Thursday, April 24, 2014

Impossible Era of Lonely

At the end of the day, I am shocked that my husband does not come bounding through the door with an ample bouquet of rescue dogs, a masseuse, and two personalized picture albums from Shutterfly.  Absolutely stunned.  I survived the bedlam of filling hours with life-altering decisions, mind-numbing responsibility, chronic worry, and brushing Sadie's teeth.  Are my battle scars not visible? Why dost thou not weepest at the sight of me!?

Nary a shoulder rub, witty repartee, or mere mention of scalding Epsom bath?  Hell hath no fury like an exhausted mother.

But no.  My tired knight returns to sort through mail, clean up the already cleaned-up counters, and ask what we're "doing" for dinner.

{Usually I'm trying to cook is what we're doing.  I'm attempting to combine ingredients everyone hates to make a meal nobody will eat.  That's what we're "doing" for dinner.}

And there again, I stand alone, with mine own self importance.

It's just that we do deserve that royal treatment.  Really we do.  Where you do your working is irrelevant.  An office, fields of clover, cloffice, gym, shady parking lot, Panera Bread table, we ALL deserve red carpets and sacred goddess names.  Demi-Luna's already taken.

We mother (and/or father) from sunup to sundown.  We wife (and/or husband) when we remember to shave our knee caps (and/or brush our teeth. Boys.  Seriously, just brush your damn teeth, that's all it takes).  We friend all afternoon through FB likes and choppy texts.  And not for one stretch of 32 consecutive minutes do we ever stop catering, nursing, administering, peacemaking, vet teching, volunteering, mind-reading, over-analyzing, bargain shopping, food prepping, dish scrubbing, laundry piling, and self-burying.

Oh yes, we die every day so that others can live.  No, I don't consider that hyperbole because that is exactly what we do and I have frown lines, gray hair, and big words I can't remember how to spell or say anymore to prove it.

We sacrifice our once youthful bodies, once agile mind, and any hope of pretty fingernails for our families and we have not one tricep muscle as reward.  There are no meetings with upper management to discuss a pay increase.  No free croissants in the break room.  Maybe a slurp of someone's leftover OJ if you're a saver.

The problem with expecting praise, purple hearts, and acknowledgement (in that order) is that what we do is typical.  We are not doing anything legions of other people haven't done for eons before us.  Nobody is a Three Star General Parenting or Dr. Decision Maker, M.D.  We are all the norm.

Regular people sometimes choose to parent.  Moms often opt to mother.  Dads do execute fathering.  Again, nothing to write home about because it's all been done before.

But I've noticed something.  In reading blog "confessionals," talking to my mom friends, observing status updates on social networks I've noticed a disheartening trend:  Parents are beyond tired.  They're sad  They're lonely.  They're clinically depressed.  They're on medication.  They're begging for help without asking for it.

This is not a good epidemic to sweep over our great nation.  It's a very scary one.

You see, no matter who you are or where you are, children always have you starting your life over from scratch with nothing but a box of broken crayons and some chapstick.  It's an impossible feat with an everyday title.

And every single one of us tell ourselves it's entirely possible to do alone.  To do with a full time job.  To do with a part time job.  To do while maintaining a hobby.  To do while the spouse is deployed or just gone for other reasons.  To do without any family close by.  The truth is that it's not possible.  Oh, you can get away with this way of living for a while.  But let me be the first to piss off the Type As (myself included) and declare that yes, at some point, someone's gonna give.  And it's not gonna be the two-year-year-old.

I don't know how we got here.  How Americans arrived at the notion that Having it All means Doing it Alone and Never Sitting Down but we're here.  And it's not working out so well for the either parent.

But we are trying.  We are also surfacing and quietly admitting we need help.  We are cleansing, vitamin ODing, CrossFitting our asses off to get by.  But I see the trend so clearly in all we write, say, or purposely leave out.  We are ashamed that we cannot keep up with all of status quo.   We hide that we'd rather sleep all day than volunteer at our 1st graders Mardi Gras parade. We can't even think about Girls Night Out because there is a tub of brownies in the fridge calling our name.  It's no wonder divorce rates are up for families of young children.  You can forget about Date Night.  Or even snuggling on the couch.  Exhaustion makes for very bad foreplay.

Parents are beyond tired.  We are expecting the impossible of ourselves.  Every day.

Not sure how this ever became a way of life.  Are we are the first generation to really expect have it all and have it away from our family's support network?  If there was ever a system to fail, it was believing only two people can do the work of five:   one person go to work for 10-12 hours a day to make a life, then one more other person to do the rest.

And yet, most of us never realize we have a choice at all.

Parenting this way isn't always awful.  En mass, we seem to strap on our capes and get things done.  But it does take creativity and daily humbling of oneself to ask for help.  That's a toughie.  Why would we ask a stranger for help with our own family needs?  Because we no longer have our own family as an option, that's why.

So, am I wrong to expect flowers at the end of every work day?  Insane maybe but not wrong.  We are all worthy of that effusive greeting and teenage embrace.  We all deserve it.

Even the husband bounding through the door without masseuse or that precious geriatric greyhound I want to hold tight. Because, whether I can see them through his uniform or not, he has battle scars too.  Just as many as I do.

And if there's nobody walking through the door at night for you after the sun falls and your baby awakens?  Your scars run deeper than mine and your soul is so very weary.  Please, pick up the phone and ask for help.  Your friend won't turn you away.

Sometimes we have to build our village one phone call at a time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Chorus for Him - My Messy Beautiful

"Do you hear that, Hon?" I can tell it's a question my 90 year old grandfather does not really want to ask.  

"What is it?  What am I listening for?"  I answer him, worried but selling curiosity.

"Tell me what you hear."  He isn't giving me any hints.

So we stand in the hallway of his room, tilting our heads like cockapoos and bending our ears toward the walls.  I hear nothing.

"Is it your radio?"  When he isn't enjoying his beloved silence, my grandfather listens to his radio with an earpiece so he can sleep at night.  Or maybe instead of sleeping at night.  Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy are some of his favorites.  I try not to hold that against him.  At a very young age, I know I'll have to wait to move out before getting anything pierced, tattooed, or dyed purple.

"Not my radio, I turned off all electronics."

"Birds chirping outside?  Maybe squirrels on our roof?"

"No, no.  It's something else,"  he says, discouraged.   His misty blue eyes narrow at me, he is worried too.

We go on and on like this until my dear grandmother comes in to his room to ask him to leave me alone.  She is always peacekeeping and alleviating hurt.  She feels the tone of my voice without hearing any of our words and she asks him to leave me alone so I am not a part of this sadness.  A part of his dying.

But I won't have it any other way.  I won't leave him.

I was very young when my grandparents took my little family in years ago. They never gave us a time limit or a date when we needed to be out.  They accepted all of us:  our laundry, our dog hair, our cat hair, and a volcanic upheaval to their typical orderly way of life.  It had been years since their immaculate home saw a diaper or a crumb.  He was a retired Brigadier General in the Army and she was his classy and hardworking officer's wife.  There wasn't even dust on the floorboards.

Oh, but how quickly we changed all that!  After years of having us live with them, they endured not only cities of crumbs but also:  busted garage windows, rundown mailboxes, teenage meltdowns, astronomical grocery bills, stray animals, ER visits, flooded basements (from washing machine overuse, no doubt), chauffeuring duties to school/work/orthodontist/school dances, and more stress and worry than two people over 68 should ever have to bear.


So when my grandfather, whose legs had already begun to swell, asks me to listen to the sound he is hearing, I listen hard.  I want to hear it, too.

"What do you think it is?"  I can hear nothing but my grandmother humming.

"Well, it sounds like..." He really doesn't want to say, "like...a chorus?  Far away."

"You mean a symphony?" I try to negotiate syntax knowing he listens to classical music from time to time but never choral.  

"No.  It's definitely singing.  Many people singing.  A chorus.  And I think it's just for me."

It's happening.  We don't have more time.  All these years of together, how do I say it all?  How do I tell him all my heart has to say?

My grandfather had a spiritual upbringing in his youth but had been a pretty devout atheist much of his later life.  When asked about his stance on God he would tell me by trade, he is foremost a scientist (doctor), and therefore his beliefs are based on proof.  As a smitten granddaughter, I followed suit with a more agnostic tone.  For me (and I suspect for him, too, all along) I reserved the right to change my mind if ever I felt I should.

"It's getting louder, Baby.  You still can't hear it?"

"No, I really wish I could, but I can't."  He knows what I mean.  For the first time, I can see there are tears in his eyes too.  I push mine away.  I want him to know I am strong enough to stay with him.

"Are you afraid?"  I ask, shooting straight from the hip like always.

He looks down at a body that is failing him.  "A little."

With that, I hold his hand and stop hiding my tears.

"I'm so sorry I can't go with you,"  I erupt like a ridiculous lovesick girlfriend leaving her boyfriend for an out-of-state university.

"Wow," he is distracted,  "it's almost annoying it's so loud now,"  and we both laugh.

"Do you think...' I start,  "do you think those are...angels singing?"

All my life he is the logical, practical, authoritative, and respected figure of our household.  Nobody wants to disappoint him and everyone wants to make him proud.  I am not so sure my last ditch effort to throw in heaven-speak is going to be met with anything but disdain from the man who needs proof before all.

"Well, hell," he says looking up at me with that Jimmy Stewart grin.  "I don't see why not.  Nothing else makes sense.  It's like nothing I've ever heard, Honey.  I cannot believe this is all for me.  But WOW is it beautiful..."

I close my eyes and hold his hand.  We have nothing more to discuss.


My grandfather did not live many more hours after hearing "the chorus."  We did, against his will and in a panic, call the ambulance to have him hospitalized, hopeful that maybe medicine would let him stay with us longer. It bought us one more day and night.  He passed with his family by his side.  Ever since that afternoon described above, I have no trouble believing in what I cannot prove.  I have no doubt the chorus he was hearing really were angels coming for him.  Just for him.  I was there and I couldn't hear them.  Only he could.  And apparently they were annoyingly loud.  

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

(If you've never been introduced to Momastery, please click the link above to see what all the fuss is about.  Glennon is the bomb diggity of compassionate souls doing good for others wherever she can.  It's exhausting.  She's exhausted.  Imagine never being able to turn off your ache to make the world better.  I have it too but am able to turn mine on and off between noon and 10pm.  Go see Momastery, it's like nothing else you've ever experienced.  Heaven on earth for people like me.  And maybe you, too?)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bringing Him Forward

I had it made as a kid.   Our house was overflowing with the kind of energy that sustains greenhouses and colonies of happy puppies.  It was a sitcom of ages.  Three generations living under one roof.  All parenting done by the person standing in the kitchen at the time;  whomever was closest to the fridge.  Every one of us was at some point the mom.  We each found Tylenol for the other at 2am and a cold washcloth from the same white-chipped metal doors.  All six of us were eventually the dad.  Broken curfews were met with locked doors and bolted windows.  Plenty of us were the children.  It's a pretty sh*tty night of sleep in the back of a Chevrolet.

We had the slow and wise patriarch - grandfather as he checked that windows, doors, and hormonal teenage grandchildren were locked in for the night.

We had the bountiful love of our matriarch - grandmother whose food preparations, constant laundering, and perpetual light singing was the soundtrack of all those good years.

We had a witty and beautiful maiden (my mom) sleeping downstairs by 7pm because she was up with the mosquitos for work in the city.

We had sheer strength and sweet impulsivity of my uncle Jimmy who walked out of his bedroom room playing air guitar with no less than three cats perched on his shoulders.

We had boyish dirt bikes, Samantha Fox posters, and the wafting of Drakkar Noir as my brother flew out the door to meet up with his girlfriend.

We had it all.

The days became months became years and as time so often does, our courses trickled away from home.  Even still, we returned (to live, to visit, to listen to Cat Stevens on the record player) all the time and surged on as pulsing arteries from the same beating heart.

You can't forget a past like that.  You don't want to.

My grandparents have been gone for twelve years yet I still measure out water and oil with my grandmother's Fire-King measuring cup.  So I can hear her singing.   Nobody has been allowed to tune their piano because I haven't wanted it opened up just yet.  Preserving my sacred..

A few Guideposts and an old leather coaster sit atop my grandfather's circular gold-in-lay table from his time serving in India.  Whittled from an artist's hand and crafted so well it has withstood seven of my own military moves.

All these things are just things but I won't leave them yet.  I will bring them all forward with me for as long as I can.   Roots grow stronger as they spread.

Today is the year anniversary of Jimmy's death.  Those words together still look preposterous.  As if anything could ever make him gone.  Not a chance in this imprinted heart of mine.  I will bring him forward with me, in the way I skip dinner, open doors for children, sing when people are crying, and work on behalf of those who need someone.  Nothing will ever change that.  Not even death.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Swimsuit Solace

It's time to discuss something I've been avoiding like the dentist.  Swimsuit weather.  While most of the US is still under winter weather advisories, the freaking pool is open here in Louisiana.  To curb your jealousy, I need you to know there are snakes swishing their serpentine bodies through my backyard.  I can't see them but my dogs and I know they're there.  Trade off for not having to shovel snow or bang my head against the pantry for the gazillionth school closing.  

So yes, swimsuit weather is upon us.  

I take issue with the whole idea we need to reveal our pasty underly areas after a toasty and well fed winter. Who's idea was this?  

"You know what?  I haven't seen your hip flesh yet, neighbor.  Let's sidle up to each other in a lounge chair and feign natural conversation in our waterproof underwear.  Don't worry, I can barely make out your areolas. 


"I'm SO tired of holding in my stomach all day.  It is high time I let that puppy flop over an unforgiving elastic waistband with a crowd of my most active peers. Can't wait!"

Seriously.  Why do we insist on maintaining this antiquated tradition of showing off our vulnerables by way of cups that never fully cup and bottoms that have most likely become see-through upon exiting the stairwell. I'm just asking you all to avert your eyes while I scamper toward my towel, please.  

My daughter cannot wait to go to the pool.  She loves it.  She has no worries about her body staying in place because she's five.  It's totally cute when her bum cheek slides out.  It is a reason to move out of state when mine does that.  Again, I beg of you to save your retinas.  

So I went to Kmart yesterday to peruse today's trending fashion in swimwear.  You will not be disappointed that I spent no less than $60.00 to come home and look like a 1984 gymnast who really let herself go.  The navy blue with pink piping skort didn't even try to cover my ample badonk.  It held high above my waist like an innertube that was going to save my butt's life.   Great, more tire looking things around my middle.  That should distract from all the middle-aged "swelling" happening in my bosom.  I have no idea where these things came from or how I can rid myself of them.  Jumping jacks are not even funny, you guys.

At the bus stop, my beautiful friend - with the body of an 18 year old track star, mind you - let me in on her little secret.  "Swimsuit?  Girl, why you gonna wear a swimsuit?"  

I had no viable response.  

"Naw, just put on some swim trunks with a cute tank top and BOOM."

Swim trunks.  Cute tank top without sewn in mammary cups.  Boom.  Her words hung over me with halos.  

Nothing public happens above thighs anymore.  
It's bad enough people have to see those wrinkly knees.  

Why didn't I think of that?  I'm almost 40 and still body hating come every spring because I don't have hard parts to show off to every other hot body at the pool?  Wasteful.  Useless.  Unhealthy and most of all unnecessary.  

My friend is right.  Ain't nobody got time for swim undies.  I'm going to march my strong, able, and voluptuous self right on up to Customer Service and return the Mary Lou inspired garments pronto.

Then I'm going to shop for a kickass pair of board shorts/swim tank combo so that I can feel like myself:  happy, healthy, and comfortable in my own skin. 

*This post is in no way to body shame those sexy girlfriends who can rock a bikini, tankini, or suit of other kinis.  You go with your hardworking self.  I just want to give myself  permission to deviate from the typical fare becausewhat's going on underneath isn't primed or anyone else's business.