Just In Time

“What I’m about to say is kind of awkward, but if I ever need a hearing aid I want this one,” said my nine-year-old son, pointing to a newspaper ad on the counter.  Displaying the exact reason that summer break is so freakin’ great.

The end of the school year usually makes me excited for more time with my kids.  More time for the whatever, whenever of summer.  But this year I was nervous.  I was used to our schedule.  It was too crazy, but it gave structure to our days and left little room for the unknown, which I kind of like.  And I was used to Lily, who is the most “spunky” of my children, being gone for long stretches of the day.  It’s sad but true that for the last few months of school she was waking up grumpy, going to bed grumpy, and in a pretty bad mood the moment she walked out of her classroom.  In short, all the time she spent in my presence.  So I wasn’t excited about more spunk, let’s say, in my day.  The whatever whenever of summer loomed like a black hole before me, ready to devour our understandable schedule with it’s nothingness.  But here we are, a week in, and I’m remembering why it’s so wonderful.  And so very needed.

If I added up the times I say “Come on!  Let’s go!” to my kids on a given day, I would be A. horrified and B. about even with every other mother with young children.  It’s more common than “What did I just say?” and “Who ate cereal in the living room?”  Those little people are slow-moving, get distracted easily, and I never give us enough lead time.  Bad combination.  The rush of the school year is a plague, and we are infected.  Get up, ready for school, ballet, piano, language club, pottery class, homework, dinner, hurry-up-and-get-in-bed-there’s-school-tomorrow.  “Come on, let’s go.  Let’s GO!”

Poor Lily.  Maybe that explains her grouchy rants.  Maybe she needs summer just as much, or more, than I do.  I hang on to our schedule for some sort of security, being a planner and a what-are-the-parameters-I’m-working-with-here kind of person, but it serves me well to add a little whatever whenever to my life.  To be surrounded by it.  To see what happens and what sort of fun we can create.  And Lily feeds off my calmer attitude.  Can breathe a bit.  Dig for snails at 9:00 AM, color with sidewalk chalk, do a puzzle, dress up in princess clothes, start a craft involving cotton balls, glue and glitter.  None of which involves needing to be anywhere at a certain time.  And all of which allow her to be dirty, creative, and six years old.  I can already see her physically sighing with relief.

Now instead of seeing a black hole before me I’m seeing opportunity.  To explore, and relax, and be together without a rigid framework.  Don’t get me wrong.  Planner that I am, there are camps scheduled, trips arranged, craft ideas researched and supplies purchased.  I have to keep my sanity.  But there is also room for surprise.  Weeks with nothing on the docket.  Time to go to the pool and make messes and stay up late if we feel like it.  To read random ads lying on the counter without anyone telling you to hurry up and get your shoes on.  There will be days of grouchy “I’m bored”s, when we all would love some time apart.  But I understand what a gift this is – a summer with my kids.  Working moms would love a couple months with nowhere to be.  No matter if chaos ensues it will be our chaos together, and I won’t have that much longer.  My love for a schedule can wait.  Should wait.  For all our sakes.

So welcome, awesome summertime.  I thought I didn’t want to see you around this year, but I was a fool.  I like you.  I need you.  I’m so thankful you exist.  Your whatever whenever is just in time.


Life Jacket

A few days ago Luke found the book I bought to explain the birds and the bees to the kids.  I walked into the bedroom and he was reading it.  “Well,” I thought, “I wasn’t planning to bust that out this week (the week we are preparing to move), but I guess today’s the day.”  So, after teeth were brushed and jammies were on, we settled in to a read a good book.  About sex.

The particular book I bought is called It’s Not the Stork, by Robbie H. Harris.  Lily wasn’t much interested after a few minutes, but Luke was enthralled.  Though he said it was gross a LOT, and made funny faces when I had him repeat key words (scrotum, vulva, anus), he truly wanted to know how babies are made.  And when we got to the part about actual sex (handled wonderfully in the book), he said “Yeah, what IS sex?” He’s heard the word a lot, but hasn’t had a clue of it’s meaning.  He walks around singing “I’m sixteen and I know it,” feeling super cool –  a misunderstanding we haven’t corrected.  Now the curtain has been lifted, which is good, but it makes me a little nervous.

For Lily, it was just another lesson in bodily systems, like learning about how humans breathe or the digestive tract.  And it seems that that’s the better way to start.  Before it carries the weight of misinformation, or feelings about the opposite sex, either attraction or disgust.  It’s just normal, how God made it all to work, how we come into the world, why boys’ and girls’ parts are different.  Just information.  But Luke is past that.  He’s on to wondering if he would ever want to do that himself.  He stated emphatically that he never will.  Awesome.  He can just stay in that mindset for a long, long time as far as I’m concerned.  But he won’t.  He’s always liked girls – his best friends are girls – and he’s wanted to marry a steady succession of them since he was in kindergarten, with his bestest friend as the backup through it all.  I love that he loves his friends, that he appreciates girls, that he’s sensitive to their attractive qualities.  But oy.  We’re in trouble when he gets older.  When he doesn’t cringe when someone is kissing on tv.  When his body responds to girls as much as his heart does now.  I’m terrified of puberty.

But the book was a good start.  I learned that I should introduce it early with Mae.  Just get it out there as part of her understanding of the world.  We’ve always used the correct names for the main parts, but we don’t much discuss all the intricacies of their privates.  I guess we will.  “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes.  And anus.”  That isn’t quite as cute.  Maybe I won’t put it to music.  I’m interested, and a little nervous, to see how Luke’s view of the world changes now.  What he notices that he didn’t before, what he picks up in songs and tv and the sex-crazed culture that surrounds him.  If only I could keep him in a bubble.  But I can’t.  And ultimately that wouldn’t help him in life.  So we’re jumping in, head first, hoping he can navigate the waters.  At least now he has a life jacket.  He knows the big secret.  Watch out, world, here he comes.

Good to Know

Written August, 2013
          I’ve spent the last three and a half days in San Francisco – meeting up with my husband on a work trip to avoid insanity from three weeks alone with the kids.  But because of his work, I’ve spent much of my time alone.  At first I was afraid of this.  I arrived, quickly realized we would not be sight-seeing together, thought maybe I didn’t want to take this trip after all, and freaked out for an hour or so.  But then I watched, almost as an outside observer, as my self-preservation instincts kicked in. I studied maps online and in good old paper form, began looking up area attractions, saw the bright side of some time alone and planned my days.  Writing time, shopping, a museum, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, boba in Chinatown.  After a much-too-late dinner that first night, I awoke the next morning with a bit of uncertainty but a determination to have fun.
          The day began with French toast, then a celebrity sighting of a pot-reeking Bruce Willis, followed by a gentleman who apparently needed to adjust his boxers in Starbucks by unzipping a few feet away.  And then I settled in to write.  I worked and drank my tea and people-watched and smiled.  I was feeling very grown up, all alone in downtown San Francisco.  Granted, Marc was only a few blocks away, but he wasn’t with me and wasn’t going to be very much.  I was on my own and it felt just fine.
          You may be wondering what the big deal is.  I am, in fact, a grown up.  I do have three kids who I manage to feed and clothe daily, I have had plenty of jobs, I have functioned in society without hand-holding for many years.  Big deal, I’m hanging out on the city alone.  But I am, by nature, a worrier.  A first-born, cautious type.  I have not traveled the world alone like my brave friend Amy.  I do not have the independent spirit of my husband.  I like a plan, I like a friend, I like knowing what I’m dealing with.
I did travel to Taiwan with only a friend for the summer after I graduated from college, I’ve been separated from Marc in Bangkok and thought for an hour or so that I’d be returning a widow, I moved to L.A. after living in Kansas my whole life, so I do have an adventurous bone in my body.  It’s just smallish.  And it needs the company of another to truly be content.  In the case of this trip, I had the safety net of my husband nearby if disaster struck.  But for much of the time it was just me and my iphone getting around.  I exercised my adventure muscles a bit, and I gotta say, it felt good.
          The other part of being alone that made me nervous was, well, being alone.  No one to talk to (gasp), no one to help me decide whether the jeans fit or where to get boba,  no one to enjoy the city with.  As it turns out, I did get to see Marc some (breakfast and dinner, a lunch or two, a walk around Telegraph Hill ) so I was able to talk – a necessity for me.  And I had a chance to remember how much I like my own company.  I get along with myself quite well – we like the same food, have the same interests, don’t argue much.  I spent three days doing what I wanted, enjoyed being quiet, gave my mouth a break and used my leg muscles instead.  All in all a pretty good getaway for a stay-at-home mom.
          I wouldn’t want to live alone, but it served me well to be as such for a few days.  It reminded me that I am an adult, I do like hanging out with myself, and I can read a map.  I was glad to see my kids again, but partly because I’d had time to think and explore.  And answer only my own questions.  I still wouldn’t choose to travel alone – I’d rather go with my husband or a friend.  But I can do it, and have fun, too.  It’s just good to know.

Leaving Mae

          Written April, 2012
          I just left my one-year-old baby for the first time.  I’ve left her for a few hours before, even for a long date after she has gone to bed, but that’s it.  So this five day trip from the middle of the country to the coast is going to be hard.  Perhaps harder on me than on her, but who knows.  It’s hard to tell with a baby.  Hard to tell what their little brains are thinking.  Certainly you can tell she’s sad if she’s crying, or mad if she’s throwing her bib at you when you try to give her another bite of peas.  But you can’t really look inside and see what being left by her mommy, just after being weaned no less, does to my baby girl’s heart.
          Maybe it’s not something I should dwell on; maybe I should just let it be what it is and make the best of whatever happens afterward.  That sounds good…but that’s not really me.  I like to dig, so that’s what I’ll do, and then maybe I’ll feel better about it.  Or maybe I’ll fly home.
          Sweet Baby Mae is actually, literally, should-be-in-the-book-of-facts, the most darling baby that ever lived.  She smiles all the time, sings happily with her nose scrunched up in sincerity, says “hi” clear as day to everyone in the grocery store, and gives hugs freely with back-pats included.  When she cries, you know something is very wrong.  I love being around her.
          As a mom of three I can certainly say that I could use a break from mothering for a few days.  Time to sleep through the night, drink some tea and read the paper without being asked to read the comics aloud, or go to the bathroom whenever I wish without company.  That sounds lovely.  I do need a breather from the older two – one seven and one four.  My constantly-talking, question-asking, repeat-button-on-the-cd-player-loving ones who tend to leave me exhausted by the end of the day.  I don’t need a break from my baby, though.  She says “hi” in the morning when I scoop her up from her crib, “ta-da” when I put the shades up, and her “Da-deee” is so clear and sweet and toothy I can’t even be bothered that it’s the wrong name.  We’re completely in love, and I miss her already.
          I know that part of my anxiety over leaving her is her disposition and utter cuteness, the lack of which is going to make me cry at least once while I’m gone.  And another is hoping that I haven’t scarred her for life by taking off so abruptly, for what in baby years will feel like six months.  But I think the deeper issue here is that she is my last.  As far as we’re planning anyway, this is my last baby to be born of my body, to be nursed by me, to be rocked while I sing her goodnight as she looks up with her big blue eyes and sucks her thumb, smiling slightly at the corners.  This is it.  And now I’m missing five days.
          Aha.  My self-love strikes again.  Really, this is a selfishness problem.  If I rank my reasons for being sad to leave, my own feeling of loss is at the top.  Love for my darling baby a close second.  I disguised my self-centeredness even to me.
          In light of this discovery I can rest a little easier about my trip.  I can let myself be sad about missing her, knowing that she, likely, is back at home not really realizing I’m gone.  Certainly not knowing I’ve flown so very far away, and am holding my brother’s four-month-old twin girls instead of her.  And maybe in baby years it’s actually like twenty minutes?  She does love her daddy – his is the one name she says .  So after all this fuss about leaving Mae, I’ve worked through it a bit and feel much better.  Despite my initial worries for Mae’s sake, apparently that’s what this was all about.

Ever So Glad

          I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend.  Gulp.  When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have a 20th reunion.  I still can’t actually.  I was describing a woman to a friend recently and said she was “old, like in her 40s,” to which my friend replied with a laugh “Uh, you’re almost 40.”  Oh yeah; I forget that sometimes.  Because I don’t feel that old.  Because 18 seems like yesterday.  Until I take a few moments to really remember myself at that age.  So insecure, so uncomfortable in my own body.  Looking ahead to the next stage when I would go to college, get married, have kids, start my grown-up life.  And here I am fully engulfed in adulthood and a world away from that unsure young woman.
          I can’t think of one thing I miss from being in high school.  Zits?  My mom being sick?  Short-term, immature boyfriends?  Drinking til I puked?  Never having the most popular clothes?  Always feeling dumb compared to my uber-smart friends?  Pegged pant legs?  Nope, nothing.  I kind of came alive in college, as many people do, and even more after I graduated, got married, moved away, had babies and felt the fulfillment of my maternal longings.  That’s what really did it.  Being pregnant, giving birth and raising kids.  It made me feel like a woman instead of a girl.  Made my relationship with my body about more than the way it looked – it could make people, which was amazing.  And empowering.  My child-bearing hips didn’t just make jeans shopping suck.  They were, in fact, made for a purpose.  So, I discovered, they were beautiful.
          I walked into the reunion with the familiar butterflies of 20 years ago, wondering if I would recognize anyone, if they would recognize me, if anyone would care.  I went with my best friend, which helped – two women, nearly 40 but annoyingly submerged in our 18-year-old insecurity, leaning on one another for support.  Soon, though, I saw old friends, people whose very faces brought a smile to mine, people I hadn’t thought of for years but was happy to remember.  There were some I didn’t recognize at all, and many of the people I’d hoped to catch up with were absent.  But I didn’t have any zits, no one made me feel dumb, I had a sweet husband at home with the kids instead of a short-term boyfriend, and I wasn’t anywhere near puking, so all was well.  I quickly left behind my 18 year-old self and welcomed back the current Me, just fine with who I am and what life looks like these days.
          When I was fifteen I got a perm.  Oh yes.  A perm.  I’d had very long hair since I was little, with body but no curls since my two-year-old ringlets, and when I entered high school I decided I needed a change.  I chopped it off and permed it in one fell swoop which, in retrospect, was probably a little drastic.  I cried all the way home, and I never really warmed to my new look.  Not the best way to begin sophomore year.  And from then on it was curly.  A freak chemical reaction with my pubescent hair follicles?  The natural consequence of cutting off so much weight?  I’ll never know, but my hair remained curly from that day on, to my chagrin.  I still straighten it – you always want what you don’t have.  But seeing that perm in photos instantly takes me back to the way I felt when I got it, and every day of my high school career: ill at ease in my own skin.  Oh the blessedness of growing up.
          I left the reunion rejoicing in my life.  Glad for my family and friends, my health, my faith, the experiences I’ve had, the very block I live on.  The whole 38-year-old package.  I much prefer being nearly 40 to being 18.  My knees feel their age at times, and I can’t say I am excited about wrinkles, but I’m happy to have traded my young body for a more secure one.  As most do, I wasted that smooth skin and super stretchy cartilage on unfounded fears and worries.  I cared too much what people (as human as myself) thought of me.  I’m trying to help my kids see what’s great about them, even if no one else notices, but they are human too and will struggle to find their place in the world, just as I did.  As we all do.  I hope they will be able to avoid some of the drama – surround themselves with encouraging voices and ignore the negative ones.  I’m sure all parents hope for this.  I wish I could transport them to the self-assuredness of nearly 40, but I’ll just have to wait and see.  Pray lots, be an encouraging voice myself, and remember what it was like to figure Me out.  And be ever so glad I’m not in high school anymore.
20 Years Later
20 Years Later


These Clouds That Lie

         I wrote this one in college, but I still kinda dig it…
          It’s a chilly March afternoon, and the clouds seem to have settled into the piece of sky outside this library window.  They do not want to leave.  They are weary from travel and deem this a fine spot to rest their airy bones, so they have stopped and now hang in stillness over the city.  The wind has made them thin against the sky, carrying away the weaker members and leaving the most defiant ones to nap where they are.  The clouds have halted time, forbidding it to march on it its typical, pitiless manner, and this disturbs me.    It bothers me because it cannot be true.  As much as I long for a pause in the passage of time, a period to inhale and exhale at a casual speed, knowing I will end up right where I left off, i know that it cannot happen.  Time never stops, not even for a moment.  That is the reality.  These clouds are liars.
          I much prefer the honest, cumulous clouds–the fat, white billows of precipitation that grow and expand as they move.  They carry sunlight on their backs, and their bellies bulge with the possibility of rain.  These clouds tell the truth about time.  As they travel across the stratosphere, they depict the way life moves, constantly changing, looking lighter one moment and darker the next, depending on the atmospheric pressure and their position in the sky.  I respect their honesty.  When I was a child, I had a tendency to restrict my imagination to what I perceived to be “real life.”  When playing house with my brother, I denied his request to be a magician by trade, as that did not qualify as a real job.  And the few times that I convinced him to play Barbies with me, I fumed when he prompted them to do triple flips off my Barbie mansion, because that would not happen in the real world.  Perhaps this stole some of the fun of pretending out of my childhood, and from my brother’s as well, but perhaps it also prepared me for growing up and watching clouds, and knowing the difference between those that lie and those that tell the truth.
          A friend of mine who studied meteorology in college once educated me about clouds.  We lay on the grass near the pond on campus and he explained the different types.  I failed to retain the information, save that of the cumulous clouds I admire so much.  They are the clouds we watched that day, the ones that traveled over our heads slowly and put us in a nostalgic mood.  The end of another academic year approached, and we were relishing an afternoon in the slightly warm sun, avoiding our homework and loving it.  The clouds were alive and on the move.  They held the promise of the future in their gleaming crowns and the melancholy of another year gone in their dark tummies.  We knew time, and life, were passing as we watched the clouds leave.
          Today the clouds deceive.  They appear to have quit their journey, but in reality they have crept through the sky all along.  I took my eyes away for a few minutes, and now a completely different pattern covers the sky.  A moment ago there was a gap in the blanket of white to the far right side, but now that gap sits far off to the left, its shape contorted from what it was before.  The persistence of the wind has made the clouds look like the thinning, grey hair on an old man’s head.  A new portrait has been painted and I missed the process.  Time passed, but the clouds pretended it stopped.  This is their duplicity.
          My problem, then, is not the passage of time itself, but the tricks that time plays on us who live, to make us believe that life is not slipping away.  My heart stops when I think of how much older my grandparents seem now than they did five years ago, and how I didn’t notice their decline.  I hate that when I was ten I thought twenty would never come, and now I know that forty will come before I know it.  I ran through the sprinkler in summer with bare feet while cumulous clouds dotted the sky overhead.  I didn’t notice them then.  I knew only the cool washing on a hot day, when time was measured by supper and when the pool opened.  Now, suddenly, I am twenty-three, about to face “real life” and wondering where the time has gone.
          That’s what I despise about time — that it sneaks up on you.  Living in a place without seasons would be awful for me.  In Kansas you know when spring and fall have arrived, by the look of the trees and the feel of the air.  But in a seasonless place, like Honolulu or L.A., the years can slip by without a hint of their travel, and you are fooled into thinking that everything is the same.  The lazy clouds outside this library window enjoy their lies.  They crawl so slowly that you don’t recognize they’ve moved until the scene has changed.
          I have watched clouds from many windows.  I remember the sunsets I could see from my dorm room, coloring the clouds with flaming pinks and reds from dust.  I have gazed out of car windows at low, brooding clouds just before a storm in the western ends of Kansas.  Clouds of all sorts roll over the tops of the trees in my back yard, revealing the weather forecast to me before the rest of the city knows, and surprising me with their mood swings.  And now I sit in the library, surveying these flat, deceitful clouds and wishing they would be honest and hurry up.
          In two months I will have a college degree.  It will feel good to be finished after all the papers, and tests, and the mononucleosis.  But it seems that I just moved into my freshman-year dorm room, with the pink walls and the heater that knew no moderation.  I was just getting used to the lay of the campus, and mid-afternoon naps, and the blessing of late-night pizza delivery.  The college experience was mine, and it seemed timeless, wrapped in a protective saran from reality.  But now I am sitting before a wide-open range of possibilities, none of which include naps, and I am bewildered that five years have passed and I didn’t think to prepare myself for what comes next.
          I blame time with its quiet speed.  It blindsided me.  I should have learned from the clouds I saw that day with my friend.  They warned us.  But time’s deceit made me a fool.  I suppose all we can hope for in the passage of time is to find some sort of comfort in the steady hands of reality.  And when we look at clouds such as the liars in the sky today, we can call their bluff and anticipate that life will move and change, like fat, bright cumulous clouds that tell it like it is.

Deep Dark River

Written January, 2013
         This morning I felt a familiar weight bear down on me, like an unwelcome blanket in the heat of summer.  I woke up with it and knew today would be a fight.  The cloudy brain, the anger at tiny annoyances, the ridiculous outlook on life that makes no rational sense but feels so real.  Maybe it’s my hormones, maybe it’s because we’ve all been sick and stuck inside for a week, maybe it’s the winter blues, or maybe it’s a perfect storm of all three.  No matter, it sucks.
          “There’s a deep, dark river rising on the inside.”  I heard that in a Matthew Perryman Jones song today and nodded my head.  Yes.  I could feel the river rising, I was trying to swim for the banks, but my arms and legs were useless in the cold water.  I was sad, I was mean, I was the ugly version of me and I hated every second of it, but I couldn’t make it stop.  I had to leave the house – my sweet family – and try to regroup.  It frightens me when I feel like this.  When I can’t reason my way out of a downer, can’t swing my arms fast enough at the moving target of my sinking emotions.  When I feel so close to falling off the cliff.
          I hate feeling depressed.  Because you don’t know when relief will come, or if things will get worse before it does, or if every day after will be full of deep sorrow.  The minutes drag on and hopelessness sets in.  I have yet to lose a close friend or family member, so I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface of true sadness, but I’ve felt enough of it to know I despise depression and fear it more than most things in this world.
          The only good I see from sorrow (unwelcome, even so) is the wisdom a person can gain.  I’ve witnessed it soften the hard-hearted, strengthen the weak, fill the judgmental with grace – mostly when the light at the end of the tunnel is somewhat visible.  But many don’t make it that far.  Some people become bitter or mean, and some get swallowed whole and never see the light at all.  I’ve seen that, too, and I don’t want to end up there.  If I have to suffer sadness, wisdom sounds like a better ending.
          Once in Hawaii – yes, Hawaii of all places – I felt the weight of true depression for the first time.  Marc and I were on vacation in Kauai.  This was before kids and in-between a job change within the non-profit I worked for in L.A.  It should have been a joyful trip, a mix of exciting discovery and welcome relaxation, but it followed a year of increasing sadness inside me.  My funk reached it’s climax while I was in paradise.  Terribly bad timing.  It felt strange driving around in such beauty, the top of our rented convertible down, balmy breezes blowing through our hair, knowing I should be happy.  But I wasn’t.  I was sadder than any rational thinking could explain.  A hole had slowly been dug in my heart for months and was now hitting bottom.  In freaking Hawaii.  I touched a hot plate at dinner one night and burst into tears that didn’t stop for fifteen minutes.  We drove through Waimea Canyon one afternoon – like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, full of color and astounding views – and I cried the entire time.  My whole body hurt.  My brain felt cloudy.  At times I couldn’t imagine not being sad.
          I don’t remember when I started the climb back up to normal after our trip, but the worst was over.  I remember that.  Starting my new job was wonderful.  I felt purpose again and was surrounded by co-workers instead of being isolated off-site.  But it didn’t explain the total rebound I experienced.  Maybe my hormones were out of whack.  Maybe I needed a good cry over a hot plate.  But whatever the reason for the descent and eventual return, I don’t want to go back.  I have not worked through this one yet.  I would be glad to never experience that hopelessness again, no matter what it teaches me or the great artistic material it provides.
          I know that’s an impossibility, though.  Like today’s weird state of mind, I will find myself in the dumps occasionally.  Possibly for an extended period of time.  But the good news is that each new day is exactly that.  New.  Thank goodness.
          So really, this new year is full of promise.  The light of it might be a tiny speck in the distance, but it is there.  I may have to squint to make it out.  I may have to pray and reach beyond my own brain for help.  And I may need a few hours away from my sweet but loud children to write, ingest caffeine, and be alone.  Today, they would all agree.  I will certainly face a day like this one again, and I hate that.  But at least I can remember that when my strength and reason and serotonin are gone, hope is not.  As my mother and grandmother always say, “This too shall pass.”  That’s wisdom gained from years of the same hard, sad stuff of life.  The longer I live, the more I understand it’s quiet strength.

Little Miss Independent

Written October, 2009
          My daughter is two years old, and she’s been independent from the day she could crawl in her own direction.  Even then, before she could talk, she picked out her own clothes with low grunts at correct choices and loud screams at wrong ones.  She would crawl over to the closet, pointing at a particular sweater, and make clear her passion for fashion.  “Lily do it by self” is a phrase I hear every half hour at least, and it applies to most tasks: taking off her diaper, getting dressed, getting in the bath, getting out of the bath, walking to the car, getting in the car, getting strapped in her car seat, getting out of the car.  You get the idea.  And it has led to many showdowns between her and me when we don’t have time for her to “do it by self.”  At Target, at Wal-mart, in our driveway, in our house, at friends’ homes, in crazy Twister-like positions  in which we’ve found ourselves during a diaper change.  Lily’s independence can wear me out.
          I try to remember that someday her independence will serve her well.  I prayed against fear for my little girl as soon as I knew I had one brewing.  As a child, and an adolescent, and as an early adult, I was full of fear.  I let my fears stop me from doing so many things.  I let them rule my actions for a long time in many ways, and I didn’t want that for my little girl.  I want her to embrace life and meet challenges with the belief that it’s alright to fail, but you have to try to get anywhere at all.  That she is worth it because she’s a human being, with thoughts and feelings just as valid as anyone else’s.  That she was born for a reason.
          I’ve wanted all of this for my daughter, but apparently I didn’t realize I’d be the one dealing with the day-to-day development of a fearless woman.  It seems ironic that I fretted about her courage when she jumps off a jungle gym into nothingness, or when her determination to eat play dough far exceeds her fear of the consequences.  I got what I asked for, but I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into.
          And then the other day she didn’t want to eat by herself.  She is perfectly capable of eating her cereal with a spoon (that was something she knew she could “do by self” before she actually could), but for some reason the other day she decided she couldn’t.  We have now entered a new stage of “ I need help,” and I’m not sure I like it any better.  I was surprised at my reaction to those words.  All those days we went head-to-head over who was the adult, and when she said she needed help eating her cereal I immediately feared (there it is again) she had lost her gumption.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but it reveals how deep down my desire is for Lily to have confidence.  And how, even though it is hard to deal with her growing into that confidence, it’s a noble task worth doing.
          I’m sure this is only a regressive phase – that soon enough she’ll jump headlong back into her independent ways.  It’s in her nature, and I’m glad.  But for now, I’m going to enjoy her need of me, knowing it will be short-lived, and remember that I asked for this.  And pray that my little warrior will use her powers for good someday, and watch what she becomes.


         Helplessness feels terrible.  Like flailing arms and legs, smacking against  anything close by and bruising the skin without knowing how to stop.  Watching coverage of the Waldo Canyon fires this summer was heart-breaking.  I have many friends in Colorado Springs, and I worried for their homes, as well as their lives, as the flames jumped Queens Canyon and shot down the mountain.  Witnessing devastation on such a large scale, when it’s impossible to help, hurts the heart.
          Feeling helpless yourself is awful, too.  I had an abscessed tooth in the fall and I felt more helpless than any time I can remember since being a kid..  There was no way to breathe through the pain as I had done in childbirth.  No way to get away from it at all.  It was in my head, throbbing and constant and exponentially worsening every twenty minutes.  Waiting until morning when the dentist’s office opened was torture, and it shook my nerves to feel so fragile.  But that’s still not the worst.
          The worst kind of helpless is for someone you love. Someone right in front of you, close enough to touch but who feels miles away when you can’t do anything to help the pain.  My four-year-old daughter Lily had mono last winter, and along with it, hives which recurred for two and a half months.  Not every day, but most, and it was a sad thing to watch.  I remember once lying with her in the middle of the night while she cried inconsolably from the itching.  I had woken up to her cries and gone to see what was wrong.  It was too dark to see the state of her skin, and I didn’t want to wake up my son who shares her room, so I got a flashlight to assess the damage.  When I shone the light on her little leg I gasped at the sight.  Big, red welts all over.  As I moved the light across her body – to her other leg, her arms, her neck and face, her feet – every bit was covered in itchy blotches.  She looked diseased.  My heart broke for her and I wanted to cry, too.
          I ran downstairs and looked up home remedies for hives online.  There wasn’t much.  A cool washcloth, Benadryl (which hadn’t helped before), some herbs I didn’t have.  I tried the washcloth, but cold and wet on top of itchy was not what she wanted; she only cried harder.  As she tossed and flailed her arms and legs around I recognized the same feeling within myself.  Knowing that there was nothing I could do to help, no remedy available that I could administer, made my heart flail.  My mind raced, grasping for some way to make it better.  My little girl who during the day can make me crazy with the number of times I have to ask her to put on her shoes, who causes me to employ deep breathing just to get through her tantrums, who’s favorite word is “actually,” meaning she has changed her mind about what she wants for lunch once again – this little being had my heart.  The sight of her pain rocked me.  It wasn’t life-threatening and really only had immediate consequences – no long-term problems would occur from this bout of hives – but knowing I couldn’t do a thing to help my baby girl made me ache.
          And it was good for me.
          We need to feel helpless sometimes.  It makes us humble.  Makes us realize our smallness in the wide universe.  Gets rid of our western self-centeredness.  It frees us up from trying to control everything and gives us open hands, even pleading ones – for help.  From clenched fist to open palm.  This is a lesson I have to be reminded of repeatedly, as I’m a fist-clencher by nature.  Which is why when Lily had hives and I couldn’t fix them it was good for my soul.
          Even the mom, the one in charge, the one with band-aids, and wipes, and snacks in her purse at all times, couldn’t make this one better.  It hurt, as many good-for-the-soul things do.  Pain is unavoidable in this experience we call being human.  It’s just part of the deal.  It’s our job to give it breathing room to do its thing and move on.
          That’s hard for me; I want to push pain away, to block it out, to hold on tight to my delusion of control.  But when there’s nothing to be done, helplessness is healing.  It didn’t make the hives go away (zinc pills and acupressure did that) but it made my clenched fists open up and I focused on holding my little girl, stroking her face, letting her pain breathe until it moved on.  We were helpless together, just as it should be.



Long View

     Real Simple Magazine is having an essay contest, asking readers to write about their biggest regrets in life.  This got me thinking about the subject in some depth.  I know that it’s a popular view to believe in “no regrets” – that it is what it is, and you wouldn’t be the person you are now without the mistakes you’ve made in the past.  In and of itself this is true.  However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look back and evaluate.  That you can’t have insight into your past and weigh it against what you know now.
     My biggest regret is made up of a thousand tiny regrets, a thousand tiny choices I made as a child and adolescent, to not try new things, to not try hard enough.  I look back and see the experiences I missed, the things I could have done that would have made me happy, or more well-rounded, or more involved with life.  I missed so many opportunities because I let fear hold me back.  I wish I had stayed with dance as I grew up.  I took ballet for six years, and was about to start pointe.  And then I quit.  I was bored and lazy and didn’t know to try another form.  I wish I had tried out for basketball and volleyball, but out of fear I didn’t.  I refused to take piano lessons as a kid.  My parents tried to tell me I’d regret it, but I was sure they knew nothing.  I, on the other hand, knew that Who’s The Boss reruns were totally essential.  Good thing I listened to me.
     When you’re a kid, you don’t take the long view.  You take the right now view of things.  I looked ahead a day or two and saw the fun I wanted to have, or the boring things I wanted to avoid.  I didn’t want braces because in the short run it would be ugly.  Now I wish I had put up with metal mouth for a year or two to have straight teeth forever.  In the long run, that’s a pretty good deal.  So many little regrets, when added up, equal one big wish-I-woulda.  One big life lesson: take the long view.  I’m not sure I could have done that as a kid, but maybe?
     My seven year old son, Luke, and I share many of the same fears.  Trying new things, especially things that go really fast, is at the top of the list.  We talk about our fears sometimes – what they are and how to tackle them; he knows this is going to be one of his challenges in life.
     Last summer we made a trip to Silver Dollar City.  He was scared to go on the ubiquitous log ride, so I made him a deal.  If he would ride that, I’d ride the biggest roller coaster they had.  And he’d get a treat.  He rode it, saying “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this”  the whole time.  He got Dippin’ Dots for his act of bravery.  I went on Wildfire with five loop-de-loops and got a stomach ache for an hour.  But he saw me taking on something new and scary (I hid the sick feeling afterward) and he later told me he was glad he tried the American Plunge.  “Next time I bet I won’t be as scared of it,” he said with hope in his voice.  We worked on our fear together, as a team.  Because I regret mine and I’d like to help him overcome his.  It’s that simple.  He doesn’t see the long view, but I do now.  I’m trying to give him a glimpse.
     As an adult I decided to try modern dance.  But my body wasn’t as bendy as before.  I’d had a baby, my balance was wonky, and I could only go once a week.  By the time I realized life is short, it was too late.  A professional dancer I would never be, but I enjoyed my class for what it was – a chance to do something I loved while I was still able.  I played basketball as a grown up, too.  On a team of women of all ages with all sorts of reasons for playing.  Again, I wasn’t amazing, but I felt the adrenaline of blocking a shot.  In. Your. Face.
     I had learned my lesson.  I took the long view.
     Regret is a gift.  Wishing you could take back the insult, the lost opportunity, the time you threw up in your shoe after a high school party (I admit nothing) spurs you on to better things.  But you can’t stay there.  It does no good to sit and wallow in the mistakes you’ve made.  Regret is a teacher; It is a useful tool, but it is not a way of living.  The wisdom that it gives brings promise for tomorrow, if you can use it for your good and for others’.  That’s the blessing of regret.  The hope in the middle of the sadness.  So until the long view is no longer possible, I’ll be looking back, taking stock, and being thankful for second chances.