We are at the kitchen table playing with play dough. The children mold and twist, blissfully unaware that with each passing second my anxiety level is rising. When we started, not but 10 minutes ago, there was red and yellow and green and blue and white. And now it is brown. That blah color brown that play dough always turns whenever you take all those bright shiny colors and mush them together to make one amorphous shade.
I can’t figure out what it is that bothers me so much about this process. I want to blame it on raging obsessive compulsive disorder or an unhealthy inclination to want to control uncontrollable and relatively unimportant things. But it definitely irks me, like the way I feel when Dylan wears the Star Wars pajama top with the Ninjago bottoms. Nothing is crisp or unique or whole. Haphazard. Mismatched. Brown.
I’m thinking about this in the dark outside the pharmacy as I unwrap a Creme Egg and savor its sugary sweetness, pouring its faux yolk down my throat. What a disgusting and amazing invention I think to myself and say out loud to really no one at all. I wonder why I only eat Creme Eggs by myself in the car. And it is probably because I spend a good chunk of the day reminding the kids that too many sweets are bad for them and that candy should be reserved for Halloween and special occasions. Except the real me, the one who only makes special appearances in mommy “off” hours, clearly doesn’t believe that.
I turn the car on and turn the radio up to a volume that makes me feel like I can hear the beat of the music in my heart. Whenever I am alone this is the first thing I do. It makes me feel like I am getting away with something. I am not sure with what. A good and put together mother would never listen to music at volume 52. Which is precisely why I do it. I would tell the kids that we listen to music at a reasonable and soft volume because we don’t want to damage our hearing, we don’t want to wake the baby.
I turn the dial up up up. Katy Perry who I don’t even like that much but she is useful when you want to sing stuff at the top of your lungs just because you can. I feel bright. Fiery. Separate from my kids, my husband, my responsibilities, expectations of what I’m supposed to teach them, how I’m supposed to behave. I feel red. Shiny red. New shiny tub of play dough red. Bright, loud, alive.
But I wonder what is wrong with me that I spend the majority of my day with this part of my personality hidden: the part that likes sweets and loud music and doesn’t always follow all the rules. 99% of the time I’m a hodgepodge of devotion to them, hiding the parts of me that are separate and raw and real and distinct until it is late or I am driving or away. As if I’m ashamed of my real instincts, the real me. As if I think it is somehow bad to feel individual feelings and that to mother them means to hide me. So instead I give them brown.
Suddenly, as a mother, as a person, it hits me what a fucked up lesson that is.
I am teaching them to love some fake version of me. That you should keep hidden the parts of you that don’t mesh and blend. That all of the special and distinct stuff that makes up them should be reserved for “off” hours, because it might not fit neatly into what others expect of you. It’s never just be – be you. Love you. You’re a fucking rock star. You with your wild hair and you too with your missing front teeth and infections laugh and a smile that could light up a room.
I want them to feel whole and bright and shiny and unique and alive and have that be okay. Do as I do. Or do whatever you do. But do it in the light so that you feel whole. So that you remember that being you, distinctly you, you that likes and wants and lives separate from the people you love, is something to feel proud of, not hidden. I need to be teaching them, and apparently myself that.
I think about our day together tomorrow. There will be the usual: school and tooth brushing. Homework and manners and the good stuff. Maybe there will also be Meatloaf played in the car slightly louder than usual or is appropriate, Creme Eggs for no reason at all other than that they are the greatest food ever invented.
I will be me in full living color. And I will parent by example, loving them enough to share myself authentically with them rather than morph into them. To love myself separately and distinctly in front of them, not behind closed doors. A mother and a woman. Separate co-existing parts: my real colors, sharp, distinct and in full view.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more, CLICK HERE. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior (which I really loved and bought 3 copies of and gave them all away),CLICK HERE!