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Monthly Archives: April 2011
I’m halfway through the new edition of Madame Bovary, and I’m closing the book. I’ve done it one other time, yes, I mean in my life, and it was with Herzog. It still irks me because I know it’s me and not the book.
The part that kills me is that Madame Bovary is exactly the type of thing I love to read. I cannot make heads or tails of it right now, and I’m questioning my intelligence, my attention span, and my ability to read. I’ve always questioned my writing ability, but never my reading.
I’ve been running on empty lately. I’m clocking in at under five hours of sleep a night and I think it’s effecting my brain. I’ve been reading the good Madame, on the train home at night after work (I write only in the morning. After a day at work, my creative energy is nil.), and I’ve been reading it a page or two at a time. I find myself doing that thing, you know the thing where you read a couple of paragraphs and then realize you don’t know what the characters are doing because you zoned out the preceding couple of paragraphs?
I’ve been reading and rereading the same stuff, or just moving on because I’d read it and not retained it and just didn’t want to read it again. The book is driving me to drink (in all fairness, a short drive), and tonight when discussing my frustration with my husband he said, “So, pick something else.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Because I hate that I can’t read this.” Because I’ve failed, is what I didn’t say.
“Right now. You can read it later. Now just isn’t the time.”
Yes. That’s it. Now is not the time. He knows when I need to be let off the hook and can’t do it myself. Now a little bit about synchronicity.
Last night, the toddler got the barky, seal cough that every mother and father knows and dreads. It is terrifying no matter how many times you go through it. He had a bit of a new twist on it, you know, trying to keep us on our toes after the other two, and decided that he’d wheeze his breath in, silence, no breathing, nothing, then exhale. Nice. He was coughing at 4:30 am, I went in, sat him up, then as he fell back to sleep I heard the silence. That half a beat of no breath on a boy not yet three. I called in to work. Then laid in his bed until at 6:45am, he bright-eyed and bushy tailed, happy to see mommy in his bed, said, “It’s morning! Let’s go Mommy!” as he climbed out.
9:50am, I’m in to see the nurse practitioner, and he’s a happy clam with a nasty cough. The concern is his tonsils. They’re each about the size of a quarter normally (enormous), and now they are slightly bigger, with swollen lymph nodes. Looks like we have a bit of sleep apnea on our hands. He has a cold, but it’s the tonsils causing the disaster. He’s on three days of steroids, and some nasal spray that we are to hope reduces the swelling until he can grow into these bad boys.
An aside. A man I work closely with, had his son in to have his tonsils out two months ago. His son is also two. They lost him twice on the table and still don’t know why. You read that right. Lost. Him. Twice.
They stopped the procedure, his son came to, and they didn’t take them out. They still don’t know what caused it. His son is fine. Phew.
If I were to say there is no way in hell my son is going under anesthesia at his age, would that sound like I was uncertain? I told the nurse the story, and then I told her that this is not an option, just in case she wanted to write that in the file. No way in hell. He gets his lollipop (got to soothe the throat right?) and we’re off to Target.
We pick up a couple of small things for his brother since his birthday is coming up, and we buy the toddler a new bike helmet as he’s outgrown the toddler-sized one. He now has one in the shape of a shark face with a rubber fin on the top. He’s wearing it the next time we go and someone wants to mention anethesia. He’s that tough in his new helmet.
The best part was that I got him out of the toy aisle by telling him if we didn’t leave, we wouldn’t have time to look at the books. Yep, that’s my kid. Race out of the toy aisle. Off we went, when what popped right out at me but Olive Kitteridge. It keeps coming up lately, and I believe in signs. Olive went in the cart, as did Mater the Monster Truck in 3D! I know. Jealous much? They were out of Olive in 3D, but I shall persevere.
I have my new book, my new notebook, my toddler all steroided out (did I mention steroids make children hyper? Cranky and hyper, oh yeah, bring it.), and after all of this, I had to laugh. Seriously, was I that bummed about not reading Madame Bovary? The day turned so differently, and that became a joke. It’s all about perspective. I’m looking forward to the new book, and I’m thankful for all of you who gave me the permission I needed in my own head, to read it now.
If any of you, don’t have a husband like mine, and need someone to let you off the hook, let me pass it on. Put down that book, that story you’ve been working on that you hate, that thing you’ve been meaning to do and the reason you’re not is because it’s not the time. Write something you want to, read something you want to. Do it.
My story is at a standstill. Stand. Still.
My shiny new journal is to blame. It’s my lie and I’ll tell it how I want to.
When it first began, I was writing in this beautiful notebook I picked up at this independent bookshop in Madison, Wisconsin. The notebook screamed, “Tell me the story. I can take it.” Huge threads wrapped on the exterior of the binding. The cover was a watercolor of burnt oranges and paisleys. I wrote in it with my first, my only, fountain pen. In blue ink.
The ink took forever to dry. Smudges smeared across the pages. It was an exercise in futility and I saw signs of foreboding everywhere.
My husband misses many things, but this sort of thing is his milieu. He bought me my first Moleskine journal. Yes, I’m one of those people. There, I’ve said it. I write in my Moleskine with my fountain pen. I’d be embarrassed by that, if it wasn’t for how well it works for me. From ballpoint to fountain pen, step one. From notebook to Moleskine, step two. The last piece of the puzzle was the ink. He bought me sepia ink one Christmas. Brown. Dull brown. I wrote on the slightly yellow pages in brown ink, and I no longer saw the writing, but I saw the story. Somehow, through the magic of anti-technology, the story came through. No smudges, not my poor spelling, or my mish-mash of ideas. The story.
I’m on journal six now. I wrote on the last page of journal five at a birthday party (more to come on that). I had an idea of just where I was going, where the story needed to go, always a good sign. For Christmas, my husband had gotten me not one, but two, new journals because they were a special one. Moleskine with Snoopy on the cover. Yes, that Snoopy. This is the sort of thing that makes me happy. Not the ridiculous cartoons of today, but the glorious cartoons of yesteryear, the days of woodpeckers, and coyotes, and a mouse named Jerry. The beagle is a sign of all things good, and taking your own road. Be the Red Baron. Don’t let being a dog stop you from making Thanksgiving dinner. His laugh. Right now, stop reading this and listen for Snoopy’s laugh. Tell me you didn’t smile.
I carry the previous notebook around with me for a couple of weeks while writing in the new one. Going back and forth, I’m a flipper, and have a horrible memory. I’m working on a story that relies on history, well, I suppose I’m a masochist. I have not written one word in the new notebook. I seem to have misplaced my story in the old journal.
Now, I have a theory, one I am reticent to commit to words. Here it is…I may be going down the wrong path. Again. And right now, this moment, I cannot comprehend that. I’m hoping that perhaps it’s just the notebook, that somehow Snoopy is just something I have to get used to. This sounds so bizarre even as I write this. I am a practical person. I have three children and have found spit-up on my clothes after going to an interview. I’m not fussy.
What I’m coming to realize is I am superstitious. One day, I’ll be that lady at bingo with twelve trinkets lined up in precise order in front of my six bingo cards. I will go home to my houseful of cats and wonder why my children don’t call. Then at ninety years of age, I’ll go back to my notebook, number three hundred, and work on my first draft. Oh Lordy.
I’m hoping by writing this here, in front of you all, putting it out there, that I’ll find my way. I had another change I was going to work on, and perhaps this is my mind’s way of saying it’s the wrong road. Every other time my brain cramped up before, it was a sign that I had gone the wrong way. Maybe I’m getting better at it and catching it before it happens.
My husband insists this is the fun part, when you don’t know what’s going to happen and you get to figure it out. I suggest he has some of this sort of fun. I’m fried.
My pen is filled with sepia ink. I have a fresh new notebook. The words will come. Right? Right??
“Dad, does she have any kids?”
“That’s okay. I’ll be her kid today.” The two of them walked from their car in the zoo parking lot. I watched for them sitting on the curb. Then standing. Then sitting again, my mouth dry. I knew she was three. We didn’t want for me to meet her until we were certain. Here we were a month later, certain. Until I was waiting for them and then, I was sweating. I sat again on the curb.
“I see her!”
“Really?” Funny because she had no idea what I looked like. I saw the two cross over hand in hand. I smiled and wiped my hands on my shorts. I never thought a child would scare me so.
“Hi!” I waited for a response, my voice louder than I had intended. She held her dad’s hand and said nothing, but watched me. Closely. My eventual husband sounded normal, relaxed even. I could think of nothing to say. We started heading toward the tunnel that takes you down and then up to the zoo. I tried to be as comfortable in the silence that he was. We got down to the darkened tunnel and a small hand took mine. She didn’t look at me. I didn’t look at her. She dropped her dad’s hand, and we went to the zoo. We had known each other less than five minutes.
The only other moment of note was when I asked her what her favorite animal was.
“The pigmy hippopotamus.” She was certain, and had no childlike speech. It scared me because she was unlike any three year old I had ever met.
The rest of the day, she said little but was either holding my hand or I was carrying her. We left the zoo, me toting this amazing girl, her head on my shoulder as if we belonged together. She knew.
Looking back, the interesting thing is that she has two parents who adore her. This is not a kid that was lacking a mother figure and latched on to me. Her mother is a really good mother. She is very different than me, very different, but I applaud her mothering abilities. So for this kid to take to me, well, it wasn’t out of need. It was out of something else.
I bristle at the term stepmom, not because of derogatory connotations but because it isn’t me. This girl is my first child, I was just late meeting her. There is nothing halfway about it. I’ve met many a stepparent who says, “It just isn’t the same.” or “You’ll understand once you have your own.”
And that’s what bristles me. I am the mom in my house. There should be a sign to that effect along with “Beware those who enter here…” Yes, it is different with her, but it is different with each boy as well. They are three different personalities and I mother each one to the best of my ability. It has nothing to do with mine or not mine. They’re all mine, some just have extra parents attached. The baggage that comes with that is a small price to pay to have a bit of this wonderful girl in my life. I chose not to write about her as often only because the risk of what I have to lose is too great.
That all being said, I have had the great fortune to “meet” so many of you who are stepmoms where the label is equally off, and yay for that. I know how tough it can be, from schools to doctors to compromises to nights that you stay up crying and no one can truly understand unless they’ve been there. I have been there. My hat is off, and I stand and applaud each one of you. You’ve got to be tough and swallow so many words. The kids are always, always worth it. We bounce. We’re mothers. No qualifier necessary.
She asks me about my book, and I tell her I’m still working on it, and all I can think is how wonderful that she asks, that she cares, that she and I are put in this strange world together as mother and daughter. She reads like a fiend. Yes, she is mine.
Today is her birthday. She is eleven. We’ve been us for eight years now.
For that, for her, I am blessed. Happy birthday, my daughter. May you be as fortunate in love and life as I have been. Always. Love.
It all started with Lightning McQueen. Two of my kids are born two weeks apart. The oldest two. When I was pregnant with my son, we hoped beyond hope that he wouldn’t come early. My stepdaughter needed her own birthday, her own space in the world. For once, my oldest son went along with the program.
So, two weeks it was, which means April is my cake baking month, between their parties, cupcakes to the sitter’s house, family parties, you name it. The was one of my first creations. The key here was to make it a slightly underdone chocolate chip cookie. The adults stopped laughing when they tasted it and that was my plan. Who can resist a cookie? And my son, three at the time, loved it. My husband and I, well, we laughed, because really? Look at it.
Next came my berry creation:
The toddler turned two last summer and was obsessed with Elmo. I have drawn more Elmos than you can possibly imagine…unless of course, you have a toddler who loves the red fuzzy guy, then I’m sure you can draw him too. The berries gave the whole thing a healthy two year old spin, and the M&M nose, yep, that’s the part my kid ate.
Most recently, Saturday morning to be exact, was my oldest’s cake. She wanted the cookie kind (way easier on me, thanks kid!). We had her party at a local art studio. More on that tomorrow. She picked out the girl she wanted, and all I had to do was draw it. No problem, right? Unless of course, you’re tools involve some butter knives and spatulas and she happens to pick something with a bit of detail…
To the rescue was my very own Jedi. My son was itching to get involved as much as I was itching for him not to be involved. I thought that if I put the frosting in sandwich bags, and cut off the corner at the bottom, I’d have one of those squeezy things the pros use (yes, that is what they are called, why do you ask?).
The Jedi says, “Wouldn’t the hole be smaller if you poke it with a tooth pick?”
I love that kid. Thanks to him we didn’t have a Lightning McQueen reprise and instead we got a little chimi girl that looked like she had yarn for her hair. Yet again, the kid saves the day. I really need to listen more.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time squeezing icing out of toothpick holes, because I don’t get to be home as much as I wish I could. So silly. But each time, the look on their faces is as if I have created a masterpiece. The value of that, of them maybe feeling how much I love them through a cake, is the world to me.
I hope you got more writing done than I did, and if not, I hope you at least had a little cake this weekend.
They were Jedi. It didn’t matter that they were holding pool noodles cut in half. Those were the goody from my son’s 5th birthday party. My husband and I stayed up many a night to wrap black duct tape around the handles, silver duct tape for the buttons.
In their minds, it’s real.
May you go forth this weekend, and write with the intensity of a child at play. Don’t let up until you’ve wrestled it to the ground. That’s what a kid would do. We can learn something from those Jedi.
Write on you must, as Yoda said in Episode I. Or something like that.
“If I could be
in two places at once
I would be with you twice
all the time.”
Every day at 10:00, I leave my office, walk by Union Station to my Starbucks. I bring my own cup and they fill it to a tall so I have room for ample skim milk and sugar.
Every day at 10:10, I feel a sense of optimism. There are always, always a few people at the high counter along the window, staring blankly out, fingers poised lightly over the keys. In my head, these are all writers. Some days I am bummed and depressed to see them, wondering where I went wrong that I’m not there doing what they’re doing. Most times, they give me a sense of hope that one day I will be among them, head in the ether, as it has finally paid off and I can write full time.
Today, Lucinda Williams was playing. I love her voice, I love the sound of struggle. I love that she’s a poet’s daughter. I took it as a sign being as I have never heard her in a Starbucks before.
My husband picked out that quote to go on our wedding invitations or more accurately, he gave me that quote and I put it on there. A bit about our wedding. It was in our backyard. We got a tent, and fifty friends and family joined us for a barbeque. We walked out just the two of us and my new daughter. She held the rings and dropped them in the grass. She was four and looked at me, panicked. I scooped down in the grass digging them out, not before realizing I had flashed the entire group of friends and family. I wore a tight, orange (think Crayola), backless dress and orange flip flops. He wore a sage green linen shirt, with white linen pants. And flip flops.
My three closest friends flew out from New York and we made all the food. Burgers, moroccan veggie stews, hummus, guacamole, a mish-mash of all of our favorite things. Another friend worked at a local brewery and supplied the beer. We made sangria in a cylindrical, orange Gatorade cooler, the kind you see during football season.
Our wedding cake was from a local bakery in Chicago, the atomic cake. Carrot cake, vanilla cake, and chocolate, with two layers in between, one of strawberries and one of Bavarian cream. It was a sheet cake and I had them draw a street winding across it. They thought I was nuts when I said it was for a wedding, my wedding. They threw in some token greenery for color.
I went to Home Depot and got a thick gauge wire to bend into three people, three runners. My husband’s stick figure had glasses. The other two were identical, but my new daughter’s I made at half scale.
The cake looked nothing like a wedding cake. We looked nothing like a bride and groom.
The centerpieces were tall, purple and white, Coreopsis flowers in the center. Smaller yellow ones in containers surrounding it, for the guests to take home and plant. I tied large ribbons around to disguise the dark green nursery buckets they were planted in. They sat on plastic orange, yellow and red plastic tablecloths.
It rained, pouring down rain, until 3:55pm. The reason I recall this so clearly is that we were to be married at 4:00pm in the yard. At 3:55pm, the sun came out and we laughed as the three of us walked through the wet grass to meet our friend who had become an online minister just to marry us.
It was an amazing day. It was ours and it was just the way we wanted it. Many people didn’t get it. They didn’t need to.
So when I heard Lucinda Williams, I thought this was a sign. It triggered the quote, it triggered memories of our wedding. If I laid out for you the sequence of events leading to my husband and I even meeting, you wouldn’t believe me. Things aligned in such a way, it forces you to have faith in something. There was no way to know when we were each separately going through dark times, that down the road this would all be in store for us.
And yet, there we were. And here we are, grayer, less sane, with a house full of kids, and dreams that have yet to be fulfilled. But I always come back to the fact that I would have never believed that someone like me would meet someone like him. Ever.
I read many, many publishing blogs. I love them. I love the information, the optimism, the snark, the humor, the reality checks. However, and this is a big however, it is important when you’re in the stages many of us are, of just trying to write the best damn story we can, that you occasionally shut it all out. It is crucial that you take a moment and believe that you can do this. That your book will be finished, and you will get an agent, and then an editor, and then a house will green light it. Visualize the whole damn thing. There are enough people out there to shoot you down, tell you that you suck, tell you that no one gets published, that no one buys memoir/literary/children’s books.
Here is the thing though. Whether or not that is true, you may be the one. Yes, I’m looking at you. Not writing because of the realities is pointless. Write as if you will be published. Let yourself believe it. And maybe by putting that out there, you’ll work harder, you’ll be brutal with your work and not with yourself.
I would have never believed I’d meet my husband. Yet, I did. So let’s all believe that we’ll get there. Write as if you already have.
Write on, my friends.
I used to be a runner, but never a runner. I’m an all or nothing kind of gal. I know. Hard to tell. I gave birth to two babies, one weighing in at 9 lbs. 7 ozs. and the other at 9 lbs. 13 ozs. While pregnant, I ate anything and everything without a care. I put on upwards of 70 pounds with each child.
My first marathon was pre-kids. It was a way to tone up, slim down, and quit smoking. I tried doing 5K’s, but the training wasn’t enough for me not to blow it off. That is a microcosm of how my mind works, when in doubt, up the stakes. I ended up with plantar fascitis (sp? Yep, too lazy to look it up, but let’s just call it pain-in-the-arch) and had to stop training a month before the marathon. The doctor “advised” (that was my version, his may vary) me not to run it, but gave me Vioxx for the inflammation. If you recall, Vioxx was pulled a few years ago for perfectly healthy people having heart attacks. I loaded up on Vioxx and ran a marathon in 5 and a half hours. That is a very long time to be on your feet in case you haven’t done one or have done one at a decent clip.
The moral is I took off the weight, and it hurt, and there was no way I was going to stop. Once the wheels are in motion, I can’t stop, even if it’s the right thing to do. I’m on life seven of nine I believe.
After my first son was born, I started running again. I had used running from the time I could remember as a weight loss tool, and it helped stave off depression. As for the food, I have no willpower. None. I’m not a dieter, and love food. But I’m an emotional eater, from a family of emotional eaters. When I used to gain weight, I’d stop eating for a bit to compensate. Nothing I’m proud of, but there you have it, it worked. No willpower, but I can be driven and stubborn.
I started running again and signed up for a marathon. I couldn’t run a mile, and I was signed up to run 26.2, and yes, that point two does matter. I am that friend that gets an idea and before you know it, you’re convinced to join in. Trust me, I’m that convincing. So, I talked a neighbor and my husband into running Grand Rapids in 2006. This time, when my runs went over 10 miles I’d get a pain down my right leg. Playing a doctor on TV, I diagnosed myself with ITB syndrome, and did stretches accordingly. The day of the race, I ran with my neighbor to the halfway mark and we stopped for water. The second I stopped, I could no longer control the stepping forward motion with my right leg. My neighbor told me to get a ride back and she continued on. I said I would. Uh huh. Sure, yep, I’ll just get that ride. I went over to the first aid tent and they wrapped my leg from mid thigh, to mid calf. Then I loaded up on Advil, enough Advil for a small horse. I ran the first half in two and a half hours, the remaining half took over four.
My husband (who qualified for Boston with a 3:05 time) was back at the hotel and showered when my neighbor stopped by the hotel room to see how I was doing.
“Where’s Lyra?”, said my confused husband.
“She said she was going to get a ride back. She couldn’t even walk.”
My husband laughed and said, “Right.” That was the story told to me. He walked down to the finish line to see me coming in at a distance. I was limping and walk/running and here he was all smiles.
“You don’t have it in you to take the ride.”
“Nope.” I finished with him at my side and hung the medal around my neck as they were cleaning up the finish line. I found out after the birth of my second son, that my self diagnosis was off as it was a disc in my back causing the problem. My sciatic nerve was being mashed causing a “bit” of an issue. Now, years later, I’ve spent the better part of this year going to physical therapy to try and solve it without surgery. I’m lucky to not have had that run end much, much worse than it did. But, you know, I still would have finished.
This is where it leads me to writing. Sometimes the only thing there is to do is keep going. I was reading over my work this morning on the train after over a week away, and it’s crap. That hurt to acknowledge. The thing is that the one thing I’m good at, really, really good at, is being stubborn. I know how to keep going when all signs point down. I know that if you run an almost seven hour marathon and the sun is started to go down you risk having your body temperature drop. I know that being on your feet that long hurts and when you’re done it isn’t a jump up and down, I’m a winner, feeling. You just know that you were able to do it. It’s just one more acknowledgement that our minds are infinitely stronger than our bodies, and more creative than we could ever appreciate. Your mind will carry you when nothing else makes any sense. It’s your job to just keep going, one foot in front of the other. Every day.
Write on, my friends.
The last day at Disney we went into the ear store, myself and the toddler. Let it be known that if you call him a baby or a big boy, he will correct you informing you that he is a “Loddler”. He will correct anyone, anytime for this offense. I had to pick something up, and he spied a set of ears to end all ears. Mickey Mouse all over it, green Mickey, pink Mickey, yellow Mickey in a graffiti print. The toddler picked it up, placed it on his blond dome, and affixed the strap under his chin, an enormous grin on his chubby face. He then proceeded to attempt a rather ill thought out theft, between the ears and the maniacal laugh issued from the small boy running toward the exit.
He got the ears. He wore them all day. He fell asleep with them on in the car. His brother, all of five, came into the store while he was wearing those fantastic ears. He needed a set as well, with a menacing Mickey on the ears. Perhaps he still harbored ill will towards the elephant, who knows. He got the ears as well.
The two of them strutting their stuff, decked out in their ears, names embroidered, naturally, could not have been two prouder peacocks. Their sister remained in search of some flip flops to no avail, caught between desperately wanting a set of ears, and feeling horrified to be grouped in with the two young boys rather than her teenage cousins. We walked through the park, they in their hats, and people smiled. Just smiled. These were some happy kids.
We got barricaded into a parade area, an area I would never have gone to as their was too large a crowd. The toddler and I got pushed to the curb which made us front row. My husband saw where I was and sent my other son up to squeeze in next to us. There were a couple of small girls behind us, one teeny one, maybe a year, in a stroller. I sat down to be as small as possible, and told my boys to make room for the girls to move next to them.
There was a shift in mood. People had thought that we had pushed our way in front of them and didn’t realize that we were trying to get out of there but were pushed in front of them by the parade squad. Now they saw what we were really about, and all of these pushed-too-far parents and grandparents started backing up, and squeezing the kids forward, me as a pseudo-den mother. Just a little kindness is sometimes all it takes.
Seeing the toddler and kids a little older than him watching this parade, and all of the characters, yeah, that’s what Disney is about. His face was unabridged joy, amazement, and innocence. I thought his head would explode. All of the kids around him, the same thing, as they made room for one another and pointed out who they could see. A moment of quiet amidst chaos. A moment of benefit of the doubt. A moment of humanity. Ahhh.
We were walking around Epcot, and my older son was having a bit of a fit about wanting to go back. We were trying to be accommodating but we were halfway around the large circle of countries. Either way we went, we were still too far for him. I saw a path that had Alice in Wonderland teacups hidden in the shrubs that was empty. I veered off down it, my husband doubting my sanity knowing where this usually ends when my son gets pushed over his edge of reason. What I understand about my son though, is he is a natural explorer. Give him a path, some woods, a maze and the boy will be happy. At the end, there was a short, shrubby maze and he took off. My daughter followed him, but the toddler was too exhausted and just sat in the stroller happy not to be bugged by his brother.
Then four men dressed as the Beatles came out of nowhere and started playing in this small gazebo. A small crowd gathered. There were two men in their sixties who were singing along to every song, knew every word. You would never look at these men and think, I bet they know every word to every Beatles song. You would be wrong.
I suggested to my husband that although we surely will tempt fate, wouldn’t a beer taste lovely? He was off before I finished my sentence. We sat, my husband and I on yet another curb, listening to music, drinking a beer while the toddler and my daughter danced in the early evening in pseudo-England. Disney is alright.
And my favorite part of the trip. There was a huge storm that passed through last Thursday. Tornado warnings, hail, thunder and lightning, torrential downpours. I cannot tell you how many people told me they couldn’t believe how awful that was, but they didn’t get it, get us.
I sat in the hotel room, bouncing bouncy balls into basketball hoops made up of a tipped over chair and a corner. I wrote characters down on itty, bitty pieces of paper and then watched my just-learning-to-read son phonetically spell out his own, as we laughed our asses off playing the best game of charades I’ve ever played. If you’ve never seen a two-year-old boy act out Tinkerbell, you haven’t lived. We tried to walk outside of the hotel as far around as we could without getting wet, in a monsoon. My husband and I drank a couple of cold beers that were in our little fridge, laughing about how much fun we were having. No reading got done. No writing. But all we needed was right there, right then.
Disney is alright.
I have no doubt this will be blasphemous to many. Disney freaks me out.
I should get the qualifiers out of the way. I have the good fortune to go to a place that is many a person’s dream destination. The people who dig Disney, really dig Disney. Here is a place where your wishes can come true. You can be a princess or a prince, a lion king or a flying elephant. You leave your troubles behind and live in this beautiful fantasy world of green manicured Mickey shrubs, and topiaries of Buzz and Woody.
What I saw though, and have seen every time, is a place where entire families implode under the pressure to appreciate the experience the right way, the way of the commercials. You know the ones. The little girls are in princess costumes getting their picture taken with Belle after having their hair made into a sparkly, perfect up-do. The mother is at the spa getting a massage, basking in the glow of how she deserves this. Father and son are laughing their fool heads off on some sort of ecstatic roller coaster ride, bonding man-style.
My family and I stopped to get an ice cream. There was no line. We sat and took a breather from the overstimulation that Disney brings. We sat on a low wall as all the benches were taken and there was ample room. I’m all about ample room. If I can walk three miles to not be surrounded by people, or one mile in a crowd, I will set off the long way every time.
We sat and my husband remarked about how lucky we were to have gotten there when we did. The line was now twenty people deep, which happens in the land of the mouse faster than seemingly possible. You begin to acclimate. You start rushing to stand in short lines before checking to see what the line is for. Oh, basket weaving with Pete? But there is no line, let’s go kids! Looks like a blast! The pressure mounts. Kids, come on! You can tie your shoes in line! No, over here! Hurry! That big family is on the way, they’ll get in front of us, and then we’ll be way back there!
So, back on the wall. Me. My husband. Three kids. Line forms. We’re eating ice cream.
A husband and wife are yelling at each other. Yelling. Their son is about my son’s age, five, and is in the throes of what any mother knows is a meltdown. He wants ice cream. He has been promised ice cream. The line, no joke, is about an hour wait at this point. The father has the other kid in the stroller. The father and stroller kid are next to us on the wall, but we don’t realize it until the mother comes up in full rampage mode. Yes, admit to it or not, but you know this mode. You are not a mother with more than one child and not hit this moment. She is leaning forward, dragging her yelling five year old. They start arguing about ice cream. The boy is red-faced, sweaty and snotty. He needs to leave the park. He needs to sit in the grass with his shoes off in the shade. He needed some cold water. An ice cream was not going to fix this. And any husband worth his salt would have shut his mouth. But no.
My daughter is staring at the scene. I sharply call her name, then mouth to her “Stop staring.” My son is staring as well, but he doesn’t take clues like that, and God help us if we need him to lipread.
“Mommy, why can’t I watch?” He says this loud.
“Because we all have days where it starts falling apart, and it’s embarrassing when people watch you. They need some time to talk to their own family without anybody judging them.” I lucked out, that my son gets falling apart. He is the king of meltdowns. He knows embarrassment. He looks away. My two year old doesn’t even look at them. He has an ice cream the size of his head and is worried that if he looks away from it, we’ll notice and take it back.
The last thing I hear before the woman takes off is “If I have to hear you say my name one more time like that…”. She races off carrying the one child. The husband strolls behind antagonizing her by walking as slow as possible. Their day was on its way to worse and they didn’t even know it.
This is what the land of the mouse means to me. The standards are impossibly high for happiness. Everywhere you looked, there were kids freaking out, and parents yelling at their kids for freaking out, or not being appreciative enough of how lucky they are.
My son lost it in the Dumbo line. The wait was 75 minutes which is not unusual. We stood with my niece and nephew who met us there, both teenagers. They love Disney. My son wanted to go back to the hotel pool. That’s all he wanted to do the entire time, but we had come to go to Disney and go we would.
It started slow, the whining, the nastiness and as any good mother would, I pulled the temporary deaf card trying to buy some time. He then moved on to loud verbal assaults. “I hate Dumbo. I hate this ride!”
“I know sweetheart but we’re really close, and we’re going on it because you loved it when you were little and we want your little brother to enjoy it too.”
“I hate it! It’s stupid!”
“Can we just go wait over there since it’s such a stupid ride?”
“Nope. But look, not much further.”
“I hate this ride. I’d blow it up. It’s stupid.” I don’t rise to the bait, being that at this point he is crying and shouting and I had put my hand on his shoulder and he has pushed it off, aggressively. He’s embarrassed to be crying in front of his fourteen year old cousin whom he worships, but he’s hot, he’s upset about what he’s said, and I’m not yelling at him to knock it off which worries him a little. He flips.
“Honey, look. Sometimes you have to suck it up and do something you don’t want to do, to have fun at the end. And sometimes you suck it up and then see it totally wasn’t worth it, but you’ll never know unless you suck it up to begin with, right? Tissue?”
He nods. I give him the tissue and he pushes his head into my belly hard, hiding, but also feeling badly for what he said. We go on the ride, he liked it in the end, but more importantly he saw he can freak out and it won’t be the end of the world. Then it was time to go.
What I learned at Disney: Kids don’t need manufactured happiness, and collapse under that kind of pressure. Sometimes what may appear to be a temper tantrum, may in fact be little people who have been pushed too far. For once, though, it wasn’t me freaking out at them for it. I think I may have become a better mom than I used to be, or maybe it was just in this surreal place that I was centered. I’d see people and think, slow down, just stop.
Instead, myself, my husband and my kids just slowed down and took the long way around.
Amyg! Thanks for entering the contest, and e-mail me with where to send the prize to end all prizes!