Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

Sadness Is On Me, But I Am Not Sad

Senior year for our youngest has flown by. I know this is how it works. Senior year is heartbreaking, expensive, and fast as hell. I tried to keep it together while standing there watching the photographer take his senior photos. I struggled when I had to compose his senior page for the yearbook. He applied to five private colleges (University of Denver, St. Olaf, Reed, Whitman, and Skidmore), received acceptances to all of them, and then committed to attending Whitman in Washington with his brother, which gave me a measure of comfort while still making me sad. With that decision made, I designed his graduation announcements. And today I created a graduation collage for display at his high school in May. Jesus help me. It feels like the universe is trying to break me.

I would like to think all of this is preparation so I can cry myself out before the actual graduation ceremony, but I know that is a false hope. Graduation is rapidly approaching. So I went ahead and made a countdown clock to the ceremony because I need to prepare myself. As of today, we are 60 days out, which means I have 60 days to cry myself free of tears lest I end up an ugly-crying, embarrassing, Alice Cooper look-a-like at the ceremony. I don’t want to be that momma. Luke deserves better.

I have a distinct memory of a time when Luke was around six months old and woke up in the middle of the night. I remember sitting with him in a rocking chair in our living room, rocking and waiting for him to drift back off to sleep. When Joe woke up in the night, I would get so frustrated about the sleep interruption. As he was my first and I was not used to missing out on sleep, it was a struggle for me to be present when all I wanted was some damn sleep. With Luke, though, I knew it would be my last time to hold my sleeping child, so I tried to focus on the moments, to appreciate that this little person needed comfort and I was that comfort. It’s such a different feeling now as I focus on my present moments with Luke because I know he is almost finished needing me. I suppose this is what drives the sadness I am feeling. We have come full circle, Luke and I. My baby is ready to launch. And although I knew this day would come eventually and have been preparing for it since Joe’s graduation, the reality of it happening now is something I’m not sure I would ever be able to prepare for.

So, perhaps, I will go to graduation and cry like the soft, mushy person I am on the inside because this too is part of the experience. I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to stay dry-eyed for it. I have to be there in it because there are only two constants in life, growth and change. Wait. I forgot taxes. So I guess that makes three constants. Growth. Change. Taxes.

I found this on Facebook the other day and it offers a different perspective of sadness:

So I am recognizing now that sadness is upon me. It doesn’t have to live here. It’s just here now. It doesn’t define me. I am not a sad person. I am a happy person with sad moments. And it’s okay to be sad sometimes. We’re meant to be sad sometimes. It means we’re fully experiencing what life offers. Sometimes we want it to be offering lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows, and it instead presents us with pain, overwhelm, and darkness. That is when we need to remember that if the sadness can be upon us, so too can the rainbows. I have 60 days to figure out how to find those rainbow-covered unicorns that hand out lollipops. If I can’t find one, maybe I’ll just have to become one. I’m sure the other parents would appreciate a lollipop at graduation. I think they’ve earned at least that.

Unmoored

Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

I’m having a sad day. I assume you know the kind of day I am referring to. It’s as if all the difficult and emotional things in my life that have been running in background mode for a while all decided to rise up and jump on me at the same time, leaving me at the bottom of a dog pile of sadness. I’m one of the most fortunate people I know, so I fight the urge to feel sorry for myself, even when there are legitimate life experiences that are troubling me. When you have everything, it feels shallow to whine about the few things that feel off in your life.

I allow myself to feel frustration, anger, shame, guilt, and a whole host of other emotions, but sadness is verboten. I think this goes back to my childhood. There are only so many times you can hear someone sing “Cry Me A River” or say “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” before you realize sadness is something to be avoided at all times. The past couple days, though, I let the sadness smother me. I have been throwing myself a pity party, and I’ve not been enjoying it one bit.

Tonight while walking with my youngest, I was talking to him about how I am struggling. In addition to all the truly shitty things happening in the world and the country right now, I’m facing growing older, having my kids go to college and move on with their lives, recognizing that the job I’ve devoted myself to 24/7 for the past 21 years is ending, accepting that the pandemic took a toll on my friendships and hobbies, and trying to figure out what I am supposed to do with the rest of my time on earth. If I had to put a term to what I am feeling, I would say I am unmoored. Luke, being the wise person he is, told me I need to find some anchors, regular routines or habits that will give my life some stability and meaning when I feel like I am adrift. He pointed out that he has reading and school to keep him busy and give him purpose. This makes sense, and I know he’s right.

I have spent the past two years the way many people have during the pandemic: in limbo. I’d like to start back to yoga, but I suspect the minute I do some new variant will come sweeping through, close studios, and set me back again. This fear that the other shoe is constantly about to drop and mess everything up is debilitating. I need to get to a place where I can shove my melancholy and fears aside and throw myself back into life. I need to start moving forward, but it’s hard to do that when all you want to do is lie around and binge watch shows in some sort of meaningless, feeling-less stupor. I am all over the place, stuck in a cycle of feeling superfluous one minute and lying to myself and acting as if everything is fine when I know damn well it is not the next. It’s no bueno.

I need to claw my way out of this hole. I am going to start with forcing myself to exercise and hope that sets me on a better path. It’s either going to improve my mood or kill me is what I figure. At least it will be a step in a direction, which will be better than staying buried under my demons, right?

Life is hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is selling you something. On a more positive note, though, I guess “unmoored” is another way of saying “free to explore new shores.” So, there’s that.

Being A Difficult Woman Is Actually Quite Easy

Here are a handful of things a woman might do that could get her labeled as “difficult”:

  • Refuse to smile when someone tells her she would look prettier that way
  • Ask for what she wants
  • Insist on equal treatment
  • Express an unpopular opinion (or even a popular one in the wrong company)
  • Say she isn’t interested in sex at the moment
  • Request help around the house or with the children
  • Believe it should be her body and her choice
  • Put herself first or make herself a priority
  • Know her worth
  • Expect appropriate acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done
  • Go against social norms, especially regarding appearance, career choice, or motherhood
  • Exhibit her anger, disappointment, or sadness
  • Call herself a feminist
  • Clap back against a cat call or other uninvited advance from an unknown male

There are, I’m certain, many other things a woman might do that could get her branded as difficult. It’s not just men who would label a self-assured or successful woman difficult. Sometimes women will cast other women in that same light because they are so accustomed to societal norms they don’t see the inherent sexism in them.

I have been labeled difficult plenty of times. It used to bother me. Now I simply see it as my duty. I’m not saying we need to smash the patriarchy to smithereens, but I think we’d do a lot better as a species if we allowed the world to become more balanced. Too much of any one thing is never a good idea, especially if that one thing is testosterone.

A Table With An Extra Leaf

Me and Thing One

We dropped Thing One at the airport again this morning for his flight back to Walla Walla. He has been in college a year now and, overall, these comings and goings have become easier for me. Not because I don’t miss him but because he has proven himself more than up to the task and I have seen that life without him after 20 years with him is okay. I am okay. My time as Mom isn’t over but the role has shifted. Joe still needs me often enough, but he’s also on his own a lot more. So we dropped him at the curb with his bags and drove off without incident. No tears. Everything was copacetic.

Everything was fine when we got home too. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It was the easiest drop off yet. Yay, me! I got to work on life around the house, laundry, vacuuming. Then I got to the kitchen table. I removed the placements, wiped it off, and went to take the fifth chair away. That is when I got sad and teary eyed. I put the fifth chair back at the dining table where it lives and then set about taking the extra leaf out of the kitchen table and returning it to its usual 4-person size. I stood there for a minute overwhelmed over the loss of that extra seat.

A little later after I thought I had moved on again and pulled myself together, I put on a hoodie Joe left behind for me. It smelled like him. I got teary eyed again.

Letting go is a process, one I have to keep reminding myself about over and over. I know I will never stop missing Joe or being sad when he leaves, but it will become part of our new relationship contract. I told him today that I was a little sad about the table. And then I told him that it is all okay because I love him with my whole heart and I am happy that he is off pursuing his own life, but I will always miss him when he leaves. Then I told him that someday he will miss me when I leave and that is life. He told me we’d best not talk about that ever again.

Relationships aren’t easy, but they are worthwhile. And I will always have a table with an extra leaf for those times when the important people pop back into my life. Until then, there’s this little guy who is here for me.

The son I got to replace the son who sent to college. I will have to get another when Thing Two goes to college. And I am really glad I didn’t have more children because I can only handle two dogs.

Be Careful What You Ask Your Mom

My son sent me a photo yesterday of him and his new(ish) girlfriend. Six hours after he sent the photo, I asked him what color his girlfriend’s eyes are because it was hard to tell from the photo. He answered and that was the end of that. Or so I thought. Today, nineteen hours after I asked what color her eyes are and eighteen hours after he told me they were hazel, he sends me a random text inquiring why I want to know. He had no problem answering the question for me yesterday, so why was he suddenly curious about the question today? It felt like a trap somehow, although I didn’t know why. I decided to deflect thusly:

When I was a kid, my mom had a saying that went, “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.” Today seemed like an apt time to employ that logic. I mean, why did he think I asked? He has a new girlfriend. Am I not allowed to be curious about her? Geesh.

Because he’s such a good sport, Joe’s response was, “Yooooooo. That’s a solid reason.” Damn skippy, it is, junior.

I’m not really going to harvest her eyeballs for my pagan rituals. It’s a small college and word would get around. Besides, Joe really likes her and she seems to like him too. So, I guess I will save my eyeball harvesting ritual for a girlfriend I don’t like.

Life Isn’t Chess: You Can’t Go Back, So Just Go Forward

In April of 2006, just before our sons turned 4 and 6, we traveled to Captiva Island, Florida, to give them a taste of beach life. Because we are a landlocked, mile high family, we waited to make the long trip to a beautiful island until we were certain the boys would enjoy the experience (and we wouldn’t lose it on a four-hour flight with them). While we were there, we shuffled between the resort pool and the shell-strewn beach. The boys loved racing from the surf and building sand castles. We visited the famous Bubble Room for one dinner, and another night we ate ice cream for dinner and chased it with salt water taffy and all-day suckers. We saw a couple manatees near the boat docks. We took a sunset cruise to look for dolphins. And at the end of the trip, my husband took an epic photo of the boys and I, which became one of my all-time favorites.

April 2006

During the lockdowns and the time spent at home during 2020, I spent my some of my time dreaming of returning to Captiva with the boys. We were desperate for a beach trip after being stuck in our landlocked state for so long. I booked a 3-bedroom condo at the same resort we visited last time. We were in a different part of the resort this time around, closer to public restaurants and to the Starbucks just outside the resort entrance, but the rental was bigger and afforded the boys their own rooms. We spent a lot of time at the beach, but didn’t visit the pools because the boys were a bit too big for the kiddie waterslide now. Instead, we did some kayaking through mangroves on nearby Sanibel Island. We ate at the Bubble Room again and loved it. We wanted to repeat our ice cream dinner, but didn’t have the right resort card to gain access, which was a total bummer. Still, we discovered another restaurant that we loved so much we ate there twice. We saw more manatees this time than last time, including a momma and her baby off the docks outside our condo and another one that swam by us while we were in the surf in the Gulf. And on one clear evening, we went back to the spot where we took my favorite photo and attempted to recreate it as best we could. The palm trees were bigger, the boys were bigger, but the beauty of the moment was the same.

May 2021

When you have young kids, people love to tell you that you should cherish those moments because they go by so fast. They aren’t wrong. They fly by like they’re on a Japanese bullet train. But parenting is, from day one, a growth enterprise. There is no going backwards, as it’s meant to be a forward endeavor. So don’t let anyone convince you that watching your kids grow, change, and eventually move on into their own lives is somehow a negative, something to be depressed about. It’s the greatest gift a parent can receive. If you don’t believe me, ask a parent who has lost a child. As memorable as our trip was in 2006, it was better in 2021. I’m grateful we’ve made it this far together, and no matter what happens from here I will cherish ALL the memories, not just the ones from when the boys were small.

It’s Freshman Year Again

Since Joe went off and started college in January, I’ve worked very hard to figure out how not to miss him. I understand this is a process. When a child rightfully extricates himself from your home to pursue his own life, there’s going to be some sadness. I was pretty depressed for about a month back in January and February when we left him in Washington. There are some ups and downs that first semester at college, and it’s hard to be away from your child when you want to be there to hug them and let them know they’ve got this. But he and I both held it together and made it until mid-May when he came home for the summer. It was a little less sad dropping him back at school in late August because I knew he was going back to friends and had reason to believe he was getting the hang of the whole college life thing. We saw him for four days in October when he came home to see us and meet the new puppy. We had a great time during his visit and when he left, I was actually not sad at all. It felt like progress.

Thing One at home and being derpy…some things never change

Today he came home for Thanksgiving. Everything in his life is going well. He’s got a new girlfriend at school and he has decided on a major. He’s back in his room tonight. He played with his dog and went to In-n-Out with us and even went on our nightly dog walk. It feels a little weird having him here now because I know he isn’t staying. Even though he is still our kid, he’s not anymore. It’s like he’s on loan.

This kind of makes me sad, and I have to think that I would be broken as a parent if I didn’t find this separation process a little daunting. But, having him on loan is actually kind of amazing too. Like, I realized the other day that he does his own laundry and grocery shopping. He makes his bed. He runs errands. He makes his own appointments and fills his own prescriptions. He goes to classes and takes his tests. None of this is my problem anymore. It’s all off my plate.

Having kids is an odd thing. You’re your own person, living your own life, and then you get pregnant and there’s this new life you have full responsibility for. They need you for everything. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Some times you love it. Some times you want to get in your car and drive to Guam. Then they begin to become independent. They start driving. They get a job. They go out with friends. They get into college. Then they’re gone most of the year and you’re back to being on your own and living your own life. But now it’s like you’re relearning how to do those things because you haven’t paid much attention to them for eighteen years.

So, as it turns out, Joe is starting his life and figuring it out during his college freshman year in Washington. And I am in my freshman year of part two of my adult life. (There was the Pre Kids phase and now there’s a Post Kids phase.) It’s kind of exciting. Wonder what I will decide to major in this time?

The Freak Next Door

I was recently alerted to the fact that I am a freak. I learned this because I mentioned in passing to someone that I iron each week. Yes. I am that person. And apparently there are a lot of people who do not iron and never would. There are people who don’t even own an iron. I had no idea that was even legal.

I learned how to iron when I was 13 or 14. I ironed my navy blue, polyester movie theater uniform that smelled of popcorn and cleaning solvent. As a college student, I ironed my preppy, khaki pants to ensure they were crisp. When I got my first apartment, I ironed all my work clothes. I even ironed my t-shirts and shorts when I was a stay-at-home mom with toddlers because I figured that, even if I hadn’t showered, my clothes could tell others I was not totally losing it. Currently, I am ironing cloth napkins for our dinner table tonight because we’re fancy like that. The best part about ironing is that my entire closet is filled with clothes that are ready to go at a moment’s notice if the Queen of England shows up to join me for afternoon tea.

While I never fault a person for their choice not to iron, I cannot say I understand that lifestyle. It’s such a small thing to do to show yourself some love and respect. I like to start my fall days in a merino sweater that has been neatly pressed, even if I have no plan to leave the house. I may not be the youngest, the prettiest, the strongest, or the bravest but, dammit, I can be the ironedest! That is within my purview.

Can I tell you a secret about my dirty little habit? One of the benefits of ironing is that no one in my house wants to do it, so when I pull the ironing board out they all head for the hills. Hello, alone time! I queue up a new show I want to binge or a fascinating documentary I read about online and steam press my way through an hour plus of solitude. No one dares to approach and interrupt me. It’s another win-win in my life.

I am fairly certain the only way I will ever stop ironing is if someone else decides to do it for me, which seems highly unlikely at this point, or if I find some twelve-step program for people frittering hours of their wild, precious life away at the ironing board. If you hear of such a group, let me know. Maybe I can grow? Maybe I can learn to let some wrinkles into my waking life? Or maybe I’ll go to the grave ironing? That might be the wisest choice. At least I won’t have to worry about what they pull out of the closet for my casket attire because we all know it will be pressed, presentable, and ready for viewing.

The Dihydrogen Monoxide Discomfiture

Me and the kid who gave me an opportunity to grow today

Ever feel like a giant dummy? Ever have one of your kids provide the reason for that feeling? Today, Thing Two and I were discussing the chemicals in our foods. Well, we’d actually started talking about the chemicals and chemical processes involved in making dog food, but we eventually got around to discussing human foods. I started carrying on about fertilizers and pesticides that contaminate our food. And that was when my son decided to test me by saying, “Yeah. There are a lot of them, especially dihydrogen monoxide.” My brain began scanning some of the chemical names I could remember from books and articles. I was coming up blank, but not wanting my son to think I was some sort of uneducated buffoon, I quickly responded, “Yeah, sure. Among others.” That was my big mistake. BIG. Because Thing Two then points out that dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water. Yep. It sure enough is. It’s right there in the H2O terminology. And had I taken a minute to think, I would have figured it out. But I was in the middle of dinner prep and distracted. Plus, I took chemistry for a hot minute in 1985, and that was the last I ever thought about any of it.

I felt like a jackass. No. Wait. I felt like a stack of jackasses, piled one on top of another to infinity. It hurt my pride to realize I was foolish enough not to really think through what he was saying. It made me ashamed to be old enough that I couldn’t remember the chemical name my addled brain was searching for, and dihydrogen monoxide sounded like something I should be concerned about. And it is because, you know, you can drown in a teaspoon full of the stuff. At any rate, upon realizing my colossal foible and listening to my son’s gloating about getting me with his funny joke, I felt hurt. When he reminded me about the H2O thing, I remembered he had told me he and his classmates were teasing another kid about dihydrogen monoxide a couple months ago. So, not only had I failed to think it through today, but I had totally forgotten that he he told me about this before. Not once stupid, but twice stupid I was.

And while this is a story about my senior moment (handed to me courtesy of my high school senior), it’s also about something else. It’s about how I handled my humiliation and shame. There was a time in my life when I likely would have gone into a bit of a rage over this. I might have yelled at whoever set me up, trying to make them feel bad about embarrassing me. I might have wanted them to feel the same shame I felt. I might have stormed or pouted my way out of the conversation. I didn’t do that today. I sat with my mistake and felt ignorant and uneducated for a while. Then I acknowledged that I am human and I don’t know everything, nor do I remember most of what I learned in high school 36 years ago. After about 10 minutes of feeling like a complete dolt and an embarrassment to myself, my gender, and my children, I stopped. I made my peace with it. I moved on and let it go until just now when I decided to tell the world about it here. This is growth, my friends. This is what it looks like when you face the things that have plagued you your entire life and you get to know them up close and personal.

I grew up in a house where one of the worst things you could do was appear foolish. I learned it was better to not try something than to try it and fail. This has been a real issue for me since birth. But I am getting over it. I’m learning that it’s okay to say something dumb. It’s okay to trip and fall. It’s okay to suck at something. It’s even okay not to know something you should know because we all do it sometimes. It’s what being human is, and I am a human. I’m learning to be fallible, to embrace myself, even the things I don’t like, like the notion that I don’t, in fact, know much. I’m learning to laugh at myself. And growth happens when you take the thing you’re ashamed of and share it. So, there you have it, folks. Proof that I’m a learning robot. Next time I will definitely remember what dihydrogen monoxide is. And next time it will only take me 5 minutes to beat back my shame. The time after that there may be no shame at all. Perhaps then it will just be me being perfectly okay with being imperfect.