Overcome

(The following in italics is from a memoir project.)

I sit in the kids’ room as they sleep and I think that a bottle of pills and a glass of wine might do the trick. I have plenty of both. But the kids could find me. I could call 911, and unlock the door. Maybe they would get there in time… 

Depression and addiction are terrifying, and hearing of someone’s suicide hits so many of us unwilling warriors in this battle at the bone because we know how the illnesses lie unfailingly and viciously. And the lies they tell–of our worth, our future, our failures, our past–are in our own familiar, trusted voices. Or they are the voices that have resided in our heads so long, we can’t remember when they weren’t there. They sound and feel true. We’re smart; we have no reason to disbelieve.

Just imagine the colossus of pain one would have to be in to leave his or her beloved family. We all love our families. But the lies distract us. The illnesses become stronger over time–as we begin to recognize their subtleties, they are able to morph just enough to fool us again: I thought I was doing better; I really am a horrible, despicable mother. Nothing changed. I’ll never change. I hate my life. The lies don’t announce themselves; they sneak in among our normal thoughts, among our efforts to live in the light. Why can’t I be nicer? What’s wrong with me? Nothing ever works out. They feed on the moments our defenses are weakened by an argument, or a doubt, or perhaps a day with too many clouds, or too much sunshine.

I know only from my experience, and from talking with others, that isolation is what the darkness wants. It wants to get us alone, and, worse, it tells us we want to be alone.

It is a long fight. Its brutality can be measured in years and reappearances: “Unholy ghost,/you are certain to come again,” from Having it Out with Melancholy by Jane Kenyon. If you are fighting, you are brave enough to have looked the darkness down. Do not continue to fight alone.

And many people respond to treatment. Even just enough better for just a little while has often been a victory. And then there are different treatments to try. And others still. For most people, something will work.

I have loved these lines describing a respite from depression, from Jane Kenyon, since I first read her poem twenty-something years ago:

“…and I am overcome/by ordinary contentment.//What hurt me so terribly/all my life until this moment?”

And this is why we beg our friends who are suffering, or seem to be, to get help, to confide in someone, why we push ourselves each day to do the impossible, why we write to unseen strangers–because on the other side, whether it be for a moment or a year or a decade, is the merciful promise of being washed in ordinary contentment.

 

 

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Don’t Say This To My Five Year Old

I have always wanted to write a “What Not to Say” piece–“What Not to Say to Pregnant Women,” “…to New Mothers,” etc. I figured being a mother of twins was my best shot. (I’ve also drafted “10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Fans of the Band Rush.” No one seems interested in this one.)

Who knew that my five-year-old daughter would do most of the work for me, and give me my much-needed blog post.

From her reactions this week, I’ve compiled a list of seven things one is better off not saying to a five-year-old girl. In August. In or near my apartment. You’ve been warned.

Don’t say: “Hi princess!”

Because: Mommy, everyone at camp is calling me a princess! This is the worstest day of my life. (Note: She was wearing a tiara.)

 

Don’t say: Song lyrics of any kind within one foot of her head.

Because: Mommy, Rider, that little boy in camp, was singing in my FACE! This is the worstest day for me.

 

Don’t say: “You don’t need to compare drawings with your sister’s. There is no ‘best.’ I love them both.”

Because: YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE!

 

Don’t say: “Where’s Ellie?”

Because: Mommy, in computers, the counselor asked ‘where’s Ellie?’ and EVERYONE TURNED AROUND TO LOOK AT ME! This is the worstest day of my life.

 

Don’t say: “What do you want for lunch tomorrow? Turkey?”

Because: You never listen to me! OOOOH! I can’t take this anymore.

 

Don’t say: “I think you’re just tired and it’s time for bed.”

Because: You are the worst mother ever and you’re never nice to me! YOU DON’T EVEN LOVE ME! This is the worstest day!

 

Please don’t say: “Well, tomorrow’s another day!”

Because: MOMMY NOOOOO!

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This post originally appeared on Appleseeds blog.

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6 Reasons Camp and Math Don’t Mix

1. I have three children in camp this summer. For six weeks each. That costs one million dollars.

2. My children buy lunch every day at camp. We give each child 10 dollars in the morning. Each comes home in the afternoon with 12 to 37 cents.

3. There is a vending machine at camp that takes “I don’t know how much money,” according to my six year old.

4. We go through 15 towels a week for swimming at camp. How many towels do I own? Nine.

5. One of my children is sometimes chosen “Camper of the Day” and gets a prize for being extra nice to everyone that day. I have two other children who spend four hours trying to beat that child up and take his or her prize.

6. We have three weeks of camp left. But five weeks before school starts. That leaves a difference of three months in “I’m-bored-what-are-we-doing-today-can-we-go-someplace-fun-I-want-my-iPad” time.

 

 

 

 

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Education of a Vacation

“You’re not getting food until the pillow is back on the couch.” My husband stands at the refrigerator in our beach rental.

“YOU’RE NOT GETTING FOOD UNTIL THE PILLOW IS BACK ON THE COUCH,” my five-year-son repeats back.

My husband looks back at me, working on my laptop in the dining room.

“YOU ARE STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!” We are three weeks into our vacation; this is the third leg, third hotel or house. Everyone is staying up late, watching an endless loop of cartoons, and eating sugar by the pound. My son is brinking on another meltdown, lying on the kitchen floor.

He is probably right—we may be out of our minds for having the kids away from home for this long: two weeks in Florida, one day at home so the oldest could finish first grade, and off to the Hamptons for another week. A sort of madness surrounds us like the constant sunshine.

The whining quickly reached a fever pitch. Too much stimulation, excessive Florida heat, and ubiquitous gift shops turned my children into grabbing, saucer-eyed creatures unable to handle “no” or “not now.” Their capacity to consume is dizzying. And we gave up—but not without many fights.

Before our trip, we gave in to buying the three kids iPad Minis so that they would be entertained at the airport and on the plane, and in the car. We thought we were overindulgent and a bit weak for this, rolling our eyes at our own lack of creative solutions–but we saw the necessity. By the time we left Florida, we had acquired extra luggage just for transporting their new toys, princess shoes, character mugs, and (licensed) stuffed animals.

It is very difficult to know what is too much or why with children. Our “quiet” vacation out east was supposed to be decompression from the energy level of theme parks. And it has been that. Until one morning when we went into town for a little shopping and lunch.

The kids all got something they want or need—mostly want—but by the time we headed back to the car, everyone had a loud complaint about how she got fewer items than he did and he didn’t get the one teddy bear he really wanted and she didn’t get shoes when her sister got shoes. My husband threatened to leave them all on the South Fork while we drove back to the city.

I say it is difficult to know what or why is too much because even though my husband and I were horrified at their behavior—which we called “bratty” to their faces—within five minutes in the car they were all asleep, and it was clear how overtired each was.

Even I have reached my limit and miss more familiar surroundings and the comfort of my own things. I don’t know how to use this coffee machine correctly, and my cell phone doesn’t work here. I’ve been grumpy all day this last day, nagging my husband to get out of the hot tub, and complaining about the kids making crumbs and too much noise outside. Outside.

It’s a tremendous undertaking to ask small children to adjust to travel without a few bumps or fits of outrage. It’s unreasonable to expect them to fully understand and always remember their good fortune in being able to vacation at all. It’s even sillier to ask them to do something of which we grownups are incapable.

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This was originally published on Appleseeds blog.

 

Posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, Mental health, New York City Living and Coping, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This Is Childhood Review (and Giveaway!)

It is clear from reading This Is Childhood Book and Journal (Edited by Marcelle Soviero and Randi Olin of Brain, Child Magazine) that each age, from one year to ten years, brings startling changes for both mother and child. These thoughtful essays capture what it is to be still caught in the shadow of the previous year, with the next big changes looming. I mention all the writers here because I could not choose essays over others that best depict the mysteries of childhood; each casts a particular light on the mundane and the magical.

This Is Childhood cover

Galit Breen calls four an age of “betwixt and between”; it is one of many years suspended between what wasn’t and what suddenly is, can be: In “This is Six,” Bethany Meyer writes, “This is the year my third son ran with confidence, his eyes no longer on his feet…”; Tracy Morrison predicts, “…very soon my seven will know more than I do, and will be able to do what I can do”; and to Lindsey Mead, “Ten is a changeling…I see the baby she was and the young woman she is fast becoming.”

What reverberates most poignantly though is that more than childhood, this is motherhood. In her introduction, Lisa Belkin says, “My childhood happened only because my mother says it did.” And this collection of essays and commentary, with its blank spaces for journaling and questioning and sharing, is one of those places we mothers create childhoods.

In a letter to her daughter, Aidan Donnelley Rowley imagines a future eighteen year old eager for details of her one-year-old self: “Soon, you were running and jumping and climbing our stairs and diving triumphantly from the kitchen counter to the family room couch. Fearless!” Childhood is our puzzle to assemble. And within those stories of first words and potty training adventures and uncertain transitions, as Denise Ullem foresees the heartache in the years following nine, “Friends will throw sharp-edged words, mistakes will me made, love interests will choose others,” are the fears and triumphs of mother-storytellers.

There is a transformation that motherhood calls forth, slowly, quickly, comforting and forever challenging us. When her son was three, Nina Badzin could finally let go of the “fear and self-doubt” that had slowed her road to motherhood. Pregnancy, Amanda Magee found, “made so much in life make sense; my body was strong, not big, my intensity was purposeful, not irrational.” We need these childhood stories and words of love and nostalgia, and the memories they evoke to tell our own as women and mothers.

These days, years, these thoughts–they change us at an almost cellular level. This Is Childhood captures only ten snapshots of the years before our children branch off from us–but they capture moments many mothers will recognize. We work endlessly, consulting countless experts to learn how to send our children into the world, but when Kristen Levithan expresses gratitude that “you might not need me as much as you used to, need me you still do,” we understand exactly. With the third kid, Allison Slater Tate says, we are still “wistful and misty,” but repetition is confidence to leave a nervous child at kindergarten. With our children at two or twenty, our identity in motherhood is carved. From its crest, we appreciate all the changing angles of our lives.

{closed}Giveaway! I am so happy to offer three readers a copy of This Is Childhood. To enter, please leave a comment on this post describing a childhood/motherhood moment or memory of your choice. Three winners will be chosen randomly from the comments. Contest ends Sunday, June 22, at 11:59 ET.

I was given a copy of this book for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own.

 

 

 

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Missing Preschool

These are the last days of preschool for us, and I’ve resisted writing about them, embedding them with meaning and sentiment with which I am not sure I am in touch. And then today I took my oldest daughter back to her own preschool classroom to say a hello and a goodbye to the retiring director. It was as I stood in that room, where my daughter had once a cubby, and a rest mat, and had memorized her own address, that I realized with a thud, there would be no more preschool rooms for me. And I wish that weren’t so.

These rooms are not so different from one another—my five year olds attend a different school—the tables and chairs are miniature; the blocks are wooden; art work fills the walls and hangs by wire from the ceiling so low it grazes the tops of parents’ heads; the dress up corner is the most popular. And there didn’t seem to be all that much to miss until now—now that there will be no child of mine in this gentle in-between phase again. These preschool years have been filled with tantrums about clothing, learning to legibly write their names, misunderstood song lyrics, and questions about the exact origin and nature of everything from God to planets to flowers to construction workers. I have watched unsure toddlers disappear into bold and dauntless children. Every moment has tried and fed and defined my soul. And I will never do exactly this again.

My children are looking forward to kindergarten, what they understand of it—and they are ready and prepared in their individual ways. The day will be longer, the class much larger, the expectations worlds greater for them than those of preschool. They will decide where to sit and eat their lunches, and next to which friend. They will decide who is a friend. It is what happens now, and we’re melting with joy at the possibilities ahead. I’ve waited for mothering three small children to “get easier,” and this is when it does. But I am not ready for these young and simple years to be over.

I bought a lady bug backpack and a Thomas the Train backpack out of sweet, adoring irony two years ago, laughing as they zipped toy cars and dolls and hair brushes in and carried them off. Sometimes we put their snacks in there for the day. Next year, the school supplies for kindergarten cost almost a hundred dollars. Each child knows exactly what kind of backpack, lunch box and water bottle he or she wants. They tell me what to order “on the computer.” And I do it. Because this stage too, is enormous; their opinions are outstanding and always surprising us.

We will be out of town the day of their “moving up” ceremony at preschool. They will miss that and the entire last week of school for a family trip. I was feeling sad and very guilty about this—that they and we wouldn’t have these memories of the last official day of preschool, the pictures of the ceremony, the special outfits for the day, the hugging of other parents with wet eyes. And now at the end of the year, I think it may be better to leave for vacation early, saying goodbye to their classroom, still decorated with drawings and paintings, and their friends still seated around the miniature tables, as if any of us could possibly return to this place again.

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This post was originally published on Appleseeds blog.

 

Posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, Mental health, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A Review of the Bronx Zoo by Molly

This is a review by six-year-old Molly; it was a school assignment. The second part of the assignment was for parents to post the review online (or at least type and print the review). For months, Molly’s was lost among the papers at my work space (I thought I had recycled it); she was very upset. Molly is an imaginative and thoughtful writer, and I’m so pleased to feature her first review on my site. 

photo-2Do you want to go to a zoo? Let’s go!

But be careful! The animals can bite.

You can see all sorts of animals at the zoo. Let’s go to the Bronx Zoo!

My favorite animal the Bronx Zoo is the red panda because it is red and because it is so cute. I would like to pet a panda.

When should you go? On weekends.

They have this slide that is in a tree. I have slid on it a lot of times. It may have stairs or a ladder. The slide is all open. It will be bright at the slide.

You can drive to the Bronx Zoo. Or you can take some other stuff. For example, maybe a taxi. I do think you can take an express bus, the BxM11; or subway.

I think the Bronx Zoo is better than the Central Park Zoo because it’s cool and fun. I think it’s better because my mommy used to work at the Bronx Zoo. It is also better because it has an exciting children’s zoo.

I give the Bronx Zoo five stars.

 

 

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