Airing the Dirty Laundry- Literally

Photo credit : @dwonderlandP

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Pulling into the apartment complex after a full day, I noticed the trail of someone’s laundry or clothing strewn through the parking lot. It was still cold and damp out, but spring was finally making itself known after another blustery Illinois winter.  Clothing, boxes, a couple of books, shoes, etc. were tossed along the walkway, in the grass, and in the parking lot. In the passenger seat of my mother’s car, I peered through the window staring hard at each article of clothing.  The piles of belongings led up to the main entrance of the building.

Thank God being fifteen was coming to a close soon. The last two years had been flipped upside down and I was ready to close the door on that chapter. Still,  this new life felt like someone else’s. I was reeling emotionally from being disowned by my father, thrust into my mother’s apartment with nothing but a backpack’s worth of stuff and adjusting to the start-stop-start of two different high schools.  Navigating living without my younger sister was also a shock to the system. There is a vast difference in going from having a sister to share your space, things, and thoughts with – to being by yourself.

For the last year and a half,  there was always some kind of drama lurking. Walking on egg shells became an honed skill. Just keep everyone happy and life would be OK. Don’t rock the boat. Nothing seemed to really bother me anymore-things could always be worse. Now that I was with my mother, there was no fear of what new false accusation or punishment awaited me. I believed that being out of my father and stepmother’s physical presence allowed me safe refuge from their mental games.

Mom worked long days, usually grabbed a cocktail with her gals after work, and typically got home late. It was odd to be alone in the loud quiet of the apartment, but for the first time in awhile, there truly was a feeling of sanctuary.

I would walk places to kill time, lie on the couch and actually relax,  hang with friends in their cars driving to the mall, the movies, and various fast food places since everyone was eager to drive with their freshly laminated driver’s licenses. Sometimes I’d listen to mix tapes, play with my dog, stare at the ceiling and daydream about all the things I  wanted to do with my life now that I had escaped my  teenage prison. The pressure, the anxiety, the constant nagging, and overblown reactions were over-and I bathed in that relief. In the beginning, the first few weeks of freedom felt like a dream; foggy, surreal, numb. It felt as though at any moment it could be ripped away from me, so I had to be vigilant and careful- it just wasn’t clear what I had to be vigilant and careful of. It was like being on a heightened sense of alert-just in case the rug got pulled out from under me. I would never go back. Never.

One evening just after my mother had walked in the door from work, the phone rang. It was my sister. I had been looking forward to hearing her voice, I missed her so much and these first few weeks without her were tough. But the voice on the other end was troubled, upset.

She explained that we would be unable to see one another for an indefinite period of time.

“WHY?” I held my breath.

Being kept from my own sister felt like a cruel and unfair punishment. In the back of my mind I had wondered if he would keep finding ways to hurt me or break me down even though I had escaped the confines of his self-proclaimed “dream house”.

She went on to explain that we could not see each other because Dad’s home had been vandalized.

Vandalism? How did that have anything to do with us seeing one another? I didn’t understand. And then all at once I did understand. Like a knob cranked all the way to blast, the realization of the situation had all but caused me to throttle through the roof of the apartment on adrenaline alone.

Vandalism. I wasn’t capable. Did they at least know THIS about me? Did they know anything about me? I had been accused of many insane things while under their roof. Here’s  a handful: doing and dealing drugs, dating a drug dealer,  being an alcoholic, a threat to their safety (they once told me they got a lock for their bedroom because they were afraid I would murder them in their sleep),  “stealing” food from the kitchen, a defiant juvenile worthy of military school for purposely smearing jam on the counter to make a “statement”, a mastermind manipulator, and the list of outlandish accusations and paranoid delusions could go on and on. Now I could add vandal to the list. I  had to laugh, there were just no more tears left.

My sister went on to explain they KNEW that I had done it because who else would do it? I had just been kicked out of their home, therefore to them it was the most obvious connection.

I asked what had happened.

Someone destroyed the white paint on their three car garage by squirting mustard all over the place. This person or persons had also put dog poop in the mailbox and on the porch, etc.

My fury at the guilty until proven innocent verdict bubbled over.

” I DID NOT DO THIS!”

Yet another unfounded accusation. I wasn’t even under that God forsaken roof anymore- and yet they were still able to get to me. The best way to describe how I felt was like being punched in the stomach over and over and over again.

It was then my sister shared another hurtful message from our dear father. As a result of my apparent vandalizing of their home, not only would my sister and I not be able to see one another, they would not be returning any of my belongings. I would be forced to keep just the backpack’s worth of personal stuff and that would have to be enough. Because this was MY unfortunate choice  to do this to their home, I would have to suffer the consequences.

And suffer I did.

Many months went by without seeing my sister. My mom had to purchase me new glasses, contacts, clothing, shoes, etc. since I was unable to get my things back and we hadn’t seen her in months prior to them dropping me off forever.  I had no clothes there.

Eventually, Spring came and along with that came an eviction notice. We’d have to decide where to go next and things were not looking promising on a beautician’s pay.

The car windows were cracked, and the cool spring air mingled with my mother’s cigarette smoke. We parked in our usual spot and got out of the car.  I can still remember the exact smell of the delicious wet dirt after the rain.   I took in the scene before me;  the walkway, the landing near the front door of the apartment complex, the parking lot. I cautiously walked over to one of the brown cardboard boxes that sat among the mess of items.  I lifted the tucked moving style folded flaps of the carton and looked inside.

The contents in the box were mine. I realized then that it was my belongings that were also part of the strewn items I had seen while pulling into the parking lot.  I felt the stinging at the backs of my eyes and resisted the urge to cry. While it wasn’t the way I had hoped to receive my belongings many months ago, at least I finally had them back. What forced the tears to flow regardless of my trying to hold them back and be strong,  was the hate-filled way in which they were returned to me;  as though someone had thrown them out the window of their car while driving by. My own father. What I would never understand was how he grew to hate me so much.

The small silver lining  was that my stuff had arrived just in time for our big move. I’d be going to live with family friends and mom would be staying with a friend for a bit. The plan was just for a month or two. She’d be saving up until she had enough money for us to get a place together again.

Afterthoughts:

Through my lens as the child and now as the parent: False accusations can harm your relationship with your children. This was one of most hurtful experiences in my life and prior to that  experience, every single false accusation stung almost as bad. I’ll be able to apply this in the now and stop and think before accusing my sons of things with such certainty and condemnation. 

Never-ending punishments and constantly reminding your child of the crime is overwhelming and maddening for them. I think we all need to remind ourselves of this when our kids are teens!

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Getting Out of Bed A Hundred Times

One night last week my attempts at falling asleep were a complete joke.  The amount of times I actually got out of bed was beyond frustrating. What a comedy this would have been if you were to have watched this.  It all started with two giant flies buzzing around the room keeping me up. I was alone in bed since my husband sometimes falls asleep downstairs, so it was up to me to battle it out with them.

There was no way I was falling asleep with these annoying bastards alive in my room. They kept landing by my head which was also driving me insane.

I got up and grabbed a magazine and chased them across the bed, over to my nightstand, back to my windows, my mirror, and my dresser. When I came to realize I just did not possess the speed of Mr. Miyagi with my magazine, I went into the bathroom to grab a can of aerosol hairspray to end them with.

On my way out of the bathroom, I noticed the cat was crouched down and ready to pounce while staring at the bottom of the oven.

Great. I had an inkling there was a mouse under there. For the moment though, I had the flies to tackle.

Once I was back in the bedroom the hairspray did the trick and I cursed myself for not having thought of that 30 minutes ago.

I climbed back into my bed pooped. Once I lied down I remembered the cat in the kitchen and got back up again to close my door so I didn’t have to hear what might ensue later.

The bed welcomed me with the warmth and softness that you get so excited to cocoon yourself into right before you fall asleep.. Just as I was drifting off, I felt something crawling across my chest.

I clicked on the light and found it was just a tiny ant. OK, just an ant. No biggie. But where there’s one, there’s typically several more. My mind started filling with all types of scenarios involving me asleep and covered head to toe in ants.  Then it felt like there was sand from the beach by my toes. Oh crap, what if it wasn’t sand and one of the kids had eaten goldfish in our bed and now there were crumbs? What if there was a sea of ants I was falling asleep on top of? I sprang from the bed-yet again.

Ripping off the comforter and top sheet, I scoured the bed looking for the ant farm that must be there. I did not find one other creepy crawly – thank GOD.

Now I had to pee.

I opened the door and glanced at the cat. He was still assuming the about-to-tackle position. I went to the bathroom and headed back into my room to try -yet again- to fall asleep.

This time, I accidentally left my door open.

I fell asleep, but apparently not very deeply because an hour or so later I woke from a loud sound in the kitchen. My mind took a minute to wake up and process what I thought might be happening, but it was too late. Seconds after I heard the loud sound, I felt the cat jump on my bed.

NO…PLEASE… NO.

I clicked on the light and there on the bed was my cat with a wriggling brown mouse hanging from his mouth. I leaped out of bed and tried to coerce my cat out of the room. This, of course, did not work.  He then let the mouse go, which thankfully was dazed and confused. It did not run far before he snatched it back up.

At that moment I picked up the cat and ran through the hallway to the  kitchen door and tossed him outside. He’s an indoor/outdoor cat-so it’s all good. Don’t worry, I didn’t just like throw an indoor cat out on the street.

I shuffled back to my bed thinking about the night’s events. Flies, an ant, and a mouse had paid the bedroom a visit-the universe was surely conspiring against the idea of a good night’s sleep.

Finally, for what felt like the hundredth time, I crawled into bed and fell asleep.

A couple hours later, I awoke to a herd of elephants coming at me.  I mean I awoke to my 7 year old stomping through his room and into mine and  bursting through my door to tell me he was hot, wide awake, he was up for the day, and wanting to hang out and chat.

Say what?

Rolling over, I searched the nightstand groggily with my eyes closed for my phone to check the time. The numbers seemed to be laughing at me as I read them: 4:45 a.m. I barked at him to get into my bed and try to calm himself and fall back to sleep.

After trying for close to an hour (trying= tossed and turned, definitely convinced me he has restless leg syndrome based on the number of times he moved his legs, mentioned every random thought that crossed his mind including the dream he just had, and how hot his bed was, and when his next playdate going to be,  etc. etc. ) I finally gave up and shouted with the rasp comparable to that of a bear who had just awoken from hibernation,

“Get a screen or watch a movie!”

Fortunately, he liked that idea and left the room and remembered to shut the door for me.

Ah, Momma can catch some winks for at least (I roll over to check the time on my phone again and it’s now 5:40) a half hour before I have to get up for work.

Curling up and stoked for that half hour and just as the sleep veil starts to set in,  I hear my bedroom door open.

Enter my 4 year old.

I lift the covers for him and he slides in and lies there quietly with his big blue eyes heavily opening then shutting, opening then shutting. I stare at him as if trying to will him back to sleep so I can just SQUEEZE in this last 30 minutes.

He says something softly and I lean in and ask him to repeat it so I can hear.

“It’s wake up time Mommy.”

I GIVE UP.

On Writing

Some insight into why writing feels right…

Everyone’s story is different. For that reason, there is something so satisfying about indulging in a good biography.  Fiction and non-fiction narratives that tell stories of the character’s arc are forever fascinating for the human mind. We can learn from someone else’s experiences; empathizing, marveling, relating, or grieving while reading what they’ve suffered, lost, overcome, or endured. As someone who thoroughly enjoys hearing and reading about others’ lives whether it’s over a beer, a coffee, a blog, or pages of a book, I discovered there is much to be enjoyed when writing about life as well.

I’ve always kept a journal. My parents gave me my first one at the age of 7. You could say there’s enough material to write at least 3 books!  Whether or not they’d be interesting is debatable. But I did take some time over the last few days to read through them and wow…what a trip. The details are long forgotten. That’s why writing in a journal is key should you ever want to harken back to the days of your youth.  Let me tell you-it zaps  you right inside that very moment that would have otherwise been lost in the Bumbletown of your waning memory.

In my mid-twenties I took a memoir writing course and when the class ended my professor made me promise to someday write a book about my life.  She also mentioned that if it never came to fruition, to always keep writing.  Her advice has long hung out in my conscience. She also warned it was probably best to write a memoir prior to having children because time would be scarce. She had written her book with two small children and cautioned it was tough to do so. Well, I didn’t listen to her and damn was she right. At any rate,  my chance at writing did eventually show up, even if in an unexpected way.

In 2009, I started a Facebook group for working moms. I wanted to meet other moms to build relationships and coordinate play dates on the weekends. Fast forward to early 2016 when an editor of an online blogging publication www.suburbanmisfitmom.com posted an ad in my working moms group looking for writers. A few weeks later my first and very personal article was published on my inconsistent childhood read it here.

There was a crazy waterfall of emotions that occurred when my first article had been published. I was sitting in morning rush hour traffic when the “You’ve Been Published” notification came through. Just picture Diane Lane in that bus scene in the movie Unfaithful. That was me.

Instead of dipping my toe in, I dove head first and opened up in the only way I know how when I write. It was scary but exhilarating.

Following the high of being published came the mystery of how certain people interacted with me after reading about my personal not-so-sunny experiences. Surprisingly,  whether they are close to you, an acquaintance, or a complete stranger- each reaction is different and some are not even close to what you would expect. Sometimes it’s confusing and off-putting and other times it’s gratifying and motivating. Either way, writing felt right regardless of some of the mixed reactions.

As the reader, when reading autobiographical content, I try to keep in mind that this is the writer’s experience. This is their truth and their life.  On the other hand, as the writer, you have to remember that people will interpret things in a completely different way than you meant them to and they will also project their own stuff onto it whether you like it or not.  This projection will then lead them to act in confusing ways towards you. Lord knows I’ve spent many midnights in an anxiety ridden sweat fest over-analyzing this very thing. This is the part no one can prepare you for as the writer.  I certainly wasn’t prepared for it, and I contemplated not continuing writing for a beat or two because of it.

Thankfully, I ended up pushing the nerves of vulnerability aside. Why? Because I honestly feel writing is a necessary thing for me.   Also, who wouldn’t want a hobby that feels right, makes the brain feel like it’s being put to good use, and that has the ability to  help people?

This is one of the most fulfilling hobbies. I feel just as giddy when I write as I do when I take a dance class. For example, in my article about getting lost and happy , I discuss the immense gratification I get from dancing and putting my creative side to work.  This very same feeling transpires when I write. To have connected with these two passions and made them part of my weekly routine -this is living life.

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Writing is also therapeutic for me in many ways. It’s a connection to people and a way to show why I have an appreciation for my life that runs deep. The foundation for many of my writings is derived from an epiphany I had after becoming a mom. I came to the stark realization that I would and will do everything in my power to give my children a better experience. This means throwing out the script. ERASE AND REBOOT.  It also means I have to unlearn a lot. That’s not going to be easy. But writing about my unlearnings  will be interesting for me to say the least.

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There’s an appreciation transaction that occurs every day that I pull into my little white ranch with my beloved testosterone-filled family.  The reason that transaction even takes place is because of  the bumpy road I pedaled on to get there.   Most of the time, the stuff that really hurts us, is the stuff that allows us to grow into who we are.  I am choosing to use the cuts that may have a lingering sting as a source to better this life in the NOW. And so far, at least today, it’s a feel good story.

 

 

 

The Paths We Take

One of my favorite movies is Sliding Doors (1998) with Gwyneth Paltrow as the lead role. The movie takes us through her life in two ways. One half of the film shows how her life unfolds when she makes the train, the other half of the movie is what happens when she misses the train. I think the reason I love this movie so much is because it’s both timeless and incredibly thought provoking.

It’s fascinating to think about the many different paths life can take. Recently, I had the pleasure of  hanging out with various old friends whom I haven’t seen in awhile. The conversations were some of the most interesting I’ve had in a long time. I felt an immense amount of admiration while hearing some of their stories. Career accomplishments they’ve made these last few years, some had bucket list trips they had taken or are about to take, others were growing their families or had just bought their first home.  Some of them had started out with very little and have ended up quite successful. Others needed some help along the way due to the economic crash and had finally felt like they’d turned a corner. Some were living back under their parent’s roof and have now purchased their own homes and are more appreciative than ever of what they can now call their own. Watching people grow over the years and seeing who they become is one of the beautiful things in life.

Most people don’t see themselves as extraordinary.  Meanwhile, if they only knew how far they’ve come! As the listener, hearing these stories made my heart grow two-fold. People are out there working hard at life and damn, I want them to know these unique paths they’re on are all a pretty big deal! People need to take a moment and reflect on where they were 5 years ago versus where they are now. Be proud. Seriously. You’re killin’ it!

I look at my husband and how hard he has worked on his business. The path he chose actually lead us to Connecticut. That was my Sliding Doors moment: to stay in Chicago or not to stay. My path forked and while I was unsure about starting over again, I was sure I was in love, so I took a leap of faith.

These paths we all take aren’t 100% ours though. In part we owe thanks to the supporters that said the things we needed to hear or maybe the things we didn’t want to hear to make it to where we are.

Looking back on the night before I moved, my mother said some words of encouragement to me. She was probably wondering how I would be across the country, on my own with my boyfriend of only 5 months, no job lined up, a roommate I didn’t know yet, and so much uncertainty that lay ahead of me.  As it turns out, if she was nervous about my choice, she did not let on that she was. Instead she was excited for me, she told me she was convinced I would marry this guy, that she felt it was the right call, and that it was pretty awesome I’d be living near a beach and not too far from New York City. She 100% supported my decision. It was just the boost I needed to go forth and see what was in store for the next chapter of my life.

So here I am on Chapter 37 of my life and that little decision I made turns out to have been one of the best.

It got me thinking about the decisions my sons will make and where their lives might take them.

The other day I pulled into our driveway and both my sons were dancing out front. They had a little speaker set up (thank you bluetooth) and a sign taped to the speaker that said “Please give us Money”. After I stopped laughing at their cute creative way to make a dollar, I quietly watched them. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I tried to encapsulate the moment.

I took in their blonde fluffy hair, their face expressions, and their moves while jamming out with wild abandon. I thought about the men they will grow to eventually be. How will they choose to spend their days? Will they live far away from us? Will they want to call us or have nothing to do with us?  I wondered if they would choose to be married or stay single, to travel the world, or settle down and have families. Most of all I wondered if as their parent I could somehow bottle this carefree happiness that they embodied in this moment and make sure it stays part of them into adulthood.

For now, while they are young, it’ll be fun to talk about what they want to do or be or what they like and don’t like.  And then of course when they’re teenagers I can look forward to making them watch Sliding Doors with me. I’m very much looking forward to that.