To the patrons of Blind Faith Café last Wednesday night: Thank you for mobilizing when our little train wreck walked in the door, wailing for food. Thank you, nice stranger lady, who helped Mia to get some self-serve water while I was holding Nora and waiting in line. Thank you, kind woman who wasn’t a musician, for offering your pretty purple pen and some lined musical notation paper while we waited for our rice and broccoli. Thank you, beautiful grandmother who didn’t look like you had four grandkids, for the conversation and crayons when our toast didn’t come. It took a village that night.
I apologize if we disturbed the peace of your dinner. I appreciate your stepping up. I hope you felt good about helping some people who needed it.
Randy and those of you who were not there may have little sympathy. “That was your first mistake,” he says when I describe driving to the restaurant after the park and a visit to Ehran’s house at 6:15 because I was too hungry to drive home. “And then you got an energy bar out of your backpack?” he asks, knowing the answer.
Carol Coven Grannick in this month’s Chicago Parent describes optimism as recognizing life’s slings and arrows as 1) temporary, 2) not universal and 3) external. In other words, "This will pass, it’s only about this one thing and it has nothing to with me."
Even as I was eating my soul on the drive toward the food, even as the girls screamed and tried to slap each other from their carseats, I knew this was temporary. I knew this would pass as soon as we got our blood sugar up. And the other part of me looked up from its unholy meal, chin dripping with soul blood, and said, “You also know that you have had this feeling before. Why don’t you prevent it from happening?”
Our new mantra, (thanks to Matt Baron and his blog Role Model Reality) is “I am in control of my emotions.” Boy do we need this. Matt writes:
“Bridgett and I agree that it’s important to validate others, including our children, when they experience a wide range of emotions. But we vehemently oppose any suggestion, or outright assertion, that we are at the mercy of our “moods.” To us, it would be irresponsible to give our children the idea that they are in control of neither how they respond to the world around them, nor of the emotions welling up within them.”
Matt was responding to the implied message he finds in some children’s books : “Hey kids, it’s okay for you to blame your behavior on your “mood,” because, well, your mood at any given moment can simply take over your life and who knows where that can lead, right?”
This sounds chillingly familiar. When I recite the new slogan to Mia, “You are in control of your feelings,” she wails, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!”
Where did she learn drama? Hmm. . . . I wonder. How can I correct what I am guilty of? I really wonder.
Mother’s Day was wonderful. Randy kept the girls quiet and busy so I slept all the way til eight, then woke to my sweet family carrying a tray with a nice full-strength cappie and fruit and homemade cards. We had a contented while chaotic brunch in a crowded bistro and selected a fastigiated beech for the back yard. I had time to write and a piece (okay, pieces) of chocolate cake. A great day.
But the day before, I was a shameful mess. Waves of fury, a busy signal when I tried to call Aunt Ruth, a deadly shriek that made the girls cry, arguing with Randy, falling to the ground in frustration, a helpless shuffle of a walk by myself up the block with nowhere to go, an abandoned plan to visit my mother’s grave, crying under the covers. Exhaustion and guilt.
Without displacing any of my responsibility, I think, “This is a stug.” In the language of grief literature, a “STUG,” or “subsequent, temporary upsurge of grief,” is an upwelling of overwhelming feelings of loss, spurred by a significant life event, like a wedding, or in this case, an emotionally laden holiday. Hope Edelman, in her book Motherless Mothers, describes these intense and painful periods as capable of ushering in “a new realization of what was lost, lifting the mourner to a level of awareness she wasn’t able to reach before.” Thank you, Hope. I hope so.
On my desktop is a sticky note: “Whenever possible, follow your child’s need. Whenever necessary, take charge. Always be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind.”
The wiser me is a little ways away. I can see her up the street, on her way. But right now, I’m still reeling at the memory of my two year old patting my arm, kissing my lips and saying, “Oh Mommy, don’t cry.” And the memory of my four year old’s silence.