Z is for Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz

Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz: Dr. Seuss character at the end of the ABCs book.

Lilah and I snuggle together on her bed, her head nestled on my chest. Every night she chooses two books to read before bed. Tonight we start with Dr. Seuss’s ABC. It’s a book I’ve read a hundred times to three different children.

Big A, little a. What begins with A?

“Alligator!” says Lilah, pointing to an extremely long torso-ed reptile painted across pages four and five. A smug looking Aunt Annie is riding on his back holding the reins.

We move on to B for barber, baby, bubbles and bumblebee, then C for camel on the ceiling. The creatures and personalities in Dr. Seuss’s ABC are relatively run of the mill. They are silly yes, engaging in ridiculous, often imaginary scenarios, for sure, but not entirely surprising. Except for the dreamed of duckdog, the fluffy Fiffer-feffer-feff which is clearly some species of bird and the Queen of Quincy’s quacker-oo of a duck, Seuss’s alphabetical zoo is quite ordinary.

Until you get to Z.

Big Z, little z. What begins with Z? I do. I am a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz as you can plainly see.

The Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz gazes sweetly from the page with its bright yellow eyes, a shock of fuchsia hair, a long snout, a fuzzy pink and white checkerboard of a body and a long swishy tail. Light-hearted rhymes about elephants and goats, hungry horses and lazy lions don’t really prepare you to meet this entirely new species of creature, the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz. It is here, on the book’s final page that the ordinary gives way to the extraordinary.

IMG_1755A month ago when I started this practice of writing everyday, I worried. I wasn’t sure I could actually write something coherent or halfway meaningful day after day for an entire month. I worried I’d run out of things to write about. I worried I wouldn’t find the time or space in my harried stay-at-home life to get the job done.

I’m no going to lie: all of my worst fears about writing daily came true. I stressed, I failed, I started over. Some days I couldn’t find time until late into the night after everyone else in my house had gone to bed and all I wanted to do was sleep. I blew off meetings and making dinner, grocery shopping and the gym, countless emails, voice mails and invitations. But I kept going. Then, around the middle of the month, I sensed a shift. I stopped wondering if I’d really be able to post that day because, yes, no matter what else was going on, I definitely would post that day and the next and the next.

I learned to trust myself.

Before I wrote one word today, I made lunches for all three girls, warmed up the weekend’s extra French toast for breakfast, helped the toddler choose between a flowered skirt or a pair of shorts and reconstructed the intricate harness on her car seat because I’d had to dismantle it to wash after she’d peed in it the day before. I took the dog for a walk, made a Facebook post for a client, dropped off Lilah at preschool, took myself for a walk with a dear friend, got my teeth cleaned, took my mom out for an early Mother’s Day lunch and stopped for gas before picking up my girls from school.

Typical day. Ordinary tasks.

Yet inspiration is everywhere. It’s in the song on the radio and in the toy box. It’s in the middle of the road and it’s at Disneyland. It’s at the far end of a telescope and in the pages of my child’s favorite book. It is in a handwritten note and in a quickly dashed off text. It is in the gift of knowing I will begin again and again.

The extraordinary is happening. Everyday.

This is my final post for the April 2014 A to Z Challenge. Writing everyday has been exhausting and invigorating and I hope I will continue to write as often as possible. Thank you to everyone for reading and sharing your thoughts. You can find writing by other bloggers who took on the #atozchallenge at Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

Y is for You Should Pick Me

“If I could pick my mom, I would pick you,” says Ruby.

“That’s so sweet,” I say somewhat suspiciously. “Why?”

“Because you’re the best mom in the whole world,” she replies, then flounces out of the room.

Really? No way.

Some days I’m convinced that I’m among the worst moms in the world. I don’t mean that I’m in the company of those who physically or emotionally hurt their children. That is a different category altogether. Instead, it’s a subtle failing on my part to, in the words of Mary Poppins, be “practically perfect in every way.”

I snap at the kids to hurry up through breakfast because they’re going to be late for school. I threaten to take away the toddler’s lovey if she doesn’t stop running around the dinner table roaring like a lion. I roll my eyes when my 6th grader falls in a heap to the floor because she’s stubbed her toe. I lose my patience when my 9-year-old recounts the day’s events in detail for many, many, many minutes. I seriously daydream about what it would be like if I didn’t have kids at all.

So please don’t pick me if you’re looking for the best mom in the world.

But still pick me.

You should pick me because I’m not afraid of spiders or climbing tall mountains or skinning my knee. Failure doesn’t scare me; not trying does, especially if you really want to but for whatever reason, you don’t. Trying takes bravery and confidence and faith. I can teach you how to be brave, but you should also know that it’s okay to ask for help, to know your own limits and to reach your goals in the company of others.

You should pick me because I know how to cartwheel, skateboard, roller skate and ice skate. I love to go to baseball games and not just for the beer and dogs. I love to watch you play soccer and see the determined look on your face when you have an open shot on goal. Even if you don’t make it.

Source: letthechildrenplay.net
Source: letthechildrenplay.net

You should pick me because I will always hold your hand on take off and landing. Leaving one place and arriving in another, whether good or bad, is fearsome business. A hand to hold makes all the difference.

You should pick me because I will always tell you the truth. Not the dead-end truths that will only slap your heart without offering to lead the way. I will tell you the truth when you need to hear it, even if it’s painful, even if it’s too brilliant to see clearly in that moment. Truth is like a drug. Some people have to have it all the time while others get high from depriving themselves of it entirely. Find your sweet spot both in the telling and the hearing of it.

You should pick me because I know just how you like to lie on my arm when I snuggle you down to sleep. I know how to koodle you and kiss you goodnight with your head gear on without pinching our lips. And when I leave your room after tucking you in, I will always answer your “night-night-see-you-in-the-morning-love-you” with my “night-night-see-you-in-the-morning-love-you.”

You should pick me because I will always make your lunches fresh in the morning instead of the night before. It’s how I love you.

You should pick me because I believe in magic. This includes the Tooth Fairy, small miracles like my out-of-their-element peonies that bloom spring after spring and the scientific wonders of the universe. Algorithms can only explain so much. The fact that it all works and we are here is some kind of marvel.

You should pick me because we are two of a kind. We are perfectionists. We hate to make a mistake. We blame ourselves for others’ bad feelings and then we feel their sadness with them. We wonder if we’ve done something wrong when we haven’t done anything at all. We are filled to the brim with enthusiasm and brilliant ideas and we just can’t contain them and there they go all over the room, climbing into people’s laps, purring like kittens waiting to be stroked.

So, yes, pick me, because there is no one who knows you better and no one who loves you more. I am the best mom in the world, as long as I can be your mom.

Always.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

W is for Waterworks

waterworks: the shedding of tears.

Source: www.wireworks.com
Source: http://www.thewireworks.com

Tears flow with abandon in my house everyday. Faces flush, lips tremble, salty tears well up, spill out and run down cheeks. Other times they erupt in a burst of rage or frustration or pain. Lilah bangs her knee on an open drawer. Ella comes home from a “terrible” day at school. Ruby can’t find her Family Tree assignment and it’s due tomorrow. The floodgates open and the waterworks begin – but not from me.

I don’t do tears. Crying makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want people looking at me or feeling sorry for me or wondering what’s wrong or how to make it better. Sad tears are the hardest for me, but even tears of joy or relief are hard for me to come by. I’m better at keeping it all in than letting it all out.

It’s not that I don’t cry at all. I’ll cry in a dark theater when a movie tugs at my heart. I’ll get teary watching sappy commercials (the Coca-Cola Mean Joe Green one is a vintage favorite). I’ll well up reading an article about children orphaned and starving in war zones. I’ll cry when one of my kids does or says something totally true and amazing that only a child’s beautiful mind would think to do or say. I’ll cry in the car once all of the kids are dropped off or into my pillow after a good fight with my husband.

But I can’t cry in front of other people, especially not my kids. As a mom, I often feel like there’s not a whole lot of room for me to express myself. My three girls are extremely emotional and effusive. When they emote, I retreat emotionally. Isn’t it my job to be available to them, to make them feel safe in their sadness or received in their great joy? I want them to let their emotions out, acknowledge them and live with and through them. I just can’t seem to do this for myself.

Instead I keep my sadness knotted up inside, usually somewhere between my heart and my stomach. Maybe I’m afraid if I let it out, it’ll be so overwhelming I’ll never recover. I know, I know. I’m a therapist’s dream. Even my dear friend Nicki teases me about my perpetually dry eyes.

A few weeks ago we talked through the tension we’d been feeling between us, collapsing together in a big, warm hug. She ended up in tears while I could only muster a brief salty stinging. It’s not that I didn’t feel anything – in fact, I felt totally flooded with love and friendship, appreciation, relief and even sadness that we had both felt so badly for the past few weeks. I just couldn’t express it in tears, even though I wanted to so badly. I blinked my eyes and swallowed my feelings right back down into their hidey-hole.

That night, I dream Nicki and I are back at the café, talking and hugging, and the best part is, I’m bawling. I woke up feeling emptied and relieved and, well, happy. I suppose dream tears are better than no tears, but if a good, hard dream cry with a friend can bring me so much comfort, then maybe a real-life sob fest with loved ones is just what I need.

Bring on the waterworks.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

V is for the Very Hungry Caterpillar

the very hungry caterpillar: children’s picture book designed, illustrated and written by Eric Carle. It features a caterpillar who eats its way through a wide variety of foodstuffs before pupating and emerging as a butterfly

IMG_1722The picture books are coming away from their bindings. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Snuggle Puppy, Brown Bear – they’re all wrestling themselves free with the help of Lilah’s urgent little hands pulling at the pages and picking at the worn corners. Uruguay is missing from the 2-by-3 foot floor puzzle of the world. Little girl clothes purchased a decade ago are now finally fraying at the hem.

When Ella and Ruby were little, I spent hours on my hands and knees searching under furniture for runaway toys, sorting the wooden blocks out from the Lego blocks, stain-sticking the cuffs of every sweatshirt, scouring drawers and dryer for lost toddler socks. The kids didn’t care much about what was ruined or gone, but I did. Keeping it all together is what kept me together.

I often felt frustrated by motherhood, like I wasn’t doing it right and why didn’t I feel an unending sense of joy all the time and why did I get so upset when Ella dumped her cereal all over the floor? Keeping the toys intact and the frilly dresses stain-free felt doable. Trying to grocery shop with a toddler and a baby, conjure up a decent meal, avoid one or several meltdowns, make it home in time for naps, and actually take a shower, did not. I managed it, but grace and patience eluded me.

All those days lost worrying about whether or not I was doing it right or if I wanted to do it at all. All the time spent resenting and stressing over organic or local, naps and bedtimes, nursing, play dates and preschool schedules. So much time gone in search of the baby doll’s bottle. None of it matters. Not really.

Now, boxes of stored toys make their way back into the family room. There are too many dolls and a ridiculous number of stuffed animals, the Fisher-Price Farm House, puzzles and trains, multiple tea sets and trucks. Within days, pieces go missing. They skitter into dark corners and tiny cracks, fall behind the couch or are carried off by the dog. I put a pair of Ella’s old jeans on Lilah and think they look good as new. By the end of the day, there is a hole in the seam. Had it been there all along or only now, after all these years of keeping, did they decide to give?

I am grateful to the books and clothes and toys that waited patiently in line for this one last rave at Club Motherhood. Still, I am astonished that I kept it all. Why did I? Was it a hunch or hope? By the time we knew Lilah was coming, Ruby was already six and Ella nine. I told myself I was keeping it for friends or my sister who knew she wanted a third baby. Or was it that deep down in my heart, despite the miscarriage and looming infertility, despite the work and family stress and my constant struggle with motherhood, I wanted the chance to do it one more time?

Yes.

Lilah and I cuddle in the bed reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The book is almost 12 years old. The board is worn soft and graying where the once shiny paper coated it. She likes to rub her thumb along the pages, coaxing them even further away from what’s left of the binding. Motherhood is full of potholes and bulging seams, missing pieces and broken bits, but it’s also full of naked tushies running down the hall and unconditional hugs and a sweetness that’s almost too much to bear. I no longer feel the need to mend or make whole. The book is falling apart – and I am ready to let it.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

U is for Uvula

uvula: a fleshy extension at the back of the soft palate that hangs above the throat.

The toddler is deep asleep. I’ve just tucked in the 9-year-old and called out a final “‘night ‘night” to the tween. Josh is out of town for work. The dog is snoozing on the living room couch. My laptop is open and I’m happily settled into a stool at the gleaming clean kitchen counter, a glass of wine winking at me. A quiet evening to myself is absolutely thrilling.

That’s when the giggling starts. How can that be? Lilah’s been asleep for a solid hour already and I just put the big girls to bed in their own rooms a few minutes ago – didn’t I?

I listen intently, valiantly hoping the laughter will just, you know, disappear and that everyone will go to sleep in their own beds all on their own. Right.

I’m in no mood to go traipsing up the stairs to play the enforcer. The clock is ticking on my precious Me Time. But I need them to go to sleep because sleep is awesome and magical, but only if my kids get enough of it. When they don’t, the next day is like trying to survive among the Walking Dead: everybody drags their feet, moaning and drooling. If you get too close, they try to bite you. It’s pretty gory.

I lean back in the stool, facing out the kitchen door in the general direction of the stairs and let loose my most urgent, hot-breathed shush. The giggling abruptly stops. I can’t believe that actually worked. I reach for my wine. Seconds later the laughing starts up again, only louder. Okay, that’s it. I give up. I tromp up the stairs to lay down the bedtime law.

I bust through the door to Ruby’s room. “What is so funny?” I demand in my best voice of authority. They are on the bed totally cracking up. “Hello? What’s going on?”

IMG_0013Ruby finally comes up for air. “Ella’s wiggling her uvula!”

Huh, what? Uvula? At first I can’t place the word. It sounds remotely vulgar and completely ridiculous at the same time. Oh jeez. Where did they hear that word? Did they Google it or see someone wiggling theirs on YouTube? I hope Ella didn’t SnapChat her uvula to anyone.

I stand there in the doorway, searching my brain for “uvula.” I quickly zero in on my sparse knowledge of anatomy. Vulva, labia? No, wrong end. Vocal cords? Nope. Then bam! Uvula, yes, got it. It’s that little drop of flesh hanging from the back of the throat. Thank you fourth grade anatomy unit!

Meanwhile, Ruby can’t stop saying “uvula.” It’s so true that sometimes the strangest words are such a delight to say over and over again. You can’t help yourself. You just want to roll them around in your mouth, touch them with your tongue and tumble them out into the world

“Say it mom! C’mon, say it,” Ruby urges.

I want to say it so badly, but I hesitate. I’m supposed to be getting these girls to bed so they can get a decent night’s sleep and I can have some coveted alone time.

Screw it.

“Uvula,” I say loud and clear. Hilarity breaches whatever wall of parenting decorum I’ve been trying to uphold and we are all hysterically laughing in that way you do when it’s well past bedtime and you’re supposed to be sleeping, but you can’t because you’re too busy wiggling your uvula.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

T is for Telescope

telescope: an optical instrument containing an arrangement of lenses designed to collect and focus rays of light, making distant objects appear nearer.

observatories-half-pageI’m a big science geek, especially when it comes to astrophysics. Talk about the Big Bang Theory and my brain goes into rapid-fire mode. Mention the expansion of the Universe and my heart breaks out in a quick pitter-patter. SPLOID is my new favorite blog.

I was a decent science student, but didn’t pursue it much past high school. Writing and literature, politics and history grabbed me by the hand and pulled me deep into the world of liberal arts. I don’t pretend to understand exactly how the data is collected or the algorithms that prove one theory or another are formulated. I only know that the mysteries of the Universe never fail to thrill me and I marvel at every exploding star, each newly discovered reverberation of a long ago cosmic boom. There is no better evidence of the divine than the science of the Universe. Only the absolutely ordinary yet wondrous existence of my girls can compare.

Ella and Ruby are two and half years apart, the result of family planning and the expectation that I would, of course, have children, no problem. Lilah, on the other hand, took root after three years of trying when we’d sadly given up. At first we fretted over the how and why and what ifs. Then she arrived, and the once unending Universe of possibilities faded away. Priorities shifted. Hearts grew. Her coming was a ray of light.

A few weeks after Lilah was born, in the summer of 2011, scientists discovered a young supernova close enough to earth to see with binoculars or better yet, through a basic telescope. A star that had exploded in the Big Dipper 21 million light years away but close enough to see? I absolutely had to see it. Not every member of my family shares my unbridled enthusiasm for all things celestial, but there was no way we were going to miss the “supernova of a generation.” We bundled four-week-old Lilah in a fleece sleeper and hat and the girls in their ski jackets (summer nights in northern California run chilly). Chabot Space & Science Center in the East Bay hills was open for free telescopic viewings of the event. It wouldn’t be dark enough for a clear view until after 9 p.m. It was going to be a late night.

The telescopes at Chabot are enormous. Expert astronomers come by while we wait in line to tell us about the exploding star, formally known as PTF 11kly. I try to explain to Ella and Ruby that the light we’re about to see through the telescope didn’t actually exist anymore at its point of origin. It’s just finally traveled far enough through space to reach us. I’m pretty sure they don’t get it. And they’re starting to grumble about standing in line. And it’s getting really late.

Finally, it’s our turn. Ruby peers through the scope, fascinated by the brilliant view of stars so close up. Then Ella takes a turn.

“It looks like a freckle in the sky, mama.”

An exploding star millions of light years away is at once momentous and yet as incidental as a tiny freckle on the vast face of the Universe. I am stunned.

When I step up to the telescope myself, my eyes are filled with tears. The supernova is nothing but a brilliant blur streaking across the lens. I wipe my eyes and suddenly the telescope brings it all into focus. We are all specks in the Universe, exploding and sending out our light, hoping someone will catch a glimpse of us before we fade away.

The girls and I climb down from the deck to find a slumbering Lilah strapped to Josh’s chest. The girls fall asleep on the drive home. I look out the window at the starry sky content in my smallness. I am in the center of the most divine Universe, surrounded by my favorite shining stars.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.