How to Throw an Awesome Pity Party


I’ve been feeling down lately. I mean, really down. Like so far down into the turnpike of the blues that all I want to do is cry, sleep and zone out with mindless TV. I know I’m not alone. I mean, I feel alone. I feel like no one cares and that my purpose in life is questionable. But, I know that I’m not special in this feeling. Others have felt this way a billion times over. It’s not a condition unique to me.

But it’s dumb. It’s not like I have a real reason. No one in our family is dying. We aren’t refugees forced to flee our home. No one has been indicted for a crime they didn’t commit. Heck, at the moment, I don’t even have a hang-nail, a paper cut or a neck spasm (which is rare for me, truly). But even though times seem fortuitous and everyone in my house is clothed, sheltered, fed and in good health, I just can’t get out of this funk.

So, despite all of this, in the thick of such deep emotions, I have felt it necessary to have a party. A pity party, no less. And, since I’m throwing one on a semi-daily basis, I thought it would be helpful to put together a “how-to” guide for all of those awesome people who have never indulged.

 ***

Step One: Make a mountain out of a molehill 

Now, for those who don’t already know, molehills are small and mountains are big. So, your goal is to take something really tiny and make it the size of the sun. But, make sure there aren’t any cracks in it or the mountain won’t maintain its height. And, you’re going to need that height in order to scale the madness like a martyr and make a non-issue into an issue.

Step Two: Read between the lines

So, there are things that people say. And then there are the words, hidden between parsed lips, that hold the real meanings to what they have said. Learn to differentiate between the two. For example, when one of the insanely involved PTA moms says, “What have you been up to lately?” she is really asking, “Why haven’t you volunteered more, you lazy cow!?” Understanding the subtleties of hidden language and learning how to decode it is key to the pity party process.

Step Three: Make connections where none exist

Remember last Tuesday? Some of your friends were talking about a yoga class they all attended en masse. And they didn’t even think to invite you! Clearly, it can only mean one thing – they hate you. But that’s just the beginning.

The book you’ve been trying to get published has been rejected, again – so, you are a talentless twit. A thoughtful meme you posted on Facebook didn’t get a single “like” – you have no friends. Your house has been on the market for five months and hasn’t sold – the universe must hate you, too. Your kid didn’t get a part in that school play – you failed them on every level. Be sure to notice how one thing has a cross-connection with something else. Always. And, even though, in a court of law, your opinion could not be backed with any traceable form of proof, you feel like it’s right. So, golly, it must be!

Step Four: Hold unreal expectations

This is a great step because it is really the key to having an epic pity party. Maybe you always dreamed of being a CEO by the time you were 40, but instead you’re 38, pregnant and folding your family’s towels for the 9,077th time. Maybe you feel like there is some unspoken rule about iPhone etiquette in the presence of company that your friend just doesn’t follow to your liking. Or perhaps you think your husband should finally, after 20 years of marriage, know where the Lysol resides in the cabinet. But he doesn’t. And he never will. Holding on to unreal expectations, in any setting, can bring about the biggest disappointments in life (read: the best fodder for the blues).

Step Five: Dwell on the negative

This is the final step, and without it the party would not be complete. Hold on, with vigor, to all things morose and grim. When something good happens, wait for something bad to take its place. When something bad happens, wait for things to get worse. And if they don’t get worse, keep waiting. But, while you’re waiting, reflect on all of the other bad things that have happened to you. Ever. And try to go back to step three, just to see if there are any new, negative connections you can make that haven’t already been visited before.

 ***

After having done all of these things, let me assure you, a pity party will be epic and unavoidable. Probably the best one of your life. And, by best, I mean ABSO-effing-LUTELY worst. Party. EVER! So, go solo. Bring a box of tissues. Hang out in your comfiest pajamas. And cry until you’ve gotten it all out of your system. And then, when you snap out of it, maybe you can throw a party. For real.

The End?


nursing

The day has finally come. The end is here. And for weeks leading up to this moment, I have been all but clutching on, giving the old addicts’ excuses for why today should not be the day. How maybe tomorrow will be more optimal for our situation. Extending reasons of closure. Or my son’s health. Or convenience. Or even no real reason at all – just “because.”

Unlike most true addictions, though, I am not stopping because I have a medical or psychological necessity. No one is forcing me. And, if I didn’t follow through with it, there wouldn’t be any negative consequences. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m sure I could keep going on with things as they are for years to come – possibly even another decade, if I lived in some random hippie-cult. Yet, as charming as that sounds, I don’t and I won’t. So, I am quitting today. Because it is time. I know it is. And, like it or not, I must do it.

What I’m talking about, of course, is weaning. Ending the breastfeeding relationship with my son. Or, in other words, cutting the milk cord.

There is a bright side to this era of change. In my moments of weakness, I try to focus on these otherwise-missed details. I will rejoice in the notion that my breasts and body will once again be mine. I can now consume caffeine, chocolate and cabbage with wild abandon (but, I probably won’t)! I can scrub my nipples with as much soapy water as I desire (though I doubt there will be a need for this)! My days as a spigot, randomly oozing and leaking on my favorite shirts, will be a thing of the past (yet, unfortunately my bladder will still betray me)! Nursing bras, breast-pumps and feeding schedules will be no more (they will instead be replaced with support bras, mammograms and picky eating)!

Yes, we are turning over a new leaf! But, ever the pessimist, I find it easy to allow uncertainty to set in. What if we won’t be this close ever again?, I wonder. What if my breast milk was the only shield keeping him from getting sick?, I fear. What if I’m making an irreversible mistake that I can’t ever change?, I plead.

The truth is, at 14-months, I have done all I need to do. I have given him quite a gift. And nothing can ever take that away. But still, no mother’s list of adventures would be complete without a guilt trip or two. Or three.

As I shed a few small tears, I conveniently forget about the wretched nursing strikes, the times I have been bitten, or the uncomfortable engorgement, let-down, clogged ducts, or wet bed-sheets. Instead, I remember how it felt to hold a small, floppy newborn in the crook of my arm and hear that sweet “chug, chug” sound as he gulped down my colostrum. I cling to the memories of his tiny hands, excelling in their dexterity, reaching and pulling at my shirt while in his favorite position. Or that soft patch of skin behind his ears that I would stroke as he ate. And the way his eyes would look glazed over and languid, so satisfied with my offering that he seemed at perfect peace.

Now, with him walking around, eating people food, and coming up with ideas of his own, he will certainly start to travel in circles further and further from my reach. He will transition from being my baby to being my kid, someday taking that leap from childhood to adulthood, and then from there into the oblivion of old age. I shudder.

The sentimentality of these things is stifling, I admit. But, if I want to be completely earnest, there is still another layer of my pondering that should be noted. Something whose loss will make me sad. So very sad.

As I push the Boppy deeper into the dark recesses of my closet, I sigh. I am all-too-aware that when I quit this breastfeeding journey, I will also have to quit something else I enjoy: reading. Not to say that I can’t still do it. It’s just the matter of practicality. And time. And the fact that there are scant moments during my day that will be calm enough or quiet enough to foster a suitable environment.

As proverbial lemons turn into lemonade, it seems nursing’s greatest challenge turned into a remarkably wonderful situation for me. Because my baby was so picky about his surroundings, he would only be breastfed in a dark, quiet room away from all noise and distractions. As a result, we would lock ourselves away from the world for countless minutes, several times each day, every single day, for as many months. In the beginning, I remember it feeling like an intrusion on my time. An interruption. A partition between us and the rest of the family. However, soon enough (almost as soon as I received a Nook for my birthday) that time started to feel like a mini vacation.

Basking in the words of others, I managed to complete more books in fourteen months than I had in the past decade. I finished the entire collection of musings by David Sedaris. I read about Malala and her struggle for girls’ education in Pakistan. I consumed the silly plots of World War Z and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter like they were candy. I polished off a murder mystery or two, along with some nameless trash novels. And then there was Anne Frank’s diary. And The Canterbury Tales. And that beautiful epitaph Sonali Deraniyagala wrote for those she lost in 2004’s tsunami.

I read so many wonderful books! And they each felt like little friends who kept me sane during times that otherwise would have overwhelmed me. But now they, too, will be gone. Perhaps, not literally. They will still exist on my hard-drive, floating around digitally in the clouds above us. Or on some nondescript server, embedded in a flurry of 1’s and 0’s. But, metaphorically, they will be gone. And with it, all sense of calm that once remained a calculated part of my day.

Suddenly, as this reality sets in, the fears hit me even stronger. Only this time, they are different fears. What if I never get to read another book again?, I wonder. What if I never get another quiet moment to myself?, I fear. What if I could have just one more peaceful day?, I plead. After all, quitting is for sissies. And hippies aren’t so bad! Maybe I will just finish weaning him after this last chapter… Or book…

An Elf’s Guide For Momma’s Holiday Survival


These days, it seems to be a holiday requirement for each home to possess their own Elf on the Shelf. And, if you’ve been paying attention, you will notice how every single household is trying to outdo the others in ways of creativity, cutesiness and cheer. Parents are going into full-blown planning mode, months and months in advance, all so that they can come up with new and interesting ways to hide these ubiquitous imps. And frankly, folks, it is turning into insanity!!

I have seen my fair share of moms break down and lose it over a bad Pinterest picture, a plagiarized hiding spot or a momentary creative block. Luckily for me, our family has a very different kind of elf. And he has a very different message! Here are the nuggets of wisdom our elf has imparted to us – tips that have helped me to survive this season:

Unavailable Be Unavailable

Anyone and everyone comes calling during this time of year. Whether it be the invitations to boring office parties, the loathsome sight of carolers, or well-meaning fruitcake-toting acquaintances, folks are all about getting up in your space. And, worse than that, they don’t seem to know that a locked door, closed blinds or an unplugged phone mean “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!” Somehow, that gets lost in translation and people, being so transfixed by the blaze of twinkling lights, believe it’s their duty to just try you again later. Yes, they mean well, but if you let them, they will rob you of your time…and possibly your soul.

So just, you know, take a chill pill and tune them all out. Be unavailable. If they don’t get the message at first, they will soon enough. And if you are ever confronted about it later on, just say you had the flu. If they’re truly jolly and Christian, they will have to believe you!

Green Be Green

Millions and Billions of trees are killed each year for our excessive desire to write things down. And for what?! Most of our paper-based holiday activities, such as Christmas cards, are pointless, time-consuming, are just plain wasteful. I mean, seriously, doesn’t it seem silly to send a card wishing someone a “Merry” this or “Happy” that when, let’s be honest, you never give a second thought the rest of the year?!

So, cut the crap. Simplify! Put your environmental (read cheap and/or lazy) foot down and stop cutting down more trees just to keep up with the status quo. Instead, make up one e-card that you can blast to your colleagues/friends/neighbors. Don’t worry about making it perfect. If they’re anything like you, they won’t even look at it. And, as for the elderly folks in your life, just tell them that you sent a card but the G.D. post office must have lost it. Their anger will distract them from questioning you further.

Resourceful Be Resourceful

The holidays often equate to an increase in kitchen time. And typically there are four reasons for this:

1) Kids love gingerbread. And, they look forward to the season where they can create an entire gingerbread metropolis that they can destroy.

2) Schools want what you’ve got. They’re always fund-raising and assume that they can leverage more guilt/shame to make you either spend your money or your time. Not that you don’t have time. Or money. Right?! But usually there is a standard that feels best met by concocting home-made goodies. So, in order to keep up with those other bitches in the PTA, why not build a Sacher-Torte for a new pee-wee T-ball stadium or a meringue pie for the A.V. club. Whatever. It’s for your child. Or some random kid, anyway. And the pat on the back you will receive, as a result, will last all of three seconds. Your time will be SO worth it!

3) Misery loves company. That’s right. It’s the only clichéd adage that is true. Statistics will show that most people gain a bit of weight during the holidays. As a result, everyone will try to offer a baked goodie from their kitchen to plump you up so they won’t feel so alone in this process. And the added bonus for them is the idea that you will have to comply by making something for them in return. They will get to have their cake, eat it, and then blame you later for their weight gain, too. It’s really a brilliant system. Too bad you already see through it.

4) Families expect to be fed. That’s the worst part of any occasion, isn’t it?! And I’m not just talking about the folks who live under your roof. The holiday season somehow has become synonymous with the concept of grand-scale feasts in which every half-witted half-cousin is invited. And the more family you have, the sooner in the year you can expect talk about that upcoming year-end session of gluttony…at YOUR house. If you make it good, they will salivate over it all year long, expecting that you have just created a new “tradition.”

To all of these four things, I have two words: STORE BOUGHT! Store bought cookie dough. Store bought baked goodies. Store bought meals. Store bought everything! Sure, it might be a little more expensive at first but how much is your time worth? A lot more than the $2.99 five-pound tub of Ore Ida potato flakes. Most people won’t even know the difference between a Pepperidge Farm cookie and your own. And, if someone calls you out, you will know which box of goodies to sneak a laxative into…next year!

Realistic Be Realistic

Kids want everything! And somehow they are born with the idea that every small desire equates to a grand and dire need. Sometime between the end of Summer and the early part of November, they start putting together a Christmas wish list. For those of you who have experienced this phenomenon, you can attest to the fact that these “lists” are sometimes long scrolls of paper, large enough to wallpaper an entire room. Yes, and let me mention that at least 90% of the items on these lists are useless, flimsy, mass-produced junk that will only get about a week’s worth of play. And that’s being optimistic.

So, when doing your Christmas shopping, try to scale back and use your children’s weaknesses against them. Rewrap presents you gave them last year or the year before. You know, the gifts they just had to have, that you searched all over creation to find, just so they could open them on Christmas morning, look mildly amused and then chuck them into a pile (a pit, really) of forgotten toys in the back of their closet. Yeah, those toys! If you’re feeling extra motherly, you can wrap them up with special, shiny wrapping paper and put colorful bows of your choice. Just the bright and shiny objects surrounding the toys should be enough to distract them from the déjà vous of the moment.

This works especially well for younger children; BUT, if they are older, more observant, and do happen to figure you out, just play it cool. Divert their attention. “Look,” you can say, “Santa noticed that you hadn’t played with the toys he got you last year so he was just giving you a reminder. Your real presents will come next year. After you have cleaned your room and done your chores. For now, kid, just be grateful for central heat and a stocked refrigerator.” Then sit back and pat yourself on the back. Not only have you gotten away with the biggest hoax of the century, you have also done your part in creating one less, self-entitled spoiled asshole. And isn’t that the best gift of all?!

Charity Be Charitable

Another thing that the holidays is good for is guilt. And everyone is eager to make you feel bad for something. When you walk into a department store, the Salvation Army Santa is ringing his bell in discontent that you are consuming and not sharing. Phone calls for Charity X and Charity Y ring you down like bill collectors, offering “plans for giving” as though it were your obligation. And, sure, when you live in a warm house with a healthy family and food in your belly, the guilt does start to creep in. But, sometimes, every once in a while, it’s nice to give that bit of guilt the finger.

Life is not always a cake walk. For anyone. Truth be told, in all of my years with central air-conditioning, a working dishwasher and all ten of my fingers, I have still endured some truly shitty moments. Yes, I acknowledge that it’s lucky for me to have all of my limbs. No my husband doesn’t beat me. And, the only land mines I walk through daily are the square blocks my son lines on the living room floor.

So, while I might seem to have a charmed life, I could list other statistics that would make you cry. My deaf left ear. My smooth and sickly cat. The fact that my car was stolen one day when I was having lunch with a friend. Or the fact that the same friend told me I looked fat in my favorite purple sweater. But, whatever. We all have problems. And we all have guilt. And don’t feel bad if this holiday season all you feel like giving the world is a piece of your mind, a grumble or a big thumbs down rather than a dollar.

Merry Be Merry

I used to have a friend named Mary. She was not the sharpest tool in the shed and she liked to drink. A lot! But, if there was one good thing you could say about Mary, it was the fact that she was always the life of the party. This was true primarily because she always did whatever she wanted without worrying about other people’s thoughts. In other words, she had no decorum, manners, shame, OR dignity. And, while all of those traits sound like a bad thing, you know, sometimes there is a virtue to being “that kind of person.”

This year, if stress is getting you down or the expectations of the season are getting to be too much, it might be time to be more like Mary…and be Merry. While it’s true that it might not feel good the next day, baby, living life in the moment always feels AWESOME! WOOOHHOOO! Just one tip to remember, though – make sure your festive behavior doesn’t get caught on film.

Irreverent Be Irreverent

For some people, this time of year is the ultimate holy season. A lollapalooza of all things Christian. And then there are other people who just like to build snowmen and drink hot chocolate. No matter which team your friends are playing for, there is only one thing that is certain: they all expect you to be just as reverent and respectful of their “season” as they are.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little irreverence. That’s the very thing that makes life interesting and comical. But, a word of advice from someone who knows – pole dancing around Christmas trees is harder than it looks. In other words, know your audience and know when to attempt such feats – otherwise, you may have a pine scented hoo-hoo and about twenty less friends for absolutely no reason at all!

Just Be Just Be

This one should be simple, but in this day and age unfortunately it is not. Most people in our culture have forgotten this one, very important tenet to true and utter happiness. Just be. That means every once in a while just turn it all off. That’s right. The TV. The phone. The iPad. The radio. All of that noise that constantly fills our space. Turn. It. All. OFF!

And then what, you might ask?! This is where it gets interesting. Just sit with your thoughts. Enjoy the silence. Be in the moment. Notice the small things. Live. Breathe. Repeat. It’s not imperative that you check your Facebook page every two minutes. The world won’t fall apart if your Twitter twits don’t know what you had for lunch. And the nonsensical, time-wasting emails can wait. Just sit back, take some time for yourself, your family, and your kiddos…and, you know, drive each other nuts the old-fashioned way!

The Opposite Of June Cleaver


june cleaver

Yesterday I reached an epiphany, an awareness about myself that was as startling as it was obvious – I am the polar opposite of June Cleaver. My hair is not set in any particular style. In fact, I am lucky if it sees a brush once a day. I do not clean house in dresses and heels. Actually, I rarely wear anything other than pajamas and bare feet. Pearls never drape around my neck. Only burp clothes caked with dried snot and baby food. My house, though tidy-ish, is not necessarily “company ready” at any given second. I usually require advanced notice of a day or two before someone “drops in.”

My meals, though the aim is nutrition, sometimes burn, sometimes fail and sometimes come out of a box. I’ve never made a roast anything. I’ve never been successful in getting my family to eat their peas. And, sadly, our dining table is a mere charade filling a void in a useless room. We eat our meals – all of our meals! – hunched over the coffee table, in front of our TV, just as I always vowed I would never do.

And that is just the surface stuff. My list of failures and low-points could trail on in a seemingly endless barrage of pathetic details. Episodes that would be funny were they not true.

Yesterday held one such example. During his afternoon nap, my nine-month old son managed to grab an almost empty lotion bottle from his changing table. I had no idea his small arms could reach so far – but they could, and they did! When he awoke and I got him out of his crib, I noticed the bottle in his possession. Then I realized he had apparently had his way with it and had (I assumed) eaten a small portion of the remaining lotion.

In a frenzy, I told my daughter to go play in her room while I did something for a moment. I didn’t want to tell her what was going on because I didn’t want to scare her. More honestly, though…I really just didn’t feel like answering her potential questions. (What happened? What are you doing? Why did he eat the lotion? What’s in lotion? What’s going to happen to him? Is he going to die? If he does, can I have his room?) So, I left her in her room, with my son in my arms, while I went to call Poison Control.

As I sat on the phone with a wonderfully calm professional, my daughter started to yell in the background. It wasn’t a cry for help, though. Instead, it was that all-too-familiar yell for “Momma!” In the background, it grew louder and louder, increasing in pace as much as in volume, with no feasible break in between for me to helpfully reply. As her screaming for me grew more and more desperate, my embarrassment grew with it. I imagined that the man on the phone from Poison Control thought we lived in a crazy house. All of that yelling. The sounds of an unhappy and restless baby. A mother asking, in frazzled tones, about her child eating lotion. By the end of it, I was almost certain that he had one finger on 911, just in case this picture turned ugly.

Sure, I wanted to attend to my daughter. But with no break in her screams, and my intention to make us seem decently normal for the man on the phone, I did the only sensible thing – I shut doors and burrowed further down the hall of our house, as far from the yelling as I could get. By this point, I had made my way into the laundry room, completely at the other end of the house. Any further, and I would have escaped through the back door. It was pathetic. But the worst part hadn’t even come yet.

After I got off of the phone (and after finding out that the lotion would not harm my son), I ran into my daughter’s room to see exactly why she had been yelling. She replied “Nothing. I just wanted to ask if we were going to have dinner soon.” Really?! The yelling, the banshee screams, the frantic shouting of my name while I was on the phone was for that?! THAT??? And that was the moment I lost my shit. Big time!

I lashed out at my six-year old baby girl. I growled at her in a voice so guttural that even a demon would have been scared. I shouted the worst, most horrible profanities that even a drunken sailor would swear were cruel. And, the anger, the overwhelmingly uncontrollable ire, just poured out of me like water from a broken dam. In that moment, as I delivered such a horrible display of parenting, I stood beside myself in angst, living an almost out-of-body experience. I knew it had all gone wrong right as it was unfolding, and yet I couldn’t stop any of it from happening. The tone, the words, the whole moment was something that had spilled out of me too easily. And it was a moment I could never take back.

She and I sat in silence in her room, unsure of how to proceed, for a few minutes following. Just awkward and hurt, disappointed and upset. And sad. We both shed many tears over the incident. We both made our apologies. We hugged and moved on with the day. But, even after we returned to smiles and happier times, I still couldn’t shake what had happened. And that was just one day. There were other times. Other things. My weaknesses, my impatience, my desire for control, my inflexibility – all of them, causing conflict, upset, discord, problems. It seemed a constant and recurrent theme.

And then June Cleaver appeared. On TV. There she was! “Leave it to Beaver” was on. Barbara Billingsley stood, reprising her famous character – the nurturing, loving mother. Buoyant. Chipper. Flexible. And endlessly patient. No. Matter. What. Though fictional, her representation of motherhood was one that I could recall from childhood, steadfastly holding it in my tiny mind as the ideal. The goal. The patron saint of matronly endeavors. So, after the defeat of the day, I did what came naturally. I said a little prayer to June:

Mrs. Cleaver, June, mother of all mothers, please help me to be wise like you.
Coif my head with gentility and open-mindedness.
Line my lips with a darker shade of self-control over my words.
Help me to stand tall in the heels of better judgment.
Give me the courage to wear a smile that bears true happiness behind it.
Lend me an apron to shield me from the messy nature of life.
And, endow me with pearls of wisdom that will get me through situations gracefully.
Though I will never be like you, please help me not to be so much like myself.

However, it took me a full day, when I finally wrote out the words of this little prayer, before it finally dawned on me – the difference between me and June is not that I’m a failure and she is not. The difference is that I am real person and she is not! If I had stylists making me beautiful, wardrobe artists dressing me up, set designers arranging my house, writers crafting my dialogue, and directors instructing me on how to act then perhaps I would have a picture perfect life, too. Our TV culture has done us in by the way of offering false realities for us to compare ourselves to. And I have bought into it, just as much as the next person.

Well…no more! Though I still love “Leave it to Beaver,” and though I still idolize how easy June Cleaver makes it look, I now realize that I should not compare myself to her any more than I would to Botticelli’s Venus or Michaelangelo’s David. Yes, I make mistakes. In fact, yesterday I made a big one. But, for every one of those moments I have hundreds of other more picturesque “good Mommy” moments that go unnoticed. Times like last week when my daughter and I made cookies together, laughing, licking wayward icing off our fingers. Or a few days ago, while I was holding both of them in my arms, reading them a story, spontaneously kissing their foreheads in between words. Or the airplane motions I have to make with my son’s spoon in order to coax another bite. Or the bandaged boo-boo’s I clean with the care of a surgeon. Or the love notes I pack in my daughter’s lunches. Or the countless games of Go Fish. Or hide-and-seek. Or peek-a-boo. Or listening to the same Barney song for the umpteen-millionth time! My love for them is everywhere. And my love for them is real. Because I’m a mom. Their mom!

Yes, I am the opposite of June Cleaver. Not because I’m a failure. But because I am real. I am what motherhood really looks like. And, barring a few exceptions, for the most part I’m pretty good at it. In my actions, even my worst ones, my children learn that a mother, like all people is a person who makes mistakes and gets back up, someone who is constantly analyzing, learning, trying to be better, though sometimes failing. A mother is also a person. And people have feelings. I am not so stoic that their bad behavior goes unnoticed. And I am not always so flexible to work around something that goes outside of my plans.

I’m trying. Every day I keep trying to be better. Every day I say a little prayer for improvement. However, from now on, those prayers will no longer be to fictional characters – and they will no longer be prayers to help me not be so much like myself. Instead, they will be prayers to help me to be my best self. When it’s all said and done, that is more the ideal, the goal of parenting, than any false image or TV reality.

Wilson


wilsonWhen I was a kid, I used to talk to myself. As an only child with few playmates and friends, this act grew as much out of necessity as it did out of imagination. And when I relate this detail, that I talked to myself, I don’t just mean here and there, bits and pieces, occasionally and only during certain types of play. I mean I would carry on long, full-blown conversations with myself – or, creatures I would call my “imaginary friends” – all day, every day. In truth, I knew there was nothing there. I didn’t even pretend to myself that there was anyone fictitious on the other side of my words. I just kept up the pretense so that it wouldn’t seem *as* crazy to others that I simply liked the sound of my own voice. The bonus was that some family members even thought it was cute. For a while, anyway.

Ultimately, as I grew older, it became less amusing to have a fictitious world of imaginary souls floating around me. This was a truth I knew quite clearly. So, despite the fact that this talking to myself continued, I kept it very much hidden from the world. And on some days, it was a mighty task indeed keeping my running dialogue silent and hidden in the gray matter of my mind.

Flashing forward several decades, I feel as though nothing much has changed in my persona. I still talk to myself. I still hold true to my more formative ways of being. Only now, instead of thin air, the exchange of words resonates and booms within the earshot of my infant son. Of course I include him in the discussion. He is, in fact, my imaginary friend come to life. Only capable of crying or smiling, his responses are nil and remain, therefore, akin to my childhood “friends” – in other words, malleable and open to the interpretation of my thoughts.

I often am asked by my contemporaries, other stay-at-home moms, if I feel what they feel – a deep loneliness that can come from being in the company of a baby all day. Since babies don’t speak, their houses often remain quiet – barring, of course, the random speckles of shrieks and screams that splotch the day. They confide that they are bored to tears, utterly anxious for naptimes to end so that they can pack up the kid and stroll around the mall just to feel like they are part of humanity. I, on the other hand, never feel this way. I just don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I do need people. I need them to fix my transmission, unclog my drains, ring up my groceries and mass-produce my jeans; but, I have never, ever needed them to fulfill that one human necessity – conversation.

Since dialogues and discussions can be reproduced to simulate the real things, I have never felt deprived of this sort of interaction. Call my crazy, but I guess you could say I’ve lived by the mantra “fake it until you make it.” The only thing is, I’ve never tried very hard to “make it.” One-sided conversations have become my new norm. So much so that I almost feel like I’m having an awkward out-of-body experience when I am forced to chat with a real person.

Having thought a lot about this way of being, I decided that it has become a survival technique of sorts. It got me through grade school when tormentors called me names and classmates excluded my very presence. It got me through long summer days that would have otherwise been spent watching a barrage of overblown soap operas with my mom. It even got me through a trying time in adolescence when I couldn’t quite cope with my changing body, the loss of a loved one and a horrific car accident. In essence, talking to myself got me through times when I felt displacement and detachment from the rest of the world.

If this were a deserted island situation, you could chalk it up to the fact that there are two kinds of people: those who would hurl themselves off of a cliff because they were driven insane by the desolation and the ones like me. My kind are the ones who live, regardless, even if they do so differently. To call it the same as being a survivor sounds like a pride-laden word that doesn’t quite describe it fully. No. People like me are merely vessels reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway.  He got through tough times because he spent half of the movie gabbing away at Wilson. Wilson was, for all practical purposes, his saving grace; but, to the rest of the world he was just an anthropomorphic volleyball. A prop turned human. Because of this, his lack of flesh and blood, there were a lot of people who didn’t shed a tear when he was carried away by the waves. But, I did. I cried a lot. In fact, it was one of the most poignant moments in a movie. Ever. It really evoked great emotion in me – and, now I think it’s obvious why. My baby is my Wilson!

In my current state as a stay-at-home mother of a baby, I can draw more parallels between my life and Castaway than ever before. There are many times when I do feel as though I am on a distant island, far removed from my fellow humans. And most days I do feel as though my baby and Wilson are one in the same. He goes with me wherever I go. Of course, I have to carry him in order to get him to those places. I talk to him all day long. Occasionally I even wish that he would talk back to me. But, unlike Wilson, someday he will. My only fear is that, after years of breaking the silence only for survival’s sake, when I reenter the “real” world of conversations, when I am rescued from my metaphoric island of mothering an infant, that I will still remember how to converse with my child instead of just talking at the air around him.

In a way, I am glad that my childhood was so fraught with social awkwardness otherwise I may not have been so prepared to be alone with my baby each day. It’s kind of nice to hold “adult” conversations and use regular words with my infant son. I feel that it will allow his brain to develop and his words to build nicely in the running dialogue of his brain. Perhaps he will be an orator. Perhaps a lawyer. Perhaps just another of the countless souls in the world who love to hear themselves speak. But, whatever the case will be, I just hope he will know that he was my saving grace on days when I otherwise would have sunk into a pit of loneliness. That he was my salvation. That he was my smiling ball of hope, dangling gently from the raft of my life. And when he someday slips into far and fleeting waters away from my grasp, that I will cry, I will miss his constant presence, but I will be ever grateful that I had such a wonderful package along for the ride during this amazing voyage.

*******

Seriously, folks, if someone…anyone…is reading this, please leave me a comment. No matter how small. No matter how meaningless…it would just be nice to know if my words are finally being heard (or read) by an outsider. After all of these years of being in my own head, it would be nice to hear the words of others…

Thanks!
-Maya

Am I My Child’s Bully?


bullyEach day I pray to become the kind of mother I idealize – gentle, kind and understanding. However, each day I seem to fall short. In some way or another, I encounter every one of my daily tests with more anger and upset than the last, seeming to only disprove the idea that practice brings about perfection. If such things were true, I would by now be the master of sensitivity. But, I’m not. Instead I yell like so many fascists before me, barking orders, screaming rants, going off on tirades about one thing or another. I make a fuss over things that don’t really matter. And, worst of all, the one who feels the brunt of my upset is my daughter, the sweetest six-year old one could ever imagine. So, what’s wrong with me?!

That is a question I ask myself quite often these days. Why do I yell at my daughter so often and so loudly even though, clearly, she is a good kid? After taking a strong, hard look at myself in the mirror, I uncovered some pretty terrible truths. I am ashamed to admit it but, honestly, I yell at her sometimes just because I can. Because she is there. Because she is sweet and little and can’t fight back. In other words, I am her bully.

As all mothers do, I have feared the presence of bullies in her life from the moment she was born. One of my greatest wishes for her, when she was a baby, was that her life would be free from such pains, lined instead with the happiness of rainbows and sunshine. Reflecting on my own childhood, however, I know that too often this is not the case. I remember the emergence of bullies in elementary school and the helplessness I felt, being beholden to the cruel whims of my school-yard tyrants. Sometimes I would come home in tears, wishing that those monsters would dissolve with the hands of time. And, eventually, they did. For me. But now the tears resurfaced when I realized that a monster had returned. Only this time, I was it.

It didn’t happen overnight. No one wakes up in the morning and affirms that they want to be this way. Situations that make us feel powerless or overwhelmed often lead to this despised state. Sleepless nights, a failed soufflé, a long line at the DMV. Or worse – unemployment, divorce or death. The quality which shows a difference in people, though, is the way that these situations are handled. Some carry on with gentility and composure while others scream and yell. It’s a choice. And, so far, I have been making the wrong choices.

One morning, when my daughter spilled breakfast on her school uniform, it was my choice to scream about it. It was my choice to belittle her, enforcing the notion of her carelessness, causing her to feel bad enough about herself that she stared at her shoes for two minutes. It was my choice to carry on about how many loads of laundry I had to suffer through each week. How little time we had. How often this seemed to happen. Instead of just chalking up the spill to gravity or remembering the fact that I, too, spilled spaghetti sauce on my shirt just the day before, I took out my frustrations on her. And a little bit too easily, I might add.

When I think about it, it seems that I often yell because I am a mother and I think that somehow justifies things. My mother also yelled and she did so for what seemed like my entire childhood. So, I figure, since I still love my angry mom I know that my daughter will still love me regardless. At least that’s the hope I’ve always clung to. However, as the years consume her innocence and age increases her awareness, I know that I may be fooling myself. In the end, yelling may not be so excusable. In fact, these actions, these choices I have made, may be shaping her to become a person who is no quicker to forgive or understand than I am. And what’s worse than being a bully? Creating another one!

So, where do we go from here? If it’s all about choices, and I have made the first step in recognizing the error of my ways, I suppose what comes next is simple: TRY HARDER! Though it might seem like just another thing in my long list of “to do’s,” it is truly one of the most important tasks I could ever accomplish. I mean, I’m a mom. A stay-at-home mom, at that. This is my job, but it’s also my joy. It’s my life and it’s also my daughter’s life. It won’t count that I was an awesome housekeeper, able to keep dust off of counters and organization in underwear drawers, if my child grows up to be unhappy. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I sometimes feel that there is no “me” in my life. And, yes, I often get overwhelmed by my endless workload, the fact that I don’t get days off, and I have no co-workers to commiserate with about my experiences; but, none of that excuses a short fuse. And nothing justifies my tirades.

So, enough is enough. From here forward I aim to try harder. Do better. Allow for mistakes. Listen with an open heart. Laugh at gravity. Love beyond the good moments. Care for her, cuddle her, applaud her. Treat her, each and every second, exactly as I would like to be treated. Set a good example for who I would like her to be, and in so doing, be the Mommy I want to be – gentle, kind and understanding. After all, my daughter will soon find out that the world is a cruel place, but home should always be her refuge and I should always be her biggest supporter, building her up instead of tearing her down. Because I’m a mom, not a bully.