Parents of the world, unite!

I'm the one calling the shots and if you don't like it, TOUGH!

I realized something totally unfair today. When I was growing up, children were supposed to be “seen and not heard.” We did what we were told. We went where our parents decided to go. We ate whatever our mom’s made for dinner. And if we didn’t like it, we were “given something to really cry about.”

Now I’m not complaining about the past. That’s about as effective as asking the government to make slavery reparations 150 years after the fact. It’s not necessarily undeserved, but really, what’s the point?

We are on vacation in beautiful Laguna Beach, CA. My seven year-old son, Eli, around whose moods our family seems to constantly revolve, was holding us hostage and I figured out why I am so quick to explode over his maniacal tantrums and so easily irked by his capricious behavior. Because it’s not fair.

You see, I never enjoyed the position of center of the universe with my family of origin. I was a “good” girl who sat and colored when I had to go to appointments with my mother. I cleaned the shelves at my dad’s pharmacy on Saturdays when he was saddled with taking me to work with him because finding a sitter for the whole day would’ve been an outrageous expense. I fit into my parents’ lives like kids were supposed to do.

Cut to: a generation later and the whole model has been turned upside down. Nowadays it’s the parents who give up their lives for their children. The idea of a vacation that isn’t entirely kid-centered is tantamount to child abuse in most of the parent circles I inhabit.

When we were on vacation as kids, if my mom wanted to shop or spa or get her hair done, that’s what we did and we found ways to make that fun. If I even poke my head into a boutique or art gallery these days, my kids go into hissy-fit mode and start whining obnoxiously and carelessly flinging themselves around the store. It’s really not right.

Everyone deserves to be the center of the universe at some point in her life. But it’s like a genetic trait that gets passed on by skipping a generation. Our entire generation of parents got gipped on this one. Back in the day, parents ran the show. But the minute I step into the role of maternal monarch, the rug gets pulled out from under me and instead of reigning gleefully, I’m suddenly the supplicant of a couple of erratic juvenile dictators.

Where did we go wrong? And why isn’t everyone else griping about this injustice? We were slighted out of the attention we deserve and I’m not taking it lightly! No!

I want to matter!
I don’t want everything I do (or don’t do) to be centered around my children!
I want to stop pretending that I don’t have adult needs and that I wouldn’t be happier going out to dinner with my husband alone than playing one more game of “Apples to Apples” with the kids.

Come on. Parents of the world, unite! Stop cow-towing to anyone who measures 4 feet 5 and below.(and Levi, you may be taller than that, but you still count as a “kidtater.”) It’s about us from now on. Because, trust me on this one, if we don’t put some focus back on ourselves, we’re gonna end up with a bunch of self-absorbed narcissists who aren’t gonna be able to take care of themselves, the country, or the planet. And that would suck.

The makings of a meltdown.

Stop me before I lose total control!I really did it this time. I imploded. We were late for school — again. I was half-dressed with 8 e-mails left to send. My youngest son refused to change out of pajamas. My eldest boy announced that we needed to stop at Fry’s on the way to school to score a few end-of-the-year gifts for his four most beloved teachers. And over the edge I leapt.

Now, let’s analyze the components that led to my completely inappropriate public melt down.

1.) I am late for everything. This is a flaw that I seem unable to overcome. I feel badly about myself for my tardiness. But when it negatively impacts my children, I feel even worse. Translated, the message I get in this type of situation is:
I SUCK AS A MOTHER!!!!

2.) I cannot control my impish 7-year-old son who, regardless of my nagging, begging and haranguing, moves at his own pace and refuses to follow even the simplest of my directions. This child behaves as if he is truly the center of the universe and all of us, merely a collection of disparate space junk. The message here?
I HAVE FAILED MISERABLY AS A PARENT!!!!

3.) End of the year gifts for teachers that have loved, supported, and respected my kid for an entire school year. Um…hello? How did I manage to space this out?
Message #3:
I AM AN INSENSITIVE SLOB WHO NEGLECTS TO REPAY THE MULTITUDE OF KINDNESSES AFFORDED MY LOVED ONES.

Individually, each of these incidences was troubling. But as a combined lot, the frustration, self-loathing, and personal shame became too much to bare. So I flipped. “Get in the car,” I shouted, “We’re already late, and now we’re gonna be even later because once again Levi sprung something on me at the last minute…” As my irritation grew, so did my volume.

“Just say no,” my husband calmly advised, making me feel more like a raving lunatic than I already did. “He should’ve thought of this days ago. You are not obligated to take him at the last minute.”

But, as is often the case with my eldest, he just wants to do something kind and admirable and I feel badly telling him no. It’s like I’d be preventing him from doing a mitzvah (good deed). That feels wrong in every sense of the word.

By the time we got to Fry’s I was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior. The kids were stiff and silent. I stood in the parking lot sobbing and holding onto them for dear life. “I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “Mommy’s just not right today.” And that’s when it happened,the giant “AHA” moment.

My older son hugged me tightly and said not to worry, that we all have bad days, that families always forgive each other. My younger son threw his arms around my waist, held on snugly and said, in the sweetest, most compassionate voice I’d ever heard, “Don’t cry anymore, Mommy. You can handle this. Just take a deep breath and remember that we love you and that you’re the best mommy anyone could ever have.”

As I strode down the aisles with these two tender, considerate, caring young men by my side, it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t doing such a bad job parenting after all.

Happy Birthday to me.

A letter to unappreciated mamas everywhere

What moms are really thinking on Mother's Day

Hello, I am Debra’s husband. In honor of Mother’s Day, I am giving Debra the day off by writing her column.

Regular readers of this blog may wonder how much of the outrageousness she writes about is true. Well, living with her is a little like living in a sitcom with Laura Petrie. Funny thing is, if we used her escapades in a movie or TV show, they would say it’s too unrealistic to be believed.

Debra is the most open, kind wonderful person someone could ever meet. What you read is who she is. She has a remarkable gift to allow others to see her naked essence with all her flaws. No defensive barriers. No tweaking or manipulation to present better. The problem is that, due to her personality dysmorphia, her true talents as a mother may be masked to those who don’t really know her.

She is a fabulous mom. She is loving, caring, playful and supportive. She connects with my boys on their level, but still maintains their respect as a protector and mentor.

As you all know, nobody wears as many hats as a mother. It is unfair to ask one person to be good in as many incongruous areas as we ask a mother to be. Debra does this as well as anyone I know. Like all people she does have her weaker areas, usually in the more administrative tasks like scheduling and planning. But this is more than made up for in the relationships she has developed and fostered with our kids and the ways in which she guides them to discover their deeper meaning, purpose and passions.

My children are blessed to have such a wonderful, nontraditional mother. My older son, Levi, has her gift for language. Like her, he has a remarkable ability to tap into an emotional whirlwind of thoughts and ideas and transform them into a clear picture of words and phrases. The little one, Eli, has her artistic ability to separate from all else in the world, being intensely in the moment in whatever game his mind has created.

While there is a definite genetic component, these traits have developed due to her imprinting on them through examples and interactions. She is giving the boys the best gift a mother can give, the tools and confidence to become happy successful adults.

I think she is a truly amazing mother and all around person. I thank you for allowing me to share a little bit of my vision of Debra. To my extraordinary wife and all you underappreciated mothers, thank you so much for all you do. The world is a much better place due to you. Have a Happy Mother’s Day.

Flag football fanatic

Maybe this football thing is getting out of hand

I finally understand how people become psycho sports parents. Because honestly, if my seven-year-old son, Eli’s, football coach doesn’t start playing him more, I’m going to run into the field at the next game, hands poised in throat clenching position, tackle the man, and strangle him within an inch of his life.

Here’s the thing: Eli loves football. He’s not the greatest player. But he’s got talent. And with a little experience and training, he could be really good at this game.

Last season was his first foray into the flag football phenomenon. His team ended the season 0 for 14. But that didn’t discourage him one iota. I hate to admit it, but it bummed me out enormously. I mean this league is totally unfair. Half the kids have been playing football since they were toddling around in diapers, and they’re all grouped together on the winning teams. Then there are the “new” players. These are the kids who’ve already past their primes. They’re six or seven before they pig up a pigskin ellipsoid. At that point, it’s simply too late for them. Throwaway kids we like to call them: like my Eli.

These “new” players get grouped together with the other newbies. They end up on losing teams, with inexperienced coaches who “just want to have fun,” and think that everyone deserves an equal chance to play, regardless of their abilities. That’s a sweet philosophy: until your kid’s the best player on the team and still gets side-lined so that the coach’s ADD daughter can race around the field chasing butterflies when she’s supposed to be snatching opponents’ flags.

Last season was frustrating to be sure. But this season is downright maddening. He’s on another newbie team, with a first time coach and a bunch of players who are seriously lacking in aptitude. Based on the first few practices and games, I’m predicting another perfect streak — of losses that is.

But here’s the issue: This new coach knows half the kids on the team from outside of football and he favors them over the kids he doesn’t know, like Eli. So, not only is Eli on a losing team with a clueless coach, but he’s also not getting a chance to play. (This sounds like an old Henny Youngman routine. “The food was awful, and there wasn’t enough of it.”)

The truth is, I’m upset about this. I want Eli to learn how to play football better. If he sits out half the game, he’s not gonna do that. I mean even if Eli was the worst player on the team, which he certainly is not, when the team is down 42 to nothing, the coach might consider giving Eli a chance to get in there and catch a few passes. Come on, if you’re gonna coach a bad team that’s destined to lose, at least let my kid play for more than a truncated flag football quarter.

I want to complain. I want to speak to the coach on Eli’s behalf. After all, he’s only 7, and he thinks this is fun. This is not fun! Someone needs to advocate for Eli. Just because he’s happy does not mean it’s okay to get benched every other play.

But I don’t want to come off as one of those pushy, competitive parents who thinks the world revolves around their kid. But maybe I am one of those pushy, competitive parents. Well, if I am, then I guess there’s no shame in accepting myself as I am and pushing ahead competitively until my kid gets his fair share of field time.

Hmmm…that wasn’t so hard. Self acceptance is a beautiful thing.

Six word memoir

Who are you really, In six words or less?

Who are you really, In six words or less?

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?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…

Not such a beautiful day in our neighborhood

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.)

“Mrs. Gettleman,

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.

Adolf”

I wrote back:

“Dear Adolf,
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.
Mrs. Gettleman”

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):

“Mrs. Gettleman,
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 .
Heinrich”

We promptly responded:

“Heinrich,
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.

Debra Gettleman”

This came next:

“Mrs. Gettleman,
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.
Adolf”

“Adolf,
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.
Debra”

“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.

Adolf”

“Dear Adolf,
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,
Mrs. Gettleman

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.

Perception vs. reality

Is it me...or is it...memorex?

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.

Financial University

It's never too early to teach kids the value of a dollar...or is it?

My youngest son asked his dad how much money he makes. Mark, as usual, came back in his standard unflappable manner with, “More than five dollars and less than enough.” I thought it was a funny retort. But it did kind of get me thinking. What are you supposed to tell kids about finances?

In the past, I’ve mentioned to my kids that we can’t afford certain things. But this always manages to backfire on me in the most embarrassing of ways. For example, I once balked at buying a pint of strawberries for $5.99. They were out of season, small and were the color of hay (in case I needed to justify not buying them for $6) “We cannot afford to buy strawberries right now,” I sternly announced to my children. Well, the next day in school, my eldest son took up a collection to help subsidize our family’s grocery bill. I remember the warm but somber glances I received at pick-up that day. I was mortified when he handed me an envelope filled with a collection of classmates’ coins.

When we go to a restaurant, it’s the same thing. My 10 year old, Levi, eats like a horse. And he enjoys the finer foods. We can be at a cheap eatery and he’ll easily run up a $20 food bill all by himself. But I feel weird saying, “No, you can’t order the freshly grilled salmon with roasted organic vegetables. Why don’t you have chicken nuggets and fries off the kid’s menu?” It’s really a conundrum.

On Tuesdays we go straight from school to karate. We stop somewhere for a quick snack. I’ll admit I’m the least organized person on the planet, so I never manage to plan ahead and bring something to eat in the car or at a park along the way. Our favorite place to stop is Einsteins. Who’d have thought a couple of bagels and some fruit would end up costing upwards of $25. Then Levi almost invariably asks if he can go next door to Jamba Juice for a drink. He wants a fresh fruit and vege smoothie, without my even prompting him to eat healthy. But I find myself annoyed that he wants to spend an additional $4 for a drink. I usually catch myself before scolding him and fork over the funds. But is that the right thing to do?

I remember taking my nephew out for lunch once back in Chicago and he insisted on ordering half a sandwich because a whole sandwich would cost too much. I was horrified. What was my sister teaching this boy? Food was plentiful in America. So was money at that time, and children shouldn’t have to worry about the cost of things. Of course now that I have my own kids, I’m not sure she didn’t have the right idea. Just once I’d like my 6 year old to not pout when I tell him he can’t have whatever useless item he’s coveting as we race through Target. I think it’d be nice if my kids offered to do extra stuff around the house without earning extra cash. It would be a lovely surprise if, instead of tears, they’d nod knowingly at Trader Joes when I said I was sorry, we couldn’t buy blueberries today.

There just doesn’t seem to be a middle ground here. Too much focus on what things cost and my kids go to work collecting for us like we’re homeless and broke. But without my continued efforts to make them aware of a dollar’s value, they want and whine about everything from pomegranate seeds to Star Wars Legos. Anybody have the answer to this enigma?


When I stand up for myself I feel…

The Supermom action figure: She does everything, but nothing well

…selfish, self righteous, wrong, scared, intimidated, unworthy, alone, untethered. I don’t like to stand up for myself.

Funny, I spent years working as an anti-bullying trainer to teach students and teachers to stand up for themselves. I’m finally facing my own ugly truth. I can’t do it for myself. I can’t even return things I buy that I ultimately decide I don’t want.

I’m not kidding. I never take anything back. I throw out moldy Trader Joe’s produce. I donate defective electronic equipment with tags still intact. I won’t even return clothes that don’t fit me.

I’ve made progress lately though. And I owe it all to Zappos. Somehow the anonymity of mail order allows me to order heaps of different foot wear options and, through an ardent process of desensitization, I’ve conditioned myself to send back every pair that doesn’t suit me. This is a big step in the right direction (pun intended.)

The problem isn’t knowing where I stand. I stand up for myself plenty, in private. I even know I’m right most of the time. I just lack the capacity to share that information with anyone else for fear that I may upset or disappoint them. So I opt instead for always being wrong. I’m so neurotically aware of every tiny thing I do wrong and I focus on it until it seems like I just don’t ever do anything right.

I remember the first time I learned that being self-deprecating could work in your favor. I was 7 or 8 and I’d done something minimally wrong at my grandparents house. I worked myself into a frenzy, crying hysterically, nearly hyper-ventilating. Then I ran into the dining room, where the grown-ups were enjoying the final tasty morsels of sour cream cake and coffee, and I told them all what a horrible, worthless cretin I was. I explained that I’d done something so heinous I could never be forgiven, that saying I’m sorry would be an absurdly insufficient act. They stared at me, jaws down to their knees. “Come now,” they each began, “nothing could be that terrible. Surely we can make this better. Just tell us what happened.” It was fairly a no-brainer. The harder I was on myself, the easier the rest of the world was on me.

I don’t think I did it consciously. But from that point on, I rode myself hard. Anything short of perfection necessitated a staunch personal rebuke. I was merciless. If I got a B on a test, I was an imbecile and banished myself to my room to study for hours on end. If I left my sack lunch at home, I deserved not to eat (for several days). If I disappointed my parents, I’d pack my little suitcase and honestly convince myself that I needed to leave in order to save my family from any additional horror and disappointment. (I remember doing that once or twice in the beginning of my marriage. It didn’t go over well with my husband.)

The sad thing is is that I am now a middle-aged woman, still living in this ancient model of self-reproach. I still cannot tolerate disappointing anyone. I used to stay in relationships forever because I couldn’t bear to be the one to end something and hurt someone else’s feelings. I remember going on a first date with this man who told me he’d recently left a relationship. I asked him, in all sincerity, if his ex knew about his departure or if it was still sort of unclear. He thought I was insane. I couldn’t really explain that I’d ended many relationships in my mind only to get home to my apartment and find dozens of sunflowers or roses and a card thanking me for being such a committed, loving partner.

It’s like the fear of disappointing anyone is my prime motivating factor in life. That’s not healthy. That’s why no matter what I do for my family, I chide myself that it’s not enough. If I force myself to spend a day doing mindless, depressing domestic duties, all I can see is the myriad of other tasks I’ll never manage to get to. When I spend money, I chastise myself for spending too much. When I crave attention from my husband, I berate my status as needy, dependent housemate. When I devote all of my energy to creative tasks that fulfill my soul, I feel guilty and evil that I’m not there for my kids. I basically have created a lose- lose situation in every arena of my life.

Being able to consciously see this pattern is kind of amazing for me, and baffling. Why would someone do this to themselves? Find themselves so faulty and guilt-ridden over every choice they make, they end up wildly pinging like a pinball between selfish needy people who continually ask for more and are never satisfied. The more I give, the more people want and the more I see how I’m always falling short of meeting their needs.

Yikes, this is way more revealing than I ever intended. Guess I was wrong to share it.

I enjoy being a girl

I glimpsed an awesome scene in my future this morning. We were late for school, as usual, and I suddenly remembered that the gas gauge was so close to empty our arrival anywhere beyond the neighborhood Circle K was improbable. I detoured towards the gas station and pulled up alongside a pump.

My ten year old son, Levi, immediately unbuckled and leapt out of the car. “I’ve got it, mom,” he announced. “Your credit card, please.”

At first I was stunned. Sure he’d reluctantly helped me fill up the gas tank in the past. But on all of those occasions, his willingness to even unscrew the gas cap came with a heavy sigh and insolent eye roll. Today he was actually eager to fuel the tank.

I handed him my credit card and watched with awe and admiration as he swiped it, entered our zip code and selected my usual gas grade. After filling the tank and returning my card, he hopped back in the car and buckled up, ready to hit the road and head off to school.

It was then that I had my vision. In just a few more years, I will never have to fill up my gas tank again. I have two strapping young boys whose father extols the virtues of gentlemanliness and chivalry. They always want to help me carry in the groceries. They fight over who gets to wash my car. They wouldn’t think of allowing me to walk through a door I had opened all by myself. And suddenly it hit me. This is great!

After all those years of waiting on them hand and foot, feeding them, bathing them, carting around an overflowing amount of parent paraphernalia and stocking my purse with a virtual grocery store of healthy snacks and drinks, I was going to be free — and soon. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was only a matter of time before I would take my place as rightful Queen of this family. Never again will I have to carry my own luggage on family vacations! No more lugging in backpacks and awkwardly arranged school shadow boxes at the end of the day. No. I was finally going to be treated like a lady, not a work horse.

I shared my epiphany with my husband this afternoon. He grunted something judgmental about feminism and Betty Friedan. “I’m a post-modern feminist,” I quipped. “I believe that chivalry and feminism can peacefully co-exist. Besides, I’ve never advocated that women should have equal rights. Rather, it’s always been my belief that we are entitled to special rights.” And then I smiled coquetishly and waltzed away humming a noted feminist tune from that good ol’ Rogers and Hammerstein musical treatise on equal rights, “Flower Drum Song.”

“I’m strictly a female female
And my future I hope will be
In the home of a brave and free male
Who’ll enjoy being a guy having a girl… like… me.”