Baby on board


maxresdefaultAs a young 20 something back in LA, there was a story on the news about a woman leaving her beloved Schnauzer in a hot car in the middle of July, only to return and find the poor creature no longer alive. I remember brainstorming with an artist pal about how we wanted to make a social statement about this kind of horrific act. So we came up with this live art installation concept. We were going to call it “Baby on Board” and we were going to glue an infant car seat on the roof of his Volkswagen Jetta, stick a life like baby doll in it, start driving, and observe the reactions from everyone on the road.  We roared as we imagined panicked motorists with rolled down windows screaming and pointing at us as we sped along the PCH.

As a responsible human being and a mother of two boys who are my life, I am horrified to think that I even momentarily thought this was a clever idea. I remember back in the Arizona summers when you would hear tragic reports about busy, stressed out parents who actually left their babies in the back seat while they frantically went into an office or lunch appointment.

I lived in fear of making an unforgivable mistake like this due to sleep deprivation, “mom brain,” or just some momentary lapse of attentiveness.

I often became paralyzed with grief over stories like these. Friends of mine were concerned and would ask about my overwhelming depression at those times. I would tell them that I understood how a parent could accidentally do something like leave their beloved child trapped in a hot car and only realize it hours later. For me, I lived in deep gratitude every day that I didn’t make some kind of disastrous mistake like that. As a working, stressed out mom, it seemed all too easy to suddenly lose focus and watch as one by one each of my proverbial spinning plates crashed to the ground.

Once in a while another mom might nod in agreement and tell me that “she got it.” But for the most part, anyone I confided in about this told me that I was crazy and that they knew I would never do something  unspeakable like that. But some other parent somewhere, had done just this and had to try to live with themselves for the rest of their miserable life. It was a staggering thing to ponder. (Full disclosure, I am also the woman who recognizes how thin the line is between my happy little suburban life and a few bad financial decisions that land you in Tent City. )

I learned to not share this particular insecurity with other parents. It tended to dramatically reduce the number of mom groups to which I was invited. But I realized that I was right. Tragedy can befall any of us. And yet, most people were so afraid of accepting that reality, they simply dismissed the possibility that anything as careless and shameful as forgetting to take your kid out of the car could actually happen to them.

I tell you this story because Wednesdays are early release days here in Seattle. We’ve just moved into a new house to be in the right high school district (no open enrollment out here). Unfortunately, we are no longer on a bus route for my 8th grader to get to and from his middle school. So I’m back with full time driving duties and frankly, I’m seriously out of practice.

Today over lunch with a friend,I lamented my new chauffeur duties  and checked my watch repeatedly, telling her I had to have enough time to get to the bank, the dry cleaner and pick up my son at 3pm. We departed around 1:30 and I popped into the bank to make a deposit.

As I left the bank, I saw I had received several texts from my son inquiring about my whereabouts. Then a few minutes later, another text came in asking who was en route to pick him up. Then finally, a text that just read, “Um…hello???”

Suddenly the reality that it was Wednesday flooded into my consciousness. I became frantic and texted him back that I was on my way. “Are you okay?” I texted. “I’m an idiot.” “I forgot it was Wednesday.” But nothing I could say could quell my horror.

I got to school at 1:47. He was casually hanging out under a tree reading a book. He had been there for exactly 22 minutes. But to me, it felt like 22 hours. I wrapped him into my arms and apologized over and over again. He put on a brave front. “It’s okay, mom. I figured eventually someone would notice I was gone.”

I took him to Baskin Robbins for ice cream and bought him a giant Hulkbuster Funco Pop. If he had asked for the moon, I would’ve found a way to get it for him. He played it up with his big blue eyes and sad pouty face. He was having fun with me.

I told him that this was definitely the moment that would drive him into therapy someday and to please understand and explain to the therapist that this hideous event had nothing to do with my love and devotion for him. Instead it was an illustration of my inability to do anything right as a parent and that he should never think I didn’t cherish him in every imaginable way.

“You do a lot right, mom,” he said, “And I love you. But it is kind of fun to have my own chocolate muffin moment.” He was referring to a vacation where I woke up starving in the middle of the night and scarfed down his older brother’s chocolate muffin. I’ve never been able to live that down. “I guess everyone has a chocolate muffin moment,” he sighed.

I felt parental shame wash over me anew. But then I realized something huge. “Well, most people have those muffin moments when they’re too little to fully comprehend them,” I pronounced. “Luckily for you, I waited till you were 14 and had the smarts and sophistication to handle it, before I traumatized you.”

It really is all in how you look at things, isn’t it?

All about idiots

410vWkiYBtL._SL500_I have done the unthinkable. I mean it, the quintessential parental misstep, the apex of maternal idiocy. I have committed the equivalent of allowing someone to take nude photos of myself for “artistic purposes,” all the while naively believing that these pornographic pictures would never come back to haunt me. That’s how stupid I am.

“Oh, come on,” you’re thinking. “What could you have done that’s so very terrible and foolhardy?” I wrote a book. A very, very revealing book. I wrote it when my eldest son was a baby. I wrote it with my husband. I wrote it so that one day, long after we had departed this earthly realm, my children would know who we were, how we lived and all the intricate details of our lives they’d neglected to ask us about when we were alive. I wrote it to be known. Well, be careful what you wish for.

So last night I’m sitting in my office/art studio working on a new piece. I’d just inadvertently allowed my wood-burning tool to sear through a paint bottle and was busily wiping up a pool of purple paint. It was nearly bedtime for my kids and I was a bit frazzled when Levi, my 13 year old son, came bounding into the room. “Can I hang out with you for a bit?” He asked merrily. “Of course, honey,” I smiled. “I’m just a little stressed at this moment.”

He then proceeded to talk and swivel in my desk chair, telling me about his day, his upcoming tests, the geography bee. Then he began to rummage through the books on my book shelf. “What’s this book, mom?” He innocently quarried. “I don’t know, sweetie, I’m kind of preoccupied right now.” I didn’t even look up from my paint puddle.

“All About Me?” He read. I could have said something then. Something smart and maternal like, “That sounds familiar,” or “Let me see that.” But nooooooo, I finished mopping up my mess and then got back to work on my creation. In truth, I was barely listening as he happily revealed that the book was something his father and I had written back in 2001 when he was a baby. “That’s nice,” I casually ignored him. I’m not proud of this. But sometimes I tune people out. Doesn’t everyone? Especially one’s children? They do talk incessantly. And sometimes you just need a break to do whatever you need to do.

“I love this book,” he declared gleefully. “Mom, you were a radio talk-show host? And I never knew dad’s favorite color was blue.” Apparently we had purchased a basically blank journal with questions on each page about ourselves. The idea of “All About Me,” was to create a deeply personal parental memoir to be delivered to one’s children at some point during those children’s adult lives. Clearly the point was NOT to divulge the kind of intimate details contained in those pages to a 13 year old child who was not at all prepared to take in the shocking and horrific information his idiotic parents took the time to actually write down on the pages of this tome.

Before I knew it, Levi was giggling maniacally. “Oh my gosh,” he kept saying. “Oh my gosh!” By the third “oh my gosh,” i deduced that something was up and unplugged my wood-burning tool. “What is going on?” I inquired with what I believed to be a great deal of gravity and parental authority. “Mom,” he looked at me as if he’d never seen me before. “You tried smoking pot? And dad…dad…”

“Levi, give me that book,” I commanded, suddenly filled with a rush of memory about the contents of the journal. “Give it to me!”

“No way,” he defied. “This stuff is amazing!” He then raced out of the room, holding the book tightly and shouting out shameful tidbits about our past that we had idiotically penned into the pages of this incriminating treatise. I chased after him like a famished lion following an evasive zebra. “Come back here!” I shouted. Now I too was laughing maniacally.

One of the most difficult parenting moments is that one where you realize that your child is bigger, stronger and faster than you are. But luckily I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. I managed to grab his ankle as he rounded a corner and pulled hard, bringing him down onto the couch. The book flew out of his grasp and into my own. We were both exhausted and giddy. I summoned every bit of parental poise I had within.

“Levi,” I said, “This book is a very private book. None of what you read is anything that can be shared with anyone outside this family. In addition, your father and I have made mistakes along our roads to adulthood. I guess we thought that someday, maybe 20 years from now, we might want to share some of our regrets and insights with you. We certainly did not expect to share this information with you right now. But since it’s happened, you need to know that people make mistakes, big mistakes. Life is about learning from mistakes and making better choices in the future.”

What else could I do? Pandora’s box had unexpectedly been blown wide open and there was no way to corral the contents and re-contain them in the carton. This was life and there were no “do-overs.”

“I understand, mom,” he answered, matching my seriousness. “So you’ll understand when I make those same mistakes…”

“No!” I interrupted. “Just because we made certain mistakes does not give you license to make the same ones. We were stupid, many times. This book does not give you permission to do anything that you will later regret, and trust me, you will later regret much.”

I guess at this point I was crying and he sensed it was time to back off. “Okay mom,” he said, and then in a voice reminiscent of a younger version of himself, he asked “Will you put me to bed now?”

I happily tucked him in, said a prayer, and kissed him gently on his forehead. I probably should have gone and directly burned that stupid book. But I have to admit, it was kind of fascinating. There were things in there even I didn’t remember. Destroying it altogether seemed wrong, like trying to run from one’s past or pretend that reality hadn’t existed. So instead, I hid it, this time in a spot where no one will ever find it. In fact, I’ve already forgotten where I put it. It probably wont surface till the kids have moved out and we’re packing up the house to sell it and move to our smaller empty-nest abode.

My only hope is that when it does resurface it’s at a more opportune time, a time when my boys’ choices in life are less treacherous. When hormones have stopped raging and moral character is more keenly etched into my childrens’ psyches. But maybe that never happens. Maybe there is never a good time to step off the parental pedestal, to show your kids that you are human, that bad things do happen, and that everyone errs. As famous author and philosopher Sam Keen once said, “We come to love not by finding a perfect person but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” Well, you gotta hand it to me, I am definitely teaching my kids how to love.

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.