Fear is a wild ride

I went on a waterslide this weekend, several times and of my own free will. This is a big deal for me. I had an accident on a waterslide as a kid and I steered clear of them until the last year or so. For roughly the last 30 years, I’ve been too afraid to try watersliding again.

It took me watching Gabe, four years old at the time, to even consider setting foot in the waterslide line. My kids have lots of fears, but hurtling themselves down slippery slopes into water isn’t one of them. I’ve accompanied them, my heart pounding, nearly hyperventilating, and with my eyes closed. I’ve gone with my kids in the not-too-distant past, but I didn’t like it. I would say that I faced my fears, but I wouldn’t say that I had fun doing it.

This weekend, the waterslide was fun. I think it was a combination of a gentle descent, a good raft, and a spectacular kid who was thrilled to be doing it with me. I mean ME. We went to the water park just the two of us for his birthday celebration.

Something about this combination gave me permission to enjoy myself. I opened my eyes and looked around as we zipped around, the green tunnel walls wooshing by, and all I can say is I was really there.

I didn’t face all of my fears, just one. I didn’t walk a narrow alley at night, I didn’t travel alone to a Middle Eastern country. I didn’t survive cancer or reduce myself to dollars and cents. I didn’t do any of the big things, just a small one for a small boy. But I did figure something out about fear: Fear longs to be pushed, and when you give her what she wants, she yields to incredible joy.

Go ahead, give it a try. Hurtle yourself down a slippery slope, eyes open. I dare you.

Celibacy sucks

Let’s talk about my mom. It’s time, don’t you think? I’ve been putting this off for a while because, well, it’s hard for me to talk bad about my mom. But if you’re really going to know me, then you need to hear this. I’ve mentioned it once before, but my mom was a slut.

If you ever met my mom – you know who you are – you’re probably laughing right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Okay, okay, wipe the tears off your face and hear me out. It’s true, that doddering old lady you remember truly was a slut. I know, it’s not easy to comprehend. I probably sound insane to you.

Let me think. My mom grew up in the 50s, long before the women’s movement and the hippie years. She messed around in high school and barely began to explore her slutty tendencies before she married a jerk at nineteen. The jerk fucked around on her before he walked out and took their ten-year-old daughter – my sister – with him.

Now, if you’re still paying attention, this is when my mom made a break for the dark side. I wasn’t around yet, so I can’t give you the gritty details. All I really know, I learned from my sister on a gruesome night at the beach that began with an argument and ended with me lying awake on the floor of a scummy motel bedroom listening to the sounds of my sister fucking her girlfriend. So let’s take a detour.

Yes, the night began with a screaming fight. “You don’t know what it was like,” Kim screamed.

“What?” I asked. I was fifteen. I still trusted her.

“Mommy used to be different,” she always called her Mommy.

I stared at her in disbelief.

“She used to have men over every night,” Kim yelled. “I used to lay awake, listening to them. Yeah,” she screamed. “You have no idea. They used to come knocking at the back door late at night, calling her,” her voice was shrill. You know she enjoyed hurling those truths at me.

My sister hated me. It’s a truism and it’s beside the point. I mean, come on, if you watched your slut mom completely reinvent herself for your bratty little sister, if you watched her swear off men altogether, learn to put a dinner on the table every day, learn to keep a house, learn how to love for God’s sake, you would hate the object of her affection too.

My fifteen-year-old self had a lot of trouble handling the truth. See, my mom never fucked around while I lived at home. From when I was too little to remember until I went away to college, my mom was celibate. She threw the word around like a prayer. So from that night at the beach until I saw for myself how much men could destroy her, I denied the truth about my mom. I watched my sister walk out of our lives into the shady underworld of drugs and I was a little bit glad to see her go.

My mom clung to her celibacy until I left home. She avoided sex even while I didn’t, and as a parent I’ve got to admire that kind of dedication. But don’t you know that just about the minute I traded in my bedroom for a dorm room, she found a creep at Walmart and started fucking him? I was disappointed at first, and then it got worse. She found a – what do you call it – a sugar baby? Some black guy a good twenty years younger than her with a penchant for running up credit card bills and beating on old white ladies while he was fucking them. Yeah, great, I know. I kind of avoided home while that was going on. Then she found Mike the used-car salesman, and you know how that ended up.

So, you know, maybe I should love celibacy. Maybe I should be thanking my lucky stars. My mom’s celibacy gave me a normal life. I grew up thinking the best of my mom, never having to deal with the truth. But you know what? Celibacy just put a cork in my mom’s life, it didn’t solve any of her problems. In the end, my mom ended up dying for some guy she met in a phone sex chat room. Once a slut, always a slut. I hate self-denial.

Mean girls come from mean grandmas

Hear me out, I have a theory. Girls end up like their moms, right? If your mom is a neat freak, you will probably be one too. You probably still remember the little red dress that your mom slipped on for date nights. Maybe you were unlucky enough to have a crazy mom who didn’t get out of bed in the morning to see you off to school; maybe love feels like making your own PB&J in the dark kitchen on a cold morning.

No, I don’t think so. Girls reject their moms. Somewhere around twelve or thirteen, moms start to gross us out. Even if your mom is beautiful – and perfect – you start to hate her beauty. It’s confusing. Somehow the very existence of your mom feels annihilating. Maybe this goes both ways, maybe the fact of her daughter’s becoming a teenager feels annihilating to the mom as well. Maybe they both reject each other.

In their mutual rejection, mother and daughter reach out, grope for another connection, an alternate link to life. I suspect that fathers often fill this role for the girls, but for me it was my grandma. If you’ve read here awhile, then you know that my Bubbie was mean. She made me rinse with Listerine before I’d even lost all of my baby teeth. She blamed me for my older sister’s mental illnesses, and she regularly withheld her love for me. Still, she had a huge effect on me. I couldn’t help myself from loving her anyway, from seeking her approval and even trying to be like her despite her despicable ways.

My Bubbie was incredibly strong. She knew how to protect herself, which my loving, kind, honest mom never learned. She set her limits and didn’t let anyone cross them. My Bubbie showed me how you can love people who you don’t like. She demonstrated that meanness is just another form of admiration, that it is the recognition of dangerous difference.

I’m not defending my grandma, nor advocating meanness. I’m only noticing two decades into my adulthood how valuable that alliance has been for me. At 36, I am probably more like my mom than my Bubbie, but I learned from the best how to be mean. On a daily basis, I let my mean side temper my loving side. I use it to demand the most from my friends, and I use it to set my kids free from unhealthy expectations.

My Bubbie taught me how to protect myself. What about you? Did your grandma give you a secret super power?

Thanks to this guy for inspiring my title. So, Jack B, is it true for men, too? Do mean guys come from mean grandpas? 

Mi mamá es mala

Last week I helped out in Gabe’s kindergarten class during a lesson on writing poetry. His teacher began with an example on the board, entitled Mi mamá. His class is bilingual and his teacher speaks mostly Spanish in class.

The kids volunteered descriptions of their moms – mi mamá es buena, mi mamá es linda. Mi mamá es divertido. You get the idea. At one point his teacher accidentally used English instead of Spanish and she quickly corrected herself. Then the kids took a turn writing their own poems, mostly about their moms. Everybody’s mom was nice, fun, pretty. Spanish speakers wrote in Spanish, English speakers in English, and there was no mixture.

It bugged me. Sure, I like being the nice, pretty, fun mom. But I don’t always pull it off. I often have to yell at the kids to get them to put on their coats in the morning just to get them to school on time. Sometimes I get really angry. Just a couple of weeks ago, Gabe told me that he likes to get to school because his teacher is nicer than me. The screaming stops when he gets to school. Somehow that truth just didn’t fit with the poem he wrote about me.

Later on in the day I came back to school for Anna’s Brownie meeting. While we cut out paper snowflakes, one of the girls announced that she never wants to be a mom. “Moms have to do all the work,” she complained. I nodded but didn’t say anything. I want the girls to speak their minds like that, even when it leaves me feeling sad. It’s true – moms have to do a lot of work. But we also get hugs, kisses on the butt, even poetry. “Trust me, it’s worth it,” part of me wanted to tell her.

I want my kids to know that being a mom is hard. I want them to fear parenthood a little, because it is a huge responsibility. I also want them to know that poetry isn’t only for sunshine and butterflies, but a place where they can get messy and real, where they can play with the good and the bad parts of life. I want them to pull all their feelings out and never worry about being nice or perfect. I want them to mix it up. Honestly, I hope that someday they curse me in Spanglish.

Good morning

Nate woke me. “Guh mornin, Momma.” He stood by the bedside, smiling, reaching for me.

“Good morning, sweetie,” I answered. I closed my eyes again for just a minute, bracing myself. Then I climbed out of bed and slid my feet into my slippers. The window framed one of those heavy gray skies that show up in December and stick around until March, sometimes April.

I bounced down the stairs so the kids would know I’m happy to see them. Anna sat at the table gently tilting her new labyrinth game. “Mommy, I made it to 35!” she called.

“Cool!” I answered, hugging her.

I headed for the kitchen, searching for breakfast, coffee, more children. Both boys were heading down the back staircase, and Gabe grabbed Nate at the bottom for a hug and a kiss. That doesn’t happen every day. Next, Gabe came over and hugged me.

“Good morning, sweet boy,” I said and rubbed his super short hair. Nate wrapped his arms around me from the back.

From over by the coffee pot, Geoff turned and laughed. “Nate, did you just kiss Mommy’s tush?”

“Yeah,” he answered.

That’s when I knew it would be a good day.

20131203-100040.jpg

 

This week’s Trifecta Challenge includes the word tush. With three little kids, that’s everyday jargon at our house.

I like to get messy too

Anna has been hiding her dirty laundry.

Every morning lately she’s been melting down when it comes time to get dressed for school. “Mom, I can’t find any pants!” she yells, like I’m keeping them from her. Usually she finds some, never mind that they are too short and seasonally inappropriate – or on the third day of wear. The important thing is that she learns to fend for herself, right?

In the evening, while I’m watching reruns and folding laundry, everyone ends up with a stack of clean clothes. Except Anna. Without fail, her pile will have just a pair of socks and a t-shirt while everybody else’s clothes tower over me. Against my better judgment, I checked her closet last week – maybe she shoved her dirty things in there. But no, the closet was relatively clean. I should have worried, but I didn’t.

Anna has always been hopelessly, even hilariously, disorganized. When she was a toddler, she would fill every available tote bag with her toys and hang them all on her toy stroller, carting it all over the house. We used to call her the bag lady. Last winter, one of my new year’s resolutions was to help Anna learn to organize her toys. I bought her a bunch of cute little colorful bins, and made chalkboard labels for each one. She had so much fun labeling and organizing her toys. It worked great for about two weeks, and then we promptly forgot all about organizing. Honestly, I’m happy when the toys make it into any bin at all. I don’t mind if she makes a mess when she’s playing.

So this morning, I was trying to find a few more items to fill up my laundry basket. I wandered into her room, thinking that I would grab her pajamas from the floor. Then I noticed a bin on the floor by the window. It had a pair of dirty leggings in it, along with some doll clothes. So, I grabbed the leggings and peeked in another bin. It looked like it was full of trash. I pushed the trash aside and underneath I found a bunch of dirty nightgowns. Then I turned and noticed a gift bag, full of dirty t-shirts and even a piece of my jewelry!

Needless to say, I am really glad that I checked her bins. God only knows where all of her toys are. And I was just about to buy her some new pants.

 

If she could do it, so can you

My mom used to be afraid to go out. When I was a kid, until I was eight, she mostly stayed in the house. We lived in a small, suburban apartment, a short walk to a shopping center. We didn’t have a car. When I was really little, the farthest that my mom would go was a fire hydrant that was maybe 100 yards from our door. We used to call it the yellow thing.

“Want to walk to the yellow thing?” my mom would call.

“Yeah,” I’d say and jump up to get my shoes on. I remember being really excited about it.

That went on for years. My mom would need another adult to accompany her to the grocery store, drugstore, doctor’s office, or wherever she needed to go. We didn’t go out much.

Until I was about eight, my mom knew that she had a panic disorder, but I don’t think that she saw a therapist or took any medication for it. I do remember her keeping a jug of wine in the hall closet and having a glass whenever she did have to go out, any time of day.

As a kid, I didn’t think any of that was strange. I didn’t have much comparison, so I just accepted it. I even liked walking to the yellow thing.

One day, out of the blue, when I was about eight, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to Rite Aid to get a candy bar. “Really?” I asked. I couldn’t believe her. I skipped along beside her to the drugstore, practicing my whistling.

A few days later, my mom began seeing a doctor and got a prescription for Xanax. Now I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it was a wonder drug. It wasn’t. She traded her fear of going out for a habit of falling asleep anywhere – on the city bus, at a school assembly, even at the dinner table. I hated it. But my mom’s decision changed our lives. She was suddenly able to take me places – to the mall, to the library, on trips downtown. All of a sudden, my world expanded from the limits of our small apartment.

If my mom were around now, I’d ask her why she decided to change. Did she do it for me? What was it exactly that made her want to be different? What gave her the strength? As a kid, I was thrilled when my mom started venturing out. But now, as an adult and a parent, I can appreciate her choice so much more. It was hard, but she did it anyway. Thanks, Mom, for the great lesson.

I Don't Like Mondays Blog Hop

A memory

This was written by my niece, my sister’s daughter. It means a lot to me to have some of her beautiful, heartfelt writing here on my blog. Thanks, S.

As much as I try to deny it and force it back, I find myself thinking about you more and more lately. I spent years suppressing any thought that had to do with you, where you might be, who you could be doing it with, if you’re even alive. What should have been my first indicator that something was not quite right.I don’t remember how old I was, because so much happened in such a short period of time, it all kind of blurs. For a lot of the time I was with her growing up, she was in bed, and I do remember times when I would try to get her up to play with me, while my dad was hard at work, because all I wanted at that time was to be with my mom, even if I was always more of a daddy’s girl. Why isn’t mommy getting out of bed? I never knew until years later, but it did upset me at the time, and I guess my brother did a good job of keeping me distracted while he could.

Either way, I did get some time with her, when she felt good enough to get out of bed. She would creep into my room in the middle of the night, and now, at nearly 30, knowing what I do, I’m not sure if she was completely sober and just wanting to spend time with her little girl, or high on something and needing a junk food binge, but she didn’t want to be alone. My brother never wanted to go, yet I was always willing to climb into the car in my night gown, windows down, music blasting. She would take us up to High’s, a convenience store that was open all night, and I could pick out the candy bar of my choosing. We would keep this secret between us, because, of course, it would upset my dad to know, and I liked keeping secrets at that age. Having the special time with my mom that no one else did.

We would sneak back into the house like criminals in the night, making sure not to wake either of the boys snoozing upstairs, and she would tuck me back into my bed, singing “You Are My Sunshine” to me, in a version she had altered, and I would drift back to sleep.

That’s one of the few good memories I cling to, because not long after that, things went downhill fast. Emotional trauma, divorce, living two separate lives in two separate homes, I don’t really know how I made it this far. Sometimes, I feel her sickness creeping into my brain, like we did on those nights, in the form of my anxiety and depression, on the days when I feel like I can’t leave the house. Does the apple really fall far from the tree, especially when the tree is withered, and the apple gets knocked around and bruised by every branch it hits on the way down? Life is funny that way.

My five-year old won’t talk to grownups (or am I a good enough mom?)

My son started kindergarten a few months ago. With the start of school came a strange new habit. He refuses to talk to grownups at school. Now, Gabe isn’t shy. When he was one, he made friends with parents at his big sister’s preschool, waving and calling “Hi!” down the hallway like a movie star in a fourth of July parade.  At home, he is verbal and emotionally aware. He fills me in on every detail of his day. He sings. He is a chatterbox with his friends’ parents.

Then kindergarten began and he won’t speak a word to any adult at school. When a grownup asks him a question, he freezes and his eyes glaze over. It’s disturbing bordering on frightening. And worse, nothing helps him snap out of it, not a joke, a hug, nothing.

He spent one recess period in the principal’s office, coloring, because he wouldn’t tell the recess helper where he left his sweatshirt. He had an accident a few weeks ago, his first since he was two, because he wouldn’t ask to use the bathroom. When he spilled his juice at snack time, he took his teacher by the hand and led her over to his desk to show her. Great, he’s adapting.

I won’t lie, I am concerned. I want Gabe to be respectful of adults. I don’t want him to turn into the weird kid at school. But his teacher asked me to stay positive, to make a big deal about his good behavior and not say too much about his silence. So I’m trying to stay calm. I’m no helicopter.  And I like that he’s picking up new ways to communicate. I feel a little guilty about never teaching him sign language as a baby. Man, I am such a slacker.

It’s all cool. I want him to learn to how to function in the world on his own. I know it’s not easy out there. He’s making up his own rules. And at least if he refuses to speak to adults, he’ll never end up on some therapist’s couch, complaining about how his mom never forced him to use his words.

I Don't Like Mondays Blog Hop

 

Did you ever keep a secret?

Honestly, this week I’ve been trying not to think about the past. I’ve been trying not to think much at all. I haven’t really felt like writing, either.

But if I did feel like thinking, like writing, I would tell you this story.

I got punished a lot as a teenager. I had a lot of terrible fights with my mom, and I often ended up grounded. I didn’t break a lot of rules, but I did scream at my mom a lot. And she screamed at me. I hardly remember what we fought over; it’s beside the point. Yet I did spend a lot of time alone in my room, especially on Friday nights. This was in the days before the internet, but suffice it to say I had no telephone privileges, no music. It was boring.

If you’ve been reading here a while, you might guess that I didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs. I basically stayed out of trouble. All that time spent grounded probably sounds like overkill. Trust me, it was. I was a good kid.

Except once. My mom was away overnight, helping my sister recover from surgery. I was sixteen. I had a boyfriend, I liked him but didn’t love him. Our usual dates were spent making out in dark movie theaters. Now, this was, I believe, the first night I ever spent alone in my life. So, the first thing I did? I called my boyfriend. He had his mom drop him off, and we spent a couple of hours making out on my couch. I took off my shirt. That’s it. That’s as far as it went. I don’t even think that he returned the favor. I wasn’t ready for more, and he didn’t press me. Nine o’clock rolled around and I put my shirt back on, his mom picked him up, and that was that.

My mom never found out. Good thing — I mean, can you imagine? I might not have made it to college. My mom would have overreacted, I’m sure. But even once I got older, even after I got married, I never admitted it to her. I’m glad that I never shattered her with the truth, that I spared her the inevitable self-examination that knowing would have caused. What’s more, I liked having a secret. It’s shameful, I know. I liked that one single — small — actual misdeed. It made all that time I spent grounded feel worth it. It made me happy.