Dear Waitress: this is why I was alone

My husband walked through the door. Dinner simmered on the stove. Children wailed and argued from the other room. 

I stirred the cooking rice and chicken on the stovetop once more. I folded the dishrag into a neat pile by the sink. And I calmly told my husband that I needed to leave. 

I laid out pajamas on the coffee table, a set for each child. I scooped dinner out into three different bowls, made three different cups of water. 

I grabbed my purse and my keys, blew kisses and closed the door. I contained myself from doing a mad sprint to the car.

I stopped at the supermarket on the way into town to choose a magazine to read while I ate my dinner.

I looked at all of the glossy, colorful magazine covers lining the shelves. Smiling, air-brushed, and seemingly well-rested faces looked back at me. Bidding me to try the sex moves that would change my life and discover the fall fashion or makeup palette to ring in the new season. To try the fat busting moves that would bring forth the abs of steel that my life has been missing – speaking of which, does anyone else notice how magazines that champion for you to get into the “greatest shape of your life!!!11!” never use entertainers who have had three or four kids as their cover models? Get three people cut out of your abdomen, and spend eleven months feeding them from your body while they grind your nipples up like beef in a meat mincer, sister, and then we’ll talk about how you “manage” to keep yourself in shape. 

I grabbed the one with the least annoying celebrity on the cover (Zooey Deschanel, you win this time), and paid for it.

I reached the sushi restaurant, hoping to the gods of dining-in that on a Thursday evening at seven p.m., they would have space for me. Not the sushi bar. Not a freestanding table. A BOOTH. Go big or go home.

The young lady behind the counter looked confused for a moment, her eyes quickly wandering to glance over my shoulder at the no-one coming in the door behind me. Yes, just me, I chirped. Party of one like whoa.

She asked if I wanted just a sushi menu, and guided me to my table, my nest of respite for the next forty minutes. She still seemed unsure as she slipped the menu across the table to me. She pointed out where the pens were to mark my choices on the menu, and informed me that there were more options on the back. 

I’ve been to this place more than a dozen times. 

I sat down in my seat, and looked up only for a brief moment at the no-one across from me. Then I affixed my attention to the menu until my waitress appeared. 

She offered me a drink, and as I ordered, I asked if the restaurant still gave out complimentary salad and soup. When she asked which one I wanted, I told her both, because that really is the only option. 

I handed her my menu, and she seemed surprised that I was ready so quickly. But such is the luxury of only ordering for one. I could tell you what I’d order at almost any place in town in a snap because I spend my days eating cereal for lunch while dreaming of food that I don’t have to make myself.

As she retreated to fetch my drink, I began to peel through the magazine pages. Such colors. So many young women with bright eyes, no bags or circles. And so much jumping in the air and wind tussled hair all for the sake of tampon advertisements.

I felt so silly. 

The waitress returned with my drink, and looked confused by my magazine. I told her thanks, and returned to reading. 

Such began this majestic dance for the remainder of the evening; the waitress remaining polite and efficient, but also seemed unsure of what to do with the lady with no makeup on, in a booth by herself, shoving food into her mouth like it was going out of style, reading from the pages of a Cosmo magazine that was clearly meant for people ten years younger than her. 

I silently remembered how I would have never, ever gone to dinner by myself in a sit down restaurant before I had children. And even after. 

Escaping for an evening from the house used to mean that I needed to have a friend waiting for me somewhere. I needed a plan.

Now, escape just means escape. And sometimes, you might have the chance to arrange for all of that socializing stuff, while other times you simply don’t.

You grab what you can and run from the house like it’s actually on fire, when really, it’s full of sick children, dogs who chew everyone’s shoes and a mound of laundry larger than the Eiffel Tower.

You leave everything behind, and get the hell out while you can and you don’t stop to ask such frivolous questions like, “who am I even going to hang out with??”.

You do what needs to be done to survive. 

I am to the point in my life where sitting alone in a booth, stuffing salad with ginger dressing in my mouth while my phone is set on silent, with magazine siting open in front of me sounds like just as much of an accomplishment as a night spent out in the town with five of my closest friends. 

Mothers become this paradox after they spend years raising their brood.

We feel alone even when surrounded by an army of tiny people who never give us a moment’s peace. And, sometimes, when we actually are alone, we feel complete. 

I had a date with myself the other night.

I got to know myself a bit more.

There isn’t always a chance for that when spouses and children and mutt dogs come into the picture. Not often since the walls of my home started to feel like they were going to burst apart at the seams, and since children started chasing me down to remind me every fifty-three seconds about the book fair at school this week.

It’s easy to see why the chance to continue your relationship with yourself is the first thing to go. It’s the most negotiable, the easiest to suppress. You learn to tell yourself no more than you tell your children no.

sushi-plate

Which is why, sometimes, you need to take yourself on a date.

And the good thing about yourself is that you’re comfortable with pauses and brief silences in the conversation. You’re okay to rest that internal monologue of all of the things you have to do in a bid for sweet silence. You just ply yourself with rolls of sushi and Pepsi until you’re ready to talk again. 

Myself and I laughed and laughed at the pages of that magazine. How nineteen year old me would have hung on every word about how to give him the night of his life. I would have perused every shelf in the cosmetics section at Wal-Mart, looking for the perfect fall blush to match my skin tone. 

I don’t even know where I put that magazine after I got home. But I did return to one child throwing up, and the dog working her way through the heel of my shoe.

It was brief, so very brief. But I had a great time. 

I’m thinking we might have to do this again.

When your heart just isn’t in it – NaBloPoMo

A pizza cutter has become my undoing.

Several months ago, our resident pizza cutter went missing.

I swept through every drawer and canister in my search, and gave up looking for it in a huff of frustration. I remembered when we bought that thing, and then I realized that it was such a small, silly thing to even remember. And how utterly ridiculous it was to feel so helpless without it.

It was a big deal to me when we bought it because a pizza cutter was something we never had while growing up. 

It was one of those seemingly superflous things that could be found at any of my friend’s houses. Some unseen marker for civility and order.

Just like the way their families promptly cleaned up right after dinner, and started the dishwasher before they headed up the stairs for bed at night. Or the way that they used fabric softener, and didn’t overload the washing machine. I remember how they had so much discipline when it came to dessert, never eating the last of something, and even saving some for the next day to enjoy.

Those seemingly unnecessary details that quietly marked where civility begins were like a breath of fresh air for me. They are the things things that we should choose to take the time to do, if for no other reason than because we believe that we should care.

Because caring makes us act.

I grew up in a home of expedience.

Overloading the washing machine got through the laundry much quicker, even if we were treated to forty-five minutes of laundry banging loudly against the side of the machine.

We hacked through our pizzas with paring knives, serving pizza slices with jagged edges to each other.

The dishes sometimes rested in the sink until us children argued about it long enough for someone to finally take the turn to wash them, or at least, for our mother to make us wash them. Even then, we’d just indifferently load them into the dishwasher, slops of condiments and food bits sometimes still stuck to them. 

The details were something we didn’t fuss over. We did what was the quickest, the easiest. 

It wasn’t until I tried to manage a family of my own, and was trying to grow into the mom and person I wanted to be, that I realized how short-sighted this way of thinking can be. 

I always prided myself in how laid back and seemingly low-maintenance my family was.

A crock pot of chili was perfectly fine for Christmas Eve dinner, because it was far easier to prepare than a ham with all of the trimmings. Using paper plates and plastic cups at large family gatherings were perfectly acceptable, they allowed us to clean up faster. And before we soaked up the last of the Thanksgiving gravy on our rolls and our dinner plates were clear, our family was on the march to clean up and restore the kitchen to order. 

Savoring was not something we wanted to do. Because savoring meant work. 

Isn’t that ridiculous? The thought that savoring takes…work?

There are so many proverbs and cross-stitched pillows that beckon us to savor and enjoy each fleeting moment. To thoroughly appreciate them, we must redeem them by believing that we are squeezing each and every drop of leisurely pleasure out of them.

But we sometimes gloss over the fact that enjoyment takes diligence and work.

Sometimes, no, almost always, the grapes from the vine taste even sweeter when it was our hands that helped grow them. 

I have struggled with this at first seemingly benign mindset. I thought it was simplest to have quiet, settled children than paint splatter all over my table from finger paint. I thought it was easiest when they went to bed without a fuss instead of reading that book for the sixth time.

I thought it was easier to lean out than in. 

Because leaning out preserves my sanity and my energies. It gets us through the day quicker with not much destruction or unforeseen aggravation. 

I’ve leaned out so much in the last few months in particular.

I lost my dad.

And what I thought I needed was this safe space to exist in. This cathartic space to simply…be. Where if I gave up, and ordered an overly priced pizza for dinner, and let the dishes “soak” in the sink for a few more days time, that it would be easier.

Where if the husband put the children to bed, while I laid on the sofa and just stared at my phone or at the ceiling, it was the best thing for me. 

I thought I needed to be indifferent. I thought I needed to let go of the reins. Because having to function while in pain was too much to even think about.

When the truth is that having that luxury of space, and zero obligation, has taken away the challenge in my day to day life. 

I whisper to myself as my fingers glide over the face of a photograph of my parents on their wedding day, that I want to finish the bucket list my dad never made. Maybe visit places he never thought of. Hike to the top of some mountain and take in the expanse of life and greenery around me. Put my toes in every ocean I can. Get lost in a small town that  is hardly a dot on the map.

I say that I want to do these things, while I struggle to remain indifferent to what is happening around me. When maybe the thing is that I need to lean in. 

Yes, paper plates and plastic silverware, and tv dinners and quick cycles on the washing machine have their place. And sometimes, you just have to drop the attempts at dinner and order that pizza so that your mind isn’t lost forever. Practicality has its place. I am all about dollar menu McDonald’s in a pinch.

But sometimes, the things that keep our hearts beating are the things that are the most challenging. The things that tell us that no, we can’t stay here. We have to go. We need to move on, because we have things that are still left for us to do.

Sometimes, I think that if my dad were here, he’d take the time to scrub the dishes. He would spend his weekend afternoon in the autumn sunshine, raking the leaves that are falling like golden waves from the trees. He would relish the time to even be healthy enough to work.

Because in the working we are living to serve the things we love deeply. 

I can’t think of any greater love song sometimes than a barefooted momma, hunched over the kitchen sink in the dark hours of the night. Listening to music, arms at work loosening grit from a frying pan. The love song of folded laundry or arranged books on the shelves. How it creates this world where the people around them matter so much they want to create just the tiniest sliver of serenity in this broken world. 

The mom who cares enough to lean in. Who knows that pretenses don’t take the place of openness and warmth and serenity, but who is wise enough to know that the world may cave in, but you will always have warm food for you belly, something to wear on your back and my arms to fall into when you need me most. 

I want to be her someday. 

 

 

 

The words we moms tell ourselves.

Brace yourselves, because I might sound like an Adele song in a few minutes time.

Actually, I’m not even worried about that…because maybe it’s a good thing?

I have exactly two existential crises every day. 

One at about 2 pm, and then one again around my children’s bedtime. 

Around 2 in the afternoon, I realize that my children are going to be home from school shortly.

So I ask myself if I would rather spend the last hour of my day with just a little bit less chaos than normal, thoroughly cleaning every part of my house that I can manage? This way, I don’t have to try to do it while my children lurk behind me, leaving their veggie straw crumbs and smudgey fingerprints all over everything they touch.

Or, do I want to sit on the couch, with a pile of carbohydrates in front of me, watch an episode of something mildly entertaining on Netflix, and actually chill??

It’s the greatest toss up a parent faces: rest or productivity? Both answers are correct. But both answers are also wrong. There’s regret either way, so choose wisely. Who made this game anyway?!

My crisis at nighttime, though, is different. 

I usually fall just shy of lovingly and ceremoniously putting my children to bed. I opt instead for the, “the only reason to be downstairs is an absolute emergency,” speech before I blow a kiss, flick off the bedroom light and close the door.

I turn left after hitting the bottom step, and I see a house in front of me that has somehow imploded in the last three hours despite the large part of the day I spent tidying it. This is around when I have to try not to lose it.

I find the gritty crumbs, and the crumpled pairs of socks left on the floor next to the sneakers that didn’t quite make it back into the shoe basket.

The training in life skills that we are giving our children hasn’t quite reached a level of osmosis yet, the concepts not fully etched into their daily consciousness.  Some do, like the please’s and thank you’s, and those sweet, gentle kisses on my cheek for no reason at all.

Enough to melt the heart of stone.

The rest, though? Not always so much.

Which is why I sometimes step on Legos, and identifiable sticky substances on my way to the kitchen to scrape off flecks of food stuck to the surface of my stove, and to finish cleaning up from dinner.

As a person coping with anxiety right now, the familiar hot flashes start to creep up, the tightness in my chest that I was sure wasn’t there five minutes ago begins to coil itself into a new, but all too familiar hissing knot. 

I wonder why I even bother.

I wonder how I can help my children better understand the lessons we are trying to teach them when so much of their young minds are filled with the knowledge of Pokemon, and the wingspans of the largest bats in the world. Yes, this is a thing we discuss at length around here.

I wonder what other people without small children are doing.

I wonder what I’m even doing.

The freedom to just sit and simply unwind before bed is a luxury I haven’t had in years. Much like privacy in the bathroom. Or the satisfaction of having empty laundry baskets once a batch of clean clothes are put away.

Worst is how the prevailing feeling that I have accomplished something each day is one that I haven’t felt the satisfaction of in quite a while. That novelty that my tasks at hand are finished, or can at least be set aside for the next nine hours to make way for rest. 

I fall into this pit so many times.

The pen of my mind begins its dark, recognizable scrawl as I pick off food stuck to the prongs of each fork in the sink, etching unkind words into my confidence the way a hot prong seers flesh.

I’m not good enough or diligent enough or productive enough or thin enough or joyful enough. I mark myself with each flick of my pen. I name myself with each shortcoming.

And this, friends, is precisely why I occasionally need the positive voices in my subconscious to sound like something like Adele; I need a chorus of confidence and truth to rain down on me when I try to remind myself of how great I am at what I do.

It felt awkward to write that sentence, to think of proclaiming that I actually believe that I am a good mother. How graceless or arrogant it seems when actually, it is a statement that can only be uttered because of profound grace.

These words I whisper to myself, in my own voice, is the poison in my well. Poison I would never want my children to taste or drink. Words I would go to war with to save my children from, and yet I spill them out carelessly all over myself, and then I blame myself for that, too?

Do I let myself feel the rhythm and hum of those words that proclaim me as more than a failure? Do I know that I need the loudest and strongest singular voice to drown out the dozens of pointed accusations hurled my way when I’m alone and lost in my own mind?

I need to follow that voice out of the hazy mist, back to some place where things are upright, where the only meter stick we measure ourselves by is one of love, forgiveness and hope.

The beat that calls us is how we know that we still feel. 

Sometimes, it is that still, unwavering voice that says no, none of this is true. Other times, it is the most soulful vibrato that you could imagine; it is one who roars back. I never know why sometimes it is one or the other, why sometimes it is steady, why sometimes it is thundering.

They alternate almost instinctively and yet cohesively.

I try to let those words wash over me, through me, to save me from myself.

To know that I am okay.

 

And with each listen,

I try again to believe them,

And mark myself anew.