Month: May 2017

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Dear Mom,

Remember that year you warned me for the hundredth time that if you caught me peeking at my Christmas presents again, I would wake up on Christmas morning and none of them would be wrapped?

Remember when I chose to peek anyway and you caught me?

Remember how I woke up Christmas morning, and as my siblings excitedly unwrapped their gifts with the element of surprise lingering over each one, I sadly gathered up my new alarm clock (exposed), my Cabbage Patch Kid horse (exposed)… my dented dignity (exposed). 

You told me that when I peeked at Christmas gifts, it hurt you. You told me that you put so much joy, time and effort into getting all of our gifts (and there were four of us, so that was no easy feat!).  You told me that I stole your reward of seeing the surprise and excitement. 

***

Remember when I was about eight years old and you had ordered a new necklace for yourself? It was a timepiece that switched plate colors and patterns.  Remember when it arrived, I couldn’t stop admiring it and, seeing how much I loved it, you told me that if I did chores around the house, you would eventually order me one, too?  I went straight to the kitchen and immediately started doing the dishes.

Remember when my matching necklace came? How excited and proud I was to have something like yours!

Do you remember how, a few weeks later, you were at the kitchen table – helping me with my homework?  I was so incredibly sad and could barely look at you. You asked me what was wrong – and I just silently shook my head. And then, after a few more minutes of silence, you asked me if I had a secret. I nodded as tears rolled down my face. You told me that secrets were terrible things to keep, especially when they made us sad. And you told me I never had to keep secrets. I burst out crying and admitted that I had accidentally broken my new necklace and I felt so terrible, because it was new and you had ordered it especially for me. 

Do you remember telling me it was just a necklace – and then hugging me and saying how sad you were that I felt so alone with a secret? 

***

Remember when I entered the teen years and I would get angry with my friends, and I would come home grumbling about so and so being so and so. Do you remember how you stayed silent? Do you remember waiting until I finished my rant and then calmly saying, “Well, what’s your part in this?”  

I quickly learned that you were my mom first and, though you were my biggest fan, you were not my peer.

***

Do you remember my horrible twenties? Do you remember watching me repeatedly struggle to find my way? The terrible mistakes I made, over and over. Do you remember them all? Do you remember the lies I would tell myself and then try to tell you? Do you remember cheering my (small) attempts at success – while quietly accepting my failures?

Do you remember watching it all – yet never giving up on me? Ever.

***

You have taught me so many lessons purely from your actions.  Consideration, compassion, personal responsibility, patience and pure love.

From the start, we should have known I’d be a bit of trouble. I came into this world ass-backwards (literally… breech). I was delivered by a nurse, because your doctor showed up drunk. I brought chaos from the start and I carried that theme for quite some time. 

I look at you and all you’ve done for me, and I hope I was worth all the pain. (And I’m not just talking about that epidural-free breech birth.) I look at my daughters now, and I don’t know how you survived me. The anxiety, the fear… the love.  I don’t know how you stepped back and let me grow – and then fall – and then grow – all on repeat. Over and over. For years.

I don’t know how you had such faith in me for all that time – when I had lost all faith in myself. 

You are good through and through. 

And you never, ever stopped being the biggest cheerleader to all of us.  You still haven’t.

You like to tell me how small my hands were when I was little – how you can still feel them holding onto yours. Whenever I grab Ivy’s hand to hold, I think of you. 

I think of your hands. 

And I can still feel them holding mine – from so many miles away. 

Love,

Jenni

***

When I was fourteen years old, I regularly babysat for a couple down the road from my house.  They were a very sweet pair and had one little girl, a toddler, and I adored her.

On one particular day I was scheduled to babysit, I arrived to find another teenaged girl quietly sitting in the living room.  I was quickly introduced and told she was their niece from out of state and would be staying with them for the week – and was it okay if she kept me company while I babysat? It seemed a little odd to me that they just didn’t have her babysit, as we appeared to be the same age, but it was fine with me and soon we were left alone.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was extremely quiet and shy. I was not – and never have been.  And anyone who knows me knows well that I hate awkward silence, and so I usually attempt to fill it (sometimes a little too enthusiastically.) I tried to make this new, shy girl feel at ease. I remember asking her lots of questions – to which I’d receive a lot of one-word responses in turn. I tried to talk to her about school, her friends… None of it seemed to be working. So, then I started to talk about my school and my friends in order to initiate conversation and fill the silence.

I was in the middle of my freshmen year of high school then and school pictures had recently been handed out. I don’t know what kids do these days, but back then we’d hand out our photos to all of our friends and write sweet, short notes on the back to one another. In my last ditch effort to get this girl talking, I pulled out my small wallet album and began to show her each photo of my friends. This seemed to spark her interest and she began to ask me questions about all of them. Finally, I thought, she’s talking!  After we went through the whole album, I returned it to my purse and the rest of the day seemed to go smoothly. The parents eventually returned. I said my goodbyes, told their niece that I was happy to meet her, and I walked home.

Later that afternoon, I went through my purse and my small photo album was missing. I searched everywhere. I specifically remembered putting it back in my purse.  A sneaking suspicion rose in me, but I squashed it.  Finally, after looking all over, I called the house where I had babysat. “I am so sorry,” I said, “but I think I may have dropped a small photo album or it fell out of my purse. Could you just look when you have a chance?

A few minutes later, the phone rang.

“Jennifer, I want you to be honest with me. Was this album in your purse?”

“Umm, yes, I think so.”

“That’s what I thought. We will be over shortly.”

Within thirty minutes, both the girl and her aunt were awkwardly standing in my kitchen.

“Do you have something to say?” her aunt prodded.

“I’m sorry I stole your photos,” the girl said quietly, as she looked to the ground.

It was so sad and pitiful and more than both my mom and I could take.  “It’s ok! It’s fine…” we both chirped simultaneously, trying to make the awkwardness of it all go away.

“No, it’s not okay,” replied the aunt sternly, “I really hope this doesn’t affect our relationship and that you will still babysit for us.”

After my mom and I assured her that I would, of course, still babysit, they quietly and quickly left.

It was only later that day that I noticed she had begun to scribble my name off the back of the photos where my friends had began their messages.

I have relayed many funny stories about my childhood and adolescence over the years, but this one has never been funny to me.  I admit that I have retold it – and I’m usually met with “How creepy!” and other not very kind words.  And yes, I’ll admit, it did seem creepy – especially to my then 14-year old self.

But mostly, it was incredibly sad.

I have thought of that girl often over the span of decades that have since passed.  How lonely she must have felt at that time. Maybe the faces of my friends represented a life she wished she was a part of?  Maybe even pretending with that album would have made her feel less alone? Or, maybe, she had planned to take that album back home with her to show others that she had made new friends?

High school was easy, socially, for me. Other than some (internal) weight insecurities, I eased right in and made friends quickly. But I know it’s not that easy for everyone. In fact, it is not easy for many.  And it terrifies me thinking of our girls entering an arena that can be so hard and harsh and miserable for so many.

And as much as it terrifies me that they could experience the pain of loneliness, ridicule or rejection aimed so often at so many, the thought of either of them being part of those who enforce such agony on others terrifies me more.

“Don’t ever be that person. Rise above it. If your friends are being cruel, be true to yourself – be better than that.” I think we’ve said this to our (nearly) 14-year old a thousand times, not for anything she has done – but more so as a warning of the impending high school atmosphere.

I want to raise strong, intelligent, independent women. But I also want to raise kind humans. Sometimes, these days, I think kind often gets associated with weak. However, in our home, I refuse to let those words dissolve into one another.

Being assertive is one thing. Being an a$$hole is another.

I don’t know what happened to that quiet girl from that day so many years ago. I hope she found her way through the twists and turns of adolescence and the awkward years of learning what ultimately matters.

I hope she found her voice in the deafening sea of noise that is high school.

And I hope she found herself – after navigating through four years that can so easily trick you into thinking that life is nothing more than pretty faces in a photo album.

xo,

Jen

***

Sometimes I get lazy and instead of steering my own path, I end up lost with a tide that carries me to places I have no business being – or ever wanted to go.

That is how I felt a few months ago. Pushed down a stream. The ride was fun for a hot minute, but I quickly realized that ride was not for me. I found myself trying to fit the mold of a theme that, on most days, I find annoying and exhausting. And, after being a public writer for nearly twenty years, I should know myself better – and in that knowing, I should recognize that when I’m boxed into a category, I will do nothing but try to break free.

So, here we go again… I’ve hit “refresh” on my inner browser. I’ve emptied my recycling bin of internal downloads, history and “cookies.”

Back to basics.

Back to me…

Honesty.  Spontaneous thoughts.  Comical stories of a past life… and present chaos.

I don’t want to be part of a parenting “shtick.”  I love being a mom more than anything else on this earth, but that is not all I am. I am not a one-dimensional voice for moms or step-moms. As a matter of fact, I’d like to remove “step-mom” from my resume altogether, if you don’t mind.

I’m a mom.

To my daughters.

The differentiation weighs on me. But I’ve found that it only weighs on me when I have to point it out. And why do I need to point it out? This is my family. And on most days, I don’t need (or want) to overanalyze, dissect or discuss it any more than it needs to be.

I just want to write. When I want to write.

About anything.

But not one thing.

I just want to write. 

And you can read… if you want to.

But I’ll be writing either way.

xo,

Jen