Loneliness.

All day I was busy, working, moving, and momming. The kids were bopping around, alternately playing and arguing, requesting snacks, audiobooks, help with something, and more water. Their father needed help disassembling the rusty metal shed in the backyard, so I helped with that, too. My fingernails are splitting and dry from the work and the clean up. I made dinner for everyone, by myself, as the three of them went on with their lives in the house. No one asked if I needed help. No one offered to help. They complained while I made the salad. But no one offered to help me, so yes, you’re eating green things, I said. 

One didn’t like the red sauce, and her pasta was too cold. It was probably cold because she let it sit for so long. The little one ate plain spaghetti while listing about three hundred new toys he wants for his birthday. We played a story telling game while we ate, which had them alternately laughing and arguing. I sat down with my plate last, as I usually do, and the loneliness hit me. 

It was as if I was two people in that moment. I was mama, reminding my daughter to eat her salad and taking part in the story game when it was my turn, and then I was just me, floating somewhere inside my body, vaguely feeling the food go in as I chewed and hearing the three of them talking at the table as if I was hearing them through water or glass, with a sort of distortion like I was inside a bubble. I was there, but not there. They didn’t notice I was lonely. They didn’t notice if I felt anything at all. As long as the food showed up on the table and their water cups were filled, everything was fine in their world. They didn’t mind complaining about the dinner, because the fact that I may have had feelings didn’t occur to them. And that’s okay. They’re kids. But I felt it from their father, too. I feel it often, that my work and my efforts go unseen and unacknowledged. I usually absorb the complaints and the whining without reacting, because mama reacting upsets everyone, and their father will come back at me with a what’s wrong with you? or why are you always like this?. 

They don’t know what it feels like to have no one consider your feelings on a daily basis. I am four out of four on the priority list. The three of them went to the fancy supermarket to order sandwiches and buy food for lunch. We’ll text you what the soups are, he said, because last time there was an Egyptian red lentil that looked so good. I waited, cleaning the kitchen, loading laundry, and picking up the counters, checking my phone every few minutes so I didn’t miss his text. A while later they came back, with special lunches for the three of them and a six-pack of fancy beer. I set up the kids at the table with their food, and as they sat down to eat, I thought I wouldn’t mention it. It wasn’t a big deal. I could let it go. And then for some reason I said fairly quietly as I looked into the empty paper grocery bag, Oh, I thought you were going to text me about the soups.

He forgot, he said. He would go back. 

No. It’s fine. It’s really fine. And the three of them sat down to eat, while I straightened the kitchen.      

After I got the kids to sleep I texted my mother, a message she likely won’t get until the morning. I’ve been feeling so alone. I miss being with you. I love you. 

Something is eating the petunias.

Something is eating the petunias I just planted. It’s also nibbling the basil. Several of the marigolds have lost their heads.

I worked for hours over the weekend to get one corner of the living room straightened. It was so tidy that I actually twirled in the center open space. The rest of the house remains the same, looking as if it was turned upside down and shaken, or as if we were recently ransacked.

The littlest needs vision therapy, and still have to call the insurance company to see whether it will cost thousands out of pocket.

There are no clean hand towels in the downstairs bathroom.

Tomorrow I have an important meeting in the morning.

Tonight the littlest was in tears asking to stay home and snuggle with me tomorrow.

The hydroponic rosemary I bought, which clearly stated on the package that it can live on the countertop in water, has shriveled and died.

I weigh the same or slightly more now than I did when I had an almost full-term baby inside me.

It’s getting warmer, and I’m dreading summer clothes with my current body.

I meant to join the gym today, but instead I drank tea and took a nap. I meant to join the gym last week, too. And the week before that.

I have to step over piles of laundry to get up the stairs.

Must remember to go through all the kids’ clothes as well as my own to donate things we never wear. I am constantly folding and putting away.

I am getting better at remembering which baskets contain clean clothes versus dirty.

We are out of cheese sticks. Therefore I am not sure what the littlest will eat tomorrow. It is “Oat Day” in kindergarten. He will eat oats at school, but never at home. They are completely different oats!

Tonight I yelled. Again. I immediately regret it, and yet we’re stuck in the cycle of no one listening to me unless I yell.

I feel like an awful parent. The big one struggles with reading and math, and somehow I never remind her to work on it at home. I should know to remind her and have time to help her. Somehow I remember to water the plants being eaten by slugs, but forget to remind my daughter to learn. If I do remember, she groans in exasperation and doesn’t want to right now. I worry she’ll spell anything as “eneything” forever and never learn to multiply.

I need to stop staying up until 1am.

The 6:30 alarm comes too soon.

And I hit snooze five times today.  

Upon realizing it’s all gone to hell around here.

“I’m hitting rock bottom I think.” 

I wrote to my best friend tonight. Our friendship is in a place where I can randomly send such a one-liner and she will know everything I mean. 

I don’t need to say that today I got on the scale hoping to see improvement but instead saw a number I haven’t seen since I had an almost full-term baby growing inside me. I don’t need to say that my oldest child is struggling in school and feels like she’s dumb and brainless and her teacher doesn’t seem to care. I don’t need to say that my youngest baby is almost seven years old and doesn’t seem to need snuggling as much as he used to, and that I am simultaneously crushed and yet proud of his new independence. I don’t need to say how much I hate my haggard, saggy, dull, flabby reflection and how I don’t recognize the woman in the mirror. She is proof of how far I’ve fallen and how much I have ignored. I don’t need to say I am starting to avoid leaving the house because I am so embarrassed about who I have become. I don’t need to tell her that my house is such a wreck that it looks as if someone turned it upside down and shook it. That between the overdue library books, the laundry, the endless dishes, the constant vacuuming of tufts of cat hair and dust, and the cheese sticks I made an extra effort to go out and buy today that are “too hard” and “just not the same as the other ones” and therefore inedible, that I am slowly losing my mind. She already knows there is no new status on my latest job application, that my marriage is in pieces, and that the income from such a job is necessary for my independence. I don’t need to tell her that my husband is still sleeping in my guest bed even though we separated almost four years ago, and that I can’t seem to get away and be happy, even for an hour. She knows I worry. She knows I am lost. She knows I am lonely. I don’t need to say that one small jam jar of pinot noir sometimes turns into three, or that I took the first few quick sips at 4:30pm because I needed it and couldn’t wait. 

She sent me a heart, which burst into lots of little hearts and made bubble sounds come out of my phone. Tomorrow I will make changes, but for now knowing someone is listening is enough.  

Those other moms.

Those other moms. They are so impeccable. They park their shining Land Rovers outside the school and their stylish children tumble out laughing. They have trendy, cool haircuts and time to maintain them at the salon every four weeks. They wear good shoes and expensive coats. They wear blazers and interesting glasses. They walk on high heels through the playground holding fancy coffee and confidence.

They wear absolutely no makeup because it’s toxic and they can’t allow it in their house. Also, because they happen to have flawless skin. They have naturally shining, voluminous hair that looks fantastic in a pony tail. They volunteer every week and work on their knitting while they wait. They will eagerly share their Pinterest pages with you, and aren’t fazed a bit by the antics of the new puppy. He’s just perfect for their family! They are always early for school drop off and pickup, and their children will sit quietly with a book while they talk with a friend or with an iPad while they get a massage.

Of course they haven’t forgotten anything. They meal plan. They have a household binder. They wake up an hour before the children, to do yoga and have “me time”. They work out and drink smoothies for breakfast. A nice salad for dinner of kale and pomegranate jewels, with homemade vinaigrette, which they’ve taught their children to prepare. They have time to shop for fresh produce. They never crave a staggering amount of pasta and one hour away from their children.

They own real bras and remember to put one on in public. They often resemble a Patagonia ad and look fresh faced in the wind. They have so much to say about what they heard on NPR this morning or their political activism or the amazing concert or book reading or lecture they recently attended. These sentences come out of their mouths, articulate and complete. They have PhDs and law degrees and somehow own their own business on the side, while they cheerily take their children to cello lessons and skiing lessons and trapeze club. They, as well as their children, are always in bed early.

They have a back up sitter in case the nanny or the main sitter cancels. They would never miss a date night. Their husbands are fantastic, athletic, help with the laundry, and drink only the good whiskey. They get away on trips to the wine country with their best girlfriends and take pictures of the dozen of them getting a pedicure together. They are composed, dignified, and sure of themselves. They never say too much. They happily stay in their circle, and rarely make eye contact. Those other moms. They never talk to me.

Spinning

The smell of isopropyl alcohol reminds me of you, of the metal spinning beneath my fingers, twirling the clean, stainless steel posts. I wanted those earrings since the first time I saw the tiny ladybugs in Mrs. Stott’s ears. Mrs. Stott, black haired, pale skinned, red lipped like Snow White, if Snow White was a kindergarten teacher with ladybugs in her ears who wore white cotton polo shirts with collars and a teeny alligator where the pocket should have been. Then Mrs. Stott wore a white shirt with red polka dots and candy cane earrings, which clinched it for me. I was barely five and I told you that I wanted them. But only if you really want them, you said. You were thirty six, and decided we should do it together, the first time for both of us.

You drove me to the store and counted out the fives and ones. The girl working at the Ames jewelry counter placed two magic marker purple dots on me, one on each ear. With the first shot I jumped and cried. Or almost cried, wanted to cry. You asked me if I really wanted them, enough to do it again. I didn’t cry after the second shot. Instead I braced myself, anticipated the pain, and jumped just before she pulled the trigger.

We walked out smiling, you and I, newly pierced. I chose two pale green peridot studs, one only slightly crooked, because you mentioned that it’s nice to wear your birthstone, both ears smelling of alcohol. I can’t remember what stone you chose. Your birthstone is topaz, but I can imagine you selecting the pink sapphires over the brown topaz. You were always so beautiful to me. Your colors were golden and the soft swirl of pink inside a seashell.

Every night I cleaned those holes, as directed, holding the cotton ball softly over those little green gems until my ear crackled and stung, soaking up the delicate crust of newness that clung to the metal posts. I spun them once, twice, five or ten times, first one way, then the other, determined to do it right. All because I had to have those candy canes. Mrs. Stott made me want them, but they always make me think of you. I can still feel your hand holding mine. Ever since then I’ve been spinning, still trying to get it right.

She visits in grief.

I was so worried she hadn’t got on the plane. My mother has struggled ever since her husband died of a sudden heart attack almost one year ago. She has insisted on living alone, on staying in her house, the home that her husband provided for her, isolated in a country hamlet, a town with one blinking red light. It would be great if she had friends or a support network there, but she doesn’t. There are a handful of older widows in her small neighborhood, but house bound eighty-somethings are not going to keep her active and engaged.

My mother has stopped taking care of herself. She often doesn’t eat, or drinks only coffee or boxed chardonnay, after throwing the box away and keeping the enormous plastic bladder of wine in the bathroom clothes hamper under a pile of towels. I dumped two of those down the sink while she slept when I visited. I stabbed the bag with the scissors in several places and watched the pale golden liquid swirl down the drain. I inhaled and breathed in the scent, wishing for one frantic second that I had thought to drink it all myself. I understood. I know that need, that need to feel good and make it all go away. I know how the wine makes me feel a little bit warm and better inside, when everything is going to hell around me. Just enough to make my head sway and make reality swirl. I felt guilty for denying her that escape, but I needed her in my life. In my children’s lives. I needed her alive and would do whatever I needed to make sure she stayed that way.

When she came through the arrivals gate, my first response was to sigh and put my hand to my chest, because I am the worrisome parent now. Even her hair was frail, bleached into cotton candy wisps and twisted up, gently bobbing as she walked. The bright, pink Seattle Starbucks sweatshirt she bought just before our Alaskan cruise together five years prior hung loose and baggy on her frame. She looked thin and confused, her face creased with deep lines and shadows.

Or at least I thought they were merely shadows from far away, but as she drew nearer to me, I saw she actually had bruises on the side of her jaw, a full black eye, and a goose egg swelling in the center of her forehead. She attempted to cover the bump with her bangs, and pretended everything was fine when she gave me a shaky hug hello.

Redeployment, Part I

It was finally the day. He was coming home from a year long deployment to Syria and Iraq. So naturally I vacuumed the house, wiped dusty baseboards, cleaned both cat boxes, swished the toilets, and corralled loose, scattered toys into baskets downstairs. I had flowers on the coffee table and new guest towels folded in thirds in the bathroom. I had recently ordered a box of vintage Waterford wine glasses, so I took off the stickers and hung them in the china cabinet. I was a grownup, damn it, and determined to look like I was pulling it off. Forget that just a few days prior I found hopelessly stale and hardened pieces of chocolate chip waffle under the couch, often spent depressed mornings sleeping in jeans under a pink, fluffy afghan, and that I got to the point that buying a whole new stove seemed vastly preferable to attempting to clean the dried gunk puddles around the gas burners. I was going to do this. It was going to be a happy day. I had patriotic mylar star balloons that read “Welcome Back!” and spent fifty dollars on a single layer, round chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting from the fancy bakery on 17th Street. I realized I needed to leave a bit more time for getting ready, more than my usual routine of topping braided, unwashed hair with a gray denim radar cap. So that morning I showered, curled just the ends of my hair, and wore smudgy, purple eyeliner. Prepared, organized women have time for eyeliner.

The kids were up early as usual. I was so focused on frantic, last minute cleaning that I didn’t technically feed them breakfast and felt a little guilty about it. I stepped around their board game on the floor and noticed my youngest was eating honey dijon potato chips from a wooden bowl. I reminded them to eat strong food, trying to remember if I still had a bag of organic cinnamon graham crackers in the console of the Jeep, as I circled the room gathering napkins and an armload of things that belonged elsewhere. My eight-year-old looked like she was ready for the floor show, dressed in a silver and black sequined shirt with only one transparent long sleeve, black tights under shorts, and a glittery stars and striped top hat. My youngest wore his red shirt that said “Remember Everyone Deployed” in large letters over a picture of a Blackhawk helicopter. Of course it was raining in Portland that morning. We donned our hoods, loaded the balloons in the car, and headed for the airport.