The Flow of Joy

water1

It’s been a bit of a rough road, all this moving business.  New town, new house, new school, new friends.  All the “newness” has taken a toll on my daughter lately; it can be a drag being the odd-man-out when you’re nine, you know?

To combat the strain of the unfamiliar – and maybe even to foster a bit of nostalgia – we’ve been trying to find places in our new town that are similar to our old haunts. Tonight we stumbled onto a really cool fountain that, on a 90 degree evening, just begged to be run through. We had a great fountain in our old town, and my girl was so excited to find a new one here to check out.

She wasted no time getting the lay of the wet-land.  I had settled on an outskirt bench with the bag/towel/flip-flops.  The sun was at that pinnacle where it shimmers extra brightly, knowing it only has about an hour or so before it will lazily sink down for the night.  The water bounced off the beams of light in the magical way that rivulets do when they move in time with the glimmer and glow.  And as I looked over at my girl, running and jumping through the liquid, I was moved in the most interesting way…

I quickly felt pulled inward toward the action.  I simply had to move closer.  Not because I couldn’t view her from my original perch (as I could, easily), but because I needed to be close enough to see her joy, up close.  To watch her weave in between the water spouts and see the gape of her mouth as she laughed.  To hear her squeal as she soaked herself in the lazy creek bed.  To be near enough for her to attack me with a drive-by sopping hug and spray me with her long winding wet hair.  To witness her exuberance at catching the last little waterfall before the water shut off for the night.

How much I would have missed by staying at the edge of the action, with my nose in a book.  How grateful I am to have lifted my head up, instead, and moved close enough to be in the moment with her.  To not only see her joy, but to feel it.  And just watch it flow.

The Wall

I. Am. Exhausted. Truly, I should have put a lid on this day hours ago and just gone to bed.  But instead I sit here staring at the glowing screen, writing, hoping to claw whatever I can out of my brain so the thoughts – no, feelings – will subside.  Then, perhaps, I can sleep.  Because after today, I need to get some of this OUT.  Today, of all days, I need to let. it. go.

Today, I hit the wall.  The proverbial parental W-A-L-L.  We all know it; the one you hit when you’ve given your last warning; taken your last deep breath.  The one you hit when you’ve counted your last “ten”, and lost your last nerve.  The one you played chicken with all week long because it’s been that kind of week and you’ve been doing everything in your power to be the “good Mom” who doesn’t lose her cool by pulling every coping trick you have out of your little magic bag.  Yeah, THAT wall.  I hit it. Hard.  Not only did I hit it, I sailed clean over it.  I pole vaulted the damn thing.

Sarcasm is funny; true.  But today, it was nothing near.  It was ugly.  Flat out scary.  All filters gone, full-blown anger.  All the lessons I’ve learned and re-learned in the last ten years of self-improvement, making myself a better mother, all gone completely out the window.  WALL; face-first.  The only redeeming moment was the one when I recognized that I’d actually done it, and I stopped.  I happened to be near a mirror at the time, and I stood there staring.  The eyes looking back at me were haunted and so pained.  I had become the worst possible version of myself in that moment; and at the same time, I felt, the worst possible mother.

So I took some long ago advice from a trusted mentor; I reached out.  I called someone I loved and trusted, and shared what happened.  It was awful; I was embarrassed and so very ashamed, but I forced myself to speak the words.  I . Had. Failed.  I screwed up.  I was wrong.  And what I was met with was not judgment; but love.  Acknowledgment that we all break under pressure sometimes.  It doesn’t make it okay, but it does make us human.  I heard a reminder that I’m not actually a horrible mother, but a strong one who sometimes carries too much.  One who needs to learn to lay some of the weight down sooner, so it doesn’t break her next time.  I received kindness, and understanding.

My ability to speak the truth out loud to her and be loved allowed me the courage to do it a second time to the person it really mattered to; my child.  I apologized.  I owned up.  I explained that just because I was mad, didn’t make it okay.  I stated that I was wrong, and I would try to do better.  It was hard. Really hard.  But it was important.  Because it’s what I try to teach her; we admit our wrong-doings.  We say them out loud.  So that’s what I did for her.

Afterwards, however, I did something else I’ve been advised in the past.  I took some time, and some space.  I left the house for the rest of the day to be on my own.  I was spun out enough to know I was not much good at mothering, and just needed to be elsewhere.  So I got lost in the crowd of a mall (easy to do).  I stood in a bookstore staring blankly at the titles while wanting to carve my heart clean out of my chest.  I drove along a quiet stretch of road and just looked at the sky.  I sat alone in a dark movie theater and silently wept for a while.  It took a lot of thinking and working through the events of today to come to terms with it; but I faced it.  Head on.  And then, I decided to forgive myself for today, and try to do better tomorrow.

Because I am not perfect.  I am, in fact, markedly flawed.  I am the mother of an amazing child who happens to have some behavioral challenges, and I often do not have all the answers.  Some days (or weeks, or months) are much harder than others.  And I am learning the best path for her as I go along.  So I have to forgive myself; because if I wallow in self-hatred, then I won’t have the strength to keep pushing forward.  For her, or for me.

For all the other parents out there who have hit their Wall today…you’re not alone.  You are not perfect, either.  You are human.  You are learning as you go.  Take a break; take a breath.  Take a minute to forgive yourselves, and learn from this, too.  And try to do better tomorrow.

You Can’t Go Home Again

I almost missed it completely.  It looked so different, so foreign.  The whole block did, really; smaller in scale, stilted.  Hard to put a finger on the reason; maybe it was the 8-10 years since I’d been back.  But it seemed more than that; a heavier difference.  Like a storm cloud blocking the sun.

The house, in particular, was hard to recognize.  I had to look several times – squint, even – to really make sure it was ours.  The street and number were the same, but so little resembled our old house it was challenging to connect the memory.  I sat in front of it in my car for a good several minutes; taking it in, still stunned.  I was urged to move on and keep driving, for fear that someone would be concerned about the strange woman staring at their home; though I did circle back two more times to view it.  My mother had asked me to take a picture for her, but I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the building that now stood.  “I won’t show them this,” I thought.  They didn’t need to view the shell of the house that we once knew.

They didn’t need to see, for instance, that the color – once a bright and cheerful yellow – is now a faded and untended blue.  That the tree from the front yard that shaded us all those hot summer days with its giant limbs and wafting leaves is now just a stump with a tin bucket covering the remnants; our very own Giving Tree come to pass.  That the Japanese maple on the corner, which my father loved so much he’s planted a Doppelgänger in every house he’s lived in since (as has his daughter), no longer exists either.  That the garage windows have been boarded up; callously shouting at passers-by to keep their distance.  That the bushes aside the house that were once used for secret forts are so overgrown and unruly, they practically reach the edge of the street.  That the original fence – the strong guardian of the back yard that kept out the unwanted while supporting the weight of cats and squirrels and wild-eyed teens climbing over to seek summer freedom – still stands, but is now dilapidated and riddled with jagged boards too easy to breach.  It does not look loved, nor cared for, nor lived in.  It looks lost and forlorn; fallen victim to a harsher time.

Odd though, how much easier the vast difference in appearance makes it, for me.  The memories of my house, as I knew it, now remain pristine.  They won’t be marred by small comparisons of years of changes gone by.  I don’t have to see my beloved home slowly slip away; it’s simply vanished into my memory and been preserved there indefinitely.  I can just close my eyes and go home whenever I like; nary a storm cloud in sight.

Yom HaShoah

‘A moment of silence’.  We’ve all observed them, have we not?  That’s what I initially thought of when clicking the link to the video of the observance of Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust memorial day in Israel.  (Please click here to watch it.)

But this is nothing like what you may have observed before.  It’s certainly nothing I’ve seen before.  This is entirely different.  What this is, is true OBSERVANCE.

They literally stop.  Everything. Stops.  Not only do they stop, they get out.  They stand.  They are silent (with the exception of the siren that, itself, harkens an air raid siren in an eerie shadowing of war time).  They do not move.  They have completely and fully given themselves and this moment to the memory of the 6+ million souls that this observance is for.  It is one of the most amazing and honorable acts I have ever seen.

In the video, suddenly, on the left-hand side, you can see a white bird fly upward.  Clearly it’s too far away to identify, but  for just a moment I imagined it was a dove, come to remind us of peace, and love.  This is what true observance should be.  The memories of those people deserve no less, from ALL of us; not just those observing Yom HaShoah in Israel.

#NeverAgain

Chess

Chess

“Would you like to play chess?”, she asked, holding out the wooden set she acquired from her father not too long ago.

As she looked up at me, waiting expectantly for my answer, it all flashed so quickly through my mind…

In reality, I did not.  I’d had an exhausting day.  Full of meetings, spreadsheets, calculations, problems, solutions, more meetings, fire-drills, moving targets, and on, and on, and on.  My brain was fully and completely worn out.  The last thing I wanted was to try and tax it further with a game of logic and skill.  What’s more, I don’t know how to play chess; and truth be told, I don’t have a desire to learn.  Never did.  And now was certainly no different.

But tonight, she was calm.  Happy.  Focused.  She was smiling, and excited about sharing her knowledge with me and teaching me something new.  Who was I to squelch such wide-eyed wonder?  No one, that’s who.  I am a Mother.  A tired, worn-out, day-weary one, but a Mother none the less.  And Mothers always have time, do we not?  Certainly for things like this.

So I did the only thing I could.  I looked her right in the eye, and gave her my answer:  “I would love to.”  Her broad, glittering grin was all the reward I needed.

If Only

If OnlyIt started with the birthday gift from my Mother and Stepfather.  A Spiderman backpack complete with flashing lights, and a Spiderman lunchbox, with a faux-ribbed “six-pack” etched into the design.  They were, to be fair, pretty cool.  But they were a bit young.  My daughter decided on-the-spot to exchange them for something a little more befitting her 9-year-old self, which was easy enough to do since my Mother had kindly enclosed the receipt as well.  We did so that same weekend, getting a really smart looking gray-patterned back pack with lots of neat pockets and zippers.  Only when I sent the picture to my Mother so she could see what the “new” gift was, the text I received back was, “That is a big girl backpack!”, as if she were surprised by it.  Odd.

I wrote it off as quirky, but forgot about it amongst the myriad of other things I pushed aside, as this week was the start of the school year and crazy busy.  That is, until we received the birthday box from my Father and Stepmother, as well.  My daughter was opening it in the living room as I was in the kitchen with breakfast and other morning busyness.  All of a sudden I hear an annoyed cry of, “Minnie Mouse, seriously??”  I went in to see the offending material, only to find a box filled with curly ribbon, little Minnie Mouse party glasses, tiny Minnie Mouse girl rings, and a variety of other small pink bracelets and candy.  It was a birthday box lovingly prepared for a granddaughter; only, it was not for my girl.  Almost nothing in there was remotely HER in any way, with the exception of the Target gift card (which had been my suggestion and that she did, in fact, love).

As I stood there looking at her scowling at the items in the box (mainly because they were pink – a complete offense nowadays to little miss tomboy – and they were geared towards a child more along the age of, say five), it hit me.  Like a tidal wave of sorrow, it hit. That’s how they see her, isn’t it?  My family still sees her as this small little creature; a grandbaby not quite yet grown.  And how else could they see her?  I am anchored across the country from them, in a world so foreign.  And I have done little to help them know her; I mean really know her.  Connect with her in a way that makes up for all that ugly geographic distance.  The fault, I feel, is entirely mine.

You see, she has long outgrown the Minnie Mouse trappings and blinky-lighted backpacks of her younger years.  Today’s interests are more along the lines of boy-styled roller blades and tween-approved backpacks.  Sure, she is greatly enamored with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spiderman, but not the gimmicky ones of the younger crowd; she wants the older, cool-styled ones of the Marvel-type universe.  The ones that have explosions in their movies, and superpowers that stealth through the back door.  If only you could hear the excitement in her voice as she talks about the latest character she and her friends are arguing about; who could outwit who, which one they would rather be.  You would fall in love with the glimmer in her eye and the loud full laugh from her chest.

This girl has moved far beyond pink and frills and bows.  She is now fully ensconced in all things blue; boy colors and styles are her preference and boys, in general, are her playmates.  She has a couple of go-to best girlfriends; she hasn’t abandoned them completely.  But she prefers the boys, I think, because of a lack of drama; and she coolly tries to pattern herself like them (especially when she needs a self-confidence booster).  If only you could see her run and laugh as she plays dodge-ball with the boys after school; keeping up with the best of them, just one of the pack.  You would be amazed at her tenacity, and proud of her spirit.

Far and away are activities akin to tea parties and dress-up (although a good spa-day at home will sometimes tempt her, though she’s hard-pressed to admit it).  Now long days are filled with roller skating or scooter-ing down the block, dog in tow as her ponytail flies behind her.  That, or climbing trees, or splitting rocks.  Did you know that she loves to hammer on and split rocks open just to see what’s inside?  It’s one of her favorites.  If only you could be here to kneel down next to her and investigate the different colors she finds.  You would be awed by her inquisitiveness, and could marvel at them together.

And she’s grown; oh, how she’s grown.  No longer does she have the slightly stubby fingers or legs of a toddler or child.  She is long, and lean.  She reminds me of a colt; all muscle and leg and speed and sinew.  She comes all the way up to my collarbone now, she’s so tall.  I sometimes steal opportunities just to stare at her when she’s unaware; when she’s all serious and concentrating, or when she’s just calm and serene.  The “little girl-ness” of her is almost completely gone; she’s really starting to take on her newer, more mature frame in face and body.  It’s really a sight to behold; it breaks my heart and fills me with joy all at once; a feeling I know you would recognize.  If only we could gaze at her together, then look at each other; we would not need words to understand that you have for so long felt what I now know.

But, you see, there weren’t supposed to be all these if only‘s.  Long ago, when I imagined my future and my family and my children, I always pictured you near.  Weaving you in and out of our lives; holding you close for all the milestones and important events and even all the little mundane ones, too.  You were supposed to know all of this, already.  You were supposed to have held her close, at every turn, in every year; feeling the differences in all her growing selves, knowing all the changing versions of her.  But decision and circumstance have kept me so far away for so very long, and like a thief I have stolen all of this from you.  From her.  From me.  And the reality is that you don’t know.  And you have missed so much.  If only I could change that; if only I were home.

But I can’t; and I’m not.  Not yet, anyway.  Though I still hope to be, someday.  But until then, I will try to do better.  For you, and for her, and for me.  I will try to make sure that you know her more; and often.  So that our world is less distanced; so that we have less if only‘s.

One Tommorow At A Time

Blue-streaked beauty

Blue-streaked beauty

It was an interesting juxtaposition. My 8-year-old child, sitting in the salon chair waiting for her hair cut, as the other girl walked by. She was probably around twenty-one; average height; athletic – you could see how muscular her thighs were through her jeans. She was wearing a tank top, casual sweater, and purse slung across her relaxed torso. She had just chopped a good 6-8 inches off her already long brown hair, and was obviously happy with her fresh new look – almost emboldened by it; you could see it in her posture.

As I watched her carry her new self out the salon door, I found myself longing for all of those qualities – not for me, but for my daughter. Hoping for that bold independence for her; that she gets there, one day. And realizing that there is a part of me that is terrified to admit, in some small way, that I worry “what if she doesn’t?”

My headstrong, confident girl is not always present lately. That day, when she would normally have been so insistent on exactly what kind of cut/color streaks she wants at the hair salon, she instead couldn’t focus on a choice. Indecision is prevalent, and comes with the behavior struggles we have been managing.

The stylist and I eventually helped her land on a blue-streaked bob, but it took a while. She was really happy when it was finished, and commented “I can show my friends tomorrow at school!” I remember thinking that I was glad her new hair would help give her a good tomorrow.

We will get there – she will get there – I know it in my heart. I just don’t yet know what that road will look like. And sometimes it is difficult to keep all my momma worries and hopes at bay while we take it one step at a time.

Parents want so much for our children – we would give them the world if we could, and we often try. But this journey has been a good lesson that sometimes, trying to give them the world puts weight on their shoulders that is simply not theirs to carry. Sometimes, it’s enough just to give them tomorrow. A good tomorrow is a gift in and of itself.

One tomorrow at a time.