Has anyone else noticed that the whole “we’re in this together” thing has sort of morphed into “now I’m depressed and you’re in this alone”? CALL ME!!!
When they are small it’s so easy to
kiss away boo-boos,
Wipe soggy tears,
And dab ointment on cuts and bruises.
A mother’s salve.
But time changes all that.
And pains become immeasurable.
My words cannot erase the hurt
of treacherous laughter
and taunting betrayal.
My heart aches inside me.
I want so to help.
Instead I remain outside his fortress,
Unable to soothe.
Ill-equipped to protect him from the child warriors
who rage at the walls of his porcelain ego.
We are both wearied from battle.
“Don’t give up,” I manage to eke out the words
like a fallen soldier,
desperate to embolden the barely breathing comrade by my side.
“You will win in the end.”
He tries to believe me.
The corner of his mouth curls just enough
to tell me he’s not ignoring me.
And then silence.
We drive on through the night
His fresh wounds bleeding.
My scabs ripped open to
once again remember the agony of childhood.
Don’t mean to depress anyone. But this is where I’ve been living this past week. So many good, kind parents have no idea that their children are viciously tormenting others. Please, talk to your kids about bullying. Teach them that cruelty wounds deeply and childhood scars can last lifetimes. Even if you’re certain it’s “not your kid,” think again. Because it just may be.
I stood there for a long time looking at the letter. It felt so light. I thought that was funny. How something as weighty as what could be inside could feel so…flimsy and insubstantial. I had just returned from the gym where one swollen-eyed mom had shared her devastating sleep-away camp story to a gaggle of us who hadn’t heard from our own kids since they jetted off to overnight camp for the summer. What could be inside this envelope? I was almost too fearful to open it. “Maybe I’ll wait till my husband comes home from work,” I thought. That was too 1950s subservient housewife for me though. No. The letter was to me. I needed to open it by myself.
Images of my 9 year old self flooded my memory. My first summer at sleep-away camp was devastating. I wasn’t ready to leave home for 8 weeks. But, that’s what upper middle class families in the Midwest did back then. Moms needed a break so kids were shipped off to camps in the North Woods of Wisconsin and Michigan and parents got two months of time off from parenting.
And some kids did great for those two months. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. I wrote treatises to my folks, promising to do all the chores I could think of around the house, and agreeing to let overbearing relatives with boundary issues cuddle and kiss me without complaint. If only they would come and take me home. The letters must have been heart-breaking. I never once thought about how they would affect my parents. Until now.
What if Levi, my 10 year old, was lonely? What if he was sad? What if he hadn’t made any friends and cried himself to sleep? What if he wanted to come home? I couldn’t bear to think of him so far away and so unhappy.
I also wondered if there really was some kind of karmic poetic justice in life. My gut-wrenching camp letters coming back to haunt me as an adult. I did have a moment of levity, however, recalling the second year I returned to camp and copied letters from Art Linkletter’s book “Letters From Camp.” I plagiarized the wackiest pages of that book and sent ‘em home, signed by me. I never imagined my mom would actually believe the ridiculous scenarios I created in print. I hope Levi never saw that book.
I took a deep breath and opened the letter. It was short but moderately legible. He was happy. He loves camp. He’s got friends. He’s got great counselors. Hooray! This was a good thing. No tear stains. No pleas to come home. He did say he missed me. That felt kind of nice. But my boy is doing well on his own. He’s only there for 12 days. I think that’s plenty of time for now. If he wants to go for longer in a few years, I’ll be okay with that.
But for now, I can rest easy, knowing that my young man is safe, happy and not trying to torment me with colorful letters from someone else’s imagination. Btw, mom, I’m sorry I scared you by copying Art Linkletter’s books. I was just trying to make you laugh. Honest.
I love Lulu Lemon. Not because I’m some peace-loving, zen yogini or anything even close. I just love the style, fit and feel of their clothes. Plus the whole vibe of the store makes me happy. But do you know what I really love most about the place? The bags.
Come on. You love them too. They’re cute. They’re uplifting. They’re the perfect Trader Joe’s reusable grocery bags. But here’s the moment of truth. What do the bags actually say? Don’t look! This is a challenge I’m putting before you. Everything on those bags is thoughtful, philosophical, and inspiring. But I bet, no matter how many tata tamers you have, you can’t come up with 10 phrases that adorn that bag. Too hard? How about five? Three? One?
I wouldn’t ask you to attempt anything I wasn’t willing to try myself. So here goes:
1. Listen intently…to someone?
3. Friends are more important than money.
4. Something about sweating every day.
5. Do something every day that scares you.
6. Life is a journey, not a destination. (Okay, I’m stumped and this was the first generic philosophical phrase I could think of. But It could be on the bag.)
I have now retrieved one of the many red and white sacks I possess and am moderately horrified by my performance. I got 4…sort of. “Breathe” is actually “Breathe Deeply.” But I think I deserve at least a half point for my effort. It’s “Listen, listen, listen and then ask strategic questions.” But who would ever remember that? I didn’t get “Love,” which is so blatantly obvious it’s almost embarrassing. I missed “Dance, Sing, Floss and Travel,” “Creativity is maximized when you’re living in the moment,” “The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.” I could go on. But instead, I’m just going to encourage all of you to step away from your computer and go into your bedroom, closet or the trunk of your car and pick up one of your Lulu bags. Then grab a cup of tea or a mug of French press coffee, sit down and really read what’s on that bag.
It’s kind of nutty to think that a tote from a retail establishment could honestly change your life. But I really think this one can. Because it’s true, “Friends are more important than money,” and “Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.” The bag is like a modern day totem pole, celebrating today’s overwhelming obsession with spiritual enlightenment, and saying to the world and generations to come, “This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is what we are striving towards.”
It’s actually kind of cool to think about this as an emblem of our people. Probably a little kooky too. I doubt that the marketing guru who came up with the bag design considered herself a modern day messenger of current societal standards. But who knows. Maybe Sarah Palin, in one of the upcoming Republican primary debates, will cite Lulu as her favorite political philosopher, just as George W. did in the now infamous 1999 debate when he chose Jesus Christ as his. WWLD?
Sometimes I write for fun. Most of the time, though, I write out of necessity. I write to make sense out of unfathomable things. And here’s todays:
Every July my family goes to California. We spend a week at a generous family friend’s beach house and enjoy for a short while, living like the other half do. It’s my kids’ favorite place in the world and a treat we all look forward to from August to June.
The first summer we visited, my eldest son, Levi, was 3 and a half and his brother, Eli, a new born babe. It was a tough time of adjustment for us. At the time, Eli had been diagnosed as blind and Levi was struggling to cope with the sudden appearance of an annoying baby brother who seemed to suck all the attention out of his world. We brought our babysitter on the trip and she had some kind of nervous breakdown and went AWOL. Seriously. She left us a bizarre, incoherent goodbye note and that was the last we saw of her. Given our stressful situation, we inadvertently let some of the household chores fall by the wayside.
We received a stern reproach from Lois, our beach house hostess, the following spring when I called to inquire about our upcoming summer visit. Frankly, it was mortifying. Accused of not leaving their lovely home in the same condition in which we had found it, I apologized profusely and assured her that I would never again allow toddlers, teething or childcare trauma to distract my attention from my housekeeping responsibilities.
From then on, I cleaned each summer like an army recruit trying desperately to impress her platoon sergeant. I scrubbed, shined and sparkled everything from the grout in the kitchen tiles to the bottom of the white marble toilet bowls. I cleaned this house like none other I had ever lived in.
Years passed and things seemed normal between us and our friends. So it was with great confidence that I sent this year’s email inquiring about a July visit. A few days later I received a phone call from Mel, our affable host who has always reminded me of my beloved father.
“This is very difficult for me,” he started. “You know we love you guys.” (Note to self: it is never a good sign when a conversation begins with a heartfelt declaration of love) He then proceeded to tell me that we had left their beautiful home in shambles last summer. I will leave out the details, but suffice to say that according to him, walls needed repainting, appliances repair, and furniture replacement. He said that we had left the beach house in bad shape before, but that this past summer was the worst of all and he simply had no choice but to ask us never to visit again.
I was seriously stunned. This seemed impossible to me. I distinctly recall our final Sunday morning cleaning session in which we washed and replaced the linens, scrubbed all the bathrooms, cleaned out the refrigerator, and did a host of other cleaning duties.
“But, we cleaned…” I stammered. “…for hours. I just don’t understand.” By this point, I was sobbing and close to hyperventilating. He graciously suggested that our definitions of “clean” must be vastly divergent. I offered to replace the recliner we had allegedly stained and cover the costs of any household repairs even though I remembered the tattered arm chair looking very near death upon our arrival last summer. He, of course, refused. No, there was nothing I could say or do to redeem myself or my family.
Beside the sheer mortification of this experience, I am deeply saddened to know that people we so greatly admire and respect believe us to be selfish, reckless and inconsiderate. I know we weren’t responsible for the damage they believe we caused. They lend out that house to countless friends and family who do not treat it with the same level of respect that we do and they probably have not set foot in the house in years. But I couldn’t argue with him. They apparently inspected the house and found several things wrong with it directly after our visit. So we, in their minds, are the culprits. Arguing seemed pointless. So I apologized again and hung up.
I want there to be a lesson in this. But I’m having a hard time finding it. All I seem to come up with is that you should never stay in anyone else’s home, borrow anyone else’s car, or utilize anything that doesn’t personally belong to you, yourself. Because the potential for something bad happening is just enormous. It’s like driving without car insurance. You’ll never have an accident until the day your policy lapses due to an overdrawn checking account.
Self reliance is the only way to go. I remember back in 8th grade when my best friend, Annie, dumped me for a more popular, less uptight burn-out chick. I sat in my bedroom playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock,” over and over until I fell asleep. I woke up feeling better though. I guess as a mom, I’d just bought into the whole “It take a village” thing; believing that you could rely on other people, that accepting help was a good thing, that you weren’t really out there all alone.
Forgive me if I sound callous or cynical, but accepting anything from anyone leaves you vulnerable and, as far as I’m concerned, vulnerability sucks.
“Want to go to your friend Jake’s birthday party next month?” I casually asked Eli, my just-turned-7-year-old son, as I perused a stack of overdue bills and snailmail invitations. “It’s a magic party.”
“I don’t really like magic,” he countered.
“But Jake is a really good friend. He came to your party, and I know he’s not that into sports.” I calmly reasoned.
“Whatever,” he seemed to concede. “Can I go outside and play football, mom?” and just like that, he was off, bounding around the backyard, tossing himself buttonhooks, streaks and his very own version of a “hail Mary.”
I quickly emailed our RSVP to my friend, tacked the invite onto the bulletin board and entered the event in my iCal. As a recovering scatterbrain, I need to follow this type of rigid protocol to keep my life and my family in some semblance of order.
Fast forward to the day of the party.
Eli is ready. Gift is wrapped. I have my GPS set to the birthday location. All signs seem to be a go. “I don’t want to go,” says Eli.
“Well, the party starts in half an hour. You already said you would go. You cannot back out on a commitment,” I answered unwaveringly.
“But I don’t like magic,” he added.
“Well, you should have thought of that when you agreed to go in the first place. Come on, let’s get in the car.” I felt I had adequately squelched potential rebellion and Eli and I drove across town to the party.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Eli, becoming more insistent, said, “I really don’t want to go, mom. Please. Can we just go home?”
I’d already eyed and acknowledged the birthday boy’s father at the front door, greeting guests. “Eli,” I firmly stated, “We said we would go to this party. Please get out of the car and let’s go in.”
His dejected, slumped stance as he exited the vehicle was heartbreaking. Was I doing the right thing? Jake was a friend, and sometimes you have to do things for your friends. Wasn’t that a valuable lesson? But making him attend a festive event looking like Eeyore on Benzodiazepines? It just didn’t feel right.
“Please mom, I don’t feel right being here. I want to go home.”
Jake’s mom approached and offered a plate of Eli’s favorites, (fresh strawberries and grapes), and suggested we sit out in the hallway for a few minutes to help Eli regain composure. We followed her advice. When the last berry was gone, Eli asked for more fruit. “We can only have more fruit if we go back into the party,” I quietly asserted. Eli loves fruit more than anything in the universe. I thought maybe this would get us over the hurdle.
He slowly stood up, dumped his plastic birthday plate in the trash, and said, “Can we please go home now?”
There’s always a point in childrearing where the parent comes to the sad realization that whatever battle she is waging is simply not worth the energy she’s expending. This was my moment.
I held out my hand. Eli grasped it tightly. We left the building and headed for the car. “I’m sorry, mom,” he said with heartfelt sadness. “But I don’t like magic and I didn’t want to go.”
Suddenly the memory of my asking him about attending the party grew hazy. Had I asked him? Had he told me he didn’t want to go? Had I simply ignored him and followed my own wishes without his consent? It all seemed blurry and vague to me.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked as we pulled out and headed towards home.
“No,sweetie,” I answered. “I think I’m just…mad at me.”
I was listening to NPR today and they promoted an upcoming segment on writing your own memoir — in six words. The minute I heard it I was hooked. Six words to tell the world who you were, what your life meant. Fascinating. Tricky. Impossible. I became obsessed. It’s like that game we used to play as kids; “If your house was burning down, what three things would you save?”
If you only had six words, who would you be? Can you hone a description of yourself to that fine a point? Without cliche? Without limiting all that you are?
I began to work:
So much laundry, need to write.
Write to live. Mother to love.
More than mom. Creator, artist, dreamer.
Watch stars. Play Clue. Want more.
Seeking balance — motherhood and self expression.
I asked a friend what his would be. He said, “I would have done it different.” That made me sad.
I kept working. Then I checked out the NPR transcript since I hadn’t even heard the show. Apparently the idea came from “Smith,” the online magazine. Based on the legend that Hemingway once responded to a challenge to write a complete story in six words with, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” They asked readers to tell their life stories in a single sentence. What resulted was a book,“Not Quite What I Was Planning,” by Smith founding editor, Larry Smith and his memoir editor, Rachel Fershleiser.
Here are a few excerpts from the book:
After Harvard, had baby with crackhead. - Robin Templeton
Watching quietly from every door frame. - Nicole Resseguie
Savior complex makes for many disappointments. - Alanna Schubach
Born in the desert, still thirsty. - Georgene Nunn
Almost a victim of my family - Chuck Sangster
Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult. - Linda Williamson
Then I went back to work on my own. Clearly being a mother was key to my self description. But so was being an artist, an independent creative being. I netted out with this:
“Deep loving mom, creating art to live.”
What would your six word memoir say?
OK, I couldn’t make this stuff up. We live in this neatly polished Scottsdale community. What bothers me most about it, is the neatness and the polish. It’s just not who we are. But you’ve heard all the reasons why we make the compromises we make; “it’s a beautiful, safe, gated community where the kids can ride their bikes and play across the street at the neighbors.” Only problem is that our kids don’t ride bicycles and in the decade we’ve been here, we haven’t met a single neighbor — until now.
About three months ago we got this email from one of our thoughtful, considerate neighbors: (Please note that the names have been changed to protect me from further litigation – already had to learn that lesson the hard way — and also name changing entitles the writer to make a far more interesting and evocative name selection with much greater potential to rile and enrage readers.)
I reside directly behind your house. Over the past few weeks, both my wife and I have heard your two dogs barking several times.
Today at 3:15p.m., I walked back in the common area to ascertain if the dogs were barking due to a snake or wild animal. I saw none. I also rang your doorbell, but no one was home.
Please see that the barking is remedied.
I wrote back:
We are very sorry about the dogs. They are puppies who get very excited when they hear things they cannot see. We are trying out several anti-barking devices and have recently hired a new trainer to help us curb their barking. We have been very successful controlling the barking at night and while we are home. But apparently there is still a problem when we are out.
We apologize for the disturbance and will do our best to rectify the situation.
But of course the story doesn’t end here. We’ve gotten a slew of emails over the past few months and the gloves have definitely come off. Adolf’s apparently formed a posse of noise Nazis who patrol the neighborhood and report back to the HOA every time a dog barks, a child cries, or a husband and wife have too volatile an argument.
Here’s the latest email from one of Adolf’s comrades (I’ve left in all the punctuation and spelling errors for your amusement):
Your dogs are out of control and the barking all afternoon today was terrible
I understand that other neighbours have complained and that they all have a program of documentation. I don’t really want to document and call the scottsdale police but i must tell you that noise reached a brutal level today.and we may not have a choice
We have been here for awhile and have heard the dogs bark and bark
without any adult intervention. It is not right nor fair in such a nice
earea asthis. I am asking you as nice as i possibly can to control the dogs and their barking. I heard from another neighbour that they are young but that was
like months ago and as soon as they go outside they bark and bark. My wife wants to record the barking for the police however i told her that if you know how bad it really is and how upset all the neighbours around you are getting you
will take some action. Unfortunately some dogs are meant for farm areas
where they can roam and bark unlike this little
community and the houses so close.Please keep them inside and stop the barking .
We promptly responded:
Thank you for alerting us to this situation. Except for rare occasions, when we are not home, they do not bark at all. So we could not have known it was still an issue. We have installed a dog run away from the rear of the property. We have installed an anti-barking device. And we have methodically trained them using proven behavioral techniques.
We also agree that noise pollution needs to be controlled. There are at least two other dogs that we hear with loud barking which need to be restrained. When we are outside, we often hear other dogs in the neighborhood. We are wondering how you know that only our dogs are barking? More importantly, we find the incredibly loud voices of he Goldberg’s in their backyard very difficult to handle. The regular conversations are loud enough, but when the laughter gets going it is very disturbing. I believe the positioning of the houses causes an echo chamber effect that magnifies sound amplification. There have been times when we could not even sit out side because they were so loud that we couldn’t hear each other speaking.And frankly, their humor tends to be rather blue which when broadcast across the wash creates a very uncomfortable situation for our children. Maybe you can e-mail them and remind them to either whisper or not speak at all when in their back yard.
Once again, thank you for the notice of our dogs. We will continue to work on subduing their barking.
This came next:
I have been patient. But it has been nearly three months since we last communicated. You may not be aware, but both my wife and I work from home.The amount of distraction from the noise generated by your dogs and your children at certain times of day is affecting our ability to engage in our work and personal activities both inside and out.
I respectfully request that the barking issue be addressed before we are forced to take legal action. We simply want to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of this lovely community.
Let me start by reminding you that this is in fact a “residential” community. If you are having trouble working, maybe you should consider getting a real office somewhere where children and puppies are not allowed. You seem like the type of person who would be very comfortable in a fluorescently lit office cubicle for 8 hours a day. Or better yet, you could take your friend Heinrich’s advice and go live on a farm far away from other people altogether.
We must admit that we hear barking and frolicking children too when we are outside. But that is in fact part of living in a neighborhood. As for my children, they are in school everyday from 8 to 4 and then have various after-school activities. We assure you that the screaming you hear is not from our house. In fact, we know where the screaming originates. But unlike the tactics used in Deutschland in the 40s, we refuse to turn in our neighbors and join this noise pollution witch hunt that you and your colleagues have embarked upon.
“Dear Mrs. Gettleman,
I have tried to be kind and patient. But your tone of hostility is undeniable.You leave us no choice but to pursue legal and civic action against your children and animals.
Bring it on! There isn’t a court in this country that will punish us for having happy kids and dogs who make noise once in a while. I highly suggest you get some
proof that it is in fact our dogs and our children disturbing your curmudgeonly cosmos.
With all love and sincerety,
The funniest part of this whole story is that we’ve been seriously thinking about moving. We were trying to decide if we should move or just do some massive renovations on our home. The more irked I get, the more I’m leaning towards months and months of loud, dusty digging, jackhammers, and construction. I sound mean and vengeful. I know that’s what you’re gonna say in your comments. But come on, it’s one thing to lock people in a gated community and take away their personal mailboxes. But to regulate their kid’s enjoyment or charge them with disturbing the peace because their dogs bark when a coyote passes by. You have to admit, this is excessive.
I have what’s commonly known as “body dysmorphia.” Well, I don’t know how commonly known it actually is. It’s really called “Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” I looked it up. Here’s what it said, “Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is sometimes referred to as dysmorphic syndrome. It is a psychological disorder in which the affected person is excessively concerned about and preoccupied by a perceived defect in his or her body image.” Does this not apply to everyone?
But wait, there’s more:
“It is estimated that 1–2% of the world’s population meet all the diagnostic criteria for BDD” Is that all? I find that hard to believe!!! Every woman I know over 40 has this. Seriously, I’m not making light of this because I really do have it.
I am and always have been convinced that I am HUGE. I’m not joking. When I look in the mirror, I see a fat woman looking back at me. Now over the years, with a tremendous amount of drugs and counseling, I have come to understand that my perception of myself is not the same as reality. I also understand (although this part is harder for me to believe) that if I surveyed 100 people who knew me, few if any would describe me as portly.
This is a challenging disorder to cope with. Shopping, for instance, is impossible. I spend all this time picking out size 16 capris and extra large tank tops, and then I put them on and think “Wow, I look pretty hot.” Then I get home and my husband is like, “What were you thinking? You look like a small child who just raided her mommy’s closet.”
I know what you’re thinking; Freud could definitely interpret that into some kind of wistful maternal longing based on a lack of nurturing from my childhood. But I’m not gonna go there. Anyway, I usually try to take someone with me when I shop these days. It’s kind of like that great moment in “A Beautiful Mind” when Russel Crowe (who has these visual halucinations) asks one of his students if the man who just approached him to offer him a Nobel prize actually exists.
I’ve tried asking salespeople if the billowy blouse I’m unsure of is actually my size. But they’re so eager to sell anything that I’ve yet to meet someone who answers me honestly.
Over the years my husband has gently nudged me towards developing a more fitted wardrobe. I’ve been afflicted with BDD as long as I can remember. In fact, I recall wearing most of my 6’3” father’s clothing throughout much of high school years. I told everyone it was my ode to Annie Hall. But retrospectively I think I honestly believed those clothes were the only ones that I could squeeze my 5’8” scrawny frame into. It’s actually kind of sad when I think about it.
The other day I was talking to this friend of mine who has personality dysmorphia. She honestly sees herself as reliable, reflective, altruistic and uniquely sensitive. She is, in fact, a thoughtless, self-obsessed flake who spends her life ruminating over inane dramas that truly don’t even exist. I realized that body dysmorphia maybe isn’t all that bad. It’s kind of like that famous saying; “I cried because I had no shoes. Until I met a man who had no feet.” Wow, do you think he really had no feet? Or could he possibly have been suffering from BDD?
In any event, I should probably get a new friend.
Just finished a long day. Close friend on suicide alert. Not sure that’s actually the right term. But it’s a scary prospect. I’ve never known anyone who killed himself. I’m more than a little familiar with folks who have teetered on the brink, and I have personally faced off with the kind of darkness that leads one to the edge of that cliff. I often wonder if someone who hasn’t suffered from major depression can even begin to understand how suicide can honestly seem like someone’s best or most viable option. If you’ve never experienced the halting and insurmountable pain of that darkness, how can you even approach an understanding of it.
A lot of kids commit suicide. They’re often bright kids; heads of their class, well liked, accomplished in several areas. But in spite of how the rest of the world sees them, they are internally drowning in a turbulent sea of blackness that is unrelenting, overwhelming and hopeless.
I think about my own kids a lot; will they ever fall prey to the merciless and unpredictable villain of depression? My funny, playful little boys who race around the backyard chasing puppy tails and running through sprinklers. Will they ever be so overcome with pain that they will contemplate leaving this world, just as I have done? And will I know it in time to help? Will I see the signs? Will I be capable of objective observation; the distance that’s necessary to see the bigger picture?
My friend is still alive. And aside from the obvious, maybe there’s another gift that comes with this kind of close call. It allowed us to hear the warning cry, the blaring siren of distress that screams, “Stop being so self-absorbed. Stop living in your tiny, self-contained little world. Look around. See who needs you. Reach out. Step up to the plate. Share your life with people you care about. Stop pretending this couldn’t all end in a millisecond.”