Skip to main content

The Uglies

I think to the rest of the world, I seem like a pretty pulled-together, confident thirtysomething-year-old woman. I dress neatly, I stand up straight, I smile at strangers, I joke with friends. I make it to appointments on time (mostly), I pay bills on time (mostly), I feed my children fruit or vegetables and dairy at every meal, and my cats are (finally) up-to-date on their shots. I work all day, race home to collect my children, and cook a real meal every single evening. I go to church regularly. I volunteer with the PTA. I take my children to the library weekly. We walk around the neighborhood, looking all rosy-cheeked and sun-tanned.

But most of the time, I feel as if I'm about three seconds from a complete breakdown. Like all it will take is for my husband to criticize the way I stack dishes in the dish drainer, or for Happy to shriek like a banshee one more time, or for the cat to jump up on the table while I'm trying to set it...and I'll just explode apart into a million tiny springs and sprockets and gears -- so many that not even the most meticulous assembler or fabricator could reassemble me. "Ayep," he'd say, with his ratchet set at his side and a soldering iron in hand, "sell this one for parts."

Truth: I am always self-conscious about my intellect, my talent, and my weight. My hair is too short and too kinky, my glasses hide my best feature and leave indents in the bridge of my nose. I hate being a foot taller than everyone in a room. I live my life in 30-minute increments; even when I'm sitting still in my office chair, my brain is running a marathon. I yell at my children too often, even that cute little one -- especially that cute little one! -- and I expect too much of them. I go to bed too late, I don't exercise enough, and I don't make enough time for my friends and relatives. My bank account is a joke; I'm constantly freaking out about our finances, sending e-mails to Honey with the subject line "DON'T USE THAT CARD!" or "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU BUY?!" I say snarky things about people who don't deserve it. And about 90% of the time, I can't take my mind off of ice cream.

Ironically, all of these uglies are what make me feel most closely connected to my mother. She was strong and straight to the outside world, but to those of us in the inner sanctum, many days she was rushed and frazzled and short-tempered. I am sure she would weep if she heard me say that, but she can't hear me because she's dead. And I'm really pissed at her about that -- again, we're telling the truth here. She died way too young, and I often wonder if it's because she worked so damn hard to seem like she had it so under control. I wonder if that eventually just turned into the cancer that ate her up.

At her memorial, one of her closest friends commented, "Carol had it all figured out...and maybe that's why He took her when he did." Although I feel that was a complete bull-pucky statement, it will always sit in the dark, spooky corner of my brain -- that corner where the cave-crickets dwell eating lima beans and mocking my frizzy hair: Once you figure out how to cruise through the muck of day-to-day living, you'll die.

So here's the most hideous ugly of all: I'm my most anxious on the rare days when I look around and notice everything is going well, when the kids are calm and Honey is healthy and the bank account is flush and my work deadlines are met. Those days I panic because I think, oh shit, I've got it figured out!


Popular posts from this blog

Grace happens

Today Honey's roommate in room 364 at Maine Medical Center was discharged. Some other day I'll tell you about why Honey is in the hospital again, but this story is about the roommate because it's way more interesting. Let's call him Elton, because all I really know about him is he plays guitar in an Elton John tribute band and he's originally from the very northern part of England, bordering Scotland. (Or as Honey described it, "that place in England where the Roman Empire decided, nope, those Celts are crazy, and put up a wall.")

Elton was in room 364 before Honey arrived, and what struck me immediately, besides his delightful accent and soothing Liam-Neeson-esque voice, was his gentle, good-natured manner. He was going through heck from a botched surgery and compartment syndrome - pain and gore and fear of losing the use of his dominant hand - yet he spoke kindly and softly to every person who came into his room. Every time a nurse walked in, Elton gree…

Math lessons

I was really great at school as a kid...but I'm really lousy at school as a parent. And I was reminded once again of this while sitting at my son's conference yesterday.

Seventh grade has been hard on all of us. Beyond the obvious physical changes -- Happy has grown at least 5" since this summer and now looks me in the eye (yeah, remember I'm super tall!), his voice is weird, he can't get out of his own way -- we're all trying to navigate his ever-changing need for independence. His teachers want him to take more responsibility for his learning, which in theory sounds like a great plan for all kids at this age; they have to not only learn how to learn but also learn how to advocate for their learning.

In reality, though, when you're the world's most laid-back 12-almost-13-year-old who really only wants to listen to music, play drums, video games, and action figures, taking responsibility and advocating for your learning is not highest priority. In fact…

Happy curls?

I dreaded the passing of the peace each Sunday when I was a little girl. Every week the old church ladies would comment about my hair...
    "Shirley Temple curls!" they cooed; I didn't know who Shirley Temple was.
    "So soft!" they petted; I didn't want their wrinkly, gnarled fingers on my head.
    "I pay a lot of money to have hair like yours!" they exclaimed; I couldn't figure out why anyone would pay money for frizzy, fluffy, brillo-pad hair.

I hated my curls. I felt embarrassed by my hair -- it was short, kinky, cut badly -- quite different from the long straight hair my friends all wore at the time in my life when I just wanted to fit in. Oh, how I wanted a ponytail! Or a braid my hair on a Sunday morning with ribbons hanging down, that was a dream.

Today during the passing of the peace, I found myself next to one of the older ladies in our church. Every week I marvel at her elegance, the way the dresses, the slow and grace…