I was littler than the other kids when I was ten, but I was wiry strong and stubbornly determined to do the things I put my mind to. I didn't ever tell anyone how fearful I was; how I'd spend hours every night, awake under the covers having a hard time breathing because I was scared. Of a tree falling on my house. A brick being thrown through the window. My parents dying. Something unimaginable under my bed. Ghosts. Car accidents. A plane crashing into my house. My teeth falling out. Aliens. The devil. And, probably the one that took me the longest to get over: someone looking in my window, just the top of their head and their evil eyes visible down in the corner by the windowsill.
My own kids get a vague sense of worry about something in the night and they're suddenly there, clinging to me and whispering I'm scared, I'm scared. But I never thought to ask for help. Really, never, like as in it didn't occur to me to do that.
I look back and see that I was a weird little kid.
Once, right before we moved to California when I was ten, I was with a bunch of other kids riding my bike in the field behind the apartments where we lived. For forever that field had been empty. I had soccer games there, or practices anyway. I buried my goldfish in a white cardboard jewelry box right up against the fence line. The shallow ditch of a creek that cut through the field was where I'd seen a dead animal up close for the first time; a deer that the other kids dared me to poke with a stick. Her skin was dried out and papery and the stick made a hollow scratching sound against the side of her belly. That kept me up at night for a long time, not because I was scared so much as I was just sad over how beautiful the deer must've been and how sickening the kids were acting toward it. But this day, this weekend before I left to move away, we were there checking out the early stages of the construction of a retirement home. The first thing to change the field was a road, and I remember looking from the edge of the grass at the soft grey curves of pavement, the color of rainclouds, and how silly it seemed to not just make the road straight when there wasn't anything to get to or go around on it. No buildings, no trees.
There were tall piles of dirt around the field, black and brown and rocky piles on the grass. It smelled good. It was springtime and not so hot yet. I was trying to ride my bike to the top of one of the dirt mounds with of course no thought as to what I'd do at the top. Just be there, I suppose. But I wasn't more than halfway up, pedaling furiously, before I started to slide back down. It was steep and the dirt wasn't as compacted as it looked, so as I pedaled my tires forward faster and faster, I slid backward helplessly, unhurt but hyperventilating and badly shaken.
It was such a terrible sensation that I went home and got into bed to cry.
I still have dreams like that. Usually I am in a car driving up a hill when suddenly I'm sliding backward, down the hill, panicked and as not-in-control as it's possible to be. I wake up from those sweaty, my heart pounding, feeling sick.
I think in pictures a lot. Or scenes is maybe a better way to put it. When I feel helpless I don't necessarily have this inner dialogue that says, Wow, this sucks. I feel helpless. Bummer. Instead, I get a flash of myself dogpaddling in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. I was trying to figure out what to write about here not too long ago, and the image that came to mind was of me trying to run track in ice skates. That was picture-think for Huh, I'd really like to write about this stuff, but the way I want to do it doesn't really fit the space, all things considered.
It's maybe a little hard to explain.
Tonight I was really missing SG. He was here last night for dinner, and he stayed afterward to skate with the boys and then watch a movie with me after all the kids were in bed. Today he came back after a motorcycle ride to take the boys to the skate park. The girls and I tagged along. We went to In-N-Out Burger first (dude, protien burger has lettuce instead of a bun which makes it gluten free enough for SG and me) and then to the park. The boys haven't done more than skate the sidewalk and driveway, so they tenatively watched the other kids flying around and skating up ramps, trying it out gently themselves. I'm sure they were worried about looking like the novices they are, so I was feeling all the more proud of their efforts. I'm going to take them back tomorrow. It's free, and I can drop them off there, which makes me laugh because OMG! RIGHT ON! FREE SKATEPARK BABYSITTING!
The park closed up at 5, and SG took Nate out to get him a new deck (they won't let ripsticks in the park, so Nate and Lex had to share Lex's) while the girls and I went to the hardware store to get paint. Willow has been begging me for a desk, and today I finally figured out a side-out-rotate furniture move that has my desk being bumped to the boys' room and Nate's unfinished wood desk, which used to be my little sister's, going to Willow. But first, it needed to be cleaned up and painted. Willow wasn't crazy about the desk, and she cried a little because she wanted a new desk, so I told her she could pick the paint colors. We came home with yellow, blue, green, the palest pink they had, and purple.
We all met back here, and that was when I got that feeling; that pedaling uphill and sliding backward feeling. My house is seriously trashed, which is embarassing enough, but even moreso when SG is here. I know he understands and doesn't judge me, but I also know mothers who keep their houses clean and nice and orderly (somehow) and since his place is always clean and no one would ever be terrified to eat something from his kitchen (ahem), I feel like a huge loser about it. I'm finally on a lower dose of prednisone, but over the past few days I've noticed that it's made my face really round and puffy, I've put on about five pounds, I am insanely irritable, I am starving all the time, and I can't sleep (like NOW, just for example). Willow was understandably excited, and kept asking WHEN? WILL WE PAINT? THE DESK? and I just wanted to sit next to SG on the couch for a minute, because Monday is the return of work for both of us and night school for him (he's working on his MBA at a local, private, ReallyGoodCollege) and I'm not going to get to see a whole lot of him for the next, oh, seven or eight months. And the boys were begging him to come out and skate, and Sophie was griping about her DS game, and it was getting late and I had no clue what to do for supper, and I'd realized that the HUGE project Nate has due in January had been forgotten for the entire break, which is bad, bad, BAD of me. And so there I was, in my own living room but really in this field in Texas, killing myself trying to get up this damn hill and watching the top move away from me and the ground come up to smack me. You know?
Finally (after kissing me and telling me what a hard job I have) SG went on home to study and maybe stare silently at a wall for an hour to get over the afternoon (another picture-think: sometimes after a long day with my kids, I feel, in every sense, that I've been operating a jackhammer all.day.long.). I left the boys home alone to be picked up for their sleepover, and took the girls to Whole Foods where I stupidly spent probably 3/4 of the next two week's grocery budget on tonight and tomorrow's dinner ingredients, plus three boxes of mac and cheese, two boxes of popcsicles, a big bag of animal crackers and 18 chocolate milks for the kids' school lunches, a gallon of milk, two avocados, and two six packs of gluten free beer. I had that feeling again at the register, because spending so much was really, really, stupid of me. True, we do have to eat, but much as I love Whole Foods, the prices kill me dead.
Personally I have never been happier than I am now, but my single mom budget only really works in theory. I mean, on paper, it looks like I've got enough to pay bills, feed my kids, and fill up my gas tank (barely), but the reality is that I'm always coming up well short of even each month and I've been depending on help to make it. Probably not the sort of thing to be fessing up to, but there it is. Somehow cutting back on my yoga membership and not replacing my eye and face cream and sunblock as they run out isn't quite filling the gap left by one less salary and the addition of a day care bill. I was too embarassed to tell my dad that the hundred bucks he put in my Christmas card went toward children's motrin, a tank of gas, and a cash visit to the grocery store, but at the same time, that was really and truly what I needed.
Eventually the girls and I came home and they had salad and rice and chicken for supper and then we busted out the paint. I've got a tiled entryway, so we just set up our stuff there and started painting. The top of the desk is blue, the legs are yellow, the front is purple and the sides are pale pink. The drawer is green, with a yellow knob. Tomorrow we will paint different colored "sun with line designs on it," per Willow's orders, and when it's dry we'll snausage it into her room somehow. I've promised to drop the boys off at the skate park, and then I need to get posterboard and put some photos Nate took onto a memory card and go get them printed so he can do something toward this project tomorrow night. I still need more groceries so I can pack lunches for Monday, and we need to find and clean out the backpacks that haven't been touched since the Friday that started winter break. I'm not sure that everyone has clean socks and underwear, so I'll need to do some laundry. I should get a grip on my work email before Monday morning smacks me in the head. I need to balance my checkbook to see if there is anything left to get me through till the next payday, write a couple of thank you notes, and vacuum the goldfish crackers and whateverelse out of the carpet. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. I love New Year's Day, and the new year in general, but right now I'm looking at it like it's one big pile of dirt. I guess I need to get off the bike and just crawl on up to the top. (sorry for that shitty metaphorish thing there) I know I can do it, and honestly now that I've completly vented about it all, I do feel much better. In picture-think: it's like that feeling you have when you barf your guts out after feeling sick to your stomach all day long. Still kinda bad, but better!
I was a single mom for 10 years and really understand what you are talking about. Have you thought of delegating chores to the kids? Isn’t one of your missions to teach them how to care for themselves when they are grown? I did laundry, dishes, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, etc as a kid. Even if they grumble at first during the transition I am sure that they will love the sense of ownership and pride felt by contributing to the running of the house. We all want to feel valuable. Just my two cents. Sending love.
Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh. I think you can I think you can.
This post made me tear up a bit. I know how much it sucks to struggle, and how difficult it can be to ask for help. I’m stubborn like that. I try to do everything myself and then I get mad about it.
Your strength amazes me. I know you can do it because you’ve got determination. I wish I had more of that trait in myself.
I have been following your blog for some time now. Our lives are quite different in many ways, yet so many of the emotions you express in your truly talented way mirror the emotions I grapple with on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. I find myself feeling more “normal”, if there is such a thing, by reading your blog. I appreciate your candor and willingness to be raw and exposed. You are inspiring and I just want you to know that you are not alone. I know you *know* you’re not, but REALLY…you are in good company…from people who may be in your circumstance to people you would never even guess struggle with the same anxiety and guilt on so many levels. Thank you for your openness and for sharing your life. I send you strength and hope.
I don’t know how you do it. I only have two kids and we have two incomes and I still can’t manage to keep this place clean.
I don’t know how you do it either. I feel the same way, and I have two incomes, lots of help, and only two kids. You are an absolute rockstar.
i really like you, and while I only know a few parts of the story I think you are doing a great job.
would love to gluten-free lunch you sometime soon.
Marsha – thanks for your advice 🙂 the kids actually do help some, but the problem is that we’re all here for such short amounts of time and it’s all filled with supper and baths and homework. . . am working on enlisting their help more, tho
RHL – thanks (and happy birthday!)
Dana – most days being a mom is hard. even with help and money and friends and family. and it’s really clear in your writing how much you love your family and what a great mom you are. you know?
Kristi – thanks so much for commenting. it’s amazing how when we talk about things we struggle with, suddenly people around us are saying Me,too! also – you’ve got the best hair and your kids are so stinkin cute xo
Sarah – good. then you can totally come visit me and i won’t feel embarrassed! 😛
Mamadaisy — i only party like a rockstar. (heh) my house looks like someone turned it upside down and shook it. seriously.
jennyalice – let’s have lunch soon (or something) i lurve you xo