I’m That Mom Who Cries at Everything

I cry happy tears every day, and I encourage you all to do the same. Let’s all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, okay?

My mother was constantly caught off guard by commercials in the 70s and 80s. She would just stop and stare at the television, instantly engrossed in the Band-Aid tearjerker or Folger’s coffee warm and fuzzy wakeups with surprise visits from grown coffee drinking children. Every time the commercial came on, she would stop and watch it like it was the first time.
And then she’d cry. Not a debilitating, crazy person cry. But she would be teary-eyed for a few minutes as she went back to cooking or reading Good Housekeeping or admiring my brother’s latest Lego creation.
I didn’t understand the concept of ‘happy tears’ as a child. I’m not sure most kids do. I can remember asking why she was crying after one of those commercials had done their damage. “Because it was happy,” she would say.
I’ve never been a crier. I’ve found all it produced was a headache. Instead, I would find myself deep in thought, bordering on meditation, when something very serious or sad happened.
When all my brothers, our spouses, my nieces, and my father gathered around my mother’s hospital bed to take her off life support, I remember being very calm. I was more concerned about the comfort of everyone else. I didn’t want to break down. I just took in the moment. I removed myself and immersed myself simultaneously.
Three months later, I suffered the worst loss. My two-year-old son, Noah, died in a swimming pool accident. He was our only child. Of course, shock played a big part in the non-medically sedated state I usually I found myself in. I just went on autopilot from day one. I had no idea I could do that. I just did. My husband needed me. I needed me.
Two-and-a-half years later, I became a mother again. Miriam Phoenix was born, and we were about to emerge from the worst and re-enter the best again. It was a happiness magnified by the most giant magnifying glass ever.
It was also incredibly complicated. This sadness and happiness needed to make friends if we were going to be the parents Miriam deserved.
I found that the tears flowed more easily at the happy stuff. The firsts. The first time my husband spoon-fed her. The first time she mimicked my voice. The first time she kissed me before I could kiss her. The first time we all walked together, Miriam in the middle holding our hands.
To everyone else, we looked like a normal family. But the grief would always be trailing behind us. I would try to outrun it. But I was terrible in gym, and sometimes it caught up to me. I didn’t cry though. I just didn’t.
Miriam had her nursery school Holiday Show a few weeks ago. As I sat waiting for it to start, I looked around at all the other parents. They were laughing and commiserating and simply being normal. I waved to a few mothers I knew. I went back to being immersed and removed simultaneously. My mother bubble.
The show started with the older kids. They filed out in front of the giant bulletin board decorated with construction paper candy canes and dreidels in one white-shirted line.
And I lost it. I started crying. This wasn’t even my child’s class! I just felt it all so strongly. I glanced around and noticed many of the other parents seemed comparatively unaffected by the cuteness of this.
How hard these kids worked on this show! Learning their songs and their adorable hand motions. I was overwhelmed. This will never happen again. These kids. These songs. How can you not cry?
Miriam’s class was next. My cheeks hurt from smiling at her. She was so proud. She loved the audience. She was totally in the moment. I cried some more. I looked around to see if I could find any fellow criers. Nope. Not a one. Maybe it’s me.
I want more criers in my club. Happy criers love company.
I will continue to cry at every Back to School night. Every teacher conference. Every time Miriam pushes me out of the door of her classroom and says, “Mommy, gimme a kiss. And a biiiiiig hug,” and then throws in a “see-you-later-have-a-nice-day!”
In fact, the happy tears rolled down my cheeks just this morning. Miriam woke me around 6:30 a.m. to tell me that she was having so much fun in her new big girl bed. Then she went back to sleep. I just let the tears roll and eventually went back to sleep myself.
I cry happy tears every day, and I encourage you all to do the same. Let’s all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, okay?

Parenting From the Pages of "The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook"

Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible.

Tuesday, 1:23pm.

I’m hiding in the living room watching soccer on my iPad when Harry walks in dressed in a black ninja costume, plastic sword in hand. He looks for me underneath the end tables, inside the fireplace, and beside the couch.

“Daddy, where are you?”

Crouching behind a faux leather recliner no one in my family sits in, I breathe as quietly as possible. I clench every muscle.

Harry yells out my name, elongating both the first and second syllables. “Daaaaa-dddddy!”

My heart thumps. When I was a kid and anxiety threatened to overwhelm me, I would recite state capitals in alphabetical order: Montgomery, Alabama; Juneau, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona. When that trick no longer did the trick, I switched to washing my hands 96 times a day. Then I switched to trimming the carpet in our living room with a pair scissors, taking great care with each individual carpet fiber.

Much later, I discovered alcohol and then marijuana, a drug that, for a time, I thought of as an old friend, one who could quiet my mind long enough for me to stop driving over the same stretch of highway 13 times in a row or rearranging my wallet, my keys, and my inhaler on the nightstand until I burst into tears because the items were never perfectly aligned.

Now, after I very nearly ruined my marriage, I take special medication and read everything I can get my hands on concerning how to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder. For example, Edmund J. Bourne, the author of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Fifth Edition,” suggests you “find an alternative, positive obsession.” So, at 38, I obsess about soccer in lieu of my son, a precocious four-year old who is used to me playing with him almost every hour of the day.

“Daaaaa-ddddddy!”

I hold my breath.

Harry screams like a banshee and then stomps into the dining room.

Alone again, I glance down at my iPad and refocus my attention on the soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, two top clubs in the prestigious English Premier League. I’ve already watched this game from beginning to end twice, so I know that Tottenham, the team that I arbitrarily decided to obsess over, loses 2-0 even though they retained possession of the ball 58 precent of the game and took 14 shots on goal, four of them on target. 

During my first viewing of the match, I took extensive notes. Total number of fouls committed: 27.  Corner kicks taken: 11. Yellow cards given: 5. I didn’t just jot down important statistics, I also wrote down detailed observations concerning Tottenham’s offensive and defensive strategies as well as how both could be improved. I wrote down rambling musings on the different coaching strategies employed; on the effects, both negative and positive, of the dreary weather in London on game day; of the betting odds. I did all of that, and yet, several days later and with my son desperate for my attention, I still feel compelled to watch every single play.

Harry yells my name once, twice, three times. I hear him kick something in the dining room, and then say, “I’m a dumb kid!”

Removing my earbuds, I peer around the corner of my hiding spot. My son is sitting Indian-style underneath the dining room table, repeating “I’m a dumb kid” over and over and over again. Lately, he’s been saying “I’m a dumb kid” a lot, and I feel directly responsible.

Since I was a child, there’s been a voice inside my head that says things like: I’m neurotic, I’m no good, something is really wrong with me. Bourne calls this “anxious self-talk,” which is “typically irrational but almost always sounds like the truth.”

My son is far from dumb. He can write most of his letters. He puts together Lego sets with minimal assistance. He can tell you what fossil fuels are (“dead dinosaurs that you put in your car”), and how all the dinosaurs became extinct (“a huge asteroid hit the Earth and killed them”).

In a study published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, researchers discovered that the higher the level of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, the higher the intelligence. I think about this as my son continues to berate himself.

“Harry, don’t say that, please. You’re not dumb,” I tell him from behind the recliner.

“Where are you, Daddy? I can’t see you.”

I watch my child, who begins telling his sword a complicated story involving a green ninja named Eric (the boy’s favorite uncle is named Eric), a one-eyed monster, and a pit of lava.

“I’m Ninja Eric and I’ll hit the monster and throw him in the lava and he’ll die because good guys kill the bad guys and the good guys win and I’m a good guy.” He makes an explosion sound with his mouth, sending spittle flying onto the floor. “You’re in the lava now, monster! It’s so hot! You’re gonna die!”

Just like that, I forget about soccer, my so-called positive obsession. My brain shifts from the pulled hamstring of Harry Kane, Tottenham’s leading goal scorer, to Harry Huckleberry Everhart, my only son.

In “The Anxiety Book,” Jonathan Davidson, M.D., writes, “When you suffer from chronic anxiety, your internal police department, both biological and psychological, responds to false alarms every day, sometimes on an hourly basis.” Hiding behind the recliner, I can almost hear sirens over the sound of my son telling his macabre story. 

I engage in a lighting round of What If?, a game my central nervous system plays from time to time with or without my consent. What if Harry, like his father, becomes obsessed with death to the point where he finds it difficult to breathe and nearly impossible to do normal things such as go to school, make friends, or hold down a job?

What if Harry is never able to go back to school because instead of peacefully resolving conflicts with his peers he continues to yell, kick, hit, and throw things?

What if Harry ends up paralyzed by anxiety and turns to drugs and alcohol like his father once did?

What if Harry ends up drinking and smoking and snorting not because his peers are doing it, or because he’s craving a buzz or thinks it’s cool, but because he just wants – no, needs – to feel normal, to stop feeling jealous of every single other human being on this planet, all of whom seem to pass Algebra and visit the zoo and go out on dates without hyperventilating or sweating uncontrollably?    

I open my mouth to say something. Nothing comes out. I try to move but can’t. My eyes water, and, stupidly, I look down at my iPad. The game is approaching the 36th minute, which is when Shkodran Mustafi, one of Arsenal’s defensive players, scores a goal with his head. Having seen the replay nine times, I know that Mustafi is off-sides whenever he scores the goal, but the sideline referee doesn’t call it.

Five minutes ago, I would’ve cursed at the screen, fantasized about doing something wildly inappropriate to the referee’s house. But now, as I watch my son strike one of the chairs with his sword and call out, “Die,” I don’t give a damn about soccer. I give a damn about my son. I put my head in my hands and try to take some deep breaths.

“I found you!”

I open my eyes, and Harry slices the air with his plastic sword, the harmless blade missing my head by mere inches. “Daddy, why are you crying? Is it because your soccer team lost? Is that why you’re crying?”

I touch my son’s cheek. With his floppy brown hair, Bambi eyes, and smooth, olive complexion, he is an extremely attractive child. “Looks like his mother,” I often tell strangers who comment on his adorableness while we’re in the grocery store, “and thank God!”

“No,” I say, “it’s not that my soccer team lost.”

He frowns, pushes my hand away from his face. “Are you sad that you had to quit your job and take care of me? Because I was a dumb kid at 4K and kept being bad?”

My heart rate increases. I also suffer from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, affects approximately two percent of people under the age of 65. 

I don’t know what to do or what to say. Should I show him the 277 letters I’ve written to him, each one numbered, dated, and addressed to Harry Huckleberry, each one containing purple expressions of fatherly love alongside detailed descriptions of him and all the cute things he’s done? Or should I show him the list of positive self-talk statements I wrote down and keep in my wallet? Maybe I should read some of them aloud, so he would know that I am not a perfect father, but I love my son more than anything else and I strive to raise him the best way I know how. As he looks at me, I have no idea what to do.

Then I recall something from page 426 of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.”

“Patience,” Bourne writes, “means allowing things to unfold in their own natural time.” As I look into my son’s beautiful brown eyes, that’s what I decide to do: be patient.

“Harry,” I say, “from now on, whenever you say, ‘I’m a dumb kid,’ I’m going to give you an example of something cool I’ve seen you do. Got it?”

A mischievous grin appears on his face. “I’m a dumb kid,” he says, barely containing a laugh.

I walk into his bedroom and come back with an intricate airplane made of Lego pieces.

“You made this fighter jet for your ninjas last week,” I say. “You got a little frustrated putting the pieces in place, but you stuck with it and I’m proud of you for that. You’re a smart kid.”

His cheeks redden a bit, and then he swipes his sword at my hand, knocking the ninja airplane to the ground.

“Let’s play ninjas, Daddy!”

“I’m ready,” I say and stand up.

***

There was a time when I was ashamed of my chronic anxiety, even though 18 percent of the adult population suffers from it, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

There was a time when I would never have revealed to anyone how many therapists I’ve tried (five), or how many times I’ve worked through the exercises in “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” (seven), or how many times I’ve read and taken notes on “The Anxiety Book” (nine).

There was a time when I would’ve been extremely reluctant to reveal that I used to have daily panic attacks, and that every night I’d ask God to please not let me wake up in the morning, please just let me die.

There was a time when I would’ve been ashamed to confess that I take 10 mg of Buspar twice a day.

Fortunately, that time has past. Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible. Perhaps it’s time I replaced soccer with a new positive obsession: sharing my story with others.

Practicing Reverence for the Wild

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!
Rows and rows of pansies. Blue, yellow, red. Tulip swirls, concentric circles of prim rose bushes. Butchart Gardens in British Colombia gets thousands of visitors every year, each coming to ooh and ahh over the neat rows and patterns, beautiful flowers and plants, all tightly arranged in a breathtaking presentation.
But I was just bored. Not because I don’t enjoy greenery. On the contrary, I love flowers and plants, but I prefer a more unfettered beauty.
When I visit such places, I crave more nature, less human dominance. I find myself longing for wildflowers careening down hillsides, bowers draped in greenery, ferns as tall as your shoulder, and leaves as big as your head. I yearn for thick piles of needles in redwood tree groves and waves crashing against rugged, rocky outcroppings, where lonely cypress trees stand sentinel.
My soul sings when I see Earth bursting forth in all its wild holiness. There is a sacredness in wilderness, a reverence the soul feels at witnessing the beauty, power, and life cycle of nature.
One of the greatest compliments I ever received came from someone I respect deeply. He referred to my kids as “those wild and holy children you mother so deliberately.” At first, I was not entirely sure what to make of his comment. As I reflected on the person speaking it, I understood that he really saw me and my kids and what we are doing. I realized his words were a great compliment.
When my eldest was just a baby, I found myself at a crossroads I did not expect to reach until much later in my parenting journey. It became apparent to me that parenting was either going to be about control, or it wasn’t.
I had had a good deal of experience controlling things in my life. I had succeeded academically, in my career and my hobbies, by exerting control over the things that I could control. This practice had served me well.
But I knew in that moment, looking at my infant son, that using the same approach in this new stage of life could damage my child and our relationship with one another.
Our boy was a free spirit. A curious and energetic explorer. A passionate lover of life. He would crawl at four months. Walk at eight. Into all the cupboards, the Tupperware, the pots and pans. Then toddling, then running laps around us everywhere. His expansive spirit quickly endeared others to him. His joy was contagious.
He came to us with a fiery will of his own – a strong and undeniable life force, sacred and wild all at once. In those early months, when we had our first encounters, his acts of defiance caused me to pause and remember my decision to try not to control him.
“Don’t you dare break him,” the thought would come to me. Somehow, my heart understood that his life would require all of his strength and will, whole and unbroken.
And so I didn’t. I played with him, taught him, and administered consequences as needed, trying hard to be consistent. I let him climb and explore and run and use his joyful voice. I set high expectations and strived to help him learn discipline, respect, and the significance of choices and consequences.
But I refused to control him, or to use harshness to dull him or break his spirit.
Our magnificent boy continues to challenge me with his strong, wild heart. Now he has two sisters, who I am also trying to raise responsibly, without breaking. It is a challenge. I find it much harder to be intentional with them – giving them the space they need to grow in a natural kid environment – rather than controlling them or numbing them with distractions.
Muting the vibrant colors of their souls for my own convenience is not an option. I have too much respect for who they are. Because this I know: In the world we live in today, my kids will need their strong, wild hearts.
Have you ever noticed how wise children are? Intuitively, they know whom they can trust. They understand what is really important in life. Their compasses keenly discern right from wrong. Children have a purity that surpasses the world around them. It is the same purity and wildness that I see reflected in nature, unbounded and unconquered.
All children are beautiful, holy, and teeming with potential. Some children may be rows of pansies and tulips nicely arranged in tidy, white planter boxes. They will likely elicit oohs and aahs throughout their lifetimes.
Lest you feel concerned that I should peel back the vines and start in with the garden shears, please know that these are my magnificent, natural children. They are wild and holy, and I mother them deliberately.

Brazilian Waxing Is Hot?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!
After spending almost half of my life with my “high school sweetheart,” it ended, and I was sprung from my domesticated apron strings out into the world with no experience or handbook, a disaster waiting to happen. (I did, however, stumble across “He’s Just Not That Into You” a few months later).
Things change in 15 years, especially considering that I was 19 when I settled down. Just as fashion trends come and go (bell bottoms in in the 70s and out in the 80s), so do certain aspects of dating. Imagine my surprise to learn that Brazilian waxing is hot.
What is that about??
Can you imagine the shock and fright on my 10-year-old daughter’s face if she caught me naked coming from the shower, bald? (Yes, that actually did happen.)
I conformed. I will try most things once, and I have to admit, I prefer it this way. The maintenance is so much easier. Before you judge me, try to imagine the difference of maintaining hardwood floors verses carpet. Need I say more?
It can be scary becoming single in your 30s with three kids under your belt (literally…just look below my belt line, all the evidence is there, no matter how many crunches I do or miles I run). There are so many elements of dating that I am learning about. For example, “marketability.”
When people ask “Why do you go to the gym?” or “Why do you worry about what you are eating?”, I explain that I have five marketable years left, and I intend to use them to my advantage. I don’t want to be like my grade 10 art teacher, living alone in my 50s with three cats, not getting any.
Good for her, if she was happy. I’m not saying her lifestyle was wrong; I am saying it’s not for me.
Comments like, “If he doesn’t love you for who you are, you don’t want him,” are made by people who already have a signed legal agreement by their partner that requires them to come home every night. I don’t have that.
So I spend time at the gym each week and have taken up running, and it’s one of the best things I have added to my life. I also attend therapy bimonthly to work on my “inner self,” so the guy who gets me will get the best of both.
All that said, I am a realist. I recognize some facts I just can’t fight: I am not 21 with a pre-pregnancy body (there’s a whole chapter missing from my prenatal book about that). I have learned ways to compensate, or shall I say “aid” in my confidence when baring all.
Until I have that signed legal agreement, I do what works right now: I wear my level 4 push-up bra and tank top whenever I’m on top. Kidding. Well…sort of, but that’s another topic on its own. The fact is, I work with what I have and take care of it the best I can.
So, I continue on this journey. And, yes, having three kids, a full time job, a house to care for, and a circle of friends and family can be tricky to manage at times. Who plans to be a single mom in her 30s?
I may not be that tight little 20-something girl anymore. But I am proud of the woman I am – and the woman I am becoming. No regrets. There’s a lesson in everything, and I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s.
I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Daddy’s the Best and You’re Not

Parenting can both inflate the ego and then, often seconds later, squash it like a blueberry underfoot.

A month or so ago, it was my turn to put my older son to bed. When we got to the end of the routine, the part where I would tell his brain what kind of dreams it would have and then sing a song with him, he furrowed his brow and feigned tears, demanding his dad do it instead.
When I asked why, he took a breath, then delivered the punch: “Because…Daddy is the best. And you’re not.”
If there is anything I have learned in almost four years of taking care of a small human, it is that parenting can both inflate the ego and then, often seconds later, squash it like a blueberry underfoot.
Because I am a human, albeit a supposedly large and mature one, I bit back tears. Yes, I know he shouldn’t be punished for his feelings or his preferences or the standard issue manipulations associated with this particular developmental leap, however devastating to me all that was. I know my nearly four-year-old kid shouldn’t have to tiptoe around me and my emotions. I know he loves me and thinks I’m the best sometimes, too. (He does, I swear he does.)
But. I couldn’t hide the shock. And I couldn’t hide that I felt like he was actually onto something, that he’d found out what I’d suspected long before I became a parent – that I’m not, in fact, the best.
Since Daddy was putting my son’s brother to bed, I forged onward with a phlegmy and therefore poignant version of “Monday, Monday” – the song he asked for and sung none of with me – then slunk off to take an inventory of exactly why I sucked. (I was running on about five hours of sleep that week, so my brain will appalled me with its resourcefulness.)
To begin, I wasn’t fun with him, was I? I was always reminding my son about all the annoying things, like wearing his hat and cleaning up his toys and eating at least one bite of his breakfast and being gentle with his baby brother, while I whisper-screeched, “THAT’S HIS HEAD CAN YOU OKAY YEAH NO STOP OKAY THAT’S GOOD THANK YOU YOU’RE GREAT WAIT YOU’RE HURTING HIM!”
Come to think of it, I was often with said brother, nursing him, camped out on the couch, talking sweetly to him and not reminding him to do anything. No wonder my older son hated me! I’d been myopic and distracted and thoughtless!
No wonder children in general didn’t gravitate toward me! No wonder I’d been caught looking morose and despondent in family photos for years! No wonder school dances were always a nightmare! My entire life had been an exercise in masking my own melancholy.
I wasn’t fun! I wasn’t the best at all! I was actually maybe THE WORST.
As I questioned all 34 years of my life so far, spiraling with worry like a human fidget spinner, it occurred to me that maybe I was really only good for babies, a decent feeder with reasonably strong arms. In the first couple years of my son’s life, I gave him everything he needed – food, company, goofy storytelling voices, a sympathetic ear, shoulder, back, and hand.
“Isn’t Daddy the best?” I’d tell him. I’d tell him how great his grandparents were, too, his aunts and uncles, encouraging the diffusion of his love while blithely receiving the bulk of it.
Now, thanks to all that cheerleading, I watch from a distance that feels oceanic as my husband entertains him with fart jokes and pratfalls, as his grandparents and aunts and uncles bequeath him all the toys and trinkets he wants, are liberal with the treats, and he, in turn, basks in their adoration.
That night, it felt like there were only so many parts in the play of my son’s life. I’d somehow realized that, for months now, I’d been playing the bad guy (listed in program as: SNAPPY NAG). It felt like there was no space for me to be anything but.
So the next day I called my mom. And my mom told me to, of all things, just enjoy it. He’s giving you an excuse to relax, she said to me. It’s not your job to be his best friend, she reminded me.
My mom didn’t tell me that my son didn’t really mean what he’d said, because she wasn’t worried about that. She told me, instead, that this would pass. She told me to chill. She told me that someday – maybe that very night or the next week or the next year or…well, sometime – he would appreciate who I was. He would love who I was.
Just be you, she said. You’re very lovable, she said.
Listening to my mom tell me these things, listening to her not freak out, listening to her tell me it was fine and I was fine, I saw that she was doing exactly what I needed to do with my son. When had I called her last? Had it been a week, maybe? More? But there she was, when I needed her, calmly assuring me that I was doing a good job.
I could wait it out, too. I could agree with my son, that yeah, his dad is the best, especially at bedtime when I’ve got nothing left. I could do what I’ve done forever and be funny about my pain, groaning about how I am the worst, I’m a real monster, a MOMMY MONSTER, and crack him up.
I could, when he asks for his dad, make a cartoon exit, flinging myself out the door like Road Runner, cracking myself up. I could go snuggle up with my new son and try to live inside of time as it passes stealthily through the moments we spend bathing ourselves in regret.
I could re-cast myself. I could be fun again, my own kind of fun, my own kind of best.
A couple weeks ago, when I wasn’t thinking about it, my husband reported that, as they embarked for school that morning, our son told him he wished I was taking him. When my husband asked why, he said, as if it was obvious, “Because I like her.”
I like her, too.

Lonely Motherhood: An Introvert's Pondering

The women I spent time with before I had kids are still friends, but we don’t have as much in common anymore.

I see the picture as I’m scrolling through my news feed and feel a pang in my chest.
I’ve never considered myself the jealous type, but I can’t deny that that’s what this is – jealousy, mixed with loneliness.
A group of kids, several families’ worth, smile at the camera. They’re all classmates of my kids, and all their parents are good friends, the kind that get together for Sunday barbecues in the summer and Christmas parties in December. The kind who plan fun outings just because and even go on vacation together occasionally.
As a kid, I always had a best friend or two. Who they were changed from elementary to middle to high school, but they were always there: my people. Since becoming an adult though, and especially since becoming a mother, I don’t have that anymore.
It’s not that I have no friends. I do. I would even say I have a couple of good friends, ones I can text with a question or something funny that happened in my day that they, being in a similar season, readily understand.
But can I call someone a best friend if I don’t think she’d reciprocate? Can I call someone my person if she already had a well-established group of her own before I came along?
My husband has long understood my need for friendship, but we’ve never been in the same place at the same time. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s felt fulfilled in this area, having a variety of friendships ranging from acquaintances to best friends. He may have added someone here and there, but his core group has stayed the same.
For me, though, friendship has been transitional in adulthood.
The women I spent time with before I had kids are still friends, but we don’t have as much in common anymore. The friends I met when my kids were babies have gone their separate ways, and the ones I hung out with when my kids were toddlers I now see mostly online instead of in person.
My friendships have followed my kids’ developmental stages, so now I find myself with school friends. These are women who seem wonderful – I’d love to get to know them better – but they also seem to have avoided transitional relationships and have settled into deeper, longer-lasting friendships.
In other words, they have no need for someone like me.
I wonder if my perception is truly my reality. Certainly, other mothers must struggle with this, too. Perhaps even the ones who share pictures of their girls’ night out or their recent group shopping trip struggle with this.
Or maybe it is just me. I’m introverted and do not easily put myself ‘out there,’ so I alone am to blame for my loneliness. I should make calls, plan get-togethers, make the effort to get to know people. But that’s risky.
Maybe they won’t like me when they really get to know me. Maybe they’ll tolerate me because they don’t know how to say no. Maybe I’ll be the one who everyone secretly finds annoying. I’ll be left where I started – with people I say hello to in the school hallway and comment on pictures of their kids all smiling at the camera together, while trying not to feel on the outside.
Are my people out there somewhere? I think so. I just have to figure out how to find them.

Juniper, the Impossible Baby

The juniper plant is impossibly resilient, just like my impossible baby.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!

I was never supposed to get pregnant.

I’d been told by seven of the best doctors in the country at the tender age of 19 that I would never carry a child. They told me that if I did somehow manage to get pregnant, that I wouldn’t be able to carry my baby to full term because of complications with my uterus. Basically, my baby would spontaneously abort due to lack of space. I tucked this painful knowledge away, because I was far too young and unversed to deal with such devastation, and forged ahead.

Fast forward five years. I was 24 and suddenly I’d started to feel…strange. I had new aches all over my body. I wanted to eat peaches, which I’m allergic to. I had violent mood swings that were way out of character for me. I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I took six more tests. They were all positive.

I called my sister, who was in the medical field, and asked her if drinking too much coffee could give you a false positive. She laughed and said, “Absolutely not.” I went to the doctor a week later and confirmed it – I was six weeks pregnant.

After a few months of freaking out, I heard the heartbeat and that sealed the deal; I finally believed that I was really growing a human. As it sunk in, I could feel something emerging inside me, a new feeling I had never known before. I couldn’t name it but I knew it was going to be out of this world.

I held my breath, however, because the words of those seven “best doctors” kept echoing in my head. Despite reassurances from my current OB, I had this deep and permeating fear that I would lose my baby, that their prophecies over my future non-pregnancy would come true. Nevertheless, my baby and my body kept growing, everything was normal and healthy, and I began to breathe a little bit easier.

As my belly grew, I came slowly to believe that I would actually have this baby. I found out I was having a girl, and I knew I had to choose a name. I was due in June, and I felt like that should be a part of her name. A Gemini baby required a strong, wild name. I began to research the word June and its relatives. I stumbled across the name “Juniper” and, as I read on, I realized that was the only name for my impossible baby.

The juniper plant has 50 varieties. It can grow in any climate and any environment, based on the variety. There’s the juniper fir, juniper berry, juniper bush, juniper tree, and so on. It’s a hearty plant that’s been used by generations and its uses include food, fuel, medicinal purposes, furniture, utensils, and oils. It could potentially provide all of the necessities of life for a group of people.

It’s impossibly resilient, just like my impossible baby. As I read more and more, I was filled with hope for my unborn baby girl.

Amidst this hope, I recollected in agonizing detail the depth of disappointment and sting of pain I felt upon receiving the damning words from those “best doctors” that my body wasn’t fit to grow a human and it was an impossible dream. I had only been 19, but I’d already thought about children and how much I wanted to be a mother.

As I caressed my belly and felt my Juniper kick and push, I fully understood the correlation between the determination of my body to overcome this negative prophecy and the resilience of this name, and it filled me with an incandescent, wild hope. I think it was at that moment that I let go of all doubt about the viability of my pregnancy and stepped with total confidence into the new title of mother.

I delivered Juniper via cesarean section on my mother’s birthday, strengthening her Gemini spirit with her grandmother twin. She was small but perfect, and there were absolutely no complications for either of us. I recognized her cry right away and, as I stared into her chocolate brown eyes and held her tiny hand, I knew she was the embodiment of her name. She was the impossible baby, forged from my optimism, grown from hope, and born from the wild determination of her mother.

Juniper is seven now. She’s on the autistic spectrum. She’s brave and smart and compassionate. She’s beautiful and an utter delight to talk to. She knows her story. She knows her name and she knows the resilience that created her and continues to create her. She lives in it every day. I can’t wait to watch her grow up and change the world.

Discovered: How My Father Spared Me My #Metoo Moment

A grown man had “noticed” me. Was I supposed to want that? To feel flattered? Abandon my teenage suspicion that I was hideous?

“Mom, I want to be discovered by a famous director.” My daughter said this with her head just reaching over the kitchen counter, her nine-year-old face still broad, rosy, and freckled.
As jarring as it was to hear this from her as we learn how exploitive Hollywood has been of many young women and men, I know that my daughter doesn’t know anything about Harvey Weinstein or Brett Ratner or Kevin Spacey. She was expressing a common enough fantasy: I want to be a movie star!
But I felt the kind of horror that comes from knowing too much – the same kind I felt when she got the Barbie Malibu Dream House one Christmas and, instead of beachy girlfriend fun, all I could imagine was Barbie and her starlet friends doing tiny lines of coke off the smooth surface of the fuschia patio table.
Although I have never actually found myself at such a party, I did grow up on the far edge of Los Angeles. And I was a girl who was once discovered by a famous director.
Thirty years ago, I sat alone in the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica while my father and his fiancé made reservations for their wedding guests across the room. I was 15, bored and sour, when a man at least 25 years my senior walked over to me.
“I noticed you,” he said, before diving into his credentials, a rush of words strewn with shiny gems I was meant to recognize: “Robert Downey, Jr.” and an upcoming film, “The Pick-Up Artist.”
I was not made up to look older or even appealing. Dragged out early on a Sunday morning, I had showered, left my hair wet, and thrown on a tired blue Esprit polo shirt. I was tall for my age, but I had to have looked young.
I remember him having dark hair and being wide, but my own appearance is more vivid to me. I remember it clearly because, afterward, I had wondered what I had done to invite this attention.
His list of accomplishments was so long that he never had time to address his interest in me. “I’m her father,” my Dad said, suddenly at my side. Dad was shorter than the other man, but he was forceful enough to rattle him.
“I saw her…I live in the hotel…Robert Downey, Jr.…”
My father chopped the air between the man and me with his open hand. “I forbid it,” he said.
The chop carried dramatic heft for a small gesture. It would only become more dramatic in the many re-tellings of the encounter: a tale of an over-protective father in the Spencer Tracy mold with the cad shuffling off in defeat. I didn’t even have a speaking role.
What would I have said, unsure as I was of what had happened?
A grown man had “noticed” me. Was I supposed to want that? To feel flattered? Abandon my teenage suspicion that I was hideous? Was this how film careers actually launched?
My Dad must have suffered his own momentary confusion, because as we prepared to leave the hotel, he offered to leave his card for the director with the concierge, in case he had stood in the way of my stardom.
I declined, as I sensed he had hoped I would.
A year or so later and a little more sophisticated, I picked up my parents’ Spy Magazine because it gave me a whiff of the East Coast snark for which I longed. The March 1987 cover read “Director James Toback is The Pickup Artist.” Remembering the man who had found me in the Shangri-La Hotel lobby, I flipped to the article.
The bulk of the piece was a chart documenting the experiences of 12 women with the director, all of which began much as my brief meeting had: an approach from a stranger, a list of his credentials, often including Downey and “The Pick-Up Artist”.
The women in the article were adults without their fathers in tow, so the interactions went further – meetings or calls with deeper discussions of potential film projects, but with Toback also asking explicit questions, suggesting sex, and being rejected. He had even invited one woman to his hotel in Santa Monica.
As I read, two realizations dawned: This was the man who discovered 15-year-old me, and this man had wanted to have sex with me.
My father had not protected me from a heartless film industry that would leave me merely disappointed. He had protected me from a sexual predator. I was at risk in a way I had not understood…sensed maybe, in the ickiness of that meeting, but definitely had not understood.
I felt a flash of shame, that I had been so naïve, but also that I could inspire such repulsive behavior. (And his behavior as detailed in the article was repulsive. To one woman he had offered, “Just touch my nipples, and I’ll come.”)
I kept the magazine from my father and never told him about it. I was too embarrassed to even be perceived as a sexual being by him, let alone one who had attracted a predatory older man.
Of course, now, when I picture him holding his firm open hand between Toback and me and saying, “I forbid it,” I understand that he had known what was happening all along.
Thanks to the Los Angeles Times reporting the sexual harassment claims of 38 women against Toback this fall, I was finally, at 45, able to talk to my father about it. We spoke the way we usually do about current events – with shock, outrage, and humor. But I also acknowledged that he had protected me when I needed him to.
That discussion and this whole fall of #Metoo has helped me let go of any lingering shame I felt for inadvertently inviting the sexual interest of James Toback, not to mention a few other men over the last 30 years.
My father’s words rang in my ears for years after I heard them, when I was a young woman working in politics, receiving a suspicious invitation to discuss my career over dinner, or pouring martinis ordered for me by a “mentor” down the sink of the ladies restroom. I had needed protecting, but my dad also taught me to do it for myself.
I hope this year marks the beginning of a new era, when my daughter will feel safe pursuing her dreams, and I will feel safe letting her, even if they lead to Hollywood. In my kitchen, I side-stepped both her wish to be discovered by a famous director and my own story. But we did talk about why it would be fun for her to be an actress. She is only nine after all.
In a handful of years, I will talk about my experience in frank terms with my daughter, and that those conversations will not be about her vulnerability, but her control – and her own ability to forbid.

An Unexpected Threat of False Teeth

Around five or six, your teeth start falling out and everyone makes a fuss again.

“If your teeth fall out due to negligence, I am not buying you new teeth.”
I said this. I actually said this. I was standing to the side of the bathroom sink, while my son, standing on his tiptoes, rinsed the toothpaste out of his mouth. He had not spent what I deemed to be enough time brushing his upper incisors.
One morning last week, while we were waiting for the school bus in the bright natural light, I noticed yellow stuff on them when he smiled at me. It could’ve been Cheerios, but still. I didn’t want to take any chances.
My son is seven. I’m not sure he knows what negligence means. Also, he may not have been aware that you can, in fact, purchase new teeth. So my warning may have backfired. He might now just think that he can scrimp on the brushing because there are new teeth for sale somewhere in Target.
“I brushed a long time!” he said.
I nod. Sure. A long time. Next time, I’m setting the timer. “I want to see that brush touch every tooth tonight.” I sent him downstairs to finish getting ready.
Adults get funny about teeth.
When you’re a kid, teeth aren’t a big deal as far as caring for them. You grow them, and folks make a fuss.
“Terrence got his first tooth!”
“Look how hard Emily can bite Mommy’s finger now!”
It seems like growing teeth is as easy as planting pumpkin seeds and watching them come up. Then, around five or six, your teeth start falling out and everyone makes a fuss again.
“Randall lost his first tooth!”
You get paid for the tooth that falls out. There’s even a special fairy dedicated to collecting these tiny lost gross things. Teeth, it seems, are magical, easy to grow, and it’s no big deal if you lose one.
Unless you’re an adult. And you split a tooth in half chewing a Tums. Or the dental hygienist mentions how interesting it is that your back teeth are so much yellower than your front. Not that either of these things have happened to any adult I know.
(I blame whitening toothpaste and lack of mindfulness. Someone needs to invent a mindful brushing guided meditation.)
But teeth are important and we should fixate on them. There are studies tying oral hygiene and gum disease to heart health, for goodness’ sake. Gum germs can allow harmful bacteria into other parts of the body, causing pain and infection. Also, bad breath. It alienates friends and potential life partners.
Still, I never thought I’d be threatening my son with not buying him dentures. That night, I set my iPhone timer as I made him brush each tooth, one at a time, with his fancy-schmancy electric toothbrush.
He sighed and shimmied from foot to foot, but didn’t go as far as roll his eyes at me. But I could tell he didn’t get it. Teeth are like everything else when you’re a kid. Stuff just seems to take care of itself, when really, there’s some adult obsessing behind the scenes about fluoride, floss, and your whole darn future.
Which, of course, unquestionably, depends totally on your teeth.
 

A Coffee Date at 40: Why Time for Ourselves Is Essential

For so long, I’ve been focused on my family’s needs, and this milestone is forcing me to evaluate myself and my life choices.

It’s eight pm on a Saturday night. I’m in the middle of moving from central Pennsylvania to my hometown of Buffalo, New York. The move is part of some big, mid-life changes, and on this particular night, I’m by myself in Buffalo. So I call a friend from high school.

“Hey, Lily,” I say, hopeful she’s free.

“Hey!” she replies.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called,” I admit, ashamed that it’s taken me several months to return her offer to get together. “The house is still a mess. We’ve finished the kids’ rooms, but the rest of the place is still a construction zone.” I ramble before she can get in another word. “Anyhow, I’m in town tonight. Do you wanna go out?”

“Tonight?” She sounds surprised by the thought.

“Yeah. It’s just me, so I thought you and I could hang out.” I kick some of the tile floor I’d been demolishing.

“I’m already in my pajamas.” Lily laughs, and then pauses briefly. “Yeah, that would be great! Hold on. Let me ask Scott if he can watch the boys.”

I hear the lightness in her voice  – the excitement about the sheer novelty of doing something without the husband and kids. It’s the same feeling I had when I dialed her number.

Somehow in the past two decades, I’ve grown from a scared but hopeful college kid to a wife, mother, and woman with multiple careers. Responsibility dangles around my neck like a choker, and the simple act of getting together with an old friend seems almost selfish. I change into nicer clothes, and delight in the guilty pleasure.

Lily and I meet at Trattoria Aroma. With its brick interior, open-wood beams, and candles on every table, it’s a decidedly adult place. Lily looks more beautiful than ever, and I wonder – not for the first time – about the benefits of aging. At least that’s what I focus on because this year we both hit the big 4-0.

“I remember when my mom turned 40,” Lily tells me. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“I remember when my mom turned 40, too,” I respond. “She and my dad had already divorced by then, so we went to lunch at the Eagle House with a bunch of women.” Truthfully, I don’t remember much of it, just that it was a big deal. My mom dressed up and all the women fussed over her and gave her presents. Now that I’m approaching 40, it feels like an even bigger deal. Our cultural fixation on an older woman’s appearance, relevance, and role in society makes me anxious.

My husband jokes that once I hit 40, it will be like I flip a switch and nobody will find me attractive or intriguing anymore. He’s teasing, of course, but there’s a twinge of fear that it’s true. Amy Schumer explored ageism toward women in her famous “Last F**kable Day” sketch, a piece widely shared among my friends, women who found the piece both funny and frightening.

The hyper-sexualized view of women in our society makes me wonder how life will change after this birthday. For so long, I’ve been focused on my family’s needs, and this milestone is forcing me to evaluate myself and my life choices with a focus that is like headlights that finally got the dirt washed off.

I confide to Lily, “I’m freaked out.”

Lily works in a doctor’s office, and she tells me she’s been paying attention to all of the older women patients who look and feel good. “I ask them what they do to take care of themselves.”

I expect some advice about cutting sugar, exercise, or balancing work and home. Something I could totally do to stay sane and fit and fresh.

Lily takes a sip of her wine. “Yoga.”

I groan. “Uggh, I can’t stand yoga. I feel like I’m going to fall asleep every time I try it.” I wonder if I’m not mindful enough or mature enough to appreciate it. I think of another friend who is a few years older who’s been practicing yoga, and her skin has taken on a youthful glow. Maybe there is something about the relaxation benefit.

My knees have started to ache when I run, and sometimes just when I get out of bed in the morning. One of these days they’re going to give out, and I suppose that’ll be the day I start yoga. Lily tells me that she takes classes. It’s possible that’s the reason she looks so good, but it has to be more than that.

When we were kids, Lily was heavy with thick glasses. Now she’s an accomplished professional, lithe, and wears contacts. She radiates confidence. She’s calm, collected, and kind, and she seems genuinely happy with who she is and who she has become.

Perhaps the best thing for me about getting older is that I’m starting to be comfortable in my skin too. I’ve softened in more ways than one. Parts of my body are not as taut as they once were, but as my body has loosened so has my mind. Self-doubt has begun to ebb away.

For the first time, I’m regularly wearing my hair down, and I finally like my curls. I’m no longer that worried about how people will judge me. I’ve lived long enough to know that people will judge no matter what, so I might as well embrace myself for who I am and go after I want; no one else is going to understand me more or advocate better. Though yoga’s not for me, supportive friends and family make me grateful to be alive, and the career I’m pursuing feels exactly like what I’m meant to be doing. It’s a little frightening, but exhilarating too.

Sitting across from Lily, I feel my old high school self inside me even as I know I’ve become so much more.

Lily and I close the place down at 11 pm. The wood-fired oven lets out its last breath of the night and our waitress brings the bill. “I got it,” Lily says.

I thank her, tell her I’ll pay the next time, and return home energized.

In my new office, the crown molding is almost finished. I take books out of boxes and shelve them. “The Monster at the End of this Book” and “Rosa” go with the kids’ books. My husband’s album of baseball cards and his dissertation go on a shelf for him. To motivate and remind me of what’s important, “Daring Greatly” cuddles up to “Next Life Might Be Kinder” behind my desk.

With my history and future surrounding me, I’m content.