Tag Archives: fear

How Could I Have Missed This?

red flagThere was a time in my past, that time when Fartbuster started making a real effort to be happier.  He got contact lenses.  He started working out.  Bought some new clothes and experimented with hair products.  I found myself saying, “He’s getting better.  He’s taking care of himself.”  Duh!  He exhibited every cliched sign of a cheating man–right down to the lipstick on his collar.  Once the lies came to the surface, I sat all alone in the ruins of my life and said, “How could I have missed this?”  I was so ashamed that someone had fooled me like that.  How could I have been so stupid?

There was a time in my past, that time when Richard couldn’t seem to shake that cold.  He had no energy.  Sometimes, he’d spike a fever.  He finally went to the doctor but the doctor said it was bronchitis.  The antibiotics didn’t clear it up but it was the end of the semester so he was feeling exhausted anyway.  That was probably all it was.  His grandmother died and he felt low.  He had bruises,  but said they were from skiing…back in March?  And now it was May?  Then there was that blood vessel that burst in his eye and didn’t get better during two weeks of vacation.  His vision began to cross so he finally went to an ophthalmologist who thought there was a chance he had a retinal bleed.  When Richard mentioned that he hadn’t been feeling himself for a while, the doctor ordered a CBC.  Within 48 hours, Richard was at Johns Hopkins on the oncology ward.  A few days later, our film from that vacation came back and when I saw the pictures–him resting on a driftwood tree, his legs covered in a solid swath of bruises from yellow to purple–I was so ashamed that I had “let him” walk around like that, so obviously sick. I hid the pictures.  And I asked myself, “How could I have missed this?”  How could I have been so stupid?

Red flags.  Why didn’t I see them?

I know, I know–it was never my job to police a cheater.  And I know, I know–leukemia is easy to miss in an otherwise healthy 37-year-old man who doesn’t like to go to the doctor.  No one blamed me because I didn’t order a CBC right away.  But because I’ve been spun sideways by a couple of doozies like these, I sometimes feel like I am just living in wait, waiting for some shoe to drop.

I thought that shoe had fallen back in December when I took my darling son in for his well visit and left with a handful of red flags.  Filling out those social/verbal/motor skills inventories threw me for a loop.  I thought he was independent, a free spirit….but maybe he doesn’t know how to interact with other people?  I thought he talked when he wanted to talk…but he’s falling behind his peers.  Where’s the line between a hard-headed little boy and a syndrome, a condition, a diagnosis?   When our doctor said, “I don’t think he has autism, but let’s get him screened now that he’s three,” the first thing I asked myself was “How could I have missed this?”  How could I have been so stupid?

Now it turns out that my son has some kind of language issue.  I haven’t wanted to talk about it here (and as soon as I typed that, my stomach knotted up and I thought about deleting the whole thing for the 1000th time) because it’s still hazy.  He’s getting speech therapy and he’s making swift progress.  The doctor is encouraged.  I’m encouraged.  And the fact is that he’s still my baby boy, no matter what.  I write about personal things here, but usually it’s things that are resolved.  Lot of rear view mirror stuff on Baddest Mother Ever.  Not things that are “we’ll see.”

The whole thing got me thinking about this reflex of saying, “How could I have missed this?”  Because when I sat across the table from a speech therapist who says, “Yeah, he’s not making sentences,” I felt like an idiot.  How could strangers be telling me something about my own son?

The same way a doctor knows how to read a CBC.  It’s what they do.

Now I’m looking for red flags EVERYWHERE.  I won’t be fooled again.  I will figure this OUT and by sheer force of will I will……


I will accept whatever comes along.

Because that’s what I learned from the other doozies.  Even if I HAD seen the red flags from Fartbuster and Richard, I couldn’t have changed anything.  I can’t “fix” what happens with other people, even my own kids.

All I can do is love them where they are, how they are, who they are.

I am hopeful for Carlos.  On the first day he started getting speech therapy, I picked him up and decided to spend some car time working on his conversation skills.  The therapist said he needs to learn to express “Yes” and “No” and I could help him with that by asking simple questions.  We also want to increase his “mean length of utterance” to an average of 3.  So I asked him, “Is your name Carlos?”

His reply?  “That’s funny, Mommy.”

Then he started saying his colors in Spanish–he LOVES Spanish.  I pointed to my shirt and asked, “Que color?”  He said, “Wojo!”  I said, “Si!  Mi camisa es roja!”  Then he said a few more color words.  I was at a stop light, so I picked up my knee and pointed to my black pants.  “Que color, Carlos?”  I lifted my knee higher and waggled the fabric.

He caught my eye in the rear view mirror and said, “Drive car, Mommy.”

My Friend, Ashley


OK, for about a week I’ve been in a slump.  

And kind of down in the dumps.

Try to write, but I get stumped.

With a case of the grumps.  

Which leaves me feeling like a big ole lump.

What a chump.  

For the last few nights, I have trudged down to that peaceful writing room in the basement so that I can sit in front of the computer and beat myself up for not having anything worth saying, not being able to say it the right way, not being able to…be able.  Or just be.  At 11 p.m., I clomp back up the stairs and put myself to bed, feeling like I missed my chance.  

The feeling of foreboding grows. Because on days when I don’t write, my brain gets mean.  It turns on me.  

I start to question myself.  I conclude that no one gives a shit anyway and if I just slink off to silence it won’t make a rat fart of difference.  I slide, in everything.  

The internal negative messages ramp up.  Constant judging.  I’m brushing my teeth and think, “Jeez, when’s the last time you plucked your eyebrows, Sasquatch?”  I help Vivi get dressed and think, “I bet other mothers don’t send their kid to school in socks they don’t like.”  When Carlos babbles something to me, my mind snarls, “There’s something you’re missing here and if you really loved this child you would fix it and he would talk just like every other kid in his class.”  I leave 15 minutes late–of course, because I’m a lazy slob.  My car makes a funny sound and that’s my fault, too.  I’m being too honest right now and that’s probably a mistake, right?  

After I drop Carlos off at his school (where he cries and doesn’t want me to go but I do anyway–I need to be a heartless mother so I can get to work late and mess up more things there, son!) I sit in the car waiting for a gap in the traffic.  A woman walks by with a cute turquoise purse.  She waves and gives me a bright smile but my first thought is, “It’s the wrong season for that color purse.  It’s still winter…for two more days.”  


Judging judging judging.  I instantly feel guilty for judging someone else so I bring the verdict down on myself.  “Or MAYBE she likes the color and it makes her happy and she gives herself permission to be delighted because she’s not as fucking rule-bound as you are!”  

And I burst into tears.  

(I sure do cry a lot in my car.  It’s like the only place I have privacy some times.  Is that wrong, too?  Probably.)

That’s when I finally say something to the voice in my head that has been hounding me all morning:  “Shut it.  That’s my friend Ashley that you’re talking about and you’re not allowed to talk to her that way.”  

The shit I say to myself about myself on a daily basis–would I EVER let someone else talk like that to a friend?  

So I’m going to be nice to my friend Ashley today.  I’m going to tell her that she’s doing tough things but she is tougher.  I’m going to tell her that she matters.  That she is allowed to be whatever she is this day, this minute, this life.  She’s OK and I’m proud of her.  

And now I’m thinking that I probably shouldn’t have spewed all this nonsense out there, but my friend Ashley told me it was a good idea.  Sometimes she’s brave.  

These Hips Will Never Be 15 Again

roller bookWhen I stood up after a one-hour meeting this morning, my hips popped and cracked so loudly that my coworker and I had to laugh about it. But I’ll take the creaking bones and sore muscles in exchange for the two hours of roller skating joy I felt yesterday afternoon.  Those sounds were just one more reminder that these hips will never be 15 years old again.  For that, I am grateful.

Back in middle and high school, roller skating was a thing.  It was The Eighties, so we skated in Gloria Vanderbilt jeans with a plastic comb sticking out of the back pocket, sequined leg warmers twinkling in the disco lights.  On a Friday night at the Skate Inn, the air hung thick with Aqua Net, Love’s Baby Soft and Polo.  I didn’t live close enough to The Big City to get to go skating every weekend–only about 3-4 times a year for birthday parties and such–so I never got really good at it.  Not like Amy Sarsfield, who had her own white skates with yarn pompoms tied into the laces.  She could skate backwards.  When it was time for Couples’ Skate, she and her boyfriend slipped around the oval in a waltz, not just holding hands and tottering along side by side.

In those days, my main concern while skating was looking cool…which didn’t simply mean staying upright.  I had to fight gravity and inertia, keep my hair combed, bounce in time to “Freak Out” by Chic, look around for my friends and any cute boys without looking like I was looking around.  My hips were busy keeping me looking cool while all of that was going on.  Because skating for me was all in the hips.  Maybe my legs were too long or my center of gravity was too high or the legs of my Gloria Vanderbilts were too tight to allow the right movement, but I never felt safe and graceful while up on skates.  Some primordial fear of falling kept me from completely lifting my feet off the rink surface to push.  And don’t even try to do that crossover step on the corners!  So I wiggled and glided and slammed into the carpeted wall to stop (ever so gracefully).  If I really lost momentum in the middle of “Brick House,” I might summon the courage to lift my left foot an inch and give a push/wobble/recover but every one of them made my breath catch in my throat.  My whole body vibrated with teenage tension, waiting for the BOOM!

Well.  That was thirty years ago.  After a looooooong hiatus (um, 30 years), I’ve been roller skating three times in the last month!  Vivi likes to go and I like to take her on any and all adventures…and if you’re going to the skating rink with a six year old, you’re gonna skate.  This is not the kind of coaching you can do from a distance.

roller skatesEach time we go, we get a little more comfortable.  Vivi falls fearlessly and often, like a game of Pick Up Sticks.  She’s tall for her age so she resembles a rolling flamingo sporting a look of dogged determination.  I look more like a turkey leg from the Renn Faire, up on skates.  At least my jeans these days have a little more give to them, so there is some blood getting to my feet.

My hips are faaaaaar more experienced at 45.  They’re wider, but wiser.  As I was gliding around the rink yesterday, smiling openly at the middle aged men hot-dogging around, I thought about that 15 yr old girl I once was and it hit me–I’m not the woman I used to be.  And that’s a good thing.

I’m not that girl anymore.  I’m three times older than she was.  My hips know how to shift weight from balancing a baby.  My toes know how to press for a corner because I learned that snowboarding in Utah–heel side J’s and toe side J’s.  The gliding along, moving weight from side to side, well that’s like skiing.  I still look around, but now it’s to find my kid and give her a wave.  I still can’t lift my feet all the way off the floor for fear of toppling over.  But I can still feel the music in my hips and I don’t care if I look goofy as I bounce along.    Especially if it’s the Harlem Shake or the Cupid Shuffle.  That stuff’s right up there with the Commodores.

Skating still makes me wobble, but it’s FUN.

It’s one of those things I would have denied myself if I had spent too long thinking about it.  I can’t go roller skating because I’m too old, too fat, too clumsy, too tired, too fragile, too impatient…too afraid.  But when you’re the mom of a girl and you never want to hear her say that she’s too clumsy or fat or fragile to try something fun, you have to shut up, lace up, and show her how we roll.


Just One Feather

One feather

Have you ever had that moment when a squirrel darts out into the street as you’re driving by but it’s not safe to swerve so you keep going and cringe and wait for the thump…but it never comes?  That happened this morning as Carlos and I were driving to school (well, I was driving because his license has been suspended for being a TODDLER).  The squirrel ran straight for my tire.  I cringed.  Then I peeped in the rear view mirror and didn’t see anything splattered behind me, so I figured the squirrel performed some kind of magic and ran between the tires.

Thinking about that squirrel, and a friend who lost her husband this week, and that time I lost my husband–it all made me think about how we dart between the tires all day long.  There is so much risk in being alive, so many wheels flying past us as we’re just trying to get a few acorns back to the nest.  We can’t stay in the nest with our babies or they and we would starve.  We have to go hunting for acorns when the fall makes them plentiful.  It’s risky, but it’s why we survive.

Perhaps I should switch to decaf because I really do a LOT of thinking before the sun is high in the sky.

Once we got to school, I opened the car door to lift Carlos out of his seat.  His face lit up like we hadn’t seen each other in days.  He squealed, “MOMMY!” and flung himself into my arms.  I stood there between the minivans with my face buried in the dark curls under his ear and told him how I loved him more than anything else in the world.  How I would do anything to keep him safe and happy and growing.  He whispered, “Gotcha, baby,” and squeezed me between his tiny arms.   That’s what I usually say every morning when I pick him up from his car seat.  When he’s upset or startled or crying, I hold him tight and say, “Mommy’s got you.  Mommy’s got you.  You’re OK.”  I guess he could feel that I needed that this morning.

It’s all just so much some days.  Like walking across a tightrope and you can’t resist looking down.

On my walk into my office, I did look down.  And there lay a soft gray feather on the sidewalk.  I love feathers.  The hollow shaft that makes it strong and light–the only reason a bird can fly with all that architecture and not be weighed down.  The fluffy tuft of down for warmth because it’s cold when you get far away from the earth.  The gentle curve, like the curve of the horizon where the earth ends and the sky begins.

It takes thousands of miraculous feathers to make an ordinary sparrow.  Just like us, that tiny bird is a hodgepodge of miracles that all seem to work most of the time.  Soft and warm, hollow and light, brave and gentle.

But here’s the lesson I got from that feather on the sidewalk:  it was just one feather, one feather of a thousand that make up that bird.  Loss is real and loss affects us.  Loss may even slow us down or ground us for a while.  But it’s just one feather.  That bird flew on without it.

The squirrel made it back to the nest.  Carlos made it to the story rug.  Mommy made it to her desk.  The sparrow continued to soar.

Peace to you today if you are feeling afraid.  You can still fly, even as you lose feathers along the way.

She Won’t Remember Any of This

Last night, we kept the TV on Max & Ruby.  I grilled hamburgers and boiled up some corn on the cob.  Carlos stomped around in one shoe while saying, “Cars!  Shoe!  Banana!  Hug!  All Done!”  Vivi and I made banana muffins with the new mixer.  She and G read a book called “100 Ways to Make Your Dog Smile.”  She asked the difference between a terrier and a bird dog, so I told her all about hunting dogs–terriers, pointers, sight hounds, retrievers.  I told her about the German Shorthair Pointer we had when I was her age, a dog named “Circles” for the three aligned spots at the base of her tail.  The TV sat silent.  Vivi made up songs about my favorite colors and belted them into a plastic Dora the Explorer microphone.  We packed her lunch for camp the next day–she chose strawberry milk, sour cream and onion potato chips, carrots, applesauce, ham and cheese sandwich and a couple of banana muffins for snack.

We didn’t talk about tornadoes.  Just like after Boston, when we didn’t talk about bombs, or Newtown when we didn’t talk about guns.  Or all the other days before that, when we kept the TV silent, those days where G and I shared long looks over the top of the children’s heads and whispered sadnesses behind closed doors.

lairFriday was her last day of kindergarten.  When I asked her what she thinks is her biggest accomplishment this year, she chirped, “READING!”  This weekend, G bought her a big stack of Junie B Jones books about kindergarten and first grade.  I think we both assumed that we would be reading them to her, but Vivi has other ideas, grand ideas.  She built herself a hidey hole under my desk on Saturday morning.  She filled it with two warm blankets, a pack of gum, a box for treasures, a couple of stuffed animals and her stack of books.  She calls it her “lair.”  She’s already tearing up the books and I am online ordering more, like feeding coal into a roaring furnace.  The Magic School Bus is in the mail.

Our town has sirens.  Our brick house has a basement.  There is a small room down there with cinder block walls and no windows.  She knows that when storms get dangerous, we all sit in there.  She needs to know that, but she doesn’t need to know…this.

I see her reading in her lair, cozy in her Sonic pajamas, with Pengy tucked under her arm and a bountiful lunch in the fridge, all waiting on tomorrow.  One phrase comes to mind:  “Shield the joyous.”

I haven’t participated in any kind of religion for 20 years, but after Richard died, my friend Robin gave me a red leather Book of Common Prayer from the Episcopal church.  She knows how I love words and poetry.  She wanted me to have the words that were said at our wedding and at his memorial.  What a gift Robin has been to my life.  There is one prayer in particular that she gifted to me, as I had spent so many sad nights alone in my house.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, sooth the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

Many times (even if I edited it some to match my beliefs), I have read this prayer for Compline before bedtime and choked upon the words “weep,” “sick,” “dying,” depending on the time of my life.  Now I read it and choke back tears on “shield the joyous.”  This night, I am a mother and one of the few things I can do in this life is shield the joy of my children from the weary truths of this suffering world.

It can’t last forever.  There will be a time when Vivi and Carlos are old enough to know.  There will be times when we turn the TV on and set them in front of it so that they can KNOW.  I remember a time like that when I was 10 years old–1978 and the Jonestown Massacre.  My parents watching the news, as cameras panned over silent fields of corpses, bloating in the jungle heat.  Poisoned by their own hands because their leader told them to.  My mother thought that they should turn the TV off, that we were too young to watch.  I vividly remember my father saying firmly, “No.  You kids need to know this can happen.  You need to know about this kind of bullshit so you don’t get caught up in it.  Sit down and watch.”  He was right.  I’ve never forgotten it.

As Vivi was dancing off to bed last night, a thought hit me:  “She won’t remember any of this.”  She is turning six in a couple of weeks.  When I think back to six, I don’t remember much, just a general idea about life and how it was.  A couple of school memories.  A few friends.  There are a few pictures, somewhere at my mom’s house.  So Vivi won’t remember this day, those banana muffins, the songs we sang.  She won’t remember the tornadoes in Oklahoma because I shielded her from that.  I hope that she remembers that she was loved every second of her life by people who put a lot of effort into keeping her safe and healthy and happy.  I hope she knows that we kept watch over her while she slept, all for love’s sake.

The Reverend Lauren McDonald has written a lovely meditation on “Shield the Joyous” on her blog, Leaping Greenly Spirits.  She’s another one of those super awesome kids from the Governor’s Honors 1985!