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Daughter

Traditions

Traditions are a part of life, like it or not.

Fireworks

Those that stand out are the basic holiday ones:

  • 4th of July, watching splashes of color light up the once-drab evening sky;
  • birthday parties that always included ice cream cake with purple frosting staining the corners of little mouths;
  • the small tear-away notes that declared sentiments such as “Somebunny Loves You!” during Valentine’s day celebrations at school.

As the parade of our lives marches forward, traditions change; we want so desperately for them to be meaningful. But is that even possible?

We continue taking our children out to the farm to pick out a Christmas tree that’s too big for the den, then put on obnoxiously cheery carols and make hot cocoa with mini-marshmallows in order to set the mood for decorating, only to have the kids quit after 4 minutes. We scream at them to come back in, but they’re too busy circling items for Santa to bring them from the Toys R Us holiday edition catalogue to even notice. We realize that the moment has passed, grumble some inappropriate phrases that coincidentally feature the word “mother,” and resume decorating and spreading holiday cheer solo.

tradition

Ah, traditions.

We buy out every decoration from the party store for New Year’s Eve, promising a night of fun and laughs. We beg our kids to put on their fanciest attire and set out the good china, allowing them to drink their sparkling cider out of the good champagne glasses that need to be hand-washed. The evening ends with the youngest puking all over his dry-clean only sweater, the eldest crying about the color of the plastic bead necklaces, and find ourselves passed out and alone by 9:00.

 

Balloons

Ah, traditions.

We get our kids the cutest leprechaun-themed ensembles and 4-leaf clover headbands available at Target. We use begging, bribery, and force to get them to put said outfits on in time for the parade. We get everybody in the car, then battle traffic to get two towns over. We finally find a parking spot a mere 3 miles away, so we walk to a grassy area and sit, awaiting the festivities. 1.5 minutes into the parade, the smallest child complains about the weather, prompting whining from the eldest. We realize that our patience seems to have vanished and our extremities, too, are numb with cold. Defeated, we lumber back to the car. Maybe we’ll try again next year? cloversAh, traditions.

These “traditions” that we create, born out of love and a smidgen of sentiment, yet dripping with desperation, fail 100% of the time. Why?

We create a picture of what this perfect time will look like: smiles and giggles, love and thanks, happiness and order. In reality though, that isn’t life. When we look back in fondness at the traditions of our childhood, it’s because our brain configures it in such a way that we don’t recall the moment when our sister nearly pulled the hair out of our skull because we stole all of the Peeps out of her Easter basket, or the time the turkey (despite being in the oven for hours) didn’t cook all the way through and we ended up eating pizza for Thanksgiving dinner.

 

snow heartWe remember the snowball fights and dandelion crowns andbeach swimming races and homemade Halloween costumes. We remember the smell of hot chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven at Grandma’s house.

We recall, with fondness, the smiles and giggles, the love and thanks, the happiness and order.

 

Ah, traditions.

Good Enough

The years after college were my most confident.
I was praised at work. I was enthusiastic about trying new things. At the age of 21, I was confident and blissfully happy.
I felt good enough.

When I turned 24, I took on a new teaching job that was a bit out of my element, so I studied. I studied my ass off, and presented to the class what I had learned. It was not easy (especially being amongst the hormonal teens), but I was given confidence by all the people who surrounded me.

I felt good enough.

Around that time, my boyfriend and I moved in together. I felt like I could be myself: silly, quirky, sarcastic. It was like the ultimate sleep-over with my best friend.

I felt good enough.

When I went to graduate school in the evenings, I raised my hand to participate in discussions. I worked hard to get high marks. My work ethic was good, especially when I was 9 months pregnant and couldn’t fit in the attached desks anymore.

I felt good enough.

I had my baby. She had the most perfect ears; I remember staring at the tiny swirl, the bluffs and the miniature valleys that formed an impeccable archetype. She was a good baby, but no matter how many books I poured over, I had no idea what I was doing, and neither did my husband.

I was stay-at-home-mom, wasn’t I supposed to know? Wasn’t that motherly instinct shit supposed to kick in by now?

Her pediatrician assured us that she was thriving: hitting her milestones when she was supposed to, but I still had so many doubts.

I felt just barely good enough.

My new position in life was strange because I hadn’t anticipated it. I wasn’t really sure what to do. Should I vacuum everyday? Make a roast? My mom always worked outside the home, so I didn’t have a model. None of my friends stayed home- they didn’t even have kids yet- so I couldn’t commiserate or ask questions. I was alone.

I strived to feel good enough.

I was blessed with another pregnancy a couple of years later, but without the distraction of work, I could really concentrate on how awful I felt. I was nauseated by every smell, tired in the middle of the day, depressed and more alone-feeling than ever. I withdrew, trying to hide myself behind my belly. I went to doctor’s appointments, my toddler by my side, my husband working extraneous hours to be able to afford another child. Or maybe it was to avoid me. Can’t say I’d blame him.

I didn’t feel good enough.

After my son was born, I felt slightly better, but still something was slightly “off.” I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When the doctors asked me questions, everything seemed jumbled in my head. I couldn’t recall memories correctly. I was frustrated and never felt more dumb. I tripped over my own feet and couldn’t walk in a straight line: My body wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. My new baby was difficult. He screamed while my toddler ran in circles around me, holding her hands up to her ears to block out the noise. I had failed her. I was failing him. I was a failure.

I wasn’t good enough.

My husband left me.

I wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

 

Secret Pleasure

Alone at last…

The embarrassing things that I file away in my personal shame folder are numerous, and I don’t think I have the courage to share them all, but I will say that I have an extraordinary love for 30-minute sitcoms with simple, somewhat fatuous plot lines, reading insignificant “articles” (and I use that term loosely) on the internet, and checking the time-suck that is Facebook every 7 seconds.

Another thing that I’m ashamed to admit is that I LOVE being alone. Like, I’m crazy about it. I’m wild for it.

If alone-time and I were bobbing along in the frigid waters after the crash of the Titanic, I’d probably make some room so it could float along beside me on a broken off piece of door. Just sayin’.

One of the main reasons that I like to keep this pleasure of mine a secret are the many judgements– some of them true- that could be thrown my way upon hearing this truth.

“How selfish- you have children after all!”
“You’ll come to regret that desire to be alone when you really ARE alone!”
“You must take issue with the social norms and customs that should be celebrated, not defied!”

To that I say… well, you got me.

Yes, I am a little selfish. Not always, but I’m a round character, a person who has many aspects of her personality. I am self-centered at times, but I am also warm and giving (or so I’d like to think). I can extend myself to others- especially my kids- because I’ve gotten the chance to be refreshed in my alone times. Think of me as a rechargeable battery.

I am convinced I’ll come to lament about the times I should have cherished in the past. The lack of privacy that comes hand-in-hand with parenting small children, the tiny voices that trail behind you, asking “But, why?” about everything, the enthusiastic morning wake-ups before sunrise. But don’t we always feel a sense of grief about times gone by and pasts that happened far too quickly? Regret is always going to be a definite, even among the happiest of people, so loving my “me time” should come sans guilt.

I’ve found myself with more alone time than ever since my separation, and I think it’s honestly made me a better (and more patient) mom. I went from being “Mommy” all day, every day to having a couple of weekends each month to myself.

I enjoy going to the movies alone; not sharing my popcorn and not compromising on what I’d like to see.
Dining out with only the company of my kindle is a treat, as I can leave whenever the mood strikes me and eat wherever I want.
I take long baths.
I go to cooking class.
I walk around the library.
I attend yoga.
I lay in my bed and watch 30-minute sitcoms with simple, somewhat fatuous plot lines.
I do whatever I want.

I consider this a secret pleasure, because our society makes it seem as though people who desire to be alone should feel ashamed. It is true, however, that being alone- even lonely- at times allows us to appreciate and grow to love the chaos that comes with being together.

“An Absent Detail” Terzo

Introductory, Secondo

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“Hmm…”

I stalled, trying to come up with the perfect thing to say to resolve the situation.

“Let me show you something here on the computer.” We walked over to the desk and I plopped down into the office chair. I signed into my Facebook account and pulled up an old photo that someone had tagged me in from high school.

It was a bit grainy, as pictures of pictures tend to be, but you could still clearly see the group of us girls, arms over shoulders, the lot of us grinning widely. “See that? That’s Mommy.”

“Yes. And is that Aunt Maggie?” she inquired, pointing to a girl who looked absolutely nothing like my sister.

“No, that’s just another girl with blond hair. That’s me my friends after we did a play. That’s Katie, Jen, and Leslie.”

“Wow. Cool.”

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“An Absent Detail” Secondo

Scared

(Continued from Introductory)

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“Mommy! I missed you so much!” She came over and hugged my waist, her 7-year-old scared little hands gripping at my sweatshirt.

What had happened in such a short period of time?

Confused, I looked down at Avery, who still had fistfuls of my clothing. Her voice was muffled as she spoke into my stomach. “I’m really scared, Mommy, really scared.”

I looked over at her little brother, who shrugged. “Can I stay up and watch tv?” He was completely oblivious.

“What happened? Why are you scared?” I tried to peel her off of me so I could hold her at arm’s length. She didn’t say a word.

I looked up at Tayler.

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“An Absent Detail” Introductory

Parenting can be straightforward a lot of times:

“No, you can’t have Oreos for breakfast.”
“Yes, you have to go with the family to Aunt Suzy’s house for her dog’s wedding.”
“Don’t lick your brother.”
“Eat a piece of lettuce, for God’s sake. Just one freaking piece of lettuce!

lettuce detail

I’ve notice that as the kids get a bit older, however, situations become more difficult and parenting becomes more complicated. Last night was a prime example.

“Only 2 and a half hours left!” Avery cried to me from up in her bedroom. “When she gets here, we’re going to pretend to be princesses, then play Jenga, then we’ll color a picture, then I’ll play her the new song I learned on the piano, then we’ll read my new library book, then we’ll-“

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Garage Sale

By 7:45 am, the heat of the day was already overwhelming me.

As though I was carrying a gorilla on my back, its heaviness pushed me down, making my legs weak. I continued to drag the various pieces into the driveway, yelling at my children the entire time,

“No!” 

“Stop!”

“Put that down!”

“Nobody talk to me, I NEED coffee!”

Whose stupid idea was it to have a garage sale anyway? Oh, yeah: Avery. My lovely child, who had already made plans to ditch us and go swimming at the neighbor’s pool.

Chris came over in the morning to help, and was out getting breakfast for the kids at the deli when a few customers came by.

The early-morning-scavengers.
The professional-garage-salers.
The skillful-haggler-types.

I plastered a smile on my already dampened face. “Let me know if I can help you with anything!”

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The Animal Fair

We went to the animal fair
The birds and the beasts were there
The old baboon, by the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair…

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve known the lyrics to this song, though I’ve never really heard them, if that makes sense. I guess I just never listened or paid attention to their meaning. The traditional folk song continues:

The monkey he got drunk
And fell on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and went down on his knees
And that was the end of the monk, yes the was the end of the monk!

When I see the words now, in all their glory, I’m horrified. Did I really listen to my elders sing this jauntily to me? Did I really dance around as it played, laughing and giggling and singing along?animal fair

The fact that I AM horrified, but my parents were not, it begs the question: is my generation coddling our children? I remember my aunt singing this song to Laura and I as we were atizzy in a sea of hysterics. It wasn’t the words that made us shriek and chortle as she sang, it was the silly way Aunt Donna would act it out, flailing her arms about and making funny noises. Nowadays, though, a song like this gives me pause. An intoxicated simian getting crushed to death by his jungle friend? Not necessarily the stuff of a Pottery Barn thematic nursery.

My brain, as per usual, is at an impasse, then.

“Eh; it’s fine. It’s catchy. Stop being such a curmudgeon.”

“If you don’t need to expose your children to such barbarity, why not listen to ‘Baby Beluga’ again. That’s catchy.”

This is where I need advice. I desperately need YOU to weigh in. What is your stance on exposing children to lyrics, literature, to bad language? HELP!!!

Christmas Past, Christmas Future **three**

The Conclusion

“Happy Thoughts”

**one**

**two**

The memory faded and my brain returned to the present, being crushed on both sides by my aggressive seatmates, both determined to be the emperor of the arm rest.

The seat in front of me reclined, making my space even smaller. Row 22, mine, didn’t move back. I suddenly felt as though the oxygen on the plane was getting more sparse, and I half-expected the masks to fall from the ceiling. I slowly filled my lungs with air and blew it out, realizing that I looked like a lunatic to the people seated next to me. Just a couple more hours…

Thinking happy thoughts

I picked up my magazine again, but it was mere moments before my eyes glazed over, and my thoughts began wandering yet again. Once more, it was Christmastime, but this memory was from a few years earlier.

Avery was in her infant swing, giggling as she stared at the colorful lights that adorned the tree. I looked around at the decorations that I had just put up, and silently congratulated myself. Now, to finish ironing the Christmas linens and put the meatloaf in the oven.

I was one housedress away from becoming my grandmother.

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Christmas Past, Christmas Future **one**

C-31 the code on my boarding pass proclaimed. Great, I thought: the cheap seats.

After a long stint Coming home after Christmaswaiting in an organized line for the flight attendant to take said pass, then another wait on the jetway while the passengers in front of me crammed their stuffed-to-capacity-and-then-some carry-ons into too-small overhead compartments, I boarded the aircraft and stood on my tip-toes to view my potential seats.

“Ladies and gentleman, there is a full flight this morning, so please be sure to allow these new passengers access to all the seats in your row,” a nasally woman’s voice came over the loudspeaker.  I noticed a few people who were already seated roll their eyes, huff, or curse under their breath. Sigh.

In a feeble attempt to get myself a seat that didn’t involve being sandwiched between a crying baby and someone who looked like a “talker,” I scanned available openings as I continued to amble down the narrow aisle.

Each time I found a potentially decent place to sit, I was rammed forward by the horde in back of me. Before long, I was given the choice of a middle seat in the back row of the plane, or one on top of the toilet. I chose the former so that I didn’t infuriate the flight attendant.

I began mushing my way into my destined residence in a flourish of body parts and bags and whispered “Excuse me!”s and “I’m so sorry!”s. In order to get to that particular seat, I had to apologize for my very existence.

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