Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bike

Today that bright ball of warmth that I vaguely remember as the sun finally popped out and the temperature threatened to break 50 degrees. In this seemingly never ending winter, this felt like bathing suit weather. My intentions were to be outside with the children as much as possible before the temps fell and the rain and gray returned. So this morning was our outside time and I wanted us outside on our bikes. The kids have new bikes that we bought last year, pre assembled at a large big chain store that did a poor job of assembling them. So they never ride them. They wobble and spin in place. It’s like a toddler spin session. Also, now that I’m not pregnant, I desperately wanted a bike for myself so that we could go on bike rides together. This is something I’ve talked about doing for so long but with no action.

Today was the day. Warmth = action. I packed up their bikes and headed to Bloomfield Bike where I was greeted with knowledge, a huge selection, and a reminder of why you should shop small for many important things like bikes (yay Bloomfield Bike!). I explained I needed the training wheels removed and a tune up and one for myself.

Now, I’m not a professional biker nor will I ever be. I wanted something purely recreational. Three speeds. Something that says, “I haven’t been on a bike in 15 years but am not afraid to show my kid that I legitimately do know how to ride a bike.”
 
The gentleman at the bike shop took me out back to their warehouse of used, consigned bikes. As I strolled through the selection there was an oldie that caught my eye. Bright red, thin tires, faded Columbia lettering, hand brakes, and three speed clicker. Fresh from the 1960s, he suggested I give her a try. I hesitated. After all, I hadn’t been on a bike in probably 15 years. I didn’t even remember how the gears worked.

“Get on,” he said. “The faster you pedal, the steadier you’ll be.”

Deep, I thought, for a bike shop. But hells bells if he’s not right. And so I pedaled and son of a gun, if riding a bike isn’t like, well, riding a bike. It comes right back to you. One helmet later, I rushed home to try her out.

Phil and the kids were out when I arrived back and it was just me and my not so shiny not so new toy. I wanted desperately to show it off to Dylan and Ruby and start riding with them, but decided to give it a little test drive around the neighborhood first while I waited for them. Sun still shining but the wind blowing now at my back, winter threatening to return (again). I put on my helmet and started pedaling.

Things have been crazy these past few weeks, life in third speed indeed. Ironically, despite whatever we say, Phil and I always seem to like it that way. Whenever we are in first speed, whenever we’re coasting, we’re almost anxious, nervous, itching to change it up. And usually we do in some way. As if our sweet spot, our comfort zone is in that hard place. 

But right now I am having that wonderful moment when you are reminded of how much you love something you haven’t done in years, of how freeing it feels to have the wind on your cheeks, hair blowing, tires splashing in puddles, feeling how relaxed it is to enjoy that shift when you’ve been pedaling hard for awhile and finally ease up on yourself and shift down and coast for a bit.

Shameless metaphor and all, I pedal a bit faster, finding a steady rhythm once again.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Am the Best Mother in the World (and you are too)

I am the best mother in the world.

Seriously, I am.
I am the best mother in the world for my kids.

And I’m going to tell you another little tidbit. You out there? Well you’re the best mother in the world for yours.

I know what mine need. Intuitively, I get this. Just as you instinctively understand what your children need from you. I know mine need 2 gummy vitamins at breakfast, extra time to walk to the bus stop, extra bubbles in the tub, at least 2 arguments over the Spiderman plate, and extra snuggles before bed at night.  I know that they need me; that is, the best version I can give them of me on any one day. Sometimes I look rumpled on the outside but feel high spirited on the inside. Some days I look put together and high spirited, but feel rumpled on the inside. I understand how to calibrate the different versions of me to still get them what they need. Which makes me the best mother in the world for my kids.
And you are for your kids too.

Which is why I was so completely puzzled at something that happened yesterday. In general, I make it a practice not to respond to comments on my writing that is posted on sites outside of my own blog. So when a rather innocuous piece went up on a national site about the importance of accepting help from others, I was shocked at the response it generated from some.

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago to process what I was feeling at that time. I wrote it completely for me. I shared it because I thought that somewhere out there, there might be another mother or father or person who this resonated with, who struggled with the perception that needing and asking for help in any situation might make them look weak. And preclude them from doing what they need to be the best they can be for their family. It also might prevent them from seeing the joy and gratitude that others feel when they get to feel helpful. I know all of this because this is what I discovered when I finally learned to accept some help on a week when I was feeling particularly stretched thin.

It was my experience. Solely my own. I shared it only in the hopes that others might recognize this in themselves and be moved, as I finally was that one particular week, to reach out. This is literally the only reason I share stuff. I do not make a living from blogging. The majority of national sites that run my work do not pay me. I do not run any ads on my site. I have 5 followers. Literally, that’s it. I’m pretty sure they all live in my father’s active adult community in Florida. No one is tracking me to be the next great literary wonder. I don’t put my stuff out there because I think that book deal is just one hot smoking blog post away.

So when I shared this piece yesterday about the value in reaching out and accepting help, I was shocked to be body slammed by commenters who complained that I was whining about nothing. I had it good. What was wrong with me that I even needed help? From those 820 words, they presumed to know everything about me. They told me to “put on my big girl panties” and suck it up. Drive on bitch. Get some real problems. Try appreciating your kids. If you can’t handle the work than don’t have them.

Amazing. Did they not get the memo? I am the best mother in the world. For my kids. And that means acknowledging that FOR ME, once in a while I need some help because I am human and sometimes I struggle with stuff. And that doesn’t make me weak. It makes me strong. Since I am the best mother in the world I know that more than anything my kids need this lesson. Because god forbid they grow up and think that their mother did it all, perfectly, with no help, and always smiled. And if for one minute they don’t smile or struggle or need someone to throw them a life preserver and think something is wrong with them because of that fact? God forbid they grow up thinking that they are anything other than perfectly imperfect, like we all really are anyway.

It’s fine. I took my body blows for the day. And in fairness, plenty of mothers also piped in to defend me which was nice and they took to the internet to duke it out. The “she is a sucky whiny mother camp”, and the “who are you to judge camp.” And I watched this all unfold deep in my discomfort. All of this stuff that I was stuck in when Distracted Living first was published and the attention it got, the things people said about my parenting skills, the way they chipped away at my confidence in the knowledge that it was because of all my imperfections (and not in spite of them) that I was exactly what my kids needed.

But this time what struck me in particular is the amount of time women spent discussing a rather harmless point I was trying to make: that accepting help can be good. It was a mommy war in all of its full glory. And it suddenly occurred to me that Sheryl Sandberg has it all wrong. We are never going to lean in successfully at anything if we can’t lean ON each other. If we are always judging and tearing each other down.

You know what that glass ceiling is that you’re bumping up against women? In many ways, it’s just another piece of the glass house where we all seem to live internet friends, casting our stones at each other for how we do or don’t parent which couldn’t be more absurd since we all know that at any one time, each of us, in all of our various iterations, is the best mother in the world for our own kids. And so we can lean in and ban bossy and say and do whatever the hell we want, but the reality is that until we stop tearing each other down over stupid silly stuff and start supporting each other both in words and deeds, women will never really make the strides we hope to see professionally. My girls will be too busy slinging shit back at other women that they won’t have time to bust out in all their glory and take over the world the way I whisper in their ears each night that I know they will, that they should.

Moms. This is on you. Stop it. Lay down your arms. Attacking other women because they don’t fit your standard of what a mom should be or make choices that you make more than anything else at this point is inefficient. We’ve got to get busy working together if we want to raise mothers and sisters and daughters that are confident enough to fulfill that promise that lies within each one of us.

And be the best mother in the world. Like you know you already are.

And I am too.

 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Yes

This morning I watched Ruby at war with her socks. They were inside out and she was battling to flip them right side and get them on herself. I gently offered some help. Immediately she snapped back a response I was all too familiar with: “No! I can do it myself!”

They say in parenthood you get back whatever you gave your own parents as a kid. As her words ring in my ears and our shared frustration rises (her with the socks, me with my inability to help her with her socks) it occurs to me how annoying this trait must have been to my own parents when I was Ruby’s age. How annoying it actually still is to function this way as an adult. To walk around like robo-mom with a pasted on smile telling anyone who will buy what I’m selling including my family, friends, husband and myself that I do not need help. I got this. I can do this on my own. I can make the bus on time and feed the baby all night long and pack the lunches and make the homemade dinners and do fun projects with the kids and I can do it! I can! All on my own! Seriously, I got this! No, seriously, I do!

Except when I don’t.

So here is the truth of it: it was a long, hard week. Phil is finally home again after a Monday-Friday business trip. While he has travelled this long once before since Hope has been born, this is his first time being gone for this long, after all of our wonderful extended family and help have long since left.

I have been alone. With all three of them. I am on all day. I am on all night. I am the human, mothering equivalent of a 24 hour cable news cycle. I go constantly. And often repeat myself. Seriously, I’m exactly like CNN.

Phil left around 8AM Monday morning. Somewhere around noon that day I realized I was going to have to take things down a notch. Laundry might get done but would never get put away. It would just accumulate in soft billowy mountains throughout the house. We might make the school bus. We also might not. If we drove, we would make the first bell. We would not be late though in no scenario would we be early. Homework would get done. The children would be fed. Even if that meant scrambled eggs most nights. When Ruby, during our Mommy/Ruby day home together, asked why we weren’t doing anything (because Mommy is tired! Because Mommy hasn’t slept more than 4 hours, and not consecutively, in days!) I rallied to do a cooking project with her and you know what? We made hamantaschen for Purim. Actually we made six hamantaschen to be exact; one tray’s worth. It wasn’t much, but it was something. And we did it together.

But somewhere around Wednesday, I realized my new mantra of low expectations wasn’t going to see me through it. I was going to have to do something even more drastic. I was going to have to accept help. Or even more terrifying, I might have to ask for help. I might have to actually admit that I couldn’t do it on my own. Just picture Ruby all pissed off at her socks but as a grown up and way worse. This is how I felt admitting I needed help.

And so when the neighbor asked if he could walk Dylan to the bus stop, I said yes.

And when the friend called and asked if she could bring over dinner, I said yes. And I went and ate that delicious dinner for at least 2 nights. And just maybe for at least one breakfast.

And when my friend asked if she could bring Ruby home from piano class, I said yes.

And when another amazing friend asked if she could snuggle Hope so that I could take long, slow sips of the large coffee in front of me on the table with both hands, I said yes.

I said yes.

One little word. Life-changing. How humiliating that it took me 36 years to figure it out. And that one little word and all those wonderful people got me through to Friday, to this moment when my wonderful husband finally walked back in the door and understood that I needed to walk out of it to grab one hour alone with this beer, these fries, no little ones who I love more than life itself. Who I need space from more than anything in this moment.

As I grab my keys I yell up to him, “Need anything?” to which he responds, “Just you.”

“That’s easy,” I reply.

“I’ll go get her. Be back with her in an hour.”

I need him. I need her. I need them, all of them. Yes.