When No One is Looking

I brought my son to sleepaway camp yesterday. Even though he loved it last year, he panicked yesterday on the long drive, suddenly saying that he didn’t want to go.

Twenty miles away from camp, he told me he was scared, and he was sad that only one friend going this year instead of two. He didn’t like the showers; he didn’t like the darkness; he missed his home and bed and sister and mom and friends.

So we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere for a treat, and as we walked back to the car, he suddenly took my hand – my little big ten-year-old who just started wearing men’s size shoes. I teased him to lighten the mood: “SO, you’re still not too old to hold hands with your mom!”

He looked around quickly: “Well, there’s no one here I know.” And he held my hand firmly.

And so it goes. My sweet son, caught in between childhood and tween-hood, in a place where no one really knows anyone or what comes next.

As we drove up to camp, those clouds that were following us turned very dark, and suddenly were were driving through pelting rain. My son begged me to take him home. Pretty desperately I babbled about other topics, future vacations and sports and playdates – an lame old coping mechanism left over from my terrible marriage. Sure enough, it didn’t really work.

Then we went around a curve and suddenly heard the singing of the teenage counselors standing up on a covered porch. My son started yelling that he spotted his last-year counselor among them. I noticed that through the rain, it was still sunny, and I started looking for a rainbow.

We stopped for parking directions, and suddenly my son’s window was open. He greeted the counselor and asked if they would have a big, huge surprise welcome-to-camp-game that night. He explained that this was his second year at camp.

The older boy smiled as he told my son that he wasn’t quite sure, and even if he knew, he couldn’t tell. And then he winked, welcomed my son back, and explained the parking, and the bags, and sign-in procedure. My son told him he knew it all from last year – and he did.

And so I let my little boy run the show and go off into the great unknown without me. He didn’t need me at all until the very end, when he jumped down off his top bunk to give me a huge hug. And I knew all was well with my little-big boy who didn’t huge me for two years during the Great Divorce.

He’s on his way, my boy.

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Lessons from my Dog, Part 1

I got out of the car and stopped to admire the daffodils in my new front yard.

Then I hear it. Someone’s annoying dog barking and screeching and sounding really loud and really annoyingly high-pitched.

I look up, annoyed. Take care of your dog, folks, I think.

Then a movement catches my eye. It’s something popping up against the windows of my front door.

It’s my dog.

A long time ago, I learned a critical life lesson on a playground: Never ever judge another mom. Because before you know it, your kids will do the same thing as that mom’s child, and you will end up in the same position as the mom you once judged. It’s instant mom karma.

That lesson has served me well, but it’s faded a bit through time. I needed a fresh reminder.

Moms Doing Too Much

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I’ve been procrastinating on a very hard story I have to write for work. Now it’s late. Or at least it will be very late tomorrow when I will probably get caught not having it done. It’s nowhere near done. It sucks. My children are home from school for another snow day. This weekend I am participating in a huge event to raise money for cancer. I am starting to train for a long run. I can’t find a check I was supposed to deposit in the bank. I haven’t start tax returns. I can’t edit my own writing, and I no longer have a good editor to do it for me. I’m doomed! I went to the gym this morning and got the fireplace serviced, but now I’m even later on my deadline. I went to get my hair done yesterday afternoon, which made me EVEN later on my deadline. I went out for dinner and drinks last night and then watched several episodes of Bosch – and now I’m really getting into trouble on my deadline. It’s making me late now on other deadlines. The article sucks, and I suck, and why am I such a terrible writer? Shouldn’t I be spending more quality time with my children today? Why do I want to take a nap in the middle of the day? I don’t want to cook, so we’ll have to go out to dinner. Where is the nearest place with salads? Where are my car keys – again? Shit, that deadline. Tomorrow! I suck. I suck. I suck.

And so it goes.

If I don’t finish this article, my life will continue like this. I vow to finish it tonight so that I can catch up with the rest of my life.

It’s the only way to fix the rest of this mess. When will I learn not to procrastinate?

Stress and Divorce

So, is it a problem that I scored a 622 on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale? And that any score over 300 puts you into the “You have a high or very high risk of becoming ill in the near future” category?

The test is pretty straightforward. You simply answer yes to anything you’ve experienced in the past 1-2 years.

Divorce: yes

Death of close family member: yes

That sort of thing.

So here’s the good news: if I take out separation and divorce, which obviously won’t happen again anytime soon, my score drops to 449.

Okay, still not good enough. Hopefully I won’t be gaining any new family members, and I won’t be moving again: down to 390.

Still not good enough. But getting better.

With the exception of the death of a spouse, divorce and separation are the highest stressors in life. That is amazing to me.

Divorced women – especially divorced moms – need to be kind to ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves. The cost of neglecting ourselves is too high.

Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Test

Courage and Greatness in Ordinary Women

I watch Beverly Johnson, so impossibly beautiful and perfect and eloquent and brave, talking about what Bill Cosby did to her so many years ago.

I watch other women interviewed. One is shaking. Her on-camera make-up looks ridiculous with her close-cropped no-nonsense hair and matronly clothes.

Another woman explains how she reacted with outrage many years ago when Bill Cosby grabbed her chest. “How dare you do that to me? What makes you think you can do that to me?” She must have been so young when she turned around and confronted this famous man. What a brave girl she must have been.

Another woman starts crying at funny times. She clutches the hand of the no-nonsense woman next to her: one woman shaking, one woman crying, together.

When they look at photos of the man they are accusing, they get “a scratchy, awful feeling.” Forty-four years later, and one woman can’t even look. “Sick to my stomach,” is what they say.

One was told by her bosses to “shut your mouth.”

All were drugged.

One woman compares it to the drowning death of her little boy: “I don’t think about my son dying 44 year ago, but it’s always there under the surface. It’s always there.”

They have never asked for money from him, not one of them. But one of them says he gave her $20 to take a cab home after he drugged and molested and possibly raped her.

One woman is the angriest. She wants him to suffer. She calls him a predator repeatedly. When she calls him a sociopath, it’s too close to home for me.

In 42 minutes, I’ve watched nine women interviewed. “More to come” they tell the CNN broadcasters.

“He is a serial rapist,” they all say. “He identifies a vulnerable victim. He gets them alone. He drugs them. He does their thing with them. And sometimes he waits for them to wake up – to show more contempt for them.”

This last detail makes me shudder.

They feel sorry for his wife and refuse to say anything bad about her. I think about what my own husband hid from me, and I am grateful that they have this compassion for his wife. Sociopaths are wily and manipulative and brilliant liars. People close to them are sometimes the last to know.

The women must be twenty years older than me, and I study them. If I met any of them in real life, I would believe them. None of them asked for this, but they are so courageous and united. It takes my breath away.

Please god, let future generations of women – little girls like my sweet daughter – be emboldened and empowered by these brave and beautiful women in their sixties. And let the rest of us women be kind to each other.

Tonight I have decided

that nothing is funnier than my little city kid, my little eight-year-old girl, in a big city bathtub, wearing a turquoise shower cap, belting out, “Someday, I’ll be, living in a great big city,” over and over again.

Then almost howling, “Why you gotta be so meeeeean?”

Then down to a whisper, “Why you gotta be so mean?”

I have to admit that I’m beginning to really like Taylor Swift. Really. My daughter could have way worse role models.

Being Prepared is Overrated

I spent Friday night at a zoo. Not just a few hours – the entire night, from 6 pm to noon the following day. It was a Brownie overnight trip. Along with about 100 other moms and daughters, I slept in a sleeping bag, on a frigid floor, about 10 yards from a live rat exhibit.

I had two problems. First, I am terrified of rats. I don’t think they’re cute, and I don’t think they make good pets. I think they are the scariest and most devious creatures on the planet, and they might be rabid, and I shudder uncontrollably whenever I see them. Second, unlike nearly every other person there, I did not bring an electric air mattress. Right after the Separation, I went through my house, wildly decluttering and throwing things away with abandon. It was fun, and it was liberating. During the decluttering, I threw away the never-used air mattress, and I hadn’t missed it.

But oh, how I missed that mattress on Friday night. Around 1 a.m., I started feeling really bad about my impulsive purging. Maybe I shouldn’t throw things away. Instead, I should acquire and keep more things, like everyone else. Obviously I had failed the golden rule (and motto) of the Girl Scouts: Be Prepared.

And maybe I was failing something else: motherhood. Do all good mothers keep spare electric mattresses on hand, just in case a last-minute overnight trip to the zoo popped up?

In any case, I don’t remember sleeping at all, though I must have dozed off a few times because I dreamed about the rats chewing a hole in their cage. But I did not complain (much). No one complained. We are all Good Sports. Not only are we good sports, but we are helpful. In fact, this is how the Girl Scout motto is explained: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.”

In other words, we help, we serve, and we MUST know how to do the job well.

What does this translate to? We must be pretty darn close to PERFECT. When serving others.

And this is why Girl Scouts annoys the hell out of me. Somehow, under all the cheery, esteem-building exercises, all I can see is a bunch of seven-year-olds looking a bit jaded, like teenagers forced to visit an art museum, while their strung-out moms try to figure out how to contribute in a meaningful yet not-too-time-consuming way. And when the girls get excited about something, like really excited, like seven-year-olds tend to do, and then they get really giggly and silly, their troop leader swoops in and reminds them that they are supposed to be paying attention to the lecture on the effects of trash bags on marine life in Antarctica.

And then I watch those bright happy eyes swivel over to the speaker, and the light in them goes out.

We help, we serve, we’re polite, we are respectful, we know how to do things well. We are perfectionists in training.

And I’m pretty much done with it. This is the way I was raised back in the seventies, in my traditional home. And it really hasn’t worked out for me. Because when you teach young girls to ignore their feelings, to tamp down on their joy, and to serve others, you end up with young women who don’t know how to think or feel. They believe their value lies in being good, polite, perfect. They can not accept their feelings of rage or grief. In fact, often they can not even identify their feelings at all.

Brene Brown writes, “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”

I don’t blame the Girl Scouts for all of this. I believe it’s an organization that strives to make positive changes in girls’ lives. I don’t even blame my neighborhood or school or troop, where perfect, soft-spoken, skinny moms are found everywhere. However, I am going to try my hardest to make sure that my daughter understands that she is not valued for being perfect. We love her for all her imperfections: her sly wit, her shyness, her over-the-top sassiness with certain friends, the tiny beauty mark on her lovely chin,how she reads book after book in bed every night with a flashlight and then can’t wake up in the morning, and the fact that she will haul off and punch her big brother sometimes. She is magnificent all the time to me, not just when she’s learning, or striving, or showing us all that she’s a good little girl, prepared for anything.