Posts Filed Under I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING HERE.

life is a stuffed seal at show-and-tell

by renegademama

So I’m obviously not over the whole stuffed seal thing (which I briefly mentioned in this post). And here’s why: I never have even an inkling of a clue of how to handle shit like that, so when it comes up, it lingers. It stays. Until it goes. And then, it comes back again.

Here’s how it happened.

As a souvenir from Santa Cruz, Rocket chose a big, stuffed white seal, with huge, sweet dark eyes. It was a simple toy. But Rocket loves his “stuffies.” He zeroed in on it immediately and for him it outshined every toy in the place (and believe me, we checked them ALL out). He carried it with him the rest of the day. He slept with it in the car on the way home. He slept with it in his bed. He had it in his arms ready to go on Monday morning, first thing, popping out of bed, elated to share it with his class for show-and-tell day. It was visibly excruciating for him to have to leave the seal at home to wait for Tuesday to come (when it’s actually show-and-tell day)..but when it did, man, the little guy’s excitement was undiminished. He bounced out of bed (“today I get to share my seal”) – got dressed in record time – ran to the front door of his school. All because of the seal. So excited to share.

That night as I was giving him his bath I suddenly remembered show-and-tell…excitedly I said “Rocket! I forgot! How was show-and-tell today?”

It was as if my words themselves pierced him. He was almost startled by the hurt. His face contorted suddenly into sadness. His eyes looked down. His mouth fell. His whole body shrunk.

And I fell with him, asking him “oh baby, what happened?”

And he answered “Nothing,” which is what he does and it kills me every time because how can he be only five and already protective of himself and closed off and fearful? But it’s what he does when something really hurts.

 So I knew it was a tough one.

 But I pulled and tugged a little then a little more (“please tell me what happened”) – trying to wrap him in warmth and safety as I wrapped his little body in a towel.

He looked at me with those freckles across the bridge of his nose and eternal blue eyes and said “They didn’t even think it was cute.”

I could feel something turn my insides upside down into a confused knot of rage, protectiveness, sorrow and insane empathy – oh little man I’ve been there. I know that pain. That rejection. I saw him standing there at the front of the class, excited in that wild, abandoned, fearless way only innocent little ones get excited and I saw his hopeful eyes looking around the class, waiting, for a comment, a smile, a moment of recognition. Some kindness. Some connection.

And finding none. And realizing you’re a damn idiot, standing there in front of everybody holding a fucking stuffed seal – wishing they’d see the beauty in it – perceive what you perceive – thinking for a moment these people may “get you,” – that maybe we’re connected after all…and realizing you’re a damn fool for putting yourself out. For trying. For exposing yourself like that to a room full of goddamned distant assholes.

Maybe I should have said that to him. But I didn’t.

 I didn’t know what to say. So I asked “What do you mean?” hoping to buy some time for the brilliant mother response to enter.

 “They didn’t even think it was cute. They said it was a girl toy. Jason brought in a dinosaur toy and they said that was ‘cool’ but nobody liked my seal.”

Ah, fuck you, motherhood, for making me the person responsible for saying just the right thing to this boy in this moment. Fuck you for making ME the person to set it right. To teach and guide him. To make this situation okay. And fuck you for abandoning me in my moment of need.

You don’t help me. You only made me a mother. You only made me a child’s whole world. You never told me how to be that world – how to be that mother. how to not hurt. how to make the pain subside.

So without a single tool I’m left with just me.

Always, just me.

And I got nothin’.

The canned mother response flashes through my mind… “Oh honey, the important thing is that you like the seal. We don’t care what the other kids think.”

But I couldn’t say it. because it’s just such bullshit. It’s just such crap.

Because we do care. Of course we fucking care. I’m not going to insult him with meaningless 1950s sit-com responses.

Though I have no other ideas.

So I don’t say anything. I bury my face in his warm clean neck and kiss his head and hold him as tightly as I can and I feel that pain that is his pain and the pain that is powerlessness.

Because it isn’t about a damn seal. It isn’t about having tough skin or learning to hold one’s own in the world or be a man or respond to others appropriately.

It’s about dealing with the pain that is existence and the pain of this moment with acceptance and courage and a little faith that it’ll be alright on the other side. And I want to give him tools to face that pain squarely but who am I to do so? When I spent so many years hiding in a whiskey bottle – so many years mumbling “nothing” – tearing my stuffed seal into tiny worthless shreds, too terrified to admit that I loved it. That I thought it was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. That I wanted you to think so too.

So REALLY. Who am I to give him these lessons?

Well, his mother, I guess.

watching the sun set over the ocean...wonder what he's thinking.

22 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | April 28, 2011

and then this one time, I got my kid to T-ball practice

by renegademama

One of the reasons I started writing this blog is that simple, “normal” parenting tasks – ones that other people seem to complete with relative ease – completely overwhelm me. They floor me. I gotta have an outlet for this confusion, lest I finally determine that I am, in fact, fatally maladjusted and ill-equipped for life, and give up entirely.

For example: extracurricular activities. I don’t get those. I mean, I “get” them: it’s the stuff kids do outside of school.

But I don’t get them – like, how to DO THEM.

One, maybe. Extracurricular Activity. Not plural. No plural around here.

Each kid gets one.

Yeah, I know. Bad mother.

But you gotta understand the situation here. I am genuinely impressed with my parenting skills when each one of my kids is involved in a single extracurricular activity. Except Georgia. Georgia gets boob. That’s her activity.

And I’m not kidding. I feel like an over-achieving, June-Cleaver-emulating, Martha-Stewart-weeps-in-the-corner-when-she-sees-me-coming bad ass when I get Ava to softball practice. And if I’m on time? Whoa. Hold up. Somebody’s on FIRE.

I think about this sometimes when I see other people’s kids doing freaking everything. Tennis lessons, Girl Scouts, violin lessons, French lessons, karate, earth-appreciation camp, junior democrat camp, social justice grammar school league (okay I made those last two up). And I don’t get it. Do their parents have chauffeurs? Do they have house boys (I have no idea what that is, but I think I want one.). Have they discovered 5 additional hours in the day, perhaps hiding under the armoire? Are they self-employed? Are they independently wealthy? Is there something wrong with me? (well, yes, Janelle. We’ve been over that. Now move along).

I mean COME ON I can hardly get my kids to SCHOOL each day, let alone optional character-building activities.

I think it’s a bit unreasonable to set those kind of expectations.

I mean pretty much the only reason my kids make it to school every day is because I’ll get arrested if I don’t take them and I really need them to leave the premises for awhile, so I can gather my strength to face the upcoming after-school extracurricular. I can’t believe I just said that out loud.

These things sound okay on paper. Like T-ball for example. Sounds innocuous, right?. Little kids, uniforms, balls, dirt, tees. One practice on Thursdays. One game on Fridays. Yeah, alright. I’m in. It’ll be fun.

Oh NO it won’t.

They didn’t tell you that the practice is at 4pm on Thursdays, so unless you’re a stay-at-home-mom, it’s a virtual act of God to get a kid moved from school to the park at 4pm on a Thursday – which means you’ll spend every Wednesday (when it occurs to you with a pang of sorrow that tomorrow is Thursday and thus T-ball practice) calling grandparents and distant relatives and old friends who hate you, begging them to help. Games at 6pm on Fridays? Alright. Manageable. But it isn’t just a game. It’s a game that requires particular clothing, meaning you will first have to locate this clothing (“Rocket WHY are your baseball socks tied to the dog kennel in the neighbor’s yard?”) and quite possibly wash that clothing (which of course is optional. But locating them? Not optional.). And then there’s the gear. (“Where the F is the mit?”) AGAIN. And of course we’re trying to eat food before the game so nobody starves, in addition to trying to dress Rocket in a baseball uniform that doesn’t exist (while he’s rolling on the floor in hysterics after trying to lick his sister, who is now screaming because her privacy’s been violated and she has homework and doesn’t want to go the game at all and NOBODY EVER CARES ABOUT HER EVENTS!) and it’s cold on the field so dress appropriately (but “I HATE UNDERSHIRTS MAMA!”) and the baby went to the bathroom for the 3rd time today, right now, so I’m yelling at Mac to handle it but he’s making food and I’m wrestling kids. And everybody’s reeling and WHY? Why is my life sucking so badly at 5:45pm on a Friday?

Because of the damn extracurricular activity.

I know what you’re thinking. Plan better, Janelle. Make a schedule. Organize your life. Use a calendar for goodness sake. Act like a grown-up.

But the problem is, I can’t do that either.

I put things in my Blackberry calendar then never look at it again. Or I write things on the family calendar then fail to realize that today is the day indicated on the calendar. Yes, I do these things. This is me.

Hello. My name is Janelle and I am inept.

We don’t plan. We avert disaster.

Maybe my kids will resent me one day because they only got to do one thing at a time. And that’s okay. I do what I can. And once they have their own kids, suddenly facing their own limitations, they’ll realize with perfect clarity that I did the best I could, with the tools I had at the time.

Or didn’t have. As the case may be.

 

Hey kids! I have an idea. Let's watch T.V. in a cardboard box instead of doing extracurricular activities!

beginning to see why people home school

by renegademama

What part of this am I missing?

Somebody explain to me how competition is useful in grammar school. I don’t get it. Or maybe I’m just too emotional or protective. I don’t know.

We went to my daughter’s “science fair” last night. All the kids had displays of their science projects, which they had worked on for weeks. They were all very proud, parading their parents around to all the boards, showing them whose was whose, especially highlighting their own, of course. My daughter was proud of her work and loving that we were at her school. It was fun. Well it was fun until the principal informed us that they would be “announcing the science fair winners” in a few minutes.

Wait. What? Why?

Why do we need ‘winners?’ Why does it have to be a competition? How do you judge the independent efforts of a 3rd grader? How do you judge learning and exploration? And more importantly, why would you place them in a competition they are not emotionally ready to handle? Are these competitions for the child or are they for the over-engaged parents?

And if you must have a competition in 3rd grade, at least give the kid a CHOICE of whether or not she participates. This was a mandatory school project –that’s getting judged? So wrong on so many damn levels.

After seeing the other science projects, with their super complex presentations and perfectly aligned poster boards and color-coordinated everything and other obvious contributions by parents, I felt like saying to Ava “check it out. You aren’t going to win, little one. You aren’t going to win because daddy and I have the strange and radical opinion that kids should do their own work, without help or input of parents beyond subtle suggestions and hints, when the kid is stuck and explicitly asks for it. Consequently, your project looks like it was done by a 9-year-old.”

So the principal walks to the front of the room and all the kids with their hopeful, bright eyes and the parents – some looking intent and serious, others, like us, looking like we’re about to vomit – and she announces “first, second and third place” winners. I glance at Ava.

Her eyes burn red. She’s trying not to cry.

Half the room is trying not to cry.

And I run to her, torn as usual: wanting to cradle her but wanting her to learn that the world is a rough messed up place. Wanting her to fight her own battles, wanting to beat the principal and the fucktard PTA mom judges to listless, bloody pulps. So I say “Ah, baby. Let’s talk about it in the car,” hoping the walk across the parking lot will shed some light on it…give me the right words to say…give me just the thing to make her feel okay, to teach her the perfect lesson for this particular experience and make it all okay.

But I got nothin’.

As usual I flounder and struggle and try to explain that it doesn’t mean her project wasn’t great. It only means that a few people thought it wasn’t as great as the others…and it doesn’t matter what they think and who the hell are they to judge and they have their own motives, etc. etc. But she’s not an idiot. What’s the take away for her? What’s the ultimate message? Mine was not as good as the others. Mine didn’t win.

Period. End of story.

My project was not as good.

I am not as good.

And the pride she felt a few moments earlier vanished. And suddenly hers was second-rate and she was silly to hold our hands and parade us around. Because it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t a winner. The important people said so. There’s no ribbon on mine. Therefore, I lose.

Please somebody tell me how that’s helpful?

Because even if she were to win, what would she have then? An over-inflated sense of ego and superiority derived from an arbitrary judgment of irrelevant individuals. A feeling of success because other people approved of her work. Why not value the process? The journey. The fact that she did this work by herself and she did a good job. And that is enough in itself.

There is a place for competition. When a person is ready to compete. When a person is emotionally prepared to handle the loss. When a person can separate herself from the outcome, knowing a competition doesn’t define her value as a person.

But not now. Not in 3rd grade. Not when it’s all wrapped up in one.

What did I ultimately say?

“Ava, remember that Townes Van Zandt song… ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down?’ Well, this is exactly what he was talking about.”

Then I called my mom and told her about the bastards, and tried not to let them get me down either.

when in doubt, ask yourself...

does walmart sell bieber?

by renegademama

So…remember this post? The one where I got all self-righteous about my kid’s impressive musical taste and how great a mother I am for introducing her to good music and blocking her from mainstream crap, etc., etc.? Well, as per usual, in the perfect symmetry of my life, wherein every time I think I have an area of parenting dialed, something happens almost immediately that sends me right back to the parenting time-out chair, I now stand corrected and am currently removing a size 11 foot from my mouth (which used to be a size 10, by the way, until I had Georgia – why the hell do feet grow during pregnancy? Does everything have to grow during pregnancy?). Sorry. I’m focusing.

Here’s what happened.

We’re about to leave for school on Wednesday: chaos, baby screaming in her car seat while Rocket “helps me” by buckling her in (bad plan, FYI) – I’ve got seventy five bags of critical items, I’m pissed off and irritable and questioning the purpose of life as I do every morning while trying to get to school and work, and Ava looks at me very seriously with a little fear in her eyes (smart kid) and says, “Mama, what would you think if I liked Justin Bieber? Is liking Justin Bieber bad music taste?”

And my whole world stops.

It stops because I hear the faintest quiver in my daughter’s voice and see her vast blue eyes seeking my approval so earnestly and hoping I’m proud of her and I see a little insecurity in her posture, some hesitance, caution, and I know it took guts for her to say that to me, that she was worried I would judge her or make fun and she just wants to please me so badly as usual and shit that breaks my heart. I ask “well, do you like Justin Bieber? And she says quietly “well, I kinda do.”

And once again in the face of my child I see myself clearly for just a moment, see the way my ego has backfired once again  – in trying to “teach” her good music taste, in being overly vocal about what’s good and what sucks, I scared her into doubting her own tastes. The message I sent was “like what I like” not “like what you like and screw what other people think” (which is what I meant to be saying).

Hello, my name is Janelle. And I am a fucktard.

Here I am judging the hell out of people who limit their kids’ exposure to music by only playing mainstream crap because it’s “appropriate” (okay I stand by my previous assertion that that is lame), while I am doing the same thing just in another direction: only exposing my kids to certain types of music because I think it’s “good.” I have inadvertently shoved my ideas on her so forcefully that she feels afraid to pursue her own tastes because maybe mama won’t think it’s “cool.” Whah, I hate mothering.

What I should be doing is introducing her to all types of music, without judgment, keeping my own ego intact, allowing her to explore freely and find her own way rather than mirror mine.

But it’s just so hard.

What I want for my children is freedom. I want them to be free to be themselves. But I just can’t seem to help forcing myself on them, even though my intentions are good, even though I think I’m “helping” them or “showing them the way.” I need some humility. I need to back the hell off. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I believe the most enduring and powerful gift I can give my children is the confidence and ability to be exactly who they are no matter what, especially in the face of those who may judge them. Basically, in the face of assholes like me.

So tonight, when Ava gets home from school, she’ll have a new Justin Bieber CD on her pillow, with a note from her mom that says “I can’t wait to listen to this with you!”

And I’ll swallow another gallon of my overflowing well of pride, and try to do better next time.

14 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | February 25, 2011

dude, Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven over this shit

by renegademama

I usually only feel sorry for myself on Sundays, but today is clearly an exception. I have no reason to feel sorry for myself. In fact, my life is so good that if anything actually bad happened to me, I’d probably combust spontaneously due to shock and confusion. Today is just one of those days when I fail to find meaning in motherhood and the whole exercise just feels long and monotonous and silly and boring and I don’t find it deep or joyous or wonderful or even fun and what I want is for my life to be about me again. Just me.

I’m aware that what’s in it for me? is not an effective mothering principle, but I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m too selfish for motherhood. Sometimes (like right now) my selfishness catches up with me and I find myself seriously wondering if anybody would notice if I just ducked the hell out – moved to the Caribbean and started over, when nobody was looking.

Do you ever feel like a mouse running on a wheel?

I do. But more like a mouse with amnesia. Or an idiot mouse. A mouse who looks up at the wheel ahead of him, fixates on one spot and says “as soon as I get there, things are going to be different,” forgetting that he’s already been there, that it’s all the damn same and no matter how promising it looks, once he gets to that spot, he’ll look around and realize not a goddamn thing has changed. New day. Same wheel. And he’s still a mouse. And this is still his wheel. Things won’t be different, not tomorrow. Or in a year.

I’m not fulfilled. There’s so much undone and incomplete and this isn’t all of me. It just isn’t. It’s not enough. There was going to be more. It wasn’t long ago when I was sure there was going to be more.

The other day I was talking to Ava about working hard and focusing and not fucking up your life and I realized I was giving her the “don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made” speech. How is it that my mistakes have been made? I want to go back to my early twenties, when I was still actively making my mistakes rather than reflecting on them morbidly. When did I reach the other side, where my parents and old people live?

When did my dreams fade into helping my kids realize theirs?

When did my life become so damn defined?

When the hell did I grow up?

And why am I not where or who or what I envisioned when I was a little girl and my mother told me not to make the mistakes she made. And I looked at her with pity, a hint of disgust and the ever-present there’s-my-mama adoration, 100% fully convinced that it would never be me because I’m learning from her and how is it that people ever just screw up their lives anyway? I mean shit, it’s all so simple when you’re nine or twelve or sixteen or twenty-three. And you’re young and beautiful and FREE and you’ll never be too old to change things, redirect, make a new plan.

I’m not even old. I’ll be 32 next month.

But I’m old enough to know that life crashes forward in wild hideous abandon, whether or not I’m paying attention. And damnit sometimes I just feel STUCK– watching the world roll by and me, on my wheel, trying desperately to get to some spot that doesn’t exist, where my dreams are realized and I’m the person I always wanted to be. But there are kids to raise and babies to nurse and mortgage to pay and weight to lose and there’s fear and I’m so tired and I should just be happy serving these children. But I’m not. Not always.

Today I got to work and my colleague for some reason told me about the day the chaplains came to her house to tell her that her son had been killed. As if she knew I was feeling sorry for myself, even though I was doing so silently, in my characteristically immature self-centered way.

And I feel like a shithead for complaining.

At the same time I hear Langhorne Slim singing to me, his words like a banner across my mind: “I’ve had it better than some and i know that i shouldn’t complain – though my grandfather told me once that all pain hurts the same.”

Ah, fuck it. I’m going to bed. It will be better tomorrow.

11 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | February 9, 2011