My Own Ophelia

opheliaWhen I was in fourth grade, my tight-knit group of girlfriends took me out to the Par Course (remember those?) and through the low, slanting light of late fall, told me they had decided together I couldn’t be friends with them anymore. Then they ran away, leaving me standing under the parallel bars with wickedly painful tears welling in my throat, making it hard for me to breathe.

I’ve been through a lot of heartache and pain since then- but I would give birth to five ten more children without drugs before I would stand in my fourth grade blue Nikes, out there under the cold autumn sky.

It was a pivotal moment in my life. The shock and pain was confusing- in grade four, your friends are your life. I was utterly alone. I would hide behind the sun-louvres on the building to eat my lunch. Hiding was less painful than the lunchroom where girls got up and moved. No one would be my partner for games, no one would chose me for teams, in class I was ignored and I slowly became invisible.

So I overcompensated. I became the nicest, kindest girl on the planet. I became a Yes Girl. I would do anything to please the teachers, the other kids in class- anything to have some positive human interaction. Recess gets awfully lonely when you are invisible- and I found every excuse to stay in, to help grade papers, to paint in the classroom. I tested into the Gate program, and studying at lunch became my refuge. I knew more about Greek Mythology and California grassy wetlands than any 10 year old.

In sixth grade, me still invisible, a girl named Wendy moved from Colorado to the desk next to me. She was in Gate too, and was an outsider, and was also the kindest and brightest girl. She didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to see me. We became friends, and were soon inseparable. Sunlight came back into my life because of Wendy.

Junior High started the following year, and with the effluvia of elementary schools flooding into one massive middle school, suddenly my stigma was gone. Girls from other schools knew nothing of my curse, and soon I had many friends. Wendy was still my girl, but I found myself quickly being drawn into a fast moving and popular group of girls. It was heady, to be part of the pretty, popular, (and let’s be honest, snotty and bitchy) clique- but they didn’t like Wendy. I was welcome, she was not.

I wish I could say I chose the high road. I wish I could say I did the right thing. I did not. I bailed on Wendy, and would see her sitting alone in the quad at lunch, her viola next to her, as she read a book. I hid my twinges of guilt and shame in the gossip and machinations of pubescent girl-pack. Make no mistake, there is little more cruel than a group of 13 year-old girls.

I was pretty and popular, I shared hair products, shoes and clothes with the prettiest and most popular girls in school. We shared lockers, had sleepovers, wrote notes about boys, ignored our parents and talked on the phone for hours.

Then, it happened again. How short my memory…

One morning, as I approached the gaggle of girls around our locker, they all walked away. The girl I shared with told me she needed more space, and could I please move my things to my own locker. A cold, hard lump was forming in my belly- but I was still clinging to the illusion that this was just minor.

Walking down the corridor at lunch, I saw the girls lockers open- and in three of them, my school snapshot, amid the many, was turned around, facing the metal. Not gone, not a vacant space- still there- but invisible. Again. I learned that everyone had turned my picture around. They had decided I did not have whatever makes snitty, young, teen girls run, and had excised me.

Seventh grade turned into a living hell. I was no one. I was completely invisible. Wendy had moved on, and was friends with a terrific group of girls who cared more about music, science and grades than about cliques.

Eighth grade was just as dismal. Finally, I met up with a nice girl who was a little bit of an oddball, too, and slowly, cautiously,  our small circle of friends formed. It was those girls I maintained a friendship through the levels of Hell that is Jr. High, and on into High School and through to graduation. But I was scarred. I was guarded, mistrustful and defensive with most people.

To this day, when I think of Wendy, the shame stings my conscience. It embarrasses me that I repeated the horrible pattern. I went to her during those years, apologizing and begging her forgiveness for my crass and hurtful behavior. Of course she was gracious and kind. Of course she forgave me. And of course, her life had moved on.

I don’t know what all this means in the grand scheme of things. I do know the actions of a group of girls, who have probably long-since forgotten my name, changed my life. Even as an adult, I am cautious with new friends. I wait. I wait for the other shoe to drop- I wait to see when they will find the something in me unacceptable. My walls are high, and they are thick, and it takes a lot for me to trust you.

The good that came from those experiences? I take nothing for granted. My friendshipsare choice and few, but deep and treasured. My loyalty is unshakable. If I count you among my trusted, I count you so for life. I value honestly and forthrightness above all else in a friend. And I will return the same.

I will never be invisible again. And now you know.

Wendy and I talk a couple of times a year still, and always exchange Christmas cards. Her husband is military, and she is a chiropractor and naturopath. She has lived in Spain, the middle east, England, Japan and all over the US.  Our kids are close in age. I still love her, and count her among the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

Namaste

The goodness just knows no bounds. Tonight on my porch: a wooden toboggan, a Christmas platter, a gift card to Target, a game for the kids, and a package via the mailman from my friend in Utah, Jen. I am humbled and amazed at the goodness of people; their giving  hearts, their charitable spirits and the kindness that flows so freely. I stand all amazed. Thank you…

“Something fell off the shelf inside her…”

On those random days when gravity loses it’s way and the moon rises in the west, telling what is real and what is just a tear in the fabric of the sky is next to imposible.

Calling anything “The Bottom” is folly. Settling into the rocky, hard, yet somehow safe nest of No Lower, yearning for Rock Bottom, waiting for the sky to sew itself closed again; here I am.

 

Counting Blessings

It’s my birthday.

Perhaps I belong upstairs sleeping- it is 2:20 in the morning- but since I’ve been up and down all night anyway, writing sounded more therapeutic than sleep.

Both boys are curled in their beds, buffeted and swaddled in clean towels, round three. Their bathtub has become the repository for the linen casualties of the stomach flu that is trouncing through our house.  Three pairs of jammies, two sets of sheets, one comforter, four towels and two pillows down, sleep finally finds their weary heads, and their tummies allow them respite.

Abby had four immunizations today (yesterday? it’s all rolled together) and has been fitfully sleeping and crying-out much of the night. As much as I try to keep the keep the sick bugs isolated and wash up, I fear making her sick to, as I move between my children in the low lamplight of the wee hours.

Does anyone ever have any idea how intimate they will become with barf before they are mothers? One may have been the most delicate flower before motherhood,  but once that baby comes, there is no room for squeamishness or fear of fluids. It’s all you, mama.

Originally, I the idea I would get a sitter and do fun stuff for myself today. Instead, I have the privilege of caring for my sick children in my warm house in a safe neighborhood, and I will count my blessings. It shouldn’t be too hard- actually, I already know- it will be an embarrassment of abundance.

For I am richly blessed indeed.

Thank you, Mamas, for all of your love an support and prayers and goodness you send my way. I appreciate each of you who checks in with my ordinary life. Once upon a time, I would gift my friends with bouquets of flowers on my birthday to show my love for them. If I could, I would do so for you, so many of whom have become gems in my life.

Worried

Trying to think things out when you’re sick is a bad idea. (I woke up with a sore throat and a cough and my ears hurt) But I can’t help myself. When I picked Beanie up at school today, the teacher needed to talk to me. Seems he is having some behavior issues, which, truth be told, is not a surprise.

Beanie hasn’t had an easy go of it, and while I may joke occasionally about him being a pain, there really are things going on health-wise that we haven’t figured out. I’m not talking ADD or ADHD or even Autism- I am (almost) certain none of those things are our issues. But I strongly suspect allergies, food sensitivity and sensory integration problems. We have an appointment in October, and it can’t get here fast enough.

When Beanie was born, everything made him cry. Everything. Nursing, my milk, formula, having his diaper changed, baths, towels, getting dressed, temperature changes, carseats, riding in the car, baby swings- you name it, he hated it. I’m being only slightly flip. Beanie cried, seriously cried, for months and months and months. The only time he wasn’t crying, he was asleep. And even that was fitfull and light. The only way he could fall asleep, was not in my arms, but swaddled as tightly as we could, in his crib, with a low light and a fan on. Then, he would sleep.

When he was about three months, we accidentally found a formula that soothed his tummy enough that he only cried about 2/3 as much- and we used it until he was 18 months old. It cost us $400 a month. The doctors did all kinds of tests, including an ultra-sound and ECG on his little heart. Nothing showed up abnormal, but my mothers’ intuition has always told me, something is not right.

Recently, my cousin in California called my attention to a book called Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World. I am plowing through it- it’s the first time I’ve ever read anything that sounds like MY child.

The thing is, normal things, everyday things that other people either assimilate in their environment, or else tune out, Beanie cannot do. Rubbing with a towel after a bath therefore becomes torture , tags or crooked seams in his clothes are not just the nuscence they are for most pre-schoolers, they become like a TV, Radio and Vacuum on all at once. Full blast.

The other night, he was in the bathtub, and both his brother and sister had already been plucked out and jammied, and I went in to grab Bean. He was lying on his back in the warm water, eyes closed, ears submerged, silently floating. In his whole entire life, I have never seen him so… so… relaxed. Ever.

Underwater, there was no sound, only his breathing. His eyes closed, there was no input, the water surrounded his little body, and he found peace. Maybe for the first time ever.

I started to cry, and left him to his peace.

Reasons Why

My kids are giggling and laughing from the other room, and I find myself grateful for the tiny tender mercies today. Abby is sleeping peacefully, nestled in her crib with soft, warm blankets and a full tummy, my husband is at the office, earning a livable wage for honest work, we have good medical insurance and quality doctors and medical centers close by, our home is strong and well-built and warm.

It’s time to think of some things I’m grateful for, things I love, and things that make me really, really happy… Add yours

An old wooden swing hanging from an oak treee

Radio Flyer wagons

Black and white photographs of loved ones

Pianos with keys that don’t work

The way children forgive so completely and immediately

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Yosemite

Sharpie permanent markers

Terra Cotta pots with geraniums in them

Meeting grandma and grandpa at the airport

Foggy mornings

Spicy Indian food with raita to cool your mouth

The sound of crickets as twilight settles in

Sundried clothes

Stinging cheeks from the wind at the beach

Walking on warm, round river rocks

The smell of antique wooden furniture

Lemons

The first time your baby calls you Mama

Valentines from your child

Cowlicks

Sharp quilting needles and a good English thimble

Post-it notes

Mexican food

The smell of Jasmine on a summer night

Good tweezers

Magnets

Getting all the laundry done and put away

Towels right out of the dryer

Cotton diapers on chubby baby bottoms

Soft, old well used paintbrushes in a crock on a windowsill

Picking tomatoes in my dad’s garden before the day gets too hot

Honey

The gleam and feel of hardwood floors

Georgia O’Keefs handwriting

Playing “jacks”

The many talents of my mother

Kindergarten teachers that play guitar and sing

Old, faded, loved worn quilts

Summer thunder storms and the awe they inspire

The crack of a wooden bat on a baseball

Old push-key manual typewriters

The smell of rosemarry and thyme

Cedar

Advice from my dad on how to do something properly

LL Bean laceup mud boots

Clogs with thick socks

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge

Audrey Hepburn

Feeling your baby move inside your body

Chatting with a neighbor in the middle of the street

Fireflies in Iowa summer

Disneyland

Hope chests

Fresh, taut, clean sheets on the bed at night

Going barefoot

Phone calls from your siblings

Driving a convertible though Napa

Homemade sourdough bread

Paste and tempera paint

A friend stopping by unannounced

The smell of a barbecue floating on the breeze

Discovering a new book I love

Bing cherries from my grandma’s freezer

Pillow cases with hand crocheted edges

Kindergarten artwork of our family

Understanding why Jackson Pollock needed to throw paint

The sound chickens make when they are content

The patina scriptures get when they are lovingly used

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This precious face…

I could go on and on and on….

Shoes are for Wearing

My husband is my best friend. He has been for almost 17 years. And I treasure that relationship with him- he’s not just my husband, but a true friend, whom I trust with everything, and who loves me no matter what. I realize how fortunate I am in this, and not everyone has that kind of friendship with their spouse. I am blessed.

But… it’s been so long since I had a close girlfriend, someone who I could hang out with and feel relaxed and easy in my skin. Until now,  my two closest girlfriends both live in other states. We keep in touch with phone calls, e-mails and even occasionally get to see on another- but they aren’t a part of my daily life, and as wonderful as my husbands is, sometimes I miss hanging with the girls.

I’m cagey in my friendships with women. I’ve been burned too many times, and I hold out, wary of trusting other women. My past is colorful, and the women I meet at church don’t usually give me impression that would be OK- more likely, it’s probably just a lack of relate-able experiences. So, I keep my cards close to my chest. Sure, there are some people I genuinely like, but in four years, there is no one who has gotten closer than “casual” in our friendship.

Perhaps that’s part of the appeal in blogging- I can be me, and worse that can happen is you won’t read what I write. And as much fun as comments are, not reading isn’t going to hurt nearly as much as bailing on me two weeks after you were my maid of honor at my wedding.  Know what I mean?

When I meet someone new, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, for them to decide I am too coarse, too loud, too curly, too big, too happy, too funky, too artistic, too something, and to take off.

Through blogging, I have met some astounding women, women who are as real to me as my own family, and I have only met a handful in real life.  The women who have come into my life though this little blog experiment have changed my perspective on friendships. It’s been gradual– you don’t turn an ocean liner around on a dime, but because this medium is so safe, it has been a fabulous vehicle for meeting people I can love and admire, and even admit to my real life.

So ladies, thank you for being you, for being the stellar example of good, kind women-hood and mama-ness. Thank you for restoring my faith in friendship, and for teaching me by your example that not all people suck. And to the one nearest and dearest- I never let you know how much that card meant to me. It said:

“Shoes are for wearing…” and inside, “… not dropping.”

That’s how I knew I had real friend.

First Tooth

This afternoon, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, Jeffrey comes bawling down the hall, tears into the kitchen, displays a mouth full of blood, and the telltale little gap where once his tiny tooth had been. He lost his first tooth! And though he has been wiggling it for days, the actuality of it falling out was startling and frightening. Poor Boy!

Congratulating him, I grabbed some paper towels and began to sop up the blood and blot his tear streaked face, reassuring him that everything was OK. We sat down on the floor and he climbed, big giant boy, in my lap and wiped his tears on my shirt.

We talked about teeth,  how bigger, stronger ones are waiting underneath, and how this is perfectly normal for a boy his age. He kept on crying, and I found tears springing to my eyes, too.

This was a real milestone in his life. Another mile-marker of him growing up and becoming his own person. He kept saying he didn’t want anymore teeth to fall out, that he wanted to stay just the way he is now. What could I say? It’s inevitable? We all grow older? We just sat and quietly talked about growing up, he in my lap, I on on the living room floor, while Beanie and Abby played.

Then he remembered the Tooth Fairy…

And suddenly, he wasn’t scared anymore. He leaped from my lap, and wanted to see the tooth- and the “hole” where it had been. He showed Beanie, now quite proud of his accomplishment, and the moment was over.

He’s sound asleep. A small envelope with a tiny little tooth is tucked tightly under his pillow, and hopefully little boy dreams fill his head. Now I must be off, I have to prepare for my inaugural trip as the Tooth Fairy. I wonder where I put my wings….?