not perfect, just right

Last night my Thing 2 asked me, “Who chose you for me?”

After making him repeat that a couple of times so I could understand, I told him, “Different people would answer that differently. But with a question as big as that? I would say God.”

He said, “Oh. Good. It was a perfect decision. I can’t imagine a different Mom. You’re the best one.”

Now, this was after not-my-finest-showing-at-patience for the evening, so I assumed he was playing the Christmas-is-coming-better-stay-on-the-nice-list angle. I asked, “The best one for you, you mean? Why do you think that?”

He answered, “Sometimes I just look at other moms and I think, uhhhh… That mom thinks even her lips need to look all shiny. My mom wears sweatpants and she doesn’t even care. She’s awesome.”

Now, sweatpants do feature heavily in my wardrobe rotation (and discussions about it, and possibly my approach to life), but I have never worn them to school or even one of his ball games. I think maybe he’s just comfortable at home and wonders how those other moms make the switch from fancy to relaxed. Or maybe if they do at all.

But I do pause. In two sentences he’s neatly articulated that he sees a different person in me than I do. Mostly, he thinks I don’t care about appearances, which is something I tell my kids not to do but unfortunately can’t honestly claim I am able to do myself. I do care more than I’d like to. I’m generally a jeans and chucks kind of girl, but I always feel inadequate when other moms show up in nice boots or cute heels. I regularly wonder why I’m the only one I know who doesn’t look like a grown up with my shit together, but when I try branching out I always end up back where I started. My kid, however, sees a better version of that mom: accessible to kids, okay getting messy, just as comfortable on the floor as in a chair, willing to agree to “twin” with him for the day to match his team colors, or wear matching shoes.

And man, lipstick? How does he nail these things? I hate lipstick. I look ridiculous in lipstick. My mouth already takes up my whole face, why draw more attention to it? But he sees it as a plus: when I reminded him that I do wear heels sometimes (it’s not like I never clean up), and I do put on a little makeup to go to work (where you can be sure my hair accessory always matches), he responded, “Sure, but not so much that you look like a different person.”

Huh. While I’m busy wondering why I’m not like the other moms, this kid likes me for the mom I am, and for not trying to be someone I’m not. And then tells me I’m likeable, for reasons I don’t necessarily see as assets.

Boy, am I ever lucky to have this kid to set me straight on these things. I could learn a lot from him.

I bet there are some other lucky kids out there who think I’m weird, and their mom is super beautiful with her perfect hair and nails, or that perfect shade of lipstick that makes her seem so put together. And they’re well matched. But not mine. Mine doesn’t want highlights or heels. So he’s right, we are perfectly suited for each other.

I don’t know if we raise them to appreciate the things we are, or if they are born to give us that gift. And oh boy, to hear these kinds of rave reviews straight from them? Rare if ever, and so hard to hear between whining and bickering and the endless soul-sucking need for snacks. There are maybe some times, though, in the draining depletion of resources, energy, time, and sense of self that parenting is, that it dawns on me that however needy these people are, I might need them just as much. Thank goodness a better decision maker than I am chose these people for me, and me for this.

 

Saving the day

I am writing today down so I can save it.

I’m saving today because there are too many times that I want a do-over at the end of a day, or wish for a superhero to come save the day for me, as in, fix it. Today, on the other hand, was chock full of moments that were worth saving, and could spill over to save many other days if I let them.

I’ll start you out where I started.

If you ever want to feel like you’re winning at life, head on down to your local district court. I was at there to testify as a witness in an OUI case that I had phoned in before the driver ultimately crashed.

This was an education.

There have been days in the past decade or so that I have told myself, “I may feel like I suck at this, but at least I kept my kids alive today and didn’t do any permanent damage, so at least I am one step above the riff-raff. Tomorrow I get another chance.” While it has made me feel better in the moment to know whatever it is will pass, what I really want on those days is to not feel like a failure. And while technically I could claim I didn’t fail, I know I’ve lowered the bar for myself so it doesn’t feel like it counts as a win. Plenty of people don’t kill their kids but the kids can’t say they’re better off. Too many people have lost a child tragically through no fault of their own. Today is proof of that. But I do know that even when I lose it, my kids know they are loved. And there are some people who never hear, or feel, that.

Today, I began to feel, was illustrating that point. While I waited, I sat in the hallway, overhearing bits of the other cases. One person had threatened bodily harm to another over the price of cigarillos, and returned to deliver on the threat, causing damage to property. Another person had sold Xanax in a parking lot while trying to rebuild their life after a prior offense, and didn’t want this on their record. Another person was reviewing their situation with their lawyer, listing living and “working” arrangements among the details of a life I could not comprehend.

I often feel that in my town especially, but you could argue state, region, and especially culture, that my kids are “growing up without.” No play room. No cable. No garage. No neighborhood. No Nintendo, or whatever the kids are playing these days. But these snippets of conversation served to remind me that they have stability. A home. Goals and dreams. Hobbies. Passions. They are warm and dry. Blessed. And so am I, with all of those things.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that things seem to happen when my phone and I aren’t looking at each other. Phones are prohibited in court, so I brought a book. I am between books, so I grabbed one off the shelf that was a Christmas gift from my husband several years ago but I’d never found time to read. Today, it grabbed me back.¬† Called “A Hand to Guide Me”, it is a collection of reflections by famous individuals about mentors and teachers who helped them achieve the great things they have accomplished. Hank Aaron, Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, Whoopi Goldberg.

Well, I don’t know what they had to say, because I only got as far as the introduction. Written by Denzel Washington, it speaks for several pages on the people who inspired him, sacrificed for him, spoke on his behalf, and pushed him to become what he is today.

I mused for a little while about all of the hands that guide a person, and how the people around me in court, all pleading guilty by the time I had finished Mr. Washington’s words, were missing the resources, inspirations, and advocates that those hands can be. A different story could have been unfolding for them that day if the right hands had been there at a different time.

It took no more than a second for me to think about my lineup of major players – teachers, mentors, friends who offered me something Real and Valuable that all became part of who I am. My first few minutes at the courthouse were spent feeling lucky to have my moderate circumstances, and by the time I left I was overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for the road I took to reach this place and so many people I could never thank enough.

Contrast made me feel like a success today. Instead of looking at a frustrating day backwards and saying, “Hey, at least I didn’t ruin my kids like some people,” I started with someone else’s nightmare and saw how lucky I am. Does that mean I lowered the bar today like I do on all those other crap days I’m trying to feel better about? Maybe.

But, then again, no. Contrast success only took me to 11AM. There was a whole day to be lived.

First, and partly because I had some reassurance, I wasn’t starting from a moment in which I felt like I did a crap job at something. That’s usually the thing that makes me lower the bar for myself. After doing my little bit of reading, I had approached the victim of the car crash I had intended to prevent by making my phone call the night of the accident.

“I just wanted to reintroduce myself as the person from the scene who called in the erratic vehicle,” I said. “I wanted to say I’m sorry about the accident. I wish I had called sooner. I’ve been kicking myself all this time for waiting to make the call.” I had been behind her for a few miles, wondering if she was drunk or just texting.

“Not at all,” he said, “I’m fine. I saw her hit the post and swerved well enough away to avoid a head on collision. These things happen. Honestly, the worst part was dealing with the other driver’s insurance.”

Forgiveness is a funny thing. I find mostly, that the person who really needs to forgive me for some overblown wrongdoing is me.

So I did. At least for this one.

Unburdened (read, slightly less burdened), I set about the rest of my day.

Second, I went to work. For some people this is where their day is going to go south, but for me it is like Christmas and Easter and my birthday every single day, even the bad ones. And today, work was even more amazing than usual. Maybe I was just mentally open to have my socks blown off, but it happened several times. Students telling me they’re joining another class because they like this one so much. Begging me to give them special permission to sign up for more classes they aren’t old enough for. Wide eyes talking about discoveries they’re making. Connections that show they’re invested. Memories they have from some of their favorite things we did together. Asking for a hug because they haven’t seen me in a week. Disappointment that we have to have a holiday break in a couple of weeks. Taking a correction so earnestly and doing something successfully as a result. Pride. Joy. All of this on a day when I feel like we never even¬† “accomplished” a ton.

Look at that list! That happened today!! Not just to me, but to those young people!!

All because someone – several someones – I should say Someones – gave this to me.

Wow.

I have to write this down and save it, I thought, because I won’t believe it later. Someone gave this to me, now I get to pass it on. Look at that light.

Third, I locked up for the night. As I did, I glanced at our bulletin board. We are featuring our graduating seniors’ photos there. About a month ago a parent said to me, “Look at that. Look at what you did.” And I looked, and saw these four lovely girls I have known through braces and PSATs and blisters and falls, and beautiful red letter days, listening to me some days and incessant talking on others. “Look! You did that!” she said, and pointed out to me that two of the girls had their senior photos taken in their ballet costumes, one even holding her pointe shoes over her shoulder.

She spoke those words to me a month ago, amid Nutcracker preparations and a stampede of noisy dancers, amid recovering from Lyme disease and worrying about props coming together, amid my routine of organized chaos.

Tonight though, I heard them.

I heard them louder than the voice in my head that criticizes me for “not using my degrees.” Louder than my worries that I’ll never do enough or be enough or make enough. Louder than whatever ridiculous double standard I have that idolizes my own teachers and mentors but still sometimes has me seeing myself as “just” a teacher. What is that?

Bullshit. That’s what that is. I couldn’t have done better in a million years than to fashion my life in the way they did theirs.

It wasn’t about those girls loving to put a costume on, no matter how awesome those costumes were (and they were pretty incredible). It was never about how they feel in a dress. It’s about how they feel doing something they love, with people they love, because someone is there to give them that gift of love.

So now I get to be someone’s Someone. Thanks to all my Someones.

Seriously, I really have to write this down, and save it.

These are things that I know, but too often, I don’t believe.

Fourth, I stopped at the bank on the way home, and realized that, although we did not plan to (or want to) buy two cars this year, there is still money in my bank account. This may seem like a dumb thing to add after all that good stuff about being someone’s Someone, but you know what? In court today, the issue that seemed to hold up each case was how the defendant was going to be able to pay their fines and in what time frame. These were not enormous fines. But these individuals were quite obviously facing tough decisions – feeding a daughter or staying out of jail. I had found myself wondering what Christmas will look like where they live. What we have – it is not nothing.

Write it down. For all the days you feel like your paycheck disappears faster than you can earn it thanks to special dietary restrictions and the unending renovation that is your house, write it down and save it. There is enough.

Fifth, I was home, to hot soup and a chance to pick out a Christmas present with my third grader for his teacher. It was our part of the class gift. And for all of his obstinance on certain issues, his love is fierce and strong; this was a moment of him being his best self not only for her but thinking of his classmates too. I loved this moment.

I had to ask him to turn his back while I “checked out” online because there was something previously in my cart that was for him. He giggled a little bit. I love that he still giggles.That is something I wish I could save; it will be gone before I know it.

When I was done, he turned around and asked me, “Why are you buying something for me? I don’t even know what I want for Christmas yet. How can you know?”

I reminded him that sometimes people get us things we didn’t ask for but we need, want, or just plain like anyway. He nodded. But then his forehead wrinkled. The same way mine does. Oh baby, I am so sorry I gave you that worry wrinkle. “I just don’t know what I want,” he said.

“Ho, ho, ho!” I pulled him onto my knees and said, “What do you want for Christmas little boy?” (I tried to make it sound like the Santa in “A Christmas Story”, but even I can’t be that freaky.) He smiled a little, but sat quietly. I guess it was a thinking day for him too.

“I want it to be that nobody is going to be hungry,” he said.

“Me too,” I told him. “I want that a lot.”

“I want it to be that people don’t kill each other or hurt each other because of their religion or because they come from a different country. And just, …peace.”

Write it down, Mama, write it down.

“I want people to know that a boy doesn’t have to marry a girl, it could be a boy if they want.”

“Wow, Buddy, I think you and I want all the same things.”

We headed upstairs to get him tucked in.

“I want people to know that it doesn’t matter if someone is rich or poor, it doesn’t make anyone better or worse.”

Preach.

“I want segregation to stop.”

“Hm. That’s an interesting one. It is illegal.”

“Yes, but it’s still there. People are apart from each other and there should just be people.”

“You’re right.”

“Also,” he said, climbing under his covers, because this old soul is still only in third grade, “I would like this stuffed dog to be real. But not so real that it would die if I strangled it while I was sleeping from hugging it so tight.”

Then he made a few potty humor type jokes and went right to sleep.

And I came downstairs to save the day.

 

 

 

Half Happy

“What are we doing that’s special for my half-birthday?” I got asked by my Thing 1 this morning. It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, Nurse Appreciation Week, and Mother’s Day is approaching. Half birthday. Huh.

Well… I have 21 dancers from my ballet ensemble performing 3 classical pieces tonight. Thing 1 herself is dancing with her dance team in other fun pieces like “Let it Go”, “Happy”, and the cutest, “Stripes”. I’m proud of all of them. What’s more special than seeing performance energy and joy on super special faces?

I have a feeling she’s looking for something more though – she’s always one to squeeze out any bonus feel-good opportunity from any situation. (Upon opening any gift, on any occasion: “Thanks! Did you bring me any MORE presents?”) How about I drive you both ways and actually remember to bring your leotard this year? That’s pretty special!

But I get it, I am looking for more today too. But not the way she is. Mother’s Day stuff is lining the shelves and screaming “BUY ME!” And I just want to scream back, “ENOUGH.” (No actually, I’d need to whisper it, with my eyebrows raised and my teeth gritted. We are in a store, you know.)

Ten years have passed today – a decade – since we told our parents and siblings that we were expecting our first baby, over a deliriously happy Mother’s Day brunch that also celebrated my brother’s marriage and may just have included more gushing than Niagara, which we visited later that day. Six days later, we lost my mother-in-law. And six months later, Thing 1 arrived.

There was no first meeting of that bundle of joy. I could never ask how she felt when she was pregnant, how my husband was when he was teething, what he wore on his first day of school, or whether she had any tricks up her sleeve about getting kids to sit still in church and eat their vegetables.

Oh, what you will postpone when you don’t know someone will be gone in six days.

So for ten years now I have wanted more for my mother-in-law, who left us too soon. And for Thing 1, who missed out. And for myself, always the information seeker, the connection maker. I wanted something special too, for all of us. I’ve realized that I have to bring the something special, and it’s a big and thankless job. I have to be the connector that loves both of them, that passes on the fragments that I do have, and honors the days we miss.

Enough stuff. Enough “buy her something because it’s expected.” Give her some time, call her for no reason on some random Tuesday, write things down for each other – it’s so short, and you just don’t know.

I’m happy we’re dancing today because it’s something Thing 1 and I both love and share. And I’ve spent all of my adult life with the conviction that it’s a gift I was blessed to receive and am now honored to pass on. But ten years passing hasn’t changed the audience, and the world, feeling a little bit empty with no Grandma out there. We keep dancing though, because the gushing that May 9 was the joy of life that spilled out of our eyeballs, and sometimes it’s best to just let the joy spill out. Eyeballs, feet, fingers, hips, whatever. Cue the music… and gush.

If you know my Thing 1 at all, you might agree she is a paradox of joie de vivre and needing instant gratification. She’s everything that today is for me. I’m bursting with pride and missing a link; she’s going to be full with her own awesomeness from dancing, and still want a present. Bless her heart, she drives me crazy. But I found her first tooth the other day in my drawer (gross, I know, she gets her hoarding from me), and just wished for more time. More. More. More.

What are we doing that’s special today?

Picking out the biggest strawberry from the box with breakfast. Sending you off with a hug and kiss, even though that’s not your thing. Waiting for the bus to bring you home. Yes, remembering your leotard, I will remember your leotard. Trying to keep my patience while I put your hair in a bun. Watching your smile and not just your feet. Remembering your grandmother. Thinking about how proud she would be. And remembering that your life is now. Maybe there will be pizza. And dessert, even though you didn’t finish your chores again this week, you little stinker. There will be your daisy-petal fingers and your bright eyes and effervescence, your feistiness, your snarky humor and your lack of volume control, your quickness to forgive and say “I love you.” I couldn’t have imagined any of those things ten years ago at brunch.

Definitely there will be showing up for life. And joy. Which may not seem special to you at nine-and-a-half, but they are. So very much so.