“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”
Michael Stipes’ voice blares from the black stereo on my sister’s dresser.
Calculus homework and burning incense.
My chin propped on my hands in front of a spiral notebook.
I can almost feel the flannel of my shirt,
Once my father’s,
Encircling my wrists, worn but not frayed,
Pencil scratches paper and
My finger rubs the indent as I wipe away the
Remnants of a re-thought equation
And turn the page.
I have memorized the placement of each piece of furniture
A perfect map to follow:
Beds here, dresser there, shelves, closet, windows.
Each magazine-ripped page that was sticky-tacked
Above the bed still there in my mind’s eye.
Although that me is stretched so perfectly
On the floor of that so-familiar room,
The place I grew,
I can’t remember the rug.
Yesterday, I was not my best self. Brady and 3 of his oldest friends started a week of camp at the zoo yesterday. Getting there and back is not the easiest, especially with toddlers in tow, but it’s a cool experience so it’s hopefully worth it. Taking two buses with two children and a folded stroller often makes me want to move to the suburbs where I could just drive everywhere.
But we made there it pretty easily and then Declan and I had fun in the park with our friends for a awhile before taking the easy way out and cabbing home for lunch. My mother-in-law came in for the afternoon so I went alone to pick up Brady and a friend.
After pickup we all decided a stop at the ice cream cart was a good idea. We got some treats and the kids played a bit. When an argument broke out, Brady got frustrated and then exploded at his friend who started crying. When I corrected him, he had excuses lined up and insisted he hadn’t done anything wrong before beginning to sob himself. I hate this behavior of his so much that I, in my 35 years of adult wisdom, responded by doing the EXACT same thing. Yes, as he raged at me about how it wasn’t his fault, I got more and more frustrated and, like a rubber band pulled beyond it’s range, BOOM, I snapped.
I yelled at him to apologize to his friend, to stop walking away from me, to act better. I used my growly angry voice and my mean, angry words. In essence, I acted like a child. When I finally calmed down, I got Brady aside and talked to him in soft words about why I didn’t like his behavior. I pointed out to him that losing your temper is something that happens, clearly it had just happened to me, but that that doesn’t mean it’s ok and we still have to say we’re sorry. I said I was sorry and gave him a hug.
But I still felt just awful. I was embarrassed for losing my temper in front of my friends, my friends’ children, and countless tourists enjoying an afternoon in Central Park. I was ashamed of treating my child that way. I felt like a failure as a mother, not only because of my behavior, but because of Brady’s behavior. Even though I was trying to teach my son that being human is ok, that emotions get the best of us sometimes, and that we just have to try to react better in the future, I was not allowing myself the same consideration.
Today I still feel badly about yesterday afternoon, but I’m working on it. I cannot changed the way I acted, but I can change my future reactions. I can allow myself to be human and I can use this to remind myself to take a breath next time and to be a better example to the child who has clearly inherited my quick temper.
We spent last week in Martha’s Vineyard with my husband’s parents, sister, brother-in-law, and 7-month-old niece, in a rented house with a pool in the back. Life there was a stark contrast from the city. Instead of rushing from place to place along crowded sidewalks meeting people here and there, we took things slowly, immersed in a landscape that went from woods full of song birds to sandy beaches and blue waters, as a family. It was exactly what we needed.
We swam here.
And walked here.
I did yoga here.
And basically, this was our life.
With all of that fun and beauty, I was totally relaxed, even while living in a house with my father-in-law! Now we’re back in the city and Brady is off to camp during the day for the next two weeks and Declan and I are fending for ourselves. I’m just trying to hold onto a little bit of the slow pace as I make my way through summer.
There are times when signs pop up in your life and you can’t see how they might be related until it is pointed out to you. Perhaps they are never intended to make sense at all, but the meaning is nevertheless created by a common thread.
Last week a college friend posted a photo of a mutual friend of ours on Facebook; a face I hadn’t looked at in years, but that I picture so often in my mind. In the photo the two of them were tuxedo-clad and grinning ear to ear at a wedding. This friend passed away after being involved in a hit-and-run accident 11 years ago. He was 25 and had been married for 3 months. We were all recent graduates at the start of our lives and his was ripped away.
A few days ago, my sister called me and something was obviously bothering her. She had just found out that a friend’s sister had been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating, and always fatal disease. She will be dead within a year. She will leave behind a husband and two children. There is nothing that will change this.
Sunday afternoon I arrived early for my yoga class, eager to see my favorite instructor who had been away for a few weeks. I greeted her with a smile and asked about her trip. Her usually bright face was distracted as she told me that it was wonderful. As she began class she told us that if she became emotional it was because just before walking into the studio she had gotten an email telling her that a student of hers had passed away suddenly the night before. She was a young mother who had adopted a baby with her husband last year.
“And so,” she told us as we settled into a comfortable seat, “let’s remember today that life is fleeting.” At that moment it came together for me. These little reminders arranged themselves in my mind as a message. “Enjoy today. Remember that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.” Living with anxiety, I am often too focused on the future, constantly running through what might happen tomorrow, or next month, or in a year. Despite my constant recommitment to being present and mindful, I still fall into the “what if” trap and find myself missing beautiful moments.
I made good on this one yesterday by fighting through major anxiety to take my kids to the beach on the ferry. Although I was nearly paralyzed with worry and fear in the morning, I kept telling myself not to let it tear these happy experiences from me. Once we were out the door, I found myself able to breathe a little easier, and by the time we hit the sand all I could see were smiles and sun and splashing in the waves. It wasn’t perfect–there was a little whining, some impatience, and general toddlerness–but it was worth it. We came home sweaty, exhausted, and full of wonderful memories, which was exactly what I needed.
Summer has begun. We had a wonderful first weekend with swimming, biking, World Cup watching, and a trip to Sixteen Handles for froyo. This year, summer isn’t just for the kids. I finished up a big freelance project last week and because of our travel schedule this summer, won’t be picking up another right away. It feels weird and sort of scary and also a bit freeing. I’m excited to have time with the kids to do whatever we want, but I’m also a little nervous about having that much time with them. It’s odd not to constantly be feeling like there’s something I should be doing.
Also, my mother-in-law will still be coming to spend time with them even though I’m not working. This gives me a strange thing that I am NOT used to having–time for myself. It also puts a bit of pressure on me. I’m always complaining that if I just had the time, I would really try to get something published. So here is that time just plunked in my lap and it’s almost overwhelming to think of how I should spend it. So far today, I’ve had coffee with a friend, gotten my nails done, and worked a bit on an essay I’ll posting here soon to participate in a weekly writing challenge that was brought to my attention by a reader.
This, of course, brings up my usual conundrum of, if I try, what if I fail? This is the one that usually stops me in my tracks, reroutes my attention elsewhere, and brings me to putting nothing on the page. When I had no work for a bit last fall, I did write and submit two pieces–both of which were rejected. But, I promised myself I wouldn’t let it shut me down and I won’t. I’ll have new things to submit this fall. New things to, most likely, have rejected. But it will be worth it. Right? At least I have the time.
Thursday I got a wonderful surprise when I was nominated for a Very Inspiring Blog Award by Anniemation Flow. Thank you, thank you so much for reading, for writing, and for the nomination! Please go check her out because she has a lot to say and it’s always interesting.
Aside from the fact that someone halfway around the world took notice of my blog, I was really happy to get this award because I think one of the things I try to do with my blog is to inspire others. Not that I’m doing anything ever so special here, just that I hope I sometimes get people to think about things in a way that they might not have seen before.
The rules for the award are:
1. Thank the person who nominated you. (Did that above!) 2. List the rules and display the badge. (Listing them now, badge below.) 3. Share 7 facts about yourself. 4. Nominate 15 other blogs and notify them.
Here’s the badge.
Now for 7 facts about me:
1. I have three tattoos and I’m planning my fourth, which will have four parts.
2. My biggest pet peeve is people cutting in line.
3. I’m currently obsessed with two very different songs…Chandelier by Sia and Escape Artist by Zoe Keating.
4. While in yoga class, I sometimes plan my playlists for the future, hypothetical, yoga classes I want to teach.
5. I’m married to my college sweetheart and in a year and a half I will have spent half of my life with him. (Ah! I’m old!)
6. I had my first spin as Tooth Fairy last night and it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as being Santa.
7. I will NOT be nominating 15 bloggers. I will nominate as many as I can. I LOVE a lot of bloggers, but the nomination part is always tough for me. Also, a lot of the people I’m nominating probably already got this one, but I’m nominating those who inspire me. So there.
And the nominations:
1. Kerry at Winding Road – She is a constant source of inspiration for me, especially with what she’s gone through recently. She somehow always has a wonderful way of looking at things.
2. Jessica at Like an Apple – She inspired me to start writing poetry again and that is just so amazing. She is a wonderful writer and also finds amazing poetry to share, in addition to being a working mama raising two boys.
3. Mummy Says – She has such inspiring things to say about being a mother and a woman.
4. Amy at Mom Goes On – Life is still very busy when the kids go to college. Amy’s view of life is always an inspiration to me.
5. Bronwyn at Journeys of the Fabulist – Not only does she make me want to travel, but she inspires me to go ahead and do things with my kids that I sometimes think will be too difficult. If she can trek all over Thailand, I can take the subway to Brooklyn.
Ok, I only made it to 5. But they are very, VERY good ones. These five blogs inspire me to keep blogging and, more than that, to keep writing. Please read them.
After the kids were in bed tonight, I hopped in the shower. As I was shaving my legs I heard the door open.
“Hey Mommy, it’s me, I needa pee,” Brady said as he lifted the toilet seat.
“Hey Baby,” I replied.
“Hey Mommy?” he asked, “Why is there nothing to worry about, but I’m worried?”
My breath caught in my throat and I hesitated, “Oh honey,” I said. “It’s just the end of school and the beginning of summer.”
It’s probably the truth. Most likely, he’s just recognizing in himself that ambient nervousness and excitement that comes with the end of day after day in the classroom and the beginning of beach trips and pool swims and days at the park. But, to me, those words were a blade of ice to the heart. Something that I wish my children could be free from. Anxiety.
I’ve been worried for about as long as I can remember. When I was little I worried about–school, friends, getting sick, hangnails, growing up, my cat running away, the sun going supernova–basically everything. When I went to college my worrying morphed into an obsession about what the future would hold and a major depressive episode which led, thankfully, to treatment. These days, after years of medication and therapy, it’s the level of worry that I care about. It’s always there, it’s just whether or not it’s disrupting my life. Those life-disrupting episodes have gotten fewer and fewer, though their intensity can still be devastating.
I desperately don’t want my children to go through that. Brady is, in many ways, like me as a child. He is focused on his school work and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He has a hot temper. He gets obsessive about the things he likes. And he worries. Lately, he has been worried about natural disasters and often comes out of bed to ask us if an earthquake/volcano/tornado can come to New York City. I recognized signs of anxiety in him when he was very young and I’ve taught him relaxation techniques to cope when he can’t sleep or gets worked up.
But I have to wonder if I am projecting my fears onto him. Maybe I see the anxious behaviors because I am primed to see them. I try to remind myself of the ways in which he is different from me as a child. He is rarely shy and is amazingly friendly. He doesn’t have a need to please everyone around him. His interests change quickly and his attention span can be short.
So when he told me that he felt worried when there is nothing to worry about, it was a hard thing to hear. While I know it could be nothing, I have been fighting a battle against that very feeling for most of my life. It defines me in a way I would love to undo. All that I can do is offer him my experience to lean on. I can give him the coping techniques it took me years to learn to use. I can honestly tell him that I understand when he tells me that he’s worried about the sun going supernova. I can love him and not let my anxiety define our relationship.
We all have fears about what our children will face in life. Often, they are the very things that we have fought ourselves, the things in us that we wish we could change. It’s difficult to know that, with all of the good things we pass on, we can also bring along the things we wish we could rid ourselves of. But everyone has demons to face in life. We cannot change our DNA and we can’t always change the world around us either. All we can do is help our children to highlight the wonderful and cope with the less-than wonderful. And never underestimate the power of love.