Sometimes as I’m gathering my last few purchases from the frozen food aisle at the grocery store and heading toward the check-out lane, I’ll catch a glimpse of someone pushing their cart toward the same lane as me. Something overtakes me and I start pushing faster, trying my best to inch my way ahead of them. I have even been known to break into a brisk jog to beat someone to the check-out lane. Am I really in that big of a hurry to pay for my groceries? No, I’m that competitive.
The grocery store isn’t the only place that triggers my slightly unhealthy competitive streak; I also become a raging lunatic when it comes to the school pick-up line. It all started on my daughter’s first day of kindergarten; I left to pick her up about twenty minutes before school let out. I ended up being seventh in the pick-up line. Perspiration beaded up on my forehead as I stared at the six cars ahead of me. Six cars. Ahead of me. Unacceptable.
The next day I pulled into the pick-up lane at 2:55pm; my daughter’s school gets out at 3:55pm. There was one car in front of me. I’m improving. I called my husband to tell him I had made it to the second position. My husband does not support or even understand my mania.
“Exactly how crazy do you have to be to wait in line an hour before school gets out?” he asks me incredulously.
“Well, if it must be measured, I’d say I’m not nearly as crazy as the woman in front of me and only slightly crazier than the four ladies behind me,” I say even though I don’t like to quantify my crazy.
I vowed to get the pole position the next day. I decided that I may have to camp overnight; some may call that extreme, but if you want the number one spot, you have to make sacrifices. I called the principal to make sure that would be okay.
“M’am, you know it takes less than ten minutes for every child to be picked up; there’s really no need to get in line that early; and no, you may not bring your tent and start a campfire on school property,” she tells me with a exasperated tone.
Oh, to be a visionary in a visionless world. Now I know how Galileo felt.
My next plan of attack is to calculate exactly how early I can get into the pick-up line without causing the school to contact the authorities. Through much trial and error, I find that an hour and fifteen minutes is the magic number.
There’s a lot of down time when you get to the pick-up line over an hour early. I’d like to say I use that time to better myself through mediation and self-reflection but mostly my brain wraps itself around thoughts like when I drink tea there’s maybe four or five sips in the cup but when I spill my tea that same cup suddenly contains four gallons. Once I brought my checkbook with hopes of balancing it, but I ended up folding the last four checks I had into tiny sailor hats that I wore on my fingers to reenact my favorite scenes from “Moby Dick.”
One time I had a great idea: if these other women are here this early too, maybe we could all become friends (we certainly have crazy in common). I decided the best way to test the waters for possible friendships would be to blast Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and see who sings along (I can’t hear that song without singing at the top of my lungs so anyone who joins in with me must be my kind of people). I sang my heart out that day in the pick-up line, I mean I really did Elton proud. But no one else sang. Everyone just tried to not make eye contact with me as they locked their car doors.
I took no offense; it’s lonely in position number one in the school pick-up line, but there’s a price to be paid for greatness.
The other day my husband and I actually got to go see a movie together—it was not animated and it was not rated G. Needless to say, it was a big day for us. The movie itself was awful but thankfully we had a bucket of popcorn to distract us. But even eating my body weight in popcorn couldn’t keep me from thinking about the storyline. The movie was about the dating antics of twenty-somethings and I think it was intended to be a romantic comedy but the funniest thing I saw in that theater was the woman in the row ahead of me who pulled an entire submarine sandwich out of her purse to snack on during the film.
I couldn’t help but look over at my husband and smile, thinking about how grateful I am to have him. The first reason is because he never brings oversized sandwiches into movie theaters and secondly, because he saved me from the hideous world of dating.
Fun, excitement, desperation, and degradation all rolled into one huge ball of confusion we commonly refer to as dating. I’ve been out of the dating scene for over ten years now and have threatened my husband with bodily harm if he ever leaves me. Okay, we love each other a lot too, but fear is a good motivating factor and the fact that I am the only one he trusts to fold his underwear properly has sealed our marriage in foreverness.
But I can still remember the utter frustration that came with dating. The first hurdle to dating is where to find date-worthy people. Someone once told me that the laundromat was a great place to meet people so one day I grabbed three weeks of dirty clothes, a bottle of Tide, and a hundred dollars in quarters and went to find myself a man.
What I actually found was a creepy guy with a parrot on his shoulder washing a comforter with a picture of The Last Supper on it, a woman who took off the underwear she was wearing to throw into the washing machine, and an old Portuguese woman who swore at the change machine each time she passed it.
I decided to stick around and do my laundry because how else was I going to get rid of all those quarters and unlike the woman I saw earlier who shimmied out of her underwear, I had run out of clean undies the previous day and it would feel good to wear undergarments again. I had to force myself not to look at the man with the parrot because I was dangerously close to yelling, “Ahoy, Matey!” and I don’t think he was stable enough to get the joke. I did, however, join the little old Portuguese woman who was swearing at the change machine and she really seemed to appreciate my support.
I had one last load of laundry in the dryer; it was a load of towels and a few pairs of those big, comfy, cotton undies that no woman wants to admit to wearing; I had already folded all the cute pairs and hid them under some jeans, away from the prying eyes of Captain Parrot. I found myself mesmerized by the tumbling of the load of laundry, watching it intently like the ninth inning of game seven of the World Series. Wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly when a very good looking guy walked up and stood right beside me.
He made some small talk then I saw him glance at the dryer I was using. I was fairly certain that he saw those giant cotton undies tumbling around, so I quickly made up a story about how I do laundry for a home for the elderly. I got so into my story that I threw my arms out for emphasis and ended up slamming right into the change machine. “Damn it,” I muttered under my breath. Right then the old Portuguese woman came running over and high-fived me then swore at the change machine.
That good-looking guy backed away slowly from me like I had parrot on my shoulder. I knew this was a bust so I just said, “Hey, that woman over there isn’t wearing underwear, so you might have better luck with her.”
I was just thinking I could probably get used to dating a man with a bird fetish when I remembered some great advice someone once told me, never settle for anything less than the fairytale.
So I didn’t.
Getting older. We are all doing it. Every minute. Every day. I’m older now than when I started writing this sentence. Sometimes I focus too much on the dark side of getting older. Like the fact that the box boy at the grocery store now calls me m’am instead of miss; every wrinkle cream commercial seems to be targeting me specifically and losing 10lbs is no where near as easy as it was when I was twenty.
Recently I have been trying to think of all the ways that getting older is a good thing. So far I have come up with: you finally have found the answer to the nagging question of bangs or no bangs; you know exactly what kind of alcohol you like and exactly how much you can drink without risking damage to your shoes; and you truly have enough life experience to look back and reflect.
It’s during my moments of reflection that I appreciate my age the most. I can look back now and see years and years of love, mistakes, laughter, darkness, kindness, tears, and redemption. I can also now see how all these parts of my life melded together and made me the woman I am today–a woman I love and respect. And believe me, that was something I never said when I was in my twenties.
This time of reflection is where I can recognize the mistakes of the past and let them go like leaves caught in an autumn breeze. It is that easy. Yes, getting older brings the wisdom to know what is worth hanging onto and fighting for and what isn’t worth your precious time. You learn the importance of forgiving others as well as forgiving yourself.
It’s a humbling process to look back on your life and see how every step, wrong or right, led you to exactly where you needed to be. There is a certain kind of comfort that comes with that knowledge–a security that your path is going somewhere and ultimately, it’s going somewhere beautiful. That’s not to say that there won’t be headaches and heartaches, but your path will continue. The views will change with the seasons and so will you.
Sometimes I wish someone would have told me all of this when I was younger. But then I think back and I’m sure my mom did tell me, I just wasn’t ready to listen. This is one of those lessons that simply can’t be taught. The answers we all want out of life can only be found by living life–by opening the door, stepping out, and living. We need to learn all we can learn about others and about ourselves. We need to live with compassion and remember we have the strength within us to pick ourselves up after we get knocked down, no matter what knocked us down.
Getting older is a privilege and comes with great responsibility. We are the authors of our stories. We remember the mistakes of the past only long enough to right them in the future. We set the example for our children, not of a perfect life, but of a lived life, full of struggle and setback and also full of beauty and victory.
Six years ago. It doesn’t feel like six years. Well, maybe it does.
Six years ago today my husband and I found love at first sight. We found it looking into the eyes of our beautiful baby girl. All I have to do is look at one of her baby pictures and the memories surround me like a warm blanket: her head full of dark hair, those tiny hands, and that sweet baby smell (the freshly powdered smell; I’m still trying to forget the other smells that emanated from that girl).
I’ve also tried to forget the forty hours of labor that preceded my daughter’s entrance into this world, but so far I’ve had no success. Everyone I knew told me their birthing horror stories but to be perfectly honest, I quit listening once they got to the “water breaking” part. These stories just reminded me of high school geometry: something I should be learning but it just didn’t seem applicable in my life. And ladies, let’s be clear here: never share your stories of the birthing battlefield to a new mom. These kinds of stories are best shared with women who have already been in the trenches; don’t scare the rookies with words like “mucous plug.”
My husband and I checked into the hospital on a Sunday for a scheduled induction. I did my hair, make up, and nails before we left. “I want to look good for the pictures when the doctor hands me the baby.” It made perfect sense to me at the time.
The nurse took us to our room and I ordered the customary ice chips. My husband and I laughed and figured we would have a baby in just a few hours. Oh, the flawed thinking of two birthing class drop-outs.
I never realized how many people would become that familiar with my cervix, but all night nurse after nurse came in to check on my cervix. Apparently I have one stubborn cervix; the next day was Monday and still we had no baby. Tensions rose and I started to rethink this whole baby thing.
“Maybe we should have just gotten a dog,” I tell my husband.
“Probably, but we should at least see this through.” He’s always so good in high-stress situations.
It soon becomes clear to me that the doctor is mostly just a mystical presence sending orders via phone to the nurses. The next order that’s given is pitocin. Pitocin, I’m almost certain, is Latin for “Holy hell here come the contractions.” I’m really starting to regret dropping out of that birthing class but I really needed a churro, so I made my husband take me to Disneyland that day. Damn that mouse and his delicious and strategically-placed-all-over-the-park Mexican pastries!
One of the nurses suggests that I get up and go for a walk. Yes, a walk. I’m connected to a machine feeding me a sadistic, intravenous cocktail that makes me feel like I may split into two, I haven’t eaten in 24 hours, and I have no underwear on. Yes, a walk sounds delightful. After one lap around the maternity ward, my husband escorts me back to my room. Apparently, no one really appreciated the trail of profanity I created as I went for my little stroll. I can’t help it, I don’t remember how that instructor said to breath through the contractions, so I making due with swearing through them. Cursing: it’s always been one of my best coping strategies.
Another sixteen hours later, another check of my cervix and a nurse declares that I am ready to push. The nurses are like a well-rehearsed orchestra as they magically turn the labor room into the delivery room. Another nurse appeared with five nursing students and asked if they could observe.
“Well, I’d usually say no, but since my knees are currently shoved up to my ears and I’m squeezing a human being out of my body, come on in! I hope you’re not easily offended because swearing may be frowned upon in the hallway, but I plan on letting a few off-color phrases fly here in just a minute.”
I realize it’s now Tuesday. We checked in on Sunday. I haven’t eaten, I haven’t slept, and any hopes I had of looking presentable in pictures is now laughable. I’m sweaty and all I really want at this moment is a cheeseburger and a nap. And mascara. I really need some mascara.
My OB comes in so I know things are about to get serious. My husband takes his position at ground zero. What a guy; I may have gone through 40 hours of labor, but I can’t even imagine the unspeakable horrors he witnessed down there and yet he is still able to function in society without any discernible side effects.
Two hours of pushing and then, a baby. Upon hearing her cry, I panicked. I had no training for this. Sure, I had dolls when I was a kid, but mostly I just cut their hair and then forgot them outside in the rain. That’s not proper motherhood training. There’s no way I’m cut out for this.
Then the doctor handed her to me. Our baby. In my arms, finally. And somewhere deep inside of me, a mommy switch was turned on and I was overcome with a love so strong it almost hurt. Right then my sole purpose in life became to protect this gorgeous baby girl.
Here we are six years later, still loving and protecting this sweet little girl. Our baby.
And I haven’t left her out in the rain yet.
Running. It used to be an obscure idea to me, an action I would only consider if something big and hairy were chasing me. Wait, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t have run. I would have been the quintessential dumb blonde who backs herself into a corner and gets ripped to shreds while screaming at decibels only dogs can hear. At least that girl always has good hair. Big hairy thing–1, screaming girl who wouldn’t run–0.
So I started running. Not to say that my fear of horror movie monsters was the only catalyst; I also have an unhealthy and overdeveloped competitive streak. I kept hearing people talking about the Color Run–that 5K where you get blinded by tinted powder every kilometer. It’s a no-pressure race that’s meant to be fun. What better race to inaugurate me into the world of running. I also had a friend who had run it in 39 minutes, so my goal became to finish it in 38 minutes.
I got myself started on the treadmill with one of those training programs where you walk, then run for a short period of time, then walk again. I have never watched a clock more intensely than when I would run those couple of minutes, all the while thinking how impressive it was that I hadn’t taken a breath in a full two minutes. I could only focus on one thing at a time, so at first I focused on my legs and breathing was left by the wayside (I figured: I breath everyday, but my legs haven’t run since cooties were a health concern). Surely breathing was overrated anyway.
It wasn’t long until I got off the treadmill and started running outside. This is where I was introduced to the runner’s arch enemy–the dog on a 40 foot retractable leash. The 40 foot dog leash–for people who want to take their dog for a walk, but don’t want to be seen with it. The only thing worse than the 40 foot leash is the unleashed dog. I encountered more than my fair share of unleashed dogs when I began running outside. I would be running along at my happy pace and a dog would appear. Fortunately, I’m known for my catlike reflexes and I would jump over the dog. Unfortunately, jumping always seemed to trigger my swear reflex and I would string together obscene words and phrases that I’m still not entirely sure even made sense. I got into so many altercations while running that I contemplated running in a disguise. I thought a nice Amish beard would do the trick; no one would ever suspect the Amish to be swearing like a truck driver.
Soon I discovered where I could run dog-free. And slowly, I built up my endurance and my confidence and I was running at longer intervals. I decided to put my legs to the test and run some hills. I used to see people running uphill as I drove by and the anguished looks on their faces would scare me and make me wonder if I should stop and ask if they needed medical assistance. Now I know it’s not a look of anguish, it’s a look of power and strength because you pushed yourself way beyond what you thought you could do.
I got so into my training that I was ready for my first 5K long before the Color Run so I entered a Mother’s Day 5K. My first race. I had no idea what to expect. I was completely amazed by what I saw: thousands of people of all different abilities warming up and cheering for each other. I was pumped. The race started and I felt strong; I ran my fastest mile ever then paid for it in my second mile. I wanted to give up but then I saw a little girl holding a sign that said, “Go Mommy Go!” She wasn’t my little girl, but she was cheering for everyone who ran by. That was just the push I needed. I was re-energized and I had the finish line in sight. I caught a glimpse of a woman trying to pass me as we rounded the corner. That’s when my competitive nature took hold and I thought, “You better either fly by me or you’re going to have to earn it, because I’m not just handing it to you.” I kept running faster so she couldn’t pass. I finished before her and beat my goal time of 38 minutes with a time of 37:55. Upon reflection, I suppose the Usain Bolt pose I struck at the finish line was a bit gratuitous.
I used to hesitate to call myself a runner; I didn’t think I was good enough. But running has changed me. I’ve grown in my endurance and as a person; it’s not about how fast I go. For me, running is about that moment when neither of my feet are touching the ground; in that split second I’m flying, I’m free, and I am a runner.
Even now, when I’m running I’ll come to a hill looming in front of me that seems to say, “No, you can’t.” That’s when I adjust my hat, turn up my music and tell that hill, “Yes, I can.” And I’ve discovered that’s the key to life: find a new hill to conquer everyday.
There are two things in this world that I despise: lines and stupidity. And lima beans. Okay, there are three things in this world that I despise but I’ll stick with the first two for now: lines and stupidity. The place where these two things converge is considered by many to be the portal to hell, but to others it is known simply as the McDonald’s drive-thru.
Luckily I’m not a person who blames McDonald’s for all the ills in the world. People are fat—it’s McDonald’s fault! The country is in a state of moral decay—it’s McDonald’s fault! I was late to pick up my daughter from school last Tuesday!—it’s McDonald’s fault! Well, that last one is technically McDonald’s fault because I was stuck in the drive-thru waiting for a completely nutrition-less yet ironically life-sustaining Diet Coke.
Yes, I visit the McDonald’s drive-thru more than any person probably should. Yes, my daughter enjoys the more-than-occasional hamburger with pickle only and extra french fries. Yes, I’m weak and they have one dollar large Diet Cokes. Just one dollar and I don’t even have to get out of my car. Trust me, I appreciate the brilliance behind that idea.
One of the most annoying occurrences in the McDonald’s drive-thru lane is when the little mystery voice in the speaker interrupts me mid-order. I have my McDonald’s order down to a science; it is only slightly complex but it never varies. Ever. Don’t stop me after I say “Happy meal” to ask what drink I want; I know what comes next and I will tell you in due course. But I can’t just rattle off my food needs all willy-nilly. I need things to happen in a logical sequence. In other words, my way.
But my real problem isn’t with McDonald’s at all. What makes my hatred of lines and stupidity even worse is my complete and utter lack of patience. I really have none. I think fast, I drive fast, I want things done fast. All of these things are nonexistent in the McDonald’s drive-thru. The real problem is the people in the drive-thru who seem to become desperately confused and disoriented at the sight of the menu and the ordering speaker. I think it’s time we established a few ground rules to follow when using the drive-thru lane: 1) if your order requires that you stick your head out of the window, you should park and go in; 2) if your order requires the use hand gestures, you should park and go in; 3) if your order requires the asking of more than one question, you should park and go in; 4) if you find it difficult to decide whether or not to upsize your meal, you should go park and go in (come one, who doesn’t want more fries?). I think these guidelines could really clear up a lot of the congestion found in the McDonald’s drive-thru.
One thing is certain though: the executives at McDonald’s are visionaries and they obviously still have faith in the intelligence of humanity. The proof of their optimism in human kind: the dual drive-thru lane. This is a complex system in which people can order in one of two lanes then merge into one lane to pay. The problem is: the general public can’t handle the responsibility of the dual drive-thru lane. Usually people are scared of the second lane and everyone just ends up waiting in one lane until that brave pioneer steers around everyone and pulls into the other lane. Don’t fear the second lane—it’s there so that we may all obtain our cheeseburgers in a timely manner. Then there’s the problem of knowing when to merge (a skill most people don’t possess as witnessed on any freeway on-ramp). People panic and start directing the other cars in front of them, not knowing that they are setting off a chain reaction of badness up at the window. Now the guy in the Prius just got your Big Mac and the woman in the Expedition is drinking your chocolate shake. Disorder and chaos in the drive-thru; it’s the first sign of the apocalypse.
Maybe next time I’ll go to Taco Bell.
My husband and my daughter have created a game: he holds her hands and she jumps as high as she can while he propels her up even higher, then she swings her legs up and over and ends up doing a complete flip, sticking the landing with a huge thud. I call this game “Give Mommy a Heart Attack,” they just call it fun.
When my husband and I first found out we were having a little girl, my husband was beyond thrilled but he was also a bit panicked.
“I don’t know what girls play; I don’t know anything about girls.” He was so worried.
“Girls are just like boys, minus the innate knowledge of how to make machine gun noises with their mouths which boys always seem to have,” I reassured him.
On the day our daughter was born, all my husband’s fears completely disappeared. She was his girl from day one and he has always known how to hold her and comfort her and even how to play with her, despite all his previous fears.
Now those two are thick as thieves. She is the very image of her father: brown hair that turns slightly reddish in the summer, big brown eyes that seem to be an extension of their smiles, and best of all, she has her father’s adventurous spirit and never-say-quit attitude.
The other day the two of them were outside playing in the snow and I stopped by the window to watch them.They were making a snow fort: my husband shoveling snow into a pile and my daughter already making snow balls for their impending snow battle. They worked together so easily and so happily. I turned to grab my boots and join them, but then I decided no. They need times like this, just the two of them, playing and conspiring and laughing, just daddy and daughter.
I kept watching them though and thinking how important this father/daughter relationship is. My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and have lots of fun, but it’s different. I worry and tell her to be careful and get scared when she climbs too high. My husband tells her to climb higher while never leaving her side and cheering like a madman when she reaches the top. She learns to take risks with him and as much as that scares me, I know how important it is for her to learn.
My husband plans “dates” for the two of them every so often. Sometimes they go bowling and out to lunch, sometimes it’s dinner and a movie. She always wants to dress up in her fanciest dress and she insists that he wear a bow tie and a jacket. He never even falters. He has worn a bow tie and a jacket out to Red Lobster before and loved every minute of it. My daughter just thinks these are special fun times with Daddy, but I know better. He’s teaching her how a man treats a woman and what respect looks like.
My daughter has also learned trust from her father. When she was learning to ride her bike, she was petrified. She made Daddy promise not to let go of her. And he didn’t. He ran up and down our street fifty times, keeping pace with her pedaling, the grin on his face just as big as hers. But he also knows when to give her a push and let her go on her own; like the time she first sledded down our hill by herself. I had been trying to get her to sled by herself but she wouldn’t do it. After a day with Daddy, she ran into the house and yelled excitedly, “Mommy, I went down the hill all by myself!” I quickly asked my husband how he finally got her to do it and he smiled slyly and said, “I just gave her a quick push instead of getting in the sled with her.” He knew exactly how to get her down that hill and her trust in her daddy is so strong she knows nothing bad can ever happen to her when he’s there.
Yes, sometimes my husband and daughter get a little wild and a bit too loud and their acrobatic antics scare the heck out of me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Ah, Christmastime. A time of peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and figgy pudding (whatever figgy pudding might be). This is the time of year children covet, not just for the toys that Santa crams down the chimney, but for the glorious two-week vacation from school that accompanies all the merriment.
I, too, got swept up in the excitement of my daughter’s two-week respite from school. As the last day of school approached, I thought, How fun! We will sleep-in and frolic as a family for two whole weeks! I was so excited that I decided to keep a journal to forever remember our family Christmas.
December 21: First day of Christmas vacation! My daughter woke up a little earlier than I expected, but that’s okay—she must be as excited as I am to get the fun started! Today we are going to make candy!
December 22: Candy making was a success! And by “success” I mean my pants no longer fit comfortably. Oh well, calories don’t count at Christmastime anyway and I have plenty of yoga pants with extra stretch in them. Today I have invited my daughter’s best friend over so the two of them can play and decorate cookies together!
December 23: I’m still picking sprinkles off the dog after yesterday’s cookie decorating. And I just noticed there is frosting on my chandelier. Oh, but listening to the two of them talk about Santa was priceless!
December 24: I can’t believe it—Christmas Eve! I have planned a meal the likes of which have never been seen before! Mostly new recipes, but I love cooking for my family. I also have a ton of wrapping to do tonight, but I love wrapping as much as I love cooking. My stomach is feeling a bit queasy but I’m sure it’s nothing, just all the excitement of the holiday!
December 25: The best thing I can say about yesterday’s dinner is that it was edible. At least that’s what my husband told me. The cooking is kind of a blur because I spiked a fever. I don’t know, something had nutmeg in it and there might have been a potato dish. I spent the evening with my head in the toilet. One thing is for sure: no one holds mommy’s hair when she’s down for the count. Nope, I just kept vomiting while cursing my fate. At one point, a tomato got lodged in my nose so I made a solemn vow to try and chew better in the new year. My husband had to take over and do all the wrapping, which means the presents looked like a crumbled pile of yuletide rubble but when you’re in my condition you just have to accept it. Or complain nonstop, which I did.
December 26 – 28: Fever, chills, vomit, repeat. If I don’t find the strength to crawl out of bed and take a shower, surely my home will be condemned.
December 29: I feel well enough to venture into the living room and see the damage my husband and daughter have done while I convalesced. Oh sweet mother of pearl. I’m going to need a shovel to clean this place. Maybe we will just move. Oh, look at that pile of dishes in the sink. Yeah, we will just move.
Dec. 30: I have recovered, the house is clean, and my mommy guilt has taken a firm hold of me. I wanted to do so many things with my daughter and then I got sick and was out of commission for so long. Well, I’m making up for lost time now—today is craft day!
Dec. 31: Craft day fizzled out after about twenty minutes. We set out to build a castle, but what we ended up with is a pile of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners that slightly resemble the large intestine. I have also been thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, so I’m keeping them simple this year. My goals are: to gain weight (already started that), accrue more debt (started that one too), and swear more (this one won’t be a problem either because the longer Christmas vacation goes on, the more patience I lose; the swearing will be inevitable—a real win/win situation).
Jan. 1: Happy New Year! New beginnings and new adventures await! Oh, who the hell am I kidding? It’s just Wednesday.
Jan. 2: I have been playing my daughter’s favorite pretend game, known simply as “Bear Family.” This game entails me being the voice of fifteen stuffed bears and their assorted “cousins” from the animal kingdom. I’m pretty good at improv but my daughter keeps yelling, “Cut!” and redirecting me. I can’t work under these conditions.
Jan. 3 – 4: I have been the voice of all the stuffed bears for so long now that I fear my sanity may have suffered a severe blow. I attempted to use the bathroom by myself today but was headed off by my daughter and the dog. I should have known better.
Jan. 5: I made it. School starts tomorrow. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Wait, I also see snow…
Jan. 6: School was cancelled because of snow. I can’t be the voice for any more bears. I can’t. I must escape. But where? In a bold move, I make a break for the bathroom, grabbing a book as I lunge for the door and lock it. Great, it’s a medical textbook. I grab the shampoo bottle and read it instead. If school is cancelled tomorrow, I swear I’m going to drop my daughter off at the superintendent’s house for the day.
Jan. 7: School today! I can’t stop smiling. Today I get my sanity back. I took my daughter to school then came home. I walked passed her room and saw all the stuffed teddy bears on her bed. I choked back a sob and thought, ‘I miss my baby. When is spring break?’
Most of the time my brain is a strange placed filled with peculiar thoughts like: it’s almost 2014 and I still don’t have a flying car. Is my daughter part of a subversive plot to rid the school playground of all sand by smuggling it home in her shoes? And, I really wish full skirts with bustles would come back into fashion because I totally think I could pull off that look.
But sometimes, by brain is a darker place. Sometimes thoughts so horrible flit in and out of my consciousness that it makes my breath catch in my throat. They are the thoughts I never really discuss with anyone. Maybe because I wonder if it’s not socially acceptable or maybe because I fear I’m the only one who has these thoughts.
The thought that haunts me: what if something happens to me and I’m not around to care for my family? This is certainly the worst of my horrible thoughts. Usually I just worry about things like: what if I’m at a party and there is a jello mold and I can’t control myself and I stick my finger into it just because I think jello is the coolest substance on the planet. That’s a real fear for me.
But my jello fear is just as real as my fear of not being here to care for my daughter and my husband. Because just like me ruining an unsuspecting jello mold, unthinkable, horrible things happen everyday. I have friends who have lost spouses suddenly and it only reminds me how fragile life is.
Now, let’s be clear: I’m not one to dwell too long on what-ifs nor do I focus on misery. I enjoy life and always search for the good in every situation and everyone I meet. But some days, out of nowhere, the thought that I could be taken from my family consumes me; not for very long, but long enough to make me have to sit down and really think.
I think about how my husband and daughter would get along without me. Would my husband know where my daughter’s favorite headbands are? Would he know how to brush her hair into her signature ponytail? Would he be able to sing to her in a very soft voice to wake her up in the morning like I always do? Would he know that some of his shirts can’t be put in the dryer because they will shrink? Would he know that the credit card was almost paid off and then I bought a cute, new purse? Would he know that it’s okay if he laughs again someday with another woman?
Would my daughter know that I always put the rocks from her pockets into her rock collection so she is surprised when she sees them? Would she know that I made sure all the stuffed animals on her bed were cuddled up close to each other so none of them felt lonely? Would she know that I came into her room three or four times a night just to kiss her little cheeks? Would she know that I got my heart broken as a teenager too and that her heart really will love again? Would she know that I was terrified the day we brought her home from the hospital but somehow we made it, just as she will as a mother?
Just when these questions threaten to tear me to pieces, one shining thought comes through: I am here now. Here, where I can take care of them, love them, and enjoy them now. I can’t throw away today with thoughts of what might be. So, instead, I love today and dream about tomorrow with the two people I love most.
I believed in Santa Claus until I was twelve-years-old. I blame my parents entirely; they were really good at being Santa. Like the year we moved into our new house. I was five and I secretly asked Santa for a new swing set. Christmas morning came and presents sparkled under the tree like diamonds, but I ran for the back door to see if the swing set was there. I was heartbroken to find the backyard was completely swingset-less. My parents were just as heartbroken when they learned I had asked Santa to bring the surprise swing set.
Despite the upset, Christmas morning was still a big success. The next day, while playing with all the new toys, I heard my dad in the backyard swearing up a storm. My mother rushed me outside to see what was the matter. My father was pointing at something. There on the roof of our house was a swing set, still in the box, right by the chimney.
“Santa must have been in too much of a hurry to set it up!” My father exclaimed.
I was in awe. It wasn’t until many years later that my parents told me about the ordeal of going out the day after Christmas and finding a swing set, hoisting it up onto the roof, and all the while keeping me distracted. Like I said, my parents excelled at being Santa.
But let me tell you, the elementary school playground is a rough place to be when you’re the last sixth grader who still truly believes. I suffered the slings and arrows of all my classmates who had long ago given up on Santa. But I didn’t care; I had Santa on my side.
Lucky for me the real hazing didn’t take place until right before Christmas vacation started. I usually tried to keep a low-profile with my Santa belief, but somehow I would always let it slip out.
A friend of mine once said, “I want the new Barbie Townhouse with the pull-string operated elevator, but my mom says it costs too much.”
“Santa will bring it to you!” I blurted out, opening myself up to prepubescent ridicule and degradation within seconds.
“You believe in Santa?! There’s no Santa! What are you, four-years-old?!” All the classic taunts along with the prerequisite laughing and pointing—the elementary school equivalent of torches and pitchforks.
I would have to convince them of Santa’s magical presence with logic.
The carrot! Yes, the carrot! My mother had tried to throw away my carrot from last year stating it was a health hazard, but I knew it would come in handy at a time like this, which is exactly why I put it in a ziplock baggie and labeled it, Santa Evidence: Exhibit A. “See, it’s a carrot left over from last year. Here’s where Dasher nibbled it.” No one in their right mind would dare argue with such hard-hitting, irrefutable evidence such as this.
“That’s an old carrot your dog chewed on!” some kid with overactive glands shouted.
Blasphemer! He was surely getting a lump of coal in his stocking this year. But it became clear that a factual approach was lost on these Santa-mockers.
As Christmas drew closer, I had to give up on trying to convince everyone of Santa’s benevolence and focus on my own survival. I was quickly becoming the focus of every kid’s pent up aggression and I had to think of a defense. This is when I really started honing my smart-mouth skills and learned that words really are weapons. It actually wasn’t too terribly difficult to prepare myself for the onslaught of verbal assaults from the kids with IQs half of mine.
“That’s the dumb girl who believes in Santa! Are you going to wait up all night for Santa and see if he brings you diapers, you big baby! If he’s real, why doesn’t Santa come to my house?!” Target acquired. This half-wit was about to be on the receiving end of my newly sharpened tongue.
“Actually, I didn’t ask for diapers. I asked Santa to bring me books because I like to read. I know that’s not a skill you possess but it probably won’t be necessary when you’re forty, balding, and working at the carwash applying Armorall to my tires. As for why Santa doesn’t visit your house, well, I can only assume it’s because your mother drinks too much and the empty Wild Turkey bottles on your front lawn scare the reindeer.”
I never realized how powerful words could be until that very moment. That kid backed away from me and never dared to slander Santa in my presence again.
As it turns out, that was my last year believing in Santa as an actual person. I came to understand that he’s not so much a real person as he is a feeling of excitement and a reminder that a little magic can ignite a whole lot of imagination.