text from Amy appears on my phone:

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As I am typing “do you need me? I can come back” I am already climbing over people, lunging and stumbling and excusing myself to freedom. Once I push my way through the auditorium doors and escape into the hallway, I take off in a full sprint. I weave my way through bags of costumes and kids waiting for their curtain call until I reach backstage. Then, I see her, her big blue bow askew, her hand pressing a wad of bloody tissues to her nose.

She turns and sees me. Her costume is covered in blood. Those blue eyes, so big and scared, fill up with tears like giant fishbowls.

patrick cryingCrying for me is highly contagious. My tagline could be Dolly Parton’s line from Steel Magnolias: “I have a strict policy that no one cries alone in my presence.”

But I know if I cry we are sunk. I pinch my leg hard and force a fake smile as I crouch down next to her.

“Mommy,” she whimpers, “I have a bloody nose.”

“Yes, you did,” I say. “But it has stopped. You are ok now.”

She whispers, “Can we go home now? RIGHT NOW?” She clutches my arm with her bloody little hand.

“The play is ending – don’t you want to take your bow?”

She stares at me blankly. She looks like a cartoon character with PTSD. I realize this is the part where I have to step in and decide about the bow. She is cooked, she is toast. 95% of me wants to swoop her up and get her out of there, but 5% says: You are not actively bleeding so do the bow. Finish what you started. I have no idea if this is the right decision but I go with it.

She does the bow, sort of. She kind of lurks stage right, still holding the bloody tissues to her nose. Close enough.

The curtains close and she runs to me. The other kids are so sweet and supportive, giving her hugs and high fives. She forces a smile but wants out.

She grabs my arm and whispers: “Can we go home right now?”

With heads down, we weave our way through the crowded lobby. I spot Phil and give him the “wrap it up” signal with my finger. When we reach the car, Phoebe says, “Will you sit in the way back with me?” We settle into the third seat and hold hands. As the car pulls out of the lot, she starts to weep.

“I missed my scene with Linus.”

“I know. It’s ok. You nailed the big scene with Charlie Brown.”

“I sort of missed my bow.”

“No you didn’t! You went out there. You bowed.”

“How did you know I had a bloody nose?”

“Amy texted me.”

She turns to me in the dark; headlights from passing cars illuminate her streaky cheeks. “When you got her text….did you get up and leave right away?”

“Right away.”

“Did you run?”

I squeeze her hand, our fingers intertwined. “I ran.”

She sighs and rests her head on my arm. Suddenly she separates our fingers and presses my hand flat with my palm facing up. Then she places her hand in my open palm and wraps her fingers in-between mine. I begin to wrap my fingers around her knuckles but she stops me.

“No. You keep your hand flat. This is how I want to hold hands. With only me holding on.”

I smile, but at the same time my heart hurts a little. Both emotions -the joy and the sadness- are equally true for me in that moment; connection and separation sharing the same bittersweet space.

“Got it,” I say, uncurling my fingers away from hers. “I can do that.”

I can do that.

 

Why I Still Need My Mom

mom_jess_weddingIt was 7:00 the morning of Emma’s First Communion, and I already had been up for two hours prepping for the intimate gathering sacramental bender for 65 people following the ceremony.

My mom arrived earlier in the week, and we had been prepping ever since. We sipped coffee as our eyes scanned the room, our list-making brains doing their thing.

“The succulents don’t look right in that planter – they aren’t raised up enough or something.” I mumbled quietly to myself. Or so I thought.

But in the time it took for me to park Phoebe in front of Frozen, my mother had abandoned her coffee and disappeared. I looked out the kitchen window and there she was, in my backyard wearing her nightgown and robe, gathering bricks from my garage. Sweet Jesus. She’s collecting bricks to raise up the succulents.

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My mom is a fixer, a do-er, a woman of action. She is also a listener – she hears your plight, and it becomes her mission to make it better.

When I was a teenager, I resented her fixing. I thought she was trying to fix me. I thought she was trying to make me better – when really she was just trying to make things better….for me.

Now I am a mother, and I see things from the other side. Mothers are helpers. We help our children into the world, and then we help them navigate their way through it. We help them to stand, use the bathroom, write their name, ride a bike….the list is endless. The helping is easy – it’s the not helping that’s hard. The world seems so big and scary; danger and disappointment around every corner. It all feels so huge and urgent.

This is the bitch of motherhood. While we wish we had a magic wand to make all things better for our kids, sometimes the trick is not to fix, but allow. To allow and make space for their sadness, their failures, their odd but passionate love for t-shirts featuring animals wearing bedazzled sunglasses.

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Some nights Emma cries when I tuck her in. She misses her friends in Massachusetts, where “she was one of the planets moving around the sun.” Now she is just a “lone planet.” My throat gets tight and my brain goes into fix-it mode: A new puppy, a trampoline, a call to 1-800-RENT-A-FRIEND….anything to make it better. But I can only listen, or cuddle, or on really desperate nights, promise to paint pottery at Color Me Mine.

And I think of all the times my mom must have felt this way: When I didn’t make the cheerleading squad, got teased for my bad skin, failed my math test again, had my heart broken. How those events hurt her as much as they hurt me.

More. They hurt her more.

So I want to say thank you, Mom.

Thank you for all the times you drove me back to school to retrieve my flute from my locker, for staying up past midnight helping me with my First Lady report on Jackie Kennedy, my African Serengeti diorama, the Eqyptian pyramid out of sugar cubes. Thank you for changing “candy stripper” to “candy striper” on my college applications.

Thank you for saving every artifact of my childhood: my Lolly Dolly, my bound and illustrated story of Pete the Planaria, and my peach, taffeta 8th grade graduation dress. Even 23 years later, it still makes a statement:

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Thank you for answering the phone 12 years ago when Phil called during our 24-hour “break-up,” and for telling him I was on a date with Danny Saland, even though I hadn’t seen Danny Saland since 12th grade, and for the record no one has called him “Danny” since 8th grade. It’s Dan.

Thank you for planting my tulip bulbs and for the buying/ironing/application of bed skirts (aka. “dust ruffles”) to my beds, things we both know would never happen if left under my tutelage. Thank you for reciting your cheeseball recipe for the 78th time because I always lose the post-it note I scribbled it on, for buying me a recipe box even though you know I will never use it, for mailing me a random newspaper wedding announcement of a girl from my Brownie Troop, an obituary of a priest I guess I should remember, and Bed Bath and Beyond coupons with a sticky note: “For the duvet cover clips.”

Thank you for spoiling my kids, for giving them rolls with lots of butter for breakfast but still making them eat broccoli for dinner, for hiding in a closet every time Emma comes home from school during one of your visits.  Thank you for always having new Sponge Bob toothbrushes at your house so I don’t have to remember to pack them. Thank you for taking the girls to the Florham Park Roller Rink and ACTUALLY ROLLER SKATING, for buying them socks at Costco, for playing ONE MORE GAME of Old Maid…for loving my children so much that you cry when they cry.

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Thank you for the times you let me reject your help. For letting me make my own mistakes decisions when every fiber of your being wanted to scream “NOOOOOO!” Like when I flew out to Chicago to visit a boyfriend you already knew was gay, or moved in with Phil before we were married, or chose cash over Waterford crystal as a wedding gift from Nannie. You stayed silent.  Because some decisions aren’t meant to be fixed, but owned and assimilated by the person who made them.

Yet here you are, the Brick Lady in your seashell robe, risking back injury and neighborhood gossip so my succulents will stand tall and proud. And that doesn’t feel like fixing. It feels like love. And I need that as much at age 36 as I did at 16…or six.

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Thanks for taking care of me, Mom. Please don’t ever stop.

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Happy Mother’s Day xoxo

 

Why Do We Have To Go To Church, Anyway?

Emma, my almost 8 year old, is a relentless questioner, a dedicated seeker of truth. Nothing goes unnoticed or unchallenged. I hope that this quality will make her a crusader for justice, a freedom fighter, an advocate for the overlooked and misunderstood.

But as her mother, the constant interrogation can get exhausting, particularly when I don’t know the answer. Which, lately, is a lot of the time….because her questions are all about church.

This should not come as a surprise to me, considering she goes to a Catholic school, with her First Communion rapidly approaching. I was prepared for the standard “God Questions:” God is love, God is everywhere, etc. But the church/catechism questions are not my area of expertise.

For example:

The day of her First Penance:

“I just don’t get why I need to tell some strange man my deep, dark secrets. If God is always listening, why can’t I just tell Him?  Telling the priest is kinda like sitting on the fake-Santa’s lap at the mall.  It’s creepy – you know it’s not Santa.  Why the middle man?”

Upon discovering the library was closed on Good Friday:

“What I want to know is why do they call it Good Friday?  What’s good about it?  I can’t get any books out of the library, and it goes without saying that it was a pretty rough day for Jesus.”

After school yesterday, as I fumbled to open the door while juggling book bags and water bottles, THIS conversation happened:

“Mom, did you paint this door red to look like lamb’s blood?”

“To look like WHAT?” (I was pretty sure “Lamb’s Blood” was not on the Sherwin Williams color wheel).

“Lamb’s blood, like in the Bible.”

“Uhh….where in the Bible does it talk about that?”

Mom.  Shouldn’t you know this stuff?  In biblical times, they painted their doors with lamb’s blood to protect themselves from the Filipinos.”

“I think you might mean the Philistines.”

“Hmm.  Yeah maybe.”

Then there were the questions she asked for 75 minutes straight during mass at my parents’ church on Easter Sunday: “How much longer is this going to take?  When can we go home?  Why does that kid have candy? Is this almost over? Why do we have to go to church anyway?” She was hanging on my arm so heavily I almost lost my balance in the dusty black heels I had fished out of the back of my closet.

I sighed and gave her the hairy eyeball.  I knew I should reprimand her, but the truth was I didn’t want to be there either, which made me feel guilty and fraudulent – both as a mother AND a Catholic.  It’s Easter!  The Big Day!  The Catholic Super Bowl! Jesus is Alive!  Be joyful!

But I didn’t feel joyful.  It was hot in the choir loft where latecomers and families with rowdy children are banished; the Time-Out Chair for the inconsistent parishioner.

I went to church every Sunday of my childhood. Easter Mass meant tights, Mary Janes, an Easter bonnet – my mom wasn’t messing around.

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But when I turned 17, I got my driver’s license. Freedom.

From that point on, I opted out of my parent’s regular 9:30 mass and instead attended the 12:15 at Our Lady of Perpetual Caffeination, aka. the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts, where I would drink coffee and read for an hour.

I didn’t fancy myself a teenage bad-ass.  I played the mellophone in the marching band. How bad-ass could I possibly be?

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Nor did I consider skipping church to be an act of rebellion, but one of self-preservation. Like Emma, I was a sensitive -and literal – kid.  Being forced to say things like “I am not worthy,” without a greater understanding of the larger context of sin and forgiveness made me feel confused. And kind of ashamed. I just wasn’t sure of what.

During a 3rd grade confession, I asked a priest if you had to be bad to get possessed, or if Satan picks people at random.

He replied, “It’s totally random.”

Awesome.

So I spent the next decade waiting for Satan.  For some reason I thought he was less likely to be hanging out at Dunkin’ Donuts.

But in my 20’s, something kept calling me back, and I figured that “thing” must be God. Private prayer has always been part of my daily life, but I felt the pull to community. Not back to a traditional parish church, necessarily, but to the lively, music-filled student masses at Villanova University, and Maris Stella, the simple seaside chapel perched on the Barnegat Bay in LBI.

maris stella2 Maris-Stella

Ahhhhhhh.

But last Sunday in the cheap seats, it wasn’t the crash of the waves that filled my ears, but the bang of children dropping missalettes and begging for juice, for Goldfish, for the entire contents of their mother’s purse.  The hybrid stench of incense and a baby’s dirty diaper was suffocating. I did not feel contemplative. I felt trapped.

So why do we have to go church, anyway?

Maybe the thing that keeps me hanging on is the desire for a shared spiritual discipline. One hour of the week where there are no screens or activities.  We just sit our butts down and be quiet.  Together.

Henri Nouwen says:

A spiritual life without discipline is impossible…the practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.  The discipline of community helps us to be silent together.

No spiritual discipline is easy.  As a yoga teacher I have often said, “the hardest part is getting on your mat.” You go to class not because you feel like it, but because you believe in the power of the practice. The power of showing up. Maybe you spend the entire savasana making your grocery list in your head.  But, hey, you showed up. If the only true moment of quiet was that 10 seconds in Viparita Karani, well…that’s something.

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One weird thing among many about the Catholic mass are the select songs that will make you weep instantaneously. As I walked back from Communion, the choir sang “Taste and See.” Something stirred in my cranky, Grinch heart. My shoulders inched their way down from my ears, my face relaxed, and my eyes filled with tears.  In that brief moment of presence, there was a release.  I let go of something that I didn’t need.

And if that’s the only reason that I go to church…I guess that’s enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Kid and Softball: A Conscious Uncoupling

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Phil grew up in a world that centered around sports: Friday night football games and summers spent at the Little League field define much of his childhood.

When he said he wanted to sign Emma up for softball, I said, “Sure.  What did Emma say?”

“She’s got a great arm, she just needs to get there, you know, hear the chatter on the bench, feel those butterflies when she steps up to the plate, get into the zone, just her and the ball….”

Was this a monologue from Field of Dreams? “Uhh…Phil?”

He blinked, his reverie shattered. “What?”

“So she wants to do it?”

“Yeah, she’ll be happy when she gets there.”

Hmmm.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but….ok.  I’ll butt out of this one.

But it wasn’t long before I felt the need to butt back in.  When Emma was supposed to be finding her uniform for practice, she was reading a book.  She dragged her heels to the car while Phil bribed her with post-practice ice cream.  I held my breath as they pulled back in the driveway hours later, ice cream in hand but her face tense and blotchy from tears.

“What happened this time?” I said to Phil as Emma escaped to her room.

“She doesn’t like the pitching machine.  It makes her anxious.  She just needs to hang in there and get used to it.”

“Why?  Why does she need to get used to it? We just moved.  Does she really need one more thing to ‘get used to?’ Why don’t we try again next year?”

“Next year! Next year is too late!  The kids are gaining necessary skills and she is missing out! She’ll be behind!”

Behind what?  “Look, I’m just saying that maybe we took on too much too soon, that’s all.”

“So you mean QUIT!??  BRAUNS DON’T QUIT!”

Ahh, and there it was.  Phil’s tragic flaw: Tenacity.  It’s what I love most about him (because it keeps him married to me) but also the very thing that makes me want to bound, gag, and heavily sedate him.

Phil is part Tony Robbins, part honey badger. He has a mental catalogue of motivational sayings that often sneak into conversations:

  • “Always have your game face on.”
  • “What I lack in skill, I make up for in hustle.”
  • “Never leave your game on the field.”
  • “Turn a set back into a comeback.”
  • “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!!”
  • “Stick and Move”
  • “Brauns don’t say Can’t.”
  • “Brauns don’t say Quit.”

Well, I’m a Braun now, and I  say, “F**** this crazy softball sh*t.”

I get where Phil is coming from.  No parent wants to raise a quitter.  I think all the talk about Generation X or Y and the culture of “everyone gets a trophy” entitlement has made us hyper vigilant about cultivating integrity and a strong ethic in our kids.  I believe in hard work and commitment and discipline.  I think there is a place in life for blood, sweat and tears.  I see the value in extreme challenges that test our metal, bring us to our hairy edge, and unlock an inner strength we didn’t know we had.

But there is a ‘right time’ for those limit-pushing experiences.  And for my little 7 year old perfectionist who has moved three times in two years….that time is not now.

Through yoga, I have learned that, sometimes, the greatest strength is knowing when to pull back instead of push through – learning to identify the right kind of hard.  And sometimes the hardest thing as a parent is letting go of what we want for our kid and accepting what it is she actually needs.

In this article, David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, helped put this topic in perspective for me.  He says:

1. In the end it’s impossible to force them to participate. This will only develop anxiety that will make them reluctant to try new activities.

When I flashback to the extracurricular activities my parents “made me do for my own good,” I cringe.  These “character building” activities felt more like public humiliation to me.  In 9th grade my mother bribed encouraged me to join the chorus of the play “No No Nanette,” despite my complete lack of talent or experience in music theatre.  Her argument was:  “It will be nice to be part of a group – all that camaraderie!”

“But I don’t know how to tap dance.”

“Oh just fake it. You’ll blend in.”

Oh, I blended in alright – with the props and scenery changes back stage, which is basically where I ended up.  While my smiling comrades shuffle-ball-changed like Ginger Rogers, I just kind of…shuffled.  Every few minutes the director would shout into his megaphone: “EXCUSE ME!  WILL THE BLOND IN THE TENNIS SWEATER PLEASE MOVE BACK ANOTHER ROW?!”

Eventually, you run out of rows. And why was I wearing a tennis sweater to play practice? A clear indication I was in the wrong place.

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2. Involve children in picking new activities rather than deciding for yourself.

I am not anti-activity.  Activities give some structure to the day, cultivate new experiences, and get the kids off the damn IPad.  I just think it needs to be the right activity – one that recharges rather than depletes. I asked Emma if she would prefer an art class to softball.   She said: “Yeah, that’s totally more my speed right now.”

3. Consider reluctance to be fatigue or need for more downtime.

Sometimes I forget that kids are…well, kids.  That they don’t have the words to articulate what they really want to say: “Hey!  I need a break!  I’m maxed out, here!”   I realize now that the sulking and temper tantrums and consistent “losing” of the softball uniform was her way of “saying” the same thing. Duh.

Yesterday, Emma said:

“Mom?

“Yes?”

“Thanks for letting me quit softball.  I feel, like, super relieved.”

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“Dad says Brauns don’t quit.”

“We made a decision. We consciously quit.”

“You’re so weird Mom. I’m going out to play.”

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The Occupational Hazards of Being A Mary

Ok, so I am not trying to make this a Biblical blog, but I felt it was only fair to pick up where I left off in my last post.  It wouldn’t be honest to drop it, letting you believe that over the past week I was transformed from a harried Martha into a Zen master Mary.  Because -shockingly – that’s not how things shook out.  You are already laughing at me, I know you are.

I began with good intentions. One afternoon while the kids were at school, I chose to put aside my to-do list for a home yoga practice.  I have practiced yoga for over ten years and even taught for a while, but amidst our string of moves from PA to MA back to PA, my mat has been rolling around the back of my car caked with rock salt and smashed up Cheddar Bunnies.

So it seemed like a very Mary thing to do, to forgo the organization of the linen closet for a little self-care.  I rolled out my mat in Phoebe’s bedroom and moved through some Sun Salutes and the Warrior series – a little stiff and distracted by the naked Barbies under the bed, but there nonetheless.

Then I got to Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or Pigeon Pose.

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I. Started. Bawling.  No, no.  I mean it.  I totally flipping lost my mind, like Full-frontal-Oprah-ugly-cry-nervous-breakdown-Beaches-Wind-Beneath-My-Wings-Put Me On-Paxil-STAT kind of lost it.

One of the “benefits” of hip-openers is the release of emotional….gunk you have been carrying around in your body. I have gotten weepy in Pigeon before, but this was like cleaning the gutters for the first time in two years – gutters packed with leaves and sticks and mud that I just didn’t have time to deal with amidst the packing and unpacking and repacking of houses.

When inward tenderness finds the secret hurt, pain itself will crack the rock and Ah! Let the soul emerge! -Rumi

I am all for a good cry, but this was intense. And when I realized how long I had been there, and that the kids would be home soon, I started to panic.

Occupational Hazard #1 of Being a Mary:  Feel your feelings but be sure to leave enough time to pull yourself together so you don’t look like a meth mom in the car line.

After I scraped myself off the floor, I felt defeated and ashamed.  I tried to do something positive, yet somehow managed to dissolve into a puddle of sweat, tears and boogers.   I suck at stillness, I thought.  Stillness just reminds me that I have the happiness set-point of Droopy Dog.

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The next day while driving home from school, Emma says: “There is no room at the lunch table I want to sit at, and no one plays with me at recess so I just sit by myself and watch basketball.”

Phoebe chimes in: “I play by myself at recess.”

This doesn’t surprise me. “Really Pheebs?  Does it bother you?”

“Nope.  I just run in circles”.

With a slight eye roll Emma says, “Well Phoebe, I am sure that is ok for a preschooler but I am pretty sure my chances of making friends will not be improved by running in circles.”

Phoebe shrugs her shoulders. Don’t knock it ’till you try it.

Occupational Hazard #2 of Being a Mary: Trying to listen to your kids’ problems without fixing them and/or offering helpful suggestions but not solutions.  Basically, fighting the urge to march into the cafeteria and say, “What’s wrong with you people??”

But I held my tongue, and listened to Emma vent about the playground politics.  Then, just as I was about to chime in with my 2 cents, she says:  “But you know Mom, despite all these issues, I still have the nerve to be happy.  After recess when the teacher puts on dance music, I dance.  Because I’m not going to be the girl that won’t dance.”

I mean, what do you say to that?  Nothing.  It’s why God invented the High Five.

We are the night ocean filled with glints of light.  We are the space between the fish and the moon, while we sit here together.  -Rumi

Duality is not my bag, baby.  I grew up in a black and white world where things were good or bad, sinner or a saint, feast or famine.  It may take me a lifetime to really embrace the paradox of this existence, to accept that life is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of light and dark.  Why the hell is it so hard for me to grasp?  Dolly Parton gets it:

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Maybe it’s not about being a Martha OR a Mary; being the one who works OR the one who prays.  Maybe we can be both.  The one who works and the one who prays.  The one who struggles, and the one who dances.  The one who cries, and the one who still has the nerve to be happy.   All at the same time.

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Martha, Martha, Martha

During this season of Lent, I have been trying failing trying to start each morning with a short Bible reading and reflection.  One that really hit me was  Luke 10: 38-42, when Jesus Visits Mary and Martha.

The story (as I see it) goes something like this: Jesus and his friends are invited into the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary.  Jesus takes a load off and Mary sits at his feet, waiting to hear what he has to say.  Martha, on the other hand, is flying around the house, frantically cleaning and cooking and most likely muttering expletives under her breath.

The fact that Mary isn’t lifting a finger really starts to piss her off, and Martha says to Jesus: “Umm, excuse me Jesus, can you please light a fire under my sister, because this is crap. I still need to WetSwift the bathroom, and the taco dip isn’t going to make itself.”

Jesus says, “Martha, Girl, you need to RE-LAX.  Sit down, open the wine and the bag of Tostitos and let’s get this party started.”

Ok, what he really said:

Martha, Martha you are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed.  Mary has chosen the good part, and that will not be taken away.

Can’t you just see Mary smirking?  Jesus likes me more than you, Nanana-poo-poo!

Since our move a few weeks ago, I have turned into a major Martha.  My brain feels jacked up on Coke and Pixie Stix while my body bounces around the house, frenetically “doing” but accomplishing nothing.

I wonder what was behind Martha’s “doing,” why she felt the need for everything to be perfect.  For me, it’s Mommy Guilt.  I feel guilty for putting the girls in a new house and school mid-year, so I am going to do WHATEVER IT TAKES TO HELP THEM FORGET ITS ACTUALLY HAPPENING.  I stood for hours on Emma’s bed sticking glow in the dark constellations on her ceiling. When they climb into the car after school looking sullen and sad, my heart breaks.  So I try and fix it (aka. stuff their feelings) with fro yo or cupcakes or a new book.  I decorated their bathroom with a tulip border mural, and bought Phoebe a matching duvet cover that I will take out of the package as soon as I find the damn iron.  As if maybe an ironed duvet cover will make her say, ‘Well alright!  Who cares that I am in a new school with no friends?  I have an ironed duvet cover.  I have ARRIVED.”

But just as Coke-Pixie Stix bender always ends in a crash, so does a Control Bender.  The I Can Fix Everything and Make Everyone Happy routine usually ends when everything falls apart.  At once.  And then catches on fire.

The unraveling began on Tuesday at midnight, when, 4 hours before Phil had to be on a plane to Boston, our ancient radiator in our 110 year old house decided it had worked hard enough.  Water, water, everywhere.  Sometimes, there are just not enough towels.

After dropping the kids off at school and getting honked at by 50 cars for screwing up in the car line again, I waited for the plumber and the Peapod grocery order Phil had placed to “help out.”  I was so engrossed in my radiator water management that I didn’t even look in the grocery bags until the delivery guy had left.

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We don’t drink milk.

While I contemplated buying an extra dairy fridge off Craigslist, my sister-in-law Trisha stopped by.  We chatted for a few and then, after complimenting her new car, I sent her on her way with two gallons of milk and some coffee creamer.  When I returned 30 minutes later with my sullen children, the plumber was in the driveway and Trisha was walking down the street.  Her new car had broken down around the corner.  My first thought was, Oh man that milk is gonna stink.

While Trisha called a tow truck and the girls ran around me in circles shrieking, the plumber -let’s call him Frank- explained my radiator situation.  In detail.  Lots of detail.  My brain was starting to short circuit.  In an attempt to demonstrate how a valve works, Frank kept squeezing my bicep.

For the record, I am a “this is my box” personal space kinda girl.  I could see Frank’s mouth moving, but I could barely hear his voice over the one in my head:

“The valve of a radiator blah blah blah: EXPAND, CONTRACT” (Bicep squeeze).

You just touched my arm.

“So the water flow depends on blah blah valve blah EXPAND, CONTRACT” (Bicep squeeze)

You touched it again.

“So the valve is what determines if you have FLOW or NO FLOW” (Bicep squeeze).

Three times now. 

While I retained nothing about radiators, I got through the interaction without cold cocking Frank.  Trisha returned to her car of rotting dairy products, and the kids and I went to the park.  Jesus should have told Martha to take a walk.  Nature helps get your head out of your ass.

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While putting the kids to bed after a nutritious dinner of bagels and apple sauce, I sat down on Emma’s bed: “Hey Em, you know how you said you were nervous about the Terra Nova test?  Well I emailed your teacher and she said that you are doing great and that…”

“Mom! Why are you bringing that up NOW?  I wasn’t even thinking about it and now I AM.”

“Oh…I’m sorry….I just thought that…”

“Parents just don’t get it.”

That stung, I’ll admit.  But I didn’t get it…she was right. She didn’t need me to fix it.  She just needed me to listen.

Lying in bed that night, I thought about Martha and felt compassion for her.  She thinks she’s doing the right thing, that caring for others is how she shows her love. Someone has to vacuum the dog hair off the couch and make sure the grill has propane.  But when you become, as the reading says, “distracted with all the serving,” you start to miss the point.  You can’t really be with the people you love if you are always in your head.

Jesus didn’t want Martha to be The Perfect Hostess – he just wanted Martha.  And my kids don’t want The Perfect Mom – they just want me.  Which I think for many of us is a hard concept to grasp.  That we are exactly what our kids need just as we are.  No bells, no whistles, no magic cape or fairy wand necessary.  Just us.

As I put away all the towels used in the Great Radiator Flood of 2014, I found the iron in the closet.

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And for now, that’s where it will stay.

Insomnia: Gettin’ Dumbah Everyday

We are moving in 17 days.  And while our previous move was only 18 months ago, I seemed to have forgotten one of the side effects of moving: Insomnia.  Of which a side effect is forgetfulness.  It’s a vicious cycle.

When I was paralyzed by sleeplessness with our move from Philly to Boston, I sought medical intervention.  I was given a prescription for Ambien…and then blogged about it here.  And, to be honest, I wrote the PG version.  Ambien had other side effects that I will not discuss because my mother-in-law is reading this, but let’s just say Phil really misses the crazy slut alter ego that was Ambien Jessie.  He misses her a lot.

But no matter how tired I am,  I refuse to go the Ambien route.  I can’t take the chance that I will answer an Evite with a 500 word run-on sentence that includes an in-depth analysis of a Scooby-Do episode and my social security number.  Again.

That being said, I have to do something, because I am tired – to the point where I feel like I am losing brain cells.  When I was 21, I went out on a date with a NYC transit cop, who was adorable but not my type.  When I asked him to describe his typical work day, he said in a thick NY accent, “Basically, I just get dumbah.  I get dumbah everyday.”

That’s me.  Gettin’ dumbah everyday.  The evidence:

  •  Emma’s 2nd grade math homework has become too challenging.  (17-8=…..wait…wait…I got this….).
  •  When my mom calls and asks if I received the book she sent me, my response is: “No.  Wait…maybe.  That sounds familiar. Yes, I did.”  The truth?  No idea.
  • Any thing that crosses my path goes in the washer and dryer, including cash, tissues, my iPod, and this wool sweater that is now keeping Phoebe’s American Girl Doll nice and toasty.

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  • While I have never been the most organized mom on the block, my current inability to retain basic info has forced me to rely on responsible (and nonjudgmental) friends. I’m the one in blue:

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So when drugs are not an option, the only thing left is to examine one’s habits, which is annoying, because I have a lot of bad habits.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s stick with two: Bedtime Ritual and Racing Thoughts.

Bedtime Ritual                                                                                                                     Every parenting book has a section on the importance for bedtime rituals for children:  no screens, calming activities, limit sugar, keep the actual “time” consistent, etc. It dawned on me that while I am the Sleep Warden with my kids, I am a rebellious teen with my own sleep hygiene.

The biggest offender is late night computer use. The kids will be in bed, I will be cleaning up the kitchen and feeling exhausted. Ok good, I think to myself, I am on the right track. Just finish loading the dishwasher and then I’m getting in bed.  But then….something happens.  Suddenly there is a piece of information I simply must have before I can possibly go to sleep, some ridiculous, non-essential tidbit that will then open the Pandora’s Box of nonlinear Google searches.

For example: “How EXACTLY did Yolanda from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills get Lyme’s Disease” leads to…..

  • Research on the 47 species of ticks in California
  • Real estate listings in Malibu
  • The distance from Malibu to Joshua Tree
  • The inspiration behind the U2 album Joshua Tree
  • Is Bono’s real name Bono? (it’s Paul).

When I am satisfied with my groundbreaking findings, I’m all revved up by the evil blue light of the computer and I start vacuuming.  One night Emma had gotten up to go the bathroom, and came downstairs: “Mom? Do normal mothers vacuum at midnight?”

I gave her a look that said, what makes you think I know anything about normal? Then I took her back to bed.  As I was leaving her room, I saw this book sitting on her dresser.

IMG_3953It’s a journal Emma and I write in together a few nights a week as part of her bedtime routine.  I grabbed it before closing the door, and sat on the stairs reading our entries.  This one hit me….

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….which brings us to

Racing Thoughts                                                                                                               Little kids resist bedtime because they are scared of: monsters under the bed, the dark, bad dreams.  I resist bedtime because I am scared of: moving, leaving our friends, the ocean, this house that I love, of the kids adjusting to a new school, are they going to need therapy, should we buy them a dog, should we join the Y, I forgot to order Emma’s uniforms…blah blah blah.

So, if my issues are not all that different from a kid’s issues, why not treat it the same way? This week I created my own firmly enforced bedtime ritual:

  1. No computer after 8:30 PM
  2. In bed by 10 PM
  3. Read a novel. (No self-help)
  4. Create a mantra: It’s going to be ok.  None of this is happening right now.  It’s going to be ok.  
  5. And the most important piece of changing one’s habits: Accountability.

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That’s right.  14 days of good bedtime behavior and mama gets a new pair of jeans.

If none of this works, there’s always the Ambien my mother-in-law slipped in my hand during our last visit, you know, “just in case.”

Just in case I want to go streaking while riding a purple unicorn that smokes cigars.

Time will tell.