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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!


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