Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Faulted, Flailing, Failing, and Forgiveness (at Forty)

How's that for an alliterative title?

Last night, something, or should I say, someone happened to me. But I have to say something first before I actually write about what that was and who it was. (Okay, it was Eight).

I've never had great confidence in myself, but over the years I've come to accept the things I will never be and the things I probably won't ever have. But, I have also finally decided that there's something that I actually like about myself: I am comfortable with my outgoing personality, my ability to be silly and have fun, and sometimes even my verbosity. I highly believe in the powers of the written and spoken word and encourage people to communicate whenever and however they can, be it by letter, email, face-to-face - whatever.

I noticed from the time Eight was a mere One and A-Half that she was a talker. Her vocabulary was astounding for her age and she amazed her pre-school teachers when, at barely Two, they said she could probably run their class. (Swear to Thirteen Billion, they said that.) And yes, I wrote only days ago how her chatterbox ways were grating on me and yes, I still mean it (although not as emphatically). Over the years, though, it has been becoming my happy realization that Eight is like me in the one way in which it's okay with me that she is: she, like me, is silly and fun, but mostly I'm thrilled that she uses her words. And last night, I found out just how articulately and thoroughly she knows how to express her small self with those words.

We sat together until midnight, the two of us holding hands, the two of us crying. First, she stared at me with her huge, blue eyes and cried while she spewed her innermost feelings about her troubles with school and how she's already worried that she's not smart enough for third grade and will never be smart enough for college because she's struggling with math (for the record, she is quite bright). She confessed to using a calculator when she was struggling. She told me about the mean children at school and her feelings about not having a younger sibling (because as she told me, she would know just how to be the perfect older sister and take wonderful, loving care of a brother or sister); she explained how it makes her feel sad when I am on the phone and how I shoo her away; how she hates herself because she annoys everyone and how nobody calls her first for play-dates and how she's always the one asking. Suddenly her age-appropriate clothing is now ugly, she feels incapable of everything and anything, and she thinks I don't want to spend time with her. She doesn't understand why I do things that she can't do with me and why I get upset with her when she asks me where the ice cream is. She wanted to know why I yell at her all the time.

I looked at my Eight in disbelief.

In my own defense, she gets a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to Twelve and I most certainly do spend time with her and I have gone above and beyond for her as a class parent and even when I wasn't the class parent. And because she's a child, she seems to need me most when 1) the phone rings (it's always the best time to tell me that she has a hole in her sock or that she can't find her Polly Pockets), 2) we are watching a movie we've seen 18 times and after only getting three hours sleep the night before, I doze a bit, 3) she is fully involved in a movie or a game and I decide to write or check my email because, well... I fucking enjoy doing it , or 4) I go out once every two months and she can't bear to be without me even though she's going to sleep anyway.

Anyone that's a parent can relate to these things, I'm sure. It's quite frustrating to never be able to close the bathroom door to pee without someone trying to break in or tell you a really loooong dream she had through the door. We all know it's impossible to have an uninterrupted adult conversation because even when we walk into another room for privacy, there are always footsteps not far behind. I've tried to talk to Eight about how I need grown-up time and privacy, just like she needs her private time with her little friends. I've tried to let her know that sometimes I need to be able to think a complete thought without it being interrupted. It's not mean, it's just... true. I've also tried to explain to her that she needs to be respectful of me and the very few things I ask of her (and her brother) and to be a good listener. Shit, my kids really have it easy here - too easy. So when I ask either of then to brush their teeth at least once a fucking day, they can comply to the request without an argument. Right?

But she was right on some levels and man, to see my faults and possible misguidances through the eyes and mouth of my Mini-Articulate-Me threw me. Maybe all these years that I thought I had my parenting skills down pretty pat, I didn't. I had always thought since the time my kids were able to move around as infants that it was best to speak to them as small people rather than speaking to them all goofy and babyish all the time, as they would learn better communication skills that way. I was right, too, since my kids both were exceptional speakers and were always able to communicate clearly as soon as they learned their first words. But maybe I went too far. Maybe by trying to reason with them all the time and by me trying to be honest and explain things to them was the wrong way to go. Maybe although bright and communicative, Eight just still wasn't understanding my explanations. How could she not understand that it's rude to interrupt a conversation just because she feels the need to tell people she saw a caterpillar or the dog farted? How could she not understand that if after the tenth, "please brush your teeth" they still weren't brushed, that my yelling isn't because I'm mean, but because I'm frustrated?

But those aren't the real questions. They're: How the hell don't I - Ol'Forty - understand that she is just eight; my Eight? How is it that even though it all sounds reasonable to me, a supposedly reasonable, intelligent adult, that it might be completely unreasonable gibberish to her? How is it that she sat there, so maturely, yet so gripped by her sadness that she just couldn't stop sobbing and saying horribly awful things, that I never realized just how small and vulnerable she truly is?

All I could do was cry with her, apologizing.

Forty-Four came down to see what the commotion was about and just stood over us, glaring down at me. He later chastised me for crying in front of Eight, standing by his belief that it's too scary for kids to see their parents cry. He said she was just in a mood and the gist of the rest of that "conversation" was that I shouldn't have indulged in her alleged "mood."

Maybe I've expected my children to understand too many things that were far beyond their comprehension. Maybe I've been a little harsh here and there because my own private, non-child-related things are pressing on me.

But even if I screwed up in some ways with my kids, I stand by my own belief that they can know their parents are humans and as humans, we are imperfect. Parents make mistakes and should always apologize when they do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with showing emotion to those you love, whether big or small, or with asking for forgiveness, no matter who you are.

I learned a lot in my almost-two weeks of being Ol' Forty. A friend recently told me there's always room for improvement with everything and I applied that to this situation. Certainly, I can always improve my parenting skills and with Eight's confessions and insights about how she feels about things in her life and how she feels about me at times really opened my big, green orbs. I learned that even my child can humble me and that she can also be quite profound. I learned that I have a lot to learn.

That scene will play in my head forever, I am sure. It will serve as a reminder of many things:

- My kids can be exceptionally deep and thoughtful. And everything they say should be considered.
- While they need to be loved and entertained, I still stand by my children needing to learn and respect adult/child boundaries.
- Even if my kids are frustrating the shit out of me, I need to step back and make sure my responses are appropriate and based on their actions and behaviors - not based on anything else.
- The unconditional love we give them is fully reciprocated. Eight told me I was the best mother and how I am never, ever wrong.

But in the end, even if have a wonderfully articulate child, even if I have tried to explain the unexplainable to her in the past and have to learn not to anymore as she is still just a little kid, I still had to make sure she knew and understood that I am human and fallible (of course, in smaller words).

"Mommy was wrong," I told her. "Please forgive me."

And she took my face in her little hands and did.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This is Forty Telling Eight to... SHUT UP!

Nota Bene:

I love my kids more than anything ever in this world. Anything. Morning coffee. That first bite of a hot slice of pizza. More than getting an A when I felt I deserved a B. I even love them more than when I lose five pounds without actually dieting… Now for all that know ol’ Forty, you know that’s love. Big time, huge love. But seriously… my kids are my life. The absolute loves of my life. (Even if I'm totally bashing them on Valentine's Day.)

That being established, as much as I do love them, those two kids of mine are little manipulative, spoiled fuckers.

Part of the reason I don’t sleep at night is because I’m so excited to be watching my television alone on my tattered, worn, ripped and stained ugly fucking floral couch. I sit there exhausted, eyes all blood-shot and burning, yet relishing in the fact that I am finally by myself. In my own quiet. Again, I love those kids, but one of them doesn’t shut the fuck up and the other won’t speak to me unless asking for lunch money, video game paraphernalia or food. So, this blog is dedicated to the big mouth in my life, Eight.

When I wake up, especially on a weekend morning, I really look forward to my pot of hot, liquid breakfast with a splash of vanilla creamer. No rushing out the door in thirty degree weather with a wet head, no ironing work clothes - it's just me, browsing Crackbook at my leisure, checking all my e-mail and if I'm feeling ambitious, I might do a word scramble to make sure I didn't lose any brain power during my three hours of sleep. But the second my foot hits the bottom step, all I hear is (what starts out to be) a sweet voice coming from the depths of the sagging couch cushions.

Eight: “Mom, I want a bagel.”
Ol’ Forty: “We don’t have bagels.”
Eight: “What do we have?”
Ol’ Forty: “English muffins, toast, pancakes, waffles, eggs, cereal, cereal bars…”
Eight: (who must have apparently lost her hearing during the night) “Can I have a bagel?”
Ol’ Forty: “We don’t HAVE bagels I said.”
Eight: “We don’t have anything!”
Ol’ Fucking Pissed Forty: “How about chocolate chip pancakes?”
Eight pauses. Then: “Can I have a bagel toasted with butter?”

Now this is always in the first three minutes of my (barely) wakefulness. I stand there, vision all blurred because I always forget my glasses and there are always clumps of mascara in my eyes. Plus, I still have to free the morning pee.

Ol’ Pissed, Tired, Already-Impatient Forty: “WE DON’T HAVE ANY BAGELS, DAMN IT!”

Whimpers from the cushions.

Eight: “Why do you always yell at me?”

I ignore the crocodile tears and the incessant chatter that follows which is coming from the living room as I make my pot of breakfast. I wait with my mug under the dripper, willing it to pour out faster so I can sit down. I’m already exhausted.

Just as I sit:

Eight: “Mom, watch ICarly with me.”
Ol’ Forty: “Okay, let me drink my coffee first.”
Eight: “I want coffee.”
Ol’ Forty: “No.”
Eight: “Yes.”
Ol’ Forty: “No.”
Eight: “Yes.”
As I pour her a cup of coffee in her Disney mug, adding a ton of vanilla creamer to it, I think to myself how she can’t possible talk while sipping and it will grant me a few minutes of morning peace.

Eight: “I Carly’s on!”
Ol’ Forty: “Wait until I’m ready. Give me a few minutes.” Pause. “Drink your coffee.”
Eight: “Ok.”

I sip, I read, I think about all kinds of shit I have to do. I glance up at the paused DVR.

Ol’ Forty: “What are you doing?”
Eight: “Waiting for you.”
Ol’ Forty: “No, just watch something else until I am done!”
Eight: “Ok.”

Ten minutes later, she’s staring at the paused screen still.

Eight: “Mom, remember when I was two and I wore that raincoat….?”

I can’t remember making the fucking coffee at the moment.

Eight: “Mom, can I play with someone today?”

Fuck, here comes the barrage of questions, requests, and the “I want that/get me/buy me” demands.

Eight: “Mommy, can we play the Wii? Mom, remember when the dog came home for the first time? Mommy, can we get another dog? Mom, when the cats die can we get another cat? Mommy, can we go to Canteen and get a new shirt? Mom, where’s my bagel?”

I finally tell her she has to SHUT up. Yes, I really do. I am evil but my ears hurt.

While she takes a deep breath to prepare for her next slew of demands, I take advantage of the 30 seconds of quiet and tip toe to the bathroom to pee. The moment I’m in there, the door swings open. Eight forgot to tell me that her teacher made fried rice for snack the day before and that she needs to bring glue to school. I try to make a mental note to lock the door next time, although the little thing knows how to break in anyway.

Forty-five minutes and half the pot of coffee later, I plop myself onto the spring-less, ripped couch that really needs to be brought outside and set fire to. Eight presses ‘play’ on the DVR remote and ICarly comes on. I actually love the show and watching it also gives me an excuse to still remain in a sitting or laying position.

We sing the opening song and then wait for the first scene. A minute into it, Eight is now playing with her bag of Japanese erasers, her American Girl dolls and the dog’s hairbrush, talking and chattering to herself.

I glance over at her.

Ol’ Forty: “Didn’t you beg me to watch this with you?”
Eight: “Yes, I’m watching,“ she says as she’s hanging upside down on the couch, brushing her doll’s hair, singing some Selena Gomez song and yelling at the dog in between verses.
Ol’ Forty: “Shhhhhhhhhhhh already!”

So, there I am, sitting through the show she hounded me to watch from the second I walked down the steps and now that I’m doing what she wants, she lost all interest. I watch it by myself as she ignores me and when it’s over, I get up to do my own thing.

The moment my computer is open, there goes the mouth again.

Eight: “Where’s my bagel?”

(P.S... Happy Valentine's Day, you sweet, demanding, chatterbox.)
(P.S.S. Eight, although slightly miffed at first, gave me her blessing to post this)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thirty-Eight Plus TWO - Holy Shit - Now I'm F****** Forty

Wow. It's here. Today. The big one. The one I never thought I'd make it to. Forty. I can barely type it.

But you know, so far, it's really not so bad. Eight made me "coffee-in-bed" (bless her little heart, the "on" button wasn't working on the coffee machine and she couldn't get the milk carton open. I didn't mind helpin' her one bit when she came up with the carton while I was all bleary-eyed in bed. God forbid Twelve help her.) Anyway, she also made pancakes (again, with my help as Twelve was too busy with his Playstation 3 head-set on and was in video-game bliss) and she answered the phone all morning taking birthday messages for me while I rested. What I am finding, though, is that with the journey to forty comes the culmination of at least some wisdom and a little bit more acceptance. Forty brings decisions, (some that are life-altering), realizations, (the ah-has! we all heard about from Oprah) and the Grand Puba of all... the "fuck its/yous/thats". Sometimes I like those the best. It means my skin is thickening and that I'm not running around with my tail between my legs all the time. Certain things and experiences are still a little frightening to face in some ways, but also exciting in others. I don't know - maybe forty is going to be better than twenty. Mentally at least. What follows are some observations, lessons and some things I've accepted up to this point in my life:

For starters:

- These days, I wait anxiously each month for the "beast" to come, NOT for fear that if it doesn't I could be pregnant, but out of fear that its absence could mean I might be experiencing those types of changes that indicate I will be growing hair in bad, more-visibly unacceptable places. When that shit happens, I'm just throwin' in the fucking towel.

- Gone are the days when I'd fling my bra off ASAP in order to free the girls. Now I sleep with said bra in hopes that I can re-train them to lay where the good Lord intended. But really, it's like trying to re-elasticize a rubber-band. Impossible.

- The allure of a thong is wearing off. All thongs and anything resembling a thong have somehow migrated to the bottom of the undies drawer. Not to say that I completely ignore them altogether, but lately I have more important concerns for my ass than whether I have panty-lines. The temptation of the three-pack of Hanes bikini undies hanging in Target's intimate apparel aisle won out one day: I circled around with my wagon and finally threw in the stupid pack. For a moment, I even considered going up a size AND to briefs just for the sheer promise of MORE comfort. Comfort over style is totally age-related, although it has yet to completely win. I am not ready to give in to panty lines AND the promise of total comfort and belly-coverage all in one shot.

- I have accepted I've reached that level of uncoolness we all dread as parents. Here I am, thinking I can kick ASS at Wii Just Dance, but all Twelve has to do is wiggle his hips and flick the Wii remote and he wins - every fucking time. And then there I am laying, on the couch, winded and sweaty and listening to chants of "DORK DORK DORK" coming from his wise-ass self. Is it wrong that I've come ::thisclose:: to saying "fuck you" to my child out of sheer frustration?

- Not to say I don't want to look nice when I leave the house, but I've found as I get older, I don't care so much about how awful I look sometimes, either. I mean, really... sometimes it's easier to fall asleep in what I'm already wearing and much easier not to have to get dressed again in the morning. What...? I have to be fashion conscious just for school drop off and a stop at 7-11? I don't know if throwing a sweatshirt over my recycled outfit really does constitute a brand new outfit or if it just means I'm old and lazy. (pause) Okay, so after re-reading that, 1) it sounds yucky, and 2) I've decided that yes, I AM old and lazy. But because I know for a fact SEVERAL people who've done that, too, (and there are a few people I can add to that list with some degree of certainty), I don't care that I actually wrote it. Some of you are nodding to yourselves saying, oh my god! I'm not the only one! Don't deny it.

- The fact that I don't care that I wrote that above means something BIG for me.

- As I get older, the more I enjoy saying really bad, offensive words. I can't help it. I LIKE it. I say them often, too. Even to my mom, Sixty-Seven. (Well, she says them, too, so.... we're even).

On a more serious note, I really have come to many things leading up to this decade of my life. I've realized that in my quest to please others, I've oftentimes made things harder for myself and allowed other people to hurt me. I know now that I can't always please everyone and it's okay. And those that have hurt me are long gone from my life and it no longer affects me negatively. They're in my past for a reason: lesson learned, moving on.

I've learned that the further I am from perfect, (or trying to be), the better off I am. My faults make me strive to better myself, they motivate me, and they keep my determination alive to fight for what I want and need. Perfect, truly, is overrated and I've come to like and accept my idiosyncracies.

Life really is a journey and sometimes our paths veer off to places we never knew existed or ever thought about taking. But, as Frost said:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
So, if my life takes me onto a different path, well damn it, if it ends up making all the difference, then so be it.

And finally, I have met and I have known many people in these 40 years and while some have come and gone, they were probably there for some reason. Maybe I learned what I needed, (or didn't need, for that matter) from these people, or maybe they came and went because their paths took them another way. Whatever the reason, so be it.

Then there are those that came and went, who added nothing to my life but heartache. I've learned not to cry over experiences or people like that in life anymore - they're not worth the tears or the emotional exhaustion from crying them. I've learned how to weed out the good from the bad because of these types. While I say "good riddance," I'm still grateful for the lessons I've learned.

Then there are those friendships that have sustained throughout the years; those that have been unsinkable through the good times and the stormy ones. These are the friends that are considered as part of my family. These are the people I know who love me.

So, tonight as I celebrate this milestone, I raise my chocolate martini glass to these people:

-To those who have touched my life, whether in the past or present, I am nothing but thankful.
-To the people who make me cry from laughing so hard, and you all know who you are, laughter is most def the best medicine for anything that ails a person.
-To the people who move me to tears simply because of the admiration I have for them, or for sharing their struggles, and for demonstrating their strength during these struggles. How wonderful and generous that you've invited me into your lives and allowed me to stay and share with you.
- To the people who bring out the parts of me that I never knew were there,(or the parts of me that were there but were afraid to come out), and who allow me to be exactly the person I've come to be at this ripe ol' age. Throughout my life, I've often wondered who I was and what I was all about because I've never had the confidence or courage to see things in myself and allow them to just "be." Then unexpectedly, this person who's always struggled with herself finally does come out and does so quite naturally and without much fanfare. I see the same face in the mirror, but I see a different person behind the visage. People who have come into my life and who have helped me, even unknowingly, with this type of self-discovery and acceptance are the types of friends everyone needs. I'm grateful to have them because the gift they've given me is priceless. I do hope and pray they know who they are, and if they don't, well... there will come a day I will make certain they do.

So, as Thirty-Eight Plus Two (a.k.a "Forty"), I finally seem to be learning things in life, -things about people, things about myself -that have great significance and staying power. While I count my blessings of what I have and what I once had, I am looking forward to what else lies before me, what path my life may take, and the people I may encounter. And along the way, I hope that I, too, can touch people's lives in a positive, memorable way.

Love and cheers from Ol' Forty.