Mothering Ma Belle Fille From a Distance

Ella-LouvreTonight Ella returns from a weeklong trip to Paris with my parents, their bat mitzvah gift to her. Before she left, I wanted to write her a going away card and hide it in her suitcase for her to discover on her first night in the City of Lights. Something meaningful and rife with insight. Words of revelation offering shining life lessons.

“Don’t just look out across the Seine; look deep down into it. Catch a glimpse of yourself as you are right in that moment. This is you in Paris.” Continue reading “Mothering Ma Belle Fille From a Distance”

The Time My Kid Waited An Hour for Me to Pick Her Up

It’s a beautiful Bay Area afternoon. Josh and I have just finished eating lunch at synagogue after a lovely bat mitzvah service of a friend’s daughter. We’re fetching the three-year-old from the play yard, enjoying the last of our one-kid-at-home hours before picking up Ella from the camp bus later on. I fish my silenced phone out of my purse to check the time and see what’s what.

Twelve voicemails and recent calls. My heart drops into my stomach. What’s going on? I scroll through the call list: six messages from the same vaguely familiar area code, plus one from a friend whose daughter is at sleep away camp with mine. My brain immediately goes to the worst-case scenario: did something happen on the way home from camp?

I listen to the first call. It’s Ella’s camp counselor: “Um, hi. We’re here at Piedmont Park with Ella. It’s about 12:15 and she’s waiting to be picked up…” I check the time. It’s 1:20. Crap. There are four more calls from the same number. I skip them and listen to the one from my friend, “So camp has been calling and Ella’s at the park. I’m on my way to pick her up…call me.”

How did I screw up the pick up time? I’ve had 2 p.m. on my calendar and in my head for weeks. I feel a familiar, harsh surge of anger at myself, followed by my old pal self-blame. I feel like such an idiot! I snap at Josh as he scrolls through his own slew of voicemails. “Come on!” I practically shout at him outside the doors of the synagogue, “WE’VE GOT TO GET TO THE PARK. NOW!”

In the car, my frustration gives way to a knot of worry. Ella is 12 and able to handle so much more emotionally than she could when she was younger, but a part of me is really nervous that she’ll feel forgotten and that somehow that feeling will never leave her. It’ll be the root of all her grown-up fears and anxiety. She’ll end up in major therapy because she’ll never get over The Time We Were An Hour Late To Pick Her Up.

I stare out the window wishing we could drive a little faster. I close my eyes, inhale and exhale. I can’t change what’s happened, but I can forgive myself a little for it. I don’t always get it right. I want to, but I don’t. I don’t screw it up all the time, or even most of the time, but I do some of the time. Okay. True. Fine. I need to let it go. I refocus my thoughts, collecting all the bits, big and small, that I do get right. I think of how fiercely I love my kids and remember that my love outweighs my f-ups in the most glorious and important ways.

I know there’s no redeeming quality to beating myself up, something I’m trying not to do so much anymore. I need to get out of myself and be present for Ella and whatever emotions she’ll bring to me in the next few minutes.

IMG_2772We round the corner to the park. There she is, sitting on her duffle, her golden hair twisted up in a bun, surrounded by four counselors, chatting, waiting. Josh pulls over and I jump out and half-jog down the sidewalk as best as I can in my heels and wrap dress. Ella comes running to meet me, falling into my arms, bursting into tears. I fold her into me, cradling her head to my chest.

“I’m so, so sorry baby,” I whisper. “I got the pick up time wrong.” She gulps and heaves.

“It’s okay mama, it’s okay,” she says once she catches her breath. Her simple compassion drains the tension out of me. I let her cry some more, feeling her sun-warmed skin against mine, grateful and happy to have her home. When she finally pulls away, she gives me a small smile and swipes at her wet cheeks.

“When you guys didn’t answer your phones, I just got so worried that something bad had happened to you,” she says.

Wow. She wasn’t so upset about being left or forgotten; she was more worried something had happened to us. I look at my big girl and appreciate all the ways she’s growing up and gaining a wider perspective of the world outside herself. We are a lot alike, my sweet daughter and I, two works in progress, learning to let go of the screw-ups and remember the wins.

Show Me Your Super Cape

“I no want to take a bath!” hollers the naked toddler from under the bed.

“You’re going to take a bath tonight whether you want to or not,” I say with practiced authority.

“I want Super Cape! In. The. Bath,” she yells.

Super Cape?

“What’s Super Cape?” I ask.

“It’s my cape in my room,” she says, looking out at me and frowning. We have a lot of dress up, but I’m not sure what she’s talking about. Clearly she’s into this Super Cape. I seize the moment.

“I promise you can have Super Cape after the bath when you’re all nice and clean. Okay?”

She hesitates, then comes crawling out. “Yes. Okay,” she says and walks slowly down the hall to the bathroom. Arms crossed. Head hung low. Oh geez.

After the shortest bath ever, Lilah pulls a pink swath of sateen emblazoned with a light pink Supergirl S from a pile in her closet. She wriggles into a pair of pink and white polka dot footie pajamas then Velcros the cape under her chin.

“What does Super Cape do?” I ask when everything’s in place.

“It’s cozy,” she says. “And it makes me run very, very fast. And it flies me at night.”

She takes off down the hall, Super Cape streaming out behind her. “I go show my sisters!” she calls out.

IMG_1889Before I can make it down the stairs, all three girls are outside running in the fading light. The older two chase Lilah around the yard, but of course they can’t catch her because she is wearing Super Cape.

We all have a Super Cape.

Maybe it’s a few deep breaths or a meditation or early morning yoga or writing before the rest of the house wakes up. Maybe it’s wearing flouncy skirts or skinny jeans or a matching bra and panties. Or maybe it’s that daily swipe of bright orange lipstick or metallic gray eyeliner or catwalk mascara. Whatever it is, we know we have to have it or do it or say it or stretch it before meeting the world full on. It’s what gives us our super powers.

My shoes are my Super Cape. They are almost always three inches high, mostly wedges of some kind – boots, sandals, pumps. I wear them to preschool drop off and the grocery store, to Target and the playground, to pick up my older girls from school and to watch them play soccer. The shoes mean I’ve paid attention to me, for however many small minutes, before diving into my day. They are hardly practical for the daily life of a stay-at-home-mom, but when I put on a favorite pair of fashionably tall shoes, I go from scattered to collected. I buckle up those strappy suede sandals and feel the power.

It is the power to go for patience over frustration, use firm words over yelling, choose compassion over indifference.

It is the power to untangle the social chaos of 6th grade and to find the right words when my 3rd grader is in tears because she’s taller than everyone else in her class.

It is the power to teach the toddler kindness when she pinches the dog just to see what will happen and the power to steer the tween who, in a hormone-induced rage, screams at her sister to “Just go away!”

It is the power to put down the phone, stop texting, stop Facebooking, stop tweeting and listen. Really listen.

It is the power to get through day after day of balancing brightly colored blocks and playing baby, of picking up and dropping off, of standing on the sidelines cheering them on, of turning apples over in my hands searching out bruises, choosing only the best.

It is the power of love – in my heart, in my arms, when I look into my daughter’s eyes as she tells me a story, when I cook their favorite Fiesta Chicken dinner even though I hate dealing with raw chicken and, honestly, I really don’t like to cook. At all.

It is the power to try my hardest not lose my temper in front of the kids, because someone’s always right there, watching with big eyes, waiting to take a cue from me, waiting for a sign of love or approval or welcome. They are waiting to know that it will be okay. Even when it’s not okay.

It’s the power to find value in the imperfections of this mothering gig, to lift the blame, embrace the mistakes, say sorry, move through it.

It is the power to say “no” when I’ve had enough and “yes” to giving myself a break, to showing them the boundaries, shutting the door, closing my eyes.

On good days my Super Cape sees me through till bedtime. Other days, it begins to fray at the edges even before I finish my morning coffee. On bad days, it feels like the kids are carrying kryptonite around in their pockets.

Good or bad, when I’m wearing my tall shoes – the pumps with the leopard spots or the black leather booties with the zip up the side – I know I always have the most important power of all: the power to show up, to be there. It is a place to start and some days, it is enough.

What does your Super Cape look like?