Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Check Engine Light

We've all see in it at some point in our life.  Life is moving along rather uneventfully and then there it is, the God DAMN Check Engine Light.  It's yellow glow reminding us that we better be mindful of our car maintenance and better get things looked at right away or else we may find ourselves stranded on the side of the road somewhere.  I wonder if how you react to a check engine light reveals something about your character.

My mini-van's check engine light goes on and off from time to time.  I got freaked out when I first saw it.  My husband plugged it in and it's a bad sensor.  Don't ask me which, cause I don't remember.  All I really care to know about the vehicle I'm driving is whether or not it's going to get me home safely today.  When my car failed to break  down each time it rubbed it's little yellow glow in my face, I learned to dismiss it.  But every time I dare to forget about it entirely it pops up and reminds me that I really should care. 

Because anyone who knows me knows I love a good metaphor, I'm adopting the Check Engine light as my metaphor of the week.  Some people like me are extremely vocal when they're having a tough time, but then there are those for whom a small, quiet glowing warning light is all that exists to indicate to the outside world that something is wrong.  In my magical car metaphor, I'm that clunky noise you try to describe to your mechanic in a rather sad explanation of what's wrong, but I worry about the people and mothers especially who never show any outward signs of distress.  I hope that someone is paying attention to these women and saying to themselves "I better figure out what's wrong before something worse happens."

We all get so used to asking each other, "How are you?" but hardly anybody really expects a real answer.  We wait two seconds for the obligatory "fine" and carry on with our own preoccupations.  I'll never forget that there was one person I asked years ago, who dared to give me a real answer.  I was walking through the halls of my workplace, busily trying to get accomplished whatever my current task was and I happened to say hello to a co-worker and asked him how he was.  As it turned out, his mother was dying and for the next half hour we talked about it.  It was a very personal conversation for co-workers and yet I felt somehow that is was natural.  Losing my Dad had given me a common vantage point to understand what he was going through, to see the very spot on life's path that those who haven't been there simply cannot.

I'm not sure why he trusted me enough to share his feelings with me, but I have the theory that his check engine light had simply turned on and he had been waiting for someone to notice.  In turn he became someone I could talk to when my light blinked on. 

I hope that I'm the type of person who cares enough to notice when someone really needs another person to simply care enough to know what's going on in their lives.  But the truth is we all get preoccupied with our own lives and let's face it, it's incredibly easy to ignore that small glowing light in others that warns that things are not as great as they might appear.  Though I sometimes worry that my over sharing nature might make some people uncomfortable, I know exactly what happens to me when I ignore my light for too long.

It's for this reason that I implore the stoic, the polished and perfected, and the perpetual caretakers to speak up and maybe give someone a chance to really listen beyond the "fine".  Of everyone else I make this small and simple request- every once in a while stop and look around you and really take note of the silent, steady glow.  There's usually a light on somewhere.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The UnREAL Reality of Normalcy

I find myself drawn to "reality" shows.  I used to watch the multitude of prime time so called "reality" shows, which really just consist of a group of less than grown twenty somethings consuming large amounts of alcohol and sleeping with a lot of strangers.  I must admit, most of us watch for the same reasons we slow down to survey the scene of a car wreck.  You thank God it didn't happen to you or someone you know and yet for some unknown reason you feel the strong desire to know what happened to the victims and whether or not they will survive.

Will any of us ever survive these "reality" shows?  Now that I'm (gulp) officially in my 30s the "booze it up, get it up" shows hold little to no interest for me anymore.  There's only so much stupidity to go around and how many times can you really watch someone make a fool of themselves in exactly the same manner.  What I watch now are the "unreality" shows that center around families.  Call it another attempt to slow down and survey the damage, but I actually think of it as a way to view through an open window the family life of someone else to compare normalcy.  We all want to feel normal, whatever the hell that means.  We all want to feel like we're doing something right in our marriage, in raising our children.

So I occasionally tune in to some "unreality" shows particularly those involving large families - 19 Kids and Counting, Sister Wives and the like to figure out how the hell one survives more than a dozen kids and multiple spouses.  What I get is this sugar coated attempt at normalcy, the very thing which denies my need to feel normal.  I tune in because previews hint at conflicts, jealousies, potential problems, and what I get is an artificial dose of isn't my life so very normal considering I have 19 kids or 4 wives.  I feel cheated by the whole experience.  What viewers like me tune in for is the hope that someone will say, Good God this is fucking hard to deal with.  Nobody wants to admit that marriage is hard, raising kids is hard, working, paying bills and just getting through life is hard.  Everyone wants to feel normal and so we project our own normalcy onto others.  We are all cheating each other. 

Take me for instance, if anyone was going to show you the real deal it'd be me.  I've long ago, tossed aside any attempt to fake a smile when I want to cry, pretend to be all lovey dovey with my husband when we get into a fight right before company comes over, placate a screaming child with niceties and bribes instead of pulling them out of the restaurant and waiting for the tantrum to be over - theirs or mine, whichever comes first.  I wear my misery on my sleeve and my love on my shirt.  I am stained through and through with the blood, sweat and tears of life and yet no one is knocking down my door offering to film my family.

I want answers just like everyone else.  I want someone to show me how it's done, show me what I'm doing wrong so I can fix it all.  I want to know how women voluntarily share their husband with other women and raise other people's children when I have a hard enough time getting my husband to help with chores and raising two children.  How do they not feel cheated of time, attention, and help?  As for the "look how well we all get along and resolve conflict" I say shut the camera off and wake me when reality calls. 

How does a woman who's spent nearly every year of her adult life pregnant, nursing, and raising kids, say that she never yells?  Give me a break people.  To all my fellow viewers I say don't drink the cool-aide.  They just want what we want, to show the world how fucking normal everything is, despite this amazingly different lifestyle they've chosen to live.  I want to see the child who throws fits because she's tired of being raised by her siblings instead of her parents.  I want to see the wife that wants to fly off the handle but chokes it down because he's got three other women to go to for understanding when he's upset. 

I'll admit that I've thought to myself on many occasions, maybe there's something to this idea of having a wife of my own to cook and clean, and yes even take care of my husband when I'm too exhausted after taking care of two kids who haven't napped all day.  That has more to do with my underlying theory that "wife" and "mother" really mean slave in some exotic language and nobody has bothered to clue me in yet.  I would never, and could never share my husband with anyone, because flaws or not he's mine and if anyone is going to see through my bullshit and still show up than it's going to be him.  I cannot imagine having so many children that scheduling in "one on one" time would be necessary.  I feel enough guilt trying to juggle two kids and make sure they feel special and loved.

So if anyone out there in TV land is listening, wake me up when you do the show about a mom crying in a ball on the floor because she's overworked, unappreciated, and expected to carry on taking care of everyone else when she has nothing left at the end of the day for herself.  I know I cannot possibly be the only mom that feels the cold stone irony of spanking a child because though you've told them a hundred times not to they still insist on standing on the table, counter or dresser and you don't want them to fall and get hurt.  You know that you cannot prevent every injury, but you just do not have the energy to contend with a screaming toddler for five hours in the emergency room tonight. 

Show me the wife like me who is sick to death of hearing that all the tantrums she throws in an attempt to get "help" (that is another blog post entirely) really are hurtful when I just want to say I'm attempting to make it clear that I am completely crushed by the weight of my responsibility right now and I'd really like you to just step off the dirt that's covering me, and dare I dream, grab that shovel over there and take a little of this off me right now so I can just BREATHE.  If you've got any shows like that, I'll tune in faithfully, cause I know that I would love to know how she does it all correctly.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Redefining Happiness

Ask any mom if they were happy before they had children and I'll bet they say yes.  They had freedom, energy, creativity, and their youth was on their side.  A few days before my daughter turned four, my mother said to me, "How is it possible that just four years ago you had no children?"  That was a lifetime ago I thought.  Four years, two kids ago I considered myself to be happy.  I was a newly-wed, coping with being a cash poor home owner.

I was happy at the time.  But from the moment my first child was born, I decided that happiness was a moving target and in fact, I didn't know just what my capacity for happiness was until I looked into the eyes of this tiny person that I had created.  It's safe to say that I had no idea just what I was capable of until I had children.

I never knew just how much I could love another person.  Despite losing my dad at a painfully young age, I didn't know until I became a mom just how much I stood to lose in this world.  It is that ever painful reminder, that gaping hole that losing a parent creates in ones life, that reminds me nearly every second just what can be lost, without warning and without any regard for what I consider fair.  It's the grindstone my emotions are constantly sharpened against.  It's the reality we all know but seldom acknowledge, filtering in with painful clarity when a little blurriness is actually necessary to get through the every day routine of life.

When I was in high school, friends would ask me why I was single.  That was the high school equivalent of being unhappy.  The truth was that I never really cared to be in a relationship.  I actually prefered to watch the high school melodrama unfold from the sidelines instead being caught in the web of adolescent romance whose rules and affections moved and changed with a swift breeze.  Then in college, while wallowing in homesickness I did something I had never done before.  I gave my number and a chance to a boy I had never seen before and didn't know at all.  I don't think I could have imagined at 19 that he would be it - my whole notion of love and trust and the model relationship I never saw growing up.

Falling in love with my husband was to that point in my life, the single scariest thing I had ever experienced.  It forced me to let go, be out of control, give someone this power over my happiness that I had somehow imagined to be the gesture of a weak person who didn't really think that they alone were all they needed to be happy.  Falling in love turned out to be the mirror that I always wished I had.  My husband allowed me to see in myself the person I always wished I was, the person I had been all along.

Tonight while driving home, I looked at my kids faces in the rear view mirror and I thought about how everything I believed about happiness now centers around them.  They made me realize that I will do whatever it takes to spend as much time with them as I can because they define happiness for me now.  The fact that Hannah and Jayden love me, depend on me, and because at this moment in time I can safely say that their happiness depends on me, I have defined happiness as being worthy of them.  I owe it to them to pursue my dreams with passion because I have spent too much of my life thinking I didn't deserve to have all my dreams come true.  I think that despite all my fears that my imperfections as a mother will somehow change them in a negative way, I know that I am one of the only people on this Earth that gets to make them smile and be the mirror that they need in order to see the amazing people that they are.

Being a mom has made it pretty clear to me, this one amazing truth, that happiness is not something I have the luxury of hoping will happen.  I must make it happen.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Top 10 Things Kids Do Better Than Grown Ups

I'm feeling a bit frustrated by the adult world at the moment so I've decided to compile a list of what kids do better than us adults.  I'm speaking primarily of toddlers and preschoolers for this particular post.  Maybe we can all take a lesson or two from them.

1.  Their shit may stink, but at least it's easy to clean up.   Well for the most part anyway.  Unlike the shit adults deal with which never seems to go away.

2.  Their games are always intended to be fun.  Unlike the games adults play to manipulate other adults into doing what they want.

3.  They say what they mean.  Even when they don't quite have the verbal skills to express it precisely, there is very little guessing at their intentions.  Even when you must litterally guess, you only have to go through the list of basic neccessities to figure it out: food, sleep, drink, medical attention, entertainment.

4.  They do not have to hold back their love.  It's full on, whole heart, no need for all or nothing because it's always ALL their love.

5.  They do not worry about abstract problems that don't exist in real time or affect them directly.   They do not wonder what the world would be like if animal crackers did not exist or what would happen to their poop if potties had not been invented.

6.  They take true JOY in life.  A walk in the park, a favorite story, cuddling on the couch with mommy, playing with a friend, bathing in our birthday cake icing.  NOBODY enjoys life's simple pleasures like a child.

7.  While they may feel possessive about a toy, they eventually remember there are many other toys to play with.  I watched my daughter and nephew have a blast playing with clothes pins the other day.  Fun is wherever you are, because you make it yourself.  Adults hold tight to their possessions as an outward symbol of their status in this world, but you know what they say "you can't take it with you..."

8.  They do not yet feel compelled to fit ALL that they are into the small box the world intends to stuff you into.  Cowboy boots with a ballerina tutu, sure looks great. 

9.  They have no FEAR of failure.  They simply do or don't do things, but they don't worry about potentially doing something wrong, sometimes to the extreme of being paralyzed into doing nothing at all.

10.  The BEST thing kids do better than adults, they REMIND US on a daily basis, that once upon a time WE WERE THE BEST VERSION OF OURSELVES, long before we became self-involved, fear driven, jaded, and apethetic. THEY ARE THE BEST PART OF US. 

The saying goes, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."  BUT maybe if we wise up one day, we can UNLEARN all the NEW BAD HABITS, look to our children and find the inspiration to be BETTER, do BETTER...Find happiness in every moment life is willing to offer up...because NONE of know when that offer is going to be taken off the table.

Got a reason not on the list, please share it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Difference Between Broke and Broken

Ok, so I pride myself on being frugal and money is always tight, but this week I've hit a new low.  I had a negative balance in my checking account, zero in my savings, and bout two more weeks to live on what...air and love till pay day.  I try to tell myself that my new low is for some people, their every day and I wonder how they do it.  I know I can use my credit card till my next pay check even though the very thought of it makes my stomach queasy.  Chalk it up to my unexpected car accident in March, which thankfully only took my car out of commission.  Now I had the expense of getting another used car, and doing all the running around for the last week, taking my husband to work, dropping the kids off at my mom's, taking my step dad to work, running errands.  Let's just say it cost me a pretty penny in gas.

It's sooo freaking easy to feel stressed, scared, and even hopeless at times.  I have been crabby with my family because of the stress and I hate that because they are truly the only thing that get my through these tough times.  As my oh so eloquent husband puts it - "I simply need more to focus on in my life than him so that I don't take all my stress out on him."  It's a bit rough, but that's my husband.  We are exactly ourselves with each other, on good days and bad, like it or not.  There has to be a buffer between life's emergencies, tragedies, stresses, and losses and that buffer is family.  Through their eyes we filter out the bad things and instead see the hope that lies beyond everything else.  I guess we just need to remember to clean the filter every so often otherwise people's feelings get stuck in the grime of life. 

So as I'm clipping coupons, thinking about side jobs, and reluctantly re-evaluating future plans, I think about what it is that keeps being broke from making one feel so.... well broken.  It has got to be family.  There is nothing else that can pull me out of my own head like taking care of my two little ones and of course my husband.  He keeps his worries close to the vest, not on his sleeve like me.  Gotta be especially wary of that.  I just try to give what I can.  Right now that doesn't include much of anything that can be bought.  I have to hope that love and perseverance is enough to make it two more weeks, another year, ten years - one hurdle at a time, one step at a time, one filter change at a time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is The Grass Really Greener on The Other Side?

Ok, since I translate my life into motherhood here's another lesson I'd like to teach my kids and since my love of words and metaphors is overwhelming me right now I just have to go with it: If you think the grass is always greener on the other side, it's because you've stopped tending your own lawn.  You will always think that someone has something bigger and better than what you have and the bottom line is if you want to really be happy in life than stop envying what others have and focus on what you have. 

Here's what I've learned in my 30 years so far.  When you start paying so close attention to what others have you start measuring and translating your life and your happiness in terms of what it is not.  Does anyone ever find happiness by trying to gage what one does not have that others do? 

I can honestly say that my life has not been a bed of roses.  I've been through some dark and trying times, but I'd like to think that I have learned how to see through these periods in life to the brighter side that lies beyond.  At some point, I hope my children do as I did and ask themselves this key question - What is it that I truly need to make me happy?  I hope they think long and hard about this question.  I hope to be the buzzer that sounds in their head if what comes to mind is a possession or a dollar amount.  If this is what jumps to their minds, then unfortunately the grass will always be greener on the other side.  There will always be someone whose possessions and income are more enviable. 

Three years ago, I was an individual.  The only person I had to dream for was me.  Now I'm a mom.  If you don't have kids, I'm not sure you understand what it means to have your whole life change in ways you never expected.  It made me really re-evaluate what I wanted out of life.  I don't know if I really wanted to move up the corporate ladder, rub shoulders with those in positions I coveted and make allies among the other "young professionals" whose goals were the same.  Every time I get approached by these "young professional" organizations now to join and participate in whatever "career development" program they're offering I kind of smile inside.  It's not because I don't agree with what they are doing.  It's because they don't see it in me.  Sometimes I think everything about me is so clear.  I'm the living cliche of someone who wears their heart on their sleeve so I sometimes forget that not everything I am is so transparent.

I'm a mom I tell them.  Then I get this blank stare.  I say this by way of explanation, as in I don't have time for extra curricular activities.  I have a job and I have a family so that leaves um virtually no time for anything else.  At this juncture in my life, I don't know if I will ever want to be on the career development, upwardly mobile path.  I know that's what people think I'm supposed to want.  But that's where my handy dandy philosophy comes in, I CHOOSE what I want and three years ago I CHOSE to become a mom.  After I lost my first baby, I realized that it's a choice people sometimes take for granted.  As if it is always there; an easy option that will be waiting for them whenever they decide the time is right.  I'm not saying its a bad thing to be career oriented, to be ambitious, but I would just like to make sure that my children stop, take a second and ask themselves "What is it that I need to make me happy?"

I have asked myself this question on several occasions.  The answer keeps coming back the same.  I need my family to make me happy.  When my daughter was born, I couldn't bare the thought of leaving her in daycare and then I got a call that would actually start me on a new path.  It was my grandmother who inadvertently and painfully reminded me of the many more options I have in my life than she did.  So I sat down and asked the question and thus hatched my job share plan.  I work part-time now and yes my bank account is pretty sad on any given day and yes I haven't had my hair cut in at least six months, but I have seen my kids first steps, heard their first words, and even on days where the temper tantrums of my three-year-old infuriate me and my son is being so needy that I can't get a square inch of air to call my own, I don't feel anything but happiness when I think of my life.  I have what I need and that makes me happy.  Would I like to go on a fancy vacation this year, buy a bigger house, have more money in my bank account?  ABSOLUTELY.  But I know that I am NOT willing to have time with my family be the sacrifice I make for it.  That is just me.  That was the answer to my question.  I hope they know that they, along with my husband, are what I need to be happy.

I hope that one day they know that the grass is only greener on the other side if you've stopped tending your own lawn.  So Hannah and Jayden if you read this one day, do your mom a favor.  After you've thought long and hard about what you need to make you happy, get up and go get it.  You will be amazed, trust me, at how very possible your dreams are. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Spotlight In Love

Ok, so I really have no idea why, but the series finale of Medium really had a surprising impact on me.  For those of you that don't watch the show, it's about a Medium who can see and talk to dead people and she helps solve murder cases for the District Attorney's office.  While the show centers pretty clearly on the main character and her supernatural abilities, it's also about Allison's family; her husband and three daughters.  So if you watch the show and haven't seen the series finale, read no further.  The way they ended the show was that her husband Joe dies in a plane crash and Allison so clearly can't deal with it that she invents an entire dream where he amazingly survived the crash and is living in Mexico with amnesia and can't remember who he is or where he's from.  Then Joe's spirit comes to her and sadly informs her that it was just a dream and in fact he didn't survive the crash.  The show fast forwards to her as an old lady passing away in a nursing home and seeing Joe again and they are young and in love and will now be together for eternity.

I really don't know why, but I was so saddened by her loss and because it's TV they really got to skip over the bulk of the grief, but it made me think of my own marriage.  Blame the estrogen if you want, blame sentimentality or blame love itself if you want, but in the moments after the show I wondered how I would pick up the pieces of my life if something were to happen to my husband.  There would be no fast forward to move me in time past the crater forged through the center of my life.  There would be a sharing of the secret pain of the fatherless club, my children would be forced to join.  How could I deal with any of that?  Though I'm only 30, I have spent 12 years of my life loving one person.  I look at him and he is at one moment the boy I fell in love with, spotting him across campus in his ball cap and baggy jeans and feeling my heart race, and also the husband and father I have watched him become. 

When I had my surgery last year, I tried my best to muster forth my "if should something should happen to me" speech while my husband and I pulled up the hospital drive.  I had a knot in my throat the size of a golf ball as I let myself for a minute imagine for my family a life without me, but my husband predictably waved the scenario away as a matter of fact.  It was not necessary.  I knew it probably wasn't as well, but I also know the pain of hearing unexpected news, recounting final conversations, knowing there will never be reply or answers ever again.  What is harder, in my opinion, is being the one left behind to pick up the pieces, to carry on when all you want to do is pull the remainder of your life over your head, hide and perhaps fast forward to a better point in time.  Pretty much what the show conveyed.

So here's what I'll take from this show.  Despite the fact that we are the main characters in our own lives, we can't forget that we cannot live in the spotlight if we are to share our lives with someone.  I hope my children will one day understand this.  Children live in the spotlight for a long long time, through adolescence and into their young adult lives.  But one day, love will find them as it did for me.  Ready or not, it will move in and change their lives as they knew them.  I think people say they fall in love because it's passive.  Nobody ever says they jumped into love, because frankly love is so powerful and scary that nobody would willingly jump into that void.  Ironically enough, I think it's amazing that so many of us of take the leap into parenthood.  We know it will be scary, we know it will be hard, but I think we also know that the love is more certain.  Loving our children is innate, like a switch that gets turned on involuntarily.  For me, it's like the pregnancy test was the switch, loving my child was that easy.  Pee on a stick and instant love for another human being.  Don't we wish all love was that easy?